89 Days to VLM – Week Two Training Summary

Week two of marathon training began with a longer than usual Monday run as it was with Grantham Running Club on their Monday Night session. This week there were only two others there. For the first four miles or so I went off more or less at my own pace, knocking off miles between seven and seven and a half minutes. For the second half I was to guide a relative newcomer to the club – Liam – around Grantham and back to the club and the pace slowed somewhat outside eight minutes per mile, which felt a great deal harder than when I was running at a comfortable pace.

Tuesday was my solo marathon paced run – the intention again to run it to a maximum heart rate. Mileage was up a touch on last week – from eight miles to eight and a quarter and the bulk of the run was in the opposite direction. Cold – temperatures hovering at around zero Celsius – and a touch icy in places, I progressed smoothly from a 7:20 first mile to 6:23 for the transitional second mile, then 6:28 for the third mile which included one of the three climbs en route. From there the run was comfortably hard – as it should be, knocking out mile splits of 6:19; 6:13; 6:23; 6:23; and 6:00. The HR though did drift a fair amount over the maximum of 165 bpm, showing that I am 1. not quite as fit as I want to be and 2. my body isn’t yet intuitively sticking to what it knows should be marathon HR. That said, I was happy to complete the 8.25 miles at 6:26 per mile average.

With the HR creep in mind, Wednesday’s run saw me trial the hitherto unused HR Max alert on my Garmin. I’ve not used them previously as I’ve found the constant beeping of previous (not necessarily Garmin models) annoying when you stray into a red zone. I wondered if this Garmin would be a little more intelligent. It was an easy paced run, taking me up a hill I’ve not run up before (And if you believe Strava, nor has any runner) and through Belton House’s grounds. I set the watch to alert me if it went over 150 bpm which it did ion the first hill. I was pleased to see that it did just one beep, a buzz vibration and a message warning on the watch, which it repeated every 15 seconds or so I was over my limit.

This was fine – I’d prefer it if I could press a button after the first instance of triggering an alert so that it wouldn’t beep again for the while you are over the prescribed limit. This for instance could be useful if you are climbing a big long hill and you want to temporarily abandon HR limits, or, as I practice in marathons, run the final section of the race at above the HR I’d set myself for the first section of the race. To the best of my knowledge the watch doesn’t have this function. Despite this slight annoyance I will set it up for the next few marathon HR training sessions to alert me if I creep over 165bpm, as I found myself on Tuesday’s run almost looking more at the watch then I was on the road in front.

More pressing on the run was an incident where I came very close to losing my MP3 player – a fence had to be climbed to retrieve it when it pinged free from my shorts after snagging the headphones cable…. Thankfully I was able to retrieve the player and the clip and the run continued – 7.25 miles at an average of 7:23 per mile.

Thursday saw me reacquaint myself with Grantham Running Club’s Thursday night group. I planned it to be a 13 mile or so run, so it would double up as my long run for the week. Jogging to the meeting place I felt comfortable. At the club were some familiar faces and a couple of new ones – one being a Latvian runner called Janis, who I’d heard great things of – a 2:33 marathon runner and with a half marathon best of 1:09.

We began the run steadily enough but on the first drag up out of town I found myself instinctively picking up the pace, seeing who was willing and able to go with me. Knowing what the answer would be, within half a mile it was just me and Janis running together. Into the dark, and, in places, icy, country lanes, we ran together, sharing the light from my head torch. It was the first time since I’d left Kenilworth Runners’ training nights that I’d been able to run a sustained threshold pace run with a training partner – and it felt great! On undulating terrain, we knocked out seven and a bit quality quality miles: 6:25; 5:51; 6:05; 6:15; 6:20; 5:52; and 6:11.

Realising that I was pushing my luck in terms of exceeding my current training abilities, I insisted, in pretty basic English, that we eased up for the final couple of miles back into town, concluding with a 6:50 and a 7:09. It was then we got to chat a little bit for the first time since the run had begun. Janis’ English is not great and my Latvian is non-existent, but it was obvious we both shared a passion for running, for athletics, and for sport. Back at base we chatted for a while longer waiting for the others to arrive. After ten minutes and just three of the seven returned, I had to call it a day for I was getting cold and stiff. I jogged the mile and a bit back home which made it jut slightly over half marathon distance – covered in a fairly sprightly 1:27 – all the more pleasing because I’d had a mightily painful massage in the morning which tends to leave the legs sub-par for a day or so.

Suddenly after Thursday night club runs being, for the most part, a slow long run, the arrival of Janis – who is keen to train for us to train together – means the dynamic of my training looks set to change. I imagine it will revert to something closer to how it was at Kenilworth, with Tuesday and Thursday nights being faster, harder runs. It may mean that the long weekend run will need to be run a little slower. It may be that I can cope with this increased demand and it will improve my running. Time will tell, but for now I am very happy to have someone comparable, someone quicker than me, who I can run intervals and tempo based sessions with.

Time constraints on the Friday meant that the recovery run was a rushed affair combined with dropping my daughter off at school. Stiff and feeling the cold air (minus five Celsius) I managed four and a bit miles at a fairly slow pace. Worryingly the left inner shin, which had ached on occasion for each of the past three runs, had moaned during the run and continued to ache whilst walking during the day. I’ve not had shin pain for many years, but the area around which it hurts has been a major cause of problems many moons ago – a place I definitely don’t want to visit again. For the meantime I remembered the long forgotten practice of writing the alphabet with your feet and some balance exercises to hopefully combat the discomfort.

For Saturday I’d originally intended to combine a long run with a parkrun. With the shin being a bit iffy and the weather outside looking decidedly icy, I decided to play it fairly safe and put myself on the elliptical trainer for an hour before testing the shin with an easy paced ten km. Thankfully, aside from a brief ache early in the run, the shin was pain free – as it was for the remainder of the day.

Sunday was Witham Wheelers Reliability Ride #4. 45 or so miles on an undulating course. I stuck myself in group 4 – 18 to 19 mph). The opening 25 miles was very comfortable. I sat in the pack, took a share of the pacing, and even pulled the pack back in when I lost some time trying to replace thick winter gloves for thinner ones.

On the only major climb of the day the group splintered. Having been strong on the hills a week earlier, I was disappointed not to stay with the quicker riders – feeling it a bit in the quads and also disrupted by one cyclist’s misfortune of having his chain fall off just in front of me and him then toppling off as he failed to unclip in time. I spent the remainder of the ride solo as I tried my best to stay within sight of the lead group – picking off three or four riders along the way. Although I never quite reeled them all back in – I was happy to only finish a minute or so behind them and that I’d ridden the last 16 miles or so at above 20mph average. I completed the ride at an average speed of 18.97 mph, which was pretty spot on for an 18-19 mph reliability ride.

I’d chatted a while back at the clubhouse, then cycled home and quickly changed into my running gear to run the same 3 1/2 mile loop I’ve done each Sunday since Christmas. Despite the extra miles and effort of the ride just gone and the legs subsequently feeling really tired, the run went very well, coming in with a 6:01 average and 5k passed in 18:46. It wasn’t lost on me that this was nearly a minute quicker than the previous Sunday and nine seconds quicker than the parkrun at Melton earlier in the year.

All in all it was a good week – 51 miles covered on the road and the bike and an hour on the elliptical trainer. I got three quality runs in and the pace generally is heading in the right direction. This week will hopefully be more of the same with a gradual increase of distance. The first day though began with a scheduled rest day, albeit with seven miles of brisk walking with a double school run. It should hopefully leave me well rested for a good marathon pace session tomorrow and a good remainder of the week.

96 Days to VLM – Week One Training Summary

Last week I decided it would be a good time to start my London Marathon training. For last year’s marathon I created a plan – albeit a rather rudimentary one. This year I’ve decided not to. This isn’t to say I haven’t got a good idea of what I hope to be doing and when, it’s more that I’ve looked back at all my distance PBs broken in the past year or so and all bar one was set when I was training on a how I feel at the time policy. The marathon was the only PB set to a plan, but that plan unravelled six weeks out anyway through injury and I, through necessity, reverted to type and trained on a micro level rather than macro.

Week one is all about building mileage, as I’m not yet at a level I’d do on a normal weekly basis, let alone for marathon training. Monday night saw me join the beginners at Grantham Running Club, a rather amusing misnomer as between myself and a few other of the runners there, I estimate there was around 100 years of running experience. It was a gentle paced run with more time spent putting the world to rights. Before I knew it eight and a half miles had been covered, slightly surpassing the sum of my longest run, split into three parts two days earlier at parkrun.

Tuesday was my only true hard session planned for the week. It’s intervals night at the club, but I intend to do marathon heart rate runs until at least March as I think they are more beneficial and something I think I lacked last year come race day. With an eight mile run planned and five miles at marathon HR, I was curious, and a little nervous, at what pace I would find myself running at, bearing in mind my first marathon HR run of 2014 saw me average 6:16.

The first two miles were a warm up and the legs were stiff, the calves remaining fearsomely tight from when they first tightened early the week previous. The transition to marathon pace felt laboured and forced, but after a mile or two I settled into an almost familiar rhythm. The first marathon HR mile was 6:27, then a pleasing 6:09, 6;15, 6:28 and closing with a 6:16. It wasn’t entirely comfortable (especially with a dodgy tummy) and I couldn’t do many more miles at that effort but I was happy to see that the pace wasn’t too many seconds slower than last year, albeit with a HR that was far harder to keep under my 165bpm limit.

Wednesday saw me training once again with GRC, partly because I fancied the company and also because a severe frost that morning had left the roads and pavements treacherously icy, ice that only cleared an hour or so before we set off at 7pm. This was not a run I’ll treasure. Twenty five minutes out and back, the calves were so tight they felt like they’d snap, the pelvis ached and the strong, cold head wind on the way back made the seven miles covered feel laboured and unnecessarily tough.

I was thankful that Thursday (15th Janurary) was a rest day, planned some time ago. It was the first day of rest since January 2nd. Friday was a beautiful sunny, crisp morning and I had it to myself so I opted to make it my long run day – which this week was 10 1/2 miles (The half mile more than ten a historic legacy of one of my favourite runs around Warwick University back when I lived in Coventry – which I always used to commence and conclude my marathon training long runs and measured 10.52 miles). For some unfathomable reason I fancied tackling the most fearsome hill (For runners at least) in the Grantham area, the relatively undiscovered Minnett’s Hill. It was as tough as ever, especially with some ice to add to the equation, but I made it to the top without even considering walking which I was pleased with. I was generally pleased with most of the run, although the pace was a touch slower than I’d liked (Average 7:06 per mile) and the last couple of miles were a tough affair. At least the calves were much improved – thanks to the hanging off the step calf stretch.

Saturday I’d left free to run to feel – be it short, another long run, some tempo or maybe even intervals. In the end it became a seven mile progressive run of sorts. After a gentle opening mile the pace gradually increased despite running up a hill and then facing a head wind. The right hip abductor, glute and groin were not that happy for much of the run. When they eased up in the final couple of miles the pace quickened accordingly, coming down to 6:26, then concluding with a 6:06 mile.

Sunday saw me enter the Clumber Park Duathlon in March – my tentative toe in the water towards hopefully taking part in Triathlons later in the year and beyond. This is why I was once again at the local cycle club, taking part in Witham Wheelers Reliability Ride #3. This weekly bike ride is a big diversion from my training of previous years. It’s a risk admittedly, but I’m hopeful that one ride a week won’t hinder the running – it may even help it – and a ride a week is the bare minimum required to be respectable at the Duathlon.

The overnight frost left conditions on the limit in terms of safety for the ride, which took in several of the hills found in the Vale of Belvoir. The start was amended but essentially it was the route as planned and it was more or less safe, save for some ice on the ascent of the final climb, which forced me to stay in the saddle, not an easy task when the ramp is around 14% and you’ve run out of gears. I was happier with this ride than last week’s – I prefer the hills to the flat and rolling roads and the pace was a little gentler too thanks to a merging of groups and the slightly iffy weather conditions.

After a quick sit down for tea, flapjack and some chit chat, I cycled home and quickly put on the trainers and headed out for the 5km (Plus a little bit) run I’ve done for the past couple of weeks as my attempt at training for the demands of transitioning from one discipline to another in Duathlon. The pavements were icy and the running felt ponderous and laboured at times but it was clear from the splits on the Garmin that progress is being made since the beginning of the year. 6:36 for the opening mile, I followed this up with 6;16, then 6 minutes dead, running 5:57 pace for the final quarter mile. I ran 19:25 for the 5k covered, which is a big improvement on previous weeks and left me pleased and encouraged.

For a first week it was generally positive. I’m not at the level I was this time last year but there are signs that the form I had back in September last year is not a million miles away. I also keep telling myself that I most likely peaked at the end of February last year and hopefully this slightly slower build up will see me peak at the right time near the end of April.

This coming week is hopefully a similar tale to last week, albeit with the mileage being upped a little here and there. The weather may have a little say on things but I’m optimistic I’ll have another good week.

105 Days to Go – Melton Mowbray parkrun #1

Enthused by the encouraging run of a few days ago I was inspired to take part in the inaugural Melton Mowbray parkrun. Grantham residents are patiently awaiting their own edition of the free-to-enter-timed-5km-run. In the meantime they realistically have the choice of Peterborough, Lincoln or Clumber Park if they don’t mind a lengthy drive, or Newark if they want an event that is easily reachable, but is frustratingly a little over distanced for a 5km run (around 350 meters long by my reckoning).

Melton Mowbray, for me anyway, is roughly the same distance away (18.5 miles) as Newark, so the new parkrun potentially offered an attractive alternative. When the alarm went off at 7 am the mere thought of stepping outside didn’t seem that attractive with gale force winds battering the house and intermittent bouts of rain lashing against the window panes. I struggled for ten minutes to summon the will power required to leave the comfort of my duvet behind, but I managed it and before long I was preparing myself for the run.

The drive to Melton on the A607 was blissfully free of traffic (It’s a lovely road to drive when it is free of other people using it) but the appalling conditions were hardly inspiring. I made it to Melton Country Park around 40 minutes before the off. Already the small car park was nearly full (They’ve been allowed to use the local college car park to accommodate the masses) but I was lucky to get a spot and soon took refuge from the wind and rain outside the nearby Visitor Centre. The first person I spoke to turned out to be the first woman to finish. I think she had run the trial event a week earlier and pointed out the rough direction of the course. Keen to do a warm up I went on a reconnaissance lap as best I could given there were no marshals on course yet. What was immediately apparent was that the wind was going to make conditions very difficult and that the going underfoot was going to be challenging, with numerous deep puddles and several muddy patches on a course that combined sections of gravel, dirt and asphalt.

Two miles later and the warm up was done. The calves were a little less tight than they were (Which was fearsomely tight) and I felt keen to get going. It would be the first time I’d run in anger since the Robin Hood Half Marathon back in September and I was keen to know what condition I was in. I met up with a couple of guys from Grantham Running Club, I even met a friend of Kenilworth Runners on the start line. What was immediately apparent lining up is that the enthusiasm for the event, being held in conditions that would rightly put off most, was high. It turned out there were 268 finishers – a fantastic number for an inaugural running. Mercifully for the runners the rain stopped just before the beginning of the run – all they had to contend with now was a gale force wind.

After the briefing and subsequent re-briefing concerning matters that had been forgotten about in the initial briefing, we were given the 3-2-1 and we were off. On poor terrain the start was less frenetic than is customary at these parkruns. I found myself just outside the top five when the courses only real trouble spot caused, for the first few runners, some trouble. To cross the lake there is a narrow wooden bridge which, as the runners approached, was occupied by a gentleman with at least two large dogs. Alarmed by the sight of 270 odd runners hurtling towards him, he made his best efforts to vacate the bridge, but hadn’t quite done so by the time we got there. The lead runners had to slow to a virtual stop; the leader got a couple of muddy paws around his midriff by means of a friendly hello from one of the weighty quadrupeds. Thankfully no harm was done to animal or runners and we continued straight to another unexpected obstacle in the form of a former railway bridge to run under which was a good 30cm deep with water. I expect such things in cross country races, to have my feet soaked in such a manner this early in the morning was not in the plan.

Straight from the foot soaking we were thrown straight into the course’s tough little climb, which Strava reckons averages 6%. Today though it was made somewhat easier by a 30mph+ wind blowing us up it. A sharp right at the top and there was a long gentle descent made tougher by a fearsome crosswind. I settled into a pace that felt comfortable. I wasn’t fancying a flat out run, I was more concerned with making it to the finish in one piece. I was lying seventh and was content, for today with that.

After the gradual descent came a sharp right hander and down a fairly steep decent which almost became the slowest part of the course given the headwind that was trying its hardest to blow us back up the hill. The path degenerated into a narrow continuous puddle before a small bridge took us onto the main part of the park, which was happily properly drained and on wide concrete paths. The end of the lap saw a tough section into the headwind, then some poor conditions underfoot akin to cross country which saw me lose a position to a local runner more keen than I to do well.

The second lap was uneventful. I maintained the gap to the two runners ahead of me and began to close them down in the final stages of the run. That in itself was satisfying. I was as strong at the finish as I was at the start – not as quick as I would have liked but I have to remind myself that I’ve only been back running for two weeks after more than two months out injured.

I passed a runner to take seventh on the final drag before an unconvincing sprint to the finish where there were some lapped back markers to content with. I’d barely looked at my watch, which is unusual for me. It read 18:55 which was satisfying under the circumstances, but hard to gauge what that actually represents in terms of where I am at given the conditions were so difficult.

After seeing my GRC club mates finish I set off on a 3.5 mile warm down, which saw me do a loop round near the town centre. It was a slow affair, the calves now throbbing with tightness and the pelvis aching a fair amount too. I was pleased though that there was no problems in the back / hip area. I am still running in a constant fear that something is going to go wrong again, so putting in three quickish miles is a good confidence booster in that respect.

Tomorrow, weather permitting, it is off to the cycling club for another reliability ride. Hopefully the legs will recover a bit, otherwise it’s going to be a hard slog!

108 Days to VLM – A Mixed Bag.

The idea over Christmas and the New Year was to slowly build up the time running, so that I was running around 35 minutes on New Year’s Day. This should have been straightforward but this time of year for those with family and those who enjoy Christmas and all its excess will realise that rehabilitation, excess alcohol and rich, sugar filled food, not enough sleep, too much driving and unfamiliar beds is hardly likely to be a recipe for success.

The plan began well enough. I’m often banned from running on Christmas Day, but I was unlikely to be missed too much with just a three minute run – which passed without incident. Boxing day saw a six minute run a tenth short of a mile. The pace was fine, the abductors and groins feeling really tight. I managed an hour of high cadence on the elliptical trainer, which helped to burn off some of the Christmas dinner and Christmas Cake, and mince pies, and the fry up, and the bottle and a bit of champagne, and everything else consumed that most enjoyable of days.

Saturday was a day off from exercise as we drove down to my parents’ house in Minehead. As is customary plenty was consumed on our first night down. Heading to bed at around 1am, I woke at 5am parched and with a fuzzy head. Thankfully an emergency pint of water and numerous cups of teas later and I was feeling human again. Somehow I got out to run – the enthusiasm of beginning to run again helping no doubt. I went out for six minutes, nearly making it into town. The abductors in particular were fearsomely tight, so I did a full stretch before heading back, for a 1.67 run. The pace was pleasing but it still felt weird to be running as, though my legs weren’t quite used to what they were doing.

Monday saw a big jump in distance, bringing it up to near as damn it 5k. The legs felt a little less stiff but the heart rate was quite high, The next day and before heading to the next port of call, I managed four miles in a minute under thirty. All was well until the final hundred meters when I felt the right thigh begin to cramp. It ached a bit for a few hours but the pain subsided.

New Year’s Eve and we were in Eckington, near Pershore, and after a reasonably early night, albeit fuelled with some more alcohol, I headed out on what initially was a glorious run under blue skies and rolling scenic countryside. The legs initially felt a bit better than they had, albeit with abductors still tight. The third mile and as I caught a fellow runner I was feeling good, running mid six minute miles. Then the left thigh began to cramp, as the right did a day earlier, but more dramatically and far more painfully. I pulled up and stretched, turned around and tried to jog home. I managed around half a mile, but, after stopping three times, I admitted defeat and walked the two miles back to base. It was a disappointing and painful way to end the year, but as the pain subsided over the course of the day I was resigned to it being just down to the excesses of the time of year and a severe lack of stretching.

New Year’s Eve was fun, plenty of alcohol consumed but not too much as to have me suffering the following morning. There was no running New Year’s Day as we drove back home and I let the left leg recover. January 2nd saw me head out on what I’d planned to be a 20 minute run. At just over a km I felt the left thigh begin to cramp up again and before I even had chance to ease up and assess the situation the wave of pain shot all through the thigh and left me temporarily doubled up in pain. I hobbled back home and licked my wounds – not the most auspicious of ways to begin the year’s campaign, although, once again, the pain eased somewhat over the course of the day.

It was not so painful that I couldn’t make it to the local Aldi where they were selling a load of books about things such as stretching, yoga, pilates and back care for £2.99 each. On the spur of the moment I bought six of them. That evening I ran through the book about stretching and it soon became apparent why the thigh was cramping – the hip abductors and just about every muscle, for that matter, were ridiculously tight.

The next day and I was back on the elliptical trainer, putting in an easy an hour as it could be considering the excesses of Christmas. The left thigh felt okay and so I decided to take part in Witham Wheelers’ Reliability Ride on Sunday Morning. What should have been a 32 mile ride was under severe jeopardy thanks to a perfect storm of daytime rain followed by clear skies overnight, which saw temperatures plummet to -4 Celsius and untreated roads turn to ice rinks.

I gingerly made my way to the cycle club on Sunday morning, my fingers numb by the time I’d ridden the three miles or so. It was decided that the vast majority of the depleted numbers who turned up would ride an altered course, slightly shorter and using busier roads which, for the most part, had been gritted. The plan had been for most to ride at 16-17 mph due to the conditions. In my cycling naivety I took off on the first hill out of Grantham which created a splinter group who looked set to average 20mph. I hadn’t planned to ride that fast but after a few miles and with no idea where we were heading I had little choice but to sit at the back and hang on as best I could so I could find my way home. I hung on until the final few miles, which were on lethally icy roads and I didn’t fancy a tumble. 28 miles at an average of 19.6mph wasn’t a bad effort under the circumstances.

Once I’d cycled home, I had planned to hit the elliptical trainer for an hour, but as the left thigh felt fine I decided to head out for a short run. To my surprise the legs felt pretty good, and I put in 5km at just over 7 minute mile pace.

Flushed with confidence, the following day saw me run 4.5 miles and heading slightly further away from home. Again, although I felt ponderous and as though I was plodding, the pace was pretty pleasing. Yesterday I couldn’t get out as I was looking after the children, so I put in a two hour session on the elliptical trainer, which saw me digging into my suitcase of courage in the final half hour as the legs ran out of energy.

Today saw me on the streets again, and from the moment I set off I felt the legs were finally running again. I went a little further than planned, at just under 10km, but the pace was good and it felt easy. More importantly there was little pain, the abductors happier after targeted stretching and the core feeling stronger after five sessions in the last six days.

The plan now is to continue increasing the mileage, to continue using the elliptical trainer as it helps with both the running and the cycling, and to cycle on the Sunday’s with Witham Wheelers with the intention of possibly running a Duathlon in March. That is a long way away yet, but signs in the last few days are promising.