2016 London Marathon Training – Week Three (18-24 January)

With the calf tightening during Sunday’s long run at the end of week two, body and mind were not in a good place come the start of week three of marathon training. The calf was very tight on Monday, but as when the same thing happened back in November, I found that while the thought of running was not quite on the cards, cross training was not an issue. In a way this was reassuring – if it was a pull or a tear then cross training would be nigh on impossible. The fact I could do so without difficulty made me think the issue was more nerve related, where something is causing the calf to go into a spasm.

The week began with an hour on the new elliptical trainer in the morning, using one of the preset programs as it was really cold, I was wearing gloves and the touch screen didn’t work with gloves on. It would frequently go up to L18 which proved really hard to even turn the flywheel on. Considering it goes up to L32 I can’t imagine how hard that would be (By all accounts it is almost immoveable.

The evening saw a trip to the gym and a spin session. As Sunday’s bike ride was cancelled I opted to expand the cycling and perform a 35 minute program before the 40 minute spin session and then a 30 minute session to conclude. During the sessions I average 3.8 w/kg during the spin class sandwiched by a pair of 3/4 w/kg efforts. It was rewarding but really hard, I was maxed out running on empty by the end of it all. If there was a crane to winch me off the bike I would have gladly used it.

Tuesday and Wednesday saw a pair of two hour sessions on the elliptical trainer. Free of drama and strain they served as a good alternative to base building miles being almost exclusively at the lower reaches of the heart rate training zones. Come Wednesday evening the right calf felt okay. Not fantastic, but well enough to declare myself fit to take Thursday evening’s Grantham Running Club marathon paced session.

Thursday morning saw another hour on the elliptical trainer with a tiny test jog just to double check the calf. With it feeling relatively pain free that evening I headed to the club to lead an eight mile circuit with four miles at 7:30 pace. The calf ached a bit at times and tightened a touch but generally behaved itself to the point where at times I could almost forget about it. The run went well, a touch quicker than the plan but the guys I was running with seemed well capable of maintaining the pace – which is most encouraging for the year to come.

Friday I opted to take as a rest day, albeit with a strength and conditioning routine in the morning. It was my first day of no exercise of 2016.

Saturday came and it was a risk it all kind of day. I opted not to do a parkrun, but I felt the calf was sufficiently healed to run the 18 mile scheduled long run. I took a couple of precautions. Firstly I ran a route that kept close to home – never more than a couple of miles away, just in case things went wrong and I needed to hobble back. Secondly, I dug out the old faithful pair of Nike Lunarglides. I don’t wear them much as they feel like bricks in comparison to my other trainers, but they offer something different in the form of support and I figured they may stress the body in other, more favourable ways.

The decision on the Lunarglide’s seemed to pay off. There was a little calf ache in the first few miles combined with quite an ache high in the glute, I think one of the piraformis massage points. I pressed hard on the glute while running and sensed that the ache in the calf eased markedly. At around 10 miles I began to feel tell tale signs of the calf tightening. I pressed hard on the glute and once again the calf ache eased. With that I pressed on with the run – it going past my house as an option to cut the run short, and headed on a loop based around Belton House. I felt strong to the end of the run and the pace was pleasingly swift considering the low HR, averaging, 6:40 for the 18 miles.

Sunday and with ridiculously warm weather for January there was no risk of Witham Wheelers cancelling this week’s Reliability Ride. Heading to the club I thought it was going to be a tough one, struggling badly up the hill on South Parade. As a consequence I put myself in the fourth of five groups, reckoning their pace would be a little too hot – it was a 40 mile hilly ride and they were set to average between 21-22.5 mph. Group 4 was set to ride a far more realistic 18-19 mph. Having looked back on the same ride last year I knew that I’d averaged just 17.3 mph, albeit on a really cold and icy morning where self-preservation trumped any desire to attain a decent pace.

Within a few miles of riding the legs warmed up and I began to feel quite good. I took the lead of the group and found myself easing away without effort on the first of the hills. As we approached the descent of Stathern Hill there was a split of the group as things sped up and we caught all the groups that went out before us. As I dropped down the hill, maxing at around 40mph, I could hear a worrying noise coming from my wheel and I saw that my speed/cadence sensor had become perilously loose and was getting caught in the spokes. I tried to kick it out of the way but that just served to jam the pedals.

Fearing it could cause a crash, I stopped and literally ripped the unit apart, half of it ending up on the road, the other half in my jersey pocket as a souvenir. The time taken to remove the unit meant I’d lost contact with my group. I rode like a madman to try and catch up, finally doing so at the base of Harby Hill. At just over two miles it is a pig of a climb, near dead straight with an S bend to conclude, gradually increasing in its intensity until it is around 14% (estimated) steep at its conclusion.

Having caught the remnants of group four I found myself straight at the front and easing away again as the climb ramped up. I rode alone until around midway up the hill when a group of riders caught me and sat on my wheel. It was Group 5.

Riding alongside Karl Baille during the Witham Wheelers Reliability Ride #3. Picture c/o and © Alan East
Harby Hill during the Witham Wheelers Reliability Ride #3. Picture c/o and © Alan East

Alongside me came former Witham Wheelers and newly signed Raleigh GAC Professional Karl Baillie. The incentive to test myself alongside a talent such as his willed me to dig deep as the climb intensified. The group shrank by the top to just three or four of us; I managed to hang on by the skin of my teeth. We regrouped and the next ten miles were relentless on the flatter section. I rarely glanced at my cycle computer but it was mostly 25mph+ on the flat, much faster on the downhills where I struggled to keep contact and had to work really hard when the terrain plateaued. In many ways I found this bit harder than the hills we encountered.

The next climb was the return to Stathern, opposite direction this time. Despite Karl’s command at the base to ‘keep it steady’ within seconds of the road ramping up the group of seven or so was decimated. Karl soon drifted away from my front wheel with another rider not far behind, but I found myself third and pulling away from those behind me. Those spinning sessions are certainly working!

Come the top of the hill it was still another fourteen miles and two hills to go. I was isolated but as we by now had a tail wind I was comfortable riding alone, although I was caught coming down the hill by Belvoir Castle towards Woolsthorpe just as I was catching the rider (not Karl) ahead of me.

I respected the command of take it easy up Woolsthorpe Hill, once over the summit I worked at the front with one other rider in a group of three. The final challenge was Denton Hill, which averages just six percent, but has a section which is much steeper in the middle. Three of us began the climb, it was then two, and near the top I was pulling slowly away from the pair of them, albeit at the limit of my ability. I allowed the others to catch us at the top and worked hard on the run in to the finish. I glanced at my computer as I finished, most satisfied that I’d clocked 20.03mph for an average!

I didn’t hang around long, I cycled home and quickly changed into my running gear for a quick brick run. The legs felt a little funny for the first few minutes, the calf tingled at times, but generally it felt quite comfortable and pleasingly quick, averaging 6:06 for the 3.25 mile loop and with a HR that was well below marathon HR.

After a most depressing start to the week it ended on a real high. The bike ride was the most fun I’ve had in ages. I’ve got so much better in the past year thanks to the spinning sessions and I don’t really think I’ve maximised the most out of them. If the running ever goes completely tits up through injury, at least I should have cycling to enjoy.

As for the now there is a marathon to be trained for. On to week four!


2016 London Marathon Training – Week Two (11-17 January)

The week began waking in Camberley, tired, but thankfully without a hangover after a night out watching the World Darts final. As the world tried to cope with the news that David Bowie had died, I set out on a run revisiting old haunts. For the final year or so while at University I stayed with my Grandmother who lived in Sandhurst. It is just a couple of miles from Camberley to the famous army town, I set out on a run to try and reminisce on runs I must have done (but only vaguely remember). Sure enough some of the roads brought memories flooding back, the park was literally flooded and impossible to run in its entirety though. In conclusion I reckoned that my runs were very short (I seem to recall the longest run would be only around an hour or so) and that the most common run was one to Crowthorne, which I didn’t attempt.

A loop of Camberley town centre and it was another ten miles in the bag. I drove home later that morning, rested up in the afternoon before heading to the leisure center for the first spinning session of 2016. I warmed up for 20 minutes or so then operated at near full capacity for the session, pleased to average 258 watts, or 3.9 w/kg. A half hour warm down on the gym elliptical trainer and it was time for GRC’s committee meeting.

Tuesday was an emotional day of sorts as it was the last time the Kettler elliptical trainer was to be used. It had the usual hour session, alternating on 5 minute intervals between L5 and L7. The thing remained strong to the end despite being on the brink of falling apart. When it came to dismantling it the thing was far harder to break down than I had anticipated, the thing just didn’t want to go. It had to though, and as soon as the session was over I was helping the wife assemble the new one. My help consisted of taking the thing out of the box. The diagrams and instructions far beyond my comprehension. Thankfully she loves this sort of challenge and in a few hours the thing was up and ready to go. I had a quick spin – she was as steady as a rock and rode beautifully. She will be a great addition to the training family.

I was unsure what run to do in the evening. At the last moment I opted for the club intervals session as it was likely to be easier than running three miles at marathon pace, or so i figured. I wasn’t intending to push too hard. The initial 20 second sprints with 10 second recovery x 18 I treated as warm up strides. Next up was a relay hill session of sorts – around ten minutes of constant running up and down a shallow hill. I kept the effort at around marathon heart rate. To end the session was two one mile reps with three minutes recovery. The first was around 5:50, the last one 5:29 as I relaxed and pushed on a touch. Session over, I jogged home. Another ten miles in the bag.

Wednesday morning was an hour first on the new elliptical trainer, which was thankfully uneventful in the sense that everything felt sturdy and as it should with no dramas. Shortly after it was an easy ten mile run. I’d planned to stick the three miles at marathon pace in, but felt a little stiff after Tuesday’s intervals, so postponed those until Saturday. Otherwise everything felt good.

Thursday saw another hour on the elliptical trainer in the morning; then in the evening I was taking a new GRC evening session. To help prepare some of our runners for spring marathons I’m planning on taking a group on an eight mile town circuit, where a number of the miles are run at marathon pace, which I’ve set at 7:30 per mile. Runners are free to stick with it, or drift ahead or behind depending on feel. The first week we were to have three miles at marathon pace (MP), it will be increased by a mile each week until we are running eight miles at MP on a ten mile course, then after a brief cut back, working towards one or two sessions where there are ten miles at MP on a 12 mile circuit.

The first week saw an encouraging number turn up. After two miles of easy running we set off. Keeping pace wasn’t easy, especially as there was an icy cold wind blowing into our faces at times, then becoming a strong tail wind. Despite that and some hills to disrupt the pace, I managed to clock 7:30; 7:30 and 7:26. Mission accomplished. We jogged back to base then did some easy miles home with a runner who wanted to make it his long run for the week. I stuck at 12 miles.

Friday was again the rest day which had an hour on the elliptical trainer and some strength and conditioning beforehand. Saturday I had a long run of 16 miles planned which had Belton House parkrun bunged in somewhere in the middle. It was a crisp cold morning, well below freezing and with a fair amount of ice. That said, once warmed up, it was ideal for running, and I was able to put in 8 steady miles before the start of parkrun. I’d planned to do parkrun at marathon HR, when I found myself in the lead three minutes in with club mate Chris on my shoulder, that plan went a little out of the window, averaging instead something closer to half marathon HR.

We shared the lead for the first lap and a bit before Chris eased ahead and I let him pull away. 18:14 was just six seconds outside my course PB and I was pleased, although the left groin tightened a touch with the sub six minute miles. I jogged a few miles back into town with Chris before concluding with a quicker couple of miles. Sixteen and a half miles at 6:44 pace was pleasing.

Sunday did not go quite as well. I’d hoped to take part in the Witham Wheelers Reliability Ride, but that was cancelled first thing as snow had fallen overnight leaving some roads treacherous with ice. I opted to go instead for a run. After a stiff first mile things felt fine as I headed to the canal path. At around eight miles and out of the blue I felt my right calf tighten, in a manner almost identical to how it tightened in mid November last year at parkrun. Like that morning I was able to carry on with a moderate amount of discomfort, but shortly after finishing the 14 mile run the calf felt very sore and tight. Thankfully by the evening it had eased off  somewhat, the next morning I was able to cross train fine, but the calf feels although running might be off the agenda for a short while. I left it two weeks last November, hopefully I will be able to come back a little sooner, but time will tell.

A disappointing conclusion to what had been a very good week of training, more so as I was sure the calf problem had been fixed and that it struck again without warning. Hopefully it will be easy to treat (Massage and stretching fixed it last time) and I won’t be gone too long.

2016 London Marathon Training – Week One (4-10 January)

The annual Christmas and New Year tradition of eating way too much and drinking even more left my body feeling a veritable mess come the first day proper of marathon training. I felt like I’d put on a stone or more; I can’t tell you how much exactly I did put on – I was too scared to weigh myself…

Feeling like I was five foot ten and a hundred tons, Monday came and even if I hadn’t quite got the full urge back to put my heart and soul into another marathon campaign, I was utterly determined to lose the weight I’d put on over Christmas. Thankfully the sore throat and general malaise I’d suffered over New Year was somewhat cleared and I could start training relatively refreshed.

If I had pretenses of being a coach in the waiting or some kind of running guru, I could pretend I spent hours and hours devising an in-depth training plan for the forthcoming weeks. The reality is somewhat different. Following on from the successful summer 2015 training campaign for Chester (four personal bests from 5k up to marathon) I have opted for the same very simple plan. Aim for around two hours of cardiovascular activity each day, plenty of easy paced runs with marathon heart rate runs thrown in, the odd interval session, spin sessions on the bike and, as it is the start of the year, an attempt to take part in as many Witham Wheelers’ Reliability Rides as possible. I’ll prefer to operate on a train as you feel basis, hopefully avoiding some of the injury issues that have plagued training plans where I’ve religiously tried to stick to a plan ambitiously mapped out when feeling fresh and injury free.

For the first week (and probably the remainder of January) the theme was very much about building base mileage – plenty of easy paced, relatively long, runs. I liked the idea of running ten miles a day on those base building days purely on its simplicity, so that is pretty much what I did.

Feeling like I needed to start the week with a bit of a blast to help start shifting the flab I set out on my favourite ten mile loop of Grantham and soon found myself running at a steady pace just a few beats lower than my prescribed marathon heart rate. In many ways it was a good session to begin with as it gave me a good indicator of current form. The conclusion was that I was in reasonable shape, certainly better running wise than twelve months earlier, averaging 6:21 per mile and concluding the run with a 6:00 mile.

I was still suffering the effects of the cold, so I kept it at one session for the day. Come Tuesday, feeling much better and with the eldest kid back at school – I began the twice a day regime. First up the easy paced ten miles in the morning which felt surprisingly easy; later in the day a comfortable hour on the elliptical trainer, which I remembered after a few moments on it had all but fallen apart just before Christmas. Two days of research later and a new one was on order.

Wednesday was more of the same, albeit with the hour on the elliptical trainer first, and the ten mile run a little later in the morning. Thursday I rocked it like I did on the Tuesday – ten in the morning  (a little harder going than in previous days) and an hour on the elliptical trainer in the afternoon.

Friday was logistically a difficult day to exercise so it was just an hour on the elliptical trainer, which was probably no bad thing after 40 miles covered in four days. That evening saw a rare night on the tiles. Mixing cider and cocktails was never going to be a good idea and Saturday’s long run / parkrun combo idea was quietly put to bed as I overslept and woke with a slightly sore head.

Dehydrated and head still pounding, I headed out at around 11 am for long run #1 of the training campaign. I opted for an out and back 15 mile effort to a relatively unused (for running) lump in the earth called Hough-on-the-Hill. Despite my best attempts to handicap myself the run was surprisingly good – a healthy tailwind on the outward leg meant I was running comfortably under 6:40 per mile; the return was tough at times into the wind but it was not too hard to maintain miles at around 6:40 – finally averaging 6:39.

Feeling really thirsty I thought it was a good time to weigh myself, so as to potentially lessen the depressing scenario. The rather surprising news was that I was half a pound less than a week before Christmas, which was certainly a good morale booster, even if it was probably a false dawn caused by serious dehydration.

Sunday and it was time to test the liver once again by heading to Lakeside, Frimley Green, to watch the final of the World Darts Championship. It was a fairly early start but I managed to get out for another ten mile run on what is now a very familiar route. I was really happy with the run – low heart rate and a 6:45 average. The darts was brilliant; the benefit of it being a one-sided affair meant I didn’t get to drink my body weight in cider, although I had tried pretty hard in the three hours we were there.

Week one’s training went far better than I could have envisaged and has given me great optimism for the weeks ahead. Spurred on by this wave of enthusiasm, I finally got around to joining Belvoir Triathlon Club and entered the Dambuster Duathlon in March. I had entered the Clumber Park Duathlon last year but a sacrum fracture put pay to that; hopefully I’ll make it to the start line this year.

I want to try and put in an honest effort so the training in the next few weeks will tailor itself a little to that – spin classes, bike rides, brick runs and, not forgetting my secret weapon, the elliptical trainer. On the way down to Lakeside I popped into Leekes in Coventry to pick up my new ride. Coming in at 69kg it certainly was a challenge to get into the car (Luckily I had some help). The proof will be in the using but at £400 after a hefty reduction and a double cashback I think I may have grabbed myself a bit of a bargain – if I can work out how to put it together…

2016 English National Marathon (London) Championships Training – Pre-Base Base Training

Quite often come the beginning of December and with a Spring Marathon planned I put in a period of heavy base training – lots of long runs at a comfortable pace and not an awful lot else. This year though was going to be similar, if slightly different. I went into the start of the month with a niggling calf injury sustained at the Chester Marathon in October and a dodgy left hip / groin / hamstring issue which was making fast running in particular very uncomfortable.

I endured what was probably the most painful massage I’ve ever had at the start of the month, which did a fantastic job on clearing down scar tissue in the calf, but the hip / groin issue was still a concern. I began the month with the Nene Valley 10 (Race report elsewhere) which concluded my 2015 racing campaign in pleasing manner, albeit tinged with the unavoidable fact that I was barely able to walk at the end of the race.

In desperation I turned to a little star purchase I made at the start of the year from, of all places, Aldi. They were selling sports and fitness related books – yoga, pilates, weights etc. at a low price. I bought all six of them and flicked through them all. The one that saw the most attention was a book on stretching. It was interesting as it was written by a ballet dancer and had stretches for the entire body, many of them not your typical running themed stretches. Many were frankly impossible to carry out properly for a body rendered totally unsupple with tens of thousands of running miles, but some I found particularly effective. So, for three weeks in December I set about religiously going through the 30 minute or so stretching routine and at the end of the year there was definitely improvement, to the point that I could extend my run home from Belton House parkrun mostly pain free rather than hobbling pathetically home.

Apart from the two parkruns there was not much in the way of quick running and a fair amount of moderate distance runs at an easy pace. The most satisfying run of the month was probably a 10k brick effort following the only long bike ride of the month (60 miles) which saw me average 6:36 pace and felt effortless. The best run of the month was definitely the GRC Christmas Lights run, which was a festival of all that is good and wrong with light displays and a visit too from none other than Father Christmas! I got the opportunity to dress up as the man himself on the club’s Christmas Eve run, which earned a fair few toots of the horn as I ran briefly beside the A1 on the way to Ponton. A heart-warming social run was made more challenging by some pretty terrible weather but it was a cheery way to begin the Christmas holidays.

2015 saw all my remaining running goals broken – a cycling goal I created mid year was on the gym’s spin bike. Having not used a bike that read your watts before, I was intrigued on my first session to hit 2.7 watts per k/g. That quickly rose to 3.1 and thereafter set myself a target of hitting 4.0 w/kg – a figure I vaguely recalled meant you were an okay cyclist.  Come the beginning of December I was tantalisingly close with a brace of 3.9 w/kg rides. The 14th December session saw an extra determined effort which saw me clock, by a watt or two, 4.0 w/kg. The jubilant scenes were almost as great as when I broke 2:45! I backed this up with an hour ride on 23rd December, where I clocked 3.9 w/kg. Not sure how much higher I can go but it will be fun trying. What is worth noting is that the efforts are having a great showing on my road cycling – I am much stronger than I was at the start of the year, and hopefully I can carry this forward into 2016.

Training over Christmas is a political and logistical minefield and I set no goals or targets and opted for an eat and drink loads strategy to help with the fat burning training in January…. The pre Xmas weekend with the in-laws saw a welcome innovation with the introduction of Boston parkrun – I felt dreadful and somehow mustered second. I felt better the next day and ran 17 windy miles with a sub six minute final mile to finish, followed by 14 even windier miles the following day. There was no Christmas Day run – that has been lost to the children – but I did get to run parkrun on Boxing Day. Travelling to Minehead on the Sunday, there was a couple of ten mile runs on the Monday and Tuesday, the hills coming as something of a shock to the body but otherwise not too bad considering the levels of food and drink consumed.

The spanner in the works came courtesy of a fiery sore throat which meant that my last run of the year on New Year’s Eve was looking  very unlikely before I decided to risk it and put in 7 very slow miles, thankfully with no ill effect. New Year’s Day was a hungover 5 mile run with my brother who now lives in Canada and was finding the 6C so warm he saw it fit to run it in a vest – which made my full thermal attire look a little weedy.

The last two days of pre-base base training came in the form of a ten mile run on the Saturday which was a little uncomfortable with the sore throat and a little concerning with how tubby the body felt. I could have done though with a little more body fat on the Sunday morning when I took part in the first Witham Wheelers ride of the year. It began overcast but shortly before the coffee stop it began to rain and I struggled to stay warm. The ride was cut short by around 20 miles because of some fairly atrocious weather, I cycled in with the quick boys simply to try and keep some warmth in the body. It took me until well into the evening before I felt like I had warmed up.

With that and with no plan about what marathon training for 2016 should actually consist of, I ended pre-base base training and went straight into marathon training – which will begin with a period of more base. It’s all about the base.