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!