Week three of Virgin London Marathon training began on Monday with a rest day, albeit with seven miles of walking on the school run and a strength and conditioning session. Not exactly the Kenyan style of rest, but about as good as it gets in the real world.
Tuesday evening saw the first run of the week and, like the previous Tuesday, it was to be a marathon paced effort (eight miles) set to a maximum heart rate. This week however I was to run it with my new club mate and, for the time being at least, training partner – Janis. Although I was very grateful for the company – running at pace is so much easier when you are running with someone else, I was aware that setting pace to a heart rate can be problematic when not alone. The beeping of the watch alerting you to a HR violation is annoying to yourself and especially others, and the remedy to stop the beeping – to slow the pace, is not necessarily beneficial to your running partner. Fortunately Janis explained that he isn’t currently in training for any particular event and was happy to accommodate my disruptive changes in pace. He didn’t quite say it so eloquently – his English is improving, but still rudimentary, I nonetheless appreciated his generosity to rabbit me when required.
After a couple of miles warm-up (Most of it run solo meeting up with Janis), we leaped into marathon pace with a 6:15 mile. After a solid start we improved to 6:05, the beep on the watch figuring a few times as I hovered perilously close to my marathon HR maximum. The next three miles were metronomic – 6:11; 6:11; and 6:14. Entering the eighth mile of the run I began to struggle a touch – clocking a 6:25 as I tired a little and suffered with a pair of ferociously tight calf muscles. The next mile was slower still at 6:34, but it contained a fair stretch of uphill. The final mile of marathon pace conversely was either downhill or pancake flat and was covered in 5:57. This, Janis pointed out, was the sort of pace he would run his marathons in.
There followed a couple of miles warm down at easy pace (6:55 and 6:53) and the key run for the week was done. I was happy with the run, not so pleased with the tightness of the calves and a little ache in the right Piraformis. Happily though the left shin didn’t grumble at all.
Wednesday morning saw a proper recovery run with the legs very stiff from the night before. Breaking eight minute miles was tough as the left calf remained very tight and the hips ached – along with the left shin on occasion. At least the final mile was the quickest of the run, indicating that the recovery element of the run had worked.
Thursday was meant to have me out running in the evening, but snowfall during the day and then a harsh freeze which rendered the slushy bits to ice, meant that running would be too dangerous. I took instead to the turbo trainer, which I’d bought a day earlier and had fitted ready for this probable eventuality. I ran half an hour on it in the morning just to check it worked, then 25 miles in the evening, which took one hour twelve minutes. I wouldn’t pretend to say it was thrilling, but I could feel that it gave a damned good workout as I battled to keep the average above 20 mph. Moreover the still-tight left calf appeared to self-loosen, which was most pleasant.
I did though during the exercise render the rear tyre useless for any further use – the slow puncture it had became a full blown puncture and the worn rubber began to show ominous signs of canvas. On Sunday I attempted to replace the tyre, an event that predictably ended in failure and an enforced trip at some point in the week to the bike shop to sort out my woeful efforts at the most rudimentary form of bicycle maintenance.
On Friday morning and because of some pressing work matters it was necessary to attempt to run back home after dropping my daughter off from school. Not usually an issue, this was made significantly more challenging by the treacherously icy conditions for much of the 1.7 miles. Thankfully I was able to locate the studs that I’d used a couple of years ago to put over my running trainers. These gave excellent grip, so much so that I heard numerous people questioning how I was able to run so effortlessly on terrain so slippery.
Aware that the ice and snow was not long for the ground and that a slush / nothing at all combination is far worse to run on with studs than mostly ice and snow, I headed back out as soon as I could to continue my morning run. I headed out to Belton Woods and House, via Gonerby. Some parts were already free of snow and I struggled on the tarmac. The bits that remained white underneath were enjoyable, yet challenging, to run on. The pace of the 7.3 miles was hardly outstanding, but the effort put in was greater than a regular run and, once again, the right Piraformis was quite tight.
The long run for the week was again scheduled for Saturday, not this time because of a bike ride on Sunday, but because February 1st heralded the start of F1 testing and a long day behind the desk. Janis was up for an early morning (8:40 am) run of my choosing and I chose the Newton’s Fraction Half Marathon course, because 1. with the extra miles from my house it comes in at 16 or so miles which is the distance I had in mind to run, and 2. I thought Janis might like to see the course of a local race that he’d have a very good chance of doing well at should he wish to enter it.
Like most of last year’s long runs, I hoped the average would come in at or just under seven minutes per mile. This was going to be made a little tougher by a heavy snow shower during the run which made the going tough underfoot for around half of the course (I’d gone out without studs as the conditions were good as I’d left home). What the weather made tougher the companionship of a talented runner more than compensated – a third mile of 6:54 and the fourth 6:31 felt near comfortable. Janis commented on the good pace as he showed excellent aptitude for converting minutes per kilometer pace into minutes per mile and vice versa. He also reckoned I looked in shape to run 2:39 over a marathon. This was a big boost to morale!
The first big climb of the run, on Cliff Road up to Fanny’s Wood, was potentially revealing as I – for the first time – dropped Janis halfway up the climb. This was probably because I knew exactly what the hill entailed and knew how much effort to put in, but also showed that I am getting stronger. The subsequent Strava analysis proved this – it was just five seconds slower than my quickest ascent – set in September last year when I was in top form. On the long gradual descent into Denton, the snowfall battering Janis and me reminded my new Latvian friend of his homeland in wintertime. I couldn’t decide whether this was an endorsement of the Baltic country – it certainly made for challenging running conditions.
The next mile or two was one of those what doesn’t kill you moments as we faced heavy snowfall and a bracing cold northerly wind. The fact we ran a 6:44 mile was pleasing indeed. We then had the final challenge of the run – Casthorpe Hill. A layer of wet snow on the road made the climb harder than it already is. Janis this time took the lead up the hill and I settled in behind, doing what was necessary to stay tucked in behind. At the top Janis agreed with me that the Newton’s Half is a tough old race (this hill comes in at ten miles). At home Strava confirmed that I had equaled my quickest time for the ascent of the hill (set again last September). This was most encouraging as I felt I’d not put in that great an effort and the conditions were definitely not favourable.
The Newton’s Half does though enjoy a long gradual descent to the finish and after a 7:01 mile (Which included the Casthorpe Hill ascent), we enjoyed a similar downhill conclusion to our run, with 6:21, 6:27 and 6:29 miles back into Grantham. It was a most satisfying Long Snowy Run – 16.36 miles at an average pace of 6:45, and aside from a brief moment of shin ache, no physical discomfort.
For Sunday I’d originally planned to do a bit of a duathlon effort using the turbo trainer, but the puncture and subsequent failure at replacing the tyre put paid to that plan. I did though finish work a little earlier than expected so I headed out with an open mind as to what I was going to do. From the off the legs felt fresh, almost bouncy, and after the first mile and a half, it felt very easy to run under seven minutes per mile. After around five miles I felt good enough to reckon I could run the same amount again – so I did, finding myself near effortlessly running the final two miles in 6:34 and 6:28, averaging the 10.66 miles at 6:54 pace.
I seem to recall saying to someone last year that I prefer to judge my form not on how well the hard sessions go but how comfortable the easy sessions feel. This felt far more comfortable than any of the post hard run sessions I’ve done up to now in this training block, so I was happy with that. What I wasn’t so pleased with is that the left shin ached in the final mile and, more pressingly, the right Piraformis ached for much of the run and nagged well into the evening – clearly that muscle, or something around it, is irritating the Sciatic nerve. I wouldn’t normally be overly concerned except that this is in the ballpark area of my fracture problems of last autumn and I’m very keen not to repeat that experience again.
In conclusion, a good week of training in sometimes trying conditions. The week ahead will hopefully see more of the same but could be tempered over concerns with the right gluteal area. Only time will tell what pans out.