During the winter I get plenty of opportunity to take part in Belton House parkrun. I very often run it as part of a long run, so rarely get to run it full gas – at best it’s half marathon HR. I wasn’t expecting to take part in Belton House parkrun #111 as it was a Grand Prix Saturday, but Friday afternoon practice at Baku made me aware that the timetable was a little different from regular European races, meaning I had a crucial extra hour in the morning, meaning I could take get in a quick parkrun before hot footing it back home to begin work.
The weather could not be much different from six days earlier at the London Marathon – light rain, a light to steady breeze and temperatures maxing out at around 7C. It could have been near perfect for Marathon running: in around ten years I may get over the injustice of the unseasonably warm weather we were subjected to for 26.2 miles. In near full winter gear I made the very late decision to add a t-shirt to the thermal top I was already wearing – chance would have it it was the 2018 London Marathon finishers’ t-shirt I’d put in the top of my running drawer.
The shortest distance to run to parkrun for me is just over two miles, I decided to loop a bit longer making it nearer four by the time I lined up the start. More than plenty who were there, but compared to some of my long runs over the winter, where I had 15 or more miles already clocked up, I felt like I’d barely run at all.
Running with music pumping into my headphones, like I regularly do, I changed from a Prince playlist (Fantastic, but trying to smash a 5:30 mile to Do Me Baby is kind of tricky!) to my running/spinning playlist, reserved for events where some pumping tunes are required to help keep a good tempo. I kept the earphones out to hear the pre-run briefing before hitting play as the short countdown commenced and we were on our way.
I often find myself outside the top 15 for the opening km or so of parkrun, but the legs must have felt reasonable (Or the field was a little lethargic) as I was soon into third place, already miles behind the rapidly improving junior runner William Tucker, but closer than usual to the regular man being pulled along by dog combo, who often starts quick before fading a touch.
Neither were of much concern to me – I genuinely care little what position I am in a parkrun as it’s not a race. What was concerning me was that the Tiny Tempah track that had began my parkrun had been abruptly replaced by something quite awful which I had to pause for fear of corrupting my mind. I later found to be Michael Buble, accidentally put on by my wife back at home using Spotify on Alexa. To correct this heinous mistake would have meant getting my phone out which, while running comfortably below six minute miles, was not practicable. So I had to make do with the relative sound of silence.
Persistent rain meant the gravel track out to the Lion Gates was a bit of a splash fest, although it has been worse. The same could be said for the rest of the grass 2.5km loop, which was wet, but not as slippy and muddy as it has been this winter. Leaving the gravel path and onto the grass, Chris Limmer came onto my shoulder. He is training for a 100 mile race this Saturday, but his diet of long runs seems to be paying dividends for his 5K pace, as he has had some good runs in recent weeks.
His presence must have seen me pick up the pace for we soon caught and passed man with dog as we ran alongside the golf course. Along the ‘back straight’ where the mole hills make running a bit of a nightmare. Chris pulled past me. Tucking into his slipstream I had visions of this being New Years Eve v2, where Greg Southern and I paced each other around to my course PB of 17:00.
Letting Chris take the pace for a minute or so I pulled back past him and just increased the pace slightly. Unfortunately for the benefit of a quicker time, Chris was just unable to stick to my tail and I eased slowly ahead. We had clocked 5:38 for the first mile, but heading off the gravel path on the second lap back towards the golf course, Garmin flashed a 5:25 mile.
On a good day I’d be able to maintain that pace for the rest of the parkrun. At that moment I just began to feel the marathon in my legs and also in my mind and I just had to let the pace slip a touch. It wasn’t a killer final mile but it was certainly a bit of an effort to get to the finish. 5:38 was the third mile split with barely any sprint finish to speak of. William finished first in a cracking course PB of 17:01, I came home second in 17:27, with Chris third in 17:41.
I didn’t have long to recover for I had a couple of miles to run to get home so I could begin work. I was able to correct the Spotify issue and had the pumped up running tracks to help me home. The final run stats came in at 9.5 miles at 6:19 average, with the parkrun the fastest at Belton House since January 2017. So much for taking it easy after the marathon! In all seriousness, hopefully it bodes well for a good summer of racing. I think I am in fairly good shape and if I can avoid injury and illness some good things are possible.
Once upon a time, not so long ago, I would have killed for a time like that…
The taper is always my least favourite part of training. Doubts creep in, the body sometimes repulses the idea of suddenly dropping the volume its been accustomed to in the past 4-6 months. This, I found out today when reading over lunch, is why some don’t bother with a taper. I think, next time, I may do the same.
The 2016 London Marathon taper did not go well. The Chinese GP meant I was tired and virtually jet-lagged. My final long run was a disaster with my weird cramp afflicting me after just three miles of running and crippling me to a halt after seven miles. I ran twice subsequently without a repeat of the episode, but the legs didn’t feel great. The last two sessions on the elliptical trainer especially felt really bad, a cadence of 8-10 rpm less than what I’d easily managed a week earlier felt too much like hard work.
Then on Thursday evening – Prince died. Those who follow me on Facebook will know what the Purple One meant to me. I’ll spare you of the emotions I’ve felt over the past week, suffice to say I took the news fairly badly, a bottle plus of wine later and not getting to sleep until nearly 3 am meant I felt dreadful most of Friday and not a whole lot better on Saturday.
Added to that my eldest daughter came home from school midweek with a cold. Over dinner she decided to cough all over my face. Twice. By Saturday I could feel the onset of a cold trying to envelop my body. I tried my best to dismiss it, put it down to the moderate pollen count, but the tickle in the throat and the slightly heavy legs were a tell tale sign that I was not quite 100%. Ironically this was confirmed with just how easy it was for me to fall asleep on Saturday night. Normally the night before a big race I’d be tossing and turning until the early hours, especially if I decided to get an early night (9:30 pm). This time however I was sound asleep by ten, not stirring until the alarm clock chimed at 4:30 am.
I checked my phone to confirm it was indeed that early. It was. I was informed that Gwenda Williams had taken six of my Strava segments, none of which by legal means. Somewhat oddly I insisted on firing up the PC to flag each and every one of her poorly veiled bike rides pretending to be runs, before downing an espresso, grabbing my bags and heading out the front door.
I made a very late decision to catch an earlier train from Stevenage to Kings Cross than first planned. It’s possible the 7:38 would have been fine, but the night before doubts crept in and I insisted to my passenger, Scott, that the 7:03 would have to be the train we caught. And so it was we were on the A1 heading south at 5:30 am, the roads blissfully traffic free. Scott sat beside me, taking part in his first London Marathon, barely having slept a wink the night before. In the back my eldest daughter and my wife.
We arrived at Stevenage in plenty of time, just as well as the ticket machine proved to be very reluctant to produce any ticket at all. We were joined at the station by fellow Grantham Running Club members Paul and Helen, who were also taking part in the London Marathon and had also plumped for the drive to Stevenage and catch the 7:03 to Kings Cross option.
We were soon on the train and before we knew it we were at Kings Cross. I bid farewell to my wife and daughter who enjoyed coffee and croissants at the station cafe. I was a couple of tube journeys away from Charing Cross. Last year the train to Blackheath was rammed beyond comprehension. This year, thanks to being 40 minutes earlier, we had a choice of empty seats. It soon filled, but this was far more civilised.
It should be pointed out at some point that all the talk before the marathon was the weather and the threat of snow on race day. This was no Daily Express sensationalist crap that failed to materialise. Yes, the snow failed to materialise, but it snowed at Liege Baston Liege, it snowed at the Zurich Marathon, and it snowed in London a day or two after the London Marathon. As it was the forecasters were a little out in their prediction, conditions were a little wet first thing, but then mostly cloudy, a little breezy, and temperatures of around 8-10C – perfect for marathon running.
At Blackheath and at the Blue Start I wished Scott and Helen the best of luck as I embarked on the Championship start, which turned out to be a rather small, somewhat underwhelming, enclave within the Blue Start. Arriving over an hour before the start I had plenty of time to arrange a me in front of the Championship start photo. It has taken nearly 20 years of training to reach this start, it may be the only time I make it here. So I was going to get a (not that great photo).
After showing my number and confirming that my Kenilworth Runners T-Shirt met with the regulations I had an hour or so to kill before the start of the race. This was made much easier when I stumbled upon my good running friend Stuart Hopkins. Our running and sporting paths have followed very closely together – we last raced just a few months ago at the Chester Marathon, where I passed him at 19 miles en route to my 2:43 PB. Stuart has PBs at all distances just a bit quicker than mine but we have been fairly evenly matched over the years.
By the time we’d caught up on all the happenings of the past few months it was time to get a wriggle on, get in the queue for the toilets (Disappointingly we weren’t assigned one each…) and get the baggage bag on to the lorry. As an acknowledgement of our running talents it had been decreed there would be a road open for us to warm up on. However, it turned out this stretch of road was somewhat smaller than in previous years. You therefore had the rather amusing sight of hundreds of runners trying to run in an area no larger than a small playground. It meant that running was reduced to a jail yard shuffle. I wasn’t that fussed, I’ve never warmed up before a marathon and I wasn’t about to waste my energies now.
The championship starters begin their race just behind the elites. Disappointingly we were around 10 meters behind them. Moreover Stuart and I joined the start a little late, so we were quite near the back, back with the majority of the female championship runners, some of whom were only looking to run around 3:15. This meant potentially we could have a more congested start than when I competed from the Fast Good For Age start. I really wasn’t that bothered though, for a fast start is never in my plans at a marathon.
I was very calm when the gun fired for the start of the race. I’d tried my hardest to not get worked up and that had paid off handsomely. I now had to make sure I wasn’t too laid back and not be able to get into my running. The early miles worked out near perfectly. I like to run the first mile at a maximum of 150 BPM, the second mile at 155 BPM max, then the third at 160 BPM max, before running miles 4-20 at a maximum of 165 BPM. I had little difficulty keeping the heart rate down, as has often been the case. The first mile was 6:43, compared with 6:40 at Chester, 6:23 in the second mile (6:22 at Chester) and 5:56 in the significantly downhill third mile, compared with 6:15 at Chester. I felt comfortable and restrained.
With the crowd support in full voice as usual and the throngs of equally able runners around me, it was not difficult to maintain the pace and pleasingly the heart rate was the lowest it has ever been at the kind of pace I was running in a race, typically 2-3 beats lower than at Chester and well under the 165 threshold. The fourth mile was 5:57, but then I slowed a bit in miles 5 and 6 with 6:08 and 6:11. I ran the first 5k in 19:51, the second 5k in 19:12.
Miles 7-9 were much the same as the comfortable, restrained running continued – 6:04, 6:10; 6:04 for a third 5k of 19:14. I saw my wife at just over 9 miles – a fleeting glimpse. She would have seen me looking happy. It was the last time, metaphorically speaking, I had a smile on my face.
At nine and a half miles I started to get the familiar cramp feeling in my left quad that I suffered on that fateful last long run a week or so earlier. It didn’t manifest itself immediately into full blown cramp, but I knew from the five or six runs over the past 15 months where I have suffered this weird cramp (weird, because it typically happens very early during a run) that it would eventually take control of not just the left leg but the right leg too.
I also knew that, as at the Maverick trail race I won last summer, where I got the cramp at just two miles into the fifteen mile race, I could potentially run a good distance at relatively undiminished pace with a moderate amount of discomfort before the pain would become intolerable. So I tried my best to ignore the discomfort and run as well as possible for as long as possible.
Mile ten was another 6:04, mile 11 6:03 and mile 12 6:07. This wasn’t 2:36 pace but it was possibly a sub 2:40 if I could run a negative split in the second half. As we crossed Tower Bridge and were blown away, once again, by the sheer ferocity of the crowd support, my confidence took a knock as the discomfort intensified on descent from the bridge. Mile 13 was 6:14, the slowest since the second mile and I passed halfway in 1:21:39 having actually just run the fastest five km of the race (19:10). My mental maths worked out that basically if I matched my first half I would match my PB to virtually the second.
This actually didn’t inspire me that much. The main motivator in my training was the lure of possibly breaking 2:40. It now appeared that, barring a miracle and the weird cramp leaving me the best I could hope for was a marginal PB, the likelihood a performance a little way short. Mile 14 gave me brief room for hope. Inspired by the lead women runners on the opposite side of the road. I ran a 5:58 and still felt comfortable. Three gels down, three to go. Maybe I could still do this.
Mile 15 bordered on the surreal. At no point in the run did I really feel the need to visit a portaloo. By mile 15 there was small feelings, shall we say, but I could have comfortably held it all in for safe disposal after the race. Running down the appropriately named Narrow Street I had a flashback to the ill-fated 2011 marathon where, having just made it back from China / Vietnam / Moscow in time for the race thanks to the Icelandic ash cloud, I made an urgent visit to the portaloos in the 15th mile en route to a 2:55 clocking. Before I could snap myself out of it I found myself barging through the unsuspecting spectators and sitting in what could have been the very same portable toilet I found myself in five years earlier.
And there I sat. For quite a few moments doing nothing in particular. This was frankly ridiculous. I pulled myself together and made sure my trip to the WC wasn’t fruitless. I lost a minute or so before the shorts were back where they should be and I was on my way. The crap may have left the body but the cramp sadly hadn’t. The left quad still aching away.
That fifteenth mile was 7:22 including the stop, mile 16 showed I was still running well with a 6:02, followed by a 6:06 and a 6:11 as we headed into the Docklands. Mile 19 on the Garmin is listed as a 5:57 but I have my doubts as I could feel myself slowing and we passed Canary Wharf, which is always known to wreak havoc with anything relying on a GPS signal. To my surprise I chanced upon my wife, daughter, brother and his fiance cheering me in a prime spot at aforementioned Canary Wharf. This put a smile on my face and a small spring in my step. Sadly it wasn’t to last.
It was just after this point I caught and passed Stuart. Amazingly I believe it was almost the exact same duration into the marathon at Chester I passed him. He has been struggling in the past weeks with a hamstring injury and was clearly slowing. At Chester I had no doubts I would finish ahead of him. Here I wasn’t so sure.
Mile 20 was 6:11 but by now the left quad was awash with cramp and the right leg was beginning to suffer too. I mentally gave up at almost exactly the same point as I did last year – the temporary bit they’ve put in on the A6121 where you double back on yourself somewhat awkwardly. It’s wholly bereft of spectators. This year they put on a mobile disco to offer encouragement but, for me, it was not enough. I slowed, mile 21 was 6:57. Sub 2:45 dreams were over.
I think had I not have run 2:43 last year I would have doubled my efforts, tried to ignore the cramp, and battled through to a heroic 2:47 or so. Because I have now broken 2:45 and my only motivation was to try and break 2:40, now that was clearly not possible I switched off, slowed down and went into damage limitation mode. I thought of the upcoming World Duathlon Championships, the Summer Solstice 10k I want to run, the half marathons in the Autumn. What was the point in killing myself now for a time that would be five minutes outside my best? I set my sights on running sub-3 and dismissing the 2016 London Marathon as just a bad day in the office.
Mile 22 was 6:52, but that was the last respectable mile. By mile 23 I was having to stop and walk on occasion as the pain in the left quad especially was bad – as bad as it was on that last long run. The problem at London is that the spectators simply don’t let you stop and walk. They scream and shout, willing you to being running again. Last year I took the pressure off myself, expected fully to hit the wall and embraced the crowd when I did, almost enjoying the experience. This year I hated it. I hated the London Marathon and wondered why on earth I was doing it.
Still though I carried on. Mile 23 – 7:30. Mile 24 was really bad – 8:56. Mile 25 a little better at 8:25, but that included a spell of not moving at all, a few steps run backwards in a desperate attempt to cure the cramp – as it partially did a week earlier.
Thinking back now, bizarrely it may have. Either that or a conscious attempt to increase the cadence and reduce the stride length. The intense discomfort In the left leg subsided a little and I was able to shuffle the remainder of the way to the finish line, even mustering a little sprint finish near the end. In the meantime I had been re-passed by Stuart, passed too by GRC club mate Chris Limmer who was running strongly to a 2:53 clocking, and spotted the wife and family once again, who had managed to get from Canary Wharf to bag a prime spot right next to Big Ben!
As for me, well at 23 miles I figured I had 33 minutes to run the last 3.2 miles. I reckoned that was possible and so indeed it turned out to be – stopping the clock at 2:54:50. There was no fist pump, no smile, almost no emotion at all as I collected my medal and goody bag other than disappointment mixed with resignation and even a little optimism.
As I told, somewhat hastily as is usually the case, anyone who cared to listen that this was the last marathon I’d ever run, I also reflected that aside from the marathon itself, the training for the marathon has possibly left me in the best shape I’ve ever been in. I was second at the Newton’s Fraction Half Marathon in my fastest ever spring HM time. I’d qualified for the World Duathlon Championships at my first attempt, and up until 20 miles I was running comfortably the fastest I’d ever done at the London Marathon.
2:54:50 would have been a time I’d died for ten or so years ago. When I first broke 3 hours I never thought I’d get down to 2:43 with the real possibility of going faster yet. The very fact I’m so disappointed by a 2:54 clocking shows how far I’ve come.
I’m always touched when the London Marathon gives me my own repatriation area (K-L…) Sadly it is the furthest possible distance from the finish line. My wife was suitably restrained in her congratulations, she knows me well enough to know that today was not one to be celebrated. As for my daughter, well she was thrilled at the thought of a packet of popcorn and a Nutri-grain nestled in my goody bag. She turned down the Beef Jerky (any takers please do call me…).
We headed to Covent Garden for a post race meal and drink – I just had two large black coffees. Last year after the race I could barely move for cramp for hours after the race. This year two hours after the finish the legs felt almost fine – confirming my suspicions that this was no ordinary cramp. That was almost more frustrating than had I fully smacked into the regular marathon wall.
It wasn’t long before we were on the train back to the car and driving the car back home. The champagne stayed in the fridge, a glass of Baron St Jean rose (Suspiciously pleasant for £2.99 a bottle at Aldi) my reward for my efforts.
The next morning I woke and put in an hour on elliptical trainer. I was stiff, but frustratingly it was still better than Thursday’s efforts. I spun in the evening, by now the throat sore. The next day I was in the throws of a full blown cold. I almost certainly had the cold virus in the body during the marathon. More fuel to the fire that misfortune afflicted my marathon dreams.
The 2016 London Marathon summed up exactly why I prefer the marathon training to the race itself. I love the hard work required to run a good marathon, I dislike the reality that during a marathon you spend the entire race running with a ticking time bomb hoping it doesn’t go off, knowing full well that, despite all your best efforts, there is often little you can do to stop it if it decides to detonate – sending its painful acid through unsuspecting muscles in your body, rendering you powerless and pathetic.
It detonated for me at London 2016. I was wounded, maybe scarred permanently, but hopeful I’ll bounce back stronger and really do forget the painful memories that were the concluding miles of the greatest race in the world. Don’t let the past 3000 words put you off. It really is a fantastic race, the overwhelming crowd support an affirmation that the vast majority of human beings are wonderful people, and that it is the one race that all runners should indeed take part in – at least once.
Taper time! For me the worst period of marathon training. Nervously completing each session hoping not to get injured. Reducing volume when the body wants to keep on pushing. Two weeks to get through before the big day.
Monday 11th saw a pair of hour sessions on the elliptical trainer. I wasn’t really planning on beginning the taper until Thursday, which would be a natural time to begin it as I was working on the Chinese GP, which was another four days of early mornings and long days. The first hour I felt really strong, the second hour a little tired, but still feeling a lot of power in the legs.
That evening I took part in another spin session. Feeling strong again I went for a measured performance, which saw an average of 254 watts.
Tuesday morning and I was out for an eight mile easy paced run, which was unremarkable other than it being quite humid for an April morning. That lunchtime I got an unexpected email from the British Triathlon Federation informing me that I had, after all, qualified for the World Duathlon Championships in June! To be honest I’d totally forgotten I’d got a qualifying time and was on standby in the event of any drop outs. I’d even gone and booked a half term holiday the night before, which I was thankfully able to cancel without penalty.
With this new event on the horizon in mind, my planned debut on my new TT bike at the Witham Wheelers time trial took on a new importance, as I now had just six weeks or so to get used to the bike, adapt to the time trial position, and get up to speed.
The 10 mile TT was more an exercise in getting used to the bike. It clearly has potential for speed but I found it hard to maintain the aero tuck position for more than a minute at a time before the upper arms screamed enough! I’m not blessed with any upper body strength, it’s no disadvantage when running, but clearly i have to do some urgent work to address this. It’s planks and push ups for me for the foreseeable future!
The time 26:30 was not too bad considering the time spent in the upright position and the cadence being far higher than I found to be my optimum when time trialing last summer. It was fifty seconds outside my course best when I gave it full gas, almost collapsing at the end from the exertion. Today I was as fresh as a daisy and cycled home without duress.
Wednesday saw a ten and a half mile marathon paced run in the morning – six miles at marathon pace with the final mile at marathon heart rate. The legs took a while to warm up, but the pace wasn’t bad when they did, peppering six minutes per mile, with the marathon heart rate mile at 5:37. That afternoon I ran to the school to pick up my daughter; she paced me home on her scooter, hitting close to ten mph at times. That was cool!
Thursday I was working through the night. I had to take my daughter to school so again literally did the school run. I did that again in the afternoon, albeit with a diversion to the bike shop which made the run a ten km effort.
Friday was, as planned, a rest day with a 2 am wake up call and 11 hours of being sat behind the desk – with more hours later on in the afternoon.
I was hoping Saturday’s final long run would be an easy effort. It turned out to be something of a near disaster. I’d planned to run eleven miles, then changed at the last minute to make it 13. I set off okay, the pace dropping down to 6:40 or so by the third mile. I then began to feel an odd ache in the upper right hamstring, followed by some glute discomfort. Then that spread to the left quad and the left glute in the form of cramp. It receded a little after some stretching so I continued, hoping to run around 11 miles. At eight miles however the cramp in the left quad became a searing affair, and I was left virtually unable to walk. Still two miles from home, I, in desperation, began jogging backwards. This seemed to help the issue somewhat and I was able to jog slowly home.
It seems this issue of cramping is tiredness related and probably due to dehydration. As with the previous bouts of cramp the pain receded over the course of the day and was feeling good enough to consider running on the Sunday. However I decided discretion be the better part of valour and so, in gap in work, put 90 minutes on the elliptical trainer. I was tired, and the left quad still had some aches, but it was a strong session.
Monday morning and I decided to risk a 10k run. As it turned out things were fine save for the pretty high heart rate, which I am hoping was just down to tiredness. That evening I put in a very easy effort in the spin session, reducing the FTW so that periods in the red zone were actually fairly comfortable.
Tuesday was my last run in anger before the marathon. Three miles warm up, then 5k at marathon HR, then a mile at sub 2:40 pace and a final mile at sub 2:45 pace. The marathon HR 5k was covered in 18:02 which equates to 2:32 for the marathon. That I don’t think is sustainable, sub 2:40 pace felt very comfortable.
I had another crack at the TT in the evening with Witham Wheelers. The week of planks and push ups had a good effect as I was able to stay in the aero tuck position for the majority of the ride. I lowered the cadence but was mindful to avoid pushing the legs beyond any period of discomfort. I clocked 26:00, ninth on the night and just 20 seconds now outside my PB.
Wednesday morning saw an hour on the elliptical trainer, then a final four miles of running that saw me naturally progress down to 6:10 for the final mile as I warmed up and felt more comfortable. The last session before London was an hour on the trainer. As with Wednesday’s effort I didn’t push hard but the legs felt a little heavier than I would have liked. I’m hoping it’s of no concern and just still the effects of working the weekend on Chinese time. I do though have what is either a slight cold or hay fever (the pollen count is high), which may be effecting me slightly. I have no concern over that.
So – no more can be done other than some pre-race stretching. My main concern is definitely cramping, but if that can be avoided, I am hopeful of a strong run, hopefully another sub-2:45, maybe a PB, maybe something a little more special. Time will tell.
The week began much as exhausted and tired as it ended on the Sunday following a monster week of work covering the Australian GP. I headed out on Monday for an easy paced run. The pace was okay, unspectacular. Around two and a half miles into the run I began to feel little cramp in the right quad, similar to what I experienced on the Saturday previous. I stopped at a bike shop for a couple of minutes to discuss a little business before recommencing the run. At around four miles the cramp feelings dispersed and I felt okay to try and commit to my normal ten mile loop rather than cutting it short.
At around six and a half miles, from out of the blue, severe cramp hit both legs in the upper quads. I hadn’t experienced cramp like this since I won the Maverick trail race back in the Summer – where again an inexplicable bout of early cramp hindered me severely. Several miles away from home I battled on but the cramp got worse, not better, and around a mile away from home, coming down a hill, I had to stop and admit defeat. I did under a tunnel arch for a couple of minutes to recompose myself before hobbling slowly home.
I’m not entirely sure what caused the cramp but I reckon it is a combination of tiredness, dehydration, and possibly the consumption of an Indian takeaway the night before. I may be wrong, but I reckon that is now the third or fourth occasion I’ve had this attack of severe cramp following a takeaway the night before. It may be totally coincidental, but there has to be a reason for these early onset cramps.
Anyway, initially I thought that was it for the day, but at around 6pm I remembered I had booked onto a spinning class which I couldn’t cancel, so I hobbled there and sat myself on the stationary bike. I was expecting to be barely able to turn a pedal, such had been the discomfort earlier in the day, but actually the spinning wasn’t too bad. Indeed I reckon it did a good job of helping to shift the excess lactate in the quads.
Tuesday morning saw an early hour on the elliptical trainer, which was a tired affair, especially with the after effects of the cramp still felt in the legs. A few hours later I ventured out on a crap clearing run to try and help loosen the legs. I think it worked, the miles getting progressively quicker to the quicker side of my easy run zone. I was still very tired though – at one point I nearly got lost and disorientated running a route I’ve done near constantly for the past three months!
Wednesday was a busy day outside of training, which meant I had an early wake up and depart for my ten mile run with eight miles at marathon pace. The body and legs didn’t really want to know for the two mile warm up; the first mile at MP was a real struggle, 6:16. Thereafter things got significantly better, averaging around 5:58 for the final seven miles, but I never felt that fantastic, and indeed tired a lot in the final mile or two. The cramp had more or less gone from the quads, the right calf though ached a bit, as did the hip.
Thursday morning saw a routine hour on the elliptical trainer – no issues other than feeling tired. That evening was a ten mile run with Grantham Running Club, with the unexpected guest runner in the form of my brother, who had come over with his family from Germany. He has just begun his training for an autumn marathon and this was comfortably his longest run in several years, but he ran well – as did the entire group, to average comfortably under 7:30 for the eight miles at the marathon pace. I felt fairly comfortable and all in all it was a most pleasing run.
Friday was a day of rest and a day with my brother and his family at a very busy day as we celebrated Food Friday. I felt distinctly sub-par for the most part, feeling like I was fighting a cold – so much so I took a couple of flu and cold capsules mid-way through the day.
Saturday morning and I had to push aside any thoughts of feeling unwell as I had my last realistic opportunity of putting in the long one before London. The 24 mile run is a staple of pretty much all my marathon campaigns, the time spent on feet usually the same or a little bit longer than the actual time spent running in the marathon. I could have done loops of town, but with the calf pain feeling much diminished since the work done on the hip (with more done during another massage on the Thursday) I decided to map out a run which took me out of town and up and down some hills – which I’ve been a little lacking of during training in late.
I was out at 8 am – the weather was cloudy and the wind strong. The first few miles were lethargic and not that quick – over seven minutes per mile as I felt the effects of cold fighting on the body. I had a pit stop at five miles and thereafter felt a bit better, especially once I’d tackled the big climb of the day on the A52 pass the barracks. A spanner in the route plan came as the road I’d intended to run down was closed due to the initial Grantham bypass construction. This meant I had to run a section down the slightly dodgy High Dyke before taking a right hand turning which took me back on to my intended tracks. I had to then make some calculations as to how much extra I had run and how best to revise the route so as to get back to 24 miles.
The following three or four miles through to fifteen were tough as they were mostly slightly uphill and into a head / cross wind which, at times had me near dead stopping in my tracks. However once I came to the peak of the hill and turned direction I had the wind at my back and the pace picked up significantly to around 6:30 per mile. I made it down a steep hill without the feared bout of cramp in my quads. My calf felt good and I worked on clicking down the miles as efficiently as possible as I took to the canal path and back towards Grantham.
The heavens opened a few miles before home but that didn’t disturb me as I reveled in feeling fresh at 23 miles despite having taken on the run with no water, no gels, no breakfast and just a cup of coffee to see me through. I ended up running a bit over 24 miles – 25 and a quarter to be precise – in 2:54. I felt pretty good, certainly no worse than when I was doing the long 20 mile runs with a parkrun in the middle. With that in mind I headed to the Belvoir Sportive website to enter for the following day’s ride. Alas, they closed the entries at 10am!
Undeterred I headed out on Sunday morning to see if I could fit in a 160km ride that may have had similarities to the Belvoir Sportive without actually taking part in that event itself. As it happened I chanced upon meeting up with several members of Witham Wheelers, who were taking part in the shorter 100 km ride. I rode with them for around thirty miles before going my own way and riding the vast majority of the remainder of the ride solo. It was hard going with plenty of tough hills around Rutland and the Vale of Belvoir and a nasty headwind to contend with for the opening half of the ride and for all of the final hills. Despite this I felt relatively strong, taking it fairly easy on the flat stuff and pushing as best I could on the hills.
I rode a few extra miles at the end to confirm that I had ridden over 100 miles and came home tired, but content that another week’s training was in the bag – 67 miles of running, 105 miles of proper riding, around 25 miles of spinning, and a couple of hours on the elliptical trainer. This will likely be the biggest training week of the marathon campaign – hopefully it will see me in good stead come race day.
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…