The month of August was perhaps one of my most intense yet as far as training went – clocking around 148 miles overall including one 50 mile week, running eight days consecutively, a new record for me, and pushing the limit as much as possible to try to get myself ready for a crack at that sub-1:25:00 half marathon goal I’ve been chasing. By now of course, some of you will already know what went down at my first attempt at that target, at the Halifax Half Marathon, but that will get a post of it own. For now I’m just focusing on the build up to that race, as well as updating you on my sleeping habits and regrettably putting the swimming to one side again – for the time being, that is.
August has been a good month as far as sleep goes. According to my sleep app of choice, Sleepbot, I’ve now got my year-to-date sleep debt down to about 15.3 hours. Given that was around 30 hours earlier in the year, it’s a sign of further progress by myself in grappling with the problem of getting enough sleep while keeping on top of the household chores that tended to keep me up. I started off with a bit of a tired patch (as shown on the graph above) but I pulled it around to get at least 14 nights of six hours or more. I’m more often than not time-aware in relation to both my work shifts and when I need to be up for a run, and on numerous occasions this past month I’ve achieved this balance. I’ve had hardly any instances of falling asleep sparko on the bed during the kids bedtimes this month, which must mean I’m either getting enough sleep, or doing more to keep myself awake. I’d like to think it’s the former, but unless I’m extremely tired with things to do, I avoid resorting to caffeine to keep going more now than I used to. I think I’m feeling the benefits now of this recent success, not just in my running, but in my general day-to-day life as well.
2. Learn to swim again
Swimming pretty much ended up on the back burner again thanks to autumn race season coming up, and I’ve really taken to trying to crack the HM sub-1:25:00, so no solo swimming. Admittedly my confidence is still knocked a bit from one bad session but I am still trying when I go with the family. The kids are certainly improving though, which might allow a bit more independence which might hopefully encourage us all in improving my swim and for the twins in developing theirs.
It’s not a lost cause though – post Birmingham I plan to focus extensively in the gym in preparation for marathon training and that includes going back to swimming once again. Marathon training for me will start just after Christmas, so there’s a good couple of months there to be cracking on with it again.
3. Run more
This month has produced more running than ever before as the Halifax Half Marathon approached, but additionally I’ve made moves to secure places in more races. I’ve now entered the Stainland Trail 10K, which takes place on Sunday September 21st, and I’m making my big move to step up to marathon. I’m giving up on London. Although I’ve not heard from the results of the ballot yet, planning it has so far been a logistical headache, living a good couple hundred miles away or so, and a more attractive, and indeed, cheaper option has arisen through the Greater Manchester Marathon. Having received a voucher thanks to my marshalling work for the organisers, Xtra Mile, I’ve decided this is going to be my first marathon, and one I’ll be very proud to take on. Billed as the flattest, fastest marathon course in the country, it’s an ideal starting point for my first marathon race and as daunting as the step up is going to be, it’s also very exciting, and will surely be the litmus test of whether I want to challenge myself above and beyond, or whether I stick with the shorter distances. I personally hope for the former – I’ve not ruled out ultra-marathons in years to come although I’d like to see if I adapt to marathon first!
One of my training runs gave me a taste of what to expect from marathon training. Two weeks before the Halifax Half Marathon I did a 15.4 mile run starting from Brighouse and heading along the Calder Hebble Navigation all the way to Sowerby Bridge – about 6.5 miles – before turning back out of Sowerby Bridge back towards Halifax town centre. I survived a near spectacular fall running through Savile Park after clipping a protruding tree root, and joined back onto the Halifax race route going backwards down it so I could join up at the bottom of a road called Whiteside, a steep hill in Siddal that forms the beginning of the race. I kept to the race route largely from here, heading uphill into Southowram, then racing through a trail towards Shibden, turning towards Hipperholme and eventually leaving the course after Sutcliffe Wood Lane, returning towards home. I finished the run in 1:57:38 (not including a brief stop at Sowerby Bridge after leaving the towpath). Compared to my previous longest run – 14.5 miles earlier this year, which I struggled with – this one felt much more comfortable and I averaged a pace of 7:39 per mile. The hills arrived once I got to Sowerby Bridge and I thought my pace might suffer if I went off too quick, but I kept it well balanced and was pleased to see I had endurance all the way to the end. However, I soon found out what ‘the trots’ were – shortly after completing my post-run stretches I began to feel quite ill and for about an hour or so I was a bit of a mess. Thankfully I snapped out of it after plenty water, crackers, and eventually a full English brekkie for tea. That’s definitely a lesson for future and something I’ll be doing plenty reading on. Nutritionally I think I’ll need to address something – I’m always trying to eat healthier now, but there’s room for improvement . But run wise, this generated some great results.
4. Run faster
I paid great attention to the marathons at both the Commonwealth Games and European Athletics Championships, and not just because I enjoy watching running events on television, but also because I wanted to study the runners. Marathon Talk recently had a guest on talking about running form and he mentioned cadence and this was something I wanted to observe. I used to push pretty hard to get up to 6:00 mile pace and wondered exactly how these athletes, aside from training hard, eating really well and getting all sorts of coaching, ran so damn fast. Cadence seemed an obvious answer, and as the Halifax race approached, I started experimenting with injecting some more leg speed into my training runs. The results have been phenomenal. I’ve managed to hold 6-7 miles runs pre-race miling under 7:00 consistently, and running at 6:20-6:30 suddenly feels much more comfortable than previously. Here is one such run I did just four days before the race, out and back along a section of the towpath I frequent which makes up the Halifax course.
Striding, something I’ve also worked on during my training for this race, also seems to help a little, and now it seems I’m perfectly poised to maybe take my training up another level. But whether I could apply it to a race situation – you’ll read more on that in a couple of days time.
So to summarise this month, let’s hope I continue to sleep well. I will keep my pledge to swim again. And let’s hope this next 7 or 8 weeks goes really well. Til next month!