London Marathon Training – the next 8 weeks

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First of all, I want to apologise to everyone who follows this blog for the way my training diary has fallen apart. Aside from what I’m about to discuss, there’s been less time to focus on it now I’m bedded in my new job and the continuing lack of a home computer or laptop. A mobile keyboard isn’t that great to a real one, and often I’ve felt like that’s bled into my writing of this blog – I felt as though I couldn’t convey what I was saying, without feeling some sort of repetition was going on. Much like many issues and cycles that runners go through, it seems keeping your blogging fresh and interesting is yet another thing as undulating as the hills of Yorkshire to consider.

So here goes my latest post, which covers weeks 3-10, up to Sunday March 20th, 2016. It’s going to seem a bit rambling because its trying to condense eight weeks of high points and low points into one solitary entry. Well, you can’t put a ‘DNS’ against my name, nor yet a ‘DNF’.

Its been very up and down over the last eight weeks. Merely three weeks into marathon training, I was experiencing problems with my knees to the extent I opted out of entering the Liversedge Half Marathon in February. Given that race is the scene of one of my finest runs – an explosive PB of 1:22:41 in the 2015 race – it wasn’t an easy decision, but it was a wise one. It came off the back of a parkrun, run in 18:34; the purchase of new, supportive shoes, and the onset of soreness. The issue is that my knees knock, well, collapse inward, but that’s beside the point. Its a clear connection between my knee issues and my poor hip and core strength.

I was walking back through Leeds and every step after the parkrun felt uncomfortable. Whether I was going to do Liversedge anyway was a question mark as it potentially clashed with some family plans. My wife rang me while in Leeds to confirm I was free to go ahead and enter. I told her I didn’t think I could. I walked through Leeds and I felt absolutely dejected. Almost close to tears in the city centre. It sounds like an overreaction but it wasn’t. I felt resigned. I felt as though I hadn’t looked after myself, and at the same time I still felt what had I done to deserve this. I’d carefully come back from six months plus of sesamoiditis. Now it was a more common problem in my knees and most likely poor hip and core strength. Walking back to the train, I’d given up on the 11 mile Sunday run and replaced it with a monster exercise bike session at the gym. And I’d given up on one of my favourite races.

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I barely did any running the following week, until I returned to the gym the following Sunday and ran 30 minutes on the treadmill at steady pace following some work on my abductors, adductors and knees. My knees felt really good for the workout. Or so it seemed. For the following day I was getting pain in the top of my left knee. I could feel this ascending and descending stairs and there was barely any running that week as well. Training had reached a critical point. Only the bike ride – 36km at high rotation – had stopped me falling completely behind. I had a 10km run in the schedule that was coming up the follow weekend as I decided if I couldn’t even do that, how was I going to reach optimum mileage for London?

I got back to running shortly after that. I’d begun by incorporating more hip and core exercises into my routine – although not daily, it was better than not at all. I initially managed a 5 mile run home as part of my commute home from swimming lessons, and then a parkrun at the weekend where I finished 7th in a 5K PB of 18:17. From there, I got back into my running mojo. But due to circumstances at home, I never fit in the 10K on the Sunday. Desperate to do this run and get my training on track, I sacrificed my rest day and ran home from Dewsbury the following Monday, for the first time incorporating running into my new commute home…by the end of the week, I’d run 5 times, plus a junior parkrun with my twin girls for the first time, and clocked 32 miles for the week. I was back! At the end of that week, I’d run a parkrun in 18:17, finishing 7th. I really attacked that run – logic and common sense suggested I should take it easy – but I felt good on the day to run that fast. I tired badly on that run from going too hard early on, but pleased to have a new 5K PB. I even took my twin daughters to the Huddersfield junior parkrun for the first time, in wind and rain, proud as punch for completing their first 2km run/walk, and later a 9 miler of my own on the Sunday.

I decided in the following weeks I’d need to work up to 11 miles, then 13.1, then 15, maybe 16, and a minimum of 18 miles for the pre taper long run. Then I would know if I was ready for London. Despite this, training for the marathon would continue to be interrupted from there. Often I’ve managed only three runs a week, almost always Tuesday, Thursday, and long run Sunday (and a Saturday to avoid a clash on Mother’s Day in the UK), occasionally because of a mild injury concern, and sometimes because my wife is, well, more free to go out now the kids are older. I actually have no qualms with that, though it doesn’t half impact on your training when you’re on sole parenting duty and particularly when you fall asleep early and can’t get back up. So much for getting used to running in the early hours. That hasn’t happened at all.

That said, where I have carried out my training, its always seemingly gone to plan. The Tuesday run always follows a swimming lesson and would be five miles fast, one mile jog or thereabouts. With each week, I got quicker and quicker at it, and a couple of weeks back, I actually managed a sub-6 minute mile, after which I punctuated the air with a Ric Flair-style ‘WOOOOOOO!’ at around 10pm. The Thursdays would often be a longer stretch, usually 7-9 miles. But I always, always saved myself for long run Sundays. With each passing week came renewed hope. 9 miles. Done. 11 miles. Into double figures. Then a hilly, tough but enjoyable 13.18 miles traversing the Greetland countryside and back again. I felt a twinge in my right foot after this run, but managed to stretch it back out again and thankfully nothing came of it. I was, however, suffering from what appeared to be ITBS – the illotobial band on my right leg was playing up and no surprise, given my knock knees and the aforementioned hip/core base. So I dedicated a bit more time to trying to counter that. I’m pleased to say I got it back under control, for now, and its hopefully benefiting my knees.

The week after that, I recorded 16 miles running up to Queensbury and the village of Mountain and back through Halifax. It was March 13, 2016, blue sky and sunshine. It was a hilly first seven or eight miles, but ever so rewarding. For it is said you can see the Hambleton Hills on the North York Moors to the east, the Yorkshire Dales to the north west and the Holme Valley to the south – well I can’t be too sure I absolutely did, but it was a breathtaking view nonetheless. The run did take it out of me – after 15 miles I opted to use the last mile to cool down. I noticed then my energy crashed. It wasn’t the fabled wall, more maybe a lack of endurance, and the jog felt a bit huff and puff. Thankfully though, no new niggles or concerns. I seemingly recovered well.

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I approached the next run with great positivity, and hinged much on it. An 18.2 mile route heading up to Barkisland, passing the Ringstone Edge Reservoir, returning via Krumlin, Stainland and Elland. It promised to be brutal, thanks to the hills, but as ever with this great county, amazing scenery. So much did I invest in this run, I actually got up at 4:30am to prepare for it. It was like my last couple of years of running all over again. I was in my element. Walking out to the sound of birdsong, on the first day of spring, the dawning sky was a welcome sight, but there was work to be done. Upon leaving Elland I made my way through Greetland and uphill towards Barkisland. I navigated my way down a steep road descent before sharply turning back uphill and changing course towards Ringstone Edge Reservoir.

It was fair to say my pace began to suffer here, not just because of hills, but because I was predictably in awe of the scenery. I was the only person possibly to be seen at this time in a morning. I wasn’t a hundred miles from home, but I love the feeling of wilderness, the feeling of being out there, without another soul around the disturb the calm, and wondered indeed what it would be like to live in more rural surrounds.

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From here, though, I opted to focus on a stronger second half and that meant running at marathon pace, which for myself, is around 6:50 per mile. I ran through the village of Krumlin and clocked the next two miles for 6:41 and 6:40 respectively. Heading through Stainland, I hit a 10% gradient uphill (Beestonley Lane) and clocked that mile in 8:58. I made sure I maintained a steady rhythm up that hill and before long I was heading downhill and inside marathon pace again. 6:45, then 6:44 as I approached Elland. The next mile went for 7:04. I was about four miles at home and that last mile seemed to tell me I was tiring. I didn’t want that to happen at all. That meant pushing hard up some gentler, but no less challenging hills, but the next mile went for 6:45. Buoyed, I took the next, slightly flatter section with as much effort and clocked a 6:30 at mile 17. By this point I felt it was time to wind it down, but in those last two miles, I felt I’d proved a point to myself.

Ok, so the way I paced it wasn’t ideal. As much as London will be a whistlestop run round the sights of the city, I’m not going to suddenly stop and go ‘look at the view!’, leave my Garmin running while I take photos of said view and selfies of myself with the backdrop behind me.

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But hook or crook, I’d put together an 18 mile run where, for the most part, I ran a moderate and steady climb into Barkisland, before my dance with distraction, and this meant a second half of the run with plenty of reserves to take on not just the 10% hill, but the later miles as well. That I withstood that and that between miles 9 and 17 I had regular, consistent pace was a sign I was beginning to get pacing this long distance lark at last. Nutritionally, I plumped for a High 5 2:1 energy drink and banana chips, which I stuffed in an old running glove in my jacket. I started on the drink at six miles, and then again around ten miles, with the banana chips just after coming off Beestonley Lane. Whether I’ll go with this in the marathon remains to be seen. Indeed, I’m not sure I’d need or want to run round with a plastic bottle for as many as ten miles. But the banana chips seemed to do the trick, though its whether they could keep me going up the full marathon distance. Much as I want to stop relying on gels, my relative inexperience suggests I’ll take up that option for the race. Its not as though I haven’t tried them before, so at least its not an untested strategy.

All in all, however, for all my problems throughout this phase of training, I had come through having achieved what I felt was the capable mileage to go ahead with my plans for London. None of this has been ideal, and I don’t ever want to train for a marathon on three runs per week ever again if I can help it. A lot of reason is behind this are down to my own flaws. Yet I wouldn’t go ahead if I didn’t feel I was good to go. And I feel good. All the investment in training, travel plans, preparation, my own wellbeing – its been a tightrope, but somehow I’ve stayed on it. The next few weeks are now something to forward to.

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Panorama of the view from Roper Lane, Queensbury, 13/03/2016

I’ll have a further update on the following two weeks coming soon. And let’s just hope that, much like my training in recent weeks, I can get the wheels back on this site!

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