1. The first two weeks

Hello everyone. Its that time again. The now familiar marathon diary. For my latest marathon is approaching, and this time, its my toughest challenge yet. The Brooks Snowdonia Marathon Eryri. Equal parts beautiful and brutal, I’m willing to subject myself to a test I haven’t truly experienced since running the Huddersfield Half Marathon in 2014. Needless to say, this is going to be a training program a difference, and that, it has to be, if I’m ever truly going to be prepared for a race of this magnitude. 

Originally the plan to have a few weeks off running to work on my overall fitness prior to getting back in the groove, til the groin strain I picked up enforced that absence a little more than I would have liked. Still, beggars can’t be choosers, and it was better for things to at least work out to allow my plotted training to go forward as it intended. Although this is a sixteen week schedule, I’ve been running consistently since my family holiday to Butlins a few weeks back.

Its going to be a four day plan, but not rigidly so – Tuesday evenings, Thursdays, long run Saturdays and recovery Sundays. There is the opportunity to use maybe one of my rest days to go swimming, try stair climbing, or to go to the gym, maybe throw in a hill sprint session, or even set up my wife’s trampoline and bounce. And there is the small matter of running with Ben Smith of the 401 Challenge, who I’ll be running with on Friday August 5th around Horsforth in Leeds, approaching the end of the fourth week of the program. I do wonder if running a marathon or even going slightly further, albeit much slower than the three hour pace I normally try for, is the best idea, but then there’s no obligation to go the whole hog and could drop out if I wanted to, so long as I could find my way to a bus and then the city centre. I’m certainly not missing it – the man is an absolute present day legend.

As the training builds beyond that week, the runs get more interesting as far as distance goes, and there are trips to run sections of the Pennine Way, go walking (and running) the Yorkshire Dales, and take in some of, generally, the hardest training routes I’ve planned yet.

The first week proper went well – Sunday  10th July was officially the first day but my right knee wasn’t up to scratch – something was going on during the previous day’s 8 miler – and so didn’t think it best to risk doing any damage, even for three miles. No matter. It did prompt me to resume wearing my patella band again though, and I did wonder if this was going to be a repeat of the past two marathon training programs. Thankfully, precaution seems to do the trick, and I safely made it through the first week. 5 miles on the Tuesday after swimming, 7.25 miles on a nice technical route on the Thursday, finished with a 9.25 mile trail/road route on the Saturday, taking in Clifton, Hartshead, Cleckheaton and Scholes, and a 3 mile recovery run the following morning. The middle two sessions were indeed reaffirming, the former taking in a number of hills at a relatively speedy tempo, taking short footsteps, almost on my toes, to try and beat the climbs. It worked every time, and it felt somewhat cheeky yet satisfying to run a mile in 7:25 which involved a steep hill for a fifth of that mile. Yeeeah! And the great outdoors aspect of me caught a cracking sunset as I approached the end of my run.

Sunset over Thornhills, Brighouse

The second week has been and gone, and my word, what a scorcher. Lathered in P20 sun spray, I set off to catch a bus from Leeds to Bradford after work. It was 30C. I set off to head across the city for my bus. Every time I could find shade, I took it. However I had to sprint when I saw my bus in the distance, already at the bus stop. I made it, but I knew in that six minutes of running, I was letting myself in for an experience. Standing room only on the bus, I managed to find a shaded spot and stayed there almost the entirety of the journey. I cooled down considerably. I’d run once in 26C, but this was something else. We don’t get this weather often in deep, dark Yorkshire! 

I got off the bus at Mayo Avenue, Bradford, quickly warmed up and eased into my run. Even with a backpack on, even clocking relatively moderate pace, everything felt twice as slow, twice as heavy, and my water was disgustingly warm. The heat made me not hungry, and indeed forgetful – I forgot my pre-run banana, and wondered why my legs had nothing. It was only at that point I seemed to focus and not just think about how to keep cool or how sweltering it was. But…I could have got the bus at 5 miles, and instead, pushed it on down the rest of the road to 6.1. Just finishing that run felt an achievement in itself.

Trying to keep cool in the shade on the bus, en route to my start point
Searing hot sunshine just out of shot…

I was up bright and early – 4am –  on Friday for a repeat of my hilly tempo run from the Thursday before, except this time, with hardly a soul around. My long run Saturday this time took me towards Halifax, back through Siddal, Exley and the Calder Hebble Navigation, which is now accessible again following flood damage at the end of 2015. Plenty of hills in that one, on a nice challenging route, which included a familiar, and always terrifying Trooper Lane, which possesses a 19% gradient, in my case, descent. I can’t imagine running up the thing. Its cobbled, its steep, its windy. A beast, true Yorkshire style. The route did take in familiar, but always spectacular views of Halifax town centre on high, and the countryside from Siddal and Exley.

Both my knees felt sore in the wake of that run. In fact, sore is an overstatement. They’re just grumpy. And with my knees, my often stop start home exercise regime kicked up a gear. Between running on the Friday and Saturday, I worked on an ITB specific workout and did the same workout again that evening. I followed this up with a Ballista routine on the Sunday, dropping the three mile recovery run in exchange, quite possibly a first. I do notice results too. One of my knees bends such that I struggle to stretch my achilles tendon standing against a wall. After doing these exercises I do notice an improvement. Its just trying to get it into my routine. I can never make it stick, but I’m determined to make a positive change and to stop being so neglectful in this way.
Both of those routines, I’m keen to add, came courtesy of a site called Strength Running. I’ve posted the Ballista routine video below if you’re interested to check it out:

I do get the sense if I want to maintain a regular programme, I need to get used to having rest days or mixing it up with swimming and gym-based exercise. I seem in a better place to do that – having kids aged 4 interested in your exercise eager to know what a pistol squat is really something!

I hope for all the trouble I seem to have, that I can fulfil the vast majority of my training and not have it interrupted time and again. And for the cautiousness I’ve displayed so far, it will surely stand me in good stead for the rigours that lie ahead.

I would also like to congratulate my friend Joni (The Reluctant Triathlete), who, as I finished this post, just completed the Ironman triathlon in Zurich, Switzerland on Sunday 24th July, 2016. As someone who’s followed her journey closely, I’m hugely proud of her and it just reinforces that belief that if you put your mind to something, with the right application, everything is achieveable, no matter the obstacle, the size of the challenge. Joni, what an awesome achievement!