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Manchester marathon: personal best: 3:00:45

A while ago I set out my personal targets for my marathon running by starting I was aiming to go sub3. At the time this was ambitious for me with a PB of 3:15 but it was a goal I wanted to aim for. I saw that Manchester pitched itself as flat and fast which after Bournemouth’s mile 18 hill I was glad to hear. This would be the one. My next marathon.

After a training period of no real injury issues and a few PBs in other distances I went into Manchester wanting a good time but not really believing I could achieve it.

Me and Dani did our usual thing of finding an Air b n b room near by that allowed me to make my porridge on race day. Getting up the day before meant we were able to do a reccy of the routes we would take using the tram system. I was pretty impressed with how easy this was and they also do a weekend use ticket which was really fair.

So, on the morning of the race I was up with my porridge before making the short walk to the tram station about 10 minutes away max. We timed this bit really well as a tram pulled up not long after. It reminded me of when I did London and you get an early Sunday train where it is clearly only runners aboard. We were about 20 minutes from the stop that we needed.

As we got off the tram, the old Trafford cricket ground was right there, at least one corner of it was. Unfortunately, there was an athlete only bit here so I had to leave Dani to go and put my bag in, expecting it to be pretty smooth like most events. However, this is my first issue with Manchester. Why not give us a baggage label in advance? Instead I had to join a snaking queue facing the wrong way for ages only to be given a band to stick on my arm that would correspond to band they stuck round my bag? Surely it would have been more efficient if I had done this in advance and it matched my race number. Mostly I felt bad for Dani because I abandoned her without expecting to be gone long.

I must say though, pre race, the urinals in the stadium were empty and it was so quick to nip in and out for those pre race nervous wees. Of which I did a few and it is here that Manchester redeems itself.

Bag dropped I realised I had forgotten to put Vaseline on my nipples but luckily saw another brace soldier rubbing his nipples in preparation for the battle ahead. He was kind enough to allow me to take my share.

I was having a dilemma about outfit setup because it looked grey gloomy and likely to be cold. I was basically set on the idea of wearing my under armour. I was wearing this when I applied the Vaseline.

As I made my way to the start line and began my gradual warm up, I knew it would be too hot for this. So I removed the base layer. Little did I realise that this would also take away the layer of Vaseline and that I might come to regret it later on.

The start seemed a bit further away than I expected. As I warned up more on route I was unsure about making it in good time so left Dani as I went to find my pen. It did feel like unusually short amount of time pre race but it was actually good as I was not there feeling cold for too long.

I spotted the 3 hour pacer, lined up slightly behind him and made the conscious decision to let him cross the line first so that in the long run I would always know that if he was on schedule and I was with him, then I would be ahead of 3 hours.

Race time

Not long after, we were set on our way. Instantly it felt tight. I knew it would be a busy race but I haven’t run in one quite like this since London. There was very little room but at least I knew I was in the right pace group so it wouldn’t be too bad.

What didn’t help matters was that early on there were quite a few twists and turns through the streets of Manchester. This caused a lot of slowing down on the bends and speeding up after. Every time, I felt the pacer pull away and I tried to keep them close.

I was being sensible, checking my HR rather than my pace, trusting the pacer for the first part anyway and knowing what I was capable of I was happy to do so. Annoyingly, I find some other runners frustrating when I comes to sharing the road. Some people are very quick to cut across corners on bends, not keeping their lines. Also, I got a couple of clips round the ankles, one little one before another which nearly sent me flying. Luckily I managed to fall towards the guy in front and keep myself up. Funnily though, 10 seconds later the same guy did it to the person next to me!

It stayed pretty cramped around the pacer, as you would expect, until around the half way mark. We went through pretty much bang on 1:30 and on schedule. I was feeling okay at this point t but aware that my HR was higher than I wanted it to be at this pace.

I missed a gel handover with Dani at mile 8 but caught her last second at mile 16ish so had to side step across for a quick grab and go. This was just in time for my next scheduled intake. It was really lucky too as I ended up using more gels than I planned just to get through.

There were some great crowds in parts of the course but as with the routes on some marathons, there are quiet bits. As we went through Carrington I was struggling and there was no crowd. I just had to keep telling myself that if I stop, even for a second, the pacer will go and it will all be over. I managed to get through this bit and kept going with the pacer. Soon though, the pacer managed to pull away from me as my quads just got tighter and tighter.

One of the hardest things I have done in running is kept going whilst seeing the pacer you want to follow, going off into the distance without you. TOUGH!!!

I managed to stick to some sort of pace and keep my legs moving. The final couple of miles were quiet until you get right near the end where the crowds for the finish were great. It was so cool to see a sea of people line the streets and guide you to the finish. Unfortunately I didn’t absorb this too much as I had to just get to the finish. I didn’t even see or hear Dani screaming for me on the home straight. I was tired, my head was rocking and I just wanted to close my eyes , curl up and go to sleep.

As I got closer I saw the clock and had a mini challenge to get under 3:01 gun time so pushed through to the end. Here I fell to the floor to rest and forgot to stop my watch so had no clue about my exact finish time. The people at the finish line were great and didn’t get too stressed about me stopping right after the line.

I felt so sore and weak I slowly moved through the medal and goody bag section to baggage reclaim. It was a lot quieter this time round. From here it was quite a long walk around the stadium to find friends and family.

I found Dani and made my way to collapse on some grass. She knew my time but I didn’t. Seeing 3:00:45 was frustrating but I was so happy because I knew I left nothing. After many angry ends after having to walk and giving up too easily, I was chuffed that I stuck with it.

Overall it was a really good race experience, even if there were a few quiet sections on the course. If you’re looking for a well organised went with some really good crowds as well as potential for a PB then this is worth a punt!

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Taper terrors

After many, many miles ran and many, many hours spent running I reached 2 weeks to race day which on this occasion was when I would be starting my taper. A 2 week taper after 14 official training weeks would take me to the end of my 16 week programme.

There is lots of talk about whether a 1 week or 2 week taper is best but as this was probably the first time ever that I entered a taper on the back of a successful training period I do not feel that I can offer any expert opinion. However, one thing I feel strongly about is that you shouldn’t just get to your taper and think you don’t need to run. Your body adapts to the training demands placed upon it and I know that when I stop, my body feels weird as it wants to be active and moving. You just have to be sensible with what you decide to do in the taper week or weeks.

My taper week followed the same pattern of sessions but the biggest difference I felt was the removal of pressure on trying to hit a certain mileage and more focus on doing the sessions. I have talked a lot about aiming for 50 mile weeks so it was quite nice jus running and not worrying about the mileage I hit. However, this didn’t stop me having taper terrors.

I found that when I ran in this period I found myself completely panicking about every unusual feeling in my body during a run.

A slight ache in the hip. Oh no it’s going to go again.

A tight part in my foot. Argh. Plantar is back again.

My calf being stiff at the start of a run. I will never make it through a marathon without breaking.

I basically spent 2 weeks as a bag of nerves. It also didn’t help that I was on the Easter holidays for the whole two weeks. This meant my normal routine of cycling to work and being up and active all day was not happening. I spent my days focused around the running session. This may have been good in hindsight but it did feel a bit uncomfortable at the time.

Trying not to think about a marathon is hard, especially in the build up to a race, even more so in taper week. If I thought about it, I properly thought about.

I just kept reminding myself that I had a plan and we will accept whatever happens.

One night I dreamt I was at the start of the marathon, but had to queue up for my number. This took right up until the start of the race so I rushed to my pen. Then I saw that two elite runners were pacing my goal time but got into an argument and raced off early at much faster pace than they were meant to. Next thing I know is I’ve taken a turn down a road and gone the wrong way on my own. After a while I look back to see the other runners going the correct way.

Luckily this didn’t happen on race day but these thoughts all occur during taper weeks.

My advice is to do what feels right and try not to spend too much time thinking about it. You’re much better off having a chat about it then letting it stew in your mind.

Also, after getting to many taper weeks having to keep my training high, it is so good to reach one in good health. It is almost the holy grail of the actual marathon training. Reaching race day without missing runs through injury and illness.

Yeovil Half Marathon

As part of my marathon buildup I had been looking to get signed up for a half marathon about 4-6 weeks out from race day. For a number of reasons I was not quite able to find one on the perfect date and in hindsight with all the cancellations due to snowfall, I was quite lucky not to find myself in an unfortunate position of my race schedule being disrupted.

In the end I signed up for Yeovil Half Marathon on March 25th, only 2 weeks before I toe the line at Manchester marathon. Rather to close for me to go chasing a personal best, but close enough for me to tie it in with my last 20 mile long run. It is also near where Dani’s mum lives so we could get a free bed for the night and didn’t have to stress out to much on the day.

I originally planned to run from Sherborne over to Yeovil for the race but with the clocks going forward ( a real pain) and it being 8 miles across, I decided against the super early rise to do this. Instead I opted to get there for 8am, an hour before the start and try to get a 45 minute run in before the start.

I didn’t really have much of a route for this planned and just started running. After a couple of miles I reached a natural turning point and retraced my steps. As I returned near the start I still had plenty of time before the race so I went off winding around some roads near by to keep moving and also keep the miles up. With about 8 minutes to go, I decided to go to the start pen and be ready for the start. Overall, this running before a race thing is a bit weird but I would have struggled if I had to keep running after crossing the finish line.

Onto the event itself. I generally enjoyed the race. It starts in the high street, at 9am but there were still good crowds to cheer us all off. They even organised some pacers for different times and they seemed to have good knowledge of how to pace the slightly hilly course. I went over to introduce myself to the 90 minute pacer as I planned to stay at that consistent pace as best I could. They had also put on a little warm up for those that want to follow it. Not my cup of tea as I like to stick to what I know but I’m sure many people would join in.

Soon we were off and running down a slight hill before looping back up to go through the crowds that were still in the high street. As we went through, there was a brass band playing. I really enjoy hearing brass bands playing something you might not expect them to. I can’t remember what they played but it brought a smile to my face. From there we went out of the town and onto some country paths to reach the first water station at mile 3. I missed it because I was on the left and the water was on the right. Result of being in a pacers group and not preparing for it.

After sometime we went onto a really quiet section of the race with little support but as a training run it was good to just keep my head down and focus on pace. Once we got through that it was on to some hilly sections as we went out to Montacute house. We climbed a hill to reach it, climbed a hill to get out of it and then reached our first proper down hill. I wasn’t sure how long it would last, or what was to come next. Luckily I didn’t push too hard as round the bend was another incline. Then a decline. Then an incline. Then a decline. Then a really long steady incline. A really nice challenge but if you had gone off to fast you would be feeling it here.

At the end of the hills we headed back for town and I was still with the pacer group which was smaller now and on target time wise. We moved through some housing areas (where there were good crowds) and this meant we were asked to run on pavements. These pavements had many drop curbs so when I could I would hop onto the road because the up and down of the pavements really get to my knees. I felt my legs opening up and enjoying the flatter route after the hills and I managed to maintain this into the high street finish.

The brass band were still on the course but as I got there they were in between songs. A shame but didn’t affect my running. The home straight comes after a right hand turn. I really enjoy a finish straight that you don’t see until you turn a bend and can see a finish line not too far away as it gives you a massive boost but enough to carry you to the line. If you see the finish too early it can be demoralising. As I turned the bend I spotted the line, then spotted Dani and may have picked up my pace for a strong finish. That was mostly because the clock was ticking towards 90 minutes.

The medal received at the end was quite cool and I really like the hi vis t shirt we got. Beats all the dark greys and blues we always seem to get.

Ultimately I didn’t get a PB but today was not about that, it was about a final long run and feeling good with the pacing and following a pacer. If you’re looking for a build up Half, I would definitely recommend it.

Out and back or loops?

How do you decide your run routes? What is the reason you choose to run where you do? 

I often wish I could have more fun on my runs during the weeks and I know there are some people out there who get to run some beautiful scenic routes every run. However, when it comes to training runs I find myself being more pragmatic than creative. With the time constraints I find myself under and the busy roads around where I live I often have to choose locations and routes that allow me to get the sessions done that I need to. 

On one of my runs the other day I had to go out for seven miles but I wanted to just get it done on a decent route that would be fairly flat. As a result of this I chose to go down to the cycle path and do an out and back run. It was on this run that I got thinking about the types of sessions that I do and whether loopy runs or out and back runs are better so I thought I would look at aspects of both. 

Out and back runs

I often use these runs when I have a set distance to do on a run which can include interval style runs too. This is mainly because it is much easier to judge distances and I would also know what I’m going to get in a run. What I get on the way out I get on the way back. It also means that if I choose a traffic free route then I can go at a speed without the worry of having to keep stopping mid interval to let cars out. 

These also suit me better because I have to spend much less time planning routes as I have a few easy options to choose from. Although I’m sure that many people have wonderful route options for their out and backs, I have a few simple run routes. The problem with this is that I end up going on the same routes a little too often which can make these runs a bit more boring. Perhaps I need to find more interesting out and back routes but there are a lot of hills that I don’t always fancy taking on! 

Loop runs

These runs definitely require a bit of planning so that you know how many miles you will be able to get in. You also have to consider the type of route you will be going on. Is it fast and flat or does it have too many hills for that session. I only do these around the local neighbourhood and often to get my recovery runs in as I’d only be going slow anyway. 

I am not very good at pre planning my runs and mapping interesting routes but I do like to go and explore every now and then but I find myself prioritising the outcome of my run rather than the process of enjoying being out on a run. 

Ultimately I prioritise the outcome of the session more often than I probably should to ensure that I regularly gain pleasure from running. I do though gain my most satisfaction from running on new roads, new routes, turning left just because I can and I want to know where it goes. This is what I love about running but maybe having such big race goals gets in the way. Maybe I need to ease off the level of expectation a bit and get more adventurous and take those new turnings a bit more often rather than worrying about being able to run specific mile splits for a specific amount of miles. 

I would encourage anyone getting into running or training for races to find time to explore on runs and find routes that you enjoy and give you pleasure. After all, that’s what we want from being out and running. 

Power of rest

So the training plan I have been following for the last year or so has emphasised the idea of training consistently and regularly. There are 3 different possible levels of plan to choose from with level 3 even suggesting some double run days. This has been working really well for me as I have been running almost daily and the momentum and consistency that has come with that has allowed me to make real improvements. 
However, the plan has two weeks where the training ramps up before lowering on a third week which often starts with a rest day to allow the body to recover a bit more from the intense training. On this rest day I often go for a massage to aid recovery but this is often followed by a bit of a challenging cycle up a hill home. These probably contradict each other a bit but needs must and I have become a big believer in active recovery. 

Unfortunately this week’s recovery week didn’t quite go as planned. It started with a massage but the following day I knocked my knee and began real panic about the fact it might have been my old itb syndrome coming back to haunt me. I was cautious about how much training I should do in this state so I eased off a little bit. After a day or so I decided I could be risking further damage so I took a rest day. 

Now I don’t mean the sort of rest day where I do a cycle to work or go for a recovery jog. I meant a rest day. It was the first day where I did no physical activity at all. I drove to work and when I got home I just chilled out. Felt weird but didn’t want to risk hurting the knee. 

The next day I drove to work again with the plan of running for a session after work. As I walked around work in the morning I noticed a freshness to my legs. I was able to spring up the steps with a little more bounce. I also felt less tired for the first morning in a while as if the running is properly draining. However I know that the tiredness I feel from the running is a good feeling and that it means my body is getting stronger so I do not mind it. 

The run that evening felt different to normal runs and I definitely felt better within my running technique and moved better. Ultimately this has shown me that I really benefited from the rest. I don’t want to have a rest day too often but it has got me thinking about the taper at the end of my plan and also the fact that each of my long runs are not going to be at race pace because of the training  fatigue. But that is okay. 

So, don’t be afraid of rest! 

Now to get back to the running and continuing to build on the consistency and mileage! 

Gloucester Half Marathon -PB

So I have heard a number of people before talk about the benefits of using races as part of the long run aspect of training. With this in mind I’ve looked around to see what is out there for me to use and one of the first ones I found was the Gloucester half. Although it came a bit earlier in my training plan it actually matched up with the planned mileage for that week so I was happy to sign up.

It was an event where you picked up the number on the morning and at the same time as the half marathon they were also doing a full marathon and a 50k race so there was a real good buzz about the collection room. The course for the half marathon was a weird sort of figure of 8 2 lap route which wasn’t actually too bad in the end but I’m not sure how the 4 lap marathon would have been.

Prior to the race I couldn’t decide on a strategy for pacing. I finally settled with not aiming for a PB and treating it like a steady training run. Maybe coming in at just under 1:34 but mostly running by feel and keeping it steady.

As I made my way the start pen, I found myself right at the front, partly because nobody else was pushing forwards and also because I could still see Dani waiting on the side. We had a chuckle about how silly it was for me to be there. I agreed but the road ahead was clearly wide enough for overtaking if it was needed.

As we set off, there was clearly a group of faster runners which I knew I would have to let go and not get carried away. I soon found myself in a little group with 2 other runners after the first mile and the pace they were running felt comfortable so I tried to stick with them. My watch was ticking away but I didn’t look in at every split as I was feeling just right but after the first one I did see it was ridiculously quick.

I stayed with this group and we were soon joined by another runner too. As we completed the first lap we joined back in with some of the marathon runners and also some traffic. Some of the drivers were not the most helpful and one of our group ended up getting stuck by a car and slower runner but I managed to dodge and maintain my pace. After this I was left with one other runner and we were going at what felt like a steady pace. Unfortunately he ended up pulling over but not sure why. With me going solo for the last 5 k I knew it was going to be tough. But as I was feeling okay I decided to try and open up my legs, particularly because there was a downhill. I was feeling good but it was definitely the harder part of the race.

As I approached the finish line I saw the clock and pushed a little bit harder thinking it would be close to under 1:30 so I was really surprised to see the time on my watch hit 1:27:38. A little bit naughty to run such a PB when it is so early in the training plan but I will definitely take it and it also gives me a confidence boost going into the rest of training.

Time for reflection

After wanting a good break from all things training plan after my Bournemouth Marathon, I decided that I would not look back at my previous blog posts to reflect until I was ready to look forwards.

I feel that I have reached a point where I am ready to begin looking forwards and realigning my running goals. Therefore I thought the first thing I should do is to reflect on the key points I highlighted during each training week/blog post to take forwards into the future. Although at the time of writing each little list at the end of my posts, I know that they did not all get used. Hopefully by going through them, they will give me focus when I make my plan soon and if they help you out, then that is also great!

Here are the things that I should take into my future training.

  • I need to be prepared to listen to my body. If I’m ill, I should not be running and rest will help me long term.
  • If I am going away for a weekend, try to prioritise an early run so that the rest of the day can be enjoyed.
  • I need to do as much as I can to keep myself healthy such as eating fruit and veg, perhaps taking multivitamins too.
  • Do not eat a full English breakfast hours before doing a tough hill session.
  • Do not schedule runs for set nights and be more flexible so that the plan works for me.
  • I can push myself harder than I think I can if I keep training consistently.
  • Strava is such a cool community for running and cycling and I will share my thoughts more soon.
  • It is okay to be flexible with my sessions and fit them around my non running life. This should not make me feel guilty.
  • I really need to get to a running club regularly to push myself harder.
  • I still don’t like hill running but…
  • I need to do more hill running. Both sessions and including them in all run types.
  • Saturday long runs can be really good and useful but must still be flexible.
  • I really enjoy exploring new routes on my long runs and finding new places. This is great for my motivation and something I must do more of.
  • I am not sport specific fit and need to avoid netball!
  • I miss playing football. But I have made the commitment to running and would hate to pick up an injury by playing football.
  • Hills still hurt but they do work.
  • I must consider how to deal with DOMS to recover better. Perhaps regularly foam rolling.
  • Water is essential on a night out to help recovery for running the next day
  • It is important to have a social life during a training programme.
  • I can prioritise the faster specific sessions so that I can do the best with my plan.
  • Listen to your body and rest if you need to or take the run easier.
  • Being flexible is okay but having a routine can still be a good thing.
  • A Royal flush is a great way to make a run more exciting – make each consecutive mile faster than the previous
  • Massages are helpful at being proactive with regards to injuries.
  • I really enjoy exploring trails and finding new routes but I’m not sure if I’m ready to invest in trail shoes.
  • I need to keep working on my hips flexibility and strength and avoid putting it off.
  • A strength programme of some sort is really important and I must get this in my plan regularly.
  • My feet are wide and it makes it tricky to get new shoes. I also must get new shoes before my current ones are completely bust.
  • Cross training can have good benefits and I should do it more
  • Driving seems to make my legs tired
  • Chips for dinner the night before a long run is not really sensible
  • Running with a non running partner has the potential to be enjoyable but it is important to choose a good run
  • Travelling for a whole day can leave your legs restless
  • A long run on a Friday is weird but possible if I’m not working
  • I need to keep myself hydrated and start working out some better strategies for race day
  • I need to find opportunities to just run for the pleasure of running and not focusing on splits, speed and distance
  • I really need to learn to swim better so I can be more confident in the water and use it for cross training
  • I have not learnt that I really need to look after my calves and Achilles.
  • Prevention is better than treatment
  • Sometimes it is fun to run in the rain and not as bad as you might expect
  • Long runs on Sunday afternoon are weird
  • Cream tea is not a great pre run meal
  • Think long term and sacrifice a run for the long term training benefits as it could easily knock you off the consistent plan
  • Stop over worrying and letting maranoia take over. Reflect on why it is silly to think about
  • A slow run the day before the race felt good