Marathon training

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.

Autumn marathon – week 12

This week I was on holiday in Canada. It is the first big holiday that I’ve probably done as an adult as I’ve only done beachy holidays before and it has so far lived up to and maybe actually surpassed my expectations. But this isn’t a holiday blog, it is a running one so let me tell you about how I attempted to balance my training with making the most of such an awesome holiday. 
I went into the week with an idea of the sessions I wanted to run and on what days so that I could try to keep the consistency with the normal routine. Then, we came up with a plan for each day regards activities we wanted to do. It was at this point I had to think about how I was going to get the most out of the running I was able to do. I didn’t want it to take over my holiday but with seven weeks to race day, neither did I want to not run. I realised I had to prioritise the specific run sessions and be flexible with the steady and recovery runs. My mindset was that the tougher sessions are where I get most of the gains so these should be priority. I also knew we would be doing a bit of walking and cycling so could count those if I needed.

On the Monday it would normally have been a steady run but with the long run being done on the Friday before I decided to make it a session day. The reasoning for this was to bank my runs whilst I could in case activities later in the week impacted on them. It was also down to a frustrating event with Dani’s contact lenses which meant we had a slot of time to be waiting around so I went out on a run.

The run was about 1 or 2 o’clock in the afternoon and the sun was properly out for my tempo session. I found a running track on a map and headed over to it for my run as it would be easier than stopping at a crossing on my fast interval. However, when I got there it was not a tarmac track but a slight dusty gravel track. Good enough so I got on with my run. Considering I hadn’t fuelled properly due to my morning activities I was pleased with the speeds I hit and maintained. Not sure my mile PB on my Garmin was truly accurate!

The Tuesday was whale watching day which was an early start so managed to get out for a steady run of about 45 minutes to get about 6 miles under my belt. It was a good shakeout from the previous day and meant I wouldn’t be too tired for standing up whale watching.

On Wednesday we had planned to take on a tourist challenge know as the Grouse Grind. It was a 3k hike to the top of Grouse Mountain before you caught the cable car back to the bottom. You could catch it up also, but then you miss out on the grind. After reading reviews about it, I decided that this should be the main session of the day and it was a good thing to. The climb was awesome but quite tough in places with it getting really steep at some points. They break it down with quarter markers which helped keep me and other hikers motivated. They have a scanner down the bottom and at the top for those who want to time themselves and go back to beat their time. I really would have liked to have tried doing it as fast as I could, just for the challenge and to see what I could do. Hating hills like I do I am certain that running up it would have been one of the toughest things I’d have ever done. I think we did it in about an hour and 45.

Thursday started with a gentle tourist cycle around to a local market on Granville Island before I had some time to get another session in. Again it was super hot but I decided to take myself down to the sea wall to do the run. It was short intervals and dodging through the crowd wasn’t super easy – I nearly got taken out by a child, or nearly took a child out who ran across the path without looking. I had some good speed but the heat soon began to take its toll. I had taken water with me but it wasn’t enough. I also had a deadline to be back at the apartment for, so the few miles after the intervals were quite tough as I was tired but knew I couldn’t slow down and walk. It was probably a good thing.
There was no run on Friday as we moved to the second part of our holiday in Whistler and travel time took out the day. However, I was up early on Saturday to take part in Whistler Park Run. I’m pretty sure I got a PB in this event so I will talk more about it in another post (here) but all I need to say is that it was a really awesome place to run and I got to go in a lake afterwards. It also turned out that by the end of the day we had walked quite a few miles.

The week finished with this morning’s long run. I was really looking forward to exploring the trails on offer, even more so after chatting to people after Park Run. I had planned to get out at a normal sort of Sunday run time and be running for between 2 hours and 2 and a half hours. I knew I would not get high mileage because there would be hills but the time on my feet would be good for me. It started off fairly cool and the tree cover in the trails helped this. I was running with a bottle and managed to find my way to some water fountains when I needed to. The route was really cool with some lovely views and it was awesome just to hear my footsteps and no traffic. I didn’t go exploring as far afield as I hoped but that was partly due to my lack of forward planning. But, the trails and route I did was still cool and I think I did one section a couple of times and it didn’t get boring at all. After the run I went straight to the lake to meet Dani and dipped straight in for a natural ice bath. A refreshing way to end my week of running.

Things I will take away from this week are:

  • I need to develop better hydration strategies as I am getting thirsty quite a lot when running at the moment
  • 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
  • Running in the afternoon after lunch and in hot weather is not ideal
  • Sometimes it will work out okay if I just get out and run without worrying about it.
My training session for injury recovery

Training sessions (wc 13th May)

After my recent knee issues I have been scouring the net for ideas to help improve my IT Band and knee issue.

From what I have gathered, it looks like it may have resulted from my dodgy hips. Now I have been aware that my hip flexor is not the most stretchy and have been working on it with lots of lunge stretching, but I did not realise the impact that my hips have been having on the rest of my body.

About 7 or 8 years ago I had a phase of going to a chiropractor to sort out some back issues which caused me a lot of grief. Although they helped I think there has always been something not quite right. I get very fidgety when sat down for too long (much to the annoyance of my better half). I also have a slight grind on my left side if I raise my leg up past a certain point and my lower back aches fairly regularly. Once this marathon is out of the way I plan to get to the root cause of these issues starting with a trip to the GP.

I have found a number of exercises that people have suggested and placed these into a little exercise routine in the hope that it will firstly get me to a state that makes the marathon ok to run and secondly help properly fix my IT Band issues.

Training session

I start with a 20 minute jog (the only running I’m currently doing which is way harder physically then it should be) as I am worried about what my knee can take and it has seemed to be ok during it. I have been doing this over at the local pitches close to my house which is good because I can walk there, and back. However, it can get a bit lonely doing laps in a small park as they only seem to take about 3 and a half minutes each.

Then I go through this mini circuit:

20 leg raises (each side) – Lying on my side, I raise a straight leg from my heel, with toes pointing down as much as possible. I have found it can be a bit tricky to get the balance right so I sometimes angle my bottom leg backwards for that added stability.

20 leg clams (each side) – Lying on my side again, I bring my knees out in front of me, close to 90 degrees from the waist. The feet rest in line with the spine and the top knee is then raised whilst keeping the feet in contact. When I did this in my gym I used a resistance band, but have not still got myself one yet.

10 pistol squats (each leg) – Standing on one leg I push one leg out in front of me as I do a squat on one leg only. This is quite wobbly until you get used to it so you may want to have something to hold onto. The further down you go, the harder it gets but I try and get as close to 90 degrees in the knee as I can.

I have been doing these for just over the week and feel like they have been helping me and I clearly have a weakness that it picks up, which probably means I need to train those areas.

Afterwards I am stretching and make sure I do the stretch pictured below each time as it really picks up my glutes which is not always easy.

Post training glute stretch to help injury recovery

Glute stretch after exercise

Once the marathon is out of the way and I know what state I am in, I will reassess the exercises I will be doing going forwards.

5K Personal best – Little Stoke Park Run

I first visited Little Stoke Park Run when my better half decided she wanted to go along. So, I went to support and then as soon as they said go I continued to support her by immediately leaving her at the start line as I got swept along with the crowds and trying to find my rhythm. I think she preferred this as she always says she doesn’t like me running with her and I was instantly keen to go and do my own race and try and find something to get out of this run.

I was carrying a post-London Marathon niggle so it was more of a ‘lets see what happens’ kind of a morning. I enjoyed it and thought the whole idea of Park Run was absolutely brilliant and made me wish I had got involved sooner. The second time I went along, I went solo and tried to get a decent time but didn’t quite achieve as good a time as hoped.

I find the 5K distance a really strange one, but similar to 10K I suppose. You are basically pushing yourself as hard as possible but only to a point where you know you only have to maintain it for a relatively short amount of time. So when I find myself in that uncomfortable zone I have to just remind myself that if I cant stay there then the race will end quicker. I have never considered training for this event and use it as a chance to try and go above what my marathon pace would ideally be.

It was on my third Park Run experience that I earned my current 5K PB in January this year. I was at the beginning of my more specific marathon training starting and had been building up slowly beforehand so I wanted to lay a marker and thought this would be ideal. I was aiming for anywhere around the 21 minute mark as this would have been close to my target marathon time.

I started off steady and found my rhythm to start with. Then I did my classic thing of finding someone who was going at close to my pace and tagging on to them. They got me through most before they stepped up their speed earlier then I wanted as I was pushing on my limit of acceptable discomfort. Then a younger lad was hovering near me and came past me on the last lap. He didn’t pull away from me so he was my next target. Yes, I know Park Run is an enjoyable social experience, but I have to find those targets and people to chase to keep me pushing. As we got to the home straight I started to gain on him and ended up going alongside him into the finish pen.

I was really chuffed with the time as it beat my previous by a decent amount. I look forward to going back every few months to test myself and see where I am at, although I may be looking elsewhere now.

5K PB – Little Stoke Park Run – 21:30


Ashford Half Marathon race personal best medal finish time

Half Marathon Personal Best – Ashford and District

On my yearly trip back home to the seaside paradise of Dymchurch in Kent over Easter I went to visit some good friends for a game of Pointless and drinks. My friend Becca is new to running but has signed up to the London to Brighton Ultra Marathon in May and is smashing her training. She has been signing up to a number of races to help keep her motivated and prepared. Discussions soon moved onto this and I was told of the 2nd Pod Plus Ashford and District Half Marathon that was taking place on the Sunday. She was doing the Full Marathon, as her first ever marathon. I was tempted, but also peer pressured, so I signed up.

As it turned out, I was glad I did because I managed to get a PB. After a last minute location change for the start of the race I felt they were really organised and had thought about parking for all as we found a space at the local doctors 2 minutes away. On arrival at the local primary school they were using, it was quick and easy to get my race number and there was a nice buzz in the hall. One issue was the amount of toilets as there was quite a queue – even though I thought I would be proactive and go early. That was my only gripe – and that is only a small one! There was a good briefing with plenty of information where those doing the marathon were told about the plans for their second lap. At this point I was relieved I was only doing half.

Shortly after, we made our way out the school and down to the start of the race. As we got together in the ‘start pen’  on a T-junction outside some peoples houses, the starter shouted ‘go’. No horn – but then it was a Sunday morning and some people love a lay in. I started off well and got into my own target pace which was 8:30 minute miles. It was an undulating course but some of the climbs were pushing what some might describe as hilly. That was how it was billed online so I can’t complain about it. It slowed me down on the way up but meant I was able to push on the way down.

Ashford Half Marathon

Reaching one downhill section, I found myself going to fast and almost struggling to slow myself down. In hindsight, I feel this may have been where I agitated my left knee/IT Band. The course included a lovely trail section which they did warn us about. It lasted about a mile or so, but the previous days rain meant it was quite muddy and this made me realise why people need specific trail shoes. I had zero grip so had to work hard to find my foot placing. It was a nice change and added to the experience.

After about mile 6 I tagged along to a runner (cheers Trevor) who has obviously been doing more training than I have and he was going to be going round twice to do the marathon. His pace was just what I needed and having him there gave me a target. Even after I took a couple of walking steps, his few words of encouragement made me get going again and I worked to catch him up.

As we approached the end of my lap, we parted ways. He turned right to go round again, I turned left to complete a strong finish with a nice number of people there to cheer me home. It was a nice touch having a big screen with each runner’s names and times coming up. I also enjoyed the treats right at the finish line and being able to move away at my own leisure. At this point I may have rewarded myself with some chocolate treats. I was also able to grab a quick little massage as the hall was quiet, but I think their intentions were that people booked before the race so I was quite fortunate.

When leaving, the Sat Nav took us along some of the running route, which turned out to be quite awkward when we accidentally drove past Becca on her marathon route! A lovely organised event and I may go back next year.

Half Marathon PB – Ashford and District Half Marathon – 1h34:45

Bristol to Bath Railway path

I have ridden the Bristol to Bath Railway path a number of times and have found it really enjoyable, especially when the sun is out and I have always thought it to be an ideal running route. So, as I was getting towards a decent long run I started to think about using it more. Then the time came this weekend, when I had a 20 miler planned, to take on the railway path.

For me to get to the path I had to go up and down a couple of steady hills, which were fine at the start of the run. It was about 1.5 miles in before I reached the path so only had to go 8.5miles before turning round. The weather was pretty good for running as it wasn’t too hot but there was potential for rain, so I had squeezed a waterproof (and some gels) into my backpack for the run. My aim was to go long and steady and test out my gels.

At the start of the path I found it okay to get into my rhythm with a few people ahead to slowly chase down. To begin with you go through Fishponds which isn’t the most scenic part but once you get through that you run through a tunnel of trees – and then an actual tunnel! On a warm day you really notice the chill entering the tunnel which was a strange sensation. I also lost GPS signal on my watch but fortunately got it back fairly quickly when I came out the other side.

One of my favourite parts of the route is going through Warmley where there is a superb little tea rooms. On this occasion I did not stop but if you ever wanted to plan for somewhere to end your run or cycle, then I would recommend here!

Towards the end of my out leg, my legs started to twinge, only this time it was not the leg I had been nursing, but the outside of my left knee around the IT Band. Just what I needed with another 10 miles to jog back! Managed to make it back most of the path but did have the occasional walk to try and relieve some pressure and release some frustration. Luckily the route is very flat so I had no real hills to contend – helping the knee slightly.

Ultimately by the time I got off the path I was in quite a bit of pain, but realised if I walked all the way back it would have taken ages so I did the silly thing of continuing to jog as much as I could. Managed to get half a mile back and up one of the hills before realising it was a stupid idea and that I would need to walk. Typically, just as I did this it began to tip it down so out came my waterproof which did very little and I continued to walk home in pain and soaked through. This time I had taken a pound coin out with me (for any random emergency where £1 would be the difference) and decided I would have an ice bath when I got in. For this I would nip to the local store to purchase some ice, only to be devastated when it was being sold at £1.05 ! By time I got home I decided I would rather have a warm shower and I did not return for the ice.

I consider this the day where my issues began!