Winter has arrived

Last night’s training session ended with a noticeable tightening of my hamstring in the final strides. It had been particularly cold, but I had gone running in shorts once again (and had even considering wearing a t-shirt) in close to freezing temperatures, with a bitterly cold wind-chill.

The pain had played on mind throughout the night and today, and the thinking exacerbated that pain, but I decided to go for a run regardless. However, I wrapped up warm this time – in case I had to stop and walk home. Short tights were underneath long tights. A t-shirt was underneath a long sleeve top which, in turn, was underneath a windproof jacket. And I wore a hat, snood and gloves for good measure.

I ended up feeling too warm but, significantly, there was less pain in my hamstring. On occasion, I even strided out, with much success. Fingers crossed, there are no further repercussions, but yesterday’s winter lesson has been learned (for now, at least) – keep warm.

If you like a lot of chocolate on your biscuit

Running the London marathon was my first motivation, but I also started running because I wanted to keep fit and it was convenient. At first, I would run for a couple of weeks, but soon get bored, so stop for about a month, until guilt would take over and the cycle would repeat. At the time, I was at university and lived with athletes, so was surrounded by positive influences.

None of my housemates drank much alcohol, so we were almost as far from the student stereotype as possible. Save for the rare occasions where I would have an urge to go on a binge with people from my course. Other than to demonstrate those positive influences, I digress.

As time passed, we would talk about training and the benefit of doing different things – and much of what I do now is based upon the knowledge that I gained during this time. We were all very opinionated, but I was ignorant on the subject of running, and respected everything that these ‘experienced athletes’ from their various backgrounds (1500m, 400m, 100m, steeplechase, triple jump and long jump) and their athletic friends could advise.

I graduated from university and moved back home, but still hadn’t run the London marathon; however I had a place for the following year – which would be four months later. I believe I trained reasonably well, but ‘suffered’ a pain in my ankle about 6 weeks before the race and reluctantly decided to defer my entry. Each application may only be deferred once, so the pressure was on for the following 12 months – even if I picked up an injury, I would be unable to defer my entry again.

This is the point at which my electronic training diary (here) begins; everything before this date is on paper, somewhere in storage.

I trained consistently the following few weeks and months, anxious that something might prevent me making it to the startline once more. By now, I was more determined than ever. But I needed something else; something that would stop me from taking weeks off ‘because I feel like it’. So I questioned whether or not I should join a running club.

I had always resisted – I didn’t like the idea of joining a running club. I didn’t class myself as a runner. After all, why would I want to associate myself with people who run because they enjoy it? What would these people be like? What if I couldn’t keep up? What if I couldn’t last the entire distance? What would they think if I were to turn up and slow them down? How bad would I feel?

All of these things put me off. And I believe that these things continue to put many people off running in organised groups.

On the positive side, I would receive lots of advice. There would be other people running the marathon that I might be able to run with. That could provide a source of greater motivation. Most importantly for me running the marathon the following year, they could advise me if I were to pick up another injury in the future – something that only my housemates from university had previously been ‘qualified’ to do, as I was still ignorant of the subject.

There are many other good reasons to join a running club that I have subsequently discovered, but I don’t intend to use this post in order to promote running in an organised group. In fact, I believe the best runners train hard on their own as well as with others.

I thought about it for a few weeks and I increased my training to build up my own confidence. In hindsight, this wasn’t necessary, but it helped psychologically. I reckoned I needed 6 months to get myself ready for a marathon so, on 5th October 2004 (that’s what my diary says), I ran my first club run (my diary even states where I ran).

Seven years down the line, and I have now been a member of three different running clubs. I can’t imagine running without being a member of a club and am now in my fourth year of being on a committee (including one year as chair). But, I still have one major difficulty; how can a running club act to break down some of those barriers that prevent people (like me eight years ago) from signing up.

Furthermore, some people who are members of a club are reluctant to make the transition from one type of session to another – for similar reasons to those which I describe. People regard running clubs as elitist. And people within running clubs regard different factions of clubs as elitist.

I believe that while some individuals may be elitist, the clubs are not. And those elitist (note the distinction from ‘elite’) individuals are those who don’t partake in club activities – they train on their own, and benefit least from being part of a club.

As an active committee member, I believe it is one of my duties to help break down some of those barriers at a running club. It may not be appropriate that every session offered is open to runners of all abilities, but everyone must know what each session is designed for (long/fast/beginner etc.), what the requirements are in order to be able to attend (how long/how fast/how much of a beginner etc.) and what can be done in order to be able to reach the necessary ‘standard’.

In an ideal world, a club will offer a beginner’s session, for the complete beginner (e.g. 0-30 mins); an improver’s session, which prepares a beginner for running with the club’s best athletes (e.g. approx. 30 mins of varying pace/distance); a short interval session (e.g. track); a long interval session (e.g. km/mile repeats); and a long run (90 minutes to marathon training distances). In an (even more) ideal world, sessions could be offered that include fartlek, hills, gym, plyometrics and so on, however, as with many things, these all depend on the personnel available.

Lord of the hill

It is almost ten years since I last ran a hill session in a similar fashion to that which I did tonight. However, since I no longer live in Loughborough, there were some notable differences:

  1. Leicestershire has plenty of steep hills. Norfolk does not.
  2. Adaptations due to [1] meant that 10 repeats were run instead of 6.
  3. Further adaptations due to [1] meant that each repeat was longer.
  4. Even more adaptations due to [1] meant that recoveries were jogged rather than walked.
  5. Thorpe Hill repeats became known as ‘Seb Coe Hills’ after the famous runner of the same name who used to train on them. The only runners I know who have ever run repeats of Park Lane are AB, JN and myself.

I have included some images from Google Maps and Street View to demonstrate point [1]. Points [2], [3] and [4] turn the session into more of a marathon training session than a 1500m session.

I still can’t help thinking I need to find a steeper hill though, as I would be rather disappointed if Park Lane were to be named Simon Levy Hills… unless, of course, it is run with my marathon adaptations.

These adaptations remind me of an interesting quote by Maya Angelou:
If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.

Training documents

In the last week, I have become Road Running Coordinator of my running club. There are a few things I want to work on in this role, but in the meantime, I have uploaded two new running files.

The first (here) is a beginner’s training schedule – designed to take someone who doesn’t run at all to being able to run for 30 minutes over a period of up to 8 weeks.

The second (here) contains marathon splits for different target times, broken down according to miles or km.

I hope you find them useful.

Playing catch up

For one reason and another, these last few weeks have not been very conducive to good training. Following illness during half term, work has now entered the busy season in the lead-up to Christmas.

There is much that I want to write about on the subject of work, what with a probable strike on the horizon, but I don’t want this to become political or to cause any unrest so will focus on running. Although politics and running combined earlier in the week when I became Road Running Coordinator at the running club, but that’s a story for another day to save me digressing once more.

Soon after the summer holidays (sometime in the middle of September), it became apparent that, this year, I have the opportunity to achieve something that I may not be able to do again in the future; there is a chance that I may run 2500 miles in a single year. That may not seem much of a surprise given that I ran from Paris to London (~220 miles) in April, but 2500 miles marks about 600 miles more than I have ever run in a single year. For comparison, my target was to hit 2000 miles, which I passed in October.

Unfortunately, illness and work commitments have combined to mean that this will now be hard work. I will need to average between 45 and 50 miles a week for the last 7 weeks of the year. However, that’s on a par with 2500 miles for the year anyway. The only difference being that I don’t have any more time to spare; every day, and every run, from here on in, matters. To be precise I need to run 270 miles in the next 41 days in order to achieve this.

Normally, I wouldn’t be too worried about such a challenge. But if, for example, I were to suffer a setback in the next few weeks, I could overcome that by ‘doing extra’ in the following weeks. But, the problem with such a strategy is that my primary target at present is training for a successful London Marathon in April – and overtraining in December could well put paid to any hopes of that.

It is precisely this prioritisation that I must focus on. The ultimate goal must not be sacrificed for secondary goals along the way. Which brings me nicely onto another of my secondary goals – I have now entered the Trail Marathon Wales.

April will show if playing catch up in such a fashion is foolilsh.

Treading a fine line

The line separating fitness from injury is a fine one. It can sometimes be a few weeks before you can tell if a good week of training was judged correctly, or the foundations of a demise.

Following my good run in the Holt 10k, my temperature dropped quickly, together with my blood-sugar levels and I felt rather ill in the afternoon. This has happened in the past when I have run well, although is usually confined to longer distance races, so I wasn’t concerned.

The following day, my legs felt great and, unusually for my recent training plan, I went for an easy 5 mile run around town. But that night, I had a bad night’s sleep and woke up in the morning feeling slightly ill. I rested that day, hoping it would pass. The next two days, I felt no worse, so went for a run on Friday. Again, I felt no worse so continued on Saturday, Sunday and Monday – taking it easy each time. It was half term, so I figured the enforced break from the usual routine would also help.

However, after Monday’s run, I felt worse. By Tuesday, I was really ill and didn’t run comfortably again for over a week. I missed the Fenland 10m, took the following week easy and have now had one good week’s training. My legs still feel like they are heavy, but that didn’t stop me racing this morning.

Currently, I feel ok but, by this time next week, I may discover that I have overdone it. Either way, I am now investigating summer races – Trail Marathon Wales, anyone?

Who writes this stuff

I received some marathon training plans in the post today from the charity for which I shall be running the 2012 London Marathon.

The first is designed to help people finish, titled the “Sub 5 hour training plan” which, given the charity’s acknowledgement that I have a ‘good for age’ time is a little peculiar. Fortunately* they also included a sub 3 hour training plan. Maybe the former is in case I choose to hedge my bets. Significantly.

But, strangely, the sub three hour plan suggests that my longest run this month should be 45 minutes. And that it should build up to 75 minutes over the next 6 weeks.

To be honest, I am amazed. I really want to know who wrote this plan and how much success they have had.

 *you probably realise that I don’t really mean ‘fortunately’. In fact, I don’t know why I described this as fortunate at all. My bad.

Sub 5 and sub 3 hr training plans

Marathon training schedule 2011/12

A year ago, I generated a marathon training plan based on the Ryston Runners training sessions; the blog entry and the training plan can be viewed by clicking the respective links, but a number of difficulties meant that this was not stuck to. I received some very bad news within 24 hours of uploading, which would subsequently change the focus of my running for the following nine months.

This year, I have adapted the training plan to suit my current level of fitness. It can be viewed as a Google document online, or downloaded as an Excel file* (or use the link on the right hand side on the ‘training’ page). I would suggest that it is not a beginner’s schedule and, for information, am hoping to use it as a basis to help me go under 3 hours, so you may wish to use that as a guide.

The key points for this year are to stick to 5 runs a week, with a possibility of increasing to 6 in the final weeks before tapering. I also want to concentrate my efforts on 3 of those weekly runs – which I have referred to as long intervals, short intervals and a long run. I have been following a similar format for the last few weeks, with some success, meaning that I should continue in much the same way as I am at present for the duration, other than increasing the distance of the long run.

I am hoping that this will reduce my mileage from about 80 miles per week (in previous years) to 60, while increasing the intensity of any effort.

As I suggested last year, feel free to use it, abuse it, adapt it, question it, criticise it, advise me how it could be better or simply ignore it. Either way, I take no responsibility for anyone’s failure to perform other than my own.

Have fun and I wish you good luck.


*The Excel file is hosted by dropbox, so will (almost) immediately reflect any changes I make offline.

My next trick

I’ve been listening to the Marathon Talk ( podcasts on my way to and from work recently. I find them much more entertaining and inspirational than the offerings from radio stations at that time of day, as well as being a small way of my saying “thank-you”*. The fact that my parents have recently moved close to where one of the team trains also makes it seem much more real and closer to home. However, I am already at risk of digressing from the point I intended to make.

I am often looking for my next challenge, whether it is faster, higher, hillier, longer or just more difficult than I have done before. But, in recent months, I have enjoyed a sense of freedom from having nothing of note on the horizon, other than a London Marathon (with my Brother and Sister), which only falls under the ‘faster’ category of challenge. This relative lack of such a challenge has created a void.

Furthermore, this week is half term which, among other things, serves to provide (too) much time for thinking. Coupled with being ill** and a consequent lack of running, my brain has gone into overdrive.

One way I overcome that is by re-evaluating how I am spending my time. I have been considering my position at the running club, and how much I wish to become involved in the committee, or otherwise, but I don’t wish to discuss this at present (other than to thank the Emu for a random act of kindness). So, this is where Marathon Talk comes in…

For those who are unfamiliar with the podcast, each week somebody related to marathon running in one way or another is interviewed. It may be an elite athlete, a coach, an organiser or somebody else. The problem is that each and every interviewee has a story to tell, usually accompanied by a message of inspiration – like James Adams who has just completed a run from Los Angeles to New York (see his blog here – and this in particular is well worth a read). Seriously. In fact, I challenge you to listen to his interview (here), not be moved by what he says, and not want to experience just a tiny fraction of what he describes (singing Japanese Beatle aside).

Again, I seem to be digressing, but the point I am gradually drifting towards is that I am now thinking about my next challenge. Yes, I said it. I am now looking for another challenge. I don’t yet know if I want it to be longer than the Swiss Alpine Ultra (79.1km), or longer than Paris to London (218.3m in 8 days), but I think I want it to be a ‘longer’ challenge.

Wearing my sensible hat, I suspect that I shouldn’t do it. But life would be boring if it were easy. So I have put it out into the public domain and ask you, the reader, to let me have your suggestions. I blame James Adams (whom I would also like to thank).


*For two Paris to London interviews.

** I’ve not taken a single day off work due to sickness for more than five years, yet I continue to get ill during the holidays. Go figure.

The patient game

Much has happened since 1st January 2005. In six and a half years, I have run more than 11000 miles including racing 10 events at marathon distance or beyond. In fact every single one of my personal bests (pbs) has been achieved in that time, except for my 10k. Until today. So why do I feel somewhat deflated? After all, today’s effort was more than a minute quicker than any other 10k I have run in the last 5 years.

To explain, my training has been going pretty well recently. I have been injury free since March, and have been improving since. Until last weekend, I had no idea of my current race pace – when I ran a quick (but difficult) 5k in 17 minutes 26 seconds. In my head, with an easier week’s training, on an easier course, I suspected that a time in the low 36 minutes was achievable. 3:39mins/km would give me 36:30, so I planned to use that as a benchmark and take it from there.

Here are my km splits:

  1. 3:27:14
  2. 3:34:28
  3. 3:37:79
  4. 3:35:49
  5. 7:27:72
  6. 3:42:88
  7. 7:42:42
  8. 3:47:65

Total: 36:55:37

I felt comfortable going through the first few km, but suffered in the (predominantly uphill) second half. Don’t get me wrong; I am delighted to have pb’d. I just hoped that I might have run even quicker.

So (and for anyone reading this), what positives can I take from this?

I now have evidence that I am possibly fitter than I have ever been (with only two more pbs dating back before March 2005). I am training well and I feel like there is scope for me to run faster. The signs are positive.

But, the biggest positive of all is that it helps fuel my motivation over the next few months. I just need to make sure I stay injury free… and hopefully I won’t have to wait another 6.5 years/11000 miles for any more of my pbs.

Now, why did I leave my cupboards to empty of Haribo; two bars of Green & Blacks and 4 cups of sugary tea doesn’t quite do the job.

Roll on Fenland 10m.