Spring 2012 marathon training

Comparison Training breakdown

Training recently has, quite frankly, not been great. Four illnesses since the start of the year have taken their toll with the last two weeks finally allowing me to find some consistency, arguably too late.

Looking back at previous years’ training, it has certainly been worse, but not by much.
I initially wanted to pb and marathon significantly quicker than 3 hours. However, feelings in training mirror evidence of previous years and would suggest I will do well to marathon in under 3 hours 10 minutes.

This expectation has encouraged me to be more experimental with the taper – a part of training, which I think needs some work. This has included 4 speedwork sessions, of varying length and intensity, in one week. If all goes well, and with the benefit of experience, I suspect that 3 hours 10 minutes could be achievable, but I must be patient.

There, I have said it. Twice. Now to see what happens.
My evidence is indicated in the charts*, above.
Maybe the Marathon Prayer will help…

*For comparison, similar charts can be seen here (2010) and here (2011).

Does the body rule the mind*

At primary school, I would often suffer from fairly frequent ‘tummy aches’. There was not much of a pattern to their occurrence but, sometimes, they would coincide with days that I didn’t really want to go to school – the last day of term being an example that has remained in my memory, when we would go to church to sing hymns. If my mother decided that I wasn’t well enough to attend, I would spend the day at home, in bed – which was arguably more boring than school itself [as a teacher, I’m not sure I should write that, but it was certainly how I felt at the time].

Depending upon the severity of my mother’s assessment, I would visit the Doctor. The most common outcomes were a prescribed course of antibiotics (or similar**), or a possibly unhealthy dose of Calpol***. However, on one occasion, the Dr suggested to my mother that it was possible that I was not ill at all and was, in fact, faking it.

To this day, I don’t know why he came to this conclusion but, as the years have passed, these are what I think were the possibilities [in order of increasing likelihood]:

  • The Dr suspected that I was skiving
  • A ‘stab in the dark’, as there was no evidence of a specific illness
  • My mother sensed I was skiving and/or was fed up with me taking days off school, so got the Dr ‘on side’ to teach me a lesson

At that moment, I didn’t know what to think; I had genuinely felt ill [I am sure of that fact], but now I also felt humiliated. In conjunction with the Dr, my parents spoke to me about suffering from ‘butterflies’ and how that feeling can be exacerbated with increasing pressures. I listened and thought about it, but wasn’t convinced. From then on, whenever I was ill, my parents would always ask “are you really ill, or is it just butterflies?

In hindsight, that didn’t happen very often at all. That might have just been a coincidence, but I suspect that I wanted to be convinced myself that the feeling wasn’t psychosomatic before committing to announcing that I was ill. Throughout my entire time at secondary school, I had very few days absent; my reports show that the number of illnesses I had that involved me having to take time off, from years 7 to 13 (age 11-18), can be counted on one hand. I would be fascinated to compare the total number of days absence between the two schools; it could be argued that I had been cured.

In my entire working life, I have had very few absences as a result of illness – and the last time that I did was February 2007, the final day of the half term. As time went on, I began to notice a pattern as to when these illnesses were developing. They could be separated by a matter of weeks or months, but would always seem to impose themselves after times of increased pressure/stress, and at the start of periods of relaxation. Some examples include:

  • The end of term/start of the school holiday
  • As a period of increased training ends and a ‘rest’ is scheduled

I am fully aware that this is ‘normal’ and has the same impact on many people. However, I have often questioned its frequency. While I can remember certain instances of being ill, I cannot remember them all so, to help my training (primarily), I added an ‘Ill or Injured’ column to my training schedule last summer. The plan was that I could look for patterns and work out when I was ‘over-training’ before it became too late – thus preventing myself from getting ill, if I detected its onset in sufficient time.

The findings are indicated below [they are listed for comment upon their statistical likelihood rather than to garner any sympathy]:

  • June 2011 – 4 days missed training due to illness
  • October 2011 – 7 days missed training due to illness
  • January 2012 – 6 days missed training due to illness
  • February 2012 – 7 days missed training due to illness

24 days in nine months (approximately 300 days) is not statistically significant. On the (presumably incorrect) assumption I have developed an immunity to becoming ill while at work, 24 days in approximately 150 is still significantly insignificant. However, closer study reveals that all of these days were in fact during the school holidays – focusing on the three most recent illnesses gives 20 days out of 34 (58.8%).

In other words, since August 2011, for every five days that I have been ‘on holiday’, I have been ill on three of them. Despite not being a big enough sample size to compensate for coincidence, I find this result surprising; perhaps the Dr would suggest I am faking.

*or does the mind rule the body
**on reflection, it is highly likely this may have actually been a placebo
***sometimes I think I looked forward to being ill – just so that I could have some of the purple Calpol (what do they put in that stuff?). I hated it when I turned 7 and had to progress to the orange version

Kick racism out

There has been much recent discussion surrounding racism and football. Two high profile cases have involved conflicts between Luis Suarez/Patrice Evra (see here) and John Terry/Anton Ferdinand (see here).

In the first case, the Football Association (FA) handed out an 8 match suspension – one of the more extreme punishments in recent times.

In the second, a complaint was made to the police – and it goes to a court of law later in about six months’ time.

The second has additional knock on effects, as JT has been the most recent England captain. Not wanting to be seen to endorse racism, the FA has stripped him of captaincy until the outcome of the trial is known – going against the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ stance of UK law, but in line with suspensions in many other professions while investigations are carried out. This overrules, and subsequently undermines, Fabio Capello (the England manager), who has consequently resigned.

FC was due to leave in six months’ time (shortly before JT’s court hearing) regardless, so this doesn’t come as a huge difficulty, or surprise. However, much has been made of FC being Italian and him never truly overcoming language and cultural barriers. In the aftermath of his resignation, there has also been much support for the next manager to be English.

My only comment on the matter is to suggest the FA need to be very careful that they are not being racist themselves – institutionally or otherwise.

Hot meals versus education

There has been much snow during the past week. To clarify, about 8 inches fell on Saturday night and, as the temperature was low enough, it laid instantly. The UK rarely seems to have enough snow on a regular basis for people to acclimatise, so it often ends up causing widespread disruption; however, being a Sunday morning, this was minimised. The temperature picked up during the day, some of the snow melted and, by Monday, there was little comment on its disruption – other than in small localised regions.

In north-west Norfolk, most schools closed on Monday due to the usual array of snow-related reasons. These included large numbers of staff and/or students being unable to get to the premises, unsafe paths and other similar reasons. Being a particularly rural region, this was not too surprising but, amongst all of the schools which closed, one notable primary school remained open.

Well, the Queen was visiting – it had to, didn’t it? [see here]

Meanwhile, as the week progressed, the reasons behind some of the school closures were clarified. This included some of the following:

Boiler failure – so no heating or hot water
Electrical fault – so no heating
Unable to provide hot dinners

Arguably, these are valid reasons for schools having to close; it is right that people (staff and students) are not expected to work in inhumane conditions. But is it right that schools close for such reasons? Do the potential consequences of such problems outweigh the potential benefits of education?

Admittedly, the timescales are relatively small, so the actual consequences are limited. But perhaps it would make more sense to give staff and students a choice?

Velvet snow

NFK_8106Weather forecasters cannot accurately predict the weather as far away as three months so, on the assumption that this cold spell will pass, it must be assumed that the London marathon (in April) will go ahead as planned. Now this presents me with a choice: to train in the snow, or to not train in the snow.

  • Training in the snow is hard work, and is not particularly conducive to good running form. However, it provides good resistance training, and the cold weather can be a good source of psychological training.
  • Not training in the snow is unlikely to have major implications for the marathon itself (unless the snow remains for a few weeks). It is also ‘easier’ and warmer.

However, the biggest factor in making up my mind is that this opportunity does not come around very often and it can be heaps of fun. So off I went with my camera…

Box and whisker

One drawback of Microsoft Excel is that it does not have a function that easily allows for a box-and-whisker diagram to be generated. By ‘fudging’ together a stacked bar chart with error bars, this image was generated using Excel alone. The benefit is that I can just ‘copy and paste’ new data and the diagrams will update automatically.

I am pleased with the outcome, and the idea is that I will use it as the basis of a ‘starter’ in a lesson, as well as lessons in the future. However, I question whether the effort involved in achieving this is worthwhile.

I guess only time will tell how many times it is used.


I always start out with good intentions, but laziness often gets in the way and they become left by the wayside. I am aware this is the case, so I try to develop ways of preventing this from happening. This is typically achieved by attempting to implement improved, more efficient methods but, occasionally, things slip through the net.

This is either because the new method cuts a corner, thus omitting the good intention altogether (albeit unintentionally), or just because my laziness kicked in and the good intention was omitted over a period of time.

The purpose of this post is to remind me of some of those things which are a good idea, were briefly forgotten about, and are about to slip through the net. This post is therefore acting as that net.

Reflection in teaching is one of the most important tools to help improve practice, but other pressures of the job often get in the way. This blog, as a whole, together with social media and online forums go a long way to helping that (if used correctly), but nothing beats a colleague entering your classroom, observing and feeding back. Thanks SB.

SB was in the classroom for no more than two minutes.
“[Student ‘X’] looked bored while you were taking the register” was the feedback.

Ouch. That hit me right where it hurt. Any pride that I may have had felt like it had disappeared instantly. But it has played on my mind since. I have thought about it long and hard. Was he bored? Why was he bored? What would stop him from being bored? What could I do differently to stop him from being bored? What am I going to do to stop him from being bored? And, to help my pride, how can I demonstrate to SB that he has never been bored since and will never be bored again? Ok, so that last question may seem far-fetched, but it is what I strive to achieve [right?].

While this feedback does not necessarily follow ‘the rules’, or guidelines, of giving feedback, it certainly made me stop and think – and reflect when I may not have done so otherwise. I need to somehow not forget that feeling I felt when SB pointed out to me the observation. The clearer I can remember that feeling, the more likely I am not to want a repeat – and the more effective the ‘net’ will be at saving those good ideas – and defeating laziness.

I continue in my quest to improve.


This image shows a comparison of my mile splits from my two quickest 15 mile races. They are both run over the same course and the notes from my training diary for each are as follows:

Very undulating, ideal conditions, exposed. 3 large hills, twice.
Very undulating, very strong headwind up and down first hill, exposed. 3 large hills, twice.

The image will allow me to pick apart each mile, analysing where I could improve or what adjustments I need to make to my training. However, it also suggests that it is probably just as well that I don’t own a Garmin*

*other GPS devices exist

Paul Evans marathon Q&A

Tonight’s training run at the running club was taken by Paul Evans (former Chicago marathon winner) and Brendon Byrne (a UKA level 4 coach). It ended with a Q&A session, to which PE and BB made some interesting references. I have documented them here, as much for my own memory as for anything else.

Long run alone.

This was said in reference to the marathon being a mental challenge – and running the long run alone would help in this regard. I think there is much to be gained from running the long run alone, however, I am not sure this is necessary for every long run.

Tempo training = very good

The suggestion was that, after the long run, this was the best session of the week. I have always considered the tempo run to be important, but think it needs to be run alongside a more traditional interval session. The interval session would be used to increase speed, while the tempo run would be used to help maintain that speed over a longer distance (i.e. to develop speed endurance). The particular session he made reference to was 3*2 miles or 6*1 mile at about 10k or 5k pace, respectively.

Strength and conditioning is beneficial

The suggestion was that this is the one session PE would add to his schedule were he to write it again. But it wouldn’t take precedence over the long run, or the two other speed sessions.

Pasta party = bad

While the ‘loading’ of carbohydrates in the immediate days before the marathon is essential, there are many healthier sources of pasta than that which has been cooking for hours at marathon expos. However, make sure to book a restaurant for the night before the race, so as not to risk being left to wait hours for a table – 35 000 runners and their families is a lot for any city to accommodate.


At this point, I struggled to understand PE’s argument; having never trained or raced with gels, he claimed that they were essential for good marathon running. I would have liked to have pointed out that Steve Jones never took any gels, and no Brit has ever run quicker. Fortunately, somebody else raised a similar point, but the session was closed during the response.

Maybe I’ll go to the next session.