Zero point

Today, I completed my 2013 marathon race entry.

At the end of the process, I was offered the chance to purchase the product indicated, below [take a moment to read as much, or as little, of the detail as you would like].
I understand why people who run may be interested in using products which are marketed as burning fat. I also understand why people who run may be interested using products with a small number of calories (i.e. zero).

However, during marathon running, the body burns the fat in order to fuel itself. This, in turn, is topped up by any calories it can find. Therefore, taking a product which “burns more fat during exercise” and has “zero calorie intake” would reduce the fat available to the body and give it no energy.

It is arguable that this product could be of use during training – in order to help the body acclimatise, but I would suggest there are better methods of doing this.

This product does appear to also provide a source of magnesium. Endurance athletes can suffer from a lack of magnesium which is lost through sweating (or otherwise), but is widely available in green veg and whole grains among other foods. Furthermore consuming too much magnesium can also have negative effects*.

So, can anyone suggest any reason why a marathon runner ought to consider this product?

*we all know what happens if we eat too much green veg/whole grains… (and if you don’t, I am sure you can look it up on google)

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).

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.

Jokers* and clowns**

On April 22nd 2012, I will be running the London Marathon for The Prostate Cancer Charity and Breast Cancer Care***. Prostate and breast cancer are the most common cancers in men and women in the UK, so the chances are you know someone who has been affected by these life-threatening diseases.

I will be joined by my Brother and my Sister, neither of whom have ever run further than a half marathon. Please support us and this fantastic cause by checking our fundraising page, here.

* to the left of me
** to the right

*** The Prostate Cancer Charity and Breast Cancer Care have joined forces as joint official charities for the Virgin London Marathon. Together, they are TeamPB.

The Prostate Cancer Charity Team PB Breast Cancer Care

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.

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.

The end has no end


One winter’s morning, back in November 2010, one runner suggested to another that maybe they could try something a little different. The second pondered the thought intriguingly and, before long, two other runners were in on the act. Having only ever trained in the flats of rural Norfolk without venturing beyond 42km, the distance of a marathon, they all entered the Swiss Alpine Ultra Marathon. The four runners (not necessarily forerunners) will be referred to as A, B, C and D as I have not sought their permission to publicise this.

The term Ultra refers to any race beyond the marathon distance, but this was not just an ultramarathon. It was 79.1km, almost double the distance of a regular marathon. It was at high altitude. And it was over some incredibly difficult, steep terrain. It is billed as “the biggest mountain ultramarathon in the world, and the ultimate challenge”.

As the training progressed, runner D only made it is far as a completed entry – which, to be fair, was a challenge in itself. As for A, B and C, they all arrived in Switzerland together, uncertain of what lay ahead.

Runner A had recently returned from a trek at altitude, but had been nursing an injury in the build-up – and had only completed one run beyond 2.5 hours, a 50k. He is the fastest marathon runner of the three, but is often full of talk of injury woe, so when he suggested similar this time around, nobody was too concerned.

Runner B has the most marathon experience, but had picked up an injury trying to attempt a triple jump, and claimed that with only two runs beyond 2.5 hours (including a 6 hour run through the Yorkshire 3 peaks) that he was the least well prepared. He was also adamant that, despite planning to run together, he would be the one to suggest A and C ‘crack on’ and leave him to make his way back on his own.

Runner C was possibly the fittest of the three runners at the time of the run, and his training regime had gone exactly as he had planned – completing the 50k with A and the Yorkshire 3 peaks challenge with B. Nevertheless, he would still find something to worry about – and even go so far as to worry that he would have nothing to worry about.

The day started nicely with cool conditions, and the sun shining, but with large queues for the ‘toi toi’, B had to stop for an early call of nature. Sticking to the plan, A and C waited, concerned that 75km was a long way to run alone. Otherwise, the first half progressed largely to plan – with A climbing well, C descending well, and B finding his way somewhere between. And A (a nutritionist) pointing out that spitting should be avoided to conserve sodium for the latter stages.

All three stopped for about 20 minutes at half way – where there was an opportunity to stock up on supplies from bags which had been shipped out. A casually refuelled, as B updated his facebook status and had a puff from his inhaler. Meanwhile, mild panic ensued for C as he spent at least 10 minutes trying to locate his bag before stuffing himself with carbohydrates. But eventually all were running as a group once more.

From here, the profile changed from hilly to really hilly. Tiredness was setting in to different degrees but, as the route surpassed 2000m, the terrain became steeper once again – like nothing ever witnessed as part of a run by any of the athletes (climbing 300m in just 1.5km). A walk soon became a slow walk. A was struggling, while C tried in vain to push on (his effort would prove to be his downfall). The climb continued for what felt like more than an hour. But it was B who reached the summit first. C was a distant second, looking and feeling rather ill, and A was a close third.

Suspecting it was a low blood/sugar concentration, C quickly drank three cups of isotonic drink followed by three cups of water. Within seconds, B was commenting that the colour was returning to C’s face – and in a motivational speech to A and C, proclaimed “as we [had] come this far, it was important that we finished together”. We all set off from the peak at the same time but, as we turned the second corner, B had started to disappear into the distance. At the same time, A started to drift backwards.

By the following corner, all three were out of sight of each other. This was the last time that all three would be together until after the finish (more than 25km away). It was also at this time that it started to rain. And within 5 minutes this had become heavy but, fortunately, waterproofs were to be provided en route.

The run continued with C hoping to see B at any of the water stations, and A checking the medical tents to see if B or, more likely, C had been taken ill. Luckily, this would not be the case.

From the peak, the route descended for 2km before climbing for another 3.5km to the highest point on the course. And finally, with 20km to go, the route started to descend back towards the finish. 1000m was descended over the next 6km, with the remaining stretches proving to be a question of survival.

For A and C, the individual finishing times were irrelevant. For B, the finish time would have been irrelevant had he not finished 20 minutes ahead of C and another 20 minutes ahead of A – with all three finishing in the region of 10 hours.

The day ended with pizza and sleep, before climbing the neighbouring mountain (Jakobshorn) to see the views the next morning. By cable car, of course.

All in all, this was certainly a huge achievement for all runners. For me personally, it was the single toughest run I have ever run, and I wonder if it will ever be surpassed. But ‘forever’ is a long time, never say never and all that other baloney, so who knows. Meanwhile, stay tuned for my next challenge…

This is it

We registered at the Expo and picked up our numbers for the hardest run that any of us have ever run… harder by 30k. As the sky cleared slightly, we were able to see the tops of some of the mountains and realised that we would be running higher than most of what was visible.

Realising that worrying was not going to help, we had a cup of tea, read each other’s tea leaves, realised that our trainers could have been in much worse condition and had a game of chess. Now bring on tomorrow. Or something like that.

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