This week’s running – 10th to 16th of March

The final instructions for the 2014 London Marathon

Four weeks left to go!

With just four weeks left to go until the London Marathon, this week was all about the penultimate long training run.

Tuesday hill reps

After last week’s rather pleasant hill rep session, I decided to have another bash at it. Now that we’ve (hopefully) seen the last of winter and with brighter evenings, I should be in a position to cancel my gym membership and start completing speedwork outdoors exclusively again.

Interval sessions are always a funny beast for me where the second rep is often my slowest. The first rep is run on fresh legs and the third is run when you’re fully warmed-up. My second rep always leaves my body guessing as to what’s actually going on!

The session was pretty good but serves more as maintenance right now rather than trying to stimulate any kind of break-through performance. I’m always amazed at folks that can PB across a multitude of distances whilst marathon training; they’re clearly pushing their marathon boundary much further than I am where admittedly, I am sandbagging a little and not targeting my true potential, instead choosing a time that is challenging but realistically obtainable. Compare this to my half marathon targets where I really am running at my absolute limit.

Take a look at the Garmin data here.

10k around Edgbaston Reservoir

As another break from the norm, I chose to run my regular Thursday 10k distance at Edgbaston Reservoir instead. The terrain is pretty much flat, allowing for far more accurate mile splits compared to the topsy-turvy nature of Newhall Hill – Broad Street – Hagley Road and back again.

The temperature was just right for running thanks to the setting sun. There were a few people out running and a fair few guys out fishing as well.

The first lap went by fantastically and without incident apart from me realising I had forgotten to switch my Garmin back to auto-laps, so no mile split data… During the second lap of the reservoir, I noticed that the pace on my Garmin appeared to be fluctuating quite a lot. Initially, I did put this down to the quite heavy tree-lined sections I was regularly running through rather than my performance.

Transitioning from the second lap into the third, I felt bloody awful! It was as if somebody had switched off the energy tap to me and each step became harder to run compared to the last. I came to the conclusion that I must have hit the wall; my lunch wasn’t dreadfully substantial and the bottle of Lucozade I drank an hour before the run wouldn’t have been enough to push me through 6 miles of marathon pace running. I had to rely on body fat alone to power the remainder of the run with another 5k to go…

By now, the sun had completely disappeared and the only thing lighting my way was the moon above. The reservoir looked incredibly still and a little eerie to boot. All of my evening runs have always had some artificial light to accompany me, whether streetlights or car headlights; having to concentrate more on where my feet were landing in the dark was no easy task when my brain and body were starved of carbs. At one point, a spooky figure ahead scared the living daylights out of me. On closer inspection, it was a lady dressed in traditional Muslim garb and not a Dementor from Harry Potter as originally thought…

I did what I could to keep my pace from nose-diving. I swang my arms and I steadied my breathing but nothing could prevent the fact that I was crashing and burning. I genuinely didn’t think I could do more than three laps of the reservoir and as somebody that doesn’t like defeat, this was a bitter pill to swallow.

On the long straight portion of the reservoir wall, I managed to regain some composure and steadied my pace. I was only 100m or so from going into the fourth lap, which meant just 1.5 miles left to go before I could stop. I put on a brave face and carried on – “I’m not a quitter” was my mantra!

For any of you that are into the psychology of sports, you may want to look into the research of one Professor Tim Noakes. Author of The Lore of Running, he is also credited as the man behind the concept of “central governor theory”. The idea is the body is controlled by a portion of the brain called the “central governor”. It is said to be a failsafe mechanism that prevents us from doing irreparable damage to our bodies by controlling what we are and aren’t capable of physically. Ever wondered why you can run so much faster in a race environment than when on your own? It’s the central governor being tricked into thinking you’re chasing down prey! You see, whilst the brain has evolved radically over time, there are still archaic parts of us that haven’t evolved with the times. Tim Noakes believes that the central governor can be trained in the pursuit of athletic performance. Finding that threshold run tough? Ranking it as an 8/10? If you could somehow convince yourself that it’s more like a 7/10, you’ve given yourself that little bit more breathing room to push the pain boundary. The first time I listened to Tim Noakes’ interview on Marathon Talk, I must admit I had my doubts. My first initial thought was, “so I can just think myself faster?”, which isn’t quite true. Whenever we say we’re running an absolute 10/10 performance, this is very rarely the case and merely the brain holding a little something back as a reserve – it’s self-preservation at work. Some people have an incredible tolerance for pain and it’s believed that this is the central governor at work or being manipulated. Alberto Salazar is a perfect example of somebody that had taken control of his central governor where during his famous race against Dick Beardlsy at the Boston Marathon (AKA the “Duel in the Sun”), he didn’t take any water on for fear it would slow him down and ended up burning his kidneys out. He managed to win the race but at a great cost with his subsequent performances declining dramatically and never really improving again. I dread to think what his body and mind must have been screaming at him; pleading with him to either slow down or to drink.

So, why am I rambling on about central governor theory? Well, I have been steadily coming around to the idea of it over the last 12 months or so. In my 10k and half marathon races, there are always portions during the middle where I’m consciously trying to up the pace but nothing I do seems to work; I’ve settled into what is goal pace, or what my body is capable of at that very moment in time. It’s not until the closing stages where I seem to be able to open the throttle a little or a lot more to run a fast final mile. As the end gets closer and closer, the mind seems far more willing to loosen the reins and allow greater risks to be taken. Getting back to Edgbaston Reservoir, it would seem my central governor decided that lap four was close enough until the end to grant me access to a second wind – everything miraculously felt faster and easier! Whilst I don’t have split data, looking at my pace and cadence graphs on Garmin Connect supports the way I was feeling during the closing stages of the run.

The rest of Thursday evening was not fun where I felt wrecked. My legs were stiff and my brain felt fried after the effort, which is probably how I will feel during the final six miles of the London Marathon. Friday wasn’t any better, which ultimately convinced me to give Parkrun a miss on Saturday and have a day-off from running in London instead.

Here’s the limited Garmin data for this run.

London and The London Marathon Store

The new version of the London Marathon Store

Just 200m from Liverpool Street Station

The next couple of weekends are steadily becoming busier and busier for Lis and me, so with opting out of Parkrun on Saturday (OMG!), we instead decided to pay a visit to London. I wanted to visit the London Marathon Store, as well as scope out our hotel for the night before the race. Of course, plenty of shopping and eating also happened!

The London Marathon Store is not a new idea and previously took up residence in Covent Garden. We visited it once a few years ago and it was tiny, with only a few rails of clothing and a small selection of shoes. The store was put on hiatus for a while but has now sprung up in a new location near Liverpool Street station, under Sweatshop management.

A complete collection of London Marathon medals

That’s a lot of miles run

The store itself is dramatically larger than the old one, with many of the big and small running wear and accessory manufacturers present. I found this slightly odd because the London Marathon is an Adidas race and to share one of your stages with your rivals can’t be a first choice.

Decorating the walls are displays of many of the previous running bibs and finishers’ medals. Surprisingly for some, there have been quite a few sponsors over the years including:

  • Gillette
  • Mars
  • ADT (yes, the burglar alarm people!)
  • Nutrasweet
  • Flora
  • Virgin/Virgin Money

Flora remains the most remembered of the bunch with a whopping 14 year sponsorship tenure. Of the medals on display, it was clear that the designs are repeated twice before moving on to a new example – great news for me since the 2012 and 2013 medals were identical.

A collection of London Marathon bibs

Sponsors, sponsors everywhere!

We looked at some of the race merchandise available and a retro Adidas track jacket caught my eye. After trying on the men’s small and the women’s medium, Lis and I both decided that the women’s cut was a better fit! At £60 for just the jacket, I decided against it but did enquire about the official 2014 race jacket. The guy I spoke to in the store shared the same thoughts as me, fully expecting stock of them to arrive but for some mysterious reason, they’ve been pulled from the online store. I did read something online where Adidas have been accused of cutting corners, recycling the London design and colour scheme for the 2014 Boston and Berlin Marathon jackets. I had hoped to be able to pick a jacket up to avoid the inevitable bun fight at the expo for one, but it wasn’t to be.

The London Marathon route

The iconic route of the London Marathon

My favourite thing about the store? They had the London Marathon theme playing on a loop which sent a tingle down my spine. Standing there and looking at the route map on the wall, 29 days stood between me and the finish line; hearing the theme tune really started to get the fire stoked inside me for race day.

We reccy’d the location of our hotel and in doing so, crossed over the Blackfriars tunnel that’s actually part of the London Marathon course. This is the infamous tunnel where once out of sight, runners that aren’t doing so well are tempted to stop or slow down for a walk before exiting the tunnel to cheering spectators. Last year, Lucozade dressed the tunnel up with motivational signs and had music pumping out of speakers; anything to try and stop runners from slacking off when they’re so close to the finish.

21 miles of Birmingham’s canals

My visit to the London Marathon Store and hearing the familiar theme tune gave me some inspiration for the 21 miles ahead of this long run. Looking back at my training log, I’ve come an incredibly long way since November when I first embarked on this marathon schedule. Starting out at 15 miles had me thinking, “how the hell am I supposed to run 26 miles when 15 leaves me knackered?”, whereas now, I am not only thinking I can pull this off but with a time I will be truly proud of.

Not wanting a repeat of the slog from mile 16 onwards like last week, I made sure I was adequately fuelled. I ate like a pig on Saturday, stuffing myself with London’s finest BBQ and sushi. Breakfast before the run consisted of two slices of toast with jam, an orange Lucozade and a coffee to perk me up. As per usual, I filled my CamelBak up with a litre of Nectar Fuel but also took an additional energy gel and some wine gums along for the trot. Better to have and not need than the other way round!

I wanted a bit of variety for this long run so opted to cover 11 – 12 miles via the canals towards Bournville. The last time I ran on that particular stretch of canal, it was an absolute mudbath with puddles galore; all the jumping and hopping to keep my feet dry wore me out prematurely and just wasn’t conducive to a good long training run. Dave had run there recently and his report of perfect conditions underfoot gave me the confidence to give it a shot, rather than relying on mind-numbing laps again.

It was to be another warm one, with the sun already high in the sky and not a cloud in sight – vest, shorts and sunglasses it was then! One schoolboy error I made was not using some Vaseline on my right shoulder, which was being rubbed raw by my CamelBak strap; this was happening during mile 1 so who knew what my shoulder would look like after 20 more miles? The canals were already bustling with fair-weather walkers, runners and cyclists at only 10am, and who could blame them?

The opening few miles ticked along nicely to serve as a gentle warm-up. The day’s target average pace was 8:55 per mile, so I knew I would have to put a bit of work in later to make up for the slow initial splits. Progressively, my pace crept up and this is ultimately what I would like to try and do at London, crowds permitting. I want to try and run a negative split; if memory serves, the statistics from last year’s London Marathon showed fewer than 25% of runners ran the second half faster than the first half. I was largely able to forget about the task at hand once I’d settled into target pace. This is ideally what I want on race day where I can get to halfway using as little physical and mental energy as possible, almost as if I were running on auto-pilot. The canal was in great shape and I did not have to worry about where my feet were being placed for fear of turning my ankle or something worse.

I bitch and moan about this every year but women, you’re letting your side down again. There were plenty of runners of both genders out on Sunday and many were running in small groups. Guys running side by side would fall into single-file as they passed me. Guys running with girls would fall into single-file as they ran by. Women, however, would continue to run side by side so there were actually 3 of us in a row on the canal path; just about enough room but I’d rather not be running on the edge of the water if I can avoid it. Girls – you’re not joined at the hip or holding hands with each other so sort it out!

As I approached Bournville train station, I exited the canal to add an additional mile on via the streets of Stirchley. This was to make up for the shortfall of the north Birmingham canals where the distance isn’t quite so precise and avoiding the scramble for additional distance at the end of my run.

The return back to Brindley Place remained easy and flew by without issue. Rather than contend with the crowds around the tunnel between the Mailbox and Brindley Place, I exited the canal next to my brother’s flat and ran across Broad Street towards the Sea Life Centre. People around that particular tunnel are often in a world of their own and oblivious to what’s happening around them. Where the canal boats are moored, I’ve often shouted out “coming through!” to a crowd just up ahead, only for it to fall on deaf ears. At least twice before, I’ve almost been pushed into the canal because people haven’t heard or seen me coming and they’ve decided to do a wide turn on the spot for me to narrowly avoid.

Heading out towards Spaghetti Junction, I was still feeling rather fresh. No doubt, this was helped by not attending Parkrun the day before and my CamelBak probably only had 500ml of fluid left, so I was warmed-up and lighter than before.

After the pancake flat out and back to Bournville, the dips and rises of this canal route did make steady pacing tricky. I don’t have the balls or enough downhill training to really attack hard, so I end up heel striking to purposely slow myself down during the more extreme gradients. Despite this, my pace was still on the rise and a negative split was definitely on the cards so long as I could hold it together for a few more miles. Purposely injecting a few faster paced splits in really helped to break up some of the monotony and I think the muscles in my legs were thankful for the slight change in motion. I can’t remember where I read it (may have been Advanced Marathoning by Pfitzinger and Douglas), but somebody says you should try to avoid running absolutely even splits to prevent fatigue to slow twitch muscles. Running a few faster miles will utilise faster twitch muscles and whilst not as economical as their slow twitch brethren, they will at least give them a short break.

On the approach back towards the Aston Junction of the canal, I quickly realised that I would be short by one mile if I headed straight back home, so I would have to find some additional mileage – this was despite adding an extra mile on in Bournville and Stirchley! The stretch back towards Brindley Place is littered with cobblestones and short, sharp inclines to really sap you of energy when you’re almost at your limit; knowing you still have a mile or two left to go from this point onwards was a real tough slog. Thankfully, there was a fellow runner just ahead of me by no more than 5m, so I did my best to reel him in. He began to pull away on each incline, but I would close the gap again with each flat portion of the canal. I eventually caught up to and overtook him next to the NIA and continued on towards (but not on to) the Soho Loop.

I wanted to keep the speed up for the remaining distance (just shy of two miles) to hopefully finish strong. A simple out and back would make up for the mileage deficit and by my calculations would get me back home with maybe 0.2 miles to spare. I wolfed down the remainder of my wine gums and began to consciously keep my cadence high and my arms swinging.

Returning to Brindley Place, I bumped into Jim from Parkrun but couldn’t stop to chat given I only had a few hundred metres left to go before finishing (he later said I looked pretty good having run 21 miles!). As I ran past the BMW dealership car park and on to Newhall Hill, my Garmin beeped to tell me I’d completed my 21 miles – almost 0.2 miles to spare as predicted!

The slow walk back home allowed me to catch my breath and stretch adequately before calling it a day. After a shower and some food, I felt  very decent and not at all tight or wiped-out like some previous long runs have left me. I had definitely gotten my nutrition strategy right and didn’t even need the gel in the end.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Next week is the big Kahuna – the 22 miler! I think route-wise, I will repeat this long run but will aim to finish at Edgbaston Reservoir. I am incredibly pleased with how my training has gone over the last few months. Some runs have been easier than others but all have built me up positively and I’m confident I am in at least 3:25 to 3:30 shape. Had I have not thrown in a few faster miles on yesterday’s 21 mile long run, I reckon I could have slogged it out to run 26 miles and 385 yards, but at the cost of greater recovery. Honestly speaking, I don’t think I physically need the 22 miler next week but I’m doing it more so as a confidence booster. If I can get to the end of 22 miles in a training run with no taper, then finding a Parkrun and an extra mile from inside me somewhere on race day shouldn’t be a problem. Taper-wise, I want to give Tom William’s suggestion a try where rather than having three gradually declining weeks of volume, he prefers to chop the first week down by 50%, return to 75% for the second week and then bring it right down to 25% for the third week. What I like about this taper plan is it should help to keep the familiarity of distance in my legs whereas three gradual weeks of cutting down volume will leave me forgetting how to run long come race day.

Here’s this week’s entry from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book:

Answer critics with a smile

Running is a beautiful – and beautifully simple – sport. It clears the mind, strengthens the heart, and burns flab. Most people get this. A few don’t, and will never miss a chance to tear running down, or jab its adherents in the chest with a rhetorical finger.

Oddly enough, the most vocal of such critics are often in terrible health themselves.

“Bad for your joints,” they’ll jab.

“You’ll get arthritis,” they’ll jab further.

“Running marathons?” they’ll ask, jabbingly, between sips of their Big Gulp. “That’ll kill ya.”

Resist the temptation to confront such naysayers – despite the fact that they tend to be such easy target. Words won’t sway them. The best response to arguments like these is to continue running and loving it. Meantime, try inviting these critics to join you for a short run.

Who knows? Maybe someday they’ll accept your invitation. And their own experience will be the most powerful prorunning argument of all.

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