This week’s running – 17th to 23rd of March

22 mile long run - the last before the London Marathon

Go long and I wish I could go home!

Apologies for the late entry this week, folks. I’ve been away from home for work and just about had enough time to get my normal training in. A few of you have alerted me to the tardiness so without further ado, here you go!

Monday massage

I decided to take a two week break from sports massages to see how I would feel without my weekly fix. Turns out I was pretty good flexibility wise, showing no major improvement or decline in my range of motion.

Sadly, I’m away for the next couple of Mondays and the college closes a week before the London Marathon for Easter. Some massage is better than no massage, so I may try to book myself in for a Thursday session before they break up.

Possibly too little, too late now, but any would be marathon runners for next year would definitely do well to schedule in some regular sports massage to iron out any knots and kinks during your heaviest training weeks. I feel like a million pounds at the moment and I’m running way more mileage than I ever did for last year’s marathon.

Tuesday hill reps

I abandoned the gym in favour of running hill reps again – there’s something about the outdoors that’s just so much more conducive to good training performances. It was to be the usual 6x reps and I wanted to be sure I was effectively warmed-up before the reps began; I pushed myself a little harder than usual on the warm-up mile and felt remarkably good at the end of it and ready to tackle the reps.

Setting my virtual pacer to 6:15 per mile, I regularly found myself under or dramatically over the target pace. It was nice to see some of the splits were at a very speedy pace, but I was also worried about pushing myself too hard and peaking too soon. I regularly hear stories of people who are able to produce incredible performances in training but then seem to always come up short in actual race environments. Remember folks, we train to race and not the other way round!

Slightly off-topic, I did also run with my Oakley persimmon lenses for the first time. The persimmon lenses boost contrast in low or dull lighting, making it easier to pick out details in otherwise tough conditions. They worked an absolute treat; lifting my sunglasses up was almost literally like night and day. For just £35, they’re easily one of the best value options out there if your Oakleys allow for lens swapping.

Here’s the Garmin data for this hill session.

Five seconds of fame

Andy Yu and Suz West in the 2014 London Marathon Final Instruction

It’s the runners’ version of Where’s Wally (or Where’s Waldo for my US readers)

Part of the fun of racing is spotting yourself in the media afterwards. Dave, Dom and I were in one particular publicity photo during the start of the 2013 Bath Half Marathon (it really is one of those blink and you’ll miss it moments) and you can clearly see Dave in some finish line footage from the 2013 Great Birmingham Run.

I was casually flicking through my copy of the London Marathon Final Instructions magazine when I stumbled upon one particular crowd shot. I always love wading through crowd shots from races to see if I can spot myself, treating it like a game of Where’s Wally? just in case I happen to appear. I don’t even know why I fixated on this particular photo (and the above really is a very small portion of the overall image) because it’s right at the back of the magazine on one of the acknowledgement pages. Moving my eyes through the runners’ faces, I recognised one particular McMillan charity runner that appears in a lot of my official photos from the London Marathon. Moving my eyes through the crowd again, I spotted another runner I recognised, this time a Cancer Research runner that also appears in many of my photos from the final 6 miles. Imagine my delight and surprise to see me and Suz West there in the crowd, clear as crystal! The shot itself has the bottom half obscured by chunky text and a red filter, so it’s actually only a small area that’s visible. I showed the shot to a colleague of mine that’s run the London Marathon a handful of times, including last year, and he was as amazed as I was, citing that the chances of being snapped and published out of 36,000+ runners was almost as rare as attaining a ballot place (funnily, we have both run through the ballot).

10k around Edgbaston Reservoir

Wanting to convince myself that last week was a blip, I re-visited Edgbaston Reservoir for another 10k at marathon pace. The weather was incredibly foul with rain and howling wind to contend with; I didn’t think many people would be out at the reservoir and I was right, being the only runner amongst a few hardy dog walkers.

This time, I made sure I was fuelled up for the run having had a slightly larger lunch than normal. I topped everything off with an energy gel and a bottle of Lucozade Sport to be doubly sure that I wouldn’t hit the wall part way through the run.

Wearing my low heel drop trail shoes helped the pace to feel swift. In reality, it wasn’t but I blame the progressively darkening conditions for that. My persimmon Oakley lenses helped somewhat to brighten up the dull conditions but they could only go so far; they’re designed to boost low light, not no light and I had to take them off once the sun had completely set.

The first lap always feels easy at Edgbaston Reservoir. The second lap wasn’t bad either but I started to get slight stomach rumblings from all the sugar I had consumed earlier. The average runner can only take up to 60g of processed sugar an hour with the rest simply causing gastro-intestinal distress. This is why certain energy supplement manufacturers have started switching over to a dual carb source formula where rather than relying solely on glucose for energy, fructose is also thrown into the mix. Both sugars are metabolised differently so the body can actually be fed more carbs before it starts maxing out.

I brought it all together to finish strong for the final lap.

Click here for the Garmin data.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

Dear, oh dear. Parkrun really didn’t happen for me on Saturday! I wanted to try to run a sub-20 performance and prepared myself as such. Lis and I arrived early to Cannon Hill Park for a warm-up that wasn’t rushed, though still felt awful.

Shortly after the startline scramble, somebody fell over just to mine and Dave’s right; we both just about managed to dodge the guy but it could have been a lot worse had others have also been dragged down. The first mile was run just fractionally faster than target pace, feeling smooth and swift. The typical second mile rot reared its ugly head and things became progressively harder for me despite my best efforts to stay with Nigel. Dave was now long gone into the distance and I found myself running alone again for much of the second half with the group in front about 10 seconds out of reach, and the chasing group behind me about 10 seconds away. It wasn’t until the remaining 400m or so when I finally caught up to two runners ahead of me and overtook them to attack the hill. I could hear a runner breathing hard just behind and surged up the hill to pass me; I had nothing left and a finishing kick was way beyond me. A simple 20:33 was exchanged for my troubles.

I really should have had the discipline to hold it back and run at threshold pace. I’d not had a recovery week in ages and one wrong move could have tipped me over the edge.

Neil and I had a bit of a catch-up afterwards, discussing our respective marathons due to take place in just a few weeks. It was good to speak to another person coming to the end of their marathon training and aiming for a time similar to myself; Neil understood everything I had gone through and was about to embark on – it was almost like therapy!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

22 miles of north Birmingham canals

This was the big one – the final long run to rule them all. Last year’s marathon training cycle saw me work my way up to 22 miles, albeit in a much more haphazard manner. Holding the distance for two weeks before moving up by a mile this time has made me a much more resilient runner I feel.

I loaded my CamelBak up with the usual litre of Nectar Fuel and took some Cliff Shot Bloks along for the ride, too. I also had my iPod with me for company; I can do 2.5 hours alone but anymore is mental torture and I needed something break up the silence.

The weather was fine when I stepped outside; a little blustery but dry with some blue skies. I eased myself in gently with a slow opening mile, knowing that I would drop into target pace soon. Due to all the rain the day before, I chose not to head out to Bournville. This would have been preferable to minimise the number of dips and bumps I would encounter on the canals out towards Star City and Aston but it wasn’t to be – 3 laps of what I call the north Birmingham canals were on the menu for the day.

Somewhere between miles 2 and 3, a lone cyclist pulled up alongside me. For some reason, he wasn’t overtaking and stayed with me for 10m or so and I eventually twigged and realised it was none other than Iain! He had apparently been yelling out “beetroot” to me for ages but due to my earphones, I had no idea he was behind. The pace started pick up slightly and felt remarkably easy running with Iain whilst he was on his bike; having him for company broke up the monotony of what would have otherwise been 22 very long solo miles. We passed some convicts on day-release, pruning some bushes on the side of the canal. Neither of us felt particularly at ease, especially when they were handling some very sharp garden tools! Iain stayed with me until the Aston Junction turn off and it was me on my lonesome again.

I headed out towards Fort Parkway to add some extra mileage in to avoid the last-minute scramble at the end. On my right in a field were some kids on motorcross and quadbikes, using the canal path as an exit and entrance to the field; it’s hard enough contending with cyclists but motorised vehicles were taking the piss I thought. The weather got progressively worse and on the out and back, hailstones were thrown at me from above. Hailstones! Granted, it wasn’t as bad as running 22 miles in several inches of snow like last year but it was bad enough; I’d seen everything from sunshine to rain, hail and high winds already to make for an incredibly tough run.

The next loop wasn’t too bad but I was starting to tire. Running the early miles with a litre of fluid on my back had sapped me of energy but I knew I had to treat it as strength training where come race day, I would be as light as a feather and would have access to drinks at every mile.

The final loop had me feeling like I fully expected to feel during the last 6 miles of the marathon, like shit that is. I zoned out and just put one foot in front of the other and knew I had to keep going. The mile splits were still healthy but a rogue 9:15 came out of nowhere – this highlighted the need to concentrate and just keep everything together on race day. I wolfed down my remaining Shot Blok and tried to pick the pace up for the last 2 miles to sign-off the very last long run on my schedule.

All said and done, I didn’t feel too bad upon finishing. Physically and mentally tired, of course, but not destroyed like on my longest runs of last year. I felt ready to the 26.2 miles ahead of me in London and with a little bit of luck to see me through, I should be on target to run 3:25 or better and certainly dip under 3:30 on April 13th.

Here’s the Garmin data for the run and here’s your weekly fix from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book:

Team up for early-morning runs

Waking up for an early run can be tough. This is especially true if you’re not a “morning person” and doubly especially true if it also happens to be dark, cold, windy, wet, or icy outside. Or all of the above.

Add a few margaritas the night before, and the odds of your rolling out of bed and pulling on your running shoes at 6am approach laughable.

Unless you’ve promised to meet someone.

If that’s the case, you might shudder. You might grimace and groan. You might curse. But you’ll throw back the covers, put on a pot of coffee, and get dressed. Because knowing there’s someone out there, also waking up and getting dressed in the dark to run at this ungodly hour, is just enough motivation to get you moving.

And you know what? Nine times out of ten – or better – you’ll be glad you did. So will your running partner.

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