Tuesday, 23 February 2016

New Year...new marathon training schedule

Happy New Year.

Its been almost three months since my last post.  Life is a little too hectic these days to be updating the blog regularly and I really must make a conscious effort to do so.

I've had some sad news too which I'll share in a separate post but I'll concentrate this most on what has been going on in terms of my running.

Despite two minor blips, losing a whole week of training just before Christmas to man flu and a quick trip to the GP and cutting my mileage down last week because I was suffering from an infection of the 'upper respiratory track' (below my neck but not down as far as my chest to be a chest infection), training for the VLM has been pretty much spot on.

I intended to do a bit more cross-training this time around but it hasn't quite worked out like that so far...

Distribution of Training - Stats correct to 22/02/2016

I've upped my mileage for VLM training, compared to my previous training for Paris 2014 and Brighton 2015, as you'll see below for the period 1st Jan to 22nd Feb for each year.

VLM 2016 Training Mileage - Stats correct to 22/02/2016

Brighton 2015 Training Mileage (01/01/2015 - 22/02/2015)

Paris 2014 Training Mileage (01/01/2014 - 22/02/2014)

I have already got another 12 hours and 80 miles in the legs and my performances are beginning to benefit from the increased workload.  Unfortunately, in 2015, I was recovery from a very bad December in terms of a three week chest infection with severe asthma symptoms and despite trying to play catch up, the lack of mileage in the legs showed on race day when I cramped up on 14 miles.

I've made a conscious effort to run my LSRs slowly.  In years previous, I've run them far too quickly and my legs probably haven't benefitted as much as they should have done.  The theory is that in the early days, the LSRs build up the blood vessels in the legs and increase the circulation.  This, added with some fast tempo running and some intervals gives the legs and cardiovascular system the ideal support and training for the punishment of the marathon.

As of today, I've ran LSRs of 10, 13.1, 10, 10, 17, 18, 14, 17, 12 and 12.  Now I have done the base work, I can begin to try and increase the pace now.  I'm also trying to make sure I run cumulative mileage on consecutive days to try to replicate the feeling of running on tired legs.  Nothing can ever really prepare you for the punishing nature of the marathon but cumulative mileage in the legs goes some way to trying to address that.

In my three and a bit years of running, I've hardly done any dedicated speed work in the form of intervals.  I haven't been a fan of the pain and I've avoided them at all costs.  However, to get better, fitter, stronger and faster, intervals are required.  So I have been forcing myself to go and do them.  No more avoidance.

My last set of intervals looked as follows:

Interval set (5 x 1km hard, 400m recovery):  Lap data from Strava

Looking back at my data on Garmin Connect and Strava, this set was the most consistent set I've ever performed.  Min/mile paces of 8:02, 7:58, 7:57, 8:00, 7:55.  Given my Fenix 3 calculates my Lactate Threshold at around 8:15 min/mile pace, these were pretty much spot on.  I really do need to buckle down and do these religiously as they will benefit me more than anything else now.

Nutrition-wise, I'm still only taking gels on the LSRs.  Nothing on lesser runs of 10 miles unless I'm running tempo pace straight through the front door from work and I haven't fueled beforehand.

Obviously we'll have to see how it goes over the next two months on the way to the VLM but so far so good.  The legs are feeling reasonably good.  A good sign was the 11.25 mile tempo run I had last night.  I ran it with a reasonable amount of effort and although the legs were buzzing a little on finishing, within an hour the legs felt as though I'd just been out for a stroll.  All positive signs.

The one downside at the moment is the slight discomfort in the hips.  As its at the front, I've self-diagnosed as hip flexors.  Its reacting ok with rest and it settles down but any kind of LSR and it flares again for 24 hrs.  I will keep an eye on it and if it doesnt settle down then I'll book a visit with my physio.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Good news...bad news...good news...

Since my last update, a hell of a lot has been going on.  Time just seems to be disappearing into the ether as we approach Christmas at a rate of knots.

Firstly, spring marathon.

As you know, I didn't get in the VLM by the ballot... so I'd booked the Rotterdam marathon instead.

Unfortunately, I didn't get in the VLM by the Plumstead Runners club ballot either.  Richard, Paul and Dawn were all worthy winners, given they had spent the previous year marshaling in the cold damp conditions at Cutty Sark.  Trust me, as much as it is a brilliant experience cheering on the runners, it does get a tad tedious when the 'walkers' start coming through.  I'm going to sound like a b*tch saying that but if you're going to sign up to run a marathon, please actually do the training and try to run as much of it as you can.

Anyhow, following the club ballot, I went home with the proper sulks and it lasted a good few days.  I went off to run my first cross-country race of the season at Swanley Park and it was as close to a disaster as it could get, so I went home even more grumpy.  With Alison abroad at the time, I had plenty of time to mull things over in my head once I'd taken Izzy home to her Mum.  Once the beer started to flow, the thoughts became irrational.  'Why do I bother running?  I need to find something else to do!'  Thoughts of restarting cycling, taking up something else were flooding my mind.

I woke up on the Monday morning with the feeling that I had a proper spell of depression coming down on me.  Panic.  Tried to get on with things as best as I could.  An out-of-the-blue Facebook status update told everyone I had the hump and the Plums rallied around to cheer me up.  I was persuaded to come along on the Monday night.

I turned up Monday night and the first person I bumped into was Richard, the club chairman.

"Hi John.  I may have some good news for you!"..

The ears constantly pricked up.  Richard began to explain that when he started the cross country race, he felt his Achilles tendon 'pop' just 50 yards over the start line.  Not good.  Not good at all.  Then it dawned on me...

"You came out of the Plums draw as first substitute didn't you?"

Ah yes, yes I did.  Hold on a minute, that doesn't really help.  Richard can just defer the place to next year.

But no.  Richard didn't want to do that.  He was happy to transfer his place to me.

This can't be happening, can it?  Well it was.

Richard had done the most selfless thing any runner could possibly do.  VLM places are rarer than gold dust.  Richard emailed Graham that night and the day after it was officially confirmed.  I would be running the VLM in a Plums shirt.

Another event ticked off the bucket list.  I finally get to run my hometown marathon.  I finally get to run the marathon where I know all the roads, I know exactly where I am on the route and where I can feed off the best support in the world.  Bring it on.

I'd like to officially thank Richard for his selfless gesture.  It doesn't get better than that in my eyes.  It's on a par with giving away a winning lottery ticket.

I've finally got a Bumblebee Mag...

While this was all going on, my road running has been getting back to around my best for about 12 months.  All the injuries seemed to have cleared up and I was beginning to feel strong again.  I'd run a couple of good 10ks and a very good Monday night club run, putting in my fastest 8 miler in ages.  Around my 10 mile PB pace but this run included several hills and my average pace included the very slow loop backs where we pick up the slower runners.  That has given me a lot of confidence.

However, during that run, I aggravated my left calf.  If I'm honest, I know I've been carrying a niggle in the calf for the best part of 6 weeks or so now but it doesn't seem to be getting any better.  It doesn't hurt at all, it feels stiff more than anything and can be sore after a run.  More like a bruise than anything else.  The time I feel it the most is when I get out of bed in the morning for a few minutes before the blood starts flowing properly.

I made the decision to take 7 days off running to see if it would clear up.  Yesterday was the end of that 7 days and even before I ran I could still feel it.  I managed to do just short of 10k but I could feel it before, after and during.  I can't describe it as pain, more of an annoyance.

Next job is to do the old 400mg Ibuprofen 3 times a day for 7 days to see if it is tendonitis.  Having spoken to Dave and Paul at the Plums, I've got a couple of other things I can try.  If it doesn't react positively, the only other option I've really got left it to see a physio.

The last injury lay off as made up my mind that I need to start cross training again.  I hugely benefited from cycling when I was doing both disciplines back in 2013.  Last year my running started to tail off again so I'm hoping that some cross training gives me another lease of life.

I've spoken before about our little home gym project.  After a few delays, we've finally got the base laid now.  Once it is totally dry, the builder can start erecting the building.  We've been promised it will be ready for Christmas which is exciting.  With this in mind, I've just invested in a new Concept 2 model D rower.  The best in the business in terms of a full body workout.  It's scheduled to arrive tomorrow so can't wait to get it set up and have a play on it.

The plan is to run 3 days a week, row 3 days a week and have a rest day.  This will fit into the 3 days a week marathon training programme I've been researching.

Concept 2 model D rower.  Bring it on.


Monday, 2 November 2015

My Plums

(No, not them ones!)

Wednesdays.  Ha, I can even sense myself grinning from ear to ear now at the thought.  No matter whether its rain or shine, Wednesdays means Plums.  For the unaware, the ‘Plums’ are the nutty, fun ‘punnet’ of Plumstead Runners.

I joined the Plums way back in early 2013.  A couple of months before I signed up for the East London Half Marathon.  I was bored with cycling and needed a new focus.  I needed a regular ‘social’ escape from the reality of living alone and being a weekend Dad.  It was slowly dawning on me that although I’d enjoyed the previous two and a bit years of cycling, it was getting to the point where club politics and snobbery got in the way of just going for a bike ride with my club mates who had quickly become friends.

Searching for ‘local running clubs’ brought up a number of clubs but the nearest to my flat in Welling was Plumstead Runners.  Its strange what a perception you get from a club website.  It looked serious.  Proper dead serious.  It almost put me off.  Thankfully, I made the decision to drop the Plums a line by email, introducing myself and copying some links to the Garmin records I keep, to prove I was the standard I said I was.  A middle-aged plodder who wanted to run a bit more, get a bit better and make a few new friends in the process.

It didn’t take long before I got a reply.  Come down on Wednesday night it said.  Not this week as it was the AGM but feel free to come the week after.  Wednesday came and I couldn’t wait.  I quickly headed home to get changed and I jumped on the bus down to the club.  Unbeknown to me, Ernie was sitting opposite.

My heart was thumping as I opened the changing room door.  ‘Hello’, I said cheerily but anxiously and the nervousness in my voice must have given the game away.  ‘Ah, you must be John?’ said Graham, introducing himself.  ‘Looking forward to tonight?’, he asked.  As I said yes, everyone was turning around, smiling and began introducing themselves.  Jim, Paul, Eddie and Francis said hello and came over and shook my hand.  Ernie turned around and said ‘ah, you’re the one who sent all that internet stuff, aren’t you?  We’re old school as you’ve probably guessed already’.  ‘Ha, yes, that’s me!’  All of a sudden, a jolly fellow walked in.  It was Robin.  Big smile on his face, cracking jokes, full of fun, taking the p*ss out of someone or other.  I felt at home.  The club enthuses friendliness.

Almost 3 years later, it’s still the case.

Wednesday's are now a firm fixture in the diary...

As it happens, through life, my circumstances have changed.  I actually live nearer to Petts Wood Runners HQ now than I lived to the Plums when I lived in Welling.  When I moved to Petts Wood permanently, I have to admit I ran with PWR once.  I didn’t enjoy it.  It just wasn’t the Plums.  The Plums are full of ‘banter’.  No matter who you’re running with, there’s plenty of chat.  It has always been the case since I walked in through the changing room doors almost 3 years ago.  It could be weeks or months since you’ve seen someone but you pick up exactly where you left off before.

I’ve made some firm friends.  I’ve spent many a mile running, chatting about running and also putting the world to rights at the same time.  Whether it’s our football teams, love life, ex-wives, child maintenance, different types of running shoes, the last race, work and careers, you name it, there’s a good few of us with an awful lot of us with a huge amount in common.  

At the same time, I feel incredibly guilty because I haven’t spent as much time as I really should have done towards the back of the group and as a result, I feel I don’t really know those running behind me as well as I should.  Yes, I will get to each junction, loop back , pick up the last runner and give them some encouragement and then head back to the front again but how much do I know them?  I recognise the faces, I smile.  They smile back.  The next time I’m feeling knackered, I’ll stay at the back and I’ll make an effort to speak to everyone.

I owe a huge debt to the Plums.  I walked into that changing room a mere novice and now I sit here a little more experienced, proudly with 5 marathons behind me, all in the space of 53 weeks.  Blimey, did I really do that?  It seems surreal.  It would never have been possible without the encouragement and advice of the more experienced members at the club.  If it wasn’t for Paul, I would still be running my long runs at around what was my half marathon pace.  No wonder my energy levels were crashing and my legs were burning!  It may have taken me a while to catch on but I did eventually take that advice on board.  I’m a slow learner.

It has taken my a good few years to get my head around the mechanics of the club run.  Each group runs the same route.  The faster runners will get to a junction, loop back and pick up the last runner so all the runners regroup at that junction.  That way, everyone feels part of the group.  Its a little bit of genius when you think about it.  I used to stop and take a breather.  I still do but less so, only when I really need to.  I treat the runs like intervals now.  Run to the junction fairly hard then on the return, let the legs relax, let the HR settle back down and literally run the pick up leg as the recovery and then when you've reached the last runner, you can push a little harder again.  It really helps the legs.  Pushing harder, getting that heart rate up into the realms of the lactate threshold (those of you on Garmin Connect or Strava, thats your HR Zone 4), the point where your muscles fill up with lactic acid may hurt and your legs will be sore the next day but it will help you get stronger and faster.  The old saying 'no pain no gain' could not be more true.  So if you was wondering why I do the occasional blast to the front, now you know. (If you want to read about the science of Lactic Acid, read this really great article on the Serpentine Running Club website here!)

No matter what stupid questions I’ve had, someone has always known the answer and have been more than happy to give their opinion or share their advice from their own personal experience.  There is no snobbery.  I came into running from cycling, where the levels of snobbery are overpowering.  I was a proud cyclist yet now I look at my somewhat expensive bike in the corner of our utility room and shake my head.  The amount of money I spent on that bike in the space of 3 years was ridiculous.  It would buy me 30 pairs of Brooks Glycerin’s at the full RRP.  I'd fallen into the trap.  'Oh yes, let’s buy another pair of expensive wheels.  That’ll make me go faster.' The ‘law of diminishing returns’ was all too prevalent.  It was all about the bike for far too long.  Thankfully, one icy early spring day saw me dump the bike for my running shoes and that was the end of the flirtation with the world of Sir Bradley Wiggins wannabe’s.  It wasn’t about the bike, its about the engine powering the bike.  The engine was my heart and lungs.  Running was going to take me to the next level yet it was so much more down to earth.  No faff.  No bullsh*t.

It doesn’t matter what running shoes you wear.  It doesn’t matter what running top you wear (unless its my orange Paris Marathon ‘Fluorescent Flame’ shirt which Robin is absolutely adamant is pink haha!)  The Plums have been there and done it.  

There is a healthy mutual respect in the group and there is plenty of inspiration and positivity no matter what direction you look in.  Gina has run an absolutely incredible amount of marathons, levels beyond the imagination.  Paul and Richard have ran marathon times recently I can only dream of, despite training being disrupted by injury niggles.  Gary Witt defies medical science and the docs by racking up more marathons than the number of good knees that he has.  Watching Guy run should be an inspiration for all at his age.  I've never quite seen a man attract as much female attention as he does when he runs through Danson Park.  The man is a legend.  Lee Walker has now completed two marathons, his last being last weekend on the back of minimal training.  I draw a whole heap of inspiration from Dave Tyler and Lee Edwards.  You really couldn't wish to meet two nicer blokes in all honesty.  Both of them have come into running from a similar direction as me, very overweight and unfit.  Both of them have come on leaps and bounds since they joined the club at the beginning of last year.  To see what they have achieved and what they are capable of now is a real eye opener.  Seeing the likes of some of our newer runners like Sam and Stephanie improving week by week is great to see too.  Take my old mate Nicola, for example.  I'd been on and on at her for months about joining the Plums.  She eventually signed up, ran just over 5 miles on her first club run, ran 10k the next and then only a few days later, she ran her furthest ever distance of 10 miles in the club handicap race.  A few weeks later, she was finishing the Great South Run in a respectable time, all in the space of a few weeks.  I'm dead proud of her, as I am of everyone that pulls on a Plums vest for a training run or race

No matter whether you can run a marathon in 3:30 or you’re struggling to crack 65 minutes for a 10k, you'll be welcome through them doors like I was almost 3 years ago.  Your Wednesday's will never be the same again and the club run will become a firm fixture in your diary.  

Roll on this Wednesday.  It's Meeting Night and the long awaited draw for the club's VLM places.  I will have my fingers crossed.  My 2016 Spring Marathon will either be London (please God,smile nicely on me) or my back up, Rotterdam a few weeks beforehand at the beginning of April.

[Disclaimer:  if you say you can run 10k in 65 minutes, makes sure you can actually run 10k in 65 minutes in real life rather than 'running' it on a Wii.  That really doesn't count and someone might blow a fuse :)]

Come on you Plums!