Finding the flow…..

As anyone who reads this blog will know, competitive sports has been a big part of my life. After 10 years of cycle racing, I transitioned to running in 2017, but the way we approach training for both sports is similar.

Most people will follow what’s called a periodised training programme. At a macro level, this typically involves training ‘hard’ for 3 weeks, followed by a lighter ‘recovery’ week. It’s a rhythm that you fall into; it becomes the natural flow of your life.

At a micro level, those training weeks are also a mix of ‘on’ and ‘off’ time, which allows the body to recover from hard sessions. Here’s how my typical training week looks:

  • Monday – Rest day. This allows me to recover from the weekend’s efforts
  • Tuesday – Intervals. This will be a hard session that stresses the body. The specific content will depend upon what ‘period’ of training we’re in. My coach will lay down what the session entails and what physiological system we’re training.
  • Wednesday – Easy run, usually around 30-40 minutes followed by 15-30 minutes strength & conditioning gym work
  • Thursday – Intervals (as Tuesday)
  • Friday – Easy 30 minute shakeout. I used to quite often skip this day, but I’ve found that doing a really easy shakeout helps my body recover from the efforts on Tuesday & Thursday
  • Saturday – Easy run plus strength & conditioning work (as Wednesday)
  • Sunday – Long run or race. The Long Run is a staple of the runner’s programme, and will typically be anywhere from 90 minutes up to 3 hours depending on the events you’re training for. The long run is usually done at an easy pace, however there may be sections where you’ll do a specific training effort. For instance, this morning I ran 45 mins at an easy pace (around 8:50/mile), then the next 45 at 30 seconds faster.

By Monday I need my rest day! Also, because my weekday training is typically done before work, which means getting up around 5am, Monday is a chance for a lie in – well, if 6.30am counts as a lie in! It’s also the day where I try to avoid carbs and eat mainly fats & protein, so it’s a chance to eat something different for breakfast other than porridge….

This is the rhythm that my life follows, week after week; month after month; season after season. It stops being a thing you do, and just becomes you.

Do you follow any kind of training plan? At a macro & micro level? What does your training look like? Let me know!

Running for fun (and PBs!)

Yesterday I did my first half marathon of the year, and it was the most fun I’ve ever had doing a race! The reason? I ran it with my daughter Rebecca.

Becs did the Big Half in London earlier this year, and decided to enter Edinburgh. I was working in London last week, so as well as getting some runs in around Balham (I always stay in an Airbnb near where Becs lives), we also had dinner a couple of times and planned our race.

My job was to help Becs get round in a new PB. I’d be in charge of keeping her hydrated and fed on the way round, as well as pacing her to achieve the PB and, of course, providing entertainment. Becs placed her order for raspberry ripple Torq gels, which I collected from Run4It on Saturday. We’d get water out on the course.

Becs was staying in Edinburgh with some friends, so on Sunday our alarm in Inchture went off at an eye-watering 4am. Eating porridge at that hour is not natural! We left home at 5, were parked up around 6.15 and headed to a Starbucks, where Jo had breakfast. Becs walked up from her Airbnb to meet us, had an espresso, then we made our way up to the start.

We’d left home in glorious sunshine (it’s always sunny in Dundee!), but by the time we hit the new Forth Crossing it was shrouded in fog. As we walked up to the start it was a chilly 9c, breezy and drizzling. Really good running weather as it happens!

Our warm up consisted of a few lunges, squats & stretches, with Becs eschewing any form of run or jog, “why would I want to run, when I’ve got a half marathon to do?”. I could see her logic.

We set off from the back of the National Museum and made our way down to Princes St, along past the Scott Monument, where the first of many photographers were based. Cue smiles and laughter – a mood that we’d keep with us the whole way around. Every time we saw a photographer we’d smile, laugh, maybe do some jazz hands. We were having a great time!

In London at the Big Half Becs said that after 10k she’d really struggled and hadn’t enjoyed the race that much. By the time Edinburgh came round, and she’d done another block of training, she was much stronger and you could see that in the way she ran. She was strong and on top of the pace all day.

I made sure to dole out some dad jokes, just to keep our spirits high. My particular favourite was at the ‘electric bridge’ in Mussleburgh, where Becs pondered that currents must go over the bridge. Straight away I agreed that the bridge we were on (next to it) must be for the raisins! Quality stuff! At least it made her laugh….

Before we knew it we’d hit mile 10 and the long drag out of town up to the turning point. Becs pushed on, not letting the pace drop. Indeed, the last 3 miles were progressively our fastest of the day! I knew that we were on track to hit our target time if we pushed the pace on our last mile. I asked Becs if she could go a little faster – her answer was “no, but I’m going to as we’re nearly finished!”

And so we pushed on, into the last few hundred metres, still laughing, having fun. As we turned into the finishing straight I spotted Joanna and we were able to smile & wave before Becs put the hammer down and gunned it to the line.

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We finished in 2:15:33, beating Rebecca’s London time by over 8 minutes. We did it smiling and laughing all the way, having fun and racing together. Without doubt it is the best day (so far) of my running career. Running can be a solitary sport. Most of the training is done in isolation, then you race to try and go faster than before. But at the end, it doesn’t really matter if I run 46 or 45 minutes for a 10k. Life will still go on.

However running a race with someone to help them achieve a goal, now that felt worthwhile. And when it’s your daughter, someone you love with every fibre of your being, and you can have so much fun doing it, then that makes it extra special.

I hope we can do it again sometime soon Rebecca!

Pushing onwards….

A lot has happened since I last posted back in February!

First of all, I raced the Garioch 10k on 25th March. It was a new route compared to when I last raced in 2017, and no longer went past our old house in Inverurie. I do wonder if they’ve kept the original Johanna Basford wallpaper we had in the sitting room – it would be worth a fortune now!

I finished in 46:35, so not a PB, but a good effort early in the season. Reflecting on the race, I took it too easy on the early miles, where I was trying to run within myself, knowing that I had some pretty big hills ahead of me. However my last 2 miles were both much faster, so I had it in me to dig deeper – a case of what could have been, and a useful learning experience.

I was pretty good at putting myself in the pain cave back in my cycling days, and it’s fair to say that I’ve yet to develop that skill as a runner. I’ve since spoken to my coach about this, and we’re going to experiment with a few races to see if we can work on my ability to push into the red zone and hit those faster times.

Speaking of coaches, not long after Garioch I decided to get back in touch with Richard Coates, the London-based coach that I worked with back in 2015. Until then I’d been using an online coaching service, but I was missing the personal interaction with a coach – something I’ve been used to and enjoyed in both my competitive golfing & cycling days.

Fortunately Richard had capacity to take me back on, and so in mid-April we started working together again. It feels like we never stopped and it’s great having a coach that I can speak to and bounce stuff off again, as I mentioned earlier.

Race Schedule

Looking ahead, there are a couple of races on the horizon. First up, on Sunday 20th May, is the BHGE 10k in Aberdeen. Having lived and worked in Aberdeenshire for almost a decade, it’s always fun to go back up there and this should be a good race. It’s going to be pretty flat, a nice change from Garioch, so it’s definitely a chance to run a PB.

The following weekend I’ll be running the Edinburgh Half Marathon, a race that In first ran back in 2015. However this time around I’ll be running it with my daughter Rebecca and I can’t tell you how excited I am to run with Becs!

In between these two races I’ll be spending a week in London, where I’m attending an Accounting Conference. I’ve got a nice wee AirBnb booked in Balham, so I’ll be running around Clapham and Tooting Commons and making sure the legs are ready for my big day with Rebecca.

This week’s training

Here’s what’s on the cards this week coming….

  • Monday – Rest day
  • Tuesday – 6 x 5 mins tempo intervals, with 75 seconds recovery
  • Wednesday – 30 mins easy, 30 mins strength & conditioning. Massage in the evening
  • Thursday – 2 x (5 x 60 second hill reps @ tempo effort). This is a bugger of a workout
  • Friday – 40 mins easy
  • Saturday – Rest day (will probably do a core workout)
  • Sunday – 60 mins progression run

Have a great week!

 

A quick running update

I’m halfway through the base training plan – 4 more weeks to go.

My body feels fully recovered from the marathon now. In my runs on Thursday and the long run yesterday, I’ve written in my training log that it felt ‘effortless’, and yet I’m doing these easy runs almost one minute per mile faster than I was back in March when I started running again.

This next block of training will continue the long steady runs, but with a sprinkling of faster workouts beginning on Thursday with a steady state (just below threshold) effort. I’m excited and looking forward to it.

I’ll also be ramping up the core strength work over the next 4 weeks before I move onto the next block of training, which will focus on hills and building strength.

This is my first winter of proper running training and I’m excited to see what difference it makes once I start racing in the Spring.

What do you do for training over the winter? Do you have challenges with the weather? Let me know in the comments below!

Getting back into the rhythm…

It’s now 3 weeks since the marathon. Where did the time go?!? Running this week has felt more normal, indeed my last couple of runs have been at a decent pace with no after effects. I guess my body is pretty much recovered now.

Tuesday was my first head-torch run in a couple of years. It was also pretty windy out there, with some light rain and I can’t say I really enjoyed the experience. The 3 miles from Castle Huntly back to Inchture, into a block headwind and unable to see more than 10m in front of me, weren’t a lot of fun. So on Thursday I re-joined the gym at the University – one of the perks of my part-time teaching role! Me & the treadmill are going to reacquainted this winter.

I have one more week left of Greg McMillan’s marathon recovery plan, then I move onto base training as we start to look ahead to next year. I’m excited about this, as although I ran for a full season in 2015, I got back on the bike mid-December that year and the running pretty much stopped, so I never got to see the benefit of taking a full season’s training into the next year.

We fly out to Lanzarote two weeks today and I’m looking forward to getting some good miles in. I love running in warmer weather – something we don’t get in Scotland too often – and it’s currently averaging around 28C in Peurto del Carmen where we’re staying.

Bex is flying out from London too, so I’ll have a running buddy for some of my morning runs. I’m excited to run with my girl.

I’ve spent a week in Lanzarote before, but that was at a training camp back in 2014, when I was still racing my bike. I’d come off a winter of cyclocross racing, so was a bit behind some of the others. It was a week of hard training, the most professional camp I’d ever been on (thanks to coaches Gary Hand & Davie Lines) and on the back of that I went on to have my best season ever, so I’m hoping the Lanza magic will work again.

Recovery & reflection

It’s been a week now since the marathon last Sunday. A time for rest and reflection.

I knew that my body would be sore on Monday, the day after the race, but I hadn’t been prepared for quite how sore I would be! I had set the alarm for 6am as I was due to have a meeting in Perth at 8am. I tried to get up and see how I felt – the answer was quickly revealed! So I sent an email, cancelled that meeting, and went back to bed.

As the week went on the soreness eased. I had a massage on Tuesday evening, which helped ease the pain. By Wednesday morning I was heading back out for a short run – just 15 minutes, part of Greg McMillan’s marathon recovery plan. I hobbled around the village, but I was delighted to get out for a run!

By Friday much of the soreness had gone and I did another 15 minute run, this time after work – a great way to end the working week. There was still a bit of soreness in my ITBs, but other than that I felt fine and the pace was pretty decent.

It’s Sunday today and I’ve just done an easy 30 minute run, 2 laps of the village. No ITB pain this time. It’s good to get back out running, even these short easy runs, they’re part of who I am.

With a lot less volume this week, I’ve had time to reflect on the race and on the training I did beforehand. I only started running seriously again in late March, so taking on a marathon 6 months later was always going to be a big ask. I had the endurance for around 18 miles, but beyond that I was always going to struggle.

Thinking back to my training, and now knowing what the last 10k of a marathon feels like, I realise that I didn’t fully commit on those long training runs (beyond 18 Miles). Those were the runs where I found myself having to stop, to rest, to take a picture of ‘that great view’. What I really needed to be doing at that point, in hindsight, was gritting my teeth and pushing on. But I guess you only realise that after you experience the marathon for the first time…..

I also need to train more on hills. We live in a valley, and most of my long runs had been on the flat valley roads. That’s fine if you’re going to be doing a marathon in Berlin, but Loch Ness was anything but flat. So more hill work will be on the agenda this winter.

Finally, I’ve had a chance to chat with Coach Greg McMillan after the race and look ahead to 2018. He’s keen for me to focus on shorter races next year, to work on my speed, which we can then take into a Spring 2019 Marathon. So it looks like I’ll be focusing on 5k & 10k races in Spring 2018, and then moving onto half marathons next Autumn.

I’m excited about this, as I like the variety of training for different distances, and the one thing I’ve missed this year has been running fast. I then know that I’ll be going into the 2019 marathon properly prepared, and a PB will be on the cards.

For now though, the next few weeks are about continuing the slow recovery, then we’ll move onto building a solid base. Joanna, Rebecca & I are in Lanzarote for a week early November, so it will be good to get some longer runs in the heat and sunshine.

For those of you that have raced a marathon, what were the biggest learnings you took from your first race?

New shoes arrived on Friday!

Loch Ness Marathon – Race Report

A year earlier than I’d originally planned, yesterday I toe’d the line in my first marathon. I’d heard great things about the Loch Ness Marathon, and Inverness is a lovely town, so where better to start my marathon journey?

My training had been consistent – I’d done every workout on the plan, every gym session, stretched daily. I’d even gone teetotal the final few months, searching for every little performance improvement I could find.

All the way through this running journey there’s been one nagging thought at the back of my mind – this time last year I was still bike racing. Indeed, the winter of 2016/17 was one of the best pre-seasons I’d ever had and in February I was looking forward to another season racing my bike. Then in March I changed my mind and started running again. We were travelling a lot in the Spring, and taking my shoes let’s me see a City in a different way – one of my favourite things. So running became my sporting focus once more.

I knew I could run a half marathon – I did two back in 2015 – but could I run a marathon? I was going to find out.

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The start at Loch Ness is 25 Miles up the side of the Loch. All 4000 runners are bused there from Inverness, an hour’s journey over twisty roads. By the time we got to the start I was feeling very travel sick. Fortunately the cold usually snaps me out of it, so when we got off the bus and felt the icy blast (and rain), I soon forgot my travel sickness. We had around 90 minutes until the start and they were spent queuing for the portaloos and trying to keep warm.

At 10am we set off to the sound of pipes & drums, a very special way to start my first marathon. Within the first mile I’d warmed up, and was quickly into my rhythm. All of my training was based on running 3:45, realistically I was just hoping to get round in under 4 hours. The early miles were smooth, I felt on top of the pace and was able to enjoy the scenery. The first challenge came at mile 5, the first real hills of the race, and I felt comfortable as we climbed.

Soon we were through 8.5 Miles, a third of the race done. There were water stops every few miles, so I was keeping well hydrated. I was also taking a gel every 45 mins, plus an electrolyte drink at each electrolyte station (I think there were 3?). I was continuing to stay on pace, aiming for a first half of around 1:55.

I actually made it through half way in 1:54, a little ahead of schedule but I was feeling good. Miles 14, 15 & 16 all went by without any trouble, however at mile 17 I started to feel it for the first time. I took a gel, along with a Cliff Shot, and pushed on. Mile 18 took us through the village of Dores, and I knew that we weren’t far away from the fabled hill.

I didn’t expect it to be so steep, or so long! The fact that you could also see it snaking away up in the distance didn’t help either, and it was here that I had my first real problems of the day. Like many others I found myself walk / running up the hill. I was tying hard to keep on running, but my hip flexors had other ideas, so at times I was reduced to fast walking pace. These 2 Miles, 19 & 20, saw me lose a lot of time. Mile 21 was downhill, so I got back into my rhythm, but then we hit another hill which saw me struggling again.

By now I knew that I was losing time – my average pace had crept up from 8:42 and was getting ever closer to 9:00. I knew that if I wanted to break 4 hours, I had to keep it below 9:07, but I also knew now that there was very little left in the tank.

So much of this is mental, and I was keeping myself going by counting (up to 8), and saying my new mantra, which was to say the names of my family, the people I love dearly, over & over again in rhythmical fashion. That got me to mile 23 and the outskirts of Inverness. At this point I knew that all I had left to run was a Parkrun, how hard could that be? However I was now in a new territory – I’d never run farther than 22 miles.

I won’t lie, these last few miles were slow and tortuous. I tried to lift the pace a couple of times, but my legs refused. By now we were in the centre of Inverness, crossing the bridge and turning down the last mile of the race, where I knew Joanna would be waiting for me near the finish. Again I tried to lift the pace. I knew that I wasn’t going to break 4 hours now, but I could still finish strong. My running form still felt good, which was a good sign.

I heard the announcer calling my name as I bared down on the finish line, then heard Joanna shout from the side. It was lovely to see and hear her. I crossed the line in 4:01:59, tantalisingly close to breaking 4 hours. That lack of running endurance that I’d been worried about had ended up costing me, but there was nothing I could do about it.

I was so happy to finish. Crossing that line was both a relief and a celebration. I’d just completed a marathon, in a time that many people would be delighted with. Yes, it wasn’t as fast as I’d hoped, but I’d done it and learned a lot along the way.

It was great having Joanna there with me for the weekend. We stayed in a lovely Airbnb near the Castle, enjoyed a delicious meal on Saturday evening (more pasta for me! 😬), and then Joanna looked after me post-race, driving us home in torrential rain – a journey that took over 3 hours!

I had no idea how sore my body would be today. I’m still incredibly stiff – I’m going for another ice bath when I’ve finished writing this. I’m also going to sleep in my skins (compression leggings) again tonight – anything I can do to aid recovery.

I’ve enjoyed the marathon journey, and am proud of myself for what I’ve accomplished. Of course, a time of 4:01 means only one thing – I’ll have to do another, I’ve got to get under 4 hours!

I might wait until 2019 though…..

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