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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It’s about the journey, not the destination….

This morning’s long(ish) run saw week 15 of marathon training come to an end. This time next week (hopefully!) I’ll be able to say I’m a marathon runner.

Looking back, it feels like no time since I was making the decision to enter the Loch Ness Marathon instead of the Great Scottish Run (half marathon). A snap decision, that’s led me on a journey of discovery.

As I prepare mentally for next weekend, I know that I’ve done the training. I haven’t missed a single session, not even a strength or core workout. That discipline was always something I prided myself on during my bike racing career, and I’m glad that it’s continued as I’ve ventured off the bike.

I might not be the most physically gifted athlete, but you won’t find many that are more committed. I was always mentally tough on the bike – we’ll find out next weekend if that’s also transferred to my running.

Whilst I’m getting excited for the race, I’m not putting too much importance on the outcome. My goal is to finish and to enjoy the experience. 6 months ago I never imagined running a marathon, so I want to savour the day. I’m sure there will be ups & downs, I’ll be challenged physically & mentally, but I know that I’ve given myself every opportunity to do well.

I’ve also now got the next couple of blocks in my training calendar. I’ll be doing Greg McMillan’s marathon recovery plan to help my body recover and ease back into running again. Then I’ve got an 8 week base training block that will take me through to mid-December.

That might seem crazy to you, but to me it’s one of my ways of dealing with race day – It’s never been about the destination, it’s all about the journey.

This week in numbers:

Miles run – 31.5 (about 1/3 less than usual – definitely taper time!)

Time on my feet – 4:39:43

2 weeks to go

This has been a good training week. Not spectacular, just solid, grinding out the workouts.

Hard to believe this is the end of week 14 of my marathon training. It struck me yesterday that today’s long run would be the last time I’d do this kind of volume for a while – I’m going to focus on 10k / 10 mile races in the Spring, so the distances of my long runs won’t be like anything I’ve done for the marathon.

It’s also weird looking at my training plan (which I keep on Final Surge) and seeing an empty calendar beyond Sunday 24th September. Running’s a big part of my life, and whilst I know that I’ll need a week or two off after the race, it’s going to be strange not getting up at 5am to run. Just for a couple of weeks though.

I’m already looking ahead and starting to think about races to focus my training on for 2018. Some might think that I should be focusing on the race and not thinking about anything beyond that, but for me it helps to think about what the next targets might be.

I’ve been feeling more upbeat this week. I’d caught myself starting get a little negative in my thinking as the day of the marathon has got closer. My running friends have noticed it too, so big shout-outs to them for helping to pick me up, particularly to online chums Tony Green, Amanda Moore & Cat Bradley.

I’d also like to say thanks to Dave Nicholson, who’s a runner based here in Dundee. I met with Dave during the week at my office, and about 75 minutes of our 90 minute ‘business’ meeting were devoted to running. Dave had picked up on my mindset when he read the last couple of blog posts, so we spoke about what was making me feel concerned.

He even brought me a book – the story of Sharon Gayter, one of the UK’s best ultra runners. Dave had supported Sharon back in 2007 when she’d broken the world record for running from Lands End to John o’Groats, 837 miles over 13 days. There was a whole chapter of the book dedicated to that herculean effort and Dave suggested I read that, which I have.

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The marathon is going to challenge me both physically and mentally, and after this week I feel more prepared for what’s to come.

So bring it on Loch Ness, let’s see what you’ve got!

This week in numbers:

  • Distance run – 43.3
  • Time on my feet – 6:34:44
  • Books given to me – 1

Believe

When I decided to enter the Loch Ness Marathon back in May, it seemed such a long way away. I had almost 20 weeks, so much time. Then it was 16 weeks and I was starting the training plan. Now the race is just 3 weeks away.

Back in June when I started the plan, I’d never run farther than 15 miles. I’d raced a couple of half marathons, but nothing could prepare me for what would lie ahead.

Mostly the training has been fine. I’ve enjoyed it, and the midweek sessions have been fun and challenging. The long runs at the weekend though – they’ve been my nemesis. The first time I did 16 miles felt huge, I couldn’t imagine running 18. But I did, then 20, and finally 22, which I’ve now done a couple of times.

My training plan has been based on a goal time of 3:45, which is about 5 mins slower than the McMillan calculator estimates as my race time based on those half marathons back in 2015. That equates to a pace of roughly 8:42/mile, which should be more than doable…..in a half marathon.

However I’m really struggling to imagine how I can hold this pace over 26.2 miles. At this stage in the game the challenge is more mental than physical. My body will be able to run for 26.2 miles, that’s not in doubt. But can it do it at 8:42/mile? That’s what I just don’t know.

I’m afraid of setting off at this pace and blowing up. Of hitting ‘the wall’. I realise this isn’t a fast pace, and that I’ve comfortably run half marathons well below 8:00/mile, but the magnitude of the marathon makes me doubt myself.

I know that I’ve done the training, haven’t missed a session. I’ve been diligent with my nutrition, I’ve rested, stretched and looked after my body. I’ve given myself every chance to be able to run at my goal pace. And yet I still have doubts. I’ve never raced this distance before – it’s a step into the unknown.

I’m going to have to believe. To suck it up, set off at my goal pace and see what happens.

Have you run a marathon before? Did you have doubts before your first one? How did you approach pacing it? I’d love to know.

This week in numbers:

 

Miles run – 44.8

Time on my feet – 6:49:59

Aberdeen Half Marathon – ‘race’ report

Once again an early weekend alarm woke me. 5.45am this time.

Today’s plan called for 18 miles, with the last 8 at goal pace for the marathon. Joanna had planned a long weekend in York with Rebecca, so I decided to enter the Aberdeen half marathon rather than do another long run on the same roads at home.

We lived in Aberdeenshire for almost ten years before moving back in 2013. Aberdeen will always hold a special place in our hearts, so it was nice to go back and race on familiar streets.

I got there for around 8.30am, parked at Union Square then went for an easy 5 mile run down Riverside, past my old office, through Duthie Park, and back up. I’d forgotten how lovely the park is.

I was back at the car by 9.30, topped up my water bottle, changed my top, loaded up with gels, and then wandered up to Union Street. I’ve never seen it so busy!

It was also lovely to bump into some old friends, both before, during and after the race.

However I wouldn’t actually be racing today. I’d agreed with my coach that I’d run the first 5 miles at easy run pace, then the last 8 at 8:23 – my goal Pace for the marathon.

On the easy run before the race I’d noticed that my heart rate was elevated by about 10 beats, and the same thing happened on the first 5 miles of the race. They felt much harder than they should have! I guess my body hadn’t fully recovered from Thursday’s track session.

By mile 5 the sun was out and it was getting warm, but miraculously when I upped the pace it started to feel easier. How does that work?

I got into a rhythm and started chalking off the miles. I managed to hold my marathon pace for 6 of the 8 miles. The 7th was in the high 8s, and then mile 11 was a shocker!

Passing the flag at mile 12 was a great feeling, and from here to the finish I was back on top of the run. Mile 13 was my fastest mile for the day, and I almost sprinted down Union Street to the finish.

So I ended the day with 18 miles in my legs, plus the experience of pinning on a number for the first time since 2015. It was good to get used to that again before the big day in 4 weeks time.

I’m gonna take a rest day tomorrow, run easy on Tuesday, then I have another goal pace run (12 miles) on Wednesday.

But right now I need food……

This week in numbers:

  • Miles run – 42.1
  • time on my feet – 6:19:58
  • Half marathons run – 1