Well. This has been a memorable week; and some of it for good reasons.
But as the running community goes about its races in Windsor and London and Manchester and (especially, I still fancy this one) the Edinburgh Marathon, they all seem happily unaware that this is a milestone week.
It was back in mid-January when I came clean and admitted I wanted to run another marathon; when Mrs T said actually that was ok and wouldn’t mean inevitable divorce. That Long Sunday Run took on a different feel: it was the first on the way to my autumn Marathon. The Marathon which became Robin Hood some weeks later when they announced that the 26.2 was back on.
That made it a 37-week programme. So last Sunday was 18 weeks since I started out, or -19 weeks to Robin Hood. And today was -18 weeks to Robin Hood, or week 19 since starting. Either way, I have just passed half-way.
66 Runs; Longest, 15.2; 365 miles total… so far.
So it’s all downhill from here. I have just a few weeks till I can dust off my 16-week Marathon training programme; although in truth I am already well ahead of that. I am under no illusions though, that I haven’t even started the proper work yet: the numbers will be so much bigger in the second half.
I read something recently in the run-up to London:
“The first twenty miles are ok, but the second half (that is, those miles after 20) is much harder”
and the same is definitely true of the training.
I can’t wait. Some people find that marathon training is a drudge, and that the compulsion of managing the number-of-runs and total-miles and longest-run takes the pleasure out of it. Not me: I love it, the growth and the progress and the strength; the fear and fatigue but the still-going-out-for-the-next-run.
So from now I can start marking my weeks as Robin Hood -18, -17… and closer: that is the journey, just as much as the 26.2 miles on the day.
Ten Top Training Tips
Bizarrely, the past couple of months being the spring marathon season, I have found myself dispensing training tips and advice to other runners. I am, of course, exceptionally qualified to do so, having failed so many times myself. Been there, done that, failed to collect the T-shirt.
So as I embark on the main part of my training, here is what I have learnt. I may revisit this over the next few months, and test whether it still works. What follows is based on my Marathon planning but is equally valid for a Half, a 10k or your first attempt at an organised event.
- Listen to your body. This absolutely is Rule No 1 (and in fact probably covers most of the others too). Your body will tell you when it is feeling good and you can add a little extra to today’s route or this week’s figures. It will also tell you when it is hurt, and whether that is a minor niggle or something more substantial: be honest and realistic and moderate what you do accordingly. Your body (and your situation): nobody else is the same, so be flexible about what you do.
- The 10% rule. Don’t increase any measure by more than 10%, ie the longest run, total miles for the week, speedwork. If you do, you will surely discover the delights of shinsplints, knee pain, illiotibial band or hamstring strain.
- Your training plan is a guide only. Your journey to the start line is a long one, and – like most things in life – it is neither straight nor as you expect it to be. So long as you are there-or-thereabouts, don’t beat yourself up if you miss your weekly stats by a little (equally, if you feel fine, then enjoy beating them). Ditto the many example-plans in the magazines and websites: they are just that, examples, and flex them for you.
- Rest is part of plan. You are asking your body to do new things, pushing further and asking more each week – so give it a break. You will incur many aches and pains, and you will become tired. Your body is miraculously self-healing and regenerating, but only if you give it a chance. Allow some down days, gentler runs and especially non-running days; build a couple of easier recover weeks in your plan (maybe to coincide with a family holiday or event?) . It may not feel it, but these are every bit as important as the long-slow-run at the weekend. Build them in, and respect them.
- Take care in the last phase. As you near the peak of your programme there is always a temptation to do more, the fear that you haven’t done enough. “I just need to do this extra one.” “I need to add a couple of miles to get a good one in”. There comes a point where you have to be honest with yourself: it is now too late to do any real good, but sure can f*** it all up. Don’t risk it.
- The Taper phase before the event is torture, but it is critical. This takes every bit as much discipline and is just as important as calling up all your determination when you don’t feel like training but still manage to get out. So summon all your strength to not run. You can’t feel it, but you are repairing all those little injuries you have accumulated and building reserves for the day. Manage the taper and you can arrive fresh and strong, and give yourself the best chance of achieving your goal.
- Speed sessions work. This was a revelation to me, because I had never intended to actually race anyone but my own timings. But speed sessions – whether intervals on a track, fartleck, or simply laps of a local loop or sportsfield – definitely have a positive impact. Your heart and lungs will increase capacity and endurance, your shape and form will improve as you push your limits, and you will discover new resilience when tiring or faced with a hill.
- A change is as good as a rest. There is definitely something compulsive and addictive about training (as opposed to just going for a run) that you must do that route or that distance, and it helps with the mental demands of keeping it up, to keep on familiar territory (not least because you can track and see your progress). But it can be incredibly refreshing to try a new route, or to do a familiar route anticlockwise instead of clockwise. Try going offroad: safe park grass and playing fields to begin with, and maybe a trail or woods once you get used to the feel of the irregular surface. And as above, throw in some speedwork or fartleck for a change.
- Take a break from running. Go out on a bike, or swim, or try some weights or mix in some yoga. You’ll keep the fitness but avoid too much wear-&-tear. And stretch: you can’t really stretch too much (with care that is, as opposed to overstretching which you must avoid). All of these can count as “active rest”, keeping you working and mobile without causing more fatigue in your running actions.
- Sleep. This is very important and, like tapering and rest from running, you need to manage it. Given the time-demands of a marathon programme it is tempting to try and fit the rest of your life into whatever space is left, and you end up burning the candle from both ends and a little in the middle too. You can’t do this at the same time as loading your body with ever-more demands as the training builds up, more than you have ever asked of it before. It is not uncommon for runners to find themselves restless and awake in the small hours, wondering how they can’t sleep when they are so exhausted. The reason is overtraining. Listen to your body. Which rather brings us back where we started.
So there you go. Ten golden rules for training. I will tell you some time between now and end-September if they still work.
In other news
This will go down as one of those weeks. One day I will look back and think, “Hmm. I remember THAT week.”
I could write about Lizzie doing GCSEs (35 years on, it still makes my stomach churn); or the pleasure of Adam being home (swirling film-music, swirling swoosh of his hands trawling the Lego box for a specific piece); or Mum being ill and frightened and a late-Friday M1 dash, a portent of years to come; and back again after the weekend for a 2nd shift of nursing; or my piecemeal disintegration heading into a third week waiting for a shit-or-bust signature.
Or I could write about the appointment which began with the GP happily saying “Yes I DID manage to do London… shouldn’t have risked it, could have damaged my calf even worse… broke every rule… completely drugged up… Loved it. Cant wait to do another!” And then went on to talk to me about booking some tests: they will put me on a treadmill, apparently. Which will be interesting. Hesitantly, in view of what had gone before, Doc said “You know what I’m thinking about your running, of course”. So we agreed its ok to run, at low intensity, no speedwork, care on hills, no tempo or threshold. OK to keep running, distance is ok, just keep it low workrate. That’s what I agreed, anyway.
Week 18 Index (Robin Hood -19)
Runs 4; Total 22.2; Long 9.5; Other 1
Week 19 Index (Robin Hood -18)
Runs 3; Total 17.6; Long 7; Other 0
Body: ok, apart from the visit to the doctor.
Spirits: battered, but not by the running. I’m actually excited to be at halfway, close to getting into a proper training programme. I can still only say 50/50… but it’s getting closer.