Not the best week as schedule interrupted by life. Combinations of work, sick children and other commitments meant way more rest days that usual. Which I then failed to capitalise on by running an average Sunday run and feeling little benefit from a long rest. Pah.
For anyone following a training plan for MK Marathon and stressing about missed sessions the main advice is relax. Most coaches say you can miss the equivalent of two weeks of training from an overall programme with no real affect, especially the early runs. The key runs that will get you around the 26.2 miles on the day are the long runs so try and prioritise those above all others.
Importantly if you do miss a session don’t be tempted to add it into next week and double up as you’re just risking injury by doing too much. A 6 week injury will affect your training far more than the odd missed interval sessions. An often used analogy is with newspapers – If you missed the paper today you wouldn’t buy two copies tomorrow to make up for it. So don’t do it with training.
Monday – Rest day as failed to fit a run in
Tuesday – Pyramids interval. After warm up go into fast interval of 1 min, then 2, 3, 4, 5 and back down 4, 3, 2, 1, all with 2 min recovery between. Managed to have the respective pairs fairly consistent. Covered 8.4 miles at average 8:17 pace. These are really good sessions to improve you pace and push yourself.
Wednesday – 9mile Tempo at 8:13 average. Definitely felt the recent ultra in legs and thick fog on dark route made pushing the pace difficult even if legs had been working. Need a better head torch. And better legs. Maybe a head that doesn’t wobble so much when I run as well.
Thursday & Friday – Rest days as failed to fit a run in. Didn’t even get home in time for spin class.
Saturday – 10k with dog in 7:57 pace. Managed to squeeze something in as three days of no running makes me a pain to everyone around.
Sunday – Long(ish) run. 16 miles at 8:24 pace. A good workout as included some slippery ice patches and trail sections through Rushmere woods but would have liked to be closer to 8:00 pace. Possibly 5 hours sleep and pints of home brew at a friends house was not the best prep.
Weekly total mileage – 40 miles. Also managed to hit 202 miles for the month (with two days left), bringing the streak to 13 months. Part of me wanted to end the streak as the longer it keeps going the harder it will mentally be to break. I’ve not looked at overall monthly mileage at all until writing this and wasn’t expecting to hit it. It’s been a great release not to chase miles. Previous 12 months I’ve been aiming for 200 and on any given day knew how many more miles I needed to bank to hit the arbitrary target.
Next week the training will be a bit all over the shop as I have my third go at the Enigma Running Quadzilla. Four marathons in four days. You get 4 medals and hoodie for doing all four. So should be looking like a 100+ mile training week coming up. Assuming completion will get me marathons 89, 90, 91 and 92. The countdown to marathon 100 will be in single digits.
Week 3 of 17 (less than 100 days left until the big event)
Not so much training, more an actual event this week. Another week of ‘do as I say not as I do’. Goal for fast marathon is MK Marathon but have a few other events to dispatch on the way so aiming to get fast and go longer at the same time. Coaches would probably say you can’t do both but what do they know eh (besides more than me)?
Monday – 10k with dog in 7:46 pace, her fastest yet and still didn’t look tired.
Tuesday – Staying away with work in Scotland so missing normal club run. Found a local club, Dunbar Running Club and messaged them asking if they had any runs and could I tag along. They said sure, what sort of pace was I likely to run. Not wanting to appear too fast or too slow I took a stab at 8min/miles. They advised they’d had a couple at that pace. Still unclear whether that meant the majority of their runners were faster or slower than that I turned up at a surprisingly warm Scottish evening (11degC in January?), was welcomed with open arms and went for a run. It quickly became clear they were fast. I hung on for a hilly 10k training run at 7:10 pace and was the last one home. They breed them tough up in Scotland. Must be the Iron Bru.
Wednesday – missed the usual 9 mile tempo at 5am so enjoyed a lie in and a gentle 5k around Dunbar to take in the sights again. With temp in double digits again it was tempting to paddle in the sea.
Thursday – 45 min spin class again and no run.
Friday – rest
Saturday – A marathon (no 88) that turned into an ultra.
After registering in a field at the gorgeous Ranscombe country park in Rochester I was ready to start the event. It’s organised by Saxons, Vikings & Normans Marathons who arrange a lot of small friendly events, mostly in the Kent area. They can be a bit of a drive from MK but this one was just over the Dartford bridge and a gorgeous setting. The event was a 8hr challenge with every runner completing as many 4.5mile laps as they want in the allotted time. 3 laps for a half marathon, 6 for a marathon. They’d be great for anyone nervous about a single loop marathon or coming back from injury as you can just run as many laps as you feel comfortable. As long as you finish one lap you get a medal so no pressure on a Did Not Finish (DNF) and most runners find they’re capable of far more than the expect. If having doubts take a break at the well stocked aid station, decide if you fancy another lap and out you go. Very good no pressure format.
I’d not run the course before and it was beautiful and frozen solid for the first couple of hours which helped keep the mud down. Despite a relatively light week of training I found all the hills a struggle from early on (MK is sometimes too flat) and realised I wouldn’t be getting a decent marathon time.
I decided to make the most of the great weather and run some extra laps for the ultra. Main advantage is on an ultra you’re expected to walk the hills so it gave me an excuse not to kill myself up the inclines “No I’m not rubbish at hills but thanks for asking. I’m actually doing the ultra.” Due to the varied nature of the course my splits were all over the place and on single laps I’d record sub 8 and well over 16 min/miles.
As the course warmed up the mud thawed out and sections varied from clinging clay that added inches to your height, to sloppy grip free mud that defeated attempts to gain traction. Hitting a HM in around 2hrs and a full marathon in around 4h10 I started to fade for the first of the ‘optional’ laps. I perked up a bit after some Coke (the liquid kind not the illicit sort) and knocked out two more to hit 39 miles in 6h55. The one stipulation on the event is you must start your final lap inside 7 hours so I could conceivably go out again. I was first to finish 9 laps and was briefly the distance winner until the next guy behind me went out for a 10th lap. I was sorely tempted to go after him but common sense prevailed and I retired at 2nd place on distance at 39 miles at average 10:38min/mile pace and a good training run for the SDW50 and SDW100 later in year.
For nerdy stats peoples I covered 4600ft of elevation against 5700ft for the SDW50 so pretty similar overall per mile.
Sunday – not here yet but other than a 2 mile recovery run it’s going to be a rest day!
Weekly total mileage – 56.7. Nothing like getting most of your week’s training done in one day.
The advice below is based on an average human with no massive underlying health issues. If you feel this doesn’t apply then check with your doctor before starting training. Unlike many sports, running really can be for everyone but it’s worth checking for medical advice so you approach it sensibly and safely.
Some doctors may warn you running is bad for your knees. You know what else is bad for your health? Being so unfit you can’r run for the phone and can’t even see your knees without a mirror. There are runners on over 1000 marathons who haven’t yet managed to grind their knees to dust.
The beautiful part of running is the simplicity. Whilst there are countless magazines and shops trying to sell you products to do it better, easier or faster, the essence of running is you need very little. If you’re starting from zero like many of us then it’s likely you have suitable gear to hand for your level. If you’re a keen player at other sports then most of the kit can be substituted for what you have already (although if your sport is diving no one wants to see you running around the park in your Speedo).
Trainers – Once you progress and start to increase distance it’s definitely worth investing in some proper trainers, ideally with help from a running shop and gait analysis. Don’t let that put you off. For the first few runs where you’re likely be covering short distances relatively slow and with a lot of walking breaks you can get away with whatever trainers you have kicking around in the house. The more hardcore ‘natural’ runners will advise that trainers are the root of all ills and we should all be running barefoot or in offensive looking foot ‘gloves’ but they’re typically ignored….
Socks – Whilst specialist running socks are available, with twin skin (two layers to prevent blisters) and fancy fabrics, any socks will work to get you started.
Legs– Depending on weather any combination of shorts, yoga pants, sweat pants/jogging bottoms will do. It will take a few runs to get to know how much the heat or cold affects you so don’t rush out to buy technical running tights as you might well find them useless for all but the sub zero winter.
Bums – Underwear is a matter of choice. Some swimming shorts will have an inner mesh for the gents and be ideal for the first runs, and mirror what’s on offer in the proper running shorts. Some runners go commando, most don’t. Stick on your most comfy undies and you’re done. Unlike in the office no one is going to care if you have VPL. Specialist running pants can wait.
Top half – A lot of magazines will chastise runners for even considering running without a moisture wicking technical top. Whilst these man-made fabrics are great for drawing sweat away from the skin and marginally reducing rubbing and chaffing they’re also unnecessary for beginners. Stick on a cotton tee. It might show the sweat and prolonged use might lead to the odd bit of chaffing but you’re unlikely to find that an issue for a few runs yet. Again depending on weather you may need another layer – fleece or hoody. Stick on what makes you feel comfortable. You’ll generate more heat than you expect once you get going but for beginners, feeling a little too warm is far less off putting than freezing your arse off on a winters day.
For the ladies, you’ll need to consider sports bras. I’m told be the Wife these are hideously expensive and hideously awkward to put on. Some women have recommended doubling up on your normal bras as a stop gap if you’re not quite ready to brave the shops and commit your cash to a ungainly piece of underwear you’d rather never be seen in.
Timing – There is no need to fork out for an expensive GPS running watch initially. These are fancy devices that track distance and pace and can monitor heart rate and countless other data fields, allowing you to scrutinise your run in finite detail. Don’t let a lack of a watch stop you when either a free running app on your phone (if you feel safe enough to take your phone with you) or a normal watch will do to measure your time spent running.
The only other items you might need depending on weather and time of day is a head torch (can be purchased from most pound shops) and hat or gloves (these don’t need to be run specific). Assemble you gear from around the house, and go and run a bit. Don’t let the magazines and TV adverts full of ‘essential’ running apparatus put you off. If your ancestors could chase a gazelle in bare feet wearing a loin cloth you can manage to get to the end of the road in trainers and tracky bottoms.
Now you’re set to go running. A good starting point is either to run with a friend or a local beginners group (often free for the first few sessions). Check your local running clubs or local running shop as they normally offer courses. If like me you’re too embarrassed to be seen huffing and puffing in public and feel an embarrassment to your species this may be too much to consider but don’t be put off. These courses are put on by passionate runners specifically for people beginners. There is no chance you will be the biggest, slowest or sweatiest beginner they’ve ever coached however much you might think so.
If you still wish to hide from humanity then the Couch To 5k programme is a great beginners resource and available either as podcast to use on your phone or MP3 player or a simple list of runs to follow. It’s designed for the absolute beginner and is largely walking based to start with, allowing for short sections of running. These running sections increase over the week in a gradual and proven manner to minimise risk of injury. Finally you’ll finish the course running a full 5k. This sounds daunting at first to all new runners so don’t be put off. It will seem ludicrous to run a whole 5k when you can barely run for the bus but you need to trust the plan and progress will come. If any week seems too hard then repeat the previous week until comfortable and move up when ready.
Building up the distance
An often used figure is not to increase weekly mileage by more than 10% at a time. This is to avoid injuries from any sudden jump in distance. You might well be very fit from other sports so capable from a cardio capacity of running far in excess of what your legs and lower body are able to support. You may well hear tales of runners such as Rob Young or Steve Way who stumbled into running and were amazing from the start, covering marathon distances within weeks. These are the exception to the rule. If under the guidance of a coach or running club, or simply following the Couch to 5k you’ll be guided slowly through a natural progression.
In my own running I’ve slowly increased weekly mileage over the years and have been largely injury free. Some of this is luck, as on any run or even walking to work you could twist an ankle or pull something but overall I believe the slow increase has worked.
Ultimately the best way to improve as a runner (and to even get to the point you feel like you deserve the title of runner) is with consistent, uninterrupted quality training. Pushing through an injury will likely see it get worse, or incur other injuries as your body compensates for a stiff calf/dodgy ankle. Not only will this affect running but your proper life as you limp around work or attempt to herd feral children into their uniform before school.
Ramping up the distance too fast will also leave you too tired to perform. Your next run will be slow and awkward and you’ll feel like you’ve taken a massive step backwards and should never have started this whole stupid hobby. Don’t stress. Go home and rest and try again next session with fresh legs and a clear head. Running is meant to be fun.
Week 2 of many (I must count how many weeks at some point)
Unconventional week as it started with a recovery run from the Sunday marathon and included a track session.
Recovery Runs –
If you ignore everything else this is the one bit of my misguided advice I’d follow. A short 2-3 mile the day after a marathon or long run works wonders for getting the legs working again and avoid walking about like you’ve done something unspeakable in your undies.
Whether you intend to get back into training or never run a further step in your life it’s still worthwhile. Keep the distance short, don’t worry about the pace. The purpose of the run is to turn your legs over. Don’t decide they seem better than you expected and be tempted to extend it or up the pace. Save that for the next run.
After the recovery run you can still walk like a cowboy around work colleagues to let them know how awesome you are for smashing out a mega mileage run, but do it by choice, not because your legs don’t operate anymore.
Track Sessions –
Most running clubs and personal trainers etc organise these. Don’t be put off thinking you have to be Mo Farah to attend as clubs make them accessible to all. You don’t need track spikes or anything fancy. Just your running gear and a water bottle, maybe a hoody for warmth as they can involve more breaks or instructional demonstrations. In the winter they’re ideal as well lit, flat and trip hazard free with a forgiving surface to run on. Sessions often focus on running form or faster intervals, other times they focus on pacing, encouraging you to run a number of laps at steady pace. Since everyone is lapping the same 400m you’re always close to someone else and don’t get strung out or lost.
This week’s training:
Monday – Recovery run from the marathon. 3 gentle miles but ignoring advice above about steady pace and no faster, did a few short fast sections to make sure legs able to cope with….
Tuesday – Hard tempo run. Organised by local club, intention is 1 mile at 7min/mile pace to warm up, then 3 miles at a consistent 6:40 pace. It’s a short session and first time I’ve tried it. Managed 7:00, 6:30, 6:40 and 7:00 as failed to hold the pace at the end. Improvement to be made. Even after years of running you still occasionally get the voice in your head asking why you’re trying so hard and wouldn’t it be better just to stop? Not always easy to ignore.
Wednesday – 5am 9 mile tempo loop on tired legs. Averaged 7:49 pace. Then onto a track session in the evening. Mostly drills and technique so only 2 miles covered.
Thursday – Spin class 45 minutes, then a 6.6 mile run including 5 sets of 5 minute intervals at marathon pace with 3 minute rests. Averaged 8:37 pace and could feel the bike session on the legs. God knows how triathletes do that every race.
Friday – Rest
Saturday – Convinced by other runners I joined them for an 18 mile route with a goal of consistent 8min/mile pace. Breaking one of my rules of not doing long runs and a slightly odd pace as not fully tempo and probably too fast for a long run. Although hard to get out at 6am it got the run done in time to get back home for breakfast with the family and to be smug for the rest of the day.
As an ambassador for the excellent MK Marathon, I thought I should probably blog a bit more often so here goes.
First a word or caution – I’m not a pro, have no training in running, coaching or similar and other than an inherent stubbornness and an addictive personality I have no natural aptitude for running. Everything I write should be taken with caution as the ramblings of an amateur making it up as he goes along.
Also worth noting I’ve built up miles consistently since I started running in 2011 (when I couldn’t run the length of a parked car) so am often on the higher end of the weekly mileage compared to the average runner, with an average of 48 per week last year (although nothing compared to the serious club runners). If MK is your first marathon and you’re relatively new to running then don’t try and follow my training session for session as you’ll likely break something.
Likewise if your an experienced runner looking for a massive personal best at MK then stick to your own proven training schedule as I will threw in a few marathons and even an ultra in the training as oppose to the traditional 20 mile long runs. Basically I view any run over 16 or so miles without a medal at the end as pointless.
Marathon Training – Week 1 (slightly elongated 8 day week as it’s a new year)
Sunday – Two parkruns on New Years Day. After getting to 100 parkruns in December 2015 I only managed to fit a handful in for 2016 so decided to do a double to inch slowly towards my next free top. I ran the Linford Wood and then Milton Keynes parkruns at 21:25 and 21:28 respectively. Failed miserably to sort myself out and run to and in between them as part of intended long run so ran each separately. Happy to hold a fairly consistent pace for both but would have liked to be under 21. Work to do.
Monday – 10k run with the dog in 52 minutes as a fairly relaxed run. Would have been conversational pace but the dog isn’t much for chit chat.
Tuesday – 10 lots of 1 minute intervals with 1 min recovery. Pace was a bit off and splits ranged from 5:34min/mile to 6:13min/mile. The purpose of speed work like this is to raise overall speed and intervals should be run at a consistent pace.
Wednesday – 5am 9 mile run at average of 8min/mile. Been running this session for 18 months or so and it’s never easy getting up in the dark to run up a hill in the pitch black with other sleep deprived lunatics but it’s probably the most worthwhile session I do. Normally run as a tempo effort and close to the previous nights intervals it’s a good leg stretcher. This week I ran well for first half and then legs started to object to unusual punishment and pace slowed.
Thursday – Would normally be a 10 mile loop with running club but was unable to make it so did another 10k run with the dog in 51 minutes as a fairly relaxed run in the morning, and then a rare occurrence of a spin class in the evening. Not done one of these in a couple of years and even then very infrequently. Proper runners swear by cross training (doing exercising other than running to improve fitness but limit impact damage from running) so I thought I’d give it a go. 45 minutes of pain and my arse was bruised for next few days.
Friday – Saturday – Rare but two rest days in anticipation of….
Sunday – Enigma Winter Marathon. As above I tend to do a few more marathons than most (plan to reach 100 marathons by September 2017). This one was more of a long training run and test of fitness than a PB attempt. I went out a little too fast, hit halfway in about 1:36-1:37 and then held on to sub 8min/mile as long as able. It wasn’t long and I slowed as I found new legs muscles to hurt since the spin class. With half a lap to go some other runners had the cheek to try and catch me, and wasn’t keen on losing podium so had to snap out of the zombie plod and make an effort to hold onto 3rd place and a 3:36 finish. Marathon 88 ticked off.
Total miles – 62 over 8 days
To give some perspective my first marathon was in 2011 and I barely beat the 5hr cut off. The thought of ever getting under 4hrs was a ridiculous dream but with assistance from running clubs, coaches and enthusiastic running friends I tend to hit around the 3:30 most marathons now. Still a long way off getting a Good For Age but aiming to improve so when I hit the big 40 I can target a sub 3:15 in the new age bracket.
My other goal was to try and run 200 miles per month. It was touch and go at some times and more than a couple of months I’ve gone out and run less than a mile to hit my target on the final day of the month.
Pleased to hold the 200 target but also pleased to have finished it. It’s a strong motivator to get out the door and get the miles in but some runs definitely suffered as a result. Having said that I managed a parkrun PB (and surprise 3rd place) two days after a 20 miler and at the end of a 60 mile week so mileage doesn’t always take the tally you expect. 2016 has been a fair jump in mileage from previous and equates to around 48 miles per week. Previous years have been gradually increasing showing a steady progression and (fortunately) staying largely injury free. Seems odd that my initial weekly mileage in 2011 would be a standard single training run now, maybe even done at tempo if feeling brave.
Highlights of 2016 are undoubtedly the 3:15 marathon. It was a fluke and I’ve not come closer than 3:24 since but it felt relatively easy to hold a pace I struggle to maintain for a half on an average day. Completing my first 50 mile at the Chiltern Wonderland 50 was also a source of pride and after 80+ attempts I managed two outright wins at the marathon distance, albeit on small fields and with most of the usual suspects running elsewhere.
Goals for 2017 are to hit my 100th marathon in September, attempt my first 100 mile race at the South Downs Way 100 and to keep up my ‘Legend’ streak and run my 6th MK Marathon, especially as I’m lucky enough to be selected as an ambassador (sadly this does not come with Ferrero Rocher).
Best of luck to everyone running in 2017 and if you see we sweating and strutting awkwardly with my head lolling forward then give us a slap.