Training like a proper runner! January

When Anastasia and I had the initial meeting with Rudi, Dionne and Katie I was asked how many races I had booked (I normally do at least a marathon a month). There was some shock when I said none. And I’ve kept to it! Not a single secret marathon or ultra sneaked in.

I made the decision to follow the plan exactly and other than one missed run have done so. This weekend is the Watford Half Marathon and will be a good test of where I am.

The post is long as I’ve tried to record everything. The TLDR version is I built mileage slowly, did core classes, got a sports massage and fell in love with my Hoka Rincon shoes. Now all set to see what happens on Sunday.

January Training

1st – New Years Day starts with an optional double parkrun. I join Gary for a lift to Millennium Parkrun at the Marston Vale forest centre. It’s a flat park and I managed a 3h14 marathon there last year. Feeling full of cheese from Christmas I hold on for a 21m23s. I like the out and back route as it’s good to see other runners. When I get to the point it starts to hurt I can feel myself backing off. So out of practice at digging in. It’s not a flat out effort but not as relaxed as I’d like that time to feel and in pretty much ideal running conditions.
For the second parkrun we head back to Milton Keynes via home and get the dog. A far more relaxed 27m07s with poo stop and lots of trees to smell.

Normally I do Linford Wood and Milton Keynes, running between the two and getting close to a HM distance but they don’t line up this year.

indian_bullfrog_hoplobatrachus_tigerinus_by_dr._raju_kasambe_dscn6470_042nd – A rest day for running but manage to make the extra core class by Clean Coach Katie. I won’t say I’m good but feel significantly less shit than the last one. During one of the exercises I realise my running shorts have worn a hole in an inappropriate place and I’m flashing everyone the bright yellow inner liner of the shorts. Would be worse if there was no liner I guess, but feel like one of those bull frogs with the bright chin pouches they inflate to attract attention – “hey everyone, check this out”….

3rd – And another rest day, so just the exercises recommended by Rudi whilst watching TV. Given however busy people are they always manage to fit in at least a little TV or Netflix each day it feels like a great use of time to do some basic strength work. Plank for the advert break to avoid a trip to the biscuit tin.

4th – Down visiting a friend near Bournemouth. Parkrun is on the programme so head to Moors Valley with remains of a hangover. We get there late and are right at the back. It’s having the largest attendance ever and it shows as we walk across the start line a good 30 seconds after the start, and then just about manage a gentle jog for most of the first mile or so. Although the paths are wide there are way too many people today to overtake consistently and Scott and I (he aided/hindered by doggie) finally get around in 30 minutes.

img_46795th – A 60 minute run required, fail to get it done in Bournemouth for a reason not unrelated to drinking until 3am. I’d planned to go dry January but it’s coincided with my mates annual return to UK from Australia so there’s much reason to celebrate. Once back in MK I go out in the new Hoka Rincon. The weather is finally dry enough to break these out the box. They feel super light and comfortable and I manage 8 miles just under 8min/pace, trying to hold back as it’s meant to be a steady session, and I also can’t see very well on the final couple of miles in the dark.

Week 1 is a short one, and low mileage week at just 17 miles. I’m running far less than usual, and still slow.  Need to trust the process.

6th – It’s a Monday so start of the recovery runs. A steady 5 miles with dog at 9min20 pace. Tried the Rincon again and they feel a little less special and speed inducing when stopping to pick up dog poo.

img_49167th – Go out with the Redway Runners for the 640 session. This should be one mile at 7min as warmup, then three at 6m40s pace. It’s never been a comfortable run, but did get easier over the early part of 2019 and then very hard for the second half with Lakeland 100 in my legs. Tonight starts OK but fades quickly and I’m off pace for last two miles. Pants. Strava tells me this run is trending slower.

8th – Bow Brickhill – a 9 mile loop taking in the biggest (and probably only hill in MK). I’ve run this pretty much every week for the last 3 or so years. On a very good day I average around 7m30s/mile for the loop, more like 8m-8:20m as average and bad days can be far slower. One week I struggled so badly I considered taking up knitting instead and laid down in a ditch to let the foxes eat me. The plan has this as a gentler run so keep to 145-150bpm HR and average around 8m20s pace. HR is pretty consistent throughout but pace drops to maintain it.

img_4929After an action packed day at work it’s core class in the evening, my third go and even in three sessions feel markedly less rubbish. There is one weird sideways knee stretch at the end that my legs point out I shouldn’t even attempt. So I don’t.


9th – A day at the office pondering where is best to do the evening session. 1 mile repeats. 4 of them. 90 seconds recovery. It’s a reminder I’ve not really done intervals in a long time and certainly not this long a duration. Given I’m apprehensive it’s a good sign and an indication of the benefits of a having a coach.

Would I have picked this session myself? No.

In the unlikely event it came up on the Lakeside schedule would I run it hard or go at 80% and not get any real benefit? Yes.

Goal is 6:15-6:25 pace. I manage 6:13, 6:33 and two at 6:40 so not a million miles off. HR is relatively low at 153-161 so not as flat out as it felt at the time. Definitely need to work at getting comfortable with being uncomfortable again. I picked my lightweight Adidas Adizero for this sessions as they mentally make me feel ‘fast’.

10th – Rest day. Get in. Third this month.

11th – Football clashes with parkrun. Boo. Then it was cancelled due to water logged pitch so I could go to parkrun. Hooray. Then they hired an astropitch. Boo. So in the afternoon I run a steady 5 miles with Stephen and Bella at 8:23min/mile pace. Then an evening in the Blackened Sun brewery with school mates drinking beer and eating a very tasty vegetarian pizza.

12th – Schedule has 12 miles at a decent pace, aiming for an average of sub 8. All my running mates are psychopaths when it comes to start times. I decline the 5am start (on a Sunday!) and pick the marginally less ridiculous 6:30am group. Too early for breakfast so a can of full fat coke to keep hangover at bay. I’m a great example of eating clean.

There’s 6 of us, all but me are slightly soiled from cross country the day before. I’m just nursing a hangover. The first mile is 9min+ due to dog breaks and general faffing. The second is marginally better. I push a bit more for the rest and after losing a few on route Ben and I finish at 12.6miles a fraction under 8min average. Job done, which was doubtful given the first couple of miles. I took a couple of Haribo for a midway snack. Definitely finding I’m less able to run without some form of fuelling since going vegetarian. Also pleased to have sections at 7:20 pace which was my old marathon pace and it feels like the legs are remembering what to do.

Week 2 done at 43 miles. Some resemble of pace returning.

13th – Early morning recovery run. 5 gentles miles with doggie and we average over 10min pace as taking it easy.

14th – Knowing I wouldn’t make it back for the 6:40 paced session I popped out on my own for a tempo-ish 5 mile in the morning. Fast is hard first thing in morning and after a slow first mile average 7:27.

15th – Steady 9 mile Brickhill loop again – trying to keep to 145 HR average and finish 8m27s per mile, a tad slower than previous week. It still feels odd to run at a relaxed pace. I’m mostly still asleep from waist up with just my legs awake. Back to core class in evening, again getting a little better (less bad) each time.

16th – Intervals. Ouch. 3×2 mile, 2 minutes recovery. Get out early in morning as weather is forecast to be awful for rest of day. I manage to hold consistent pace for the intervals at a tad over 7min but struggle to get the pace under 7 as required. Lots of work to do before London it seems.

17th – Rest day. Given I ran early the day before I’ve got a 48hr gap between intervals and parkrun on Saturday.

18th – 5 miles on the plan. The footie match is cancelled so boy stays in bed and I can join Milton Keynes parkrun for their 10th Birthday. A bumper attendance of 1240 runners, not including Bella who comes for a run and objects to the final puddle that comes up to her belly, but happy to round up to 5 miles.

These are rank

19th – Sunday Long run. An increase from last week so 14 miles at the same 7:40-8:10 pace. Running with a fair group we’re a little slow again for first couple of miles then pick up to hit 7:52min/mile average. Feels good to get some more miles and hit the pace after being nowhere close for the intervals on Thursday. We go through HM distance in around 1h40, so 5 minutes slower than I’d normally pass halfway in a marathon when back at full fitness but heading the right way. At the end I’m surprisingly knackered after basically just over a half marathon. It’s also my 3rd month of being a vegetarian so I celebrate with a ‘sausage’ buttie. I’ve been dreaming of it for the whole run. The tofu attempt is not good. In fact it’s bad. It’s barely food. The dog gets half and eats it with a grimace.

Week 3 done at 46.7 miles. Getting back to the sort of mileage I’m used to.

20th – Early morning 5mile recovery with doggie again. It’s dark and slippery. Not all training runs are a soul awakening joyous experience but I do always feel mentally clearer after.

21st – Long day in Somerset, just back in time to join Lakeside for their evening run. I’ve come prepared with intervals set up on watch. Sets of two different intervals with differing tests. It would be awkward to do manually so I’m reassured to have it set up on the watch. Except I’ve messed up and set the interval length to 0.4 metres, not 0.4 km. Yep smart. Second set of intervals are correct and I finish at 7 miles of decent ish pace at least and wondering where I went wrong.

22nd – 5am 9 miler again. Keeping HR at 145 throughout and finish with a slightly quicker overall pace than last week which is encouraging. The evening is spent at the excellent Redway Runners Expo chatting to mates and selling books but I do miss core class to attend.

img_498023rd – Again I manage to meet up with Lakeside. My programme has a progressive 6 mile, and I gradually ramp up, running back to regroup at times with a 7th mile to cool down. Job done.


24th – It’s Friday and rest day. Given I’ve got to move my long run this week from Saturday to Sunday I debate doing the Saturday 6 mile today but run out of time anyway and decision is made for me.

25th – The first time I’ve gone off programme and switched days. At least being a Saturday allows me to use parkrun for the final section of the 16 mile run and I manage to time it perfectly to reach the start just as it sets off. Really pleased to average 7:44 and finish strong with a 23 minute Parkrun and far less tired than the previous weeks long run that left me knackered for the day. It’s one of those runs that leave you smiling and happy with the progress.

26th – Sunday is an early start for National Running Show at NEC. If you’ve read on blog or book about my view of race expos you’ll wonder why I’m here. Don’t think of it as an expo, it’s more like an indoor festival with some great speakers and areas to hang out and talk rubbish.

natrunshowRace expos have huge crowds, half of whom don’t want to be there, just forced to attend to collect a bib. Everyone here has come by choice and the talks aren’t the dry “five ways to shave 30 seconds off your marathon PB” or “my favourite gels in order of viscosity” but actually motivational talks by the greatest runners and race organisers out there. When a stage has Camille Heron, the greatest female ultra runner next to Laz of Barkley Marathons fame then you know it’s something special. After a long day I have to bin off the planned 6 mile run leftover from Saturday but I’ve been on feet all day so no huge issue.

Week 4 – 45 miles with a missed run. Feeling far more positive than earlier in the month.

27th – Another early start to Somerset so a 5am 5 mile with the dog. It’s cold unsurprisingly.

28th – Tuesday 640 session. Hanging off the back again but manage to do a little better than last time. With a mile cooldown I average 7:23min/mile.

29th – Bow Brickills again. Heart rate slightly lower at 143 average and pace slightly better at 8:18min/mile – a decent improvement on 145 HR at 8:25 the previous week. Miss the core class again as in charge of kids and the wife is out at the theatre.

30th – Intervals again and run them with Lakeside. I mess them up AGAIN. Should have been 12x400m with 60s rest but I manage to get the cooldown before the intervals and a random 1 mile so it all goes to pot. Pah. Run with the group until 6 miles then peel off.

31st – Rest day so pop to see Rudi for a pre-Watford Half marathon sports massage. He attacks my legs in his usual manner and I try not to cry, knowing I’ll be floating out later.

Total monthly mileage – 177.8m, with only 6 miles missed. Overall positive, pace is coming back, the intervals (when I set them up properly) are working. I’m reminded that if you can’t handle the training load in January then you’re going to be stuffed as the load builds later.

Training like a proper runner! The Start

Sponsored Athlete

As I mentioned in a previous post I was lucky enough to be one of two runners picked for a local competition to be a sponsored athlete with coaching by Clean Coach Katie, sports massage by Rudi at The Treatment Lab, and a gait analysis and trainers by Dionne at Up & Running Milton Keynes. I know Katie from local races, Rudi managed to fix my knee for Chicago when I could barely walk three weeks before, and Dionne hosted the book launch party at the old store (now moved to fancy new premises over the road).

Target Race

dont-break-the-chainI’m targeting London Marathon having defied the odds and got in on a ballot entry. Again. I’ve typically run 20 marathons a year so ignore the traditional 1, maybe 2 a year approach with dedicated training schedules. The closest I’ve come to following a plan was marathon 2 and 3 back in 2012 when I trained for London and Milton Keynes on subsequent weekends so still not your standard approach to training or recovery.


Having my two fastest marathons off the back of ultra training almost as accidental PBs I’m keen to actually focus on a race and see what I can do. My three fastest marathons at 3h13, 3h14 and 3h15 have all been at small, low key events with barely 50 competitors and aid stations where you stop at a table and peruse your choices rather than having stuff handed to you like a large event. The 3h14 marathon required an extra stop per lap to get a lap card punched. Not ideal for shaving off precious seconds, and neither were the 40-50 miles in the previous week.

Where I am now

Whilst I’ve enjoyed a good 2 year run where anything slower than a 3h30 was a disappointment to me, my most recent attempts have been in the 3h45 to 4h window. The ridiculous Lakeland 100 took far more out of me than any previous ultra I’ve done. The terrain plus the sheer duration (36hrs) lead to cankles and foot issues, robbing me of speed. It got so bad I actually went to a sports rehabilitation for the first time in 8 years of running as I was so broken before Chicago I was checking cut off times (6.5hrs in case you were wondering).


I’ve always entered races with at least a couple of targets. When undertaking the Grand Union Canal Race, I had goals of 36 and 38 hours for the 145 mile route. The weather was brutal (actually brutal, the hottest bank holiday in the UK ever) and the route came up long at 153 miles. I covered 145 miles in 36 hours but still a long way off the finish, and the second goal kept me focused to complete the event in 38 hours dead. Without that I probably would have walked it in closer to 40 hours. With this in mind I have a few targets –

  • Gold – secure a Good For Age for London. The cut off is 3h05 but based on 2020 entries would need to be around 3h02m20s to get me in. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch.
  • Silver – secure a Boston Qualifier. Currently a softer target than London at 3h10 but places filled at 3h08m21s for 2020. Also ouch.
  • Bronze – go sub 3h10 to break the mental barrier. I’ve struggled mentally to crack each significant time when chipping away at a PB. Breaking 3h45 and 3h30 both took a lot of failed attempts but once done became easier.
  • Pewter – a new PB, breaking 3h14m47s.
  • Tin (hey I’m running out of metals) – Sub 3h30. I want to do all the majors eventually and get the certificate. I’ve yet to do a time at London I’d be happy to have on a certificate, I was injured for Chicago and still managed a 3h24.

The Training Schedule 

This is put together by Katie, and only released a month at a time to avoid scaring me. It’s printed out on the wall and I’m crossing off each day like a new runner again!

As I’m targeting London my schedule starts in January so I could enjoy Christmas. The other athlete Anastasia, who’s targeting Manchester marathon started in December as the event is earlier. Less mince pies, shame!

The main difference from my usual running is these things called rest days. I’ve never intentionally done a run streak (run every day for a set periods, sometimes months, sometimes years or even decades) but don’t take rest days often. In the 6 month run up to the Lakeland 100 I probably only took 10 days rest in total. So now I have one day a week as imposed rest, and a few days recommended at the start of the plan to recover from a busy year and the very odd Headtorch marathon on 27th December.

The schedule is based around other commitments like taking the boy to football on a Saturday so has long runs on a Sunday.

  • Monday – Easy Run
  • Tuesday – Speed Session
  • Wednesday – Brickhills morning run and Core Classes
  • Thursday – Speed Session
  • Friday – REST!
  • Saturday – Parkrun – 5 -6 miles
  • Sunday – Long Run

For January it’s a slow build, with the Watford Half Marathon on 2nd Feb as first event. I don’t do HM much and this one will be a new event for me and a good way to judge where I am. I’m told it’s also got some cheeky hills.

a6a3a008-e96e-4b65-aea8-88cd092db526Core Work

Included in the package are core classes once a week where I get to show everyone that I have the flexibility of an oak tree. They’re fun in a ‘why doesn’t my leg bend like everyone else’s?’ way. Given I’ve had my first injury this year I’m conscious that this is something I’ve neglected for too long. I stretched once a few years ago I think. Wasn’t keen.


img_4673Sports Massage  

Before Christmas I popped to the Treatment Lab for Rudi to assess how wonderfully agile I’m not. The whole process takes an hour including assessment and attention to areas needing work. The upshot of his manipulations is he’s diagnosed stiffness in my hips, and the right in particular needs some work, as shown by the dodgy knee on that side. I came out the treatment feeling like a coiled spring so it must work.

He also sent through exercises to do at home which I’ve surprised myself by actually doing, even getting the family to join in.

Running Assessment

The Up & Running store in Milton Keynes has fancy motion capture cameras on a treadmill to provide motion metrix gait analysis. It’s not even comparable to the stores where a member of staff tries to asses how you run from a 20 metre jog around the clothing rails. This detailed analysis provides excellent data to evaluate your running style, measure efficiency and crucially allows comparison between different trainers.

I took along my Adidas Boost (I’ve got umpteen pairs of these and struggle to remember the model names, I think these were Supernova), and also my impulse buy Nike Zoom Fly FK with the carbon fibre plate. The shock result was that I ran less economically in the Nike, exactly the opposite of what they should have been. Overall I was a ‘constant glider’, or basically an old man shuffler as expected.

img_4679Dionne then tried me in three more shoes, and eventually settled on a Hoka Rincon which was a surprise. I’ve got a couple of pairs for trails (when I finally got over the daft colours and unusual looks) and not considered for road use before but they just felt so right and moved me towards ‘quick stepper’ like an ultra runner or female marathon runner according to the system. If that’s Paula Radcliffe then I’ll take that.

The Hoka gave an efficiency of 3.15 Joules/kg/m compared to 3.26 for the Adidas, with a natty graph of efficiency like when you buy a new boiler. I moved up to B from C. I still wouldn’t buy me with the current price of gas.

Time to start

So that’s it. I’ve got the shoes and plan, with regular sports injury treatment and checks to keep me in line. All I need to do now is train.