Or how NOT to train for a marathon. And an ultra.
A slightly downbeat post but hopefully something I can look back on and that may help someone else cope with issues.
Like everyone else I had a largely ‘meh’ year in 2020 with regards running. Managed a couple of events, most others were cancelled. Didn’t get my usual 100 miler per year in as DNFd at the track 100 with a slightly sore ankle but mostly a large case of can’t be arsed.
I dialled back the mileage a bit in November and then decided in December to get back to it.
Unfortunately ‘it’ seemed to suck and I found most runs an effort.
Over the long Christmas break I took advantage of the ‘run with one other’ Covid rule and inflicted my generally lack of fitness and miserable disposition on a succession of clubmates. Mentally it was a case of accepting that every run was going to suck and be a long way off my best for both speed and distance, but it was all necessary part of getting back into it, and to some extent helped me accept that after 10 years of continual improvement maybe a slight decline wasn’t exactly surprising.
New Year, New Me!
January 2021 and I began to get a bit more focused. Four of us from Lakeside Runners started running in pairs following a loose marathon preparation type schedule. One pair in MK, one pair in Woburn Sands, we’d all do variations of the same sessions, with intervals on Tuesday, longer session Thursday and proper long run on weekend. Probably the first time since April the previous year when under Clean Coach Katie that I had a schedule.
Gradually, and slowly I was getting some form back. In mid-Jan Chris and I managed a 18 miler long run and despite feeling slow for the final few miles I was only just outside 8min/mile average. For a training run this was a huge mental boost and I began to think I could get back to previous marathon form. Although I’ve got mostly ultras booked in 2021 and only a couple of marathons, what will and won’t go ahead is anyone’s guess so any fitness is welcome. At any rate I was riding high on a solid three weeks of decent training and finally getting back to 50 mile weeks that were my bare minimum for a 3-4 year block.
Tuesday the following week was intervals, legs felt heavy from the 18 mile long run still but went OK.
Wednesday 9 miler with Stephen and I started well but calf began to hurt in final few miles. It was a loop so no option but to finish and I needed to get to work. After a long drive I got out and was hobbling on my leg, seemingly unable to bend my ankle or bear weight well. Bugger.
So I did what all runners do. Rested for an insufficient amount of time.
By Friday I felt OK so risked a 9 mile loop with Jon. In the dark and rain. We ran about 4 miles before my calf went again and I basically had to walk it in. It was miserable. I barely slept that night as the my lower leg was throbbing and when rolling over in bed even the dead weight of my foot attached to my buggered calf was painful to move.
Clearly I needed actual rest so took one of my infrequent visits to Rudi, a local sports massage genius who fixed me before Chicago marathon. He diagnosed a calf tear and at least two weeks rest along with some exercises to ensure the calf muscle healed with ability to lengthen and contract rather than just be fixed length. I was really good at one of these prescribed remedies and rested for three weeks. I did light cycling only but nothing more than a fast walk. It was the longest break from running since I started in 2011. Initially it felt horrendous but gradually my inner lazy bastard returned. It helped that it coincided with one of the wettest January and Februarys in history and most of my usual routes were submerged. I was missing running, but missing some really shit and wet running is better than perfect June runs.
Things I learnt during three weeks off –
Trust the process – you will get better
Remember why – you’re doing this so come spring you can run in the woods like a loon
Find other stuff – I enjoyed the bike and did a lot more strength and conditioning, even some weights and now include a daily dumbbells session in my regime
Do things you wouldn’t normally do – no early starts and no kids clubs means I could lay in and eat toast in bed. Bliss.
Accept you’re going to put weight on – live with it
Come back too quickly. Dick.
So after a full three weeks I came back. First run 13th Feb. Previous run was 22nd Jan. I had aced the rest. Get me.
Sadly I hadn’t been doing the heel drop and raises prescribed by Rudi sufficiently it seems and my calf although healed was stiff. I came back what I thought was gently, no more than 10k. Bugger all for an ultra runner like me. I thought. It was probably too far but worse was running too often. In a stupid quest to get back to running I ran 9 times in 11 days. The 9th time was a planned 8 mile loop. It went so badly I had to hire one of the electric scooters (like a Boris bike) and do the final 4 that way.
In retrospect I think the stiff calf was putting excess strain on my knee. After only 9 runs the cumulative effect on my knee was that I couldn’t walk. In one week I’d self inflicted the same knee injury it took 100 miles of Lakeland 100 to achieve in 2019. Awesome.
So more rest. Bugger. I took a further two weeks off and did daily knee specific exercises for an Instagram video that randomly popped up on my feed. I also kept the cycling up, just slow and gentle to try and stem the decline of fitness and rising weight.
The return of the return.
On 5th March, I came back. Again. This time I stuck to no more than 5/6 miles, but forced myself to not run two days in a row.
It seemed to work and by 15th March I lengthened one of my runs to the heady heights of 8 miles.
I rested the next day and on 17th March attempted 9 miles without issue. 9 miles used to be my steady run every Wednesday, mere hours after double speed work the night before. Now it was a run I need to plan and psych myself up for.
20th March I decided to push the bounds of physical endure and attempt the hitherto humanly impossible task of breaking into double figures with a 12.5 mile run. Again it went well. Slow but I could feel some vestiges of fitness return and felt better in the final few miles than the start.
I managed a few shorter, infrequent runs in between and pushed the mileage to 16 miles for 27th March. The reason for pushing the distance was races. I had the delayed Rose of the Shires 54 miler which was looming on April 10th, just three weeks away. I didn’t want to admit this was unfeasible this early so made the decision to ignore the likely Did Not Start (DNS) for a while longer.
Then I got the email reminding me my Easter Monday 2020 race had been rescheduled. I now had a marathon 4 days before an ultra and had three options.
- Decline both. Be sensible.
- Do just the marathon. Decline the ultra.
- Do the marathon as a test of the legs, don’t rush into decision on the ultra.
So of course I did 3 and this week ran my 150th(ish) marathon on a longest training run of 16 miles. It was entirely a case of relying on remembered ability. My goals were to finish, maybe go sub4 hr (as that’s been my default for nearly 8 years) and not get lapped by mates. I managed all three and finished tired but not broken. It was a huge mental boost and the pace for most of the race was well above what I’d been able to sustain for recent shorter training runs.
So… this Saturday I’m going to be toeing the line of the Rose of the Shires ultra with my longest training run being only 26.2 miles, and four days before. Last time I ran it I was thinking about finish position. This time the goal is to finish.