Archive | April, 2017

The Post Marathon Week Of Sloth

30 Apr

I haven’t run much this week.  It is, after all, the Post Marathon Week Of Sloth, which means there is only one possible picture for this week’s blogpost:

I didn’t run a step Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday.  My legs were very sore and so I didn’t have much choice.  Each morning (bar Monday, when I could feel my legs were sore as I lay in bed) I’d think they felt ok, and perhaps even pottering around in my flat they’d be relatively pain free, and then I would have to face my nemesis: stairs.  That’s when you really find out what state your quads are in…  I added to my pain by having some travel jabs on Monday afternoon, to ensure that I had sore legs, sore glutes, a tight back and sore arms.  Bingo!  I had a (very gentle) sports massage on Tuesday and that helped a bit, but it wasn’t really until Thursday that my legs felt reasonably alright.  I still didn’t want to risk jumping into running immediately, so I went to the gym and did half an hour on the cross trainer just to get blood through the muscles a bit more.  It felt fairly ok, and so on Friday I did a very gentle 3 miles, running on the flat.  My legs were still a bit sore, but nothing stood out as especially painful, and in particular the Achilles didn’t seem to be grizzling.  The frozen peas had done the trick!  This led me to really push the boat out: I did 5 miles on Saturday and then 7 miles today, to bring up 15 miles for the week.  The legs feel ok, but I know they need at least another week of gentle, steady running (and so does the mind. I always look forward to my end of season break, because it’s running with no pressure: it doesn’t matter what the pace is, or even really how far I run.  For the first few weeks I just run at whatever pace comes out, which is usually very steady, and for whatever distance I feel like.  It reminds me that the real reason to run is because I love it, and it keeps me as close to sane as I have any right to hope for).


Reasons To Run: London Marathon 2017

23 Apr

At the risk of spoiling the punchline, as you can see from the photo, I definitely finished!

The week had gone fairly ok: I did 5 miles on Monday, 7 miles on Tuesday and 7 miles with 2 at planned marathon pace (6.35m/m) on Wednesday.  I then had my pre-event sports massage, and my legs were declared to be in pretty good shape.  On Thursday I had my rest day.  I then did 5 miles with some strides on Friday and headed off to London that lunchtime.

The journey was slightly stressful (I only just made my train!) but I was able to head to the Expo (race number collection and running gear sale) late afternoon, and picked up my number, timing chips and some beetroot juice shots, then met up with a clubmate for a pre-race natter.  As for the beetroot juice shots, there is some fairly good research which suggests that the nitrates in beetroot (and other fruit/veg) can help with sports performance, so I tend to eat a fair bit of beetroot and drink quite a lot of beet juice in the week or so leading up to a key race.  London 2017 was no different, but beet juice shots are useful when you are away from home with no fridge.  I took the chance to catch up with a friend and her husband for supper and then headed off home at a sensible time!

On Saturday I did a very gentle 3 mile run.  My legs felt a bit sluggish and heavy, but as your muscles fill up with glycogen that can happen.  I’d slept well the night before and was generally feeling very positive about the race.  I knew that I’d overcome the injury layoff as best I could and given myself a chance of doing well.  I filled the rest of the day in a fairly relaxed manner: T and I met up with my cousin and his family for lunch, and then, after relaxing at the hotel in the afternoon, met up with some of my friends for my dinner.  Another early night beckoned.

I rarely sleep brilliantly the night before a marathon, and this week was little different.  Still, after a fair bit of sleep and a reasonable amount of waking up suddenly to check that I hadn’t slept through my alarm/go to the loo because of all the water I’d drunk, I got up at 6.30.  I was still feeling pretty positive, and set off to the start in good time.  It was fairly cool and overcast.  After the obligatory numerous trips to the portaloos, it was time for the race.

I’d settled on 2.52.30 as my target, as it was in the middle of the bracket I had in mind (2.50-2.55).  I’d have to admit it was a slightly arbitrary bracket, because the last proper lengthy marathon pace run I’d done had been Wokingham in early February, before injury struck.  I’d missed 2 marathon pace runs and a fair few other sessions of speedier running during the layoff.  But it was a reasonable guesstimate, so I set off with 6.35m/m in mind.  My first 5km was fractionally fast, mostly due to mile 3, which is a gradual downhill, and instead of 20.25 it was 20.19 (I don’t actually take km splits, but the race provides 5km splits from electronic timing mats which are placed along the route, so I’ve used those on the basis I missed a couple of the mile markers when taking manual mile splits).  I was feeling fairly ok, although perhaps aware I was working a fraction harder than I would have liked.  The next 10km section was uneventful: 2 x 20.32 (not bad for accurate pacing, albeit I had run the section 14s slower than planned!).  T and his parents were coming to watch, and their first cheerpoint was just after 9M/15km.  Apparently they did see me and cheer, but the noise was as deafening as always, and I couldn’t hear them, nor did I spot them.  I pressed on, and stayed on a pretty even keel, running the next 10km section in 41.10 (2 x 20.35: the accurate pacing, but again a little slow, was back!).  I’d passed halfway in 1.26.25, so overall I was 10s slower than I wanted.  I continued to try and get my legs turning over at a slightly faster pace, and tried to focus on passing people, but was aware that I was being passed more than happens when I’m running a perfectly paced race, and indeed the tracker shows that my pace very slowly dropped, as the next 3 sections were 20.58, 21.17 and 21.41.  It wasn’t a death march (I was  – at times only just! – staying under 7m/m), but it was more of a slow down that I would have liked.  Even finally hearing and seeing T on the Embankment just after 35km wasn’t enough to enable me to pick up the pace, much as I tried my best!  My legs weren’t exactly in the mood for a sprint finish, but as I turned the final corner I realised that a bit of an effort would at least see me under 2.56, and so it proved to be: 2.55.53 chip time.

Here I am at about mile 23 in a fabulous shot taken by club coach, Dave:

Julia 3.jpg

Marathon training and racing is a funny old game.  Theoretically I should be pretty disappointed with 2.55.53, because it’s the slowest marathon I’ve run in several years, but comparing it with the races where I’d had a good build-up and maybe only had a small niggle or virus in the last week or so is pointless.  I’d lost a key 4 week block.  Had I been able to try a different marathon in 4-6 weeks’ time, I think my time could have been significantly faster (conditions permitting), but that isn’t an option for various reasons, and so I had to make the best of the situation I was in.  And so I’m in the odd situation of saying that today is genuinely one of the marathons of which I’m most proud: we don’t learn as much from the days which go to plan, even thought they are fantastic fun.  I’m typing this icing my left Achilles, which started to grumble on the Embankment each time I even attempted to push the pace and toe off a little more aggressively, so I know I gave it my all, and maintained my pace as best I could.  It was tough, and I salvaged a reasonable finishing position (41st woman out of over 15,000).  The slogan for the marathon, as you can see from the photo, was Reasons To Run, and this run was about proving to myself that I can still perform as an athlete without that perfect build-up, and be mentally strong.  I did that today, which is why the race means so much to me.

As for the next steps in running: firstly, a week’s rest to let the Achilles settle (I suspect it may even take a little more than that!) and then, after an easy month, a focus on shorter distance races for about two months, before turning my focus to Autumn half marathons.  After racing (or training to race) a marathon in 8 out of my last 9 6-month training blocks, I’m ready for a break from marathons.  I can’t help but notice that my last “purple patch” (autumn 2014 and spring 2015) actually came after the one 6-month block in which I didn’t train for a marathon.  I love running, and I can’t imagine not running, but a change of focus (and freeing up a bit more of my week day evenings and weekends) won’t go amiss.

Finally, thank you to all who continue to read this blog: I never cease to be amazed when I look at my stat counter at how many of you apparently plough through it week in, week out (or perhaps you take it in turns)!  Thank you to my friends, clubmates and family, who have all been so supportive as I have grappled with injury.  But most of all, thank you to T.

The Closest Thing To Crazy…

16 Apr

… aka taper madness!

So, this week the real training reductions kicked in: a grand total of 43 miles run, or about 60% of my peak mileage.  At this stage of preparations it’s not unusual to feel a bit tetchy with all the energy you’re suddenly finding you have and/or to sleep slightly less well and/or to run faster and/or (in a bizarre mirror image of the previous option) to find that your legs feel twitchy and heavy, so that you plod around feeling awful.

In terms of this week, I did 5 miles very steadily on Monday and then 6 miles early doors with some strides thrown in on Tuesday.  That evening I had a fairly intensive sports massage, and so did my shortest, easiest run of the week (and, indeed, my entire marathon training programme) on Wednesday: 4 miles.  On Thursday I went along to my club session for the last time before the race.  As it was Maundy Thursday there were only a few of us there (most had clearly opted for some family time), but there were enough to make it worthwhile, and it was nice to have another session under my belt where I felt strong whilst running under 6 minute miles for the whole session.

On Friday I ran 7 miles with a few strides in, as I wanted to keep Saturday clear: it was a day of indulgence.  T & I met up with my parents for a very nice, very posh lunch at The Harrow, Little Bedwyn.  After 7 courses over a leisurely 3 hours we went for a gentle walk along the canal to burn at least a little of it off before heading back to Bristol.

That left my last double-digit distance run today: 12 miles. The schedule did say 13, but as my last two long runs had been longer than scheduled and I was a bit late heading out I couldn’t see any harm in 12 instead.  It was a beautiful sunny day, and I opted to be slightly over dressed (3/4 length leggings and a long-sleeved top, when really it was shorts and t-shirt weather) as a bit of heat acclimatization just in case next week is warm.

So, this is the last blog post before the big day.  Target band is 2.50-2.55.  See you on the other side.

Oh, and happy Easter!


(Nearly) All I Have To Do Is Dream…

9 Apr

This week was the first week of the taper, i.e. the time in my training when I start to gradually reduce the amount I run so that my legs are fresh for the race: but still doing enough faster running that I don’t lose fitness. Or sanity.  It’s a fine balance!

After 72 miles last week my legs were a bit creaky on Monday, and so I plodded around 5 miles to ease the muscles out a bit.  I then had a light sports massage, and that seemed to help them a little.  Phew!  On Tuesday I went to my club session (the first time since injury, so it was lovely to see some of my running friends again) and did 4 x 5 minutes hard.  Running sub 6m/m was a bit of a shock to the system, but also a confidence boost.  It had been a long time since I’d hit those sort of paces, and all this only 2 days after an epic long run.  Hurrah!

It did leave my legs a little tired, though, and my 5 mile recovery run on Wednesday was a bit of an effort, and the pace was not impressive at all.  Who knew that doing a race on a Saturday, a 24 mile run on a Sunday and then some fast running on a Tuesday (covering 52 miles over those 4 days) could leave your legs sore?!

By default Thursday was a rest day and on Friday I did 7 easy miles with 8 sets of strides included.  This was to hopefully sharpen my legs up ahead of Saturday’s National Road Relays.  These are held in Sutton Park (Sutton Coldfield) on a slightly challenging, undulating course.  There are two different courses: long and short.  Until 2015 the women were only allowed to race over the short course (which is all of 5km): a bit frustrating for a distance specialist!  Now we are required to have 2 of our 6 runners do a long leg (5.38 miles, or about 9km, so a little longer than last week’s race) and I’ve run a long leg since they were introduced.  I was given the first leg yesterday, which makes it a bit more like a race: runners on later legs can effectively have to time trial by themselves if there are no teams within eye sight (quite possible on the twisty Sutton course).  Although my legs didn’t feel particularly zippy, and the heat (about 20 degrees C) was a shock to the system, I was pleased to realise that 33.31 was almost exactly the same pace as I ran last week, but over a much tougher course and in tougher conditions.  Hurrah: pace lift continues!

Edit: here’s a picture of me from the fantastic Bryan Dale, who takes excellent sports photos in all weathers:


However, the race clearly took a lot out of my legs, which were extremely stiff this morning.  I rounded off my endurance training with a very gentle 20 mile run (pace police, please look away now: 8.30m/m!).  My legs may have grizzled the whole way round, but it was a glorious sunny day, and I navigated the Avonmouth Bridge successfully this time.  Hence it was 20 miles and not ridiculously more!

As for the title of today’s blog, two reasons:

  1. Surprisingly, my Road Relays time was faster than I ran in 2015 ahead of running my marathon pb two weeks later.  Food for thought;
  2. I had my first marathon dream of this build up: it had a lot of the usual (running through a shopping centre, etc.: no, I don’t know why, either, but my marathon dreams invariably see me ending up in a shopping mall); it also included my uni friends, but that’s not surprising, because I’ve been sorting out when to catch up with the London based ones over the marathon weekend; and ended with me being charged by a camel in a narrow country lane.  A real camel, by the way, not a marathon-style fancy dress camel.  T – who is more tolerant than most at having to listen to my “you’ll never guess what I dreamed about” waffling – looked up the meaning of camels in dreams.  The first meaning was a bit gloomy but the second was about camels’ endurance and tenacity.  I like that, I’ll have that.

And so to the taper proper: below 50 miles next week.  Just a fortnight to go.

The Darkest Hour Is Just Before Dawn

2 Apr

A Narnian inspired title this week!

3 things this week show me that – maybe just in time – I’m returning to normal:

  1. In both my speed session on Wednesday and my race yesterday I was faster than last week and felt more in control;
  2. I’ve experienced ‘pace lift’ (see below);
  3. I got lost on my long run today…

Anyway, this is how the week shaped up:

Monday: rest.  Tuesday: 10 miles.  I had the plods (8.24m/m) but it was an early morning run (which always means at least the first few miles are vile and slow as I wake up!) and the legs had had a big weekend (56 miles in 4 days).  Wednesday: 8 miles including 3 x 0.94 miles.  It was the third time I’d tackled a session on this loop and – initially frustratingly – it was once again windy.  However, even the slowest repetition was faster than my fastest post-injury and, for a session done by myself (i.e. with no-one to drag me around at a faster pace) it was pretty pleasing.  Thursday was a fairly non-descript 14 miles, with a late start (gone 6.45pm) and a correspondingly late finish, but I knew I was racing on Saturday and so the 14 miles had to be done on Thursday.  The pace (8.14m/m) still wasn’t amazing, but my legs felt surprisingly ok after the session the day before, even if it had been a fairly light session.  I did a short, easy recovery run on Friday (5 miles).

And so to Saturday.  After last week’s poor showing at Weston I wanted to have another go at something in the 5-10 mile distance, and although I’d entered the Cardiff 10km that was on Sunday (i.e. today) and would make getting a long run in very difficult; given the missed long runs to date and the fact I want to run a good marathon, not a good 10km, the long run had to take priority.  So, a search found the Victoria Park and Tower Hamlets Open 5 mile race in London.  As it was an afternoon race I could do the whole thing in a day rather than staying over, which was an added bonus.  I did 4 miles to warm up and felt slightly heavy-legged but not awful.  The race itself was unremarkable: steady paced (average 6.13s) despite a slight wind and, a bit surprisingly, fewer people to work off/with than I’d hoped for.  But I felt that I had a bit more zip in the legs and strength in the mind than I had the previous week, despite having done much tougher runs in the preceding days.  I was slightly wheezy at the end (my voice went a bit squeaky!) but I’m guessing that’s poorer air quality in London.  An improvement of 10s/mile in a week is great, but I know it won’t continue!  A 2 mile cool down brought up the 11 miles I had planned.

Today was supposed to be 18 miles according to my schedule, but I’d already decided I was going to do 20-22 miles because of the long runs I’d missed whilst injured.  I thought it would be nice to run out to Pill and then come over the Avonmouth Bridge, which I’ve – surprisingly for a Bristol runner – not done before.  The first 13 miles (to the end of the bridge) were unremarkable but then somehow I took a wrong turning, and made the extremely stupid error of thinking I could work out a clever route back myself.  I saw some signs to the Avon Cycleway and I still can’t work out which bit of the Cycleway they were trying to take me to, because I ended up in Avonmouth, having somehow managed to cross back over the Portway again.  After 24 miles I was still a couple of miles from home, so I applied common sense to the situation, stopped my Garmin and walked.  My legs were starting to feel tired and if there’s one thing I just cannot risk now, it’s another injury!  And pace lift?  The race yesterday and today’s long run were so much better than last week: the long run was 23s/mile faster, despite being longer.  It’s something you just sometimes get when you’ve turned a ‘fitness corner’, and boy did I need it.

72 miles for the week.

Think I’ve found my positivity and my mojo.  A PB isn’t on the cards, I don’t think, but hopefully I can squeak a decent age-grading and a reasonable placing.  After not even starting London last year and the heartache of Chicago in the autumn, I’ll settle for a target race where I stick to my pace plan, feel strong, and enjoy it!