Thursday, 30 April 2009

Day 4 - And on the fourth day ...

… he rested. Alright, so I didn't make it to a biblical seventh day, but incorporation of proper rest periods is almost as important in a long-term training plan as the exercise itself. Whilst some people find themselves at the starting line of a marathon having massively underestimated the challenge and having failed to train, many more overtrain to the point of exhaustion, injury or giving up. This is going to be a long, long programme, and so having proper rest is vital.
That said, even my rest day involves 10 miles of cycling to and from work, so I am not feeling too guilty about a lack of exercise today. I am also feeling pretty knackered, so squeezing out a cross training session today (which was the original plan) would be neither sensible nor pleasant.

I will be developing my programme as I go, but at the moment I think the plan will look something like:

Saturday - steady run
Sunday - cardio cross training and weights
Monday - fartlok / interval training
Tuesday - cross training and weights
Wednesday - steady run
Thursday - complete rest
Friday - hill run

The only days of back to back running will be Friday into Saturday, but Friday's hill run will be a slower run on a high gradient (probably treadmill based, at least to start with). Saturday allows for a longer recovery period and time for further distance to be covered.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Day 3 - Ian Curry and the case of the missing iPod

Missing. One iPod shuffle. Second generation, 1 gigabyte. Brushed metallic silver finish, with a pair of black JVC marshmallow headphones.

Answers to the name of Shuffles.

In one of those smack your head hard, venting powerless frustration at your own stupidity, moments of sudden and awful realisation I noticed my brand new iPod shuffle was missing. I had started looking for it just before 10pm, thinking I would have left it on the kitchen table, put it on the sofa or hid it in a jar of sugar. By 10.10pm I started to wonder whether I had lost it. Did I wear it after my work out? Did I wear it walking home? In the shop? The last place I could remember clearly was it sitting at the back of locker number 9 in the men's changing room at Clissold Leisure Centre.

Eventually, after the frantic, random and futile searching I accepted it wasn't hidden in the toaster or behind the fridge. And it was too late to call the leisure centre. I would have to go in the morning to see if it was still in the locker, or had been handed in. Right up until I got to the centre in the morning I maintained a certain faith that some decent soul would have handed it in, or that the cleaners would have picked it up and put it in an appropriately safe lost property area. It was only the faintest flicker of hope, the idea that some karmic balance would be restored along with my iPod. But no. It was gone.

Either it just got lost in the way small things sometimes do or, more malignly, some Stokey-based scroat is now enjoying a discordant mash-up of Scouse house and trance and having his ears tainted by my own ear wax.

Update - the new tax year, with new tax thresholds, saw my pay rise by £38 per month. This somewhat lessened the sting of forking out £46 for a new iPod Shuffle and ear phones. I could never replace Shuffles, so I bought one in a glorious, bouncy blue which will match my shorts. It is a new beginning and, whilst his predecessor will not be forgot (at least until the weekend), I am looking forward to a long and mutually beneficial relationship.

Day 3 - Running up that hill

Type - Steady run

Distance - 3 miles

Time - 25 minutes 37 seconds

It would have been sensible at this stage to have a rest day, or, at the very least, to have a session of cross training. But two things conspired to send me out on the road again. The first was a bloody minded ambition to up my running ability back to a level I was happier with. The second was in having no time to go to the gym and cross train. So I thought I would have a gentle run and cross train tomorrow.

I had evening plans, so the route would go from work, down the Strand, across Trafalgar Square, down the Mall, round the Victoria Monument and Buckingham Palace, down Birdcage Walk, through to Westminster Abbey, past the Houses of Parliament and along the Embankment to an unwelcome short but sharp hill up Savoy Place back to the Strand (map).

The route followed paths trod a few days earlier for Mark and Jarlath's sixth marathon in the London parks. It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon, and running through the gorgeous St. James's Park and past some of London's most iconic buildings can't fail to lift the spirits. But the echoes of the boys' run made me consider how much I was taking on. Three miles is a paltry 11.5% of a marathon, and there is a long way to go.

Fighting through the crowded pavements is also not the best way to relieve tension - it would be best to plan the runs better so that there was more time in quiet park and less time sidestepping tourists and next-guessing the random moves of wild-eyed, single toed pigeons.

But despite these trepidations and annoyances I managed to pick up the pace and complete a distance a little over three miles in 25 minutes 37 seconds which is, for the mathematically inclined, a pace of 12 km/h. A goal for the summer's 10k runs would be to double both the distance of today's run and the time. I would be very happy with a 50 minute 10k for the Great London Run or the Pride Run.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Day 2 - A suitable interval

Type - Indoor fartlek training

Distance - 4 miles

Time - 35 minutes 37 seconds

The forecast was for heavy rain, so I decided to take my training inside and experiment with different forms of training on the treadmill. The early evening turned out to be gloriously sunny, the drenched pavements drying quickly from their afternoon watering. But I was wedded to the idea of trying out training in the gym, so I made my way over Clissold Park to the Clissold Leisure Centre.

Hackney Council came in for serious stick for its decision to concentrate leisure provision on a brand new, flagship and, almost inevitably, millennium-celebrating leisure centre. Clissold Leisure Centre was duly born and a ‘landmark’ building commissioned and built. The Council opened the new centre to great fanfare and quickly shut two other centres. Unfortunately the new centre was a flawed design, poorly executed. Within days there were complaints, and soon the centre had to be closed for repairs. Years would pass, with Hackney in the unenviable position of having no leisure facilities.

But that is in Clissold’s past, and its present (and, hopefully, its future) is far more promising. I like the centre; the gym is well appointed, bright (one positive result from the large glass roof and front which caused much of the historic problems) and packed with modern CV and resistance equipment. It gets fairly busy, but even at peak times there is barely a queue for the treadmill.

So on to the training. In undertaking training for a long distance run I knew I was going to stray far from my comfort zone of very gradually building up speed and length of time on a flat gradient treadmill. I would have to run outside, up hills, do interval and gradient based training. Reading through my training book it turns out I would also have to do tempo runs, interval training and the rather disturbingly named fartlek training. I had to go with the odd name first.

Fartlek (meaning ‘Speed Play’ in Swedish) training involves varying the pace of running significantly, and is usually employed on outside runs where the burst of speed can be maintained to get to a certain landmark. I employed a variation on this theme by having a steady 10 km/h warm up, recovery and cool down speed interspersed with bursts of up to 16 km/h sustained for up to 3 minutes.

I can now fully understand why it developed as a popular form of training. It is tough. I was absolutely dripping with sweat after finishing the 4 mile target in 35 minutes 37 seconds. But it induces the very positive feeling that you are pushing your body to new, tougher limits. It is certainly a form that I will be incorporating into my training.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Day 1 - Starting with a single step

Type - Steady run

Distance - 3 miles

Time - 27 minutes 20 seconds

The euphoria induced by a day mingling through the marathon crowds had not worn off. I woke elated by the prospect of going on a run, a taste for exercise I have not enjoyed for a while.

But running is for the evening. And first I want (and need) to buy some essential kit:

  1. By far the most important is a decent pair of trainers. I used to have a great pair of Asics that gave a fantastic spring to my feet and made running a lot easier. This is an investment that is essential and will yield quick dividends. But since then I’ve just had some pretty basic trainers for the gym. It is time to get serious again and so I head to Runners Need after work. I want to get trainers that fit well, are suited to my running style and will serve me well over long distances. The shop serves this bizarre niche by videoing your running stride on treadmills and providing shoes that work with and compensate for whatever running style you have. I have a medium arch and a moderate over-pronation, and so require a shoe that offers decent support. I try on a pair of Asics, a pair of Nikes, a pair of Brooks and then another pair of Brooks in a slightly smaller and wider size. I was very impressed with the time the shop assistant spent with me, and by the fact he did not simply hawk the most expensive pair (in fact the ones I ended up with were £20 cheaper than some of the others I tried). I walk out the proud owner of Brooks Adrenaline GTS size 9 wide trainers, which, as you might expect, seem a perfect fit and have an instant impact on my running.

  2. An iPod Shuffle. Okay, this might have been a ‘want’ rather than a ‘need’, but it does make sense. It is a tiny MP3 player that clips to your shorts and contains about 250 songs. Much better than carrying round my encyclopaedic yet sizeable iPod Classic 80 gig, and it was only thirty quid. I fill it with 250 of the most euphoric and uplifting dance tracks – a bit of trance, house, baseline, hardcore and some of the cheesiest tracks to come out of the Netherlands and Italy. It is tiny, beautiful, and makes me happy.

  3. The bible. Okay, not the Bible, but Graeme Hilditch’s ‘The Marathon and Half Marathon – a training guide’ comes close for my purposes. It has come highly recommended, and has a reassuringly high score on Amazon customer reviews. I phone Waterstones, Trafalgar Square and Foyles, Charing Cross Road with an ISBN and they have sold out. I try Hatchards and there is a single incongruous copy in the upper crustiest book shop in London. I ask them to reserve it, and make a rain soaked journey in my lunch break to pick it up. On a quick read through it seems to cover everything you could need – training, stretches, nutrition, planning for races, physiology and even the psychology of races.

  4. Wristband wallet. Somewhere for the keys and a few coins so I can pop to the shop after the run.
But technology, gadgets and advice can only assist. The hard work comes from the running, and there is no getting around the first run. I am pretty used to running on treadmills in gym, doing a mix of steady runs, interval and hill training. But for some reason running outside has always seemed much, much tougher. And this first run comes after a long stretch of limited running training - I've stuck mainly to bikes and cross trainers.

I picked a circular route (map) along the roads around Clissold Park which came in at two miles, and I added a bolt on loop which would add another mile in case I felt able to start on three miles. I hit the pavement, and quickly got into a decent stride. The trainers were comfortable and gave a noticeably solid support. I finished the two miles with no major problems save a small build up of lactic acid threatening to turn into a stitch. I measured my breathing, and pushed on for the third mile, which certainly got the heart rate up, but left me enough to finish with a sprint for the last 500 metres.

I got in with a vaguely respectable 27 minutes, and the hunger to get stronger, faster, longer.

All journeys begin with a single step, and, in this case, the route to 26.2 miles begins with a solid 3 miles.

Day Zero - planting the seed

A perfect day in London is not necessarily a perfect day for running a marathon. The city lies under a shimmering blue sky dotted with listless white wisps of cloud that evaporate under the fierce scrutiny of the intense sun. It is warm, and getting hotter. A faint shimmer above the tarmac is the first sign of a heat haze that will make the packed streets uncomfortably hot for the runners.

I have lived in London for ten years, but have so far managed to miss seeing one of its greatest spectacles. But this year I had an incentive and duty to cheer on two friends running the seventh of seven marathons completed over the course of a week. It is an awesome, audacious attempt – making the usually gruelling prospect of a single marathon seem strangely lacking in ambition.

So I took to the streets, heading down with Jimmy to Narrow Street to try and catch the elite runners. The women just pass, a blinking flash of flesh and then empty road until the other accomplished runners outside of the chasing pack start to pass. The atmosphere is fantastic, with the sound of hundreds of claps and cheers echoing along the cramped road.

I have been supporting the boys in their 7 in 7 attempt, and already the seed of starting training for the 2010 marathon had been planted. Watching the crowds cheer and the runners pass the seed quickly sprouts into a fully germinated obsession. I will train, and I will take part. This is the missing challenge I have needed to focus my training. This is my last chance to get fit and regain focus. And I am strangely confident in my new ambition.