Registering at the London Marathon Expo at the ExCEL Centre. Finished work at 6pm and headed east with Jarlath to pick up my registration details and have a look round the running exhibitions. Pretty big set up, very efficient and registered in no time. Had a look round the stands, saw lots of things that I could easily spend a lot of money on, a lot of events that I would love to go and do and left happy that I didn't have to do all this tomorrow!
Doing very little today except making sure everything is in place for the big day! Pinned the running number onto my vest, got all my running clothes out ready and tested, fastened the chip to my shoe laces, drank a lot of water and ate a lot of pasta.
The best thing about my new Garmin GPS watch is that it allows you to run wherever you want. No Gmap Pedometer routes. No remembering mile markers. No directions. Freedom.
I hadn't quite appreciated how potent this would be until I went for tonight's run. I set out towards St Pauls, and then decided I would go over the Millennium Bridge, around Borough and around the City. Whenever there was a traffic light or a busy road crossing I didn't need to stop - I could just go another direction.
I can now run wherever I want, whenever I want. Obviously I could have done this before, but this time I have my times and distances accurately (well, pretty damn accurate if not 100%) recorded.
First proper run since being ill, and it became a run of two halves. I was intending to head up along the canal - a new favourite since doing the marathon last week. I also had a new toy to play with. A serious piece of kit, and something which was about to revitalise my love of running. The Garmin Frontrunner 405CX is not exactly cheap (mine cost about £230, but the rrp is about £399), but it is bloody good! A GPS based navigation system with more features than you could possibly use in a lifetime. But the biggest advantage is freeing the training runs from the monotony of plotted routes, mile markers and remembering all of the directions.
The run should have been fine, but I messed up on a few first principles. I forgot to take my inhaler, forgot to bring the sweatband and generally was not in the right frame of mind for a long run. Although a significantly shorter distance than the marathon, I was still proposing a 14 mile run. I eventually decided to cut it short, and headed home to take my inhaler and then head out for a better second half.
This second half saw everything come together - it was a nice run and a nice reintroduction to running after an unfortunate forced slow down in to my tapering.
A little under a year ago I was doing as much as I could to help my friends Jarlath and Mark complete a rather audacious bid to run seven marathons in as many days. At that point I was severely overweight, obese by several measures. I was easily able to cycle alongside the intrepid duo, doling out water, energy bars, directions and encouragement. But the idea of running anything like the distance they covered on each single day of that week was unthinkable.
Running had never been a particular strong point, especially running outside. There had been periods when I had honed an indoor treadmill technique, and could maintain a certain speed for a certain time. But set foot outdoors and I would huff and puff my way with a few miles finishing me off.
I was about to turn 29, and it seemed as though this was a turning point. I had two choices. I could accept a much larger body size than I was comfortable with, or I could do something about. I chose the latter, and am very grateful I did.
At that moment I committed to running the London Marathon. The stated intention was to complete a marathon in under four hours. It seemed a long way away, but doable. And, today, I proved it was indeed doable. I've met my target three weeks early, and now look forward to doing one better in the marathon proper.
I've yo-yo'd with training, doing well, stopping, weight fluctuating around it. The difference in this training has been that this time I was publically signed up to do something - I would definately be running in London, so I pretty much had to make a good go of it. And it will continue. I'm signed up to the Milton Keynes half marathon, when I want to smash my 1:40 barrier, and then the Berlin Marathon, a fast course when I can train for a sub 3:30 marathon.
Anyway, today's run. A marathon. To have over 26 miles stretching out in front of you is pretty daunting. This time I had left the route planning to Jarlath, and he was accompanying me on this Good Friday exertion. We would be starting at his house just off the Roman Road south of Victoria Park. North to the Park, and then along the canal to follow the River Lea over ten miles north, and then back and then twice round the park to make up the final distance.
To make things even more interesting there was a strong weather front advancing on the capital from the south-west, bringing heavy rains and strong winds. We were running against the clock to try and beat the worst of this weather. I made things more difficult for myself by forgetting some pretty useful bits of kit - my sweatband and putting plasters on the nipples. Both of these would bring painful repercussions later.
It was slightly disconcerting not knowing any of my mile markers. It was at this point that I committed myself to buying a Garmin GPS watch, but that is for later runs. At the same time, there was something gloriously liberating about running without knowing the precise pace and mile marks, without parcelling up the hours of running in to eight and a half minute blocks. But, ultimately, it is this pacing that produces the proper results, so I wouldn't necessarily stick to that method.
The northward run was strong. The first few miles along the canal were annoyingly muddy and wet, but the rough terrain finished after a couple of miles to leave the even, flat and quiet towpath. Only by the turning point did we face the winds blowing in from the south-west and the first spots of rain.
I have noticed on previous runs that the worst portion for me is between miles 10/11 and the half-way point, when you've come a far distance but there is still so much to go. Jarlath noticed that I was slightly subdued in the 15 - 18 mile portion as well, but this may be as much from not knowing how far we had come or still had to do. It is inevitable that so long a race will produce its own highs and lows, the journey is far from an even race either physically or emotionally.
By the time we had got to Victoria Park we were pretty sure we had run further than we had mapped out. The mapping had been rough, and the time and pace we had been running suggested that we had cheated ourselves of more than a few hundred metres (as would turn out to be the case when I re-routed the run after we'd finished). The park section was a tough finish, with heavy rains and strong winds making it a more challenging finish than would have been ideal.
But, that said, I finished strong, feeling that I still had something left inside. It probably means I should be working towards a better London time, but properly smashing my target times can wait until Berlin. London will be about delivering a 3:45 marathon (if possible)
So, with the training's longest run done, it is taper time now. This is the glorious period in which I can wind down to an energetic start in three weeks time. Hopefully spring will start, and I can easily knock out the decreasing length runs in sun-bathed evenings.
4 mile jog, 0.5 miles fast, 400 metre recovery x 6, 3 mile jog
Distance – 10.5 miles
Time - 1 hour 22 minutes
Didn't have much time between the long run on Saturday and Good Friday's marathon bid for training whilst ensuring I had sufficient recovery time between these two long runs. This meant Wednesday would be my only training run this week, and so I decided to combine some steady running with some interval training.
So off to Clissold Leisure Centre, where they've expanded their cardiovascular offering by opening the Running Zone, a lower-level room full of running machines. The bank of treadmills in the main gym have been retained, but now have little signs encouraging runners to stick to 20 minutes in busy times and, if a longer session is envisioned, to use the Running Zone. So I headed downstairs. I like the idea, and there are lower-level changing rooms as well. Slightly strangely there are no water coolers as far as I could see, but if and when they correct this it will be a perfect set up for long runs (especially in the winter if next year is a repeat of this year's ice nonsense).
Did a few miles at a steady pace (hitting the required 8.5 minute miles that make up my race pace) and then set off on the higher speed intervals. These were pretty intense, reaching a maximum speed of 20km/h, which is just the speed at which your legs start to fly underneath you and you are on the cusp of losing control. It would be pretty nasty to be thrown from the treadmill and smash against the wall, taking whatever mangled remains are spewn from the machine, so I probably won't repeat that too many times.
Today's distance was set at the dauntingly ambitious 24 miles. Alright, last week was 23 miles, but that was accidental. I only set out to do 21 miles. Actually setting out to do 24 miles is an entirely different proposition. It is also a weird distance - long enough to be an agonising prospect, but lacking that extra couple of miles that makes a marathon a special distance to covet and strive for. In the pantheon of races, 24 features only as hours in a round the clock race.
This was the first outing for my new trainers. This was not intentional - you shouldn't really break in new trainers on such a long run. I would find out the reasons why at about mile 8, when the back of my feet rubbed raw, staining the pristine white trainers a darker crimson that paled into a prettier pink as it spread out a few inches from the heel. I didn't even have enough money on me to buy plasters, and so just had to live with the dull pain.
Apart from this annoyance the run went well. It was solidly paced, and properly spaced food and water supplies meant I didn't hit any wall or suffer any bio-mechanical problems. The weather was fine, if a little blowy, but a bit of sunshine and no rain.
The run was the usual home to central London along the Embankment to the end of Lots Road and back (map).
But the last half of the run was done at a precision pacing, running just under 8.5 minute miles. This brought me in for a tired but happy finish at 3 hours 24 minutes - well on target for a 3:45 marathon let alone the intended sub-4 hour finish.
Farewell then, my old faithfuls. You've been there from the start, a constant companion, source of unfailing support and comfort. But now that support is starting to fail, and the comfort is increasingly questionable. Yep, its finally time to replace my trainers. And, it appears, not a moment too soon. I've wracked up 576.75 miles on the original Brooks.
576.75 miles is a far old distance. Its enough to take you from London to Inverness (and by a roundabout route at that) and still have enough miles to do decent marathon around the city.
Alternatively, in a straight line, it would get you from London to Berlin, Bilbao or Turin.
Nothing particularly exciting about the replacements - another pair of size 9 wide Brooks Adrenaline GTS. They've tinkered with the colours, and they look dazzlingly white compared with the older trainers. But they are essentially the same.
But I've popped the old trainers in a box in my cupboard at work, just in case I need a pair and forget them. So its not really farewell. Just au revoir.
Frustratingly busy at work, meaning that it was impossible to slot in any interval training in the mid-week part of this week. This is not something I want to repeat, but it seems that there is not actually much time left to go until the Marathon. I will just have to try and be good for the remaining time.
Thursday night I ran 8 miles from home. This was the last outing for my original Brooks trainers, which I need to replace.
This week I was supposed to up last week's 19 miles by running 21 miles. The route would have been an extension to that run, just adding another mile along the Embankment and back. But a couple of events conspired to make me run an accidental 23miles. But it felt pretty darn good to have done this distance without too many complaints.
It almost didn't happen at all. I had woken up on Saturday feeling pretty awful - a deep and dreadful lethargy combined with a sore stomach. I decided to postpone the run until Sunday, and got ready to go out the next day with a touch of trepidation. If I had known I would come back 3 and a half hours later having run 23 miles in a decent enough time I would not have believed you.
But I set off in the normal fashion. This time I did an intentionally slower start - averaging nine minute miles for the first three miles. This is something I am going to integrate into future long runs, perhaps even taking longer for this first stage to emulate the frustratingly slow start as 30,000 other runners try to get out of the London Marathon course.
After the first few miles things picked up, and I was running at a steady and enjoyable pace for the first third of the run. And then came the first upset to my plans. Ironically, my training was interrupted by the Sports Relief events that were being staged in Central London, along the Embankment. The usual route for my 8 - 10 miles were blocked by thousands of people running their mile for charity. So I had to take a detour, heartbreakingly up hill to the Strand and then along to Trafalguar Square and then down Whitehall.
From this point the run along the Embankment went well - solid, paced and steady. So well, in fact, that I managed to forget quite where my turnaround point was. I was looking out for a specific street name that didn't ever turn up. I ended up turning around at Lots Road, knowing that I must have overshot, but not knowing quite how much.
Everything else was going well, and the sun had come out. The temperature was climbing, and I was getting a decent dose of vitimin D from the welcome exposure to the spring rays.
The final section was tougher, but, having already run 21 miles, it should have been. It was reassuringly not at the limit of my abilities, however, and even when I rounded the corner for 22 miles I felt I still had plenty inside. Which is good news, cos I need at least 4.2 miles left inside by this point!
The recovery from the run was quick and faultless. No mechanical problems, and a steady pace throughout and the combination has restored a lot of my shaken faith in the marathon to come.
This could easily have been the first 'spring' time run. The day had been sunny, and the breeze much warmer than of late. But by the time nightfall had come and the work was done for the day the weather turned. The winds came, blowing fresh, cold gusts that reminded me of the winter only recently consigned to memory and dappled by rain varying in intensity from a decent shower to a fine drizzle throughout.
Did the run from work, down the Embankment and across to Pimlico and back. Pretty grueling for a Thursday night in the middle of a busy week, but adding more miles to the legs in this crucial period.
Once again back to the long runs, and the first of a series of five long runs which will see me peak my training (the next weekends will see this 19, followed by 21, 22, 24 and 21). I read that one marathon trainer thinks preparation is perfect if the longest 5 runs add up to over 100 miles. This quintet will add up to 107, so that seems pretty good (but not, at the same time, overdoing it).
It is getting harder to plot a route as you add on the miles. Today's endeavour would take me from home, a long way round to work, down to the river and along to Chelsea. And back. Never forget the 'and back' bit (map).
I had everything prepped, and had a few gels and a couple of sticks of Shot Bloks. These jelly cubes seem to be more palatable for me than the gels, so I thought I would see how they did on the longer run, and then integrate them into my longer run energy plans.
I set off at a very measured pace, ensuring that the first few miles were slightly over the 8.5 minute per mile pace that I wanted to end up with. Despite having been to the toilet before setting off I was struck with the need to go again, and struggled with the lack of viable locations to pee. It probably just takes a bit more creativity to secrete yourself away, and I did find somewhere in Canonbury. I didn't need to go again for the rest of the run, and felt considerably better for it, so that was perhaps a lesson learnt.
The run stretched out, and after notching up three miles or so there was still a ridiculous distance to cover. This is one of the worst aspects of the long runs - a gnawing doubt and dread of what is to come. This can't be 100% countered, but it can be lessened by sticking to a proper pace and ensuring that you are properly fed and watered and have therefore limited the chance of smashing into the wall.
I finished the first half almost smack on 8.5 minute miles (in just under 81 minutes). The next half would take me up the mild but noticeable ascent to Angel, and then home. This part of the run went really well. I had no biomechanical issues, no pains in the upper quads or Achilles Heel. I didn't suffer from the lack of energy that had bedevilled my last long run of 17 miles.
By the time I rounded Queen's Drive onto Green Lanes I had reached the finish, but felt I could easily have gone on. For the first time the prospect of adding the necessary 7.2 miles to get to a marathon distance did not seem impossible. It was a lesson in measured, paced and prepared running, and one that I need to repeat and learn in time for the marathon.
Was supposed to go out for a four mile run tonight, but I just felt absolutely knackered after one of the busiest six week periods I have had. This is the first weekend in ages (probably since 2009) where I haven't had anything planned, so I just went home and enjoyed an early night.
1 mile jog, 1.5 miles fast, 800 metre recovery x 3, 1 mile jog
Distance – 7.5 miles
Time - 58 minutes and 53 seconds
To the gym for some interval training. The previous sessions have seen the intervals shorten, so running for a shorter distance, with a greater frequency and shorter recovery. Tonight's run called for the reverse - long intervals (of one and a half miles) with only three repetitions.
Still, a tough session as I put the speed of the sessions at the limit of what I could tolerate. Felt great to finish, a real sense of a job well done!
Once more into the cold for an eight mile paced run. The lessons from the Malta Half Marathon have been learnt, and I'm putting much more emphasis on being able to control my pace, and running at the eight and a half minute miles that I am hoping will be my final marathon pace.
Did a run from work, down the Embankment and across to Pimlico and back. Nothing spectacular, but a decent solid hour's work, and adding more miles to the legs in this crucial period.
As the Malta Half-Marathon had shaken me into training harder, there was no way of avoiding getting back into the training regime. The 'short' runs are not so short anymore, and the prospect of heading out into the still frozen London night for a seven mile run didn't thrill.
But it had to be done.
I returned to running around Highbury for the first time in ages. I did a variation on the Highbury Loop, heading east through Stoke Newington, down around Clissold Park and down through Canonbury before heading back through Highbury and around the Emirates Stadium to home.
It was a decent enough run, properly paced and not too strenuous. The only annoyance was in not knowing it was a match night at the stadium, and trying to get through the crowds streaming out of Arsenal tube station along Gillespie Road.
Malta is a small island in the middle of the Mediterranean, almost as close to Africa as it is to the southern tip of Sicily. Its location provided both serendipitous fortune and undesired foreign attention through a long and tumultuous history. Invaders still come from across the water, but these days they have the peaceful intent of tourists, and eschew maritime approaches to arrive by plane. A group of us had come to the land of honey in search of sweet personal victories in the Malta Marathon and Half-Marathon.
Jarlath was running to beat a personal best he had set in his first marathon in Paris two years ago (of 3 hours, 19 minutes and 46 seconds). Mark was running to get a sub-three hour marathon. I was running the half-marathon because my training plan called for a half-marathon in race conditions, and it seemed a good idea to join in and run in the sun.
There were two elements to the run that would be surprisingly tough. The first was the temperature, and the second the topography.
The average high temperature for the island at the end of February is 16.7oC, with a mean temperature of 13.4oC. This would have been a perfect temperature to run, perhaps, if anything, touching on the high side of comfortable. The reports from the Met Office were that temperatures were first touching and then exceeding 20oC. Whilst not a scorcher, the warm African winds threatened a distinctly uncomfortable and sapping temperature.
And then the topography. This should have helped, as the run descended 250 metres from the Mdina starting line down to the Sliema waterfront. I was imagining a gentle descent, pretty flat and entirely conducive to a good time. It didn't turn out to be quite as benign as this tantalising promise. There were hills - several long inclines, a couple of sharper ascents and a selection of annoyingly avoidable overpasses as we passed near Valetta. Some of the descents were too sharp and short to make up for the sapping ascents, and overall it seemed like more of a slog than I had imagined.
We had Saturday to ourselves, having a wander around Sliema and buying some race-day food and ensuring we were properly hydrated and carb-loaded. Everyone was a touch on edge, lost in their own thoughts of tomorrow's race and going through their own mental motions to get ready. After much water, pasta and sleep, it was Sunday, and an early start for the marathon runners. I headed over later, the half marathon starting at 10am, two hours after the marathon runners.
So, to the start line. This was my first competitive run, and all of the starting line activity was unfamiliar. A big chunk of the activity was located on a row of constantly engaged portaloos. The rest was stretching, and waiting. Waiting and waiting.
And then we were off. A quick start. Too quick, in retrospect, but it felt alright. I was averaging just under 4 minutes 45 seconds per kilometre for the first half (coming in at the halfway point in about 48 minutes. If I could manage to maintain this pace then I would easily get under 1 hour 40 minutes, and smash my previous personal best of 1 hour 43 minutes. Then I slipped on a slick of Gatorade, and smashed down on my left hand and right knee. Scraped, and bleeding, I picked myself up and carried on, cursing the race organiser's decision to hand out the drink in spillable cups.
But by this point the sun had risen high above us, and was beating down merciless rays. The temperature headed over 20 degrees, peaking at 22oC and feeling hotter on the exposed black tarmac. There was no cover, as the race snaked over the treeless Mediterranean scrub. And then the hills started to have an impact, grinding down the energy and making the last half of the race more of a battle. By the last five kilometres I felt my energy slipping away, and my time slipping to over 5 minutes for each kilometre. By the end I had just about enough to get across the line, but finished in 1 hour 41 minutes as my pace slipped away.
So that was it. I had a medal. I had a personal best time. But I didn't slip below 1 hour 40 minutes. But, in the circumstances, it was a decent run. Everyone had suffered, even though Jarlath and Mark managed to hit their targets. When the official times came out it was clear that this year was a slower race, so I was pretty relaxed about the performance. Training is, after all, as much about experience and learning.
The race shook me out of the complacency around training for the marathon (in fact it did more than that - made me quite nervous about the big day!). It drummed in the importance of pacing, and the need to set off at a slower, manageable speed. It was useful preparation for the actual race conditions, even if London will be on a much bigger scale.
Had a tremendous time outside of the race in Malta. The clear blue skies and bright sun, cursed and reviled a few hours before, returned as a blessing when dipping sore legs in a cool rooftop pool overlooking the sea. A wander around Valetta, some good food and great company made this long weekend an excellent break.
Now time to knuckle down again and train for the main event.
1 mile jog, 0.25 mile fast, 200 metre recovery x 10, 1 mile jog
Distance – 5.75 miles
Time - 47 minutes and 24 seconds
Managed to do some interval training in the week leading up to the Malta Marathon. Things have been ridiculously hectic at work, so have not been able to put in the hours I would have liked, but today's training went alright.
I had spent the weekend in the far north-east and couldn’t fit in any training runs, let alone the weekend long run. So I booked a half-day today, and had to spend the afternoon doing a 17 mile run. So from work, along the river through Chelsea and all the way to Fulham. It is getting a long way to fit in a run, to remember the mile markers and to memorise the route. And, as noted last week, each mile takes me a little further into the unknown.
It was far from perfect conditions for the run – the temperatures had plunged as the UK once again succumbed to Siberian winds and piles of snow mounted outside of London. In the capital we just had rain, heavy splashes of rain that fortunately didn’t become an outright downpour. Along with the damp came stiff, brazen winds along the Thames and the wet, cold and windy city were a poor backdrop for a long run.
I took the usual route, but the furthest I had done on this route from work was twelve miles. Adding another five miles took me from Chelsea Harbour through to Putney Bridge and Fulham High Street, along the boundary of Hurlingham Park and Bishops Park (map).
Physically everything went really well. For the most part I was properly hydrated and had enough running gels to keep me in flow. But there were a couple of serious flies in the ointment. The first is an increasing difficulty – there are hardly any frickin’ public loos. I did seventeen miles in central London and came across a single public toilet. And because it is broad daylight in central London there are limited alternative locations for a quick pee.
I had managed a toilet break at six miles, but needed to go again at mile eleven. I had to hold it in until mile 13, when I managed to go. It was deeply unpleasant, running with a deep cramp at the bottom of my stomach. And then when I did manage to go I very nearly had a Paula Radcliffe moment, and had to limp on to a pub to go to the toilet properly. I need to think properly about how to deal with this (if, that is, there is anything one can do to deal with it).
Getting restarted, even with just a few minutes out, was really tough. The daylight had faded to evening, and the temperature lurched closer to freezing. The next three miles were pretty difficult, but that might be expected. Then I had another vital learning experience – I hit the wall. Only a gentle push into the brickwork, but hitting the wall nonetheless. I had taken on carbs, but just a bit too late. So I ran the last mile running on empty. It was really tough, but useful to experience. And then to avoid at all costs.
So, some takeaway learning points from today, combined with last week’s post-race hydration and nutrition, and all this will be very helpful come the marathon. And, if nothing else, at least I didn’t follow through.
1 mile jog, 0.25 mile fast, 200 metre recovery x 10, 1 mile jog
Distance – 5.75 miles
Time - 47 minutes and 24 seconds
Back to Clissold Leisure Centre, where it is all change. Since its reopening the leisure centre has been really popular – the facilities (aside from slightly cramped and too warm changing rooms) are top notch. It has become a victim of its own success as the gym area becomes crowded at peak times such as after work, and there are frequently queues for treadmills. Management have tackled this by bringing in extra equipment and having a general move around. Eight new treadmills now stand next to the existing twenty. I started to use one of the new ones, but they are the paired down version of the originals and don’t have a distance measure. So I quickly got off to use one of the original machines. Still, an improvement – it will mean less time spent in queues.
I had to miss a training run on Tuesday due to work commitments. And, to be honest, I was still feeling the burn from Sunday’s training run. It turns out that my spiel on preparation was more pertinent than I could have imagined, but that it applied as much to post-running procedure as it does to the pre-planning and during the race.
I was absolutely shattered. And wasn’t feeling too perky on Tuesday. This is not how training is supposed to go – I was looking forward to feeling healthy and energised. Feeling only just on the barely living side was not in this plan!
Still, back in the game by Wednesday for football. It was a great game, and I am starting to find my feet in defence. It is a decent work out, fast speed interval training that, although lacking the form of the gym sessions, is probably more effective because the pace of the game requires giving everything you have.
Each of the long runs that I take on in the run up to the marathon will push new boundaries in my running. The furthest I have ever run is only eclipsed by the next run, which will take me even further until we get to the final 26.2 miles. The runs up to the half marathon can be done without too much advance thought. Sure, proper planning may let you push out a much better run, but I think it is a distance that you can manage without too much difficulty regardless of how you have prepared before hand and planned during the run.
Sixteen miles is not a distance that you do with a similarly lackadaisical attitude. It is just too hard, you need fuel, water. You need to be properly hydrated and ready.
The last three miles are more difficult, the muscles in my legs burning and the pains in my upper quads spreading from left to right leg. But by this stage is doesn’t matter. I am two minutes below the target for an average of eight minute miles for the entire distance, a whole eighteen minutes below the upper limit for doing it in nine minute miles.
I still have just enough to pick up the pace for the last half a mile. Not much left, but enough to push out a couple of bursts of speed and a final sprint down Digby Crescent to finish. And what a finish. By the time I am done I have completed 16 miles in 2 hours 6 minutes, averaging under 8 minute miles for the whole distance.
1 mile jog, 0.5 mile fast, 200 metre recovery x 8, 1 mile jog
Distance - 7 miles
Time - 52 minutes and 24 seconds
Finally back to the gym this evening after an illness and busyness gap that has seen me away from Clissold Leisure Centre for too long. I did a fifteen minute session on the cross trainer for a warmup and then onto the treadmill.
In some respects this evening's training should have been as difficult as the one I had done a few weeks before. It covered the same total distance (7 miles), had the same distance of fast sections, and the same number of recovery periods. But for some reason 8 half mile bursts, with just 200 metres of recovery was much tougher. Maybe it was just mentally - turning the treadmill up from the 9.5 km/h recovery to 14 km/h for the fifth, sixth, seventh and eigth was increasingly difficult.
But by the seventh I knew I was going to be able to do the distance and the time, and so ran the last quarter mile at a faster speed. Up through 15 km/h to 16 km/h. And faster. Faster still to finish up at 17.5 km/h on the seventh interval. To be beaten by even faster on the eigth, when I got the treadmill up to a floor shaking, leg thundering 20 km/h for the two minutes. It wasn't impossible to keep up, but it did make me slightly concerned that I would slip or trip and go smacking face first onto the spinning black belt.
But I didn't. And finished. In a time that was a couple of minutes faster than the previous interval. And considering this involved twice as much speeding up and slowing down it shows that the average speed in the fast sections was a decent notch on last time (averaging at about 14.5 km/h).
Most of the long runs that I go on for the next couple of months will have the slightly daunting quality of being the longest I have ever run. I had previously run a half marathon during my first training effort - one that left me crippled with shin splints. But it meant that the half marathon a fortnight ago was not entering into virgin territory. Not so this week.
Fifteen miles is a long way however you look at it. In fact the only way it doesn't appear to be a long distance is when stacked against the total mileage for the marathon. And then, at a little over half-way, it seems shrivellingly meagre.
So I planned out the fifteen miles - using a similar route to last fortnight's half-marathon but tacking on a couple of miles to take me past the Tate Britain and up Vauxhall Bridge Road. All the way into central London, a signficant way down the Embankment and then back. And it only gets longer from herein.
You can do a half-marathon with limited preparation. A bottle of water or an isotonic drink, a pre-run flapjack or some other energy bar and head off. Anything more and you need to think about in-run fuel and water. This is easier on a race where water and gels are provided, but on self supported runs stocking up requires pockets or shops, or both. For today's run I crammed a couple of gels and jellys into my arm pack and set off.
The first few miles were fine from a physical point of view, but it was mentally tough to think that you were ticking off a few miles of a double digit amount. Into Islington, down into Finsbury and still only four miles in. Not even a third.
Straight home and into a cold bath, followed ten minutes later by a warm bath. The first was a necessary evil to help with post-run muscle fatigue.
The recovery wasn't too long, and the next day I wasn't cramped.
I had to go into work today on a Saturday. I had enjoyed an unexpectedly late Friday night at a friend's birthday, and so had an unexpectedly late start to the day. So straight into the office to tackle a gnarly and expansive piece of work. After three hours I thought I would go for a run to break up the work.
I did the varied loop around St Pauls, to Westminster and back round. A solid run, and it did the trick of blowing out the cobwebs and aiding concentration when back at the desk.
Distance - 6.25 miles (10km) plus 2.5 miles warm up and warm down jog
Time - 41 minutes 19 seconds (10km)
My training schedule called for a 10km run to be done under 'race conditions', which I took to mean at speed and looking for a decent time. Perhaps better than a decent time, a personal best time for the ten k.
I would do a mile warm up (which I did around the back of St Pauls, finishing up on Cheapside), then a 10km 'race' (6.25 miles) which would take me down to the river, along to Westminster, out to the Embankment and then up Vauxhall Bridge Road (map), turn back round and finish the 'race' section at Whitehall Place. This would see me 1.5 miles from base, to be jogged.
The first few miles went well, picking up a decent time and getting to the half way point at about 20.5 minutes. This would see me get a 41 minute overall time, and, if I could manage negative splits, would see me get a sub-41 minute time.
But I couldn't. I put everything I had into the last half, but could not get the time down to that level. This run was the nearest I have come to throwing up after training, and I paused on Whitehall Place hacking deeply and holding off from decorating the street with the unfortunate outcome of my running.
Still, it was a decent enough time - and, with proper preparation, will be a personal best that I look forward to beating.
It had been a long and tiring week, at and outside of work. This was to be a test of (a) whether I wanted to train come what may and (b) whether running was the best way to shake off the stresses and strains of everyday life.
Fortunately it was yes to both. Ultimately I did want to run, even thought it might squeezing in five miles after finishing work and before going on to a birthday party. And yes after a couple of miles, the crisp winter air and pounding, uplifting house on the iPod I felt my cares wash away, float down the river and out of sight.
For some reason I had a strong urge to vary my usual river run. Perhaps doing the same loops repeatedly is not as good for the soul as trying different runs. The only difficulty with different runs is that in central London his can mean toying with traffic. This time I incorporated a two mile loop around St Pauls and down to Ludgate Circus which varied the run and meant I only had to get to Westminster and back.
It was a decent five miles, solid training and mentally rewarding.
A very, very busy week this week, which meant that the only chance I would have to cram in the running I wanted and needed to do was to do Tuesday's run before work. Hardly ideal - it required a decent amount of preparation to ensure that I had all my things in the right place. In the end I failed, and ended up having to run with a small bag on my back.
It took a while longer to get in to the pace, and I was still groggy and tired from having just woken up. Running straight into work from bed isn't ideal, and I should have had half an hour awake, but the lure of the warm bed in the wintery morning ensured that was not the case.
The run was alright, nothing spectacular but some more miles on my feet. For some reason it didn't put me in the most positive frame of mind. Perhaps carrying the annoying kit bag was part of the reason - if I have to do it again I will make sure that I do it properly and am prepared. Properly prepared. And that means no bag carrying.
It was a little daunting to set out on this morning's run to know that you were going to finish a half-marathon. I suppose it shouldn't be too daunting - in a few weeks time I will be facing a distance twice as long. But still, 13.1 miles is a fair distance to run. And, unlike the later longer runs, I wanted to do this in a decent time.
I set off at a decent starting pace, building up to run just over 8 minute miles. This was considerably faster than I should be doing, for either long run training or, ultimately, for the marathon itself. But, as I said above, today was partially (soon to be totally) about getting a good time.
I started to get a sharp soreness develop once again in my lower groin, upper quads. Always in the same position on the left leg, this was becoming something of an annoyance along with the perennial pain on my right Achilles Heel. I ran on for a few more miles, belting along down the hill towards Finsbury and down Rosebery Avenue. The enjoyment of going down the steep hill tempered only by the knowledge that I would be grinding back up it some five miles later.
The pain was not going away, so, when stopped at Mount Pleasant for the traffic, I stretched out my quads. Nothing amazing, just grabbing my left foot and stretching long and hard. Instantly the pain dissapated. I wasn't too optimistic, thinking it would return as soon as I set off again. It didn't after a few steps, a few hundred yards and ultimately mile after mile. It might be that this one problem has a simple, stretchy solution.
The long run took me past work, down to the river and along the usual river run. It is quite odd to start a run at mile 5, and for familiar mile markers to be far more advanced than usual (mile six at Waterloo Bridge). I did a small loop around Westminster, running back along the Embankment and then up Farringdon Road. It was going well, and I was running at a decent pace.
By mile eleven, and well in to Islington, I was feeling surprisingly fresh. The time was looking alright - on course for a sub 1:45 half marathon. I decided to go for it, and belted the last two miles in under 14 minutes. Well under 14 minutes - I finished the last mile in a little over six minutes as I sprinted the last 500 metres.
It isn't exactly textbook technique to finish in this way, but it felt bloody good to have done it. The only bad thing about setting a decent personal best is that the desire to beat it burns and gnaws at you. A sub 1:40 half-marathon in Malta? Down hill all the way.
The problem with a Saturday morning run is when the Friday night before involves drinking. But, then again, maybe the beauty of a short Saturday morning run is that it wastes away the worst of the night before.
Set out to do a double loop of the Stoke Newington / Clissold Park circuit, and added a starting few hundred metres at the beginning around Queens Road and Brownswood Road to make sure it filled the full four miles.
Not a bad run, and got out the worst of the alcohol.
1 mile jog, 1 mile fast, 400 metre recovery x 4, 1 mile jog
Distance - 7 miles
Time - 54 minutes and 53 seconds
It was with a touch of apprehension that I locked my bike at the Clissold Leisure Centre, took my entry ticket and wrist band and climbed the stairs to the gym. My last interval training session at the LSE gym had been really difficult, and I that was at pretty 'relaxed' speeds. I wasn't sure why I wasn't able to translate the speeds I could outside to what I could do on the treadmill.
There were two differences with today's run. Firstly it was only one mile bursts, rather than the 1.5 miles of last weeks (albeit four of them rather than three, and with half the recovery time), and I was doing it at Clissold Leisure Centre rather than LSE on brand spanking new equipment. I wondered whether any of this would make a difference.
It seemed to. Whereas last week I struggled with an initial 13 km/h for the fast run before sinking this down to 12.5 km/h, this time I dug in for 13.8 - 14.0 km/h for the mile runs, with sprint finishes for the last 500 metres of up to 16 km/h (on the last one).
This gave me an average speed of 14.22 km/h for the fast sections, which was pretty darn good all things considered. It was tough going, and by the end felt like I had done a ridiculous work out, but it was totally worth it.
This felt like one of my stronger training sessions, and I was very pleased with the results. Jarlath and Runner's World are both clearly right in pointing out that these sessions will make all the difference.
A pretty easy four mile run today. I cycle home from work and don't even bother changing out of my jogging pants and hoodie. If it is going to be an easy jog, I might as well wear easy jogging clothes, especially as it has turned quite chilly again!
All easy enough, and completed in a decent enough time.
The Sunday long run element to my training is starting to stretch back to distances I haven't properly run since I injured myself completing a too soon half marathon back in June. This week it was twelve miles, which means next week will be back into half marathon territory and the week after into untried realm of mid then high teen mileage per week.
I decided to run from home, using a slightly modified route from last week's eleven mile run which would add an additional mile loop by taking in St Paul's Cathedral (map). After weeks of running in the dark, over ice, through snow and blistering frozen winds today was an almost spring-like delight. The sun was shining, the temperature nudged double figures and and all snow and ice had long since melted away. It was perfect running weather.
The first few miles were fairly standard, heading at a steady pace through Stoke Newington down to Highbury and down to Islington. The strange thing about the early miles is just thinking about how much further you have to go - when you've done one or two miles, it still means you have eleven or ten miles left to go. This is obviously something to get use to as it will be significantly more daunting in the marathon.
I came strong down into Holborn, running past Holborn Bars and my office before heading down to Fleet Street and along to St Paul's. The sight of the glistening white cathedral shining in the mid-winter sun was heartening at mile six, but even such an arresting sight doesn't occupy too much of your mind when you are running. It is almost a perfect way to clear your mind as everything else just falls out other than putting one foot in front of the other and getting round the allotted route in a decent time.
As I finished the loop and headed north along Leather Lane a more difficult section was about to begin. The problem (and, ultimately, training advantage) with running from home is that it starts to incorporate longer hills - in this case the unavoidable 'summit' of the Angel. At the beginning there is a slight climb from home to this Islington high point, and then a steeper decline into Finsbury and Holborn. But that is easily overcome on fresher legs. By mile 8, just past Mount Pleasant, you still have a bit of a climb to the Angel, and then more of a climb along Liverpool Road. Depending on the route there can then be more climbing up Highbury Hill.
I was starting to feel the burn in the usual places - the lower groin / top quads on my left leg and my Achille's Heel on my right foot. Any more grumbles from these two trouble spots and I'll have to revisit my physio, but for now it wasn't too bad. I think I suffered from having compressed my training in to Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
By the end of the run my upper left leg was hurting a touch, but, reassuringly, this faded almost instantly on finished and had disappeared within minutes. It should be something that I can stretch away and should overcome with further training.
Just a slow, gentle four miles today, which, after yesterday's exertions and in mind of tomorrow's long run, is not a bad thing. It was absolutely pouring it down for most of the morning, but I managed to get a half an hour break when I could jog two miles counter-clock wise around Clissold Park's longer perimeter through Stoke Newington, and then another two miles clockwise.
1 mile jog, 1.5 mile fast, 800 metre recovery x 3, 1 mile jog
Distance - 7.5 miles
Time - 1 hour 5 minutes and 12 seconds
Jarlath has told me that the interval training sessions plotted on my sixteen week marathon training plan are the most important sessions other than (and, in some cases, rivalling even) the weekly long runs. Whilst some people go out and train every day, they work the same muscles at the same speeds over similar distances, and the body is very well designed to get used to even gruelling but routine training.
The interval training is designed to shake it up a little bit by adding speed or an incline, or both, to make the run harder and more difficult. Today's run called for a warm up jog, and then 1.5 miles at a fast speed (which I initially took to be 13 km/h) and then an 800 metre recovery, finished by a 1 mile jog. It seemed doable on paper, but I was slightly wary of the difficulties I have had on running on treadmills which seem to be more difficult for me than running outside.
Obviously I had no problem with the initial jog, but the first 1.5 miles at 13 km/h was really tough, and, even with the 5 minute recovery covering 800 metres at a slower pace, I didn't think it would be possible for me to sustain another two sets of 1.5 miles at that pace. I slipped it down to 12.6 km/h, and even this was difficult. By the end of the second interval I was shaking in my arms and absolutely soaked in sweat. By the last half mile of the final interval I had a stitch so vicious that I couldn't shift it by deep breathing, and had to slow down and then speed up again to finish off the interval. Not strictly speaking in the rules, but an indication that I had trained to my capacity.
I stepped off the treadmill after the jog feeling punch drunk and a little woozy. It wasn't the hardest run I had done, but it was certainly a challenging training session. Maybe in time I will get more used to the treadmill again. But, for the moment, I still dread the tread.
Just a short and steady seven tonight, back in the training company of Jarlath who returned from a eastern European new year holiday to get back into training for the Malta Marathon. His aim is to beat a personal best time in the full marathon at the end of February. As I will only be doing to the half-marathon in Malta, our training needs are slightly different. But Jarlath was keen to join in tonight's run.
Pacing is one of my biggest weaknesses. I have a marathon training programme which tells me in clear terms what I should be running. For this run I should have been aiming for about 63 minutes, or 9 minute miles. We set off at a relaxed pace, and didn't seem to be picking up the speed too much as we went round a familiar river-side run. But even at this slower pace we were averaging 8.5 minute miles. We picked up the pace a little bit towards the end and ended up on 57 minutes, averaging a little over 8 minute miles. It was an enjoyable run, not too difficult, but I need to try and stay within the pace a bit better. The alternative is to set off too fast in the marathon, which would not be useful.
Sunday. A day of rest? Not for the next sixteen weeks as I devote Sunday mornings to my long run. It makes sense to concentrate these on a Sunday - at least then the body will be used to being put through its paces on the seventh day, and will not complain as much when it is forced around a 26.2 mile course of central London three months hence.
I headed into central London for today's run (map). My neck of the woods is still completely snow and, more dangerously, ice bound, and I was pretty certain that the river run would be free of the worst of the snow. I was right. Apart from the distinctly Siberian wind chill from a stiff easterly wind you would not be able to tell that the UK was in the grip of its worst winter for decades from the clear pavements of Holborn. But it is still cold. Very cold. Literally freezing, and, as I put on my winter clothing I think that this just isn't enough. I have two tops, a shortsleeve base layer and a long sleeved top over that. I have my compression shorts and socks which pretty much cover my legs but for an inch gap on the knee, with a pair of normal shorts over that. Gloves and a forehead warmer finish off the look, and that is about the extent of my winter clothing.
And for the most part it seemed that this was exactly the right balance of clothing. But by the end of the run my legs felt frozen solid and my private parts had become very private indeed by receding almost completely inside my body. It did seem to adversely affect my performance for the last four miles of the run - my legs were a dull, leaden heaviness different from the normal tired or pained feeling.
Other than that the run went well. I was running at a slower pace than the pre-training training, averaging between 8.5 and 9 minutes per mile. I did feel like I could have gone on after the end of the run.
With the snow continuing to lie deep and crisp and even across all of north London, the prospect of a four mile slip and slide on the ice-clad pavements of Stoke Newington was hardly appealing. The fact I even considered doing it in favour of going to the gym gives some indication of my growing dislike of treadmill running. I used to be a confirmed gym runner, finding running outside next to impossible. This has now completely reversed, and even doing four miles inside is distasteful.
But it was the most sensible option. As well as doing a run I was able to push some weights and do 20 minutes on the cross trainer. The marathon plan suggested doing a slow four miles in 40 minutes, and I was minded to oblige by setting the average pace at somewhere around 10.2 km/h. Even at this slow pace it seemed hard going. It wasn't helped by my new running headphones singularly failing to cope with the copious amounts of sweat the inside running produced. Even so, I managed a decent enough time for a slow run, and did enough other cardio to make the trip feel worthwhile.
Gosh, its cold. Really, suck your breath in and watch the vapour form as you blow out cold. Step outside the warm building and instantly feel the deep chill attack your body cold. Cold enough to make you really wonder why you have to go out and run four miles.
But I did. The marathon plan called for this to be done in around 36 minutes, and I tried to keep to a very slow pace but found that pacing at this speed is almost as difficult as running the quicker speeds. It will be one of the challenges for 2010 to manage to keep to the slower paces, but this will be essential to getting used to running at these speeds over the course of the marathon.
Not much doing over the past couple of days as London falls to the grip of its most severe winter in decades. Of course this means little more than a flurry of snow and repeated nights of moderately sub-zero temperatures, but this is enough to put the kaibosh on cycling for a bit.
It might seem strange to have the beginning on Day 251 of this blog, but this is the start. The start of official training, the first day in the 16 week build up to the London Marathon. From this point I will be following a detailed training programme which proscribes the distances, frequency and times of runs. The intention is to follow a programme that will get me a 3 hour 45 marathon and thus provide a bit of lee-way to ensure I do get a sub-4 hour marathon.
The key for this first month of proper training is to regulate pace and slow things down. As nice as 7.5 minute mile averages were, it is not sustainable over a marathon distance. I will be aiming for 8.75 minute miles in the marathon to bring me in at 3 hours 50 minutes (or so). Today's run was supposed to be for ten miles, so I would aim to get in at about 1 hour 27 - 28 minutes.
I set off fully decked in winter training gear, and sporting my new running headphones. My usual inner-ear buds have an annoying tendency to get sweaty and stop working, leaving me with either mono or no sound for the last few miles. My new headphones loop round the ear and should be sweatproof.
It is still bitterly cold in London, with day time temperatures struggling to top into positive figures. Today had a stiff wind that dropped the real temperature even further. But it was sunny, and running in the sunshine, no matter how weak or low in the sky, is a pleasure after nights of rain chilled running.
I set off on a route that would see me take in a two mile loop of Stoke Newington before heading down Petherton Road to eventually head down my route to work (across in to Barnsbury, down to Rosebury Avenue). This would have been fine but for getting slightly lost in Stoke Newington and adding another mile to my distance. I therefore did an unintentional 11 mile run, but it was an easier pace so hopefully no harm done.
The run was noticeably easier at the slower pace. I didn't get the loss of energy in the second half and it didn't feel at all like a battle. I finished the 11 miles confident that I could have carried on for quite a bit further.
Having left yesterday's hangover behind me I wanted to have a decent day of fitness. I started with a two hour cycle into central London and through the Royal Parks. Back to north London and to Clissold Leisure Centre for a 15 minute session on the cross-trainer and then a long run on the treadmill.
It wasn't too long ago that I found running outside next to impossible, but could easily do a few miles on the treadmill. That seems to have completely reversed now - I find the treadmill very difficult, especially at higher speeds or over longer distances.
I thought today's would be alright because I was going to be running at my target running speed for longer distances of 10.9 km/h. But it was still hard going, even over 5 miles. Still, pushed through and made up the distance. Felt like a decent hours cardio work out, and then out to Dalston for a Turkish meal of a plate of meat - a decent protein fix!
Welcome in 2010 with a vicious hangover, pounding headache and a desire to go out on a bike ride. A couple of paracetamol and a couple of pints of water kinda sort out the first two problems, and I head out for a three hour cycle before meeting some mates in the pub. Not a bad start to the year!