Training, tiredness, tapering- many runners currently preparing for a Spring marathon will I am sure be all too familiar with those terms. In the past I have been guilty of “winging it” when preparing for a long race, especially a road marathon- I never had the discipline or willingness to commit to a proper block of training (we are talking the standard 12 weeks here) and I didn’t particularly like running on roads either so that didn’t help matters. I have on occasion attempted a structured block of training but always managed to pull a calf (numerous times) or my hamstring fairly early on and thus scupper my chance of getting a decent time, and dented my inclination to follow that training path again. I will usually have still done the race but never fully achieved my potential and often crossed the line in a lot of pain (I recall Lisbon Marathon in 2014 when I popped my calf again 8k in and still continued- probably an error in hindsight but I wasn’t willing to DNF!).
The simple fact though is if you don’t put a hell of a lot of time, commitment and effort into training for a marathon then you will never truly fulfil your potential.
I write this 4 days before lining up on the start line of the Manchester Marathon, and for the first time in my running “career” of 7 years I have finally had a training period before a focus race that I am actually happy with- so free of injury and my own laziness!
Embracing the Tarmac
So what has changed? Well the first thing that had to occur was to start enjoying road running, and this was semi forced upon me by the birth of our amazing little boy Jesse. Quite simply you do not have the time available anymore to go swanning off to the Lake District or the Yorkshire Dales every weekend to go on epic fell runs or races. You need to manage your time more effectively and for me that meant incorporating my run into my everyday commute, usually three days a week (and cycling the others). This has made a massive difference in allowing me to get my mileage in whilst still enabling baby tea/bath/bedtime and not impacting negatively on family life.
Having a really comfortable running buggy (can only heap praise on the beast that is the Mountain Buggy!) has meant I have been able to do Parkrun most Saturdays too, which has been brilliant as an inclusive family activity. Running there and back to Roundhay is 10 miles and gives you the added bonus of a strength workout too (that hill in the park does not get any easier!). We do also ensure we divert to Opposite cafe in Chapel Allerton afterwards for a cheeky flat white/babycino combo though, obvs.
I have committed to doing my club Valley Striders AC speed sessions every Tuesday night without fail (my one night a week when I will go running)- again something I used to shy away from these previously. A year ago having become sick and tired of pulling my calf at least three times a year I went to see a fantastic physio (and running legend) Helene Diamantides/Whitaker in Harrogate and following her diagnosis and series of exercises (which I have stuck to religiously and crucially have total faith in), I have not had an issue since. That has given me the confidence to push the training.
I have also embraced warm-up races so undertaken a road 10k (pb at Dewsbury thank you very much) and 20 mile road race (pb again, but not difficult as never done one before!). I have still managed to get the odd local fell race in and done a little bit of off road training, but the majority of the last 12 weeks has been spent on the roads in a time efficient way that fits in most easily with the rest of my life. I have been really pleased to knock out sustained weekly mileage of 50+ (4 times), 60+ (4) and an 85 miler- again far exceeding anything I have ever consistently managed. Of course you can always think you can do more, but you need to be content with what you have managed.
Oh and I have also given up beer for these last 12 weeks, I do wonder what impact that has had…
There is no getting round it though, training properly for a marathon is bloody hard work! And I think only someone who has gone through that process would truly understand that. To force yourself out of the house at 5.45am in the middle of Winter to run to work takes some motivation. You feel constantly tired. Your Suunto constantly says at least 50 hours of recovery are needed (usually just before your next run!). To get the weekly mileage in you really do need to run most days. Rest days are a rare luxury, but are needed to avoid burnout so create a challenge in fitting them in. You can’t just “plod” through sessions- speed sessions need to be speed sessions. You sacrifice things like beer (that has been a challenge!).
You try and fit your rolling, stretching and core exercises in the lounge every night whilst trying to catch 20 minutes of tv, otherwise you are doing calf raises while brushing your teeth, or doing the plank whilst the kettle boils. You need to plan three days in advance to ensure you leave enough shirts at work otherwise you are carrying a massive pack on that commute, and don’t do what I have done on numerous occasions and forget your trousers/belt/shoes. You are constantly eating, desperate to consume enough calories before your next run. Coffee becomes even more of a friend.
The Taper Phantom
When your taper period finally arrives you really are ready for it- I have felt knackered these last two weeks! And then the week before race day the usual taper delusions occur- the negative thoughts like am I getting a cold? Did I just tweak something? Should I cram some more training in this week? What if its really windy on the day or I drop my gels blah blah blah… I really try to compress these thoughts but if something has consumed you for the last 3 months then I guess it is natural that this will happen, and there is nothing you can do about it. I always laugh at myself at how cranky I get the day before and the morning of a big race- I know I am doing it but I can’t help it! It is also worth mentioning about the many unforeseeable factors that can scupper your race even if you have had a perfect training build up- the weather, feeling ill, going too fast too early, the course measuring too short (sorry for the 2013-15 reference Manchester…).
Road marathons, there really is is no winging it, and I have massive respect for anyone who ever takes one on. Hopefully on Sunday my race time will be a reflection of the effort I have put in so far this year. I think that’s a fair request.