Illness scuppers training plans

Typical. In my last few posts I have babbled on about some great training runs, and how I now steadfastly refuse to shave miles off the long weekend runs. Smug as anything me, I’ve got this marathon thing sorted…

Since I posted those few bright and breezy blogs, I am supposed to have: 

–         Run a steady 10 miler

–         Done a speed session

–         Run a fartlek session

–         Gone on a 16 miler

 Instead, I have: 

–         Run a steady ten miler

–         Been to Birmingham with work and got home late

–         Run for precisely one minute and 12 seconds before jacking it in feeling unwell

–         Experienced a lovely five-star spa hotel and its associated glories

–         Missed runs as a result

–         Shaved a couple of miles off a long run and ran 14 miles, which nearly did me in, before a couple of hours shivering in the car.


It’s fair to say training has been a bit of a disaster, but there have been plenty of mitigating circumstances in my defence.

First, a day in Birmingham with work put an end to any speed session ambitions, but to be honest I was feeling unwell so would probably have given it a miss anyway.

I read recently that a sudden increase in training can result in dodgy goings-on with your immune system, and this has undeniably been the case with me – a wheezy painful chest, sore threat, headache, sniffle and general grogginess have infused me with a general feeling of antipathy towards running, and that was the case when I tried to get back into it the night after my missed session.

I headed out into the bitter cold with a feeling it wouldn’t work out, and straight away a sharp pain and hacking cough told me to pack it in. If anyone training for a marathon is reading this, take note. It’s easy to try and plough on when you don’t feel well, but don’t.

Listen to your body.

If you’re unwell, don’t push it and think ‘it will be all right’. A few days off is absolutely fine, in fact, it is a very good thing. It is far too easy to get hung up on sticking to your pre-designed running plan, but it can be to your detriment if you don’t feel well. I have a friend who ended up with a chest infection as a result of pushing it too hard, which subsequently played a bit of havoc with his marathon training plans. The last thing you need is illness, caused by your own stubbornness. You’ll cover plenty of miles in your training, so you can afford to miss a few miserable ones feeling ill. They won’t help.

Anyway, wise-words aside, on the Saturday I still wasn’t feeling great but it didn’t matter, as it was the wife’s birthday so I had already marked the day down as a day off.

We were fortunate enough to be able to drop the toddler off at Grandma’s and experience a day and night of bliss in a posh hotel and spa which was always going to trump a run.

However, as I settled into bed on the Saturday night, with a belly full of beautiful steak, fine wine, gooey chocolate pudding and lovely beer, I vowed to smash the long run in the morning. It may have been the beer talking, but it turned out to be anything but that in reality. More of that later, but point to note, don’t try and push yourself too hard when you come back from a few days off feeling unwell…

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Eat, drink, run, repeat

January 14th, 2014

One week in, and the repetition begins. Tonight was a repeat of last week’s tempo training, which I found a big struggle. Driving home from work tonight, I confess to feeling slight dread at the thought of the session ahead. Perhaps this defeatist mindset is best for me, as for the second time in my training regime, a feeling of unease and fear resulted in a good run.

Maybe I’m best heading to the start line at Greenwich in a sulk. As others bounce about limbering up, I might be best just sitting around brooding about the upcoming few hours. Food for thought…

Last week, my two 3.5 mile tempo runs were paced at about 7:25 minutes per mile, whereas this week I was something closer to 7:15 minutes per mile. This is a noticeable improvement (it would mean finishing about half a mile quicker in a marathon), and despite the quicker speed I felt more comfortable. It’s nice to think, as I reach for a digestive biscuit in the comfort of home, that last week I’d probably still be outside stretching, muttering and gasping. These little mental mind games tick away all the time during training, I’m sure other runners would concur.

I’m not going to read too much into it, but hopefully this improvement is an early sign that my training is having some effect. If so, thanks Paula. Of course, some runs are simply bad ones where the legs feel like iron rods, the chest heaves and every passing mile feels like an eternity, but I’m putting two good runs in a row – amounting to 23 miles in total – as a good sign.

Hopefully this positivity won’t make tomorrow’s run a bad one. I must remember to get the fear again.

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The long Sunday run…

January 12th, 2014

Paula, quite sensibly, suggests that the weekly long run should be on a Sunday and for once I have to nod in agreement. There isn’t much in her training programme that I find myself agreeing with – such as the harsh treatment my body seems to be getting from her, when I could be lying down eating chips – but Sunday is a great day to get out and pound the road for a couple of hours. And so it was today, with a gentle number through the Chilterns for 14 miles. Lovely stuff it was too.

The reason for the long run when training for a marathon should be pretty obvious, but despite that it is easy to take a short cut here and there, and trim a few miles off. After all, what is the odd mile once you’ve been running for more than two hours? It doesn’t matter does it? It doesn’t make a difference by that point…

Yes it does.

The first time I ran a marathon, I took plenty of short cuts when it came to long training runs. The longest run I did in the build up was around 18 miles and on the day of the marathon itself, I hit the wall so hard I’m surprised I didn’t fall backwards and knock myself out on the road. In fact, I almost did, through sheer exhaustion. I might well have done, I can barely remember the last few miles if I’m honest.

The last nine miles of the Amsterdam Marathon rank as amongst the most forlorn, lonely, depressing moments of my life. My thighs felt like someone had slit the skin at the top of my legs and inserted metal plates down the front of my legs. Every mile marker was a reminder of the hell I had still to endure. Time slowed to a thick, gloopy ticking. Every supporter was an affront to my tired state, their words of encouragement a mockery. Every crack and lump in the road felt like chisels on the soles of my feet. It was hell.

There are many reasons I felt so utterly out of it, and my fuelling strategy was undoubtedly one of the bigger problems. Instead of the Power Bar Shot sweeties I swear by today, I opted for Jelly Beans, and they did no good. Alongside that, I’ve no doubt my lack of attention to the long runs cost me dearly.

On April 13th, I’ll be in an extremely tired state by mile 20, but I hope I’ll be in a position where I can still interact with the crowd, still run, and not break down and weep through sheer misery and exhaustion, like I did in the Vondelpark that day.

So, even though the hills, frost and ice could have forced me to jack it in today, I stuck it out and completed the 14 miles. And next week it will be 16, gradually increasing each week until it reaches 22 miles and then starts diminishing in distance.. I won’t be shaving miles of these long runs, and I’d urge anyone training for the London Marathon – whatever you do – make sure you complete these long sessions. It makes all the difference – trust the poor weeping figure in Amsterdam, it really does.

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January 11th, 2014

I went to Sweden once. I was visiting friends so was fortunate enough to experience the best of Stockholm, as well as something called Kraftkriva, which is basically an excuse to eat lots of crayfish, drink a large quantity of alcohol and sing rowdy songs. 

I was just getting the running bug when I visited, and I remember tackling a couple of short runs in Fred Perry plimsolls. Not the brightest idea, and I developed horrendous blisters which eventually resulted in a foot infection which required a course of antibiotics.

Anyhow, the reason I’m reminiscing about Sweden, is because the nation invented something called ‘Fartlek’, which translates as ‘speed play’. It’s basically a run involving a mish-mash of speeds, taken at your own choosing. Jog a few minutes, and then sprint for 30 seconds. Jog for another minute, and then run to the lamppost in the distance. Recover with a jog and then run quickly for three minutes or until you get to the tree with the broken branch. It’s completely up to the runner, and it’s designed to put your body through its paces by varying the exertion levels. As well as doing that, it allows the runner multiple chances to experience something I’ve already written about, which is that feeling of spriting past someone only to have to stop a few seconds later, thus giving them the impression that you’re a first timer and have gone out too hard.

Well anyway, today Paula fancied a bit of speed play and what Paula says Pies does, to the tune of:

  • 1.5 mile warm up
  • 40 mins of Fartlek, with speed bursts no shorter than 30 seconds and no longer than three minutes.
  • 1 mile warm down

After a day with no running, which Paula suggests twice a week (thanks Paula), and a night drinking London Pride (which Paula does not suggest) the legs felt much better today and I was able to handle the speed bursts pretty well – with one three minute burst sustained at 6:40 min per mile pace. If I kept that up for the entire marathon, something I haven’t even the tiniest chance of doing, I would finish in 2:54.

How people sustain that pace for so long is quite frankly beyond me, they are superhuman and I applaud them. Now, I would share my ambitions here, but I’m not sure what they are yet. So I won’t. That’s for later when I see how the training pans out. After all, I’m only one foot infection away from a setback aren’t I?

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Speedy Gonzalez?

Janury 9th, 2014

I really didn’t want to go running tonight, but Paula wanted me to. Plus, taking time off three days into a three-month marathon programme seems quite tame.

My legs (thighs to be precise) hurt immensely, not unlike they’ve felt after a half marathon in about 1:37 before. I’m talking about the kind of pain where you imagine the muscle is bleeding like a raw steak that has just been punched repeatedly. Someone once told me that’s what it looks like but I think they were lying.

But anyway, I donned the head torch and set off on a speed interval session, which tonight was:

  • One mile warm up
  • 5 x 5 minute sessions really giving it some
  • 2 minute breaks in between
  • One and a bit miles warm down

The first mile was the struggle I anticipated, but weirdly the first speed session seemed to jolt me into life. After that, despite the occasional grunting / howling noise as I fought for breath in the chilly air, tonight’s run was a resounding success and a return to something like enjoying running. Which I do ususally.

The only other thing to make note of is the embarrassment that I sometimes experience as a runner. Training for any event involves sessions like tonight – speed work – and that involves periods of running at pace, followed by periods of rest. What this means is that I often find myself charging past a pedestrian at full clip, presumably looking something akin to an Olympic hopeful, only to be forced by my Garmin to slow down to rest speed. To the pedestrian (or driver, or whoever it may be who spots this happening) this looks like I’m giving in. I often think they must be thinking ‘fool, he’s gone far too quick for his capabilities and now look at him.’

So if you’re driving or walking about in Marlow at all, and you see a speed demon jogger coming to an abrupt stop, don’t worry, it is all part of the plan. Unless he faints. In that case, do pop over and help him.

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Broken & Bad

January 8th, 2014

After yesterday’s difficult tempo run, Paula Radcliffe’s schedule for tonight was kind enough to stay clear of any quick bursts of pace, but she felt sufficiently cruel to throw nine miles my way.

So off I went in my hi-viz jacket, head torch on, in search of a route that wasn’t the one I did last night. You see, variety is important to me. Some runners like the same route, but I get bored quickly, and I remember milestones easily. “That junction? It’s at the bottom of a horrible hill.” “That pub? The path after it is bumpy and I turned my ankle once.” Those milestones play on my mind, so I like to vary it.

The problem with where I live is that it’s a small town, so there are not a great variety of great routes at night. Through the day, it is a running heaven with the River Thames and Chilterns on the doorstep, but at night the river path is pitch black (and flooded at the moment) and the narrow, windy country lanes are a hazard for a runner. Even one dressed like a lollipop man.

So, I cherry-picked sections of the small handful of routes I use at night, and plodded around the nine miles in about 1:15. All in all, it was a very slow pace, much slower than my average pace – but the legs would not go any quicker after last night.

So that’s two runs in. 18 miles in two days which is no small achievement, but I cannot help but noticing I’m struggling. Tomorrow doesn’t look any better – ‘speed sessions’ – which promises to be tricky, but at least I’ll be out there for less than an hour and can get home for the latest episode of Breaking Bad (kudos to father-in-law and stepmum-in- law for the Christmas box set).

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Training starts… with a whimper

January 7th 2014

So, training began tonight. I’m following a regime called something like ‘intermediary marathon programme’ in Paula Radcliffe’s ‘How to Run’. What has quickly become clear is that Paula isn’t as nice as she appears on the TV. She’s pretty brutal but I guess that’s how you run 26.2 miles in 2:15.

Tonight involved something called a seven mile tempo run, and judging by how I felt – I got the tempo all wrong. A tempo run is designed to be ‘comfortably hard’, but tonight was particularly tough. Mine tonight went like this.

  •  1 mile warm up
  • 3.5 miles quick (tempo)
  • 0.5 miles regain consciousness / stop wheezing
  • 3.5 miles quick again (tempo… 3.5 + 3.5 = 7 mile tempo run)
  • 0.5 mile stagger home

So tonight I ran nine miles after a day at work, and a Christmas spent devoting myself to London Pride. I think that had an effect on my run, as I’ve done tempo runs of around six miles before and felt fine. Tonight was an off night I hope.

I got round though, with the two 3.5 mile tempo intervals sustained at around 7:25 mins per mile. Apart from the general pain, the other significant point about tonight’s run was the conditions. The recent rain has created quite a few flooded areas where I live (Marlow), so running through ankle high water made the run all the more interesting. A dog walker remarked what a madman I was as I charged through one flooded section. Nice touch.

All in all, a tough start to the new training regime. Here’s hoping it starts to get easier.

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