Keeping my mojo for marathon two

“Get out and do a recovery run on the day after marathon, about 20 minutes, don’t worry about pace.” That was the advice I was given to set me on my way to marathon number two, the Liverpool Run Rock’n’Roll, seven weeks after the Brighton Marathon.

Given that walking down the stairs was little, er, tricky, I wasn’t sure how this would go. Still, I stuck my running shoes back on and headed out into the rain which had finally arrived.

Once I got going, everything felt fine, I chose an easy, flat out and back and a comfortable pace. Whether this helped my legs to recover or not, I couldn’t honestly say, but it definitely helped my head get into the right place.

It was the school holidays and it would have been really easy to have taken a couple of weeks off, using “I’ve just run a marathon”, as an excuse, but getting straight back out there kept my rhythm going. I made sure I got up for some early morning runs, and even though my longest run was only 10 miles and I’d done no swimming or yoga, I felt like I’d my fitness and energy levels up and my legs strong, ready for the last five weeks of full training when the kids went back to school.

First thing I did on that Tuesday was fill out my training plan for the five weeks to race day. I’d been holding off to see how the legs felt. Putting it all down on paper made it all seem doable – and real.

Friday was my last long run, a cheeky little 24 miler, and I’m now back into tapering again before the race on the 25th.

This time last year, if you’d told me I’d run a marathon in 3 hrs 30, then plan for another seven weeks later, I’d have thought you were talking about someone else. Well, I did and I am. I’ve no real target for this one, just planning to enjoy the music, atmosphere and a nostalgic trip around my home city. Oh, and picking up another nice bit of bling at the end.

Is it really four weeks since Brighton?

Does this still count as a race report nearly four weeks later? I think I was in shock after not only getting inside the time I had hoped for, but by a satisfying 20 minutes, that it didn’t seem quite real and writing about it felt weird.

Anyway, I’m over it now, I’ve checked, double and triple checked the results page and it’s definitely true. I finished the Brighton Marathon in 3 hours 30 minutes and 27 seconds which is well inside the London Marathon good for age qualifying time of 3hrs 50. Yippeee!!

To be honest, it couldn’t have gone any better. It was as though all the running gods had got together and decided that it was going to be the perfect day for racing.

All week we’d been promised rain, cold, and strong winds, but I woke up Sunday morning to see that the rain had been removed from the forecast, the temperature was up and the wind was down.

I joined the throng of people walking up to Preston Park for the start of the race, the atmosphere was buzzing, there were lots of marathon stories being swapped and last minute advice being offered. This continued during the traditional half hour wait in the queue to the toilet.

Still, it meant that I got to listen to an interview with Paula Radcliffe, who was there to start the race. It was interesting to hear her coping strategies for the distance, like counting to a 100 three times to pass a mile. I’ve been known to do something similar with times tables.

With 10 minutes to go, I headed down to the starting pens and joined my fellow reds, my Garmin successfully located the satellites, just needed to get going now.

The loop round Preston Park, with its bottle necks, means that you can’t go out to quickly, so avoid that early mistake that can mess up your race.

I settled into a comfortable pace and had to keep telling myself to slow down, I didn’t want to burn out.

I searched around in the crowd about mile three as the family were going to try to get there, didn’t see them, but I hadn’t been hopeful so wasn’t too disappointed, also, got distracted by the new loop to replace the post-Ovingdean hill.

Still, I saw them at 5 miles, was able to nip across to kiss the kids and hand my gloves over – yes, shockingly, I was warm enough to do that. (I’ve been known to still be wearing a jumper at 25C.)

On the way to Ovingdean, about mile 6-7, saw the first of the elites coming the other way, their speed definitely helps inspire you to get up that hill.

One of my big worries coming into the marathon was the number of ‘natural breaks’I might need, eating into my running time. I managed to stick it out till 11, at the bottom of the hill on the way back into Brighton, result!

Saw the family again just after halfway, a great psychological boost ahead of the 14 mile marker, which was where, two years ago, my Achilles had screamed at me to stop and I’d staggered round the last 12.2 miles. I passed the marker with a very loud internal “Whooop!”and started to really relax and enjoy the support around me.

There seemed to be so many more people out this year cheering and holding some inspiring and funny banners.

Checking my timings after another sneaky loo trip at mile 19 and I was pretty confident I was going to hit my target.

After the not-so-picturesque trip round the docks, coming out at mile 23, I felt strong, happy and a little excited.

My last three miles were the fastest of the race and I knew I had a big grin on my face as I passed the family just ahead of the finish line. The crowds were amazing on the last strip down towards the sea front and really spurred me on.

Crossing the finish line felt wonderful, especially as I’d knocked an hour off my last Brighton marathon.

The family where there at the meeting point when I got to it and we headed off for a pint and a slice of pizza.

All that’s left is to say a big thank you to all the organisers, marshals and supporters in Brighton. I hope to run in the London Marathon next year, but I’m sure I’ll be back one day.

Last minute nerves

The last run has been run, kit is all washed and ready to go, train ticket bought and legs rested. I’ve been pretty happy with training and preparation for the Brighton Marathon on Sunday, more than ever before a race, maybe that’s why I seem to be suddenly really nervous. I feel like I’ve got the running version of stage fright.

I can’t seem to settle, am really twitchy and have persuaded myself to write this so I sit still for a little bit – the up side is that flat is probably cleaner and tidier than ever. Don’t think I’m going to be able to sleep properly for the next couple of nights, but then I expect I’ll sleep like a dream on Sunday to make up for it.

I think it’s a mixture of nerves and excitement. I sort of know what I’m in for, this is my fourth marathon and my second in Brighton, but this time I’ve got a goal that has (hopefully) a bonus prize of a good for age place in London next year. Stakes seem a bit higher now.

To calm myself down, I’m off to do last minute checks on all my lotions and potions and recovery bits and pieces, then tonight I’m aiming for a long soak in the bath and a good comfort food meets carb loading pasta tea.

Here’s hoping I don’t freeze up on the start line.

Good luck to everyone marathon running this weekend, looking forward to all your race reports.

IMG_1407

Some of the “essentials” coming with me

It’s taper time

Ah, the taper, it always makes me a bit anxious. Even though I’ve read lots about the importance of tapering and have always done it in the past, I worry that it’ll leave me less fit or prepared, but still, it’s the right thing to do.

That said, my tapering has gone pretty well, touch wood – and I’m doing a lot of that at the moment. I’ve stuck to my schedule, reducing distance or intensity as advised and am eating sensibly – banana cake is fruit and carb loading in one right? – and trying to keep well hydrated.

My big fear at the moment is tripping over some random bit of sticking up paving stone and ruling myself out of running. Of course, I’m constantly checking the weather forecast too – will I have to run in a jacket, can I ditch the gloves? It’s only adding to the PMT (pre-marathon tension).

There’s now only five sleeps till the big day and I know I’ve got two runs, a swim and two yoga sessions left. Friday’s will be a short shake out run before trying to rest on Saturday, although I can see myself frantically running round the expo, credit card in hand wanting to buy everything. That doesn’t count though surely?

Partly to appease the kids (“Aww, why do we have to come and watch another marathon? It’s sooooo boring.”) and partly to enforce rest upon me we’re planning on going to see the Muppet movie on Saturday afternoon. Otherwise, I can imagine a little light shopping might turn into an afternoon trekking round the city.

We’re staying in a family room that night too, which means an enforced early bed time, a bonus given that I usually find it hard to sleep the night before a race – too excited and nervous – so at least I’ll be resting.

I’ve enjoyed reading other people’s taper blogs and tweets over the last couple of weeks too, good to know we’re all in it together.

Choosing the right energy boost

I’ve run three marathons so far and never bothered with energy gels, snacks on the go or the like and have got round on water and maybe a little slug of the energy provided by the race organizer. This time around though, I’ve decided to give myself that extra little boost as I’d really like to get a good for age place for London 2015.

There seem to be so many different ways to go and products on the market that it was a bit overwhelming. I took to #UKRunChat hour one Sunday, 8-9pm to seek advice and find out what others were doing.

If you’ve not discovered #UKRunChat hour, it’s a brilliant way to connect with other runners on Twitter. People swap advice, give support and make connections with fellow runners. It’s billed as the fastest hour of the week and keeping up is quite a challenge, but it’s also great.

So, armed with a bunch of suggestions I headed to Sweatshop and had a chat with them. I’d decided to try three different options, otherwise I wouldn’t have time to get used to my choice.

First up was Science in Sport, Go Isotonic Gel, 60ml, apple flavour. I don’t carry a bag or a belt or anything and these were really bulky in my back pocket and the corners were poking me too, so was glad when they’d both gone. I found them quite hard to open, I had to rip them with my teeth which wasn’t pleasant.

It was good that you didn’t have to take them with water, they were pretty liquid and the flavour was ok, but a mile later, they were a bit “repeaty” for want of a better phrase. This was not good, feeling a bit sickly.

Next up were Jelly Beans, Sport Beans, 28g pack, orange flavour. The pack recommended one whole pack 30 mins before running then to eat the beans as and when you needed an energy boost.

As someone who doesn’t normally eat jelly beans or sweets for that matter, eating a whole pack before running was quite a big ask. I didn’t really enjoy the jelly bean experience at all. I did pop one every 2-3 miles, or when I stopped for water, but I found that they really stuck to my teeth and I just wanted to brush and get rid of them.

Finally, I tried the GU energy gel, 32g, jet blackberry flavour. I took three out with me and spaced them out during my longer runs. I could just about fit them into my back pocket, so was pleased with that. Again, they were a bit tricky to open, but I think I’ve got the hang of it now. The flavour was ok but I can’t say I enjoyed the texture, made sure I had a good bit of water with them.

I’m not going to try any more now ahead of the marathon, so I’m sticking with the GU, the best option of the three that I tried.

I definitely think they’ve made a difference to my training, last year, ahead of Paris, I’d come back completely spent and hungry. My last two long runs, 24 miles each, I’ve felt fairly comfortable and confident I could do the last 2.2 at the end.

Here’s hoping they help me reach my goal in Brighton next month.

Entering the final straight

Passing the 10 week mark of my 16-week marathon training programme is always a big milestone for me. It means there’s just the ‘school holidays’ to go. Only three weeks to tapering, so it all suddenly starts to seem more achievable. So I thought I’d wrap up my training and thoughts so far.

I’m aiming for a PB this year, and have been trying really hard to give myself the best shot at it. This has included doing a marathon workshop with the Run Doctor and actually implementing some of what was said!

I’ve always known that some speed work or interval training was good, but I’ve never really enjoyed it before. This time, after the workshop, I decided to have a go at the Yasso 800s, which seems to have worked well for me. They’ve had a positive effect on my parkrun times too, I’ve watched my 5k PB fall over the past few months, an added bonus.

The other thing that I’ve been doing this time, which I’ve always shuddered at and avoided in the past is strength work. I’ve got a set of exercises that I tried to follow, but doing it at home doesn’t do it for me and I can’t face the gym, so I’ve taken to yoga.

There is a downside to this, I’m now really enjoying yoga too and hate to miss a class! I’ve been doing three a week, two of them bikram or other hot yoga and a cooler, less sweaty, iyengar class. Somehow a 30 day plank challenge seems to have crept in to my schedule too. I’ve definitely seen a change in my body with this and I’m happy, so I think that I can say strength work gets a tick.

Another new thing for me is energy gels. I’ve always been reluctant before, but after my stomach was growling at me after my first longer run, it made me think. I’ve tried a few and settled on my favourite, for now. Still a bit rubbish at tearing open the sachet, but that’s what training runs are supposed to help sort out.

With less than six weeks to go, I’m also off the booze now. I’m trying not to think too much about that first cold pint of beer after the race, but somehow it keeps popping into my head. That and pizza.

There’s just over four weeks to go now, hopefully I’ll be arriving at the start line in Brighton the best prepared that I can be.

Calling female runners

A friend of mine is a lecturer at London South Bank University and we were at a birthday dinner a couple of weeks ago when we got chatting. She knows I’m a runner and mentioned a project that her students are doing with A Mile in Her Shoes.

If you don’t know, A Mile in Her Shoes is a charity that helps homeless women to find their feet through running. They organise running groups with qualified run leaders and work with the women to support them in a variety of issues around homelessness.

I knew of the organisation and was already following them on twitter – @InHerShoesHQ – so was excited to hear what they were doing.

They are investigating ways the runners can help the organisation, and to start with have put together a survey for female runners to complete. Please take part here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/5Y25GBV

A Mile in Her Shoes is part-funded by UnLTD (a social enterprise organisation) through LSBU, but they rely mostly on donated clothing.

Please get in touch with them if you have any spare running shoes or kit that could be used by the women or sold to raise funds for the project. For more in formation, visit their website at http://amileinhershoes.co.uk or email run@amileinhershoes.org.uk

Fear of getting caught short on the course

I don’t know whether it’s my age, the cold, that I’m drinking too much water on the way round, or just that worrying about it makes you want to go more, but these days, my long run routes (and, sadly, currently my shorter runs too) are determined by a series of park / public toilets and even a 24 hr garage that I know has a loo.

Or at least, that’s the theory. I had a nightmare the other day, I was doing my interval session, so there is a bit of slow recovery time, it was chucking it down with rain – that may or may not be related – and no one had come to open the park toilets. Of course, this only exacerbated the situation, knowing that I couldn’t go.

Through gritted teeth, I did my intervals, lots of extra deep breathing and concentration. Then, just after I’d finished and was heading off for the cool down run home, a man arrived in a van. My heart lifted, I ran over and asked, all expectant, if he’d come to open the toilet block. He said that he hadn’t but could if I wanted, but wouldn’t I rather use the facilities in the community hall?

What, the place with the shutters down, no lights on and looking about as closed as possible? Yes, I was told, apparently it had been open the whole time. Aaarrrrgghhhh!

I think the longest gap between toilets on my long runs is about four miles, about the same as longest gap on the Brighton Marathon route, which makes me feel more relaxed. Hopefully, knowing they’re there will be enough to make me forget about them and concentrate on the running!

Four firsts and a failure

Ok, it’s official, I’m knackered.

This has been a big week of firsts for me, and I’ve loved every minute of it, though my body is now crying ‘enough!’.

My first first, was a trip down to London Bridge to have a session at the Hot Bikram Yoga studio. I’m relatively new to yoga, I only started in October, so I was a little bit anxious about the intensity of the heat and the workout. That was once I’d worked out what to wear of course (not much).

For those who don’t know, the class is carried out in a room at about 40 C and is a series of 26 postures.

I got really sweaty – which is the general idea – and I liked it far more than I thought I would, that heat did seem to make me more flexible than I usually am. As soon as I got home I signed up for more sessions.

My second first was a new approach to my interval / speed session. I’ve been doing 200m sprints at full pelt and repeating, but after my weekend session of marathon training with the Run Doctor, I decided to have a go at Yasso 800s.

The idea is you run 800m fast, then however long it takes you, you recover for that amount of time by walking or light running, then go for the 800m again. This is then repeated until you’ve done 10 sets of 800m, all completed within a five second range.

I found the idea a bit daunting to be honest and set out to do six, but then the fifth felt really good and positive, so I thought, ah, go on then, lets do eight, then of course by the time you’ve done eight, you might as well go on and do 10. Or so I persuaded myself.

The theory is that if you can do the 800m in, say, four mins, give or take five seconds either way over all ten laps then this predicts your marathon finish time to be 4 hours, give or take five minutes either way.

I’ve read lots of conflicting stuff on the internet about whether or not this is an accurate prediction and whether or not there not there is any real benefit of speed work for marathon runners. To be honest, I quite enjoyed doing something different to normal and it can’t do me any harm, surely?

New thing number three was getting out the foam roller. There’s one at home from when my husband dislocated a shoulder, but I’ve never really thought about using it before. I’ve still not quite got the hang of it, but thank goodness for YouTube, all makes a bit more sense than reading about it. Hamstrings were very grateful.

My last first of the week was finally getting round to doing a strength session. Probably the bit I’d been least looking forward to, all the repetitions are a bit, well, dull, and I was stuck inside. Even trying to distract myself with music, radio or TV couldn’t really brighten it up. Still I did it, and here’s hoping I’m getting some benefit from it.

That’s it, one new thing a day, till today. Can’t really claim that I tried anything new today, had planned to try an energy gel on my long run, but failed to get round to buying any, still a bit unsure about which one to go for.

So next week’s new things are hill sprints and I will seek out some gels to try. All good stuff.

Marathon training with the Run Doctor

There always seems to be more to know or learn as a runner. I’m forever thinking that I don’t know enough about this or that, so when I saw an email for a Marathon Running workshop with The Run Doctor, Ed, that was my Christmas present sorted out and I didn’t have to drop a ridiculous amount of hints.

Because I’m – ever so slightly – addicted to parkrun, I left early to run the two miles to the nearest one to where the workshop was taking place. I know, I cheated on my local parkrun, but there was no chance of a PB so I felt like I could be forgiven. I did come to slightly regret this, more of that later.

I enjoyed the new, hillier challenge and felt all fired up as I arrived for the day.

After a brief introduction about how the day would go, we were taken off to be filmed running on the treadmill for analysis later. Oh dear, I hate running on a treadmill and being filmed, brrrrrr. Still, it was all in a good cause, just had to not think too much about it.

The course took us through training methods, essential elements to include – long, tempo, recovery runs, intervals and strength work. We looked at nutrition, recovery tips, planning a training schedule, the importance of tapering and running technique.

To help with our technique, we went to a nearby running track and did some warm up exercises and simple exercises aimed at improving our posture and running style. Then it was laps of the track, two – or 800m – at a time. The aim was to run fast and then rest before repeating, hopefully at the same pace, up to ten times.

Sadly for me, that was where the earlier running took its toll. By now it was nearly 1.30 and I was soooo hungry! Managed three lots of 800m, but that was enough! Lesson learnt – don’t do all that running without a snack at some point.

After (a very much wanted on my part) lunch, Ed went through the treadmill clips, critiquing everyone, suggesting areas of improvement. Some things I’m definitely going to work on.

We finished the session with a Q&A, before heading home, all inspired and raring to go. I would definitely recommend the workshop (take snacks), it was very relaxed, warm and friendly as well as being packed with information and advice. There was a booklet to take home too, with some exercises modeled by the lovely Ed himself.

I was going to run back, but thought, forget that, I’m getting the bus, so I had a nice sit down all the way home and then some well-earned pizza for tea.