8 weeks to go

So, just 8 weeks to go till the London Marathon. So, how are things going? A good week, I think.

During the week, some hill intervals on the treadmill, a good paced 10km, some speed intervals, a swim and a good cycle. Then on Saturday I took the car to Melton and then the train into Ipswich, followed by a slightly looping 25km back to Melton, my longest run yet. It was a cold morning so I was kitted out in tracksuit bottoms, my warm winter top, a fluorescent top over that, my warmest gel gloves, and a fleecy hat, plus my Camelbak for water and to carry fuel. Possibly the most I’ve ever worn for a run.

There was a good deal of suburbia but I enjoyed the docks/marina at Ipswich, several parks, the minor thrill of finding a pavement added to a road since the Google Streetview car had been along, exploring some of the heathland at Martlesham Heath (most of it now being housing estate), running through woods, views of Martlesham Creek, a visit to bits of Woodbridge familiar from over 26 years ago, into Melton, round the back along some rural footpaths, a train leaping out at me from behind a tree, and finishing by the River Deben.

I also practised fuelling strategy, taking on Lucozade Sport drink that’ll be at the marathon (note: do not get this in your eye, it stings like hell) and for the first time a Lucozade Sport gel (much sweeter than the Sport in Science ones I usually use, but acceptable). I also had my planned pre-marathon breakfast at about the right time, and no problems experienced. I even added to the reality of the occasion by waking up before 5am and being unable to get back to sleep.

Sunday I went out to the headwaters of the River Gipping for a relatively gentle 11.5km recovery run, which went very well – no effects from the previous day’s long run.

I’ve run personal record distances for each of the last three weeks, running over 59 km this week just gone, as well as nudging the longest run up a smidgen. However, 42.2km still seems like an awfully long way! Work still to do.

Claire’s 50th parkrun

Today was Claire’s 50th parkrun, and someone who bear’s his share of the responsibility for Claire doing parkruns (and 10k’s and 10-milers) at all, I thought I would pop down to Hadleigh to help celebrate.

It was a glorious morning albeit rather chilly, with lovely views across the Thames estuary.

Claire was tailwalking with her Dad, dragging her “50” balloons with her, while I pushed myself hard, trying to get the pacing right – in round terms, the first third is downhill, the middle third is gently undulating, and the final third is a fairly challenging uphill, so getting the pacing right is not easy. The analysis on Radio 4’s ‘More or Less’ recently suggested that by some measures this may be the hardest parkrun in the country.

Anyway, something went right today and I knocked 50 seconds off my course PB to finish in 25:25, not bad with 110m of ascent – my running calculator says it was the equivalent of a flat 5km PB, for what that’s worth.

I then had another kilometre run to the car and back to fetch my barcode which I’d carelessly left there (you’d think I would have got the hang of this by now), and then twenty minutes or so of cheering people across the finish, before retiring to the café for a nice hot chocolate and chat.

I then changed from trail to road shoes, popped down the hill to Chalkwell on the seafront, where the sea was almost completely flat, and set off for a run of indeterminate length – both 10km and 10 miles were in my head. My legs initially felt very heavy but after about 4km they seemed much happier and I kept going past the potential 5km turn-round mark. I still felt good at 8km so decided that it was a lovely day for a half-marathon and continued further past Shoebury Ness to the remaining MOD property. On the way back, the pier seemed to linger in the distance for a very long time without getting any closer, but it was good mental practice, increasingly so as my legs tired in the last couple of kilometres.

Very happy with the morning’s running – albeit in three bits, the most running I’ve done in a day.

It was a chilly 1°C at the start of parkrun, and a warm 11° by the end of the long run.

Plans afoot

Since getting my place in May 2017 for in The Big One on 22 April 2018, I’ve deliberately run a lot more races than previously, with more in the pipeline. Those planned still to do:

In March, my first overseas race, the Cyprus Half Marathon in Paphos. In places it’s not the most thrilling of routes, truth be told, but a great start and finish, and having spent so much time in Cyprus it will be fun to run a race there as part of the London Marathon build-up, 7 weeks out.

Other possibilities: the Stowmarket half-marathon in March is very local and a possibility, 5 weeks from London. The Tarpley 10 or 20 in February is also very local. However, none of these quite fit the distances my training plan is calling for, so I’ll reserve judgement for now.

I’ve entered the London 10-mile in Richmond Park again in May 2018, having run the first one in 2017 and not done quite as well as I’d hoped. It’s only three weeks after the London Marathon, so I’m not sure whether that means I’ll be in peak form, or still gently recovering, or with a body just too focused on the endurance of the marathon distance rather than a bit more speed for 10 miles. We’ll see.

And after that – no definite plans. Perhaps the Perkins Great Eastern Half again in October. Definitely a 10k or two somewhere as that distance has been neglected with the marathon and half-marathon focus, and I think I now have more strength to succeed at 10k. And of course some more parkrun tourism, which has also suffered slightly.

London Marathon Meet the Experts, February 2018

at the Methodist Central Hall, Westminster, 3rd February

The organisers of the Virgin Money London Marathon put on an event called “Meet the Experts”, an opportunity to hear from a range of experts to help those attending (almost exclusively first timers such as myself) to be better prepared by the time we get to 22nd April, as well as entertaining and inspiring us with some noteworthy previous runners. I got a free ticket through my charity, Guide Dogs. I wasn’t sure it was going to be worth trekking into London, but it proved to be very worthwhile.

Before the main session in the lecture hall, I had my feet measured for the first time in many, many years, and possibly the first time with such precision. My right foot is a 9.6 and my left a 10.4; my right is slightly wider than normal and my left about normal; my right is more arched than my left. I had my gait analysed, though with such a short runway, rather than a treadmill, I’m not sure how representative it was: the sponsors New Balance then tried to sell me new shoes based on their analysis, but nothing seemed quite right, and this close to the marathon it’s probably best to stick to what I know anyway. I already have four pairs of running shoes in action at the moment, which should be enough.

So, in addition to the entertainment and inspiration from some of the speakers, what did I learn today? Lots of little bits and pieces, some relevant to the next 11 weeks, others to the day itself. Quite a few things weren’t new to me, but hearing them afresh should stimulate me to do something about them. Though I may have mentally absorbed a few other things too, here’s what I noted down, together with some actions or notes to myself:

  • Lucozade Sport is available at five points on the route (miles 7, 11, 15, 19 and 23) – start drinking it during my longer runs, to make sure my stomach can take it and that I have a clear nutrition strategy for the race. [First test on 4th February showed no problem drinking it in principle, but I really don’t want to down 500ml in one go. I did one bottle in four quarters, spread over 3km. Probably want a running belt that can carry the Lucozade Sport? Do I still have my old blue one? If so, try it out as not used for a while now. Is it big enough to hold my new phone – probably not.]
  • Lucozade Sport gels are at 14 and 21 miles – try Lucozade gels, as the combination of the Lucozade drink and gels would mean I would need hardly any gels of my own. In some ways I’d like to avoid having a running belt at all, but it is handy for phone, gels and handkerchief – and see point above about Lucozade Sport.
  • Toilets are available every 2 miles from mile 1 – I hope not to need them, but it’s reassuring to know the option is there (regularly)
  • Baggage lorries close at 0925. Only the official kitbag will be accepted, but I don’t know how big that is. Get to the start in lots of time – allow time for baggage lorry and multiple visits to the loo!
  • Discarded clothing at the start goes to charities – look out for something warm that we don’t mind losing, plus bin bag if any chance of rain or excessive wind.
  • Wheelchair start is 0855, with para-athletes at 0900 and women’s elite race at 0915, so things for spectators to see before the men’s elite and mass race reaches them.
  • Mobile phones may not work near the finish (and perhaps the start) due to the volume of people – don’t rely on them for meeting friends/family
  • The meeting points are very busy to get to – it may be better to arrange to meet elsewhere, most obviously at the Guide Dogs place
  • Three critical things to remember: bag, tag, number
  • The routes around the west side of Docklands which look as though they pass each other are actually on different levels, though still potentially provide opportunity for very short walk between viewing spots.
  • Good spectator option is to start spectating near Canada Water (or Bermondsey), and then after I’ve passed, get Jubilee Line train to Canary Wharf, from where walk to where can see again (possibly even twice more). Trains will be very busy – be mentally prepared for queues and waiting. Then either to meeting area or to the Embankment – if the latter, don’t go too near Westminster as very busy.
  • There are Runners World pacers – in 2017 at any rate, the relevant options for me would be 3h56, 4h15 and 4h30. At the moment I don’t have a target finish time (I have a range: 3h59 to 4h26). Unless I can get near one at the start, there’s little point, and there is a danger that I run too fast (or even too slow). Also, I don’t know which starting pen I will be in (I’ve no recollection of what I put as my estimated finish time) but I’d need to be in the same pen as the relevant pacer otherwise we’d be too widely separated. In next 76 days, get clearer idea of target pace – think in terms of target pace, not target finish time for now.
  • #SpiritOfLondon is this year’s official hashtag
  • Get my name printed on my t-shirt – find out how!
  • Think about what I will eat in the morning of the race (particularly as most of my long runs are done first thing in the morning, without significant food). Early breakfast (but what?). Pre-run snack: banana? (Yoghurt, toast with cheese, etc. may be ok before training, but less practical before the race.)
  • Suggested to drink 400-800ml per hour. Five full Lucozade Sports is within that for four hours, so may not need much else if I get them all down me. When I tested myself, I found I lost 2.5l in a two hour half-marathon, so 5l in a marathon which suggests I should be drinking at the upper end of that range.
  • The most common reason for people dropping out is drinking too much water.
  • Only 500 people drop out – nearly 99% of people who start, finish.
  • Around 500 people who collect their number etc. in the four days before the race, fail to start. I wonder why?
  • I will be going from the Red Start. If I come in from Kent, as I’m currently planning to do, I will be able to walk from Blackheath if that looks the best train option, though Maze Hill and Greenwich are the official stations for the Red start – but there will be no barriers to prevent me walking through from Blackheath.
  • Recovery food after long runs: fluid (milk, greek yoghurt, recovery drinks); carbs; high protein (for each meal during the day after the long run).
  • Avoid hitting the Wall – it’s not inevitable. Have a race day nutrition plan, carb load for the 2 days prior to the race, taper properly, run at a consistent sensible pace
  • Don’t start too fast. Don’t start too fast. Don’t start too fast. Don’t start too fast.
  • Runners knee exercises – investigate exercises to strengthen appropriate muscles. Look at other strengthening exercises though experience to date suggests knee is most vulnerable and other common problems haven’t bothered me so far.
  • Investigate books by Paul Hoborough [bought one], Vassos Alexander [put on wish list for now], Ben Smith (in April) [put on wish list for now]
  • Investigate Marathon Talk website/podcasts (Martin Yelling) [most recent two now downloaded ready to listen to]
  • Give more consideration to psychology of running – a good proportion of success is mental. [I’ve bought two books.]
  • Identify a mantra for me, e.g. “That medal is mine”, “I will succeed”; and when necessary say it to myself over and over
  • Work on visualisation – for example, imagine myself crossing the finish line (and possibly a time?)
  • Work on distraction – think about afterwards, about Facebook messages I’ll post, identify the best banners seen, the best costume, attractive runners
  • Smile while running – it reduces perceived effort and increases running efficiency
  • Plan in advance my tactics for dealing with the mental challenges of the day
  • Be as prepared as possible with all the details of the day, so that all the focus is purely on running
  • My race preparation is well ahead of many people – keep positive.