What’s next?

Well, before I get on to what’s next, first a reflection on the months since April. It’s been too long since I last posted any running news. In part that’s because there was relatively little positive to say, running-wise, but that’s now starting to change.

The week after my “not the Boston Marathon run”, the plantar fasciitis that had grumbled away quietly for several months, not really troubling me except when I first got out of bed and quickly dispatched by some exercise, suddenly rebelled and went from a quiet grumble to a loud scream, leaving me in 24-hour pain and barely able to stand.

I adopted the “rest it and wait for it to get better” approach for a while, but quickly realised that was going either to take forever or to be unsuccessful, so eventually I made a video appointment with a physio (face-to-face appointments being unavailable due to Covid). Technology (apparently at his end) let us down for the first appointment, and we did it by phone, but I was underwhelmed, and when the second appointment was with someone else who wasn’t well briefed and who I struggled to understand, I went elsewhere.

The next option was telephone-only, which nearly put me off – it’s not that I wanted particularly to see the face of the physio, but a second-best to a physical examination would be video so they could see where I was pointing to rather than relying on my descriptions of whereabouts on my foot I was being troubled, and have my hand virtually held while I get the motions of the exercises right. But Diane inspired a lot more confidence in her, and I stuck to her prescription of a variety of stretches and exercises, and initially more rest – or at any rate not running or walking, so the bike has come out as much in the last few months as in the last 25 years put together.

I was then authorised to run for 10 minutes three times a week, and 3 months on, I’m still supposed to stick to three times a week, two of them for 30 minutes and the third gradually longer. In practice, I’ve done a little bit more than that the last two weeks but one or two runs a week are with Lucy and so at a fair bit slower pace and putting somewhat less strain on my foot.

Cattle watch runners, cyclists, rowers and walkers go by – Saturday saw my first 10k (along the River Cam) since April.

The foot pain has diminished significantly, though hasn’t gone yet, but Diane is confident we’ll get there – and now has me doing what seems a huge slew of exercises daily to strengthen my feet. Meanwhile I’ve recently seen another physio, Rosie, in connection with some minor shoulder pain – the only person I’ve been near for a prolonged period indoors other than Lucy for almost five months. I also got Rosie to have a look at my PF and she was happy with where I’d got to and the actions I’m taking with Diane, and was likewise confident about an eventual return to pain-free feet.

So, what’s next? More physio-instructed exercises, more focus on losing some of the excess weight – I gained 8kg in lockdown and was overweight before that, so there’s a long way to go.

I’ve entered a virtual race, called the P12, on 24 October, which involves running a mile every hour for twelve hours, keeping friend Catherine (virtually) company. I’ve run 12 miles plenty of times, but a run every hour will present new challenges. A part of me wants to run each of the 12 miles somewhere different, but that might be starting to get silly and I could end up spending most of the day in the car.

The return of parkrun and parkrun tourism remains a long way off. While the risks of outdoor transmission remain low, it’s going to struggle to justify its return without significant mitigation measures that don’t fit well with its model. But I keep a small part of me living in hope that one day it will be back. Initially parkrun and then parkrun tourism have brought joy to many a Saturday morning, kept my running fresh and interesting, got me visiting friends and travelling to runs with Lucy, all of which I now miss greatly.

Lucy has been engaged with the Tourist Virtual 5k and (not)parkrun from more or less the start, whereas I’m a later arrival with my period off not able to run 5k.

We have met up with friends Catherine and Alex for a (not)parkrun on a course of my devising from Broxbourne together with an excellent takeaway breakfast from the cafe there, which was fun, and hope to meet up with Claire for a (not)parkrun soon.

The real UK Boston Marathon continues to plan for its postponed September running, with the sorts of Covid mitigation measures that are practical for a race of that type and size. I’ve deferred until April 2021 because of my PF and associated lack of training, so have about four months to get my feet back in tip top shape ready to start gradually ramping up the distances in training.

Meanwhile, I set a post injury 5k PB on last Saturday’s (not)parkrun of 26:31. It was really encouraging as the pace and stamina are returning as the weeks go by, and a sign that I haven’t lost as much fitness as I’d feared. It’s still more than 3 minutes off my overall PB, but for what it’s worth the running calculator app on my phone says that Saturday’s pace was equivalent to a few seconds over 23 minutes if I can reach my target weight, so most of the gain I’m looking for will come from weight loss and only a modest amount from regained fitness.

The L-2350

My “2350” goal of a sub-23 minute 5k and a sub-50 minute 10k is currently further away than when I dreamt it up, but despite that remains realistic. I’ve been fairly close to both before and if I get the fitness and the weight control right at the same time, will beat both of those times. Something to keep in mind when the will power wilts in the weight control effort.

Onwards and downwards…

Not the Boston Marathon

Sunday 19 April should have dawned with me in a Travelodge near Boston, Lincolnshire, ready to drive the final distance to the town to arrive about 8am ready for the marathon later in the morning.

Instead, I rose at 6am at home, had a banana for breakfast, and Lucy and I left home at about 6.40am to travel the short distance to the less than half-built Suffolk Business Park on the edge of Bury St Edmunds, for the ultimate in long training runs – a Sunday morning jaunt of 42,195 metres – better known as a marathon.

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Marathon preparations

So, in 2018, I stuck to my beginner’s training plan, but I was probably too ambitious about my target pace, and more problematically I had knee niggles going into my first marathon, and they duly manifested themselves a little over half-way through the London Marathon, and I had to walk a good deal and go a lot slower than planned.

In 2019, I had months of injuries with various pulled muscles starting from the previous autumn, none of which I let fully recover before I injured them again. Despite adopting a run/walk strategy with walking for 45 seconds after 135 seconds of running, and a conservative pace target for the Milton Keynes Marathon, I hit the wall around 20 miles due to inadequate training, and was even slower than London.

In 2020, my Boston Marathon UK plans started well but encountered AOC (Age of Coronavirus) – the race was postponed until the autumn, then lockdown rules and guidance imposed constraints on being out of the house. Plan B for a run on the seafront at Felixstowe had to be dropped as it was too far from home, likely to be too busy, and Lucy as my crowd support and water station would be too conspicuous, and I developed a Plan C closer to home, less interesting, but still practical and sticking to the spirit and science of the new way of life.

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A report from the inaugural Woolpit parkrun

The volunteer team was small but very efficient and friendly, setting up the course, conducting the new runners’ briefing, and even finding time to help with the all-important selfie. Some of the equipment for the course seemed non-standard: apparently the official kit hadn’t arrived so some Kennel Club Rally equipment had been repurposed.

Ready by the start line, with parkrun tourist buffs

Fortunately for an inaugural with an inexperienced team, the turnout was manageably small. The course instructions given were a little vague, but one of the runners who is on the core team confidently declared that he’d run the course 57 times already during 10 years of planning for this event, so just to follow him.

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Keep on running

It was a week where the UK started to shut down properly as the coronavirus epidemic intensified (though with much more to come), and we staggered from one extraordinary government announcement to the next with barely time to take breath, and virtually no challenge or scrutiny.

But, returning to running for the moment, I opted to accept the default option for my postponed Boston Marathon of running it on 13 September 2020, and continued to hope that I would also be able to run a marathon distance on the original date of 19 April 2020, though as the week wore on that went from a confident expectation of a second-best option, to growing doubt that even that would be possible.

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Boston Marathon (UK) postponed

So the almost inevitable has happened, and the Boston UK marathon has been postponed, until 13 September (maintaining the link with Boston USA).

I will be contacted in due course, and offered one of three options:

1. Do nothing and thus transfer my entry to 13 September.
2. Request deferment to the 2021 Boston Marathon, on Sunday 18th April 2021.
3. Request withdrawal of my entry, with a refund of 90%.

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Coronovirus dominating thoughts

At the end of last week’s blog, I reported on my plans for my personal marathon on 19 April in the event that the Boston UK marathon is cancelled. By Tuesday morning, as the evolving situation worsened, I was suffering from a lack of motivation but I managed to get myself out of the door anyway and did my 10km run including three brisk 2km sessions within in.

Wednesday was difficult too, but I did my slow 10km. Thursday I did 13km to Hessett and back at target marathon pace, but not feeling the joy.

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Victoria Park half-marathon

I started the running week on Tuesday with 10km comprising a 1.5km warm-up, then 3 lots of 2km brisk with 500 metres recoveries, concluding with a 1.5km jog.

Wednesday saw me setting out before dawn from Whittlesford station for a 13km slow run along the cycle paths that head in all four directions from the A505/A1301 roundabout, before heading into London for some work meetings.

Dawn from the A505 on Wednesday
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A week of running and Covid-19

So, what’s been in the news this week? Very little reporting of my running in week 9 of the 16-week training plan, but a fair bit on Covid-19. Let’s start with my running.

Tuesday saw me travelling to Bury for my favoured hill. I park so that I have a 1.5km warm-up run to the bottom of the hill, and today I ran at top speed for 90 seconds up the hill, jogged back down, and repeated nine times, for ten in all. “Top speed” should mean the maximum I can run consistently for the 10 ascents, making the first one a bit of a challenge to get right, but I think it was broadly correct, each being just under 5:15/km which is good going for me uphill. Then the 1.5km jog back to the car.

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Dorney Lake Half-Marathon

Week 8 of my 16-week marathon training plan had a half-marathon race, and I’d chosen Dorney Lake. This is only a small race, but is simple, almost flat, and I hoped would give me what I needed – a little bit of atmosphere, something different from an ordinary training run to test myself a bit, after only short runs at speed, and long runs all being slow or at most “easy”.

Two Sundays ago we had Storm Ciara, and I lurked on the treadmill; one Sunday ago we had Storm Dennis, and I lurked on the treadmill. So I had watched the weather forecast with some trepidation for several days. The wind, which has barely dropped below 20mph (gusting to 40mph) for more than two weeks, with yet more rain, looked likely to put a damper on things, though by Saturday the forecast was hinting that the worst of the rain would be out of the way by the time we got underway.

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First outing for the Vaporflys

As I mentioned last week, for my birthday I received a pair of Nike Vaporfly Next% running shoes. They weren’t a surprise – they’d been sitting in a box in the spare bedroom since just after Christmas when a discount-on-a-discount meant that they’d been picked up for under £200 rather than the RRP of £240 – though still a very significant sum for a pair of shoes, 50% more than I’ve ever paid. And though these things are rather subjective (when is a shoe worn out?), the new shoe definitely has a shorter lifespan than my regular shoes, making the cost per kilometre that much higher.

It’s worth noting that running, despite it’s simple origins, has never been particularly cheap for me – regular new shoes, clothing, race entry fees, occasional overnight hotels before races, GPS watches, sports nutrition, hydration backpacks, running belts, dedicated headphones, petrol/diesel/trains to get to parkruns, races and weekend long runs in the various places I like to travel to (arguably aeroplanes too though the two overseas race holidays probably substituted for other holidays we would have had), physiotherapy, massages, water bottles, head torches, extra towels, running the washing machine and tumble drier more often, and more – it all adds up. In that context, a more expensive shoe that will largely be reserved for my occasional races on suitable terrain doesn’t make an enormous difference, though I would probably still have baulked at the cost, hence the pleasure at receiving them as a gift.

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Distances build

Week five saw another 11km slow run before work on Tuesday which at the moment still requires a fair bit of running in the dark. Wednesday was what I suppose you could call fartlek, being 3km of my normal slow pace (6:59/km), then 3km jog with Lucy and Brindley, and then 3km at marathon pace. Thursday was a full 8km at marathon pace.

On Saturday I paid my fourth visit to Harwich parkrun. I planned to get a course PB, but that only required beating 26m08 which I was pretty confident I could manage. I had new running shoes, my 8th pair of Brooks Adrenaline GTS, my first of the 20th edition. New shoes always give an extra little boost – fresh grip, fresh foam, and no doubt a small psychological extra too. Harwich starts off with a little loop and then downhill onto the prom, so the result was I found I’d started with a good pace.

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A quarter of the way there

So, I’m four weeks into the 16 week marathon training plan. The long Sunday runs still aren’t all that long, but the weekly mileage is consistently above what it typically is, and my legs are hopefully getting more used to running when tired without too much objection.

Week two: three midweek runs from home, a gentle parkrun at Ellenbrook Fields with Alex, and then 13km in the King’s Forest. The long run was ideal conditions, sunny and dry underfoot, cool but not cold, and no wind, and though the terrain was very familar to me, I really enjoyed it. As a long(ish) run, once again was really easy – at the end I felt I could have gone on for much longer, and it was nice to be on (easy) trails for a change.

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Marathon training plan one week in

The first week of 16 in the marathon training plan is complete. As I said in my previous post, this was an odd week, with the original plan mauled about a good deal. Let’s see how the remaining 15 weeks stand up to encounters with real life: this week’s deviations were planned from the start, but I’ve managed to fit the remainder of the plan around my current non-running intentions.

Monday was supposed to be short, a gentle introduction. Why do most training plans seem to have us starting almost from scratch? It can’t be at all unusual for someone aiming at a marathon to have run a half-marathon the previous week, as I did.

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2019 including infographics and statistics

So, how did the year go?

Races

  • Vienna Half-Marathon, 2:15:11 – enjoyable as a run and a holiday, the race went as well as could be expected given injury-induced lack of training.
  • Milton Keynes Marathon, 5:01:07 – with far too few long distance runs in my legs, and suffering from knee pain, I tried to jeff my way around. It almost worked but I ran out of steam and slumped to slower than London 2018, which had been my target to beat. With hindsight, I wish I’d then tried harder to beat 5 hours which would have been still something to note. A great race with fantastic support – I may return in 2021.
  • Clacton 10k, 56:19. A rather frustrating race, with no attempt at starting people in order of speed, and the start being too broad compared to what followed, the inevitable result being a fair bit of queuing to make progress; on the lower prom, there were sections with deep sand.
  • Great East Run (half-marathon), 2:10:09. Very satisfied with this, as it was four minutes faster than I planned, and I achieved some really good pace control throughout, getting the pace appropriate for the ups and the downs.
  • A14 Great Ouse Challenge (7km), 49:04. I ran this at a deliberately gentle pace – it was a unique opportunity to run along the new Huntingdon southern bypass before the road opened in December, but was for me it inconveniently timed the afternoon before the Great Eastern Run, so I wanted to take it very easy.
  • Great Eastern Run. Cancelled on the day, after spending a lot of time standing in cold rain. A man acting suspiciously on the course had been reported, and resulted in an armed police response in fear of a suicide bomber. Fortunately it proved to be a false alarm, but not without causing enough delay to make holding the race on closed roads no longer possible.
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