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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
London Marathon 2018 was a great experience, but somewhat unsatisfying as a run since I injured my knee around mile 14 and thus went much slower for the remaining 12 miles and was very focused on that pain and whether I was going to finish, in addition to the challenge of a very congested course.
Milton Keynes Marathon 2019 was a great experience, but somewhat unsatisfying as a run since I’d had a series of muscle strains which had constrained my training, and some concerning knee niggles, and so I went even slower than London, running out of energy towards the end.