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.

I had the additional objective for Monday 30 December (Tuesday being devoted to bell ringing) of running far enough to make my 2019 distance further than 2018. In the end, I needed less than 6km for that little objective, but rounded up to a nice slow 11km along the River Cam – the route was amended on the fly when I found a path from Stourbridge Common onto Ditton Meadows closed due to construction of a new bridge as part of the Chisholm Trail cycle route – which will in due course open new opportunities for some nice runs around here.

River Cam looking NE from Green Dragon Bridge

Wednesday, being New Year’s Day, was centred around the parkrun New Year’s Day Double, the once-a-year opportunity to claim two parkruns in a day. We went to Grovelands in Enfield and Oak Hill in Barnet. These were my 109th and 110th different parkrun venues, and Lucy’s 41st and 42nd in her quest for membership of the Hoffman Club.

Grovelands in the fog

Grovelands was very busy (it turned out to be a record attendance both here and at Oak Hill) with a congested start leading to slow jogging interrupted by walking at the start. But once we thinned out a bit it was a pleasant run, despite being in fog. The route was 2¾ laps, each with a modest hill, but all on tarmac (part of the benefit of coming here after such a very wet month). After I’d finished, I saw Lucy just disappearing as she went past the finish funnel, and I waited for her to complete her 1¾ laps ready to run with her for the final lap. Lucy had forgotten to bring her Garmin watch with her, so I’d set the Strava app on her phone recording, but it wasn’t behaving as well as it should so she was guessing pace and intervals.

After Lucy had finished, we walked back to the start where she’d left her fleece, and I then started the next phase of my running day: the run to parkrun number 2. The two events being close together, quite a few people had undoubtedly done this, but I was probably the last to do so, not setting off until almost ten o’clock, from the wrong end of the park, but I knew I had time. Part-way, I was offered a lift by some kindly parkrunners, but I assured them I was fine. After some slight confusion about where I was meeting Lucy, I found her just as the busy new-runners’ briefing was getting underway.

For Oak Hill, I ran round with Lucy, trying to get the pace and intervals right for her. Although she’d had a bit of a break, her longest run in a day is 6km, so to go to 10km was a big increase. The first km was sensibly slow, but after that Lucy seemed to gain energy and coped well, particularly on the flat sections. The route was again 2¾ laps – as we came through the finish area at 1¾ laps there was a good deal of congestion, with a queue building up for the finish funnel, but also a lot of people standing around on the course, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the slower runners were still coming through. Lucy finished strongly – great to see.

Thursday was the first day to stick to the original plan, with a 3½km “steady” run, a pace which is variously described as “comfortable, but purposeful, pace” or marathon pace, or (suitably vaguely) as 10 seconds faster to 20 seconds slower than marathon pace. For the moment, I’ve adopted about 6:20/km as my “steady” pace, and today it was a familiar jaunt across Woolpit to the far end of the Old Stowmarket Road and back.

Saturday is, with a couple of exceptions, going to be parkrun-day in my marathon Plan. Today was a visit to Barking in east London for my 111th different event, and Lucy’s 43rd. We met up with Claire who is returning to parkrun after a bit of a break. A very pleasant urban park, almost flat, all on tarmac and with a nice lake. Brindley and I managed a respectable 25:31, after which I jogged round with Claire who we haven’t seen for a little while, catching up which continued at the café afterwards.

Brindley and us at Barking – woof woof.
The lake in Barking Park.

Most weeks Sunday is the long slow run, though coming up in the plan I have a fast 10km and two half-marathon races thrown in for variety. Although I tested myself with the 21km on the busway a fortnight ago, the Plan has me starting with 11km, and I stuck with that today, accompanied by Lucy on her bike – it’s very slow for cycling but it was really nice to have her company on a longer run. I’ve tentatively pencilled her in for another such in a few weeks though she doesn’t really want to go much further than today so it may need some adjustment in a few weeks.

When I did my slow 21km two weeks ago, it was surprisingly easy. Today, with just 11km it was a fair bit harder – but I must recognise that it was at the end of a 50km week, which while necessary as I aim for my marathon, is a step up on my normal and so to an extent I’m training my body to cope running on somewhat tired legs. “Slow” in this context is again subject to a lot of variation in definitions and guidance: I’m currently aiming at about 6:59/km (for psychological reasons) for the shorter ones, a bit slower as they become very long. I’ve never before aimed at running quite so slowly, nor at spending such a high proportion of my week running either slowly or fairly slowly, but I can understand the wisdom of getting miles in my legs without always pushing myself too hard – let’s see what happens.

One week down, 15 to go.

Third time lucky?

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.

There followed much dithering about whether I should abandon the idea of another marathon. I so enjoyed the atmosphere of Milton Keynes that I would have given that another go, but a family wedding counts out that option for 2020, though who knows about 2021?

In the end, I’ve signed up for the Boston Marathon on 19 April 2020 – the UK version in Lincolnshire, which while not being the original and more famous Boston Marathon (the UK one is the day before the big one across the Pond), does start and finish in the original Boston. The course is the flattest in the UK, with barely detectable changes in height as it makes its way across the flat southern Lincolnshire farmland. If it’s windy, it could be a challenge, but then few courses in reality offer a huge amount of shelter from the wind.

By comparison with London and MK, the size of the field is much smaller (614 finishers in 2019), and the size of the crowds commensurately reduced – that could be a mental challenge, but also an opportunity to focus on myself and my running, without needing to worry about crowds on or off the roads.

The flatness and simplicity of the course appealed – I’ve had plenty of practice at running along country lanes between arable fields, and it doesn’t bother me. And, let’s be honest, the idea of telling people I’m running the Boston Marathon does tickle me slightly.

I’ve identified a marathon training plan which includes my much loved parkruns, and adapted it slightly to fit my needs. I’ve tentatively planned some locations for the long runs: I’m trying to make as many as practical of the long Sunday runs different – unique in the context of this plan.

I’m going to try to stick with the advice to run slow for much of the weekly mileage, even though it feels wrong.

The 16-week plan officially starts on 30 December, though the plan is flexing on the first day since the Monday will not be a short introduction, but will serve the twin purposes of being the previous week’s longer run, and of mopping up any kilometres still needed to meet my 2019 objective of running further (just) than 2018. The Wednesday (1st January) will also deviate from the original as it is the New Year’s Day parkrun double, and I’m planning to run between the two parkruns as well, to add to the fun. Two half-marathon races are in the plan, and I’ve booked one and am still pondering the other. There’s also a 10k race but I may end up just running a hard 10k somewhere suitable.

I’ve been regularly running a little bit longer on Sundays the last few weeks, up to 16km, as my thoughts of a marathon intensified, and having entered on Friday, this Sunday I betook myself to the Cambridge Guided Busway at Impington for what was originally planned to be another 16km, squeezed in between service ringing at Woolpit and Great Finborough. But a last-minute realisation that the benefice service was at Drinkstone and thus 75 minutes earlier, gave me extra time for the run, so I decided to target 18km.

Over Windmill near the Guided Busway

But when I was out, deliberately running slower than I had for seven months (since I ran out of energy in the MK Marathon) I found the going really quite easy, and decided to round up to a nice 21.1km. The effort increased a little towards the end, but it was really remarkably effortless – despite succumbing to temptation just a little and aiming at the more psychologically satisfying 6:59/km rather than the computer’s suggested 7:07/km. I could definitely have gone a few kilometres further without undue effort or distress. I adopted a jeffing approach with around 120 metres of walking per kilometre, and Garmin says I managed within one second of 6:59 for each of the full kilometres which is nicely consistent, though the single kilometre that was 7:00.1 was trivially annoying.

As far as Boston goes, my goal A is to finish in under 4h30, goal B to finish in under 4:52:11, and goal C to finish. Goal A will require a pace of around 6:22/km, and it is mentally tough to be deliberately aiming to spend so little time running at that pace.

Four and half hours is a less ambitious time goal than I had originally set myself for London, but I’m a good deal heavier (and two years older and wiser), and so let’s just see how things go.