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. It was into a strong 20+ mph headwind, and I thought I would see how long I could maintain the pace. The answer was to the turnaround point, overtaking a good few people along the way, and suddenly it was a quiet, calm day, now that the wind was behind me. I found a woman to chase for 2km, overtaking her going up the hill away from the promenade, then she sprinted past me as I approached the finish. Net result was my first sub-25 minute parkrun for almost 12 months, and my fastest since August 2018, despite strong winds. I’m not particularly focusing on speed at the moment, but there are still signs that a little more speed is gradually returning.

Sunday is LSR (long slow run) time. In my quest for somewhere different to go, preferably traffic free, I roamed fairly far afield, heading for the Brampton Valley Way, a former railway line from Northampton to Market Harborough. I ran 9km mostly gradually uphill to the summit tunnel, and through the tunnel which is unlit – fortunately I was well prepared with a headtorch for that section. I was caught by another runner who chatted with me for a couple of minutes before he pushed on past me. He is training for the Peterborough Marathon, one I looked at but rejected in favour of Boston. After 9km I turned round and came back through the tunnel and headed gradually downhill back to the car. After lots of rain, there were lots and lots of puddles and a moderate amount of mud, but it was still fairly easy going and pretty well sheltered from the stiff winds.

Week six saw hill training on Tuesday with 8 uphills initially in the dark in Bury. Wednesday was 10km slow where the growing light in the mornings for the first time this year meant that it was just possible to do this in daylight, albeit a fair bit before dawn. Thursday I had a meeting in Warwickshire which meant an early start anyway – fitting in a run beforehand would have been quite tough, so I decided to squeeze one in afterwards, running for 8km at half-marathon pace along the towpath of the Northampton Arm of the Grand Union Canal, before dashing across the country to get back for some bellringing.

Saturday’s parkrun is currently called Greenwich parkrun, though the current trend towards renaming them for a more local feature could well see it being known as Avery Hill Park parkrun in future. It’s in the corner of the borough of Greenwich, but it’s a bit as if Pymmes parkrun was called Enfield parkrun. It was my 171st parkrun at my 114th different location. Lots of friendly faces today for Ben’s 100th parkrun celebrations. I ran a very satisfactory 25m19 on an undulating and in places muddy course, helped unknowingly by a woman who pulled me round – I caught her at the end of the first lap, but after that I couldn’t quite reach her but she remained close by. Immediately afterwards I ran across the park to pick up Catherine – I was expecting a short rest on the other side, but spotted her running, clearly setting a great pace, and I ran in with her: she set a course PB and her best parkrun time for quite some while. After the others had crossed the line we had a very impressive cake and other celebratory goodies.

Sunday’s main feature was Storm Ciara with 60mph winds, so I did my run indoors, doing a half-marathon on a treadmill at the gym. It’s a mentally challenging thing, running for so long on a treadmill – it’s fairly uninteresting with no scenery (though there was a regularly changing array of other people on the machines in front and to the sides of me to watch), but really hard in that you can press “stop” whenever you want – outside, when it gets tough, usually I need to keep going anyway to get back to the car or the house or the train or wherever. At the gym today the lights flickered quite a few times as the wind howled outside, but the power stayed on. Interestingly, I seemed to find it easier once I’d changed the treadmill display to show time rather than distance. After 20km I upped the pace from 6:59/km to under 5:30/km for the final 1.1km – it’s a good sign that this was pretty easy.

I was able to listen to the cricket commentary for most of the run, and a bit of Lord Hornblower during the interval in the cricket. (England went on to beat South Africa, but by a narrower margin than seemed likely at one stage.) Still, 21km is 21km and it feels reassuring to be upping the distance though, as in previous years, 42km still seems an awfully long way.

The other feature of Sunday was that it was my birthday, and though not a surprise I was delighted to receive my Nike Vaporfly Next% shoes from Lucy and my parents. Now officially allowed by World Athletics, they will, if all that other people say is true, make a noticeable difference to my pace and to how tired my legs are after a long run. Their first proper test will be a half-marathon race in a fortnight, but one of the midweek runs between now and then should be a test run to make sure I’m not totally taken by surprise by them when I run in them.

10 weeks to go and lots of running still to do.

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.

Week three: three midweek runs, the first from home and then two around the NEC site. It’s not easy or particularly interesting doing a 10km in the dark around the car parks of the NEC, though there was some mild interest from passing one group of runners eight times as we each made our way round a similar 1.9km-loop multiple times in opposite directions. The weekend saw me run my fastest 5km since March, during a visit to Morecambe Prom parkrun. And on Sunday my slow run was almost 15km initially along the River Lune and then mostly along the towpath of the Lancaster Canal to Carnforth. Not quite such an easy long run, but a much harder parkrun the day before, with other walking being done during my Lake District mini-holiday.

Week four: I started with intervals along the old railway line from Broughton-in-Furness, then returned to Suffolk where my other two pre-work runs reached 11km, requiring an early alarm clock and some out-and-backs along the short bits of pavement available to me before it got close enough to sunrise to venture onto the country lanes around home.

Saturday saw Lucy and me at Kingsbury Water parkrun south of Tamworth (prior to a visit to the National Running Show at the NEC) – it was a very crowded start and I lost a good deal of time trying to overtake people, in addition to which the lovely course is quite twisty and has a variety of surfaces, so it wasn’t as fast as Morecambe’s easy running, but still very satisfactory.

Sunday was a change from the typical pattern as the plan called for a 10k race. I decided to forego that and just run 10k about as quick as I could on my own, and headed for Felixstowe prom. After a warm-up mile, I turned up the pace for the 10k and was pleased to manage a time of 53:46, despite having to weave in and around a lot of inattentive wanderers on the prom on what was a delightfully sunny but cold and very windy morning. It’s still some way off my best, but my fastest for a good while.

All in all, I’m happy with how things are going. I still worry a bit about how my knees will cope as the distances increase, but for now all’s well. Hopefully doing a greater proportion of my distance at a slow pace, as widely recommended, will also have the advantage of putting less strain on my knees.

If you put the 53:46 into a race predictor to give a marathon time estimate, then the app on my phone says 4:19:58, Runner’s World says 4:21:24, McMillan Running says 4:12:16, Good Run Guide says 4:22:11, and OmniCalculator says 4:07:06. They’re all inside my goal of 4:29:59, which is encouraging, particularly as (subject to IAAF decisions to come) I should be in faster shoes on the day, hope to have lost some more weight, and will have done 12 more weeks of training. The shoes could knock 10 minutes off if all about them is true, as could losing 5kg in the next 10 weeks.

However, I’m still inclined to think the calculated estimates are too confident, and underestimate the extent to which my performance wilts over longer distances (somewhat more than the average runner), but perhaps this time round I’ll have got the training right and will cope better.

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.