Looking brighter

My last post, entitled “What’s next?” (which I struggle to write without hearing Martin Sheen in my head) was as long ago as August.

It’s hard to decide whether a lot has happened since then, or not very much. Whatever one’s perspective on that, things are looking much brighter on quite a number of fronts. Big picture: Covid situation vastly better in the UK. Littler picture: my injuries largely under control, races returning, parkrun returning, weight back heading in the right direction.

Looking back to that August post, I talked a lot about my plantar fasciitis: that has almost completely subsided. I’m continuing with exercises to keep it in check, and it’s not causing me any pain, just a minor occasional grumble that is no bad thing in reminding me to keep up the exercises.

I gently aggravated my right hamstring (again) in February and so eased off the pace and distance a little while it recovered, but it hasn’t really stopped the distance work: regular stretching largely keeps the hamstring complaints at bay but the muscles clearly are a little vulnerable, and it may be sensible to get some further advice about them. My knees continue to tolerate the workload, so that’s encouraging.

Running duration has been at a relatively high level for me since early November (I ran at least 5km for 50 consecutive days up to Christmas Eve) without significant problems.

The Boston Marathon UK that I entered for April 2020, that was postponed to September 2020, was later postponed to April 2021, and now to 31 May 2021, and that’s still a key target for me.

Having some doubts about whether the English government Covid restrictions would be sufficiently relaxed by April, or even if they were, whether the public mood would be supportive of hundreds of people running through the town of Boston, I took out an “insurance policy” and entered the Milton Keynes Marathon for 3 May 2021 as I thought that was perhaps more likely to get the go-ahead. Boston was subsequently postponed for the third but now probably final time.

Yesterday, 29 March, we were allowed for the first time to meet in groups of up to 6 outdoors, and organised outdoor sport is allowed again: Lucy returned to her running club last night. With the vaccination rollout going well (I had my first shot last week) and hospitalisations and deaths plummeting (excess deaths are now negative), it seems likely that the roadmap isn’t going to be dislodged (in the short term, anyway) and so for the moment I have two marathons booked, four weeks apart.

I could cancel MK and get most of my money back (I paid a few pounds extra to give myself that option) but the idea of doing both, and potentially treating MK as a trial-run for Boston, has started to grow on me. MK’s organisers seem very definite in their public communications; Boston perhaps less so, making keeping both up my sleeve still a sensible thing to do in planning.

The 2021 MK route is completely different from that I ran in 2019, being two laps almost completely on footpaths and cycle-paths rather than the roads of the first few kilometres last time. There will be phased starts to avoid crowds, so it will not have quite the atmosphere of the mass start, but perhaps 80% of the race was well spread out anyway so it should be just as fun, albeit presumably with a lot more overtaking going on, and there may even be more spectators as a result of the adapted format.

Meanwhile in other good news, parkrun will return for under-10s in England from Sunday 11 April, with 5k parkruns for England from Saturday 5 June. I’ve been logging my (not)parkruns and have over 150 recorded now, which has been a small useful focus during some of the monotony of the low months, but being back with friends and other real people will be wonderful.

June still seems a long way off, though, and one thing the last 12 months have emphasised to avoid disappointment is to focus on what you can control now, and while with half an eye on the future, make the most of now, and not look too far ahead. I’m optimistic in general, but not pinning all my hopes on anything in particular happening at any particular time.

In my August “What’s next?” post, I also commented on my weight control – sadly that was unsuccessful up to the end of February with a further gradual increase, but it’s been under control for four weeks now and moving very nicely in the right direction at a sustainable pace. I wish there was more time for more of that success before the marathons (which is a small argument in favour of dropping MK), but all improvements will be welcome.

There’s a good deal of advice around about the challenge of seeking to lose weight while training for a marathon, and long runs (more than three hours) can be very tough with a calorie-restricted diet and presumably a partially glycogen-depleted body, but I’m hopeful that my current moderately high-protein, lowish-fat diet (which is still averaging 2350 calories a day) should avoid muscle loss, and that with rest and good feeding in the few days before the big day my energy levels will be topped up when they need to be and I’ll cope much better with a bit less of me to haul around.

After the marathons, I will look to shift the remainder of the excess weight and, if my ever-tight hamstrings will let me, refocus a bit more in training on speed and that 2350 plan for a sub-23-minute 5k and a sub-50-minute 10k, both of which I’ve come close to (23:12 in 2017 and 50:20 in 2018, respectively) and could beat, hopefully with some real parkruns as an additional focus as well as an additional joy. And, as of yesterday, being allowed to leave the house and travel without the need for a reasonable excuse means that I can reintroduce more variety into the locations of some of my runs.

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.

Continue reading “Marathon preparations”