Saturday, March 29, 2008


This week is the hardest week of marathon training, in my book. Three weeks out you're torn between the temptation to make up training sessions you haven't done, and the feeling that you should really start tapering. And if you do taper, you instantly feel lazy and fat and slow.

I've struggled more than normal. For the past two weeks I've been struggling with a leg injury, and although I've got 10 mile and 20 mile PBs, I haven't done much else other than the races. I came into this week knowing that if I didn't do another long run, my last long run before London would be 4 weeks out (too far), but equally knowing that if I didn't shake off the injury before the big day I would have no hope of doing sub 3:45.

Do I rest and let it heal, or do I try to squeeze in just one more run. The temptation to do that was added to by the fact that both the races I've done have been while I've been injured - essentially I can still run without doing too much extra damage, I just don't seem to recover as fast as I do when I'm not injured.

My sub 3:45 schedule had me doing 18 miles, which seemed quite a lot for the first week of the taper, but it added to my temptation to go for it this week then cut back more drastically for the next two. But I still wondered whether I wouldn't be better relying on the training I'd already done (and after Spen I was pretty confident that it was enough) and trying to heal.

In the end, despite running about 5 miles every couple of days to keep me ticking over rather than resting completely, my leg started to feel much better and I felt more positive this morning. I headed out aiming for 18, but with the fall back plan that I'd decide at 15 how my legs felt and if necessary stop there. As it turned out, I felt fine, carried on to 18 and could have probably done more had it not been for the common sense that kept on shouting taper at me from inside my head.

So overall I feel a lot more confident. I still feel like I'm slower than I was a month or so ago, before the injury hit, but even being a bit slower I'm still running at 3:45 pace so I will not allow my head to start telling me I can't do it. For me it seems to be all in my head. If I believe I can do it, I will. If I don't, I'll allow myself to slip to plan B midway round and sabotage myself.

So don't let me say anything other than 3:45 is on...

Monday, March 24, 2008

Do You Like Hills?

My 10 mile PB is slow in comparison to most of the rest. For some reason I only ever manage to fit in hilly 10 milers. I do flat halves, and tear my 10 mile PB to bits in the process, but I can never manage to get to flat 10 milers like St Annes or Snake Lane.

I thought I'd found one. In Lancashire, not too far from Blackpool. I signed up, then found out it was hilly.

I got to the start. Someone asked me whether I'd done it before. I said no. In a concerned voice, they asked "do you like hills?". It worried me slightly when I saw runners from scary clubs like Keswick turning up. They like their hills up there, that's for sure.

The weather wasn't great either. A bit of everything, with an honourable mention for the gale force winds and hail parts of proceedings.

The first 2 miles were great. A few uphills, but mainly down. And the wind must have been behind us. Then it started going up, but I was still mocking. Is this what Lancastrians call a hill, I thought? After 5 miles we still seemed to be going up. I was getting a bit sick of it, but thinking that while it was a long slog, at least there weren't any really steep bits.

Then we got to the really steep bit. I may have given the Lancys some credit at this point, but I consoled myself that we must start going down soon. And indeed we did, a nice downhill. The only problem was that you could see the people further ahead going uphill on the other side of the valley. That hill at 8 miles wasn't horribly steep, but it was at the point in the race when you'd rather not head back uphill again.

And finally downhill to the finish. It was a net downhill course, but there were plenty of undulations between the start and the end (they joked at the start that it was "fast, flat and accurately measured". Judging by the laughter, no-one expected it to be any of them - although my Garmin made it spot on 10 miles at the finish). I actually managed to collide with someone at the finish. At the end he was doing a bit more of a sprint than I was, and didn't expect me to lift my elbow as I reached for my other wrist to stop my Garmin on the line. He ran straight into it. In the results we were on exactly the same time, but they put me first. Yay!

It was a PB by about 7 minutes in the end, which says more about my previous 10 milers than about that course. I've still done faster over 10 miles in a half marathon, but at least there's a bit less of a discrepancy now.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


What a difference a week makes. Last Tuesday I set out to run to work, and got 0.75 miles down the road before I decided that my leg hurt too much, and I got the bus the rest of the way. This Tuesday I'm absolutely and completely filled with the belief that I can get GFA this year. It won't take a fluke, or for everything to go better than the plan, it will just take me not doing anything stupid between now and London.
I think this is the first time I've got to the taper feeling like I've done enough training, and that the best thing for me to do is to reduce the intensity and let my legs recover. In the past I've always felt like I should do one more long run, one more hard session, and I've struggled to persuade myself to taper properly. I remember feeling like this before my first half marathon. I knew that I'd done enough training, and I started to feel a lot more relaxed about it. I've never felt like this before a marathon though.
A lot of it comes down to my race on Sunday. During the week I was unsure whether I should run it or give my legs chance to recover, and before the race I changed my race plan from "attempt to run it at marathon pace" to "attempt to finish". My legs were hurting, and I knew that it was a hilly course so I wasn't keen on the prospect of running it. I got myself to the start line by telling myself it was a two lap course, so if necessary I could drop out at 10 miles. That's how confident I was.
But I did run it and, what's more, I ran it just slightly faster than 3:45 pace. Admittedly I struggled a bit towards the end, and in the marathon I'll have to keep that pace (although I could go slightly slower) going for another 6.2 miles, but in the marathon I'll be properly rested, my legs won't be as sore, and the route won't involve the sort of hills Spen did. (On that subject I'm more than a little pleased that despite most of my marathon running club mates running the East Hull 20 instead of the Spen 20 on the basis that Hull is much flatter than Spen, I managed to run the fastest 20 mile time of anyone from the club who did either of the races. Incidentally, the others were all men)
However, the race did remind me of the difference between a 20 miler and a marathon. They say that 20 miles is the half way point of a marathon, and I'm starting to believe it. Although my legs hurt after the race and yesterday morning until a swim loosened them up, this morning I ran just over 8 miles, and I've got a hilly 10 mile race planned for Friday. There is no way on earth I'd do that after a marathon despite it "only" being 6 miles longer. I know that as you train more you recover faster, and I have been able to run a bit in the week after a marathon, but no more than 3 or 4 miles, and certainly not with any intensity.
It's just under four weeks until the marathon now. I know that I've done the training, and I know I'm fast enough. All I need to do is to run at my normal standard on the day. I don't need to do anything exceptional, I just need to put everything I can already do together. It would be nice if the weather was on my side, as training over winter means you don't get any experience of running in the heat, but apart from that pretty much everything else is under control. I'm at the stage where I worry that doing too much more will do more harm than good, and as long as I do enough not to lose the training I've already done, I don't feel like I need to do a huge amount more.
That's a nice place to be in, a really nice place. I feel comfortable about what I need to do, and this time round, weather permitting, I feel sure that I can do it.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008


I'm having a bit of a wobble at the moment. A lot of people I know seem to be getting injured, and my legs have started to feel tired all the time. I'm worried that I'm overdoing it a bit, but I'm trying to judge how much tiredness is good (it teaches me to run on tired legs) and how much is too much. Difficult.
I know that last week I overdid it. Because I knew that I wouldn't run much over the weekend, I crammed a lot into the first part of the week. After a half marathon PB on Monday, I went to running club on Monday, did a tempo run on Tuesday and then attempted a long run on Wednesday, after a heavy lunch. Unsurprisingly, the attempt failed and I gave up just after 10 miles (having already had an unscheduled toilet stop after 6). But I'm consoling myself with the fact that even if I didn't do a long run last week, I also didn't injure myself attempting it. So it could have been worse.
After a bit more rest (from running, at least) over the weekend I tried to get back into it, but my legs still feel a bit sluggish. Having said that, they did seem to get a bit better towards the end of my 10 miler this morning, as though they needed a few easy miles in them to get them back up to speed again. It was scheduled as 11, but I only had time for 10.3 before work. I'm sure it's close enough. My hamstrings feel nowhere near as sore as they did yesterday, so fingers crossed a couple of good stretching sessions after my runs have sorted them out.
I know that I'm down to the last three or four weeks of hard training, and the end is in sight. But these three or four weeks are hard, and important so I don't want to be fighting off niggles to try to get through them. I suppose I need to take my own advice and listen to my body, but it's hard sometimes when you want to train as hard as you can, and when you want to turn out for things like cross country - with the temptation that when they don't fit into your schedule you do them in addition to what you're meant to be doing instead of moving things around.
Note to self: rest is training too.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


It's got to that stage of the training process now. Having done a race and seen how my legs have responded to training, it's time to start playing with figures. I'm enjoying it, because it's giving me a lot of confidence.
Before Edinburgh I played around with various numbers, and eventually came up with a target of about 3:52. I even printed off a pace band for that time, although I didn't wear it on the day, opting to wear 3:45 and 4:00 ones I picked up at the expo instead. In the end I did 3:52:11. I had too much on to do that before Amsterdam, but this time I'm definitely back to playing with numbers.
When I did it for Edinburgh, I had my "realistic" target of 4:00, and my "on a good day if I have the race of my life" target of 3:45. This time those targets have moved. I feel roughly as confident of breaking 3:45 as I did of breaking 4:00 this time last year, and likewise, would put my chances of 3:30 at around the same level as my chances of 3:45 last year. The numbers say I should be capable of it, but I haven't trained with that target in mind, and it would take an almighty effort.
At the moment, I think my target is an unscientifically chosen 3:36. I've tried to think what pace I realistically feel like I could run at, and am working on the basis of 8:15 minute miles (just under 30 seconds per mile slower than half marathon pace). That is subject to change in the next few weeks, but I want to have an idea of the pace I want to run, so that I can get used to how it feels in training. I have a 20 mile race coming up which I want to try to run at marathon pace, but until I decide what marathon pace is, it's a bit hard.
Officially I'm aiming for 3:45 and that's what I'm telling people at running club. I don't like putting the pressure on myself by going round talking about anything faster than that. But I want to have my own target which I keep to myself, other than revealing it to cyberspace.
Of course, that leads to a whole new idea in my head. For years, the dream has been getting a GFA time, but I seem to have moved the goalposts slightly. I'm aware that my new target also qualifies me for Boston, and that the two races are likely to be too close together to do both. At the moment I feel like if I do manage to get the slightly harder Boston time, I should seize the chance of doing that race instead of FLM again, because it will be a race I haven't done. It's all a bit speculative, trying to decide which of two races I haven't qualified for yet I should do. There are plenty of things that could go wrong between now and the 13th April, but hopefully having that as a goal in my head will help me focus on it.
And while we're on the subject of America, I've started making post FLM plans. You see, something has just come to my attention. I'd love to do New York again someday, but didn't fancy the ballot, or having to pay a premium to get a place through tour companies. And I'm certainly not doing the charity route again for a while. But I've just noticed that unlike London and Boston, you can qualify for New York with a fast enough half marathon. For women my age, that time is 1:37:00 or faster. That looks achievable. In fact, it looks very achievable (certainly more achievable at this stage than the 3:23 you need if you want to use a qualifying marathon time). 3 minutes, 11 seconds. Roughly what I took off my previous PB on Sunday. Hmm....
I don't think I could afford New York and Boston in the same year, and I don't know whether the races I run are "certified courses" for qualification purposes, but it's something to bear in mind for my next target. A girl has to have goals!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Training works!

This weekend it was time for what is fast becoming a regular event on the calendar.
Cast your mind back to 2006, when I had this stupid idea that I would like to try a half marathon. The one I chose was the Great North West half in Blackpool, and I surprised myself by running it in 1:55, well inside my 2 hour target. Last year I bagged myself a PB of 1:47, and this year it was almost inevitable that I'd go back for more.
I wasn't sure what to expect. Since the last time I raced a half marathon I've done three marathons, and one slow half with two wheelchairs. I've done a lot of training over the last few months, but my only races have been cross country races or 5ks which aren't really targetted towards marathon training. My schedule said to aim for sub 1:45, which I felt I could do, but I wasn't sure aim higher and try for a PB, which was sitting at 1:43:04.
There was a 1:45/8 minute mile pacer, and I was considering sitting with the group until 8 or 9 miles and then attempting a strong finish if I felt up to it. That way I'd feel confident of getting 1:45 even if I just stuck with them, but would give myself enough time to challenge my PB by picking it up by 20 or 30 seconds per mile towards the end.
But at the start I felt good, and the throw caution to the wind part of my brain took over. I started next to the 8mm pace group, the first hundred metres or so tend to be slower as everyone crosses the line, then they start speeding up to their target pace. They got there and stopped, but my acceleration carried on. Before I knew it the gap was opening a bit, and I was settling into a faster pace. I tried to decide whether it was a stupid idea and whether I'd suffer later (my recent racing experience being races which are over within 30 or 40 minutes, rather than nearly 2 hours), but decided to trust my instincts.
And it turns out they were good instincts. By the time I got to 8 miles I was still running at roughly the pace I started off, and started getting into the maths test phase of the race. This is where I start trying to work out how fast I need to run the rest of it to hit various targets. So how much could I slow down and still hit 1:45? How much could I slow down and still hit 1:43? Not that I intended to, but it's the sort of calculation that gives me confidence, particularly when I realise it's a pace I can do easily. What time will I do if I carry on at this speed? Not being particularly good at maths, by the time I've worked it out I'm another half mile down the road and have to start working it out again... Still, it keeps my mind off the pain in my legs, and it's quite nice when you get to the point where 10 minute miles would get you to the end within your target.
It was noticeable that on the second full loop of the course (it was one small loop then two bigger ones) I hardly saw any women. Looking at the results there was one just in front of me, but it seemed like I was running with the men all the way round. I was far enough up the field that I'd hear spectators point me out as though at that stage of the race, seeing a woman was a rarity (and I did indeed finish 47th out of 363 women, 359th out of 1186 overall, and 22nd in my category). In fact, on the last leg back to the finish, the only women I really saw were the ones I lapped!
As ever on that course (although it was slightly changed this year for various reasons), going north isn't too bad apart from the surface being concrete, and then when you come back south you hit the wind in your face, and the slight undulations of the upper level of the prom. And you always come south to the finish. That made the last few miles a bit of a struggle (and at the end someone who had passed me said it looked like I was struggling at 11 miles, although I didn't think I felt that bad), but I kept my pace at around 8 minute miles, slower than I'd started but still the pace I was planning to run the whole thing.
Even more of a struggle was the fact that because of a last minute route change, you had to run 200 metres past the finish, double back on yourself and then back again, and at that point I realised that I was just going to miss a significant landmark time, albeit one I hadn't actually set myself. No sprint finish will take 11 seconds off my 200 metre time at the end of a half marathon, so sub 1:40(!!!) will have to wait for another day, and I am still more than happy with a time of 1:40:11, which is far faster than I'd been aiming for and a 3 minute PB. And next time I get a half PB it will almost certainly be in the 1:30s.
Amusingly, feeding that time into a race time predictor spews out a marathon time of 3:28. I'm not going to read too much into that, as there is a margin of error in those things, but it does make me feel better about aiming for sub 3:40 rather than sub 3:45 at FLM. Partly that's psychological, to give me a bit of room for manouevre if I end up having to go for my back up plan midway round, but the idea of running Boston is getting more and more appealing so I may as well have a shot at qualifying for it...
So that means I'll have to stick with the speedwork and trying to at least vaguely follow the training programme, because it's looking like it definitely works.
The downside is that one of my running club friends isn't going so well with her training. We were both following the same schedule, but she's been struggling with injury and pace, and is falling off it a bit. I feel quite guilty about telling her my times, because I know that if it was the other way round I would be insanely jealous. To be fair to her, if she is, she hides it well because she's still being ultra-supportive while admitting that her target is now 3:50 - 3:55.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


I'm starting to feel more confident that I'll nail 3:45 this year. I'm following the 3:45 schedule on my Garmin, and if anything I'm running faster and further than I'm meant to (but without feeling overtired). On my interval sessions I get told to slow down more than I get told to speed up (but manage to do the last rep at the same pace as the first), and my long runs are significantly faster than they're meant to be (but again, the last four or five miles tend to see me speeding up).

Last year my real target was to break 4 hours at Edinburgh, and to survive Amsterdam in a state to do New York. Although I felt like 3:45 was possible, I didn't have my heart set on it and when the runs got tough towards the end I quickly switched to the fall back "how much time can I lose and still go sub-4" plan.

This year I'm not going to let myself think like that. In fact, I'm almost tempted to set my "on a good day" target at sub 3:40, with the fall back target at 3:45. 3:40 would get me a Boston qualifying time as well as GFA, and while I don't know whether I'd be able to afford to go over and run it, having the option would be nice. But if I miss it, the fact that I'd have aimed for it might get me under 3:45 as a consolation.

A friend at running club is doing the 3:45 plan too, but doesn't seem confident. I know that she runs a lot of club runs at a similar pace to me, although I'm marginally faster in races usually (I don't think she's ever quite managed to beat me when we've gone head to head, and her marathon PB is 3:57). I know that for me a lot of it is about confidence, and this time I'm refusing to let myself see 3:45 as anything but achievable. I know that it should be, I know I've been training well, so I'm not going to let myself talk myself out of it in my head.