Look Ma, I Ran a Marathon

5th October 2020

So. Yesterday I ran the London Marathon. It was virtual, but it was the London Marathon. I got a medal, and an official time and the results history will include my name. But. But it is so far from what I had expected when I got my place last year, it is hard to know how I should feel. I’m very pleased I completed the distance, but I can’t pretend it feels anything more than another long training run.

It’s been six months at least since my last post and that represents where my running has got to. The blog was all about progression and since April my running has all been about maintaining that level as best as I could and that was far less interesting to write about. But, I made it and I’m now an official marathoner so let’s have a little catch up about how I got there.

Throughout the winter my training was focussed on complementary work with plenty of yoga and swimming but once lock down hit these went out of the window. No swimming at all and only YouTube yoga, which soon became something of a chore. The marathon team took the early and wise decision to make the October event a virtual one and it at least gave runners something solid to prepare for.

Having reached a good point in my training I felt confident in my ability to complete a 26.2 mile run, which just left the question of how long it would take. Now it was a virtual event, I wasn’t even that worried about that. Throughout the spring and summer I had continued running good distances and had managed at least one half marathon each month since February so by late August I was ready to increase the distances so that I completed runs of 25, 27 and 31km by mid September. I hesitate to call this training but it was preparation so that I would be able to finish the full distance.

The next question was route, and as it turns out I took a rather cavalier approach to this. Many friends and club mates chose to run local laps to avoid hills and aim for half decent times but from the get-go I wanted to run an interesting route with some variety and this led me to head towards the countryside. I had in mind that I would create a route suitable should there ever be a Metro-Kent marathon, based on the constraint that it must start and finish at my house. Therefore, I looked at the local map and picked out some highlights. First up were the remains of Roman and Anglo-Saxon forts a mile or so from my house. I’m going to have to take the boffin’s word for this as although I’ve been to these places many times there isn’t anything to see. It’s on the Ordnance Survey map, though, so must be true. Next up, a few miles on, is Biggin Hill airport. The famous base of a Spitfire squadron during the Battle of Britain, going past here always gives me a thrill especially when you see the twin Spitfires sitting proudly by the gates. Almost makes me forget the sound of commercial jets flying over my house from dawn to dusk. A mile further you come to Jail Lane and the Old Jail Inn, a wonderful looking 18th century pub. I’ve never bothered to look up the history but assume there was some horrible old prison here for ne’er do-wells like in a Dickens novel. It was here that I saw my first fellow marathoner and it first occurred to me I wasn’t doing this entirely on my own. 

From there it is a long run through country lanes towards the pretty village of Downe where at the 10 mile mark you pass Down House, the home of Charles Darwin. I often cycle here and I get another little thrill each time I pass, this time of scientific discovery. To be honest the pickings get a little thin from this point as I head back towards London. In Downe there is the lovely Christmas Tree Farm and after a wonderful, long downhill stretch you reach the remains of the expansive Lubbock Estate at High Elms. OK, at this point I need to return to the reality of my own run. You may have noticed that the weather last Sunday was poor. Heavy, heavy rain and harsh, cold winds and the routes I had run and cycled over the summer turned into cascading rain wash offs and muddy foot paths giving flashbacks to terrible school cross country runs from my youth. After this point the route becomes rather more practical (think of the Rotherhithe section of the official route) as you head down busy A roads and past retail estates but it is largely flat although the persistent rain and wind sapped away at the enthusiasm. This busier section did mean I saw several others with marathon numbers, including some from my own club so there was some sense of community to make you feel part of something bigger. I met my family at around mile 24 and it was nice to get that pick-me-up for the final stretch as by then my legs were very tired. Curiously, the official app had me finish about a mile from home which didn’t match my Garmin but with that registered any motivation to carry on went and I walk/hobbled the rest of the way home. A quick mention for the App, I found it really helpful and motivating. The familiar voices of Steve Cram and Tanni Grey-Thomson came up to mark off the miles and really gave a sense of progression. Their comments were always appropriate, never vacuous, and I genuinely appreciated them. 

I think Hugh Brasher and the VLM team did a great job to get this organised and as far as I can see got every decision that affected me right. It was a god-awful day weather-wise, I probably wouldn’t have run a 5k in those conditions at any other time but the motivation of the London Marathon, even a virtual one, was enough to get me further than I’ve ever run before.

I’ve now had my place for the 2021 VLM confirmed, I can only hope things are back to normal by then. I’ll keep running over the winter and start thinking about proper training in April so can’t imagine I’ll post much until then but if I think of anything interesting to say I will be back sooner.

Well done to anyone else who did the Virtual VLM or is attempting any other virtual events. I had a look at the Virtual New York marathon but they won’t let me recycle my VLM run to will give it a miss.

All the best until next time

Furlough Training

10th April 2020

Six months to go.

If I look at the calendar that’s what it says. In six months time I will be lining up for London’s 40th, and my 1st, marathon. When I started training last October, six months felt like no time at all and I worried that it wasn’t long enough to get myself ready. But now, October seems so far in the future that I almost can’t comprehend it. It isn’t really the six months, it’s just that marathons, and football, and getting the bus, exist in a world that I can no longer imagine.

So, where are we now? Thanks to Government measures I have been able to go on furlough so have plenty of time to enjoy my one a day exercise in this amazing spring weather. I fear for the economy and what to expect when the country tries to reopen but that isn’t what I want to write about so let’s stick to the training. As I say, I can’t focus on the marathon now and don’t particularly feel I’m on a journey anymore. I don’t see my training as a progression onwards and upwards to some far off imagined peak of fitness but I did get within a whisker of completing my notional training plan, with my longest run just shy of the required 20 miles so I am now trying to maintain that fitness over the summer to be ready for a final push in August and September. I’m definitely fitter than I was last October, and the training has hopefully hardened my body to the rigours of long distance running, so if I can just maintain for the next few months I’m hoping to be in a good position.

It’s been so long since a proper update I’m not going to try and outline the training day by day but rather I will look at the variety of sessions I’m undertaking. With the gym closed I haven’t been swimming for a while but I have ramped up my cycling significantly. I have two bikes at home, a very nice Charge hybrid bike that is lovely to look at and for riding decent distances on the road. At the moment this is hooked up to the CycleOps fluid Turbo Trainer and I can’t be bothered to keep setting this up so it is staying there for a while. The whole family are really enjoying the turbo trainer and we are racking up the miles on it. I’ve built a platform to rest a laptop on and we’re taking it in turns to ride and watch stuff. So far I’ve covered off the last few episodes of Picard, a couple from Better Call Saul and the whole of Tiger King (that last one really makes you lose track of time). I’ve had four or five sessions on it now of between 60-90 minutes and tried to either replicate a spin class by varying the loading or intensity or a long ride by setting a good resistance and just holding on. Distance is measured on a £9 cycle computer and I can’t vouch for its accuracy but I tend to cover around 20-25km per session. My other bike is a sturdy (i.e. heavy) MTB from Carrera (Halfords finest) that is usually deployed on family trips around The New Forest or Bedgebury. The fat tyres and bulky frame make it a bit unwieldy on the road but nonetheless it is what I have been using on several recent real world rides. I’m not really much of a cyclist, mostly A to B rides or family days out, but in the current climate and in the absence of swimming I have been out more in the last few weeks. The first ride was split between one loop with my son and a second different loop with my wife. Since then I have done two rides along the routes I’ve previously used for my longest runs and these are now approaching 30km which is probably further than I’ve ridden in the past. I will continue to try and get in one outdoor ride each week and maybe build up the distance.

Just like a Peloton advert

In terms of complementary training I’ve tried to replicate this in the home as much as possible. I have taken regular YouTube yoga sessions in my front room and these have been surprisingly useful and I will try and get a couple in each week. The strength and conditioning work continues with a couple of routines from Runner’s World that make use of the gym ball I have and my wife’s 5kg weights. I try and do these on the rest days away from running and cycling so I can usually get a couple in each week. With so many hours in the day to fill I could end up prison-yard fit at this rate. I have also done quite a lot of walking with my wife, if we have done our exercise indoors it is a good way to get out for some fresh air. In the past we would often drive deep into the Kent or Sussex countryside for our walks but now we are looking closer to home and this has opened up some previously unrealised treasures, and potentially some new running routes. We have done a few 10-15km walks and this has helped me appreciate my locale a little bit more

In terms of eating and drinking these have probably improved since lockdown. With no real desire to pop to the shops on a whim I have become quite frugal with my snacking and by preparing family meals myself I am eating a pretty good diet with fresh ingredients and no added nonsense. And while I have gone back on my alcohol ban I am sticking to weekends and the odd virtual pub evening on Zoom/Teams. In fact my weight has continued to drop since lockdown and I am now wearing T-Shirts that haven’t seen daylight since 2015, maybe I’ll hit my start line dream weight after all. 

In terms of running this has continued well, if without the distance focussed intensity of February and March. With the good weather even my kids have got in the habit of getting up early and going for a run. I have had several runs with my wife, we’ll often do a quick 5 km loop together before I go on a longer run on my own but last week we completed my local 10km loop together (a distance record for her) so that was very satisfying. I have struggled to get motivated for a proper long run but have managed a few between 12-16km. The most recent mirrored a recent hike and took me deep into the local countryside which, given the drop in traffic, was most idyllic and not too distressing on the brief sections of no-footpath roads.

My motivation for exercise is as strong as ever but my motivation for the marathon has dropped dramatically and given that that was the driving force behind writing this diary I’m not sure how often I will return for updates. As the new way of life settles in maybe I will rediscover that drive so while I’m sure I will be back before too long, I just can’t say how soon that will be.

Recent Training Summary

5 Spin classes (Turbo Trainer) (notional distance 105km)

3 Yoga classes (30 minute YouTube classes)

3 Cycle Rides (total distance 78km)

10 Runs (total distance 94km)

Current weight 12”9’

A New World Order

29th March 2020

It’s taken me a while to reconnect with this blog and think again about my running story. It was never meant to be an open ended diary, I’m not that good a writer and my story is not that interesting. From the outset I saw it as a motivational tool, much like a food diary. The act of writing my training progress down would force me to address the need to progress and apply good practice.

So, just at the point when I was confident in my readiness to tackle the marathon the world turned upside down and everything changed. It’s really difficult to think about the marathon now, even with a revised race date I just can’t seem to bring the same focus to my training. I’ve been working from home for two weeks, the kids have been home for a week and the idea of continuing in this way for three months is impossible to imagine. I’m worried for elderly parents, as a freelancer I’m worried about work over the summer and seeing the emergency NHS Nightingale facility being put up makes this all horribly real. I just can’t seem to focus on anything more than 10 days in the future.

But, in these strange times there have been some positives. I live in a close of about 20 houses and while I’ve always been on friendly terms with immediate neighbours for the rest I probably wouldn’t even know their names. Now we have a WhatsApp group and a community spirit to share information and delivery slots and I know people’s names! Honestly, a lifetime of living in London has not prepared me for this, it’s like living in the North.

OK, this is nominally a training diary so let me catch up with that. I’ve ditched the VLM training plan, for the next couple of months I expect to just tick over with a variety of training approaches and pick up again in August with longer distances.

My last week of training included an extended club run and a parkrun, both of which seem very alien to me now. I also had yoga and spin sessions at the gym. None of those are available now so flexibility and inventiveness will be the order of the day from now on.

Curiously, since the lockdown the weather has been wonderful and I have been able to make the most of my one piece of outdoor exercise per day but I have also prepared to replicate gym work at home. Over the last few months I have dabbled with home made strength work and yoga sessions but I’m now taking these more seriously and setting aside a specific time slot to work through a full session either with an online trainer or at least follow a set of complementary exercises. I have also managed to invest in a very nice turbo trainer to hook my hybrid commuter bike into.

Since 17th March I have completed 6 runs, sometimes with my wife or son but often on my own. Ranging from 5km to 14km in distance, these have totalled 55km.

I have dusted down the family bikes and got out yesterday for the first time this year. On my rather heavy mountain bike I managed a 20km loop over a rather hilly route. I expect to extend this in future.

I have had two sessions on the turbo trainer. This piece of equipment is new to me but following a couple of challenges when putting it together it proved very easy to set up with my bike and get going. In fact the whole family has enjoyed using it and as a group we are racking up the miles. For both sessions I set up a laptop to watch the final couple of episodes in the new Picard series and settled back for an hour or so. I tried to build in a profiled session with periods at a higher gear and others at a greater RPM. I think these have gone really well and I feel I put a lot of effort in. Assuming I set up the £9 cycle computer correctly I have completed 39km over the two sessions.

The other consideration has been weight and, frustratingly, since lockdown I have lost a little. I am not getting my 5km daily walking commute, with the deferment of the marathon I have started drinking again yet I have somehow dropped a couple of pounds. I think this points to rather more snacking at work than I previously admitted to. Also, with the uncertainty of food availability I am being a little more parsimonious with my eating at home.

I’m not sure how often I’ll update this blog over the next few weeks but I will continue training and as and when my focus returns I expect to get back to regular updates.

Training Week -29 (previously known as Week -6) Done

14th March 2020

**I wrote most of this post before I heard the news on Friday about the London Marathon being cancelled. The training stands and I will finish the update for this week and then have a think about what this news means for me and my preparation plans**

In the scheme of things this has been a deliberately quieter week and this has come from a couple of directions. From the very beginning of my marathon journey I knew I would have to take a cautious approach to my training. The progression from 10k running to a 26 mile marathon would be a big ask for my body and I measured out my efforts so that I didn’t try to do too much, too quickly. According to the training plan I am now on the cusp of being race ready, with my long run a whisker short of the longest 20 miler required, and so with just a few weeks remaining I am spacing out these longest runs as well. I intend to get in a couple more 20 mile runs in the remaining weeks but don’t want to overload my body so will space these out with a week’s relative rest sandwiched between them. I am also living in expectation that the event will be cancelled, or at best postponed, and this is inevitably tempering my expectations. If I lose my place entirely I will be absolutely gutted, if it is postponed until the autumn or next year then I can live with that. For now I will prepare for a race at the end of April.

Week 11 of the VLM plan looks like this:

DayVLM Training PlanWhat I did
SundayREST DAY – The next four weeks are about getting to know your race pace.Have a target time in minutes and work out your pace per mile.60 Minute Spin Class
Monday45 MINUTES EASY RUNYoga
TuesdayREST DAYSTEADY RUN 30 Minutes (5km), TEMPO RUN 55 Minutes (8.5km) STEADY RUN 25 Minutes (3.5km)
WednesdayRUN 60 MINUTES – 10-minute easy run, (5-minute tempo run, 3-minute easy run/walk recovery) x 5, 10 minute easy runREST DAY
ThursdayREST DAYINTERVAL RUN 40 Minutes (6km)
FridayREST DAYREST DAY
SaturdayRUN 2HRS 30 MINUTES – (28-minute easy run, 2-minute walk) x 5, or distancegoal of 14 to 16 miles. Include a few miles at target marathon paceparkrun 32 Minutes (5km)

On Sunday I got up early to fit in an 8:00am spin class, this gave me enough time to get my son to his last hockey match of the season. It was a good session although coronavirus fears meant it was half empty and extra effort was spent cleaning the equipment before and after the class, still I put the effort in and burnt the calories. The hockey match was a little disappointing as they were beaten by a better team. They ended the season with more wins than losses, though, and I think he enjoyed his first year in a new sport and will hopefully be keen to return in September.

On Monday evening I returned to my yoga class at the gym, very odd to see people spraying down the mats and blocks but that’s where we are now I guess. Can’t say I fancy the gym floor at the moment, or the steam room, so will look to replicate more of the exercises at home. The yoga was as good as ever and while not as focussed on the legs as much as I would like, there was enough flexibility work around the hips to feel very beneficial.

I went back to my running club on Tuesday after breaking my recent attendance streak last week and used this to fill in the weekly long run. As before, I met my friend on the way but this time I left home a little early to allow me to fit in some extra distance. Once we met up we headed for the park, he is recovering from a slight injury but still on course to run the marathon, and still capable of a faster pace than me, so I was pushed along at an agreeably quicker rate than if I was on my own. Once there I joined a group going at a Steady Run pace, although the group leader had dropped down from a faster group so I had my suspicions it was going to be a little tougher than normal. We followed a route I seem to have done every week since re-engaging with the club, but it is a really good route with the challenging Summer Hill about two thirds in followed by a long, flat run to the finish. As I suspected, the leader took us through at a slightly quicker pace but as the route was familiar I didn’t mind. Once back at the park I met up with my friend and we headed home, again at a pace quicker than I would have managed on my own. Given that the journey home is mostly uphill there is every chance I would have given in to walking if I’d been on my own so the companionship was appreciated. Maybe there is something to be said for having a training partner after all. The distance was obviously down on last week’s effort but I’m taking it as a positive that I can put in this mileage and still call it a rest week.

Distance covered 17km

I took a complete rest on Wednesday so on Thursday I had another go at interval training while my daughter had her dance lesson. Following a triangular route I jogged up the first side for about 600m before heading down the second at as fast a pace as I could hold for another 650m, faster than my best parkrun pace but short of sprinting, before splitting the final side into two sections; one at a very easy pace the second back up to full pace. I repeated this three times and it was pretty tough going on the final fast section. At the end I took in another, shorter, loop where I did my best impression of lamppost fartlek training. Sprint from one lamppost to the next, jog/walk to the next and repeat until you run out of lampposts. Apart from looking like an idiot this was actually quite good fun and it was very enjoyable to try running at full pace for a change. Not something I do very often having given up competitive sports many years ago. Not quite in the training plan but I enjoyed it more than last week’s attempt at interval training.

Distance covered 6km

On Friday I had no training planned anyway and the news I received on the way home of the postponement only meant that I allowed myself a glass or two of wine with my dinner.

On Saturday morning I could feel the effect of the wine and limited myself to just running a parkrun with no additional there and backs thrown in. It was a return to another local favourite, much smaller in turnout than my main one it is a more robust running challenge. Almost entirely on grass it has many energy sapping inclines and was very heavy underfoot and boggy in places. A tough run, and a time I wouldn’t like to highlight, but it was good to be back there.

Distance covered 5km

Weekly Training Summary

1 Spin class

1 Yoga class

0 Swim session

3 Runs (total distance 28km)

Current weight 12”13’

I’m not sure where this postponement leaves me. Since the beginning I have been more focussed on my journey rather than the endgame and I think this will stand me in good stead. I’m going to give it a little thought over the weekend and come up with a new plan of attack.

Commiserations  to all impacted by the raft of race postponements, especially those who have gone to much more logistical effort than I had to. I guess there are more important things to worry about at the moment.

Training week -7 Done

7th March 2020

Following my new longest run on Tuesday my legs were really painful on Wednesday, just muscle ache but enough to make the stairs a very real challenge and a rest day was welcomed with open arms. In the evening I unrolled the yoga mat and enjoyed a very leisurely stretch out session while watching Spurs continue their slide into mediocrity and disappointment. My home made yoga was very enjoyable but any benefits were probably marginal and it was midway through Thursday before my legs had returned to normal. 

I had intended to do some interval training on Thursday evening while my daughter was at dancing but the trains were in complete meltdown and my one hour commute descended into a three hour trial as I bounced from London Bridge to Blackfriars and then Waterloo trying to find a train that would take me home. By the time I made it back I was in no mood to go out again so I chalked that one off.

This is how the training week panned out

DayVLM Training PlanWhat I did
SundayREST DAY – Race practice – enter a half marathon to familiarise yourself with Race Day routines, such as pre-race meal, race clothing and hydration strategiesSTEADY RUN 65 Minutes (10km)
MondayRUN 35 MINUTES – 10-minute easy run, (3 x 3 minutes at a tempo pace with 2 minute jog recovery), 10-minute easy runREST DAY
TuesdayREST DAYLONG RUN 3hrs 20mins (27km)
Wednesday30 MINUTES EASY RUNREST DAY with YOGA
ThursdayREST DAY(Enforced) REST DAY
FridayREST DAYRUN 35 MINUTES – 10-minute easy run, (3 x 3 minutes at a tempo pace with 2 minute jog recovery), 10-minute easy run
SaturdayRACE – Race a half marathon, or run for 2 hours 15 minutes, or distance goal of 12 miles30 Minutes STEADY RUN (4km) 28 Minutes parkrun (5km) 7 Minutes EASY RUN (1km)

On Friday, just for novelty value, I took a training session directly from the plan to replace the interval session I’d missed. The instructions listed three running types (EASY, TEMPO & JOG) and I was again struck by the fact that I don’t know what these mean. I’m told that EASY is when you run and hold a conversation at the same time, so, as I was on my own, I ran and hummed to myself for ten minutes. Then I started the reps, three minutes at TEMPO (which I took to being about as fast as I can run for an extended time) followed by two minutes at JOG pace (which I took as EASY pace without the humming). Three sets of that followed by an EASY ten minute run home. I have done this sort of training before and can feel the benefit although I think this session was too short as it was over just I was getting the hang of the reps. I think I’ll try again next week and double the number of sets.

Distance covered 5km

On Saturday I ran to my local parkrun and then laboured round in a neither here nor there 28 minutes. Not a bad pace in the middle of a longer run but equally I would’ve hoped to be feeling stronger by this stage of my training. By every metric I have got fitter, healthier and stronger through this training but I just haven’t got any quicker over 5 and 10k distances. Very strange.

Distance covered 10km

Weekly Training Summary

0 Spin class

0 Yoga class

0 Swim session

4 Runs (total distance 52km)

Current weight 12”13’

Not a very diverse training week but I needed a mile heavy one to get the progression back. I think I’ll drop the mileage back a touch next week and bring back the complementary training. The following week I will try and run home from the office again, varying the route to avoid the busier parts of Central London and get over the twenty mile threshold. I should then have enough weeks to fit in a couple more runs at around twenty miles before the taper and big day. Alcohol free since Monday as well so a little odd to have added a pound in weight but hoping to see the benefit of that over the next month, assuming willpower stays strong.

A longer long run

4th March 2020

I thought I’d drop in a brief midweek update as I have just completed a significant long run and my perspective on the marathon has shifted slightly (for the better). However, I do continue to have questions about my preparations and the advice I’m repeatedly given by experts and friends alike. 

First the run. From my new office near St Pancras it was a 16 mile schlep to get home. That would be following the most direct route Google Maps could provide and when I tried that last time I found myself in places I wouldn’t normally dream of walking round after dark. To avoid that I stuck to main roads which added a little to the distance but meant I didn’t need to keep looking over my shoulder. I still managed to lose my way a couple of times and I needed to regularly pause to visually check the map so that I kept to the right path. The verbal instructions do not always work without the map to follow; ‘Head North-West on Lewisham High Street’ isn’t that helpful when you can’t see any street signs and have no clue which way is north.

The run itself was a mixed bag. Leaving the office soon after five I was faced with considerable foot traffic though Holborn and Waterloo plus many, many junctions to navigate. Once I got to Elephant & Castle there was, theoretically, only three roads left to navigate for the remaining 20km but still the going was heavy with pedestrians. Once I was on the Old Kent Road, somewhere near Deptford, I was able to find a good, regular pace for several kilometres and I felt strong and well set. Navigation was tricky through Lewisham and Catford and I lost my momentum somewhat trying to keep to the route but once past was on familiar ground and able to settle back into a routine. I took on a gel pack after about 12km, I’m not convinced about these but they don’t seem to do any harm either so will stick with it. There was a long, steep hill at around 15km and I resorted to walking after about halfway. At about 19km I felt very hungry so I slammed my stock of Jelly Babies. These had more impact than the gel, removing the hunger and providing a slight sugar rush to carry me on further. By 22km I was feeling very tired and walked for a few hundred metres, I then picked up again and ran a while longer before the final hill, a mile or so from home, forced me to walk again. I ran/walked the final thousand metres before arriving home with incredibly drained legs that even 30 minutes of stretching and roller work didn’t fix. Over three hours of running and a new distance record, the following day I could feel every single one of those miles in my legs.

So, the positives. The increase in distance was very encouraging. Although I was incredibly tired by the end it was no worse than when I had run home before Christmas on a route a good couple of miles shorter. I am now within a parkrun of the longest run the training plan requires. The busy, urban route made it very difficult to find a settled pace over the first half of the run but there were plenty of stretches where I could settle in and there I found a good pace. Following this run I am now a lot more confident in my ability to finish the marathon, even if I do find myself run/walking several miles of it. My knee wasn’t a problem during the run, in fact I don’t recall any worrying niggles. I don’t know if it hurts today, if it is it’s completely drowned out by my aching thighs. Another positive, and something that had concerned me from the start, was that I didn’t get bored at all, despite running for so long. Partly this was the concentration required to navigate home but equally even on the familiar sections it never became a factor in the way it has in the past.

On to the negatives. There aren’t any really, not from the run itself anyway. I was completely shot by the end, but then I would expect to be having run further than I had ever run before. And this is my concern; every time I run a little further it hurts like hell and is a real struggle so why does every training plan, and friend I speak to, say to only train to 80% of the distance? The last 20% is much harder than the first 20%. My longest run is supposed to be 20 miles but that leaves me 6 miles still to go and I have never made up that big a gap in one go, why is it right to do so on race day? I really don’t get it.

Distance covered 27km

I made a list of milestones early on in my training and it is probably time to revisit again, now that I’ve made some more progress.

15k – DONE – 29th October 2019

10 Mile – DONE – 5th November 2019

10 Mile Race – Never did find an event

20k – DONE – 20th November 2019

13.1 Mile – DONE – 20th November 2019

13.1 Mile Race – DONE – 8th Feb 2020

25k  – DONE – 3rd March 2020

3 Hour Run  – DONE – 3rd March 2020

30k – Target 2020

20 Mile – Target 2020

20 Mile Race – Target 2020 (not sure I’m going to find such an event)

4 Hour Run – Target 2020

26.2 Mile – Target 2020

Wednesday will very much be a rest day this week although I will try some home-brew yoga to ease my legs. I would normally run on Thursday evening and aim to do so again this week, although I will probably avoid hill work this time.

Training Week -7 Begins

2nd March 2020

The London Marathon is next month. Not next year; NEXT MONTH. I started preparing for this so early it always seemed so far away but now it feels uncomfortably close and more and more running conversations seem to bring this up with unpleasant regularity. I received my running club’s weekly email this morning and that was the headline statement so I guess it’s now or never as far as training is concerned.

I’m actually in a funny place with regards to the marathon. On the one hand I’m thinking it’s all over and I’m planning the future; should I go for an ultra or should I enter for Paris or Berlin. On the other hand I still have grave doubts about my ability to finish. I have a solid week’s progression in my training diary but even if it all goes to plan there will still be so much left to do. Since the beginning I have been suspicious of the beginner’s training plan that leaps from a 10 mile long run in week 8 to the 26 mile event in week 16. I just can’t imagine that level of progression but here I am at that half way point with just half a dozen runs further than that under my belt and none over 14 miles. Trust the plan, I’m told so that’s what I’ll do.

I have also hit a couple of cautionary notes this week. On the personal front I have detected a pain in my right knee over the last week. Nothing too intense but something to keep an eye on. Injury has always been my biggest worry so I’m hoping this will pass soon. The other note of concern came with my research into the Paris marathon where I saw they had cancelled the Half Marathon warm up event. I can only imagine the Coronavirus issue getting worse before it gets better so there is a worry that my event will be cancelled. If that comes to pass I don’t think I would be so broken hearted, maybe another twelve months of preparation wouldn’t be so bad, but the closer we get the more it would hurt to postpone. The Big Half went ahead at the weekend so that is encouraging.

The VLM training plan looks like this for Week 10

DayVLM Training PlanWhat I did
SundayREST DAY – Race practice – enter a half marathon to familiarise yourself with Race Day routines, such as pre-race meal, race clothing and hydration strategiesSTEADY RUN 65 Minutes (10km)
MondayRUN 35 MINUTES – 10-minute easy run, (3 x 3 minutes at a tempo pace with 2 minute jog recovery), 10-minute easy runREST DAY
TuesdayREST DAY
Wednesday30 MINUTES EASY RUN
ThursdayREST DAY
FridayREST DAY
SaturdayRACE – Race a half marathon, or run for 2 hours 15 minutes, or distance goal of 12 miles

Given the lack of miles last week I didn’t want to miss any opportunities so I skipped my regular Sunday morning spin class for an hour’s worth of Steady Running while my son had hockey practice. It was around my usual route and while the pace was comfortable I managed it several minutes quicker than before which is encouraging.

Monday is a Rest Day and I will take the opportunity to go and visit my dad after work. He’s a generous host and I expect he will have got a few cans of Guinness in for me but I think I will stick to one and then make that my last drink before race day. I always had it in my mind to give up once we got to March and now that has rolled around I really need to face up to it. Time to test that willpower I have so little faith in. 

I’m planning on running home from work on Tuesday. From my new office google maps is telling me it is a shade under sixteen miles but the last time I tried this it took me through some pretty shady parts of London so I’m going to stick to bigger roads this time which will probably make it a little longer. I’m also expecting several sections to be quite hilly so don’t plan to run it all, especially towards the end where there will be a few challenging inclines to overcome. I just want to get the miles into my legs again.

Training week -8 done

29th February 2020

Another week ticked off and while things continue in the right direction it was a quiet week and my mileage was somewhat down on previous weeks and not where I’d want to be. I think I can cope with a fallow week, though, and I hope to get the mileage back up soon. It wasn’t through any injuries just a combination of events that limited my ability to run for longer.

Let’s have a look at the week’s training plan, and I can see that things are getting serious and any slack I had in my training is being eroded quickly and for the first time I have come up short of the plan.

DayVLM Training PlanWhat I did
SundayREST DAY – The next few weeks are all about the long run, building your capacity to run the marathon. Do not worry about covering the race distance before the event, just trust the training. Practise your hydration and fuel strategies on your long runREST DAY
Walk (5km)
Monday40 MINUTES EASY RUNYoga
TuesdayREST DAYTEMPO RUN 60 Minutes (10km)
WednesdayRUN 30 MINUTES – 10-minute easy run, (4-minute tempo run, 3-minute easy jog/walk recovery) x 4, 10-minute easy runREST DAY
Core Conditioning
ThursdayREST DAYHILL TRAINING 60 Minutes (6km)
FridayREST DAYREST DAY
SaturdayRUN 2 HOURS – (28-minute run, 2-minute walk) x 4, or distance goal of 10 to 12 miles 30 Minute parkrun (5km)

Following my half marathon distance run last Saturday my legs were too sore to try another run or spin class on Sunday. While my son played hockey I took the opportunity to take a brisk walk around a section of the route I’d usually run. It was just a leg stretcher and I wouldn’t count it in my training miles but it got rid of some of the tiredness.

Monday was a regular yoga class but I’m aware I haven’t swum for a few weeks now and I will have to find a way to get that back into the routine. Tuesday is club night and yet again I was able to make it there. Unfortunately due to a delay getting home from the office and a late breaking pancake emergency (no Nutella!) I didn’t have time to run to the meeting point. This meant I had to drive which cost me several kilometres out of my weekly total. The group run was good, though, and we covered the best part of 10km at a pace just shy of my regular 10k race pace. I made up the difference getting back to the car but given this should have been one of my longer runs it was a shame.

Distance covered 10km

Wednesday was another rest day with just some extended stretching and work with the gym ball to keep things moving before taking on hill training again on Thursday. I’m feeling a bit of an energy lull this week and found the climb up Summer Hill harder than usual. I seem to spend all my time running this hill recently. I’m doing repeats of it most Thursdays and I’m sure all of my recent club runs, bar one, have taken it in as well. You’d think I’d get better at it but I’m not sure that is the case. ‘Easy’ is not the word that comes to mind as I scale it but according to Strava I am getting quicker at it so that is progression I guess.

Distance covered 6km

Friday evening was a social night as I went for beer and curry with some of the rugby dad’s from my son’s old club. It was a great evening but not great for the training regime as several pints and a heavy meal took their toll the next morning. Saturday 29th February was a special parkrun day as it will be the last time you can run on that date until 2048 so while I really didn’t feel in a fit state for running I forced myself to the start line. I couldn’t face running there and back and the weather was appalling so I was restricted to just the 5km, again well short of previous weeks. I am having a good relationship with parkrun this week and have several targets for this year. Firstly I am now within 15 runs of getting my 250 shirt and will hopefully get that by late summer. I am also closing in on 200 runs at my home event and having managed to get the New Year’s Day double in I’m looking to run 40 events in 2020 for the first time. Add in a few new locations to add to my tourist total and it could be a successful parkrun year. That does leave me a little guilty about not volunteering as much but I will repay that debt later.

Distance covered 5km

I wish I could say that a relatively light week meant that my legs had time to recover but I am feeling some discomfort in my right knee and a general tightening in my legs each morning. I am going to spend more time on stretching and building up my legs but equally I know I will have to target longer distances as the training plan is pretty unforgiving throughout March. Now’s the time I need all that complementary training to come good for me.

Weekly Training Summary

0 Spin class

1 Yoga class

0 Swim session

3 Runs (total distance 21km)

Current weight 12”12’

Training week -9 done

22nd February 2020

A variable week that ended well but didn’t cover as much training as I would’ve liked. I’m back to the doubts I had from the start and while I’m happy with the distances I’m running and how I’m coping with them I can’t help seeing how much further I need to go and how fast the time is ticking by. I’ve also started working at a new location with a new client which has been a little disruptive. It’s still in a busy part of London but far from the marathon route or quieter Docklands roads so I will have to investigate the area to see if there are any workable lunchtime routes I can run. It’s also a couple of miles further from home and I’m planning to use this in the next week or so to extend my long(est) run to somewhere between 25-30km.

Week 8 of the VLM plan looks like this, hard to comprehend that I’m now at the halfway point of the actual training plan.

DayVLM Training PlanWhat I did
SundayREST DAY – This week, feel your heart pounding and your breathing quicken with the tempo runningSpin Class 60 Minutes
Monday40 MINUTES EASY RUNSTEADY/EASY RUN 65 MINUTES (2 x 5km) Yoga
TuesdayREST DAYSTEADY RUN 40 Minutes (2 x 3km) TEMPO RUN 55 Minutes (9KM)
WednesdayRUN 50 MINUTES – 10-minute easy jog, (60 sec tempo running, 2 minute walk/jog) x 10, 10-minute easy jogSTEADY HIKE 120 Minutes (10km)
ThursdayREST DAYREST DAY
FridayREST DAYREST DAY
SaturdayRUN 1HR 40 MINUTES – (25-minute jog, 5-minute brisk walk) x 4, or distance goal of 8 to 10 milesSTEADY RUN 45 Minutes (6.5km) TEMPO RUN 29 Minutes (5km parkrun) STEADY RUN 70 Minutes (10km)

Sunday was a strange day. I started with a 60-minute spin class, a substitute instructor replacing my regular one. She had a different approach and focused more on working with much higher resistances. I liked the variety but I missed my instructor’s clear guidance and class management. Soon after midday my son had a hockey match on the other side of London so it wasn’t long after getting back from the gym that I headed out again. With Storm Dennis battering away it had been touch and go whether the fixture would take place but everyone was keen and we were assured the pitch was playable. I didn’t do any more training myself but the drive round the M25 through the fierce wind and rain certainly got my heart pounding. By the time of the match the weather had improved but sadly they lost a close match by the odd goal. The drive home was calmer as the weather had improved but there were plenty of sections under water that proved tricky to navigate.

On Monday we tried something different. At my wife’s suggestion we ran to the gym and then took our yoga class before running home. I have avoided this in the past as I don’t think they complement each other when that close together but you don’t know until you try. The intention was to run at a gentle pace there to arrive calm and relaxed but, unfortunately, a misjudged leaving time meant we had to really pick up the pace in the last kilometre to make it in time. As it was we rocked up with a minute to spare and squeezed into a couple of half-spaces around the edge. Breathing heavily in an otherwise peaceful room plus being incredibly hot for the first quarter of an hour made me feel quite self-conscious but once we got into the pace of things it was as enjoyable as usual. Straight after the session we headed home on the harder, uphill, leg of the trip and this proved quite a challenge. This run represented a significant step up in distance for my wife and I don’t think we’ll be trying this approach again. Sandwiching a relaxing yoga session between two runs diminished both and any advantage of combining into a single evening is wasted.

Distance covered 10km

Tuesday night, and I’m beginning to bore myself, but yet again I managed to attend a club night. I’ve lost count of how many on the trot this is now but at this rate some of the members might even begin to recognise me. I managed to include running there and back again as well as sticking with the faster group. They went at a very good pace, probably quicker than my 10k pace for many sections, which made for a very good session. I headed home just before the finish and took a direct route so distance was a little down on previous weeks but even so I thought it had been a good session.

Distance covered 15km

On Wednesday I went on a lovely muddy hike in the Kent countryside with my wife and son, mainly so that we could have lunch in this pub that serves wonderful, homemade pies. It was a steady walk over a couple of hours and while not exactly training, the VLM plan does still include some minor references to walking so I’ll throw it in for good measure. On Thursday I started on a new client site so that, combined with half term cancelling evening dance classes meant I did nothing else until the end of the week.

Saturday is parkrun day and this marathon training has really got a hold of me as my running to and from the park has become an order of magnitude bigger than the event itself. This time I got out of the house early enough to take a longer, looping run there and while it ended up being a little shorter than I had hoped worked out quite well as I arrived in good time. The event was as crowded as ever but once I was able to get into my stride I held a good pace until the end. My overall pace would have seen me through in around 28 minutes but the congested start probably added a minute to that. For a quicker section within a longer run I was happy with that. For the run back I followed a similar looping route along quiet rural roads as last week, with a small detour at the end to take the mileage over the half marathon distance. The route was quite hilly in places and I took a couple opportunities to walk but overall the pace was good and, taking into account some lulls either side of the parkrun, was close to my target marathon pace. The route map on Strava was very encouraging as well as the parkrun section was forced into a tiny corner by the rambling route I took there and back.

Distance covered 21.2km

Weekly Training Summary

1 Spin class

1 Yoga class

0 Swim session

4 Runs (total distance 46.2km)

Current weight 12”13’