Training week -11 done

8th February 2020

I think it’s time to step my training back up and begin building the running to continually stretch myself week on week rather than the recent training I’ve been doing which has been very much ‘within myself’.

I’ve targeted February for tackling an organised half marathon as a challenge to myself and as a gauge for how my training is going. It should also help a lot in setting expectations for the race itself. These events are always hard to schedule alongside family commitments but there are a couple I have in mind that might be achievable, I will look into these later in the week.

Week 6 of the VLM Beginner Plan

DayVLM Training PlanWhat I did
SundayREST DAY – This week is when the marathon training kicks in, building more time on your feet, and introducing some mixed paced runningSpin Class 60 Minutes
Steady Run 40 minutes (6km)
Monday40 MINUTES EASY RUNRest Day
TuesdayREST DAYTempo Run 60 minutes (9km) plus Steady Run 50 minutes (7.5 km)
WednesdayRUN 40 MINUTES – 10-minute easy run, (30 sec tempo running, 2 minute walk) x 8, 10 minute easy runRest Day – Core conditioning
ThursdayREST DAYEasy Run 35 minutes (5km)
FridayREST DAYRest Day
SaturdayRUN/WALK 1HR 40 MINUTES – (20-minute easy run, 5-minute brisk walk) x 4, or distance goal of 6 to 8 milesHalf Marathon Race 2:10 (21km)

Sunday was a double header which started with a heavy-duty spin class with my favourite instructor. All the best tracks were there, and I really pushed myself right to the end building up one hell of a sweat.

In the afternoon my son had a hockey match and while he was warming up with the team I went for a quick Steady Run using the longer route I often use when he is training. It was really quite chilly but I’m getting the hang of the kit now and I was comfortable all the way round. He played well, as did the team, scoring a nice goal before the team went on to win comfortably.

Distance covered 6km

Monday would normally be an active rest day but a mix up with my gym class booking plus wanting to help my son prepare for the year end exams kicking off this week meant I stayed in during the evening. A fair trade for yesterday’s double cardio efforts.

I think I set something of a personal record on Tuesday by attending my third club night on the trot, I doubt I’ve ever been that consistent before. I was joined in running there and back by a friend who is also preparing for the London Marathon, he is a little quicker than me and runs in a faster group on these nights but it‘s always rewarding to run with him as it pushes me a little quicker. We were both a little tired but it was good to get the yards in at a realistic (for me) marathon pace. My group took in the infamous Summer Hill section where I’ve been basing my recent hill work and was interesting to see how that work had built my confidence in working to the top.

Distance covered 16.4 (9km + 2 x 3.7km)

I usually take another rest day on a Wednesday and did the same this week, limiting myself to some stretching and core work with the gym ball. What’s interesting is the interval training in the VLM plan that harks back to something I tried in the earlier weeks of my training and the longer evenings of last October. At the time I now use for hill training I would then run back and forth along a football pitch on some school playing fields. I haven’t done that for a while so perhaps I should reintroduce it and alternate with the hill work.

I’ve decided on the half marathon now and will being undertaking one this Saturday. I’d got it down to a choice of two; one being an attractive one along the river at Richmond and another in a rather more mundane London park. Sadly, the Richmond one was a little too disruptive for the family, so I plumped for a Run Through race in East London. I like these Run Through events, I ran several of their 10k races last year, they’re well managed and well supported. However, they do tend to fold these longer distances into limited spaces and this race will be a six lapper! This will present its own challenge in terms of focus and engagement and it’s interesting that this mental side of it is worrying me more than the distance. Before this training began a half marathon in 2016 had been the pinnacle of my running but now it is just a step on a bigger journey. To allow for a mini taper I skipped the hill work I’ve been working on recently and went on a gentle run with my wife on Thursday around my regular shorter local loop.

Distance covered 5km

No training on Friday and plenty of rest in preparation for tomorrow’s early start and race. With a 6:30 alarm call I headed into London Bridge and got a bus to Victoria Park in Bethnal Green. On the way I met a club mate who was running the 10k as part of his training to beat 1:20 for a half in a few weeks. Sometimes I wonder if I’m doing the same sport as other people. Anyway, he’s a really nice guy who used to coach my kids at tennis a few years ago and he was very encouraging about my training and progress. I got there in plenty of time and as it was quite chilly I took my time attaching the number to my top and losing some layers. I even took the time to join the warm-up session. I’m really not very good at prepping for events like these, I can do a little stretching and maybe a brisk walk to the start but anything beyond that makes me nervous. I have the unsupportable fear that I have a finite amount of energy and any that I use in warming up is less I can call on during the event. I also suffer from poor race craft in that the early miles are always the fastest and I get slower towards the end when I know it should be the other way around. It’s just that I have more energy at the start and if I can get a few miles in at a good pace then it’s time in the bank as far as I’m concerned. The runners were called to the start in order of estimated finish time – all 80-minute runners first and then progressing up. I suspect people are a little ambitious here so when they called the 2-hour group I joined them even though I worried I could be 20 minutes off that. Inevitably I started off stronger than intended and when I checked my Garmin a couple km in I was surprised to see I was going at a good parkrun pace, I backed off a touch and tried to settle in for the next two hours. The course ran for 6 ½ laps and you tracked progress by counting passes of the water station close to the finish line which you clocked seven times. This was a blessing and a curse, the route was very flat so there were no sections to worry about but when I passed the station for the second time at about 6km I was hit by the knowledge that I had five more go arounds left, however when I passed it for the fourth time you felt the joy of knowing you had only three left, then two and then the final pass which only left the short finish to go. In the end the multi-lap format worked very well and as each lap passed relatively quickly you could get a feel for progress and have confidence there were no horrors to be faced before the end. I held a good pace throughout, not far off my 10k pace, and was very satisfied to take five minutes off my last half marathon time. This was also my first organised race since I started training (not counting parkruns) and I was reminded of the positive effect this has on performance. I think this represents good progress and I’m trying not to be too strict with myself. I keep reminding myself I don’t need to be marathon ready this week but I couldn’t help noticing how shot my legs were by the end and wondering how I’m supposed to do that twice.

I think that represents the biggest progress, before this process I had no intention of running a half ever again but today it is just a tick in the training plan and the medal is already in the drawer.

Distance covered 21km

Weekly Training Summary

1 Spin class

0 Yoga class

0 Swim session

4 Runs (total distance 48.5km)

Current weight 12”13’

Training week -12 done

1st February 2020

I’m struggling to keep up this training diary and I know I’m not jotting down my thoughts as much as before Christmas. I feel I made a lot of progress in the first few weeks and I’ve rather stagnated recently. I’m still doing the training and putting in the miles but I haven’t been progressing at the rate I was before. In some ways that may be a good thing as a lot of people warned me against ‘too much, too soon’ so settling into a calmer routine may be a good thing. I do worry that while before I was ahead of the training plan pretty soon it will come back and overtake me. It certainly isn’t dominating my thoughts as much as before and, again, maybe that’s a good thing.

Let’s look at this week’s VLM training plan for week 5:

DayVLM Training PlanWhat I did
SundayREST DAY – A lighter week to allow for adaptation to the training loadsRest Day
Monday20 MINUTES EASY RUN

Pool Swim (1km) Yoga
TuesdayREST DAYTempo Run 60 minutes (9km) plus Steady Run 70 minutes (9.5km)
Wednesday30 MINUTES EASY RUNRest Day – Core conditioning
ThursdayREST DAYHill work 45 minutes (6km)
FridayREST DAYRest Day
SaturdayRUN 52 MINUTES – 25-minute easy run, 2-minute walk, 25-minute easy runRace Pace parkrun (5km) 29 minutes plus 2x1km warm up & cool down 15 minutes

There was no training on Sunday. My son had a hockey match in Brighton and that meant being up and out by 8:30am to drop my wife at the gym and find the ground by 10:00. It was a good match and while two early goals put our boys on the back foot, they held their nerve and got back into the game. They had more possession, but their opponents were more direct and for the next two quarters it was evenly matched. Deep into the final quarter they managed a quick break and two passes out of defence found our striker and with a smart finish they were back in the game. They hammered away for the last few minutes but to no avail and it finished 2-1. Being that far south it seemed rude not to hit the coast and get a bag of chips so that’s what we did. It was pretty cold and blustery but chips always taste better when you can see the sea. We got home late afternoon and that is a long-winded way of saying I did nothing worth noting.

Monday is my active rest day and I got back to the pool after a little break. We were down to two lanes again due to an Aqua Fit class and it was all a bit messy. This is clearly the wrong time to be trying to go. If I was a better writer I could probably get a sitcom out of this but in the meantime I will just try to describe the scene and the players. You might remember my early forays back in the pool where I had to share a lane with Aquaman, well now there are two of them with their swim caps, flippers and barrel turns. There was also a normal swimmer doing regular lengths like me and finally there were three children under the watchful gaze of their non-swimming parents. Don’t get me wrong, they were good swimmers but they also had a habit of stopping a couple of metres short on each length to get some affirmation from mum or dad. It was a very disjointed session but we managed to keep out each other’s way enough to get my required lengths in. After a quick trip to the steam room I finished the day with a very good yoga session.

Distance covered 1km

As I said at the top the marathon is not dominating my thoughts as much as before but I am getting some good training in. Tuesday is club night and I used this to get my long run in. I trotted to the meeting point at a nice steady pace, a bit quicker than previous weeks when I probably took this bit too easy. For the group run I went at a comfortable 10k pace and acted as sweeper for the group. This means I would run at the back of the 20-odd runners to make sure no one gets into trouble or is left behind. Like pacing at parkrun this adds a different element to a run and while it isn’t particularly taxing it does give you something to think about. After the group run and a quick stretch I headed on a long loop home, again at a good steady pace and while it isn’t the distances I was doing before Christmas it was a good one to get under my belt.

Distance covered 18.5km

The week is turning into a repeat of last week and on Thursday my daughter’s dance class gave me the chance to do some more hill work. The hill I run is actually just one half as once you’ve gone down to the train station at the bottom the road rises up on the other side to make a matching pair. Usually I would run to the station and back up four times but this week I ran the full length and back twice. The opposite side is a little shorter but correspondingly a little steeper, so it was a good challenge. I don’t particularly like hills and find them hard work, but I guess that’s the point and it was another good session to put in the bank. There’s a few more weeks of this dance training so I’m hoping to get more hill sessions in through February.

Distance covered 6km

Saturday is the last rugby match of the season for my son and we had to travel all the way to Essex but it did allow me to add to my parkrun tourism and Valentines parkrun in Ilford gave me a valuable ‘V’ in the alphabet challenge (parkrun obsessives will know what I’m talking about). I used to live close to here and often went to this park to watch county cricket matches, but I’d forgotten just how lovely a park it was. The course was nice and flat but I was disappointed to feel so heavy legged and my time reflected that. Still, it’s nice to run at race effort levels even if results aren’t what you’d want. There was no opportunity to extend the run but I did manage a short lap of the park before and after to warm up / cool down. Annoyingly, the rugby kicked off fifteen minutes earlier than listed and by the time I got there our boys where seven tries up. It was a one-sided affair but they played up and played well and it was a good end to the season. This team have come a long way this year, they’ve really gelled into a good unit and it’s been great to watch them do so well. Next year moves to full fifteen-a-side with addition of flankers and introduces some new set-pieces so it will be interesting to see how they adapt. A couple of weeks off and then it will be the cricket season.

Distance covered 7km

Weekly Training Summary

0 Spin classes

1 Yoga class

1 Swim session (1km)

3 Runs (total distance 31.5km)

Current weight 13”2’

Training week -13 done

25th January 2020

Week four of training and I’m looking forward to getting some miles under my belt after missing out on a long run last week. I have a few medium runs planned and then will use Tuesday’s club run to combine a tempo run with a long run, such alchemy.

Here is the schedule for this week:

DayVLM Training PlanWhat I did
SundayREST DAY – The first block of four weeks is almost done. Stick to your plan this week and build up to your longest time on your feetSteady Run 40 minutes (6km)
Monday40 MINUTES EASY RUNRest Day with Yoga
TuesdayREST DAYTempo Run 60 minutes (9km) plus Steady Run 45 minutes (7km)
WednesdayRUN/WALK 55 MINUTES – 5-minute brisk walk, 45-minute easy run, 5-minute brisk walkRest Day – Core conditioning
ThursdayREST DAYHill work 45 minutes (6km)
FridayREST DAYRest Day
SaturdayRUN/WALK 90 MINUTES – 10-minute walk, 30-minute jog, 10-minute walk, 30-minute jog, 10-minute walk, or distance goal of 6 to 8 miles2 x Steady Runs 60 minutes (9km) sandwiching a full pace parkrun 27 minutes (5km)

Sunday was a bit of a mess. I had planned to run a 10k loop while my son played hockey but while driving there we got the message that his session had been cancelled due to a frozen pitch. So, thinking quickly we dropped my wife at the gym for the spin session I often take and took my son home. Then I drove back to the gym, left the car for her to drive home and set off running. It was cold, very cold, but I learnt a valuable lesson: wear a hat. Sounds simple but I hadn’t really thought about it before. I had a Ron Hill one in the drawer that came with some gloves I’d bought a while back and with that in place I was positively toasty for the run home. I took the slightly longer, hillier route home and while it wasn’t as far as I’d hoped to cover it was a nice run all the same.

Distance covered 6km

On Monday I skipped the swim session again. I don’t know what it is but my enthusiasm for swimming has waned as quickly as it grew. I need to get back into a rhythm and build it into a routine again, there’s always next week.

In training terms Tuesday night was a win as I managed to get back to my club night run which included running there and back as well. As usual I was over cautious on the way there running very conservatively and arrived a good ten minutes early so that was little more than a gentle warm up really. By chance the group I ran with then ran back past my house before turning and looping back to the start so that when I ran home I had covered a lot of the same roads four times in one evening. The club section was close to my current 10k pace and the remainder was at an optimistic marathon pace so that aspect was good. On the way back I added a hilly little diversion to increase the distance and effort and all in all it was a good evening.

Distance covered 16km

I took a rest day on Wednesday, making it up with some conditioning work with the gym ball at home followed by 20 minutes of yoga style stretching. That probably sounds more productive than it was as I don’t really know what I’m doing but if I follow the instruction book and throw in some shapes from my Monday yoga class it probably comes close to being useful.

On Thursday evening my daughter returned to her dance class and I took the opportunity to get in some hill work in the hour or so I had before taking her home. It’s called Summer Hill and it really is an idyllic blend of the suburban and the rural; as you crest the hill to your left is a centuries old coaching inn pub while on your right a picturesque cricket green welcomes you to the top of the climb. However, on a rainy January evening both of these are invisible, and all the bucolic beauty is for nothing leaving you with just the git of a hill do over and over again. Makes for good training, though, and another session I’m glad to get under my belt.

Distance covered 6km

Friday is a rest day in the most complete sense as I did nothing that I can even optimistically call marathon training and certainly nothing that reached my Strava account which just leaves Saturday. I had big plans for my parkrun but as my son had a rare weekend without a rugby match I thought I could make this into something more substantial. Whenever I speak to friends or family about marathon training they talk about taking opportunities to run back from wherever just to get those miles in. I’ve been doing parkrun for years now but more and more when it is a ‘home’ parkrun I try and fit at least a run home in. Today I got organised in time to run there at a comfortable pace, taking into account it is mostly downhill all the way, knocking out a full-on parkrun (27:13) before heading back uphill towards home. Just like on club night I don’t know if this counts as a long run given the regular breaks but I’m happy to be putting the effort in.

Distance covered 14km

Weekly Training Summary

0 Spin classes

1 Yoga class

0 Swim session

4 Runs (total distance 43km)

Current weight 13”1’

I suspect a significant backlog of beer from Christmas has stopped my weight going in the right direction but there is time to get that back on track. Weekly mileage is good but I’m disappointed not to have got a genuine long run in, maybe I’m being seduced by the training plan but I haven’t run a half marathon distance for a few weeks now and I think I need to address this soon.

Training week -14 done

18th January 2020

Tuesday ended up being a blank on the training front. I’d intended to take a rest anyway but the effects of Storm Brendan made this a moot point. My running club prudently cancelled their runs for the evening and I spent a lot of the time trying to stop water being blown into my garage. It was the sort of noisily windy evening that makes you expect to see the world upside down come morning.

DayVLM Training PlanWhat I did
SundayREST DAY – You’re doing a great job. The more you do the easier it feels! Steady Run 65 minutes, 10 minutes brisk walk (10km)
MondayRUN/WALK 40 MINUTES – 5-minute walk, 30-minute easy run, 5-minute walkSteady Run 35 minutes (5km)Yoga
TuesdayREST DAYRest Day
WednesdayRUN/WALK 50 MINUTES – 5-minute brisk walk, 40-minute easy run, 5-minute brisk walk Rest Day – Core conditioning
ThursdayREST DAY Steady Run 65 minutes (10km)
FridayREST DAY Rest DayCore conditioning
SaturdayRUN/WALK 80 MINUTES – 10-minute walk, 30-minute jog, 10-minute walk, 20-minute jog, 10-minute walk Steady Run 40 minutes (6km)

The forecast for Wednesday was as bad but the truth was it was quite a bright, pleasant day and while I didn’t manage to get out for a run I did take advantage of another Christmas present. I got one of those gym balls as I thought I should be doing more work on core strengthening and conditioning and I can’t always be bothered to go to the gym. With an exercise routine downloaded from some runner’s site I spent a solid 30 minutes trying to find the six pack I lost in the 1980’s. I couldn’t find it anywhere but I think this will be an important part of my training and will try and get a couple of sessions in each week.

I didn’t quite manage the long run on Thursday but I did get a good hour or so heading around a local 10k loop early in the morning before the rush hour began in earnest. It was chilly but bright and a good time to be out and about. I don’t think I will manage to get that long run in this week but will book one in for next Tuesday, maybe integrating with my club run again.

Distance covered 10k

Saturday morning is a home match for my son so I headed down to the parkrun by his school with ambitions of setting an improved time. The fields were very frosty on the journey down so to put my mind at rest I thought I’d check the event page, just to be sure. Of course, that meant that I saw that the event had been cancelled due to flooding, and in fact has been cancelled for a couple of weeks now. After all these years of parkrun I really should know better by now. Oh well, I was going there anyway so headed to the park if only to run the course on my own and when I got there I could see the situation was worse than I’d imagined. The whole field, covering several football pitches, was underwater with plenty of ice around the edges. The path was largely above water though so I thought I’d head off and see how far I could get. The first problem was I had a big sports bag with me, one of those heavy-duty waterproof jobs from North Face which is great for keeping things dry pitch side but not the best for running with, albeit there are shoulder straps to keep it in place. I stuffed my heavy coat in the bag, alongside my change of shoes, flask of coffee etc and heaved it onto my back. I headed off following the normal route but as soon as I headed into the second field I saw the other problem. This time the whole field and all the pathways were underwater. There were routes through the flooded parts but when I tried these they were just too boggy. If I wasn’t going to be spending the rest of the morning in what I had on I might have ploughed on for the fun of it but reality won over and I returned to the first field and just ran laps there. Each lap was about 2km and very flat but there were several sections underwater which meant muddy diversions. The bag wasn’t uncomfortable as such, but it was heavy and unwieldy so was quite a drag. I often see people running with rucksacks but they are usually svelte lightweight things. Those people who saw me running with mine probably thought I was late for work, or by the later laps just thought I was an idiot. Oh well, the miles got covered. The match had a later kick-off and I was there before the start to see the teams warming up, the other side were significantly bigger but that isn’t always a problem. Sadly, their ability matched their size and they gave our boys a very hard time and put a conclusive end to their unbeaten season.

Distance covered 6km

Weekly Training Summary

0 Spin classes

1 Yoga class

0 Swim session 

4 Runs (total distance 31km)

Current weight 13”1’

I switched a spin class for a run this week and will probably do the same next week, but try to fit a class in another night. It’s just such a neat 10k loop while my son does hockey that it makes sense to make the most of it. I dropped the swim session as I felt it getting stale but will try to get back to that by the middle of next week.

Training week -14 begins

13th January 2020

I’m into week three of the training plan now and I still don’t feel like I’m getting it. For the first time I actually had a look at the introduction section of the VLM plan and there’s a whole section about the different kinds of runs I will be doing as the weeks progress. I’ve heard mention of these before and for those who have followed other training plans they will probably be familiar but to be honest I don’t properly understand them. There are the Easy Runs at less than 60% of maximum effort up to Tempo Runs around the 80% mark with Steady Runs in the middle. There is also the Long Run for endurance with the opportunity to practice your target marathon pace, but no mention of relationship to maximum effort. Surely marathon pace is my maximum effort otherwise I’d just go quicker.

OK, so what is maximum effort? Is that sprinting? I assume not, so does it mean my current PB pace at particular distance. I do a lot of parkruns over 5k and I know my current best pace is around 5:30 m/km but for 10k races last summer I was closer to 5.50 m/km. If I take my 5k pace as maximum effort then for an Easy Run this would mean, what, running at 8:00 m/km? For Tempo Runs it would be closer to 6:30 m/km and both of these seem slow for training purposes. Or is maximum effort more subjective and relative to how hard I think I’m working, how do I judge that?

If I take my marathon targets as representing my effort levels then it looks more like this. My baseline target is 5 hours, this will require an average pace of around 7:00 m/km. My stretch goal, having seen the course and throwing in a little ambition is 4 ½ hours requiring a pace a little under 6:30 m/km. Surely all my training effort can’t be done slower than that. I want to follow the training plan but I just don’t feel I’m quite getting it yet. For now, I’ll continue as before with tempo pace for those runs between 4-8km and steady pace for those between 9-15km, all relative to my best 5k pace. Any runs over 16km will be treated as long runs with pace dictated by conditions, gradients and increases in distance. If I fit in any events in the build up these must be at maximum effort presumably.

So, with that in mind, let’s look at the VLM Beginners Training plan for Week 3:

DayVLM Training PlanWhat I did
SundayREST DAY – You’re doing a great job. The more you do the easier it feels! Steady Run 65 minutes, 10 minutes brisk walk (10km)
MondayRUN/WALK 40 MINUTES – 5-minute walk, 30-minute easy run, 5-minute walkSteady Run 35 minutes (5km)
Yoga
TuesdayREST DAY
WednesdayRUN/WALK 50 MINUTES – 5-minute brisk walk, 40-minute easy run, 5-minute brisk walk 
ThursdayREST DAY 
FridayREST DAY 
SaturdayRUN/WALK 80 MINUTES – 10-minute walk, 30-minute jog, 10-minute walk, 20-minute jog, 10-minute walk 

Rather than go to my usual spin class on Sunday morning I decided to take in a run while my son was at hockey training. The last time I did this route was at the beginning of December when I really hurt my ankle and had to cut the run short. I still don’t know what triggered that but it was good to be back to this route as it makes for a very pleasant run. I’m going to call this a Steady pace run, I worked hard but still had some gas in the tank and included a lengthy warm up / cool down walking section to top and tail it.

Distance covered 10.1km

Monday should be a rest day but I couldn’t help going for a quick run around a local loop before finishing the day with a yoga session. I probably should have made the run at Tempo pace but stuck to a comfortable Steady level as it was my third running day on the trot. I’m due a rest day so will probably skip the club run tomorrow and aim for a long run on Wednesday. I might also get my bike out for a ride this week as I haven’t used it for a few months now, maybe I’ll scout out some longer routes in the process.

Distance covered 5km

Training week -15 done

11th January 2020

I’m afraid I missed a midweek update this week, I’m struggling to return to routine following the holidays and my training feels a little disorganised accordingly. I think I’m getting the same effort in but I’m just not hitting the same routine.

For Wednesday I didn’t manage a run but I did go for a nice hike, not as strenuous as last week it was still a good stretch. I wouldn’t previously have included these walks but the training plan highlights walking as part of the training suite so I might as well cover them here. Even going through familiar areas when you walk you see things you would otherwise miss and it is a very different way to experience the environment.

Distance covered 7km

On Thursday I took in a 45-minute spin class with my regular instructor, who continues to ignore my favourite tracks and insists on following a very forgettable playlist. It was a good session though and I got my heart rate up and put in a real effort. I spent some time on the gym floor doing resistance work before running home. I had very heavy legs after the spin session, but I don’t mind that. I am inured to running being hard work so these post gym session runs are becoming more and more familiar.

Distance covered 5km

Saturday was a return to school rugby and another away match afforded me the opportunity to try a new parkrun. My son’s commute to school is quite quick on the train but is actually a dozen miles or so from our home on the outskirts of London. This means that many of his away matches are actually closer to our house than his school and this was one of those occasions. There were no dramas this time and an early kick-off meant the 8:30 drop off in the school carpark wasn’t as unwelcome as usual. I got to the parkrun location in good time, which was good as there was a 1km walk to the start line from the car park. Reading the course description I packed my trail shows and even though we’d had a few dry days these were a good choice. I’m probably going to get a bit repetitive when I talk about parkrun but again the new route made such a refreshing change. This was very much a cross country route with the first couple of km across rough fields where great care had to be taken when planting your feet and the soft ground was energy sapping, the middle 2km was along hilly trails before returning to the meadow for the finish. Very different to other parkruns I’ve done it was a really enjoyable challenge, adding the trot between the start/finish and the car park along a muddy bridleway it made for an excellent training run. I was late to the match inevitably which meant I missed my son’s opening try but I saw most of the game and they won comfortably which, I think, leaves them unbeaten for the season with just two fixtures left

Distance covered 7km

DayVLM Training PlanWhat I did
SundayREST DAY – The first few weeks are important. Find the time to fit in your workouts Rest day with Spin Class
MondayRUN/WALK 40 MINUTES – (10 minute walk, 10 minute run) x 2 Run 120 minutes (18km) incl 20 minutes walking.
Yoga
TuesdayREST DAY Rest day with swimming
WednesdayRUN/WALK 50 MINUTES – 10-minute brisk walk, 30-minute easy run, 10-minute brisk walk 90 minute walk
ThursdayREST DAY Spin class and 30 minute run
FridayREST DAY Rest day
SaturdayRUN/WALK 65 MINUTES – 10-minute walk, 20-minute easy run, 10-minute walk, 15-minute easy run, 10-minute walk 30 minute run at pace, 2 x 7 minute easy run

Weekly Training Summary

2 Spin classes

1 Yoga class

1 Swim session (total distance 1.0km)

3 Runs (total distance 30km)

Current weight 13”0’

Training week -15 begins

7th January 2020

OK, holiday season is over and there can be no more excuses. Serious training begins here. Honestly though, I think I’ve been training pretty seriously so far so I’ll probably just continue on this trajectory.

Let’s look at week two of the VLM beginners training plan:

DayVLM Training PlanWhat I did
SundayREST DAY – The first few weeks are important. Find the time to fit in your workouts Rest day with Spin Class
MondayRUN/WALK 40 MINUTES – (10 minute walk, 10 minute run) x 2 Run 120 minutes (18km) incl 20 minutes walking. Yoga
TuesdayREST DAY Rest day with swimming
WednesdayRUN/WALK 50 MINUTES – 10-minute brisk walk, 30-minute easy run, 10-minute brisk walk 
ThursdayREST DAY 
FridayREST DAY 
SaturdayRUN/WALK 65 MINUTES – 10-minute walk, 20-minute easy run, 10-minute walk, 15-minute easy run, 10-minute walk 

I’m going to work on the assumption that Rest Day means a rest from the rigours of running and allow my low impact complementary training sessions to take place on those days. I will also try and include one day of complete rest each week.

On Sunday morning I dropped my son at his hockey club and headed to the gym for my regular 60-minute spin class. The instructor’s jokes are as bad as ever but I’m afraid he’s dropped most of my favourite tracks so I feel I’m losing 10% of my effort.

I had a lot planned for Monday and kicked off with an early long run. I followed the same route as last week but gently extended it further into the countryside while still managing to have pavements for the whole route. Just like last week it felt very cold again once I was underway and while I was better prepared it was still uncomfortable. I think it must be because this route is much more open than my usual suburban routes and passing open farmland leaves me exposed to the elements in a way I’m not really used to. Unfortunately, the second half of this route will return to the built-up areas nearer home so if I dress for one I’ll be uncomfortable in the other. It is a challenging route with several noticeable climbs so probably good for training, but I had to walk more sections than I intended to. Overall my pace was a little short of what I wanted but I was very pleased with my recovery and by late afternoon I didn’t feel any residual tiredness in my legs. I went to my yoga class later than evening and a substitute instructor brought a different energy to the class. She moved us through our poses much quicker than I’m used to, it reminded me a little of martial arts training drills from my youth, and while I don’t think I’d like this each time it did make a refreshing change.

Distance covered 18km

On Tuesday I substituted a pool swim for my club night. It was a good time to use the pool as there were no classes running and all lanes were available so I had the medium pace lane to myself once more. I tried more lengths with floats to isolate arms or legs and again tried to up the pace on the crawl lengths so that a level of variety is introduced. I won’t lie, even when going for just 30 odd minutes the repetitive nature of lane swimming has quickly become rather boring. I love how I feel after a good swim session, I just need to get the mindset right.

Distance covered 1km

I need to set some more goals, probably targeting the end of February as that’s about halfway to race day. I’ll try and get something down for next week.

Training Week -16

4 January 2020

I hope I’ve counted right. I think I need to kick-off my formal marathon training this week and start the 16-week countdown, that doesn’t sound very long but it is half as long again as I’ve been training so far so maybe there is enough time to get ready. My eye is firmly on the prize now and I’m ready to get some real work under my belt.

It is also New Year’s week so I don’t suppose I will be that consistent with my training but I will see how that goes. I will nominally be following the VLM’s own beginner training plan for want of anything better. Week 1 looks like this:

MondayREST DAY – Increase time on your feet and build a strong foundation and routine 
TuesdayWALK 30 MINUTES 
WednesdayREST DAY 
ThursdayRUN/WALK 40 MINUTES – 10-minute brisk walk, 20-minute easy run, 10-minute brisk walk 
FridayREST DAY 
SaturdayREST DAY 
SundayRUN/WALK 50 MINUTES – 10-minute walk, 30-minute easy run, 10-minute walk 

There’s already a problem, I’ve set myself up to start the week on a Sunday so I’m going to switch that from the get-go. Also, as I’ve noticed before this starts off very sedately so for the first few weeks I’m going to be training above and beyond that required. I expect our paths will cross at some point and as long as I feel comfortable, I will continue as I’ve been going. I will also continue to use the rest days for my yoga and swimming sessions.

I ran a lot on Friday and Saturday so on Sunday I returned to my regular 60-minute spin class without running there or back. The class was as good as ever, although the music was blandly unmemorable.

On Monday I went for a long run early in the morning. It was bright with clear skies all around and a beautiful time to be out. It was, however, much colder than I expected and I was poorly dressed for the conditions. For the first half I was uncomfortably cold and frustrated with myself as I have perfectly adequate kit to wear but hadn’t put it on. I followed the route I’d been on when I bashed my face in week five and it was a lot easier in the daytime. At one point the map indicated a footpath and bridge over a busy junction so I took this only to find myself on the back nine of a local golf course. The grass was very wet and I soon had soaking feet not to mention it was quite heavy underfoot which took a toll on my pace and comfort levels. I had initially planned to run 18-20k but I actually wanted to save my legs for New Year’s Day so cut it back a little. It’s a good route with plenty of long sections to really get into a rhythm although some parts get quite hilly. I will definitely be using this one for my longer runs when I start getting to the 20-mile mark.

Distance covered 15km 

On New Year’s Eve I went to the gym early to get a swim in and although it was slightly busier than usual we all soon found a rhythm and kept out of each other’s way. Not for the first time I’ve started a training session somewhat down on energy. I don’t think it’s a motivation thing at this stage but I am giving some thought as what it might be and if I can do anything to avoid it. I kept to the same distance as before and tried to push a little harder on some of the sections. I also experimented with the floats to isolate my legs or arms and this made for some more challenging lengths. And that’s that for 2019.

Distance covered 1km

New Year’s Day is special for parkrunners as it’s the only day you are allowed to run in two events on the same day. I’ve never managed to actually achieve this but I made my plans early this time around and with a little willpower I was confident I could get it done. Following a 7:00am alarm call I was in good time for the 8:30 start at Maidstone parkrun. This is a lovely course running along a very pretty section of the River Medway and a great way to shake off any residual tiredness from the night before. Being pretty flat for most of the way around this would probably be quite a quick course but sections do get narrow which concertinaed the group a few times. Following this I had plenty of time to head across Kent to the Shorne Woods Country Park for their event at 10:30. This was another lovely course, gently undulating through woods but the large numbers didn’t agree with the narrow trails and congestion meant long sections had to be walked. A great start to the year though. One of the great things about parkrun is that while every event is different, and running in different locations is rewarding and invigorating, much of the experience is reassuringly familiar. Your barcode works everywhere in the world, every run briefing covers the same instructions and the enthusiasm of all the volunteers and runners is never dimmed. It is just a great thing to be part of.

Distance covered 10km (2 x 5km)

Thursday saw me back at the gym for a 45-minute spin class with my regular instructor. Maybe it was due to another early start but I didn’t feel I got as much out of the class as usual. That afternoon we went for a walk near Hever Castle, I don’t normally include these here as they are, more often than not, leisurely strolls but this one was a little further than normal and we had to maintain a brisk pace throughout to beat the approaching dusk. It was also incredibly muddy in places which combined to make it quite a workout.

Distance covered 10km

Friday was scheduled to be a rest day but my wife fancied a run so we headed out for a quick trot around a local loop. I can feel it getting colder than it was in December and this morning was particularly fresh but clear skies made it very pleasant.

Distance covered 5.4km

On Saturday I returned to my local parkrun with my son and we took advantage of the good conditions to put in a good effort. The numbers were up again over the 800 mark and this really does put a strain on the winter route as all the runners try to fit onto a two-metre wide footpath at the start. You eventually find some space and can run at your own pace but it is crowded all the way to the finish. It is also over 2 ¾ laps so there is a lot of lapping taking place with runners of very different speeds trying to cover the same ground and this can cause some friction when etiquette isn’t observed. I was able to come home in a shade over 27 minutes which is just quick enough not to be lapped and one I should be happy with. Obviously I’m not though, I felt I had to push myself quite hard just to achieve that and I was disappointed not to have got 26-something at least. There’s always next week, though, and a return to my parkrun home-from-home as the school rugby season reconvenes.

Distance covered 5km

Weekly Training Summary

2 Spin classes

0 Yoga class

1 Swim session (total distance 1.0km)

5 Runs (total distance 35.4km)

Current weight 13”1’

Sadly, no yoga for two weeks now so will have to make a point of returning to that sooner rather than later. Running distance is good given the time of year and inevitably my weight slipped back a little over the holiday. Next week should see me return in earnest to training and all-round good habits. Roll on week -15.

Christmas training

28th December 2019

As we entered Christmas week my training expectations were low but I will try and get some runs in and maybe some time at the pool as well.

Now that the whole family has broken up for Christmas we headed off for a couple of days to the New Forest to enjoy some peace before a hectic couple of days. If it was summer we would’ve taken our bikes with us but for now we settled for a gentle hike near Lyndhurst and some nice food at the hotel. On the way home we called in at the Mary Rose exhibition and this was fascinating. I remember being at school as this was being raised in the early 1980’s when it filled the news and a few years back we went to visit when restoration was well underway. Now this work is complete it really is a good place to go and it provides an engaging window into Tudor life. The scientific and engineering achievements involved in completing this restoration are incredible and it’s really worth a visit.

On Christmas Eve I took myself out on a run with my son. The conditions were excellent; a little brisk but sunny and this made it really enjoyable running through the woods. I saw several groups from my running club out and about and we had a good work out. My son was generous and slowed to my pace for the first half but even so he pulled me along quicker than I would have gone on my own. 

Distance covered 8.6km

On Christmas morning we were well organised and had the dinner well underway by 9:00 so took the opportunity to take in a Christmas parkrun. With no gym open my wife decided to join me as well. I thought it would be a quiet affair with just a few families and dedicated club runners but there were over 800 in all, as many as on the best summer Saturdays. The course is all on tarmac for the winter but even so there were stretches under a couple of inches of water which made the start a very stodgy affair. I ran with my wife for the first three kilometres and once I was happy that she would see it through I pushed on at my own pace. My overall time wasn’t great but the last two kilometres were done in 25-minute pace, so I was really pleased with that.

Distance covered 5km

Christmas running related gift summary: Marathon socks / Gel Sachets / Hooded base layer / Jelly Babies

The rest of Christmas day was pleasantly relaxed with no food related dramas or inappropriate presents and with distended bellies we spent the afternoon and evening vegging out on the sofa. Boxing day is traditionally spent with my extended family and as with my dad’s big band gig earlier in the month several generations were represented. There were more than twenty of us and it is always like the busy Christmas’s of my childhood with ‘help yourself’ food and plenty of little ones to play with. My brother and two sisters are spread out over nearly twenty years in age (I’m the youngest) so for the last thirty odd years there have always been babies and toddlers to keep things fun. Now that mine are teenagers the oldest nieces are bringing theirs and the generations move on.

I had contemplated trying to build a long run into the day but the 25-mile journey across south London to my sister’s felt a bridge too far so I took a day off. I’m of the age where my earliest running memories are of the Coe v Ovett rivalry and how they dominated the sporting news and coverage. I remember an interview with Coe where he talked of training on Christmas morning and then rather than relaxing spent the day worrying that Ovett had gone out for a second training session in the afternoon. I do sometimes find myself in the position where if I’m feeling fit and well and haven’t done something for a day I begin to feel a bit antsy, I really need to bottle this enthusiasm for when I don’t have a marathon to aim for. Anyway, obviously I was an Ovett man; he always looked more relaxed and I loved his wave to the crowd on the home straight while Coe always looked so serious. Having said that I ran a fun 1500m race with Coe back in 1981 (I was racing even if nobody else was and I did him on the line) and he couldn’t have been nicer, chatting with everyone and signing everything thrust his way. So, I guess I liked them both.

On Friday the gym reopened and I signed myself up for a 45 minute spin session. This was a different instructor to my normal class and she had a different approach. My normal class has a high level of intensity and variation and really works up the heart rate. This one was much more focussed on resistance and we were constantly encouraged to increase the levels and slow the pace. A very enjoyable class and nice variation. I also took the opportunity to run there and back along a very familiar route just to keep things ticking over.

Distance covered 10km (2 x 5km)

To make up for the missed opportunity before Christmas my son and I volunteered at our local parkrun on Saturday. This is a very busy event and this morning saw 650 or so coming through, strangely that’s 200 down from Christmas day. We were funnel managers and it was a busy role managing the flow of runners through the channels to ensure no congestion built up and everyone was processed in the right order. It did give me the opportunity to run there and back, although my son got the bus home, so I could continue to keep things moving in the right direction. 

Distance covered 9km (2 x 4.5km)

I haven’t managed a long run this week and I’m looking at our planned day trips over the rest of the holiday to see if I can use one to run home from but nothing stands out so far.

Weekly Training Summary

1 Spin class

0 Yoga class

0 Swim session

4 Runs (total distance 32.6km)

Current weight NA

Week ten done

21st December 2019

Ten weeks done, effectively I find myself at the end of the year so it will be a good time to catch up on the week’s training and then reflect on my progress to date. Earlier in the process I set some loose year end goals, so I’ll be taking a look at those.

First, let me catch up on the week. On Thursday I held good on my promise and went to the pool after work. It was a good night to go on as even though there was an aquafit class going all three lanes were available and I had the medium lane to myself. With no distractions I was able to plough through twenty lengths of crawl followed by twenty lengths alternating breaststroke and crawl bringing me to the magic 1km mark. I’m not sure whether to swim for longer in the future or to increase my pace. I think I’ll try and work harder on the first twenty lengths and hold on for longer. I don’t actually know what the benefit of these swimming sessions is, it just makes sense that they’re doing me good. Therapeutically they feel very good for run-tired legs, equally swimming is a good all over workout and if I put a bit more effort in there may be some pay off stamina wise as well. Whatever it is, I’m confident it is a really healthy part of my training so I will continue to develop it.

Distance covered 1km

Friday was the last day in the office before Christmas and we had a lightly boozy lunch before heading home. A slight change of plan was scheduled for Saturday as my son fancied volunteering at parkrun, this would allow us the chance to run there and back. Unfortunately, late on Friday evening a route inspection found large areas of the park under water so the event was cancelled. Rather than head somewhere else I took the opportunity to try a treadmill session instead. I’ve never really used the treadmill in anger since I started road running so haven’t really developed the discipline for it but I fired up the latest Mr Robot episode on my iPhone and decided to see what I could get done in an hour. I set off at a gentle 9:30km/h pace to get my balance before moving up to 10km/h, the first thing I noticed was how hot I was getting. Even just in technical Tee and running shorts I was really working up a sweat, very different to running in the open air. The treadmill had all manner of buttons and switches on it so over the hour I spent a couple of kilometres at a 6% incline and another couple trying to stay upright at 12.5km/h pace. Anyway, the hour passed and while I didn’t quite hit the 10k I was hoping for it was an interesting challenge. I guess running is running but as tiring as this was I’m not sure if it really counts, I’ll include it in my weekly record though. I doubt I’d replace a road session with this but if all else fails and a treadmill session is the only option I’d be happy to have another go.

Distance covered 8.5km

That’s the week done and the final reckoning of the year beckons. No proper long run this week but I’m pleased with how things have gone.

Weekly Training Summary

1 Spin class

1 Yoga class

1 Swim session (total distance 1.0km)

3 Runs (total distance 32.8km)

Current weight 12”13’

So, let’s have a look at those year-end targets I set myself back in week 2:

Goal 1: Lose some weight. I started this process at 13”12’, the heaviest I have ever been. First target is to get back to 13 and then try and push on to 12, which I haven’t been for over a decade. If I can be 12 stone on the start line that will almost be victory enough.

Well, look at that. Sneaked in under the wire right at the end. A long way still to go but I have reversed a trend which, seeing as I’m getting into my fifties now, I’m quite relieved to see. Scope to push on in the new year and really roll back the years. Goal Achieved.

Goal 2: Build long run up to half marathon distance and get comfortable (!) running 20k at a time.

Good news, I did two runs of half marathon distance and beyond. I wouldn’t say either were anything but painfully hard work and I can’t claim to be running 20km distances comfortably but I have normalised running 15-16km. There is still some time in the year to fit in one more genuinely long run but even if that doesn’t come to pass I’m going to say that is Goal Achieved

Goal 3: Stay injury free. Running is a non-contact sport so I’m hoping injuries can be prevented through preparation, rest and complementary training.

Despite a couple of scares and one aborted run I haven’t missed a training run or session through injury yet. I’ve no doubt that I’m just loading up a store of bad luck but equally I’m going to give myself some credit for building in complementary training and exercise throughout to balance out the hard yards on the road. For now, that is Goal Achieved

Goal 4: Maintain enthusiasm. Keeping the focus and progression going through the chilly winter will be vital.

I suspect the hard work here is still to come but I think I’m mentally in a good place on this one. I’ve managed the two long runs without hating the running experience. Recent training over the marathon course has boosted my confidence in my ability to succeed on race-day and I’ve tried to be innovative in my training. Given I don’t have a regular training partner I know I will need to continue in this vein to be successful. The weather has been kind to me as well and while it has often been wet it hasn’t really been very cold. I expect the worst is yet to come and those 20 milers in deepest February will be a fresh challenge. Goal Achieved.

Goal 5: Improved parkrun and 10k times. Not expecting any PBs but it would be nice to start closing the gap.

Mixed bag here. Rather than circling the drain at 30 minutes for parkruns as I have been in recent months my last event saw me home in 27:03, my best of the year, and a few weeks earlier I managed a 28 at a tricky course. Still a long way from my best but clearly moving in the right direction. Other parkruns were not so great so I will have to reserve judgement. I haven’t managed any 10k races since I started training so have no idea if I would have got comfortably under 60 minutes. I have to say Goal Not Achieved here and defer to a later date.

I think all these goals will remain live throughout the rest of my training so I’ll have a little think in January and reset them for a midpoint between now and race-day.

I’m not going to take the next couple of weeks too seriously from a training point of view but will catch up at some point to record what I have managed to fit in. That just leaves me to say Happy Christmas to anyone still reading, and thank you to those who have read, commented or otherwise encouraged me in this process. I have so much further still to go but I feel ready for the challenge.