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Posts Tagged ‘virgin london marathon 2011’

Since I started training under the watchful eye of Nick Anderson, there have been a number of changes to my training and approach to races. However one of the more radical changes, as far as I was concerned, has been Nick’s insistence that post-marathon I have a full week with no exercise at all and then another week with just a couple of light runs… I am in the middle of the second week and I am starting to crack!

The first week has quickly become part of the psychological process that I employ whilst racing – somehow knowing that I will have a week off after the race during which I am going to allow myself a few indulgencies helps me push through the tough miles. But the second week… that becomes a matter of self discipline! The following exchange between me and my friend Richard (a 2-30 marathoner in London this year) by text message illustrates the point;

Rich: I want to run. I don’t want to be in the office.
Me: I’m with you there! I’ve just about had enough work today. Going to the Chasers [my club] for an easy run tonight…
Rich: I get first post-mara run tonight… really looking forward to easy 20-30min!

If we sound like a couple of addicts I suspect that is because we are! So here we are – it is Wednesday and I ran on Monday and Tuesday. I have managed to ensure, through a combination of a diary full of meetings at work and then arranging to meet a friend for a drink tonight, that I won’t run today. But it is another long weekend coming up and I doubt I’ll be able to resist the temptation to stretch my legs at least a couple of times!

So here I am on the road back. Actually I am on the road ‘beyond’, because I am going to regain the fitness I had immediately before the marathon and storm past that to new heights and it feels great. The London marathon and the couple of runs this week have been a total affirmation that I love my running and as Paula Radcliffe has written in her new book ‘How To Run‘ her coach told her that “…to be a great runner you have to have the talent, the willingness to work hard and the love or running to put the work in” Well I guess for me having one out of three ain’t bad!

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Last weekend was the London marathon. I have mixed feelings about how the race went and that is possibly best captured by the top 10 things I have taken away from the race:

1)    I ran 2:43:37 and came 235th

2)    I am still the fastest runner in my club

3)    I discovered that even when I am having a bad race I can keep going and not drop out

4)    I discovered some true friends who gave me tremendous encouragement before, during and after the race (thanks Neil B and Tom C!)

5)    I feel angry with myself because I didn’t adjust to the conditions and ran the first half too fast. This anger has now entirely turned into determination that I will do better next time

6)    I needed to not PB in a marathon at some point and that is done now

7)    I know that in hot races I need to drink more

8)    I need new racing flats (not least because of the blisters I’ve been getting in recent races

9)    The marathon is short and things can go wrong very fast

10)  I very, very much want the next step forwards and I will work harder than ever to get that

The conclusion I have drawn from all this is that one of the things that is tough about running a marathon is that if one is focused on a specific goal then the race is quite short and the issues that can mean that a goal is missed can present themselves very quickly. One minute – at mile 18 – I was cruising along at sub-6 min/mile pace and the next I had slowed by 30, then 40 and then 60 seconds per mile. My dream of a PB evaporated over about 3 miles and then it was a matter of quickly adjusting and trying to lock onto a decent finishing time.

Soon after the race I realised that this is the first marathon that I have not PB’d (excluding the New York marathon where Julie and I ran together – her on her debut and me with my arm in a brace a fortnight after surgery – to finish in 3:59) and my immediate reaction to that was that I want to race in the autumn to get a new PB. However while I was in Portugal two weeks ago with my coach he said that he thought I should not run an autumn marathon this year and focus instead on a summer of 3K, 5K and 10K races and then a winter of cross-country and a half marathon or two to try to develop some raw speed that can then be developed into marathon speed for spring 2012.

By the time I am writing this, a few days after the race, I have decided that Nick is right. I have probably started to plateau and even become complacent about marathoning and improving over that distance. I now believe that a 12 month period of uninterrupted training will create a situation where I see results early next year and potentially longer term results in my running over the next few years. Apart from anything else it will be really exciting to try racing at different distances and see what I am capable of. And then next year I will come back to the marathon with renewed enthusiasm, more speed and more confidence. And this time I’ll blow the roof off!

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Tomorrow is the 2011 London marathon and I am running it. I have spent the day today resting and eating and drinking… and thinking. I believe the marathon is a challenge that requires mental as well as physical strength and that is why I write down, before every race, the reasons I know I will succeed on the day. In previous races I have done this on a piece of paper in a hotel or even just run through it in my head, but this time I will indulge myself and stick it up here. So here goes…

  1. I am fitter at this very moment than I have ever been at any point in my life
  2. I define myself as a runner and as such races like this are the reason I get out of bed every morning
  3. I know what it will feel like to finish in my target time and I want that feeling more than almost anything in my life
  4. My 74:20 PB for the half marathon tells me I am ready to get the time I want in London
  5. I have met the most amazing runners, especially in the past few months and I am utterly inspired by them
  6. This race is the next step on the road to finding out what I am really capable of
  7. The conditions are predicted to be perfect. I ran 2:40:49 in terrible conditions in Florence so good conditions will be a massive benefit tomorrow
  8. I see succeeding in the marathon as one of the keys to happiness in my life and I will hurt myself to get that
  9. I want the people I love and admire to be proud of me
  10.  I have trained for this harder than ever before – I know I can succeed

I will let you know how I get on.

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This week I ‘ave been mostly… running with a group of 30 people in the Algrave, in sunny Portugal. The trip was suggested by my coach, Nick Anderson, as an opportunity for a group of the runners he coaches to get together, have a week of running in the warmth of the Mediterranean and talk about running with Nick, Phoebe Thomas (the other half of RunningWithUs) and Bud Baldaro, a guru of endurance running and the man who introduced me to Nick Anderson.

I can now reveal that I was a little nervous about going. I feared, more than anything, that the week would turn into an adrenaline-fest with everyone trying to run the legs of everyone else and prove that they are ‘the man’! The reality is that I have never met such a wonderful bunch of open-minded, dedicated and thoughtful people in all my life. Apart from a couple of very minor blips the entire week was awash with support, humour, intelligence and a community spirit. And the running, while a little bit repetitive, was great.

The highlights for me were (in no particular order);

• recovery runs, run at 9 min/mile to start and which really genuinely ended with me feeling better than when I started
• two long runs where in the heat and on a hilly loop, I nailed 22 and 14 miles at sub-6 min/mile for extended sections
• two track sessions and a 6km time-trial (on the same cross country course where the recent euro-cross was run) in which I held my own and ran strongly
• running with people like Richard Gregory, Steve Scullion, Dionne Alan and Clayton Payne who are all superb runners and who gave me encourgement as well as a vest to chase
• having time to sit and talk to Nick and Bud about running and training in general and learning more about the sport I love
• discussing the next 12 months’ running with Nick (which was quite an interesting discussion – more on that soon!)
• taking the time to rest and relax between runs
• nailing 3 core and strength and conditioning sessions with Phoebe
• celebrating my birthday with my new found friends (but sadly not with Julie, which no amount of cake and “Happy Birthday To You” could make up for)

The list goes on and on. But the over-riding thing for me from the whole week, is the fact that I was surrounded almost entirely by positive people. The vibe was amazing and everyone was inspirational. I have really come home buzzing with excitement and really ready, both physically and psychologically, for the challenge ahead…. so here is to Portugal –

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Tonight I was invited to attend a Q&A session at Nike’s running shop in London’s Covent Garden, where the legend Carl Lewis and one of the UK’s most exciting young track prospects – Perri Shakes-Drayton – answered pre-prepared and ‘from the floor’ questions. It was another wonderful experience and I got to chat to lots of brilliant people.

On Saturday just gone I ran the hackney Marshes Parkrun – a 5k blast round to blow away the cobwebs – in 16:42. And on Sunday I enjoyed a 2 hour run with another athlete coached by Nick Anderson.

And today I talked to people about running. Wrote about it. Read a book about running. In short I really indulged my passion.

What is the point of all this? Well, as earlier posts have explained, I have not been enjoying work and that has had a very negative impact on my running in particular. I have decided to reverse that trend. I will have to be strong and determined and not be diverted by doubt and fear. But hell! I’m a marathon runner… keeping going when the going gets tough is what I do. Keeping going in the face of adversity is part of the training. This, right now, is the next phase in the journey and I am really excited. So, London marathon – here I come!

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I never intended this blog to be the place where I washed my dirty laundry or wrote about my emotions, but as everything I do at the moment is bound up with my running, I guess my emotional state is relevant.

I can’t sleep very well at the moment. With the volume of training I am doing I feel physically tired and I usually fall asleep pretty quickly, but I seem to wake up after a couple of hours and then the whirl of work and the things that I haven’t had time to do crowd in and that is that! For the last couple of weeks I have been averaging something like 3 or 4 hours sleep per night. And the worst bit is that I feel my dream slipping away. My training is suffering as a result of my inability to sleep and that in turn creates more anguish and tension and means I am even more stressed when I go to bed at night.

And so this morning, as I was searching the web at 4am as usual, I found a little interview with Angelo Dundee, who coached Mohammad Ali amongst others. Thirty seconds into the interview he said:

“I always had fun. That’s the key. If you have fun at what you do you going to excel at it. If you’re not going to have fun you might as well forget it”

Pow! Another clear and unambiguous statement that hammers home the point that stoically ploughing on at doing something utterly depressing and stressful is not heroic or manful or positive in a ‘stiff upper lip’ sort of way. It is pointless and wasteful.

I need to do something radical. The London marathon is 8 weeks away and after that there is only one more marathon in 2011. Beyond that I might have another year of ‘proper’ running (i.e. trying to improve on my times) but probably not more and that is not long enough to spend another sleepless night. I guess it is up to me now.

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Like so many people who take up running as they approach their 30’s my primary aim was to try to look better by losing some weight. I also wanted to get fitter and almost as soon as I started running I wanted to compete with myself and see what I could achieve. But primarily it was about the spare tyre around my middle and the fear that at a relatively young age I was on a slippery slope to obesity and all the terrible damage that does to health and well-being.

After a couple of years of regular running, by the time I had completed my first marathon and was training for my first ultra marathon, I had slipped into a mind-set where I thought that I could pretty much eat whatever I liked because of the amount of running I was doing. In my experience that is a common feeling amongst runners. The club I run for – the Mornington Chasers – even has a t-shirt which proudly proclaims “we do it for the biscuits” on the back.

However I am now looking into nutrition and viewing food in a different way. Now that I have more challenging targets as far as running is concerned I am determined to maximise every area of my life to give myself the best possible chance of reaching my full potential.

Undoubtedly since I started running my diet has improved and when I met Julie it took a big leap towards being what I would call a well balanced and nutritionally sound diet. However I know that I succumb to my sweet-tooth all too easily and eat too many treats and too much chocolate. So I now find myself in an interesting position – leaner and fitter than I have ever been and yet possibly no less dissatisfied than when I gave up my old crappy lifestyle. The problem for me is that I know there are improvements that can be made… if only I had the discipline.

Last week I started re-reading Racing Weight by Matt Fitzgerald to try to find the motivation to make the small daily changes that will allow me to drop a couple of kilos and get down to the weight that I know I should be. Now I should say at this point that I am writing this at the end of an unbroken 8-day stretch with no running – post Florence marathon, my coach said that I should have at least a week off, so I have followed his advice to the letter and spent a week nursing a cold (OK that wasn’t on his orders), eating and spending my free time reading and surfing the web. And I have put on some weight. So the man in the mirror is part of the reason I am looking into my diet. But I also know that if the target my coach and I have discussed for the London marathon next year is going to happen, I will need everything to be perfect, including losing my love handles!

Fitzgerald’s book really is a mine of brilliant information and tips. He seems to be mindful of the fact that every athlete is different and that the audience for his book, whilst highly likely to be motivated and dedicated athletes, are also likely to struggle with the everyday issues of work and family and social commitments which can play havoc with one’s good intentions (another family Sunday lunch anyone?) I have taken a few interesting thoughts from the book and I’m happy to share them;

  1. we each have an ideal racing weight and it is not easy to scientifically work out what that is. It is a matter of judgement and experience and only when you get it right will you know. Like so much in running we just have to feel our way to the perfect balance for us.
  2. it is unwise, unhealthy and extremely difficult to stay at racing weight for extended periods. Much like Nick’s insistence that I should have a week or more off running after Florence, Fitzgerald suggests that it is both practical and indeed wise to add a little weight (he suggests 8%) in the fallow periods between training and racing build-up. Just don’t go mad like Ricky Hatton or Jan Ulrich!
  3. eating smaller meals more than three times a day, whilst highly unlikely to affect one’s metabolism, can help to reduce appetite and at the same time align the body’s need for fuel with the inputs it receives.
  4. body composition is much more important than actual weight. One of the things I really like about the book is its focus on being lean, not light. I know that my weight in itself is not the issue – it is the percentage of that weight made up by fat (useless) vs muscle (useful)!

So this sort of advice is how I intend to ensure that the relationship I have with food is absolutely optimised so that I have the best chance of reaching my goals. However I think it is also worth reflecting for a minute on how lucky I am to be trying to ‘trim’ and ‘adjust’ here and there. For so many people the issues they have with food are overwhelming.

I am forever saddened by the weight issues that so many people in this country (and indeed in the most of the richest countries on the planet) suffer with. Recent research tells us that one in 20 British adults has diabetes, according to new figures from GP practices, while data released by the charity Diabetes UK also shows that almost one in 10 adults, or 5.5 million people, in the UK are obese. At the moment the NHS is spending £9bn per annum (or 10% of its budget) treating diabetes. I think the numbers speak for themselves.

So I am going to try to continue to improve the way I eat so that I can squeeze the maximum from my training. And I am also going to try to see if I can help to inspire others to start running and realise that a bit of hard work and dedication will bring rewards that are tangible and sustainable – a healthy approach to food, improved health and a sense of achievement that running provides in bucket loads.

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