Reaching boiling point

On May 26, 2012, in Marathon, road running, running, by Alf

As I write it is now only 17 hours until the gun/hooter sounds to announce the start of my one and only (I promise) marathon in Edinburgh. I have done the training and physically I feel in good shape. Not as good as I would be if I had been getting some real running done in the last week, but that’s just the taper talking. I am storing energy and saving muscles. Surely, I am. If I feel so good physically and know I am prepared, how do you explain my current level of unease?

I normally take a reasonable dose of caffeine pre-race and this usually has me wide-eyed and focussed for the event. I intend to follow my normal routine tomorrow, but I am climbing the walls today and cannot imagine how I am going to be tomorrow morning.

I have been training for months and months. Much more than the formal structured 18 week plan in fact. I have been very lucky with the weather throughout this time. It has been cool, sometimes even cold and I have only had to contend with wind on a few occasions. I have never had any real heat. When I did Grangemouth 10k it got a little warm, but nothing like what we have this week. I don’t know quite how much it will affect me over 26.2 miles, but I fear it will hit my speed hard. That’s me got my excuses in early. The forecast is for 20 deg C around the start of the race tomorrow. With a decent sea breeze this might just be manageable, but there is no escaping the fact that this is one huge factor that I am not prepared for.

The next post will provide my perspective of the race. I wish all runners at Edinburgh Marathon Festival a happy and successful weekend and hope you all have a great time. Try to smile for the cameras and run well.

Less than one day to go.



As I have indicated many times before, I am a little on the organised side. Over the last few weeks I have been slowly stock-piling all my marathon kit. With the big event fast approaching, it was obviously time for a stock-take. Surprisingly, the essentials for me are a lot more than most non-runners might have expected. The list of items for Sunday includes the following:

  • Gels x 3 (I am planning on consuming one around 10k, 20k and 30k)
  • Caffeine jelly beans
  • Energy gums (my last gasp effort to fuel through to the end)
  • Gel utility belt
  • My lucky red long-sleeved racing shirt (I don’t like the cold and almost never
    race with exposed arms, however……
  • My back-up short-sleeved shirt (my lucky shirt is very likely not going to be
    appropriate in the unseasonal weather we currently have)
  • Viper energy bar (my regular pre-race top-up)
  • Race number & pins
  • The cherished shoes (with foot pod) and sock combo (please, please work well and
    protect my poor feet)
  • Shorts (tried and test and most unlikely to chafe)
  • Suunto wrist-top computer
  • Suunto heart-rate monitor

In addition, my pre-race preparation will include three beetroot stamina shots (two for Saturday night, one for the morning of the race). I have absolutely no idea if any of these really make any material difference to my running, except perhaps the shoes. I have now used most of the above as part of my earlier race preparation so are tried and tested. The socks and shoe combo are almost new but have previously been on one long run together to best ensure a blister-free experience.

I also have my charity running vest, but I am pretty much convinced that this not going to be part of the event as I look to minimise the amount of clothing I wear in the heat.

Less than 2 days to go!!!


My Marathon Target Pace

On May 24, 2012, in Marathon, PB, road running, running, by Alf

With my marathon target now set at 3:20, the question of how I approach this still remains. I have been training consistently in a zone that all calculators equate to around 6:45/mile but have not quite been able to achieve this in a half marathon in the last few months. I am torn between the following:

  1. I assume that pretty much regardless of my pace I will hit a speed bump around 16-20 miles. If that is the case, then why not try to get as much time in the bank before that happens and go out aiming for 6:45/mile pace?
  2. Be cautious and give myself the best chance of a strong finish, with the hope of keeping the inevitable slump in speed to a manageable level.

I quite instinctively feel that factoring in a slightly more cautious approach will leave me better prepared for this slump, both physically and mentally. In addition, my half marathon less than two weeks ago tried out this strategy and while my time was a few minutes slower than recent races, I was much stronger in the last 3 miles and was able to run a more controlled race with much better form.

 My conclusion was (!!) that I should aim for 7:00/mile pace in the first half and see where this takes me. Even with a goal time in mind I am going to focus on a pace that works for me and try to find something that is sustainable but still being mindful of what the Suunto is saying. This assumes that the temperature drops. If we continue to have temperatures in excess of 20 deg C then all bets are off. Should I have significant temperature issues to deal with then I will most likely drop the per-mile goal my 15s or so and aim for something more cautious. The forecast looks like it may be more like running weather by Sunday. I really hope that the East coast haar rolls in for Sunday morning.

3 days to go!!!


Race week tapering

On May 23, 2012, in Marathon, road running, Training, by Alf

This is my first real taper ever. I have previously eased off in anticipation of a race, but with marathon training this is entirely different. Just over two weeks ago I ran 38km and was then back running a few days later closely followed by a half marathon the following week. For me this has been some very intense training and it seems intuitive that any drop at all will make some sort of difference.

Curiously, past injuries have taught me the benefits of the taper. I have previously had injuries that have not been too serious, but have nevertheless meant that I have gone into races reasonably fit but having been forced to avoid all running for some time in advance. Two years ago, after many years of trying, I finally hit a 10k target time at the end of a week of rest and ice for an injured calf. Despite all my fears about being ill-prepared I found that with the rest exactly the opposite seemed to be true. The enforced rest seemed to have me very well prepared. Despite my natural instinct to keep running and try to continue to improve, I know that my body is currently both recovering from my training and storing oodles and oodles of glycogen. Deep down I think I am expecting a rush of taper-turbo, but in reality it is likely that all I can realistically expect is to defer the energy slump late in the run. I have followed the plan almost to the letter, so if I don’t get the benefits I will be writing a strongly worded tweet to Hal Higdon!

The carb-loading is something that is taking some getting used to. I have never eaten so much fruit in my life. Online resources indicate that I need to consume around 700g of carbohydrates per day for my loading. This seems close to impossible. I am currently making a list of meals and snacks to get through the next 3 days. The target looks quite daunting, but hopefully some careful swapping (e.g. water with fruit juice or a sports drink) will help and I plan on copious amounts of malt loaf, toast, beans and oats.

The trip to Boston at the start of this week has meant that I have been a little more cautious than I planned to be, mainly because I usually find that jet-lag has me craving food in the middle of the night and then still eating the usual meals on top of that. Now that I am home I am going to focus hard on shifting the balance from protein towards carbs. Right now, I’m off to try some yoga to help repair my twisted body.

 4 days to go!


With my first marathon now only 5 days away, I really need to get down to the serious job of setting my target time. I have long harboured a desire to beat 3 hours, and my PBs for 10km suggested that this would be possible. In addition, I have been able to maintain my leg speed throughout the training. Despite that, having tested the engine over a few half marathons, deep down I know that I am going to find the final 10 miles very hard at my intended and sustained marathon pace.

Over the last year, my best 10km time is 37:33 and my best half marathon time is 1:26:45. The first was achieved as a result of some solid training for that specific distance over as much as 2 years and with the goal of setting a new PB. The half marathons recently have been undertaken was part of the marathon training plan. As a consequence, I have never been rested going into any of the half marathons. This has been my rationale for consistently telling myself that sub 3 hr remained possible, even when my racing experience over the longer distance suggested otherwise.

Based on my recent half marathon time, McMillan’s calculator predicts 3:03 for the marathon. When using my best recent 10k time McMillan teases me with a 2:56 prediction. Nice, this would even allow me time to stop for a latte and a muffin!! On the flip side, I have another input provided by how I feel physically when racing a half marathon and where I am not entirely comfortable from the 10 mile point. How the heck will I feel once I am something like 16 miles in? My head says “This is more accurate than anything McMillan says”. A short time later, my heart will counter with “Yeah, but you are only doing this once and you know you want it”. I have also had the benefit of following some fellow runners’ exploits in London this year. One runner in particular that is consistently faster than me in some 5k, 10k and HM races faded in the second half of London and came home in 3:51. If this can happen to him, how can I think that sub 3 hours is achievable?

Another consideration is what I want from the experience itself. What I don’t want is to hate the last 6 miles and only remember how desperately I wanted it to be over. I don’t want to have nothing left in my legs or my spirit when I should be relishing those final few triumphant miles. Most importantly, I don’t want to set a target that clearly becomes unrealisable around 16 miles in and then have to make it all the way to the finish with a crushing sense of failure for an event that should be all about achievement.

Taking all of this into account, I have decided to set a meaningful, yet realisable goal of 3:20. What remains is how I go about this in terms of my planned pacing. I will be sure to post this once I have figured the strategy out!

5 days to go!


I have been working to a plan. Not just the usual training plan that tells you when you run and when you rest, but a plan that gets me all the way to the finish line. I have my race shoes tested on long runs and boxed away. I have my race socks worn for one long run and now in the same box. I have collected all my race day nutrition ready to go. I booked a few days holiday before the race
and one for the Monday after. You get the idea……

Work has been getting steadily busier recently, but I have still been able to juggle all my training. But last week it became apparent that using an imminent marathon as my reason to skip an important business trip to Boston (MA) would likely be considered a career limiting strategy. Thus, I find myself tapering and carb-loading in this fantastic city. On the plus side, I don’t have any
milestone runs to squeeze in, but this morning I headed out and loosened my economy-class legs for 5km. The streets seemed reasonably runner-friendly and for a few foolish moments I started thinking about Boston Qualifying, but only for moments.

 As a result of this diversion to the plan, the legs that should have been gently rested only a few miles from the start line at Edinburgh have now spent almost 12 hours travelling a few thousand miles to Boston. I have not been on my feet, that’s true, but I will need to focus hard on recovery when I return on Wednesday morning. Fortunately, the US does not make it especially hard to
carb-load. Avoiding junk calories may me more of a challenge.

6 days to go!


I am now into the final week of preparation for my one and only marathon and thought this would be a good time to take stock and commit a few things to the blog before the event itself.

I have been working to an 18 week training plan courtesy of Hal Higdon. There have been a few tweaks and issues along the way:

1. The longer plan allowed for a more gradual step up in the intensity and distance, something that seemed to work well given my history of injury. This has been borne out by the results to date, with no significant enforced training breaks, something that I have failed to achieve in the last 3 years.

2. My pre-existing metatarsal problem has never really gone away and I have a slightly tender foot after every long or intense run. This meant that very early in the plan I accepted that Monday and Tuesday were both going to be running-free days to prevent a flare-up of the old problem after the long Sunday runs. In addition I have rather obsessively maintained a regime of icing my foot and ankle on a daily basis. In fact, for the last 3 weeks I have been immersing my feet in ice water 2-3 times daily to ensure everything settles down for the big day. The cold weather in Scotland this May has meant that I am likely responsible for close to 100% of sales of ice from my local supermarket. When quizzed by staff on my need for ice on a cold morning I was jokingly offered some from the fresh fish counter [Insert own punchline here].

3. As a result of the Monday/Tuesday adjustment in #2, I have been able to hit almost every single major workout in the plan. The key events for me are the long runs, the intervals (hills and speed) and the tempo runs. This change has meant that I have had to drop some of the other runs in the original plan. Quite apart from the fact that the foot was not capable of any increased stress, I am convinced that the intensity I have included more than made up for any lost miles.

4. I stepped up the long run distance from that originally prescribed. Hal Higdon had the long runs peak at 3 x 30km, but I became acutely aware that I did not wish to hit the wall at 20 miles and know that I still had the equivalent of a 10k race to go and for this range to be entirely new for me. As a result, I changed the final three long runs from 30-30-30 to 30-34-38. There was an incredible satisfaction in completing this distance without too much trauma.

5. During the 18 week plan I added a number of races to test the system at speed and over distance. This resulted in 3 x half marathons, 3 x 10k races and 1 x 10 mile race being included during the 18 week window. It has been very reassuring to find that I can now turn up at a half marathon and run a solid race right in the middle of a tough training week, find the HM passes quickly and still have the fitness, enthusiasm and leg speed to run a very reasonable (for me) 10k road race only a few days later.

The remaining workouts this coming week are short, few and simple. I feel lean and strong. On my last tough run on Saturday I felt great, even when tagging 8km onto my regular 5km parkrun. The legs seemed to crave a faster speed than the workout demanded, even 11-12km into the run. The fact that this came on the final day of a week that included a half marathon, tough hill repeats and a 10k road race gave a tremendous boost to the confidence reservoir.

I am still pinching myself about what I have achieved in terms of strength and general fitness. The change in my mental approach to each challenge has been just as rewarding as the physical advances I have made. It will sound very clichéd to say so, but this has been a journey. A journey mainly round and round Falkirk and Grangemouth, but it has been a journey.

7 days to go!


With the increase in training combined with a busy spell at work, it has been some time since my last post. I have to be honest and say that my weekends have become fully focused on the training and any downtime is a) very valuable and therefore busy and b) mentally drained, especially Sundays after the long run. Anyway, enough of the excuses……

I have made a few tweaks to my training plan, firstly by adding some races to the schedule and secondly by getting cold feet about the distance being covered. First, the races…..

Balloch to Clydebank half marathon – I noticed an online mention of this race and on checking it out found that it sat nicely on one of the 19km training days. I always prefer the idea of racing to training and the route sounded interesting. The race was very enjoyable and a very well organised event. Just like Alloa a few weeks before, my early speed and strength was good but the legs started to feel the pace in the final third. In addition my recent calf injury gave a bit of a warning twinge around 9 miles and I dropped the pace a little to be on the safe side. With “DNF” flashing in my overheating brain I settled for “reasonable and intact” rather than challenging for a PB. My form suffered badly from nursing the calf through the final few miles and I was pleased to finish in 1:26 after finding the last few miles pretty demanding.

Most interestingly for me, the race re-calibration is working well and mentally I am finding a half marathon to be a much more manageable distance than ever before. I accept that the step up to full marathon is another huge leap, but only a relatively short time ago a 10k road race wiped me out and had me ready for an afternoon nap.

I plan to continue this strategy with the addition of Monklands half marathon this coming weekend. With it being just 2 weeks before the marathon it provides a chance to try out my a few more race tactics. I’m especially interested to see if I can find a race strategy that gives a steady marathon-like pace but still keeping something in the tank tor the final few miles. This is going to force me to throttle things back in the early stages and find out how my legs respond. The goal is to still meet or exceed my recent times, but in a more controlled and comfortable manner.

I have also decided to add Helensburgh 10k next week, ten days before the marathon. My thinking is that I want to ease up on the training distance but still push the leg speed. Getting the chance to do this with a little less fatigue in the legs seems like a good target for 10 days prior to the event.

For the long runs, I was finding that every new distance undertaken was increasingly traumatic in the final few miles. This made me think very carefully about the fact that the training plan limited my long runs to 30km. The prospect of having the final 12km of the marathon in uncharted territory was becoming a little scary. As a result, I decided to make my final two long runs cover 34km and 38km respectively. Having now covered these distances, I feel much more confident that there will be less chance of me thinking “this is new” in the final third of the marathon.

20 days until Edinburgh Marathon.