My training success has been a little patchy in recent weeks. If I am honest I would have to say that the original training plan was over-adventurous. While I have been enjoying the different training elements, my old legs have found it increasingly difficult to recover. No sooner have they dusted themselves down from the stress of the long Sunday run and they are getting hammered by a 10km run around town at lunchtime, closely followed by a battering the same week on the track for intervals or tempo. On the plus side, the Achilles has been holding out just fine. On the negative, in the last month I have been hampered by a very tight hamstring, a sore ankle, painful knee and most alarmingly, an almost constant bruising sensation around the previously damaged metatarsal.

My previous attitude was that I need to get the training done or I was not going to do myself justice in the marathon. I very quickly realised that if I did not adapt then I would not be on the starting line for any marathon. So, an adjustment was called for and from now on, I skip running entirely for 2 days after my long run. This initially seemed like a cop-out, but I am over this now and realise that I really have no choice. Quality is my new mantra. If I do nothing in a week except for a long run, a tough parkrun and one other speed/hill/tempo then I am content. Most weeks will have another run included, but the training plan re-boot has now gained mental acceptance.

March was already a strange month. After a few steady training weeks I found myself in a month with four Sundays consisting of Lasswade 10 mile road race, my longest run to date (24km), Alloa Half Marathon and Grangemouth “Round the Houses” 10km road race.

The Lasswade race went very well. Over a very demanding course I was able to exceed my marathon pace, secure a PB for the event, have a negative split and hit my best mile split times in the final 3 miles. All of this was accomplished with a level of control that I have never been able to find for this event. A few days later a sniffle developed into a very annoying head cold and the 24km long run the next week was one of the most awful runs I can remember, resulting in me retiring to bed only a couple of hours later.

Recovery from Lasswade was closely followed by a very sharp painful pinch in my knee when it flexed to straight. This resulted in me effectively tapering before Alloa Half Marathon, with the exception of a conservative outing at Falkirk parkrun (there is after all the small matter of the annual male competition at stake!)

Alloa went well. I was aiming for a morale-boosting 1:25 to keep me on target for sub 3:00 in the marathon. My final time was 1:27, despite – or perhaps because of – a rapid first half where I felt really good. I found the final 5 miles pretty demanding at my target pace and this has just emphasised the need for me to focus on pushing my tempo runs to help get my legs used to consistently running at speed under stress.  I am not currently tracking to be sub 3:00, but I still have 9 full weeks to fix that. I know the missing pieces of the puzzle and remain confident that I can work on improving each of them in the remaining time.

Next up is Grangemouth “Round the Houses” on Sunday. This is a flat course and gives you the chance to view all that Grangemouth has to offer. Good for running concentration then. It is also something of my “home” course, with most of the route playing a part in my regular runs. With all of my training recently I am seriously looking forward to lining up at the start for a 10k. After the recent training and then the longer races, the 10k will be a refreshing change with the added benefit of a chance to work the fast twitch muscles.

Edinburgh Marathon is now 66 days away.

 

I now have a few more weeks of training under my belt and 13 weeks remaining before Edinburgh Marathon. As often happens, I reached a high point with things feeling really good and then a blip in the form of a very tight and tender hamstring. My physio helped ease it immediately, and a few days later I was hitting good splits for 800m track intervals, closely followed by a really good time over my 10km training route the following day. I felt incredibly upbeat and this feeling lasted for hours before my hamstring turned to stone. The planned “easy” 5km next day was anything but! It was hard, hard, hard. Every stride was a struggle and lifting my right leg to even mount a kerb was painful to the point where I was resisting lifting it and eventually felt like I was running with a wooden leg.

After a few days rest – including skipping my first training day of the plan – I was feeling much better and able to take on the longer runs yet again. It was probably good to get the warning relatively early in the plan. My recovery from the metatarsal injury had been a pretty smooth and I needed to be reminded that this is a long, hard plan and there are no prizes for breaking records in training runs when you are still 16 weeks from the starting line.

When I started parkrun last summer I used to marvel at some of the club runners heading off at the end and tagging on an even longer run. In order to both continue my parkrun experience and achieve my weekend training objectives, I have now started doing the same. I had expected this to be a bit of a challenge to complete the post-run registration and get moving again, but I have very quickly settled into a groove both physically and mentally.

Next week I will have the chance to test myself in a 10 mile race at Lasswade. I have taken part in this race a few times before, and this is a tricky course with a seemingly vertical climb after a few miles. Being “only” 10 miles will give me the chance to test out my marathon pace and provide a measure of the progress so far. This has the potential to provide a stark reminder of just how prepared I am at this stage, but it should still be a good component of the training.

The most important note to make is that I am genuinely enjoying my training. Only the very painful hamstring run previously mention was devoid of any enjoyment and I relish the challenges being presented on a steady and frequent basis. I am also seeing a steady improvement in stamina and my ability to stay on my feet for longer and longer. This week will mark a couple of major landmarks for me with my biggest running week and biggest weekend both being achieved. To meet the demands of the plan, these new highs will need to be short-lived, but it is reassuring to be in new running territory and still feel you are coping well.

 

I’m now exactly two weeks into my first marathon training plan and everything is going really well so far. The fragile foot seems to be getting stronger and stronger, the achilles is exhibiting nothing more than the expected slight tenderness, and most of all, I am enjoying myself.

I have been able to stick to the plan exactly so far. I enjoy the balance in activity and there has genuinely been no part where I would have rather been doing something else. That has to be good, eh? I was actually looking forward to each run. I had expected it would be hard to finish my demanding parkrun (Falkirk) and then head off for an adjunct run to meet my goal for that day. Surprisingly, this felt good during the “added-on” run and I was left feeling really fresh afterwards. The long runs on Sunday remain good fun with the chance to chat without worrying about the pace. I must confess that I have so far been very lucky with weather that sometimes got cold, but never (fingers crossed!) the windy conditions that I dread.

This week has also seen a welcome return to the track after an absence of more than 3 months. It felt really, really good to push the legs in a tempo run and as a result having that satisfied burning on chilled legs afterwards. I don’t yet have speed in my legs and am still a few kilos from my ideal race weight, but the objective was always to build a solid base, and so far, so good.

Edinburgh Marathon is 16 weeks today.

 

My first marathon is now just 18 weeks away. To be accurate, it is actually 17 weeks and 6 days away, but today is day number one of following my selected 18 week marathon plan. Oddly enough, with a long run yesterday, day 1 on the plan does not even mandate a run. If only it was always going to be this easy.

I have been poring over training plans for months now to select the one that best suited me. Work sometimes demands travel for a few days or a week at a time. The lure of a 3-day-week running plan was strong, but I had some concerns about both the intensity required (with the associated potential for injury) and the fact that it had less of a slow foundation being built. I have previously followed 10k improvement plans from Hal Higdon (www.halhigdon.com) and they have really worked for me. His marathon plans are conservative and injury avoidance is a recurring theme. Given that injury is my biggest threat and having great success in improving my speed by following the plans before, I elected to go with one of these plans. Hal Higdon has a wide range of plans presented in his book and online. Having been running up to half marathons for some 30 years I consider myself experienced, have reasonable regular mileage, improving speed, committed to training and a desire to beat 3:20. Hal himself would not approve – this being my first marathon – but I have chosen to go with his “Advanced 1” training plan. As previously stated, this covers an 18 week period, allowing quite a steady building of the distance and intensity but also plenty of time to have step-back weeks.

I have adapted the plan very slightly to include the following:

  • 10k, 10M and half marathon races at Grangemouth, Lasswade and Alloa respectively. I love to race and mixing the distances in late February and March gives me the chance to test myself in race conditions
  • Incorporated the local parkrun as part of my Saturday run by bolting on the required distance. This allows a tough 5k with hills to be covered every Saturday and also gives me the chance of a regular race fix
  • The plan itself allows for the Monday to be either an easy-ish run or a cross-training day. I normally like to cycle or swim on the day after my long run so this flexibility will be good and I expect there will be more cross-training than running on a Monday

If someone tells you it is 18 weeks until you have a big family event or holiday it sounds like it is ages away. Funny how the same does not apply when you have your first marathon coming up.

 

Planning for a Plan

On January 21, 2012, in Injury, Marathon, Physio, road running, running, by Alf

This is my first post in some time. While I continued my rehab from the foot injury I had a few doubts about my ability to really commit to the marathon training and as a result my blogging mojo seemed to dissipate a little. The good news is that things are going well and I’m ready to get cracking with a challenging four months or so.

After gradually and very slowly increasing my running volume and intensity I was able to achieve my key objective of 15km last week. The next milestone was to be able to run on two consecutive days for the first time in three months. While the foot is not completely symptom-free, the discomfort is progressively less even as the running is stressing it more and more.

Last week I was “discharged” from my physiotherapist. The foot is responding gradually to the additional workload and no further treatment is required, just caution as I continue my training. Special thanks to David at Life Fit Physiotherapy for his guidance over the last couple of months.  It seems that an old ankle injury has been one major contributing factor to my various injuries in recent years.  I have very poor dorsiflexion in my left ankle and this can apparently contribute to my Achilles issues in my right. At the suggestion of my physio, I have consulted a podiatrist and the diagnosis was confirmed. In a few weeks time I will be running with orthotics and fingers crossed will be able to step up the training with reduced risk of the injuries that have hampered my training in recent years.

I have been considering various training plans for my first marathon and finally selected an 18-week plan. This means that I officially start on Monday and has forced me to “plan for a plan” over the last couple of weeks. Running 3-4 days in a row is going to be my first big test, but I am confident that I now have a platform to get on with the training plan. The big question is how I will react when I add in speed work.

Edinburgh Marathon is 18 weeks tomorrow.

 

I am now back running and it feels really good. Like a dear old friend that I had not seen in a long time, things clicked immediately and I was keen to arrange another rendezvous straight away.

After 6 weeks of no running at all, the progression to actually running a race was quite smooth and a little quicker that I had expected. Two weeks ago I was reduced to hopping and then running on the spot. With no reaction to that my physio removed the shackles and allowed me to run. My eyes lit up, only to discover that my first ‘run’ was 2 mins. That’s doesn’t really seem like a run. As it happened, it was for the best as half of my first run had a degree of discomfort. The second permitted run was 5 mins and again felt a little sore. Run number 3 was just under 10 mins but unlike the previous two was on the road as opposed to the teadmill for the first two. This actually felt much easier and while I was still aware of a pinching sensation on the sole of my foot, it felt was much more like a normal run and affected my stride very little. A further (uneventful) 15 min run and I was all set to run a parkrun. All achieved within the space of a week.

Parkrun went well. I started out gently and allowed my legs and lungs to find their own pace. The foot felt ok and I was soon confident enough to start working my way through the field in the second half. While my final time was a good bit slower than my PB, it was an altered course due to some trees blocking the usual route and with the killer hill now to be enjoyed twice in a loop repeat.

Stepping up the frequency and distance is going to be gradual, but I hope to be up to 30km per week with a long 15km run by mid January. Edinburgh marathon is now only 156 days away.

Merry Christmas to all.

 

My recovery continues to focus on addressing my lack of flexibility. The new physio has given me a steadily increasing list of exercises - hips, hamstrings, calf and ankles – mostly of the painful variety. I have also been persuaded to try a yoga class to focus on developing better stretching techniques and improve the flexibility. Having never tried yoga before I was a little reticent, but this class is targeted at the needs of the physio’s clients so is heavy on the physical and lighter on the spiritual. I have only been to two classes and there is no question that I am certainly sleeping a lot better after the classes. Time will tell if I benefit in terms of my running.

In addition to the stretching exercises, I am now at the stage where I am ready to start to build up to running. The short term goal is to be capable of a 10 mile run by mid-January and perhaps even do parkrun by next week if all goes well.  If I can achieve these goals I should be able to gradually get into the marathon training regime during January. For now, I am doing lots of jumping, then some hopping and even a little bit of running on the spot. Combined with the stretching this has now bloated to a 40 min routine before I even look at my resistance and cardio work. This has become a bit of a challenge as I try to maintain a decent level of fitness without being able to run. I am sufficiently motivated, but the time required out of every day makes it difficult to do the cardio that I would ideally like.

Having reached the stage where I can run on the spot for a whole 10 mins, today I was allowed to run. I was only permitted 2 mins on the treadmill, but after 6 weeks this is a welcome development. Assuming there is no reaction, tomorrow I go for 5 mins. Hopefully by the time of my next post I will be ready for a 5km run. If the recovery and the weather both go the way I hope, I should have the chance to build up my running during the Christmas holidays.

 

It is now almost five weeks since my last run and while I miss it a little bit, I’m surprised to say that I am not climbing the walls. I have been very busy with work, including almost two weeks travelling during that time, so this has helped distract me. The travel has also forced a heavier workload generally, meaning I was very occupied throughout most days.  My damaged foot has been very slow to heal. It started out feeling ok most of the time but when you stood on the edge of a step or stair it felt like a hot needle was being plunged into my flesh. Any time I stood on a hard flat surface barefoot it felt like it was bruised.

The rate of recovery started me thinking about my diagnosis and more importantly, if I was confident it would not reoccur. When I noticed that a local physio was touting their services at parkrun, I decided to seek a second opinion. The physio I met takes a different approach to the type of injuries I have been suffering from, looking less at the injury and more at the underlying cause. I booked a session for a review and had a long and remarkably detailed assessment with the new physio. The conclusion was that I had “massive contributing factors” – I had a sneaky look at what was added to his computer. At least he hadn’t written “this guy is a mess but will pay for my kids to go to university”. Apparently, while reasonably fit, I lack the most basic flexibility. My left ankle is close to solid and I have the hamstring and hip flexibility of a senior citizen. Kerching!!! The good news is that he is convinced that if I work on my imbalance and flexibility then I should be able to get through my marathon training with less chance of injury. With my injury record over the last few years I feel the time is right for a new approach.

Additionally, in the last few weeks I have discovered that a former colleague is now working as a personal coach in the US. Upon catching up she very kindly offered to help with some advice as I trained for the marathon. During my recent re-hab I took the chance to explain where I felt I was weaker in the half marathon, provide a summary of my training and details of my recent injuries. The good news is that in her opinion I am working too hard on the track too often. The bad news is that she came to this conclusion as I am “no longer a spring chicken”. No sugar coating then. On the race speed side, she suggested that I need to do more tempo work to improve my leg speed over distance. I suspected this to be the case, but it was good to have the confirmation.

175 days until Edinburgh Marathon.

 

The day after Jedburgh Half Marathon I had my follow-up appointment at the physio for my foot. I had been pleasantly surprised that it had held up so well during the race, so much so that I had convinced myself that it was not fractured. How could I run a half marathon with a fractured foot and it feel no worse after the race than it did the previous day?

Less than 24 hours after a tough race the runner within was back in control of my brain and I was ready to get the ice baths out for another few days and prepare for Strathaven 10k, one of my favourite races of the year. The physio had other ideas. I did indeed have a stress fracture and the reduction in the symptoms post race are apparently as much because of the increased blood flow. He was very quickly able to pinpoint the troublesome area and cause me some acute pain. My foot was going to need “a few weeks” to recover. Hopefully 3-4 weeks but in bad cases this could be longer. I was initially still pushing for Strathaven and he humoured me and suggested I see how it was by the end of the week after some rest. Even while I lay on the table having the foot treated I decided that the recovery period ought to start immediately.

Previous injuries have taught me that the stated recovery time usually means the time until when you are actually allowed to jog gently for 10 minutes or so, not when you can actually start to really run. I was already thinking that I might need 6 weeks before I could re-start training. With Edinburgh marathon getting ever-closer, I need to be training in earnest by early in the New Year, if not before.

Another practical consideration was that I had a busy period of business travel coming up and this would actually be a good time to rest and not feel like I was going mad with lack of exercise. I am now allowed to swim, but cross-trainer, rowing and cycling are off limits along with the obvious ban on running, at least until my physio review appointment next week. I am taking the chance to rest my legs a little and mentally re-charge a bit.

After all, it’s still 197 days till Edinburgh Marathon.

 

I am a little late in providing my report on the Jedburgh Half Marathon, but it has been a busy week. This would be the race where nothing really fell into place. The day started off well enough. While my previously reported stress fracture of the metatarsal was not without pain it had improved significantly. When we started out for Jedburgh the conditions were bright and dry and we arrived in town in plenty of time. Parking proved a bit tricky and we spent around 10 minutes getting a spot about 5 minutes further away from registration. The registration then took around 10 minutes more than expected. Somehow or other the distribution of numbers all seemed to be for the table marked 401-650 and the queue for numbers and chips went out the clubhouse door. It was now only 35 minutes or so to the start and we had to get back to our kit at the car and do final prep. Another walk through what has to be said is a lovely town.

My own prep included testing out my foot. I had promised myself that I would not run if I did not feel able to run fluently. I had my custom gel protector fitted but it didn’t feel comfortable, even without my body weight on my foot. A slight jog on the return to the car had indicated that this may be a race too far for me. Once I got properly laced up and tried it out, I had to concede that running was a mess. The discomfort was such that I was running with a limping gait. I tried up and down the street a few times, could get no stride going and speed was nowhere near where it would need to be. In a final desperate attempt to race I removed the gel padding, laced up and tried again. Amazingly, the foot felt immediate relief and I could run freely. I hollered out in surprise and got on with a very, very rushed last minute preparation. Warm-up consisted of a run through town to a final toilet stop and then heading for the starting line. On the way I found that my Suunto had unexpectedly reset and had decided that we were now at 9pm at some date in 2003. Just great…..

After the loo and on the walk to the start line I reset the Suunto again and connected to the heart rate monitor and the foot pod. All went well until it reset again after 20 seconds and back I went to 2003. Standing in the huddle at the start I gave it one last attempt and all was well with the foot pod detected and heart rate displayed. Phew!!

The race started and we wound our way through town. Once we crested the first hill and headed out of the town centre I checked my pace and was a little disappointed to find my watch back in 2003 and the displayed time at 9.01pm. I decided to live with it – a sound decision given I had no other choice – and run with only a 9pm start as my point of reference.  For a runner that checks the data every minute or so, this was going to be a shock, and for 13 miles!

I wanted to hit splits of around 6:20 for as many miles as possible to give myself a chance of 1:25. Even taking my lack of granularity in timing into account the first 3-4 miles were close to the goal. After 5 miles I felt my foot very uncomfortable and seriously considered what the most convenient way to drop out would be. All of a sudden I had someone on my shoulder with a pace that seemed to resonate and the next thing I was feeling fine again. There was a long mainly downhill straight somewhere around 6 miles and I ran this section well and at a good pace. I even found time to chat to a fellow runner, who warned me that mile 11 was the tough one but after that it was downhill into town. At the turn after the loop I was suddenly running into a breeze. It was not exactly windy, but there was a significant breeze that had not evident earlier. there had certainly been no evidence of any breeze helping me along so far. All of a sudden I was now facing the prospect of the return journey along the straight, this time into a breeze and slightly uphill. This was my worst part of the race and I lost something like 10 places in around 1-2 miles. Around 9 iles I realised that I still had a chance at 1:25 if I could improve the pace. The 11th mile was harder and slightly uphill but really was not too tough. At this point I then noticed the runners ahead of me heading uphill. Up a steep hill. A steep hill that went up a long way. It was then that I realised that my fellow runner’s warning was intended for an obstacle at the 11th mile marker and not the 11th mile. My big push through what I thought was the toughest part had left me a little fatigued and trying to run up a big hill in the 12th mile of a race. I had a runner pass me like I was going backwards and probably 3-4 pass me o this hill section.

At the top of the hill I gave myself a kick up the backside and pushed for the last mile and a bit. I knew 1:25 was gone, but perhaps 1:26? For a small town, the approach into Jedburgh seems to last for a very long time. I did manage to pass a few people in the last mile but I was feeling tired and crossed the finish line beating 1:29 by only a whisker.

With hindsight this was a solid performance for me. I was a little disappointed at my lack of leg speed around the 7-9 mile segment and need to do more work on speed when fatigued. I lost some consistency in my pace due to the foot and this cost me a few minutes and I have to accept that the course was more hilly than I had expected. I had also taken a significant step towards my goal of the full marathon in Edinburgh, but I will need to do a lot more work.