Running Hot

So, with the London Marathon this weekend and the press trumpets ‘hottest’ ever, and the prospect of ‘blistering’ conditions. For those in the last days of taper these are unhelpful headlines in the least, and the best option is to try to focus on something else.

However, it’s worth focussing on  few facts to get past the hyperbole. The warmest London marathons were in 1996 and 2007 when the temperature ‘soared’ to 22.2 degrees as these relatively old stats show. Interestingly once you get to the start line, your chances of finishing are extremely high with the numbers on the link above showing that just 1-2% fail to finish, whatever the weather.

Yes, you’re nervous, probably excited, but that ‘squeeky bum’ time shouldn’t be undermining your marathon, especially London. What’s unnerving is that much of the training up to now will have been done in temperatures far removed from these, so the rising mercury tends to bring rising anxiety because for many runners the heat is a significant running challenge.

Yet there’s plenty of very easy, and simple ways, to mitigate the heat and it’s effects. So below are a few tips I’ve seen from other blogs, but also based on my own experience that will help your marathon day go smoothly.

Some might seem obvious but the final race day mind sometimes needs the simple messages to be repeated to get through the fog of the last few days of marathon preparation.

So here’s a few things to bear in mind:

  • Chafing protection is very important. Hot, sweaty kit tends to be heavier and therefore has a greater tendency to rub. Without proper protection and/or lubrication some part of your body, indeed parts of your body you didn’t know you had will chafe at some point during a long race. The bottom line (don’t go there) is that your own supply of Vaseline / petroleum jelly is very important. This is because it saves you from having to accept a large blob from the outstretched hand of a St John’s Ambulance volunteer on race day, and also you can apply it in private prior to the race rather than in front of the many spectators cheering you along as you smear. For male runners (I’ve only ever seen men with this problem) the application of Vaseline and plasters to the nipples is a key mechanism to protect you from the 18+ mile blood streaks on your running top and the post-race scabby nipples that will inevitably result. The challenge of chafing is only ever not addressed once, you have been warned!
  • Kit (Race) – seek out items of clothing that provide the best ventilation, a running vest is probably best, and a hat to keep the sun off the head is very useful. It’s also great as a means of keeping wet to help keep you cool with some water over the head being very useful to keep the temperature down.
  • Kit (Pre-Race) – remember the race still takes place in April when the mornings can be very cold and damp. It is very easy to get quite cold quite quickly whilst waiting in race pens. One option I have found is to wear a bin liner with arm holes cut out to stay warm and dry prior to the start which you can then tear off Hulk like as the race begins. This can also be supplemented with a charity purchased warmer top and/or hat which you can discard at the side once the race is almost ready to begin. At most larger races they usually have agreed arrangements for charities to collect the discarded items so these will get taken on to another home.
  • Stay hydrated (Pre-Race) – in the days (Fri/Sat) before stay on top of your fluid intake drinking steadily throughout the day but there’s no need to go mad (Hyponatremia can be more serious than Dehydration) and consume great quantities of water. Just keep an eye out for the ‘straw coloured’ outcome on your visits to the loo and you should be ok. Some electrolytes may help (a pinch of sea salt) to keep you topped up but try to stick to your usual pre-training run routine wherever possible.
  • Stay hydrated (During Race) – there are plenty of water stations during the race (that’s what the race fee goes towards) there’s no need to assume you have to have a drink at every station. However, it can be very distracting if you are feeling thirsty and wondering when the next station is coming up. I carry a running water bottle with me initially filled with water and a pinch of sea salt to use in the early stages of the race which I then top up with water as required as I pass a water station. This means I always have water with me when I want it rather than having to wait for the next water station. Also you may want to wear your camel bak and then you can be totally self-sufficient for the race. The irony of having just written this and finding that my water has gone off at home is not lost on me!
  • Staying Cool – it is always worth using the water stations to have some to drink and then depositing the rest on your head over the hat so you can carry on with a cooling effect. There are usually showers out on the course during your run these are great for giving and all over cooling burst. However, its best for you to stay cool in the calm and collected sense. Stick to concentrate on the things you can control about the race and just accept this is what the conditions are going to be like, run and most importantly ENJOY your race. Accept it is going to be warmer than you trained in and that that is how it’s going to be. Prepare properly and everything will be fine. It was 21 degrees for the Brighton Marathon last year and I still managed a PB, coming in under 3½ hours after trying for four years to get there.
  • Track the Shade – don’t underestimate the value of shade during the run. Yes, it is difficult on a city course like London, but the roads wind enough so that the taller buildings will provide some shade. Actively seek these sections out and try to stay in the shaded sections as much as possible as it can really help reduce your temperature. By tracking the shaded bits, watching out for them and trying actively to run in them will help to keep you cooler.
  • Pacing – yes you have your target pace. Yes you want to hit your target time, but again you need to run with the conditions and your wellbeing in mind. ‘Listen’ to your body whilst running, start gently and ease into your pace and monitor how it feels for the first 5-10k. If you’re feeling too hot then think about reducing that pace. There will always be another day to race and another chance to get that target time. Better to do that and enjoy the awesome experience of London than suffer a terrible experience and be put off doing it ever again. Stick to your plan, revise it if necessary, but focus on control those things you can and planning your race elements in line with these other key marathon tips here.

Just a few tips to help the day go a little smoother. Yet, don’t forget the amazing progress you have made, just getting to where you are a few days before the race has been a massive achievement and commitment on your part. You’ve trained to be a marathon runner and now the day beckons.

Make it so, and then no one will be able to take away the fact you are the marathon runner. Trust the plan, trust yourself, enjoy and celebrate your amazing awesomeness.

Welcome to the Marathon World, we’ve been waiting for you.

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Reassurance #3

[Note I’ve added some extra text to a previous blog entry]

It’s a few weeks now to big race day. For Marathoners particularly, it’s now the tiredness, the niggles, aches, the wondering and worrying, really starts to kick in. So far you’ve probably been able to keep it at bay with the ‘oh it’s weeks away yet, plenty of time’ line.

I’ve seen a few tweets talking about Maranoia, as the doubt kicks in and you start worrying about all kinds of stuff related, and in many cases totally unrelated, to the upcoming long run experience. It could have been set off by a poor training run, the return of an old niggle, slower recovery from injury than expected, the fact your race pack hasn’t arrived yet, that piece of kit doesn’t quite fit right, on and on and all so not positive about your chances in the upcoming weeks.

Maybe it hasn’t hit you yet, maybe it never will, but just be prepared for it to creep up on you and start rubbing away (like an Aussie cricketer) at your confidence. Whatever you are training for, your long race, as it beckons, winking at you, sashaying on the horizon, with its ‘come and get me’ eyes, it’s likely that like Jekyll and Hyde the alter ego will also be issuing threats, sending the bailiffs round with their demands for ever greater effort from your metaphorically wrecked body, issuing an enforcement notice for that race pace over an ever greater distance, more than that 19-20k you’ve just done. And that ‘enforcement notice’ looks totally unreasonable, that pace for even further?

That.

Pace.

That……..

Pace?

For almost twice that distance?

No pedestrians in the way though!

This is all completely normal.

These worries, completely normal. The nagging doubts, completely normal. Feeling like you’re dragging a husk around on bloody stumps, thinking on your next long run you just want to jack it in after 8km, feeling tired for most of a run, wondering why you’re still dragging yourself out of bed on a Sunday morning without the lightness you might of felt in the early stages of your training, completely bloody normal.

Wondering why your legs seems to ache in a way you haven’t experienced before, everything feeling tight, piano strings a major component of your legs, scrapes, bumps, grazes from trips, falls from tarmac greeting, musing whether you need new trainers and whether it’s too late to change them before race day, concerned you have run long enough, too much, not enough, not fast enough, not at right pace, worried about your hydration and fuelling, that you’ve tried the right gels, bloks, fuel for the race, or not even thought about it, and now I’m really worrying, yep completely normal.

Thinking through your plans for race day and getting concerned about kit options, how best to tie your laces, whether you need some new socks, how chafing is going to be avoided, how to get through the early race sections when it’s going to be really crowded right? Totally, completely normal.

Justifying that putting that right sock on first, then the left, will mean I run a better race. Ahh let’s move on……..

Rather than the end of your training answering questions, it seems just to generate more. Provide more reasons to worry, be concerned about the minutiae of the running and racing, and raise issues you hadn’t even thought of till you read some of the stuff above, whoops.

All of that is nothing to worry about actually, taper is about to come, and if you plan in some sports massage, some advice from a running coach, and the rest and recovery that taper brings will get you to that start line refreshed, rebuilt, and worrying a little less, perhaps. It’s a time to think on the positives, realise what you have acheived in getting to this stage in your training cycle.

It’s also worth considering a previous blog I wrote in April 2015 which I’ve updated below:

So is this really what you signed up for?

….it’s quite likely you’re feeling battered, physically and mentally, by what you’ve put yourself through.

Many at this stage of the marathon cycle are wondering, worrying about that latest niggle. Wondering why the most recent long run was so hard accompanied in all likelihood by a series of unfamiliar aches and pains centred on parts of your leg/s you didn’t know existed until now.

Knees ache, calves ache, thighs ache, glutes ache, quads ache, feet ache.

Aches ache.

Tiredness seems to be an item of clothing, and doubt and worry the things that ‘accessorise’ the outfit.

Tightness is a steady state for muscles, and what you thought was going smoothly is now a lumpy, grumbly, maelstrom of potentially revised target times, thinking whether it is even possible, or a devil may care ‘bloody well get through it’ attitude.

Listen very carefully,

pull the screen closer,

closer,

read this in detail and absorb,

pay real attention to this.

Niggles, grumbles, tightness, discomfort.

All at this stage of getting to the marathon is all…well you know the words now, don’t you?

Stay calm, repeat after me – it’s all completely bloody normal.

Most of your fellow runners are likely to be experiencing exactly the same, whether they are saying it or not. Whether yelping, or not. Silence hides, much discomfort, many concerns, a multitude of worries, even for the most experienced.

They are just as likely to be worrying that their body is collapsing on them at this late stage, that the start line now seems as distant as it did when the entry for the fast approaching race was made. Although it may feel like it, there’s a very strong chance your legs aren’t going to come off any time soon.

If we just have a quick look at what you have put your body through since the beginning of January. Since then, that’s 15 Sundays, 15 of the longest runs, 15 weeks of exertion your legs have not experienced before. Is it any surprise those legs are protesting now?

With each training cycle being unique, your body is responding to the unexpected.

You’ve loaded it with effort, gels, shotbloks, electrolytes, protein bars, hills, tempo sessions, threshold sections, race pace attempts, veered round pedestrians who refuse to move out of the way, kids on scooters, smart phone readers, surprise shop exiters, bus stop crowds, and belligerent motorists. Is it any wonder it’s reacted?

It needs some coaxing, some cosseting, some recovery now. That’s exactly what the taper is for. Reduced miles, but perhaps more important to cope with all the tightness woe outlined above is the elixir of rolling and stretching. A programme of full leg coverage – IT band, glutes, quads, calves, shins. A campaign of care to massage, roll and stretch these key running muscles.

A campaign that’s consistent, persistent and determined.

Funny that, exactly what you’ll need come race day.

You’ve trained to run, now get ready to taper, to recover, to run.

You reassure your body, for it to reassure you. The training is nearly done, revel in that, enjoy the achievement – respect. Your race beckons, now go and bloody enjoy it.

I’m due to run my 9th Marathon this year, taking on a new challenge with the Manchester Marathon on Sunday 8th April 2018.

I’m running for the Place2Be and if you’ve found the blog useful I would like to ask you to sponsor me by clicking the link below:

http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/SimonTanner1

The Place2Be works across England, Scotland, and Wales to provide a range of vitally important mental health and wellbeing support to children in school, they’ve also been providing support to children and their families caught up in the Grenfell Disaster.

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Doubting

I’m not sure how a talking toilet (yep it really does exist) makes a train journey more enjoyable, but Virgin trains to the North West seem to think it makes my customer ‘experience’ that much better. Oh how I laughed as said ‘toilet’ regaled me with the amusing story about how it had previously worked in public toilets and that ‘it’ knew what to ‘expect’ from the job description when it changed roles.

My mood, already a little dark, from the tiredness of the latest marathon training, darkened further as I received advice about not flushing wipes, or my goldfish, whilst on the train – whether in the station or not. Though I’m pretty sure such advice does fall on deaf ears, as having stood on the platform at a number of UK train stations over the years, it seems that whilst it works for fish of gold, for brown ones, no such limits apply.

This stage of marathon training is marked by particular bouts of tiredness as we reach the longest distances crucial for the ‘time on your feet’ training that prepares you best for the coming event. It also can be about the volume of running involved.

I’m not a fan (just my view -I’m no sports scientist) of aiming to achieve ever greater total distance each week. In my view, much of it I see being written about on social media just seems to be a ‘race’ to pitch how much more monthly miles have been achieved rather than the quality and qualitative ‘value’ of the training runs achieved.

In the weeks of the first part of the new year, it’s been great to see the positive vibes off people as they achieve their greatest distance in training runs, but in a controlled way. The camaraderie that comes from this is one of the best things about the running club I’m a member of (the first rule of running club must be to always celebrate everyone’s performance – everyone is a ‘marathon’ for somebody).

I can’t say these positive vibes will always be there but a controlled increase has over the seven years I’ve been doing this madness with my running club (with of course the rolling, stretching, and massage) has shown a greater chance of success than just blindly increasing mileage. So it is important to remember that you are doing a training run to have a great race, not doing a training run to have a great training run every time.

My own modest improvements in pace have come from running less times a week (most weeks I run twice a week, but push myself hard) and replacing runs with Crossfit, yoga and core work. I’m a big believer in your training working around your life. We’re not professional runners so have to work, see our loved ones, and do some other stuff. Just to retain some sanity.

My cod science on this is that the more you try to squeeze the running in, the more you come to resent it when it gets in the way of stuff. This can mean you get more stressed about the ‘running’ making it less enjoyable and a chore. And (cod science warning) I’m not sure that such feelings and/or state of mind help keeping fit, injury free, and healthy either.

Yes this training lark is tough, but keeping it as pleasurable and social as possible will make it a little more bearable.

However, there are alternative views. My long run colleague Narendra, identifies:

I think consistency is the key. The mileage matters too. The more you do, the faster your time will be, assuming you do one long run, one hard run and lots of easy runs (junk miles). The willpower to fit in the mileage with your ‘life’ is the challenge.

Running to work would be the easiest way of making the best of your time. I am going to find ways of doing this. If you are born with a slow engine like me, and take to running after your best before date (again like me), there is only so much you can do.

I spoke to a 2:27-marathoner today. He is not training for any marathons, but runs to and from work every day and does 70miles a week, because running is like brushing teeth for him, a part of everyday life. For us mortals, we haven’t got to that stage yet. I am going to do 80km a week to see what I can achieve. Hopefully, we all can get to where we want to, but the paths may be different.

Whilst the Head Running Coach, Sarra, at my running club has another useful viewpoint:

I don’t agree with focusing on mileage/ volume. For sub 3hour marathon runners, they will have a more natural ability/ genetics to cope with this kind of volume. They will also have generally been runners for a while. Runners 3:30 and slower, who start later in life, or at least have not been running consistently since early teens, need a very different model. They need a careful balance of steady increase (hence why we start October/ November, unlike the January shorter plans- usually 16/18 weeks). They also need more recovery days and recovery runs. They need careful strength training to balance out any imbalances and weaknesses. They need very regular mobility and sports massages and flexibility work.

The plans we have given to sub 3hour runners are completely different from post 3:30 plan. We have seen hundreds of runners get injured from building the distance too quickly/ starting late, running too much at the wrong race pace and trying to add too many miles per week for the sake of it and not correcting their imbalances.

Notwithstanding the quantity v quality debate, this period of training – still far enough from the big day – is also wracked with another common feeling, a sense of foreboding that comes in great wodges (is that even a word?). Yep, great big wodges of doubt.

I’m pretty sure this is there for a majority of those training for their long races at this stage of their preparation  – even the most ‘experienced’ marathoners. In particular, it tends to coincide with those runs that are a challenge because not only are you fighting the usual head nonsense questioning your general abilities as a runner, but you’re also fighting the doubt about how you will actually finish the damn race.

Commonly, this is around the internal conversations about “how am I going to keep going right to the end of the race”, and “how will I do that at the pace I need to run to reach my finishing objective/time?”  You say to yourself, “I struggled to do that over this shorter than target distance, so how do I push on to the full target distance?”

This is completely normal, of course you are concerned about it, and it is a key part of the challenge that you are putting yourself through. Come race day you will experience exactly these feelings of doubt. If there was no doubt, the challenge wouldn’t be there, and I suspect Gwen Stefani wouldn’t have a career either.

Doubt will probably come up whilst travelling to the start, in the start pen, waiting for the gun to go, and at a variety of points during the race. The key to overcoming it is how you respond and the strategies you develop to overcome it. The first response is to accept it is there, but also respond to it through your engagement in your training. Completing that next training run helps you to push through, but it is also important to reflect on what might be causing the doubt to bubble up.

Is it niggles, fear of an old injury returning, having done enough training, having done too much training, being too tired, fearing you’ve lost your mojo, wondering if you ever had a mojo in the first place, each run has always been hard, or not hard enough?

In my experience, it is generally that the doubt does not come from a fully detailed consideration of what you have achieved so far, running further than you have done before (no wonder you’re tired, Einstein), quicker, in a different way, or even after some time out for whatever reason. It isn’t focussed on the full evidence of what you’ve done up to now. To overcome it, the key is to try to focus on an alternative positive scenario of the situations above, and identify the achievements in there, focus on something that inspires you about what you’ve done so far. For instance, you never thought you’d run that far, your time/pace has improved, you’ve just got out there and bloody done it.

Running mantras can also help by blocking out the doubt and associated negative thoughts and the training runs are a good way of practising these. The mantras are words/phrases that you repeat to yourself and/or out loud that help push you on, ‘run strong’ is one I’ve used in the past, the key is taking something that works for you. There’s some useful material including a tool to create your own running mantra that can be found if you follow this link:

https://www.runnersworld.com/race-training/the-magic-of-running-mantras .

Furthermore a more recent article how focusing on the use of the word ‘You’ can help be making your own mantra sound as though it’s someone else encouraging you, rather than you just rallying yourself – thus on hills “You got this”; or generally “You’re smashing it”. The key is again to find something you can use and visualise in your training runs to test and fine tune what works for you.

Then again maybe I’m wrong on this, and perhaps a ‘flash sale’ is a great way to advertise a tanning salon, and Keanu Reeves really deserves an Oscar for his dirty smock-led performance in 47 Ronin.

The key as I’ve tried to manage my long runs, is to celebrate your achievements so far, accept that they are part of the journey, expect the doubt to return, but learn that there are ways you can address it and become stronger from your response to it. It’ll be there come race day, but you’ll be better prepared for it, and having battled through it in training, you’ll have some strategies for dealing with it, to flush it away, leaving it lying on the track, whether you’re stationary or not.

Just don’t doubt it…….

I’m due to run my 9th Marathon this year, taking on a new challenge with the Manchester Marathon on Sunday 8th April 2018, just over 8 weeks away.

I’m running for the Place2Be and if you’ve found the blog useful I would like to ask you to sponsor me by clicking the link below:

http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/SimonTanner1

The Place2Be works across England, Scotland, and Wales to provide a range of vitally important mental health and wellbeing support to children in school, they’ve also been providing support to children and their families caught up in the Grenfell Disaster.

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Mind Matters

From this weekend it is a mere 14 weeks until the London Marathon, 13 to Brighton, and 12 to my target, the first marathon foray norf, Manchester. Alternatively, as the @londonmarathon twitter feed highlighted on 11th January, precisely 100 days.

Cue joy, fear, terror, worry, anticipation, impatience, even panic. These, probably all at the same time, some greater than others, but a real sense of the impending. This side of Christmas is the point that realisation about the spring marathon really starts to kick in, and the point at which the physical dimension of your training really ratchets up. For 1st timers it’ll be the time that you reach distances you never thought possible, and yet you will still have to run a little bit further come race day.

For those who’ve done it before it’ll be the return of the old familiarity of reaching distances you never thought possible, and yet you will still have to run a little bit further come race day. Ground hog day anyone?

Whilst there are a range of training plans out there that set out the physical training you need to undertake to get to your goal, many offer very different perspectives on how much you are “supposed” to run, what length your longest run should be, and how many times a week you should hit the streets/parks/trails. Although helpful, such training plans can be a challenge in themselves, most of us have lives that include elements other than running/training and doing training runs 5 times a week may be a completely unrealistic goal given other demands on our time.

From my experience it is important for you to shape a training plan that works with your life. Yes some sacrifices will need to be made to have running as part of your life (whether you are training for a marathon or not) but it’s my strong belief based on my own experiences that you should own your training, not for your training to own you. If it owns you then there is a strong chance of real resentment about it building which is likely to detrimentally affect your chances of running a ‘good’ time, or even completing the training cycle, and the race on the day.

There are a number of elements though, that I think are non-negotiable, that you must have as part of your training.

  • Long runs are critical, as much as the distance you cover, but also the amount of time on your feet. You must have a long run as part of that schedule, but you don’t have to run the full 42km in training as part of that training. The longest I usually do is 37km (x miles) and that has stood me in good stead as I approach my ninth marathon.
  • Vary your running regime to include a mix of sessions where you aim to run at higher tempos (faster), or slower to aid recovery. And mix up your routes if you are able. The running regime should not become a chore to get through but an approach that enables you to develop your running, you train to be ready come race day, not necessarily meaning you will have the ‘best’ run every time you lace up and get out.
  • Review your nutrition – marathon training takes a heavy toll on the body, testing its resilience and fuel. There are plenty of great guides on nutrition so worth consulting these or getting specialist advice, particularly around the potential of some dietary supplements. This includes your general day to day nutrition but also using training to test your fuelling during the long runs, testing gels/blocks to see what works for you. Thus avoiding any nasty surprises come race day.
  • Stretching, foam rolling, and sports massage – to maintain your running capabilities these elements are critical, helping to deal with niggles before they turn into full blown injuries, and significantly aiding recovery. Again there are plenty of online sources to watch, read, review.
  • Rest and recuperation – the key element is to listen to your own body and have a clear sense of how tired the legs and body ‘feels’. Yes a run can rejuvenate, make you feel energised, but sometimes it is of greater benefit to just rest and allow the body to repair. Such situations are clear when injuries strike, but less obvious when they stay away, especially when training is going well. As a rule of thumb at least two rest days are a minimum, but I have found I have needed more rest as I have got older so will run three times a week, and have two days of core strength training to supplement the running, though some weeks this may reduce to 3 or 4 days of activity if I ‘feel’ I need extra rest because muscles hurt more, or longer, than usual, and/or I am particularly lethargic/tired/exhausted.

However, what is often missing from these training plans is any focus on training for a critical dimension of self. A dimension perhaps the most critical to you completing any run. One that is most likely to be seeking to sabotage you at all turns during your run, that comes to the fore during the very longest runs, and has the capability to be the most powerful advisor/enemy that will accompany you on every run.

I leave it to Elid Kipchoge, Kenyan Marathon runner, the current Olympic Marathon champion, and runner of the fastest ever marathon (2hr.00.25) though not an official world record to identify a key component of focus for your training who identified:

“If you don’t rule your mind, your mind will rule you”

If you’d like to see some information about his training before the 2017 Berlin Marathon then click here.

So how do you do this? How do you manage your mind, and does it really matter?

From my experience Elid’s focus on ruling the mind is a very interesting description that has powerful resonance for me. There are plenty of my previous blog entries, indeed most of them based on a cursory review, that feature some reference to battling with my mind, or the inner voice. Indeed, I think for many that have run any distance this battle is often key in even getting out to run in the first place, let alone pushing yourself to run further than you ever have.

It usually starts with some form of relatively polite questioning – what you want to be doing this for? Why do we need to go for a run? What do you think you are going to get from this? Alternatively, it can focus on the conditions outside – well it looks a bit hot/cold/wet/windy/slippery/crunchy/too busy/too quiet/ too dark/ too sunny for a run today; or the lack of correct kit/equipment/time.

Then it might get a little more insistent questioning your ability, that niggle, the hurty bit and whether these are going to be challenged by you getting out for a run. The final stage tends to be rather more ‘shouty’, reprimanding you for this decision, further questioning your ability, suggesting you’re threatening your continued existence, making suggestions about how much better things would be if……….you………just……….stopped what you’re doing and have a ‘nice’ sit down.

Why rush?

Why keep pushing yourself?

Why hurt yourself like this?

What’s that pain? Is that serious? Are you permanently damaging yourself?

We don’t need to finish you’ve done enough? You’ve shown everyone you can get out there.

You’re not a runner, you’re a very naughty boy/girl.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=plZRe1kPWZw

The key thing is to learn from this. To rule it, understand what words you hear, what control by your mind is being sought, is it seeking to assist your endeavour, or is it undermining it.

Listen to the words and phrases that are being used. When are these coming up for you? What are you doing at the time – is it up hills? Doing greater tempos? Running slower for recovery? When certain distances are reached?

In triangulating these experiences with the actuality of what is happening in your run, or before you even get out there you can be prepared for them. You can prepare responses.

Well yes it does hurt because I’m pushing myself hard up this hill/running much quicker than I have in a while. And that is ok. I’m happy with my technique and I’m comfortable with what I’m trying to do, and although it doesn’t feel comfortable I’m pretty sure I haven’t done any serious damage.

In preparing responses you also just run a quick self-check on technique, your stride pattern, is the kit fitting properly, is the chafing protection in place, what am I trying to achieve through what I am doing at the moment?

It may also be about listening to these messages, perhaps there’s some supportive stuff in there, or perhaps you need to counter it. A mantra matching the rhythm of your running may help to push through it and have something else to listen to, blocking out the more negative elements. I use ‘Run Strong’ repeated. Alternatively, do you need to distract yourself in another way? Run to the next lamppost/tree/bollard. Or take on some fuel/hydration.

It is likely that by observing these during your training that you will start to notice patterns. Such patterns give you clues and opportunities for expecting similar messages to appear in the future. I remember in the 2017 Brighton Marathon I was plagued by the ‘inner voice’ at around 17-18 miles about how hot I was getting (admittedly it was the hottest Brighton Marathon for a number of years) and whether I was overheating. In response I checked back on my previous water intake, my running form, my time and pace and was able to rationalise a solution. Yes it was hot, but with a little more water on board, a cup over the head at the next water station I began to feel cooler, got through the pressing urge to come to a juddering halt (‘just for a short time’) and drove on to a great PB.

The key though was that I was expecting something like this to come up and as I was prepared for it, able to rule the messages that came thick and fast. In training for this you might want to make a few notes of what comes up for you, write down the messages you hear, and the circumstances they seem to occur in. Rationalise these outside of the ‘heat’ of the run, this will train you to improve your response to them, plan strategies and approaches to deal with them, and ultimately respond in ways that will enable you to complete that run.

Have no doubt, as a sentient being – yes you, these ‘messages/voices’ will come out for you.

The ‘secret’ is to expect it, listen, prepare, and respond in the cool light of day, rather than waste all the opportunities in training to prepare mind AND body.

It matters, seize control.

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Training, what’s it good for?

And round we go again. Marathon training has just started. My target this year is Manchester on 8th April 2018, the 9th iteration of my running adventure.

For others, it’s Brighton, London, or another race of the same, longer, or shorter, distance.

The familiarity of this starting again, I find strangely exciting. Though with the blog there remains the question of what can I possibly find to write about in this 43rd entry?

Well, my key aim is to broaden its appeal, so it applies to all those tackling their own physical activity challenges. It’ll do this by demonstrating just a few of the ways that getting out there on a Sunday morning brings a range of unexpected benefits and learning about yourself that have much wider applications than just getting you physically active. The blog will also help runners push through a training programme for a future race. Cos let’s face it, this is a long time commitment and there will be times when you’re wondering just what has possessed you to get up so early on a Sunday morning.

So why give up that cosy early Sunday morning bed? Why dedicate an hour, or more, for some form of physical activity rather than doing something else?

What for?

What possesses those that do it?

What’s the pay off? Why bother?

One of the critical aspects is that the long run – ie the one run that accounts for, or will account for around 80% of the total distance / time on your feet you’ll actually experience on race day – is the most important because it conditions you to be ready for that effort. Plus it rams down your throat exactly how far the race is going to be – whatever the distance.

This is something that can be galling, even scary, for the most experienced runner. I’ve lost count of the number of times the group of long runners I’ve been with have remarked at the end of a session just how tough it had proved to be, and that we need to do at least that distance again on race day. Cue general consternation that the repeating of that pace seems impossible and a real worry about whether you’ll then be able to sustain that for the further period of time come race day.

Funnily enough, your body usually concurs.

Antony

However, you must remember that the long run training is, as I wrote previously, “focussed on having your fastest and fittest race, not the fastest and fittest training” so be prepared to expect some bumps and jolts, some good, some bad, some downright terrible experiences along the way.

Some of the training runs will be terrible, others will be downright awful, with an odd one passable, perhaps.

There is nothing to be worried about. This is all part of the learning experience that is critical for preparing for the race. As much as learning about the physical effort required to complete the activity another, if not more important, dimension is the fact that you’re battling your own internal perspective on what you can/can’t achieve, and overcoming how that feels whilst you’re doing it.

Often during the ‘long’ runs this is the biggest challenge. Just overcoming your own internal dialogue on the need to stop, or the impossibility of the task ahead, irrespective of how much more of it there is to complete, is the key training learning being taken away. Understanding that this is just internal dialogue which can at any time seem the most insurmountable thing, or most persuasive argument to stop the activity you are doing is what this training is all about. Because without any doubt, it is an internal dialogue you will experience come race day, and you need to identify your strategies for overcoming it otherwise finishing the ‘race’ will finish you.

The long run is also about testing that new kit, your fuelling regime, the breakfast routine, or the warm up/stretching routine (just what might be practical and acceptable in a spacious gym might be less so in a crowded race pen).

Stretch

The key with this endeavour is trying your best to enjoy it, learn as much as you can about yourself, whilst getting better at the running at the same time.

For me, I know I’ll learn more again, strangely there’s always a few nuggets, and if you get your refuelling regime right it’ll be the right nuggets.

In the spirit of sharing, I did learn today that the race ambassador for the Manchester Marathon this year is….Vassos Alexander.

Well there’s a thing.

Wonderful t’internet tells me he’s a sports reporter on the BBC and has written a “critically acclaimed” book on marathon running. Though a review or two suggests that it hasn’t pleased everyone as one reviewer wrote:

This was advertised on Kindle as being by Chris Evans and Vassos Alexander. In fact only the foreword is by Chris Evans which was very disappointing.

Perhaps they won’t be rushing for autographs come race day, but then if you prep right there’s no need for you to rush either.

Bring on Vassos.

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Mark Almond’s Marathon Lessons

The warm weather email three days before the race told us to pay particular attention to our fluid intake, think about our clothing on the day – recommending not wearing running tights – and suggested the most recent weather forecasts predicted temperatures of around 16-17° come race day.

As London basked in temperatures up to 25°, the Brighton Marathoners tackled 21°, whilst those in Paris apparently faced 24°; it was time to curse the forecasters. Such hikes in temperature are not the friend of the long distance runner, though I wasn’t too worried as surely a marathon by the sea would guarantee pleasant sea breezes to take the ‘edge off’ as we went round.

Clearly someone had forgotten to tell the wind makers, as the stretch along the cliff tops usually pleasantly balmy from 11 miles to 14 miles was accompanied not by pleasant, cooling, air flows but by two gents, one with an unplugged electric keyboard and another with maracas, at a roundabout seeking to provide their own ‘cool’ inspiration by bashing out a few supportive tunes for runners as they trotted past. Whilst musical accompaniment is sometimes welcome, these plucky musicians were perhaps not what everyone wanted, thus drawing comments that ‘Soft Cell had let themselves go a bit’.

Digging in, I pushed on, and continued with the comfortable pace I’d managed to that point. It was near this point that I committed a cardinal sin by missing my massed family supporters who shouting, implored me to catch their eye and make contact as I ran past. To ensure my failure was absolute I high fived a complete stranger yards in front of the massed familial ranks, yet completely failed to see them.

Tainted love (oh)…..

I was completely unaware of this, and was becoming a little worried as I approached 13 miles that I hadn’t seen them, but passed another message on at 14 miles that I was ok and that I had missed them – though I was completely unaware of the snub until long after I had finished the race.

April 9th 2017 was my best, and worst, marathon experience. As a best it was my fastest ever, at last breaking the 3½ hour mark, finishing in the top 100 of my age category, and including some of my fastest ever marathon race sections.

And yet between 17 and 19 miles, I have never felt more like stopping than I did this time around.

Sometimes I feel I’ve got to, Run away,

I think the heat took more out of me than I anticipated, and I had to battle myself to keep going and get through it.

Again there’s lesson’s in this, indeed the whole marathon experience. In that ‘experience’, I include the full programme of training which began with half marathon training in late summer 2016, early marathon training from late October, and the key post-Christmas and late winter section slowly building up the mileage.

The key thing was that there was still learning to be had from my eighth iteration of the marathon journey. Despite all the hours put in previously, the mind games, the physical efforts, the miles completed, I still learnt more about the experience and particularly myself from it all. This boils down to the fact that Brighton 2017 surprised me, I didn’t expect it to be that hard. I knew I would have to dig in, push through, but I thought my previous experience would give me more of an edge, give me less to worry about, less to overcome.

Poppycock. Forget that, each marathon experience is different, requires different achievements, will need different obstacles and challenges to be overcome. Therefore it’s about keeping a much more open mind about what you may need to overcome, thus I hadn’t even thought hard about the potential impacts of such temperatures, or the fact that the race might be a ‘warm one’, and therefore hadn’t developed a strategy to properly cope with it. Thus I lost my way, almost, between 17 and 19 miles.

Get away from the pain you drive into the heart of me.

I did enough early in the race to get my PB, but looking at it now it could have all gone very wrong because I didn’t fully account for the unexpected conditions in the way I ran my race. Yes I was successful, but this was in spite of how I ran my race, not the way I actually ran it.

Next time, it’s a little more careful thought about ‘known’ conditions on the day and appropriate, but small, tweaks to the race plan as a result, in this case going off a little slower for the first 5-8km and easing into the race more than I actually did.

This ‘easing in’ is also a lesson for the overall marathon ‘experience’. At the outset I was a little too impatient for early results. I wanted to see more positive signs in my running prior to Christmas when this period was much more about laying some good foundations for success later on. I really noticed that sticking to my plan for runs accompanied by core strength training my times picked up significantly after late January. Having the patience for this to happen is something that hasn’t been there previously for me and knowing when to rest and relax during the training cycle is as important as the training itself.

The key is ‘trust the plan’ and stay patient for its results which are focussed on having your fastest and fittest race, not the fastest and fittest training. Plans can easily be changed, recalibrated, but it is all too easy to feel you need to put yourself under extra pressure because you don’t think everything is going to plan, but ask yourself what parameters you are placing on that.

Are you pressurising yourself because you don’t think you are where you should be and that, in your opinion, needs rectifying? You haven’t had the results you’re expecting, or the race remains seemingly as distant as ever? Being aware of these is important because these are exactly the positions you will find yourself in in the race as well. For me at 17 to 19 miles I was well aware that I wasn’t progressing as I felt I should be. I was wondering whether I should continue because of these feelings, these beliefs.

What I had to do was come back round to my bigger plan, my target for the race and focus on where I was in relation to that target not my exact position at 17-19 miles. Not whether I was slowing up dramatically and asking myself every stride whether I really wanted to carry on. Rather, it was just a phase in completing this bloody thing that I needed to get through – that tough mid-February Sunday run when 15km easy seems like the hardest thing in the world and the prospect of running nearly three times that distance seems like a totally ludicrous proposition, especially at marathon pace.

The final lesson was that I still want to do this. My overall health and wellbeing is so enhanced by this physical activity that I can’t let it go. However the next round goes, I want more of that feeling, or perhaps it’s more of an addiction. Whatever it is, its one I’ll take on again, just to be surprised, just to hear what music the duo play, and to make sure I high five my family members, rather than random strangers. And at least there wasn’t any jelly this year!

Now I’m gonna pack my things and go

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Mantra

My first entry for this blog was 41 entries ago, on the 26th October 2012. Now, as I reach the conclusion of my eighth cycle of marathon training I’m wondering how I feel at the end of all this. Just a longish run, and the obligatory Nan-Jog left till its race day again.

Like those earlier entries, I find myself drawn to Murakami again and his excellent book of wise running words ‘What I talk about when I talk about running’. He identifies:

Usually when I approach the end of marathon, all I want to do is get it over with, and finish the race as soon as possible. That’s all I can think of. But as I drew near the end of this ultramarathon, I wasn’t really thinking about this. The end of the race is just a temporary marker without much significance. It’s the same with our lives. Just because there’s an end doesn’t mean existence has meaning. An end point is simply set up as a temporary marker, or perhaps as an indirect metaphor for the fleeting nature of existence” (p.115).

So fleety one, how are you feeling now?

How’s that temporary marker of the meaninglessness of your existence coming along?

Well, hmm, thanks Mr Murakami.

But then he brings it round, in only the way he can (read the book and you’ll know what I mean) by a further turn of the page….

At this point a new feeling started to well up in me – nothing as profound as a feeling of pride, but at least a certain sense of completion. A personal  feeling of happiness and relief that I had accepted something risky and still had the strength to endure it. In this instance, relief outweighed happiness. It was like a tight knot inside me was gradually loosening, a knot I’d never even realized, until then, was there.” (p.115-116, my emphasis)

The rhythm in his writing, the ups and downs of mood it conveys, and the vision it gives is much like that I think everyone experiences from running.

So what does the end of this training cycle reveal, what does it mean?

Well it should be a sense of achievement whatever that training cycle has brought to you, however injury affected or not, how much of struggle or not it has been. This is an achievement. You’re ready, whatever your body, head, or heart will be telling you, to run and you should visualise your race day. Get prepared to enjoy it, be present to what’s going to happen, whatever the time. Again Murakami helps here:

Competing against time isn’t important. What’s going to be much more meaningful to me is how much I can enjoy myself, whether I can finish twenty-six miles with a feeling of contentment. I’ll enjoy and value things that can’t be expressed in numbers, and I’ll grope for a feeling of pride that comes from a slightly different place” (p.121)

Now whilst I don’t agree with the ‘time isn’t important’ line, we all have our target times, and achievement of these will make a massive contribution to our level of contentment. What’s more important here is the non-numbers bit. The fact running as part of a group you’ve shared some key moments at your weakest with others, forged new friendships through that, connected with yourself in entirely new ways, and persisted with something in a way that you perhaps thought impossible, before you started all this. And even, perhaps on occasion during some of it.

Now stronger, coming from these experiences you can head into race day with a contentment, a satisfaction, pride, a reward to yourself that come race day you will have packed a bag of experience ready for the journey ahead that will leave you prepared for what’s coming. Give you the support you’ll need to get through the pain and the struggles, help you revel in the joy of the experience, and get to the end, the temporary marker, but with a different appreciation of what YOU have been able to do, and what YOU have done to get there, and what YOU will have achieved by getting to the end.

That end is in sight, reach for it.

Run strong.

Relax your body.

Dedicate those kilometres.

Get to that next lamppost.

Get the techno on. Big box, little box

You’re off the sofa. You’ve got the medal. The end is the end. Smash it.

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