Why am I doing this again?

This coming Sunday is the Royal Parks Half Marathon.  A race I approach positively as I have trained for it on this occasion. Instead of the usual end of the year ‘oh I’ll just trot round, enjoy the event and not really worry about the time’ thing, I’m setting myself the target of another personal best time (watch that come and bite me on the arse on Sunday). I’m ready and looking forward to a race in cool conditions which will hopefully help my pursuit of my goal.

However, I started thinking about the motivation. Why am I doing this again? Why take on the running of 21km, 13.1 miles, for the 5th competitive time, all at the Royal Parks event.

Yet again.

It was the first half marathon I ran back in 2009 when I was still flush with early racing joy yet to be tempered by the full marathon training experience. Why get back into the training? Why do all the kit stuff again? Why write another blog entry? Why slog up that hill or take on that tempo run?

What is it that keeps me wanting to do this stuff?

It has interesting parallels with some of my work at the moment that involves looking at the reasons why individuals aren’t physically active and the implications of that for their health and wellbeing. Why, when the evidence is so overwhelming of the benefits that physical activity brings and the detrimental effects that can occur if you’re not, do we resist doing something that can bring such benefits to us. What stops people in this situation?

It’s important that I make clear here that I’m not advocating that everyone leap from their chair and start running half, or full, marathons – that’s never been the intention of this blog, rather it’s about helping to make people more active.

I’m looking here at what we can learn from this to identify solutions when we get stopped around any physical activity, or extending ourselves physically. What’s missing that means doing something else is so much easier than the health and wellbeing improving stuff? What’s not there that means we’ll avoid pushing ourselves to be active and spend that time sedentary, not moving? Why sit, not shift?

If I had a solution then I wouldn’t be sat (irony alert) here writing this, I’d have made my fortune already. It is taxing Governments around the world as they seek to address the impending health crisis that will surely arrive unless our lack of physical activity is addressed.

Individually it is solvable. It’s ultimately about identifying rewards, aspirations, motivations, fears, wishes a number of them, varied and exciting, enrolling, that support us across a range of situations, circumstances, and feelings that get in the way of us being physically active.

So why do I do this?

Running brings me joy. I’m not someone that has a particular natural sporting ability and yet I have found that I can be a reasonable runner if I put the effort into my training. What you put in, you get back.

I have come to revel in the positive feelings, the raised spirits, that I get from the running I do and actively miss them when not getting my ‘fix’. It underpins my mental health and gets me out of the low feelings I feel come on if I have denied myself the opportunity to run. I think I’m a better person because I run and it frees my head of the everyday shackles of day to day living, the stresses and strains of work.

I’m desk based in much of my work so the opportunity to get away from that sedentary island is one I welcome and I will actively seek out the opportunity to run in places I visit. New routes, views, and scenery excite me and the chance to see somewhere new or infrequently visited from a different perspective whilst out on a run.

I feel fitter and more alive and my body shape is one that now holds less concerns for me. I love the feeling of tiredness post run, and the draw to more restful sleep it brings. I enjoy the internal feel of the great stretch/roll post run as aches and pains ease and my body acknowledges my efforts. I love the hunger post-effort, the sense of reward of refuelling rather than just eating, the joy a simple, healthy, mix of protein and good carbohydrates can bring, being sated with food rather than just full. Rehydrating and the sense of the body welcoming simple water, no need for extra flavours or additions.

That sense of achievement when finishing the race and the delayed joy when a personal best is confirmed by the official race time. The celebration with others as they complete their race, the camaraderie with training partners, the shared endeavours and training. I enjoy the excuse to get dressed so differently, to choose footwear and clothing especially to run in (welcome to kit whoredom).

I revel in the opportunity it gives me to be healthier, to reduce my risk of certain diseases and to be less scared that my health will deteriorate, and that I will be active for the rest of my life.

And then some days I’m still not sure why I do this, and I suspect there will be times on Sunday when the wondering ‘why?’ runs round loudly in my head, but I’ll keep facing it down till the next time and trust I’ve found my solution (for now).

Work and find yours, it’s there and you know it. Just recast, reinvent, it and find your route to being active the positives far outweigh the challenges of getting there.

Run well, run strong………….


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Entry 35 – Not ready for THAT jelly

The final two kilometres were run on empty. The ‘flat’ hill of the last race section from the promenade to the road leading to the finish gave me no respite and the target time (sub 3.5 hours) faded away. I’m still ecstatic as I ran a personal best for the marathon, and the Brighton course (3hr 31min 12sec) and it felt like my most controlled marathon yet with pacing very even and hydration and fuelling going like clockwork.

I know where I went wrong and how I’ll fix this next time, whilst also feeling like I could run the London Marathon this coming Sunday as my recovery has been great, perhaps the best it ever has been. A paddle in the sea, rolling and stretching post race and a massage have all proved invaluable in this.

I now know I could have pressed more on the downhill sections to increase my pace to shave more off the finishing time, so again I’m saying that sub 3.5 hours is possible and with 3.31; 3.36; and 3.33 finishes in my last three marathons it’s certainly there within my grasp. Plus I’ve already taken advantage of the early bird entry for next year’s Brighton marathon so the training cycle will begin again. However, what is particularly interesting is that I’m more enthused about running the marathon again than I was when I began the most recent round of training back in November. The reason was because I think I had that all too rare experience of hitting the zone during the race, not during a training run, but in the actual race. This zone meant I hit my pace early – with the great assistance of my fellow training partner Giles – and maintained this when my body was telling me to push harder and earlier. I controlled this and reaped the rewards pushing through the dreaded Power Station section when this has previously chewed me up and left me nursing myself through the final four miles.

So lessons for those running a target race in the next few weeks?

Don’t underestimate the benefits of rest in the days leading up to the event, earlier than usual bedtimes, relaxing pre-race and carefully preparing your kit and yourself prior to the event helped me achieve all the above.

I have a very specific routine for race day that has been honed over a number of years that helps me – I always arrive earlier than I need to, drop off my bag early, purchase the race espresso in plenty of time, and get into the designated start gate early. My race number is on my shirt the night before, timing chip connected and tested for fit on my running shoe the day before, whilst I’ve come with my race fuel and hydration already planned out (a few shot bloks in the start gate about 20 mins before starting; 1st gel at 45mins then one every half an hour after that, whilst carrying a running bottle to top up with water on the way round), and calmed my nerves the previous day with a short 20 minute run including a few 30 sec sprints just to loosen everything off.

Supporters made a massive difference picking me up at key times and giving me something to look forward to as I knew where they were going to be.

I let things that would previously have got me wound up wash over me. On collecting the race pack prior to the race we were presented with one of the smallest kit bags I’ve ever seen which was not much bigger than a family pack of nachos. I managed to get an additional bag “as you’ve travelled from London” but by packing carefully I manged to get everything I needed in whilst leaving behind any stresses of worrying further about whether I really needed that extra pair of running tights. Watch the forecast carefully and you can usually work out what you’ll need pre and post-race and it’s surprising how little space you’ll actually need for that.

I enjoyed myself. It’s very easy to miss out on the things around you, missing the crowd, and other things going on. Focus on this, enjoy the weather hot or cold, focus on what you’re passing. All these things help to get you out of your head – which can often be giving you a range of conflicting and less than positive insights on your running progress/prowess – so you can focus on the things you can control: your technique, pacing, fuelling, hydration.

Stay in the moment and focus on what your training has taught you about getting through each section of the race.

Marvel at the sights around you, the costumes selected by some runners, that guy running in the brushed cotton three quarter length shorts that appeared to be an experiment in testing which item of clothing can I wear that will cause me the biggest chafing challenge? Or speculate just how someone runs dressed as a rhino, toilet, genitals, Iron Man or Spider Man (x3) and still manages to get round. Wonder just who does accept those massive gobbets of Vaseline from the St Johns Ambulance people around the course and more importantly how does it get applied in front of the cheering crowd. Listen to that cheering crowd and revel in the fact that they’ve never met you, are unlikely to ever see you again other than for that fleeting few seconds yet are still shouting ‘Giles’.

Enjoy the limelight.

Try to spot the photographers round the course and at least give one or two some semblance of a smile or a thumbs up. When looking back at the race through the photos, you’ll continually get emails about, it’s always better to find at least one where you look like a member of the human race rather than the next Dr Who villain grimacing as you threaten to wipe out the earth. You never know it may be so good you may even make a purchase.

And finally, appreciate the efforts you have made to get there today, celebrate the training you have done, the arrangements and sacrifices you have made, and those of others around you that have enabled you to be there in that race supporting the tremendous achievement you’re about to reach. On that day, at that time, there are many others not doing what you are doing celebrate and praise yourself – a hero, just for one day.

Alternatively, you can revel in my joy as the train pulled into Clapham Junction where an adjacent passenger rose slowly from his seat, pirouetting his backside perfectly in line with my face to celebrate my achievement by unveiling two spotted cheeks of his derriere in a unique, glute waving, two inches from my face, tribute I will struggle to unsee for many a good year – RIGHT IN MY FACE – whilst playing “I don’t think you’re ready for this jelly, I don’t think you’re ready for this jelly, I don’t think you ready for this……..” in my head.

Too right and I’m running already.

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What to expect on race day

After many months of training you’re stood in a park wondering why you’re stood in a park after many months of training.

Welcome to race day, your target for many months, the thing you’ve been pursuing, the thing that has been pursuing you for so long. Wondering how on those longer runs how you’ll ever make the distance, wondering whether come race day if it will hurt this much, be this rung out, be this elated, be this struggle, be this breeze. Just what will it be like?

Well as I get ready for my 7th go (it was only meant to be one, the bucket list item ticked off) I can safely conclude it will be all those things above, and more.

Some expected, some unexpected, some little known or appreciated till after the event. As I struggled for blog content a few thoughts came to me. One, perhaps there are some pointers I can offer about just what to expect come the big day, but also a bigger realisation of what we tend to lose through our training.

In part this is a loss of innocence. We forget how far we’ve come in sheer cumulative distance but also physically and perhaps in the greatest sense personally. We tend to forget what we’ve pressed on through, the ‘flat’ hills we have traversed and those steeper ones too. The hill repeats we’ve done, the tempo sections we’ve run, the wrong turns taken, the joys we’ve had, the niggles or injuries we’ve got through, the gels and blocks consumed, the camelbaks we’ve carried, the kit we’ve worn out, the toilet stops made, the Vaseline we’ve utilised, and the refuelling we’ve allowed ourselves. Celebrate the things you’ve gone through. Whilst these practical aspects tend to blur into each other, our appreciation of how we have developed personally is perhaps even less obvious to us.

So what has been learnt? Firstly, you have persevered with training over a number of months stuck it out, got through those bits where you thought you’d never keep going, revelled in those times (perhaps all too brief) when enjoyment and the ‘buzz’ overran everything and you were champing at the bit to get out there again only to find that it isn’t there the next time. Second, appreciate the physical learning your body has been through. You are likely to be fitter and have better stamina than you have ever had and learnt some things about how your body responds to exercise and what you fuel it with. Thirdly there’s insight gained into just how different niggles and injuries feel and how they can be overcome through recuperation, recovery and remedial action. You’ll also have learnt how to drink and eat whilst running though I’m not clear that this offers much in other areas of life. Finally appreciate that this training has got you ready for race day however much the doubting voice in your head may disagree. The training you have got yourself through has got you ready to complete your race, accept it, revel in it and use it wisely.

So what to use it wisely for?

For other tips you can read a previous blog here.

Arrival at the race venue really brings home what you have let yourself in for. At the very largest event you understand, as you hang around with your official kitbag amongst the myriads of kitbags, just how many other runners you’ll be running with. By planning your arrival at the start you should have plenty of time to soak up the atmosphere, appreciate the surroundings, enjoy that this is your environment, and get your bearings. Work out where you need to drop off your kit bag, where the start point is and which corral you’ll be starting from.

Marvel at the toilet queues and join one as early as possible if you have any inkling (tinkling?) that a visit is going to be needed.

However, the biggest pointer I can offer is trying to relax, adrenaline can be your friend but by trying to relax you can make it so. So you control it and use it to aid you not hinder you. Try to get into your usual run preparation routine, stretching, jogging, whatever you usually do as this can act as your body’s triggers for getting ready to run.

Getting into the start corral is a great idea as you can find a spot that helps you get a good start though appreciate that if you are close to the front of the pen it is likely to get very crowded as start time approaches. Control this and you will reap benefits because it gives you the best chance to use the training you’ve done. In the pen check your watch, check those laces, and check that your gels/bloks, water bottle are all securely stowed. I’ve lost count of how many of the aforementioned I have run past in the first few miles lying abandoned as running shop flotsam and jetsam to be regretted when later miles mount.

A ‘celebrity’ will start your race wittering some words to wish you well on your way before hooting, flag waving, firing you on your way. Now this is the point where your training comes in, and the relaxation will provide a foundation for its use. Ease yourself into the race. If you are in a later pen there will be some wait before you and your fellow runners begin a slow prowl, like leopards spotting a hunting opportunity, before beginning to run. Being patient at this stage can make or break your race. There is an extreme temptation to get moving, easily losing your target pace and raising the possibility of burn out. You can also get dragged into the early race weavers, runners who weave in and out of the main pack trying to get going as soon as possible. In half and full marathons you’ll find that the first 2km are best used to gradually build your pace, check your running form, and watch other runners around you. The key here is sticking to your pacing, building gently to your race pace and then seeking to maintain it. Weaving in and out increases the distance you’ll run overall and it puts extra physical demands on your body using up key energy resources early on. Steady consumption of these should be your target so you can steadily replace them throughout the race with your own refuelling plan.

By the middle section of the race you should, if starting steadily, be eased into your running, try to enjoy the surroundings around you and the atmosphere from the crowd. There will be people cheering for you that you will have never seen before and probably never see again. Hopefully you’ll also have some supporters there so try to work out where they will be so you can make sure you gain most benefit from them. Think through when and where you will take on fluid and fuel if you’re not carrying it yourself and use this to get you through sections of the race breaking it down into manageable chunks of time or distance, whatever works for you.

However well, or not, you’ve managed the early stages of the race there will be a section, or sections, where you face real challenges to keeping going and this is where your training will come to the fore. In training you will have had these sections and the fact you are there running today shows that you have got through it. Check if you need to take on fluid and/or fuel. Check your pacing. Ease back if you need to. Try focussing on the cheering of the crowd, look for landmarks ahead to run to from trees to lampposts to particular buildings or even markings on the roads. Draw on your training to think through those previous times you got through this, there will be a point where the pain is likely to stop getting worse. If you are really concerned then seek out a race official or other volunteer. By preparing for these sections you will give yourself the best possible chance of getting through them.

It is the last few miles where your training acts as a psychological prop to get your tired, battered body through those last sections. Some refuelling, caffeine shots may help here, but often it is sheer willpower, belligerence, and bloody mindedness that will get you through. However, as you get closer to the finish line the noise from the crowd will rise, you’ll be dragged magnetically by the sight of the giant finish clock. Crossing the line you’ll find an opportunity to receive a finisher’s medal lowered over your exhausted, bowed head, enjoy the elation of having finished, and then realise you still have to drag your raggedy stumps a bit further to get your timing chip removed, collect your finishers pack, and try to remember where the hell you’re going to find your kit bag from the back of a series of identical articulated lorry trailers.

Now the celebration begins in a probably ill-fitting finishers t-shirt.

This may sound daunting but be inspired by the training you’ve done, the lessons learnt, the physical and psychological journey you’ve made. You’re ready, now’s the time to hunt your prey.

Good luck.

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How to Fuel a Marathon and Lessons from my Father in Law

As miles increase, so does the tiredness and levels of exhaustion not previously experienced often accompany the final stages of the longest training runs. These distances are unusual, even for experienced marathon runners, as it is unlikely that you would choose to regularly run these kinds of distances as a non-professional runner whilst also having a life beyond your running.

Critical at this stage is the need for the additional support and development that can be found through sports massage, regular stretching and foam rolling, nutrition, and additional core strength training. As I’m now in my seventh year of undertaking this madness, I’ve managed to glean a few perspectives that might be useful for other runners training for marathons or half marathons, but could also prove useful for any runner building up their distance to their target race.

Here I’m going to focus on some perspectives on nutrition. Not a scientific, or academically / professionally qualified perspective on nutrition, but one based on my own experience of marathon training. I provide it here to help focus in these final weeks but also as an opportunity to try out some of my tips in the final training sessions so that come ‘race day’ you’ve finely tuned your race day routine so that it is familiar to you and your body so that nothing new can put you off your stride.

I’ve already written about a range of marathon tips you can find elsewhere on my blog that provide some irreverent ideas you should try to put in practice to make sure your race goes as smoothly as possible – click here to go straight there.

For specific health related nutrition advice, you should seek the advice of a qualified nutritionist, sports scientist, or expert in the nutritional needs of long distance runners. Most of the major marathons provide sections on their website that give insight from the race medical director and you should seek this information out. From a practical point of view it’s important that your race day approach has become a race day routine before the actual day, so you avoid doing anything new that could derail your efforts.

Believe me, I have followed a few runners for whom a voiding has become a nasal challenge best avoided because they have taken on something new which their stomach has taken exception to.

In terms of nutrition, it’s important to appreciate that you are likely to need to take fuel on board during the race to maintain performance, but practically to just keep you going. This can involve gels, shot blocks, other ready-made snacks, or homemade variants of the former (there are plenty of variants available online through running websites).

All organised races will provide some form of these during the race. If you intend taking these on board it is worth checking through the race website which manufacturer is supporting your particular race. Use these on training runs to identify what effect they may, or may not, have on your body and most importantly whether you like the taste of what is likely to be provided. That mango and loganberry flavoured gel may sound nice in theory, but its actual effects need to be investigated before it becomes a surprise on race day that will fade much less quickly than the memory of the multiple emails you’ll get from the race photographer offering you gallery filling numbers of photos of your ill-advised gurning as you pass yet another photographer. Your race fee covers these expenses and they also provide a great alternative to you having to carry your own supply during the race. So whatever you plan to use, test it during training and see how it affects you.

I plan out how frequently I will take gels etc and usually aim for something after the first 10k and then alternate between gels, shot blocks, and dried fruit / nuts every 8-10k, or more frequently if I feel I need it, and more importantly can stomach it – I’ve found on occasions that even my most favourite refueller turns from elixir to papier mache at later points in the run.

Again, you’re looking here to mix the energy giving from sugar or sugar based supplements to some additional protein and/or fats that provide some further fuel to support your running and your focus during those hard later sections of the run. It will also aid your recovery if you can stay ‘topped up’ rather than running on empty. If deciding to take your own think about how you are going to carry it all and test that approach in your training run, something zippable like a running pouch or bum bag is safest as I’ve seen many a lost gel as a result of them being looped over a belt.

Another issue to think through is your hydration approach. Irrespective of the weather on race day you will need to take on fluids to again maintain and support your performance. Dehydration can destroy your race, but so can drinking too much. Again it is pertinent to find out what fluids (water and sports drinks) will be available and where on race day, and as I have found to my chagrin how they are to be provided to you. This can include providing bottles for you to grab as you pass water stations. However, as race organisers seek to improve the ‘efficiency’ of the event this has led to water being provided in pouches and even cups which have then caused further challenges to your race plans as you get used to these approaches. For instance the pouches required a ‘suck and squeeze’ (please resist the smutty gag here) approach that often led to a jet of water being directed unerringly and chokingly down the throat until the technique was perfected 20+ miles in. I haven’t yet had the joy of the cups but remember a complex explanation of how they could be manipulated/folded to best release their contents where intended rather than all over the face of the thirsty runner.

Alternatively you can carry your own supplies in a Camelbak so you carry up to 2 litres in a heavy duty specially designed rucksack containing a water bladder for the entire duration of the race. This is clearly useful when trudging the streets whilst training – where no matter how in need you may look, a random pedestrian who you’ve never met before, is unlikely to extend their arm as you approach, brandishing a helpfully pre-opened bottle of water for you to swig a mere mouthful from before discarding, practically full, to lie at the side of the road.

Yet in a race, if you’ve sussed out how the water will be made available to you, it may be best to leave the Camelbak for the training runs and revel in the lightness of step your rucksack free stance allows.

The key is how much should you drink. For me, it has always been little and often. I train with a Camelbak but come race day I substitute this for a small hand held runners bottle which I fill with water provided at drinks stations. This approach means much less chance of choking on jets of pouch water, though running, filling and lid screwing does take a little practice. However, again make sure you read the medical advice on the race website because they will have hydration advice that will help you come race day.

A recent addition has been the use of espresso shots (caffeine) during races. I have purchased two plastic test tubes with screw lids – though I’ve been informed these are also sample bottles – from a large online retailer. These are filled with a double espresso and provide a caffeine ‘cannon’ at key points in the race that smack me out of focusing completely on my internal dialogue whilst ignoring my careful race plans. I find that taking a first ‘shot’ at around 20-25k and another at around 32-35k really helps bring me back to reality, whacking me through the back of the head (metaphorically of course). Of course coffee and caffeine can have a wide range of effects on people and it may not work for you, but I have found it especially useful helping me to pick up pace when I’ve needed it most. Though it can mean the pace pick up is too great and you spend the final 3-4k regretting your Clooney/Black fuelled blast mid race as you stumble with overly tired legs/stumps those final yards to the finish. However, used wisely they can be another useful addition to your race arsenal if you have practiced its use in training.

So what can I offer on nutrition?

Well practice it as part of your training routine, do your research on what nutrition options are available for your race, appreciate that you will need to refuel and hydrate during the race and plan it as much as your pacing. Get it wrong and you can forget about the pacing and that target time you’ve been working so hard towards. And make it an expected part of your race routine that is familiar to you because you’ve learnt your salutary lesson/s before race day.

And talking of salutary lessons, I’m reminded of how during a recent visit to my in-laws I was mentioning how challenging I found burpees, and how I dismally failed at those I needed to do as part of a recent boot camp experience.

What’s a burpee?” pipes up my 73 year old father in law.

I’ll show you Grandad” says my 8 year old daughter and demonstrates perfectly in the way the flexibility of an 8 year old allows.

Ahh” says father in law, and then he smashes out 5 consecutive burpees in the time it takes me to get down to start my first.

Follow that….

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Shhhh, do you want to know a secret!

Whilst paying for petrol at the weekend, a man in a white van winds his window down and asks me outright whether “I’d like to buy a TV?” Curious I think it used to be you were offered a set of glasses with your petrol purchase. “No thanks” I mouth. And then he asks what he clearly thinks must be the clincher “It’s cheap”. I shake my head, he drives on, I ruminate on the offer. Why would I buy a TV on a petrol station forecourt, why wouldn’t anyone? Why do I need any form of consumer protection when electrical goods can be so easily available? Too individual for me, yet what can be more individual than running training.

The remarkable thing about running is that it is so individual. A focus so central on what YOU are up to that is separate from others. About what you are achieving/suffering/enduring.

What you think about someone elses training is very unlikely to be the truth. Yet our interpretation of that ‘truth’ is very unlikely to have too much of a positive spin. We seem to have a particularly good ability to focus well on the negative interpretation of what others are up to, often to the detriment of our own self, the detriment of our own training. This is most pronounced when thinking about a return to training when thought processes turn to how well others are running. That their technique and ability is so much better than ours. They run so much smoother than us, they glide up hills, or sprint so much quicker than us. They are better than us, able to glide whilst we plod, hurdle whilst we stumble, and sprint whilst we splutter.

Consequently, we must get better at our running before coming back to running so we don’t stand (run?) out when training alongside these gods of athletic capability. Rather like tidying up before the cleaner comes this completely irrational behaviour governs our ability to believe whether we are ‘ready’ to return to running, whether resumption is possible so we don’t stand out or fall too far behind, or struggle too much up that hill, or puff too hard when we’ve completed the circuit.

Other ‘runners’ don’t do these things. They don’t puff, they breath hard, they don’t stumble they stride, they don’t struggle, they’re sublime. They’re quicker than you, they’re Olympic versus your club runner style, they’re always advanced to your Neanderthal capabilities. You’re chasing them, trying to keep up, enduring the run whilst they enjoy it, creating envy in them for you whilst they stride on making the gap between you and them all the more elastic.

In these circumstances, the reasons for not returning, or believing your own running is not progressing, are extremely powerful. Those around you seem so much better at this pursuit than you. You’re the one whose struggling not these others, these silky smooth pursuers of yet another PB.

So you put off the running, so you can get better at your running before you get back to running with these people.

Really, you sentient being?

We get people into space, have landed spaceships on Mars and asteroids, developed the internet and email, found gravitational waves, and built items of flat pack furniture, but we’re stopped by how we might appear against others who may or may not be ‘better’ runners than us?

Go figure.

The big secret, that great unknown, the holy grail is that us individuals battle our own self-perceived abilities all the time. It’s all personal battles, whether we’re convinced our technique isn’t great, or we’re struggling on hills, puffing that bit harder than we think we should, completing that lap not quite as quick as we thought we should, not narrowing that gap between us and the runner in front as quickly as we thought we should. And the amazing thing is that runner next to you is likely to be thinking exactly the same thing. We think we know where our inabilities are and measure ourselves against others, but the irony is that we are all doing the same things. Yes some of us are quicker than others, but it is much more about our resilience to overcome the challenges when they come up – as they inevitably will – to think less about what we are up to and/or what others or up to, and focus on what we did better than last time, our achievement in being here in the first place.

We need to learn to ignore that other stuff, our running commentary on how much better those others are, and draw in how great we are, just making the effort to be active, extending our training into its next phase, pushing on to the target race.

It’s not possible to score runs whilst you’re sat in the pavilion,

…..and you can’t run whilst in your bed or on the sofa, but from all those positions you will lose out to those ‘other’ runners because they are out there, whilst you’re not.

What training is all about is building the resilience to deal with the tough bits, to appreciate what you are achieving and focus on the next goal, whilst also appreciating that at this level it is all relative progress and participation is in the eye of the beholder. We just have to notice what we have achieved rather than constantly weighing it up against what we think others have achieved, or think what others might be thinking about us.

Now that’s a secret worth knowing.

Get out there, the cleaner can come whether you think the ‘house’ is ready for their visit or not.

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Angels with Pink Faces

A new year and a new marathon training schedule shakes itself free of Christmas gluttony and arrives blinking on a fresh January Sunday morning. However many times you’ve done this, these early January sessions are always tough…. no, hideous, as you really pay for the festive excesses even if you have managed to be ‘good’ and get out on a few trots in your Santa-provided new running kit.

These runs prove difficult because these are the early signs of the kinds of distance you’ll be needing to cover to get round the marathon come spring. Today we were set the task of completing a 15-19k route with instructions for some to increase pace steadily over the route before a 2k warm down in the last section. Clear and simple perhaps, but your body and mind generally have other ideas biting back for the ‘marathon’ of excess you have put it through for the last few weeks. It is also interesting to note how many other runners are out and there seem to be large number of ‘sorry no’ London marathon training tops about today as those unsuccessful in the London Marathon ballot (see previous blog posts – the 1st I think) flaunt their lack of ballot success trotting round past us.

This celebration of ‘failure’ or weakness soon becomes a common theme in the post-run verbal dissection as almost all of the runners today highlight their own challenges from out on the route that morning. Whether it is the toughness of hill sections, the difficulties maintaining pacing, stitch, running too fast/slow, tiredness or the ever present internal voice of doom these early runs really do zoom in on the areas of weakness you may have been trying to hide from on previous running expeditions. It is also likely that some of the same or different elements will revisit you again later on in the training cycle.

Whilst our experience of these may seem like to some (even ourselves) to be Frank Boughesque masochistic tendencies they are actually very important pointers for structuring your training for the marathon in the Spring. Understanding what is causing these and the ways in which their impact can be mitigated are important ways of moving yourself forward to get to a point where the training run could (and there are far off aliens in another universe where this has occurred) perhaps become a pleasurable experience notwithstanding the joy that is Hornsey Rise.

So you can focus on your breakfast prior to running, how well you warmed up and stretched prior to the run, what your fluid and refuelling approach was, or wasn’t, how you worked your pacing and whether you managed it with a stopwatch or GPS watch, or what kit you may have forgotten to bring.

The key here is to identify these elements, get advice on solutions and implement these in your next training runs. Yes we’re preparing for a big event covering a significant distance but that is just one race which will throw up a whole load of issues during it that are more than likely to come up in the training runs that’ll take place over the next 15-16 weeks. Yes you’re preparing for the distance, and the physical and mental effort required completing it, but it is also about all the other things that will come up.

Running through tiredness and the ‘I can’t go on anymore’ feelings, the hunger, the feeling you just can’t run up another hill, or wondering why you seem to slow down so much on hills (guilty as charged), or the big one how the hell am I going to run the longer distance come the spring.

To put this in perspective the 19k today represents less than half of the distance you’ll need to cover on marathon day. It’s twice what you did today plus another 5k to complete the 42k expected of the marathon runner.

So it’s about perseverance, stretching yourself to test what you will need to prepare for when the race arrives. Mix up your training so it’s not all about the running, a bit of core strength, perhaps some Yoga or Pilates to give your body the all-round workout it needs, cos you’re going to need it over the next weeks because of the commitment you’ve made to run that 42k.

So resolve to push yourself each training session, then it’ll be pink faces all round and an angelic glow of self-satisfaction to bask in whilst you put those tired feet up to contemplate just how many helpings of roast dinner its polite to consume post run.

Who’s counting?

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My friend the golf ball

Niggles come, and niggles go. They do fade even if you may have been working your way through something for a number of weeks.

With the spring marathon (Brighton in April for me) still a relatively small blip on the horizon niggles at this stage of training are easy to ignore and can often get more serious as a result, causing unnecessary delay to #marathontraining.

This is the time of year when it can be harder to get out as the weather starts to turn less clement and there is less push from the worry about distant marathon outcomes to steer you out the door. Yet the cooler times are often the most enjoyable to run, are even the most refreshing of all sessions, and the autumnal backdrop provides a natural ‘colour run’ to proceedings that doesn’t require a series of strangers to pepper you with dye every kilometre.

A niggle has arrived for me and at training I resisted the urge to run through it, to carry on regardless, adopting the sensible approach to roll the itinerant area instead. By god it’s frustrating especially as progress has been good in these early weeks as some sprint training and core strength training has seemed to bear fruit with a new PB in the Royal Parks Half Marathon and good recovery from recent unofficial training runs.

I’ve noticed that when niggles do strike the urge to run does become stronger mainly I think because the jealousy of other runners out trotting past you is especially intense because you are being denied the same opportunity. When you’re struggling to run, why is it there are so many more runners about? It’s like you’re being followed by a coachload of runners who get chucked of every so often just to rub your nose into the fact that you’re resting/recovering from an injury.

Yet I also started to wonder do other runners pay as much attention to us as we think they are, or is the actual dialogue in their head “There’s another runner”, or “that’s a nice top”, or “they’re going so much quicker than me”, or the more mundane “what’s for tea?”.

Is it the worry of what others think of us that stops us getting out for a run, or even not stopping when we have a niggle thinking that by running through it others will think better of us, or is it just our own ego that’s driving it all?

Probably all down to that ego I’m afraid, however much we wrap it up in other stuff….

However, our ego continually suggests to us also that other runners are actually really interested in what we are up to. When the harsh reality is, especially those running towards us, THEY REALLY DON’T CARE HOW YOU ARE RUNNING/LOOK/ARE DRESSED etc etc, just get out of each other’s way, perhaps nod or smile as they go past and stop worrying about which part of your body, clothing, breathing, technique or running style they might be critiquing.

They are more as likely as not doing any of these things. Rather they are worrying about which part of their your body, clothing, breathing, technique or running style you might be critiquing. Better to pay attention to the niggle.

Trouble is running through that niggle is probably the quickest form of self-sabotage there is, especially if the niggle/pain becomes much worse as you continue running. So I fought my ego at training and stopped, got down and rolled whilst others ran past outside. Now if that doesn’t stoke the running jealousy then nothing will, and the frustration levels were particularly peaked by the experience too.

This is where the golf ball becomes a trusted friend as it provides a focused approach to help release the tension in the muscles that could be causing the niggle in the first place, though it is important to get some specialist advice so that you make sure the targeting is right.

Coupled with the old favourites of the foam roller, cricket ball, ice pack, and the hot water bottle these can become key early members of your training entourage that you may well revisit as you advance through the next several months of marathon preparation. They key thing is to get practised at using them so you know how best to target those early niggles to head them off at the pass before they have you walking like you’re out of a western.

These are your friends, the ego much less so, and as the urge to increase distance becomes stronger, the worry about the less distant marathon gets bigger, trust these tools to help your muscles cope with what you will put them through. Because without doubt those muscles are going to protest, shout, rant and rave about what you’ll put them through and anything that becalms can only help keeping you on the road.

Ready to approach that runner coming in the other direction.

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