Recovery – let’s flood the chateau

Leafing through a well-known interior design magazine recently I came across this gem of nonsense:

Layers of paint and varnish were added to build up the elegantly decayed look…Siouxsie calls the paint effect on the walls ‘flooded chateau’. It was a last minute decision – my heart was telling me I had to do it, even though the walls had been freshly plastered

And yet, rather like Siouxsie, most of our preparation is focussed on the lead up to the event we’re training for. What we need to get in place, be prepared for come race day, have trained ourselves to achieve come the race, rather than what plans might be after we’ve completed said event.

I’m reminded here of all the preparation my wife and I did prior to the birth of our first child. The books pored over, the NCT classes  attended, the discussions with the midwife. All focused on just what the birth would entail and how we (all three of us) would get through it safely.

What we were less well prepared for, was that rude awakening when we returned from hospital with our new born. We carefully set her down in the car seat, asleep, with us perched side by side on the sofa alternatively peering at her and each other.

Then came the realisation.

What do we do now?

For this we were much less prepared, and this is a generation of time, not a number of hours.

So how do we make sure we plan for the aftermath of the event we’re training for?

How does our metaphorical chateau take on our preferred aesthetic experience?

Well, critical to this, and the avoidance of a prolonged period of clunky walking (think the Wizard of Oz -Tin Man’s hesitant first steps). Preparation, which can form part of your long run training. Key to recovery is mobility and stretching, refuelling, hydration and rest.

Some of the things that have helped me in the past have included:

  • #getinthesea – Brighton offers a great opportunity to use the freezing cold surf to bring some immediate relief to exhausted legs. But it is essential to bring some other footwear for this as trying to do it bare footed as I did in my first year risks stranding yourself a few feet from the shore as your feet and legs seize up on the pebbles underfoot.
  • #changeofkit – even on the hottest days finishing can mean you will feel the cold very quickly. Layers and some compression clothing can help. Hats and hoods work well, and don’t underestimate the warming properties of the race bling (short and medal), particularly the warm glow that comes free with the race gong – you’re a five star general now!
  • #goodcarbs – aim for some protein in the first half hour after you’ve finished as this can aid muscle recovery, but the critical challenge is to replenish you’re glycogen stores which will be exhausted. This means looking at some carbs – rice, potatoes, pasta. You’ll probably be more hungry than you’ve ever expected to be and this is likely to continue for a few days as you replace the fuel stores you’ve used up. Make sure you’ve made particular plans for breakfast the day after the race, your mobility maybe restricted but you’re hunger is less likely to be so hamstrung.
  • #hydrate – much like during the race, little and often is a good tactic. With all your refuelling take it slow and replenish your fuel levels carefully. It’s worth considering some drinks that provide options to replace lost electrolytes, and enjoy a celebration as well – you’ve earnt it.
  • #stretchinandrollin – all that stuff you’ve done post long-run training. Don’t neglect it, just cos you’re done. It’s perhaps more important in the time after the race than ever. You may not be able to manage too much in the finishing area, but at least get into your usual routine the evening after. Here the longest training runs will give you clues as to where the real targets will be, remember these and target them ruthlessly in the rolling and stretching you get done post-race. Though expect those legs to be SPICY!
  • #bathelikecleopatra – a hot Epsom salts bath (15-20mins) can aid recovery, though the medal whilst obviously accompanying you in your bath, does not a great rubber duck make.
  • #nightynight – get that head down early- assuming the refuelling and rehydrating doesn’t go too far into the night, but be prepared for the hot legs as your body repairs itself.
  • #facedown – book yourself in, a couple of days after the event, for a sports massage. This can be done before you race so you get a slot in those few days. Often in runner-rich areas around key long race dates appointments go fast, so book early, to avoid disappointment.
  • #therecoverywaddle – on the days after the run do your best to get out and walk, you’ll find your legs will tire quite quickly, for me it’s my calfs that protest the most, but this helps infinitely with getting back to your regular mobility and avoids making stairs (usually down) an epic mountaineering challenge during the next week or so. A few gentle walks coupled with a massage helps get that mobility back again.
  • #laceuptherunners – although you may vow never to run again, the gentle Nan Jog is a key part of the recovery regime, though remember it can be a number of weeks before full recovery and you’ll feel tired very quickly so best kept short.

Plan your recovery into that schedule now.

Next time:

How would you sum up your look…I once described it as ‘edgy glamour with a bit of Miss Haversham thrown in’, but over the years, I’ve honed the ad-hoc nature of my approach to be more sophisticated. It’s still fun and irreverent, but also functional

Sheesh, anyone know how to get the Dambusters in?

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Just Running, long?

With a few long runs under your belt you’re probably wondering just what the long runs are for. Yes a key part of your weekly training routine, working towards being on your feet for two hours plus, getting the distance into those leg, yes all that.

But what is it really all about?

Well it’s about running, well, long? Giving you that chance on return to regale those who will listen that you’ve run x far today, been round to such and such and back again, got over those hills, through randomly emerging pedestrians from shops, avoided phone-focussed totterers, rounded scooting, skating, riding random toddlers, sidestepped woofy mutts, and challenged ranty motorists.

Isn’t it?

Isn’t it just running longer than you’ve run before, or have run for a while. All in preparation for the target race, to make sure you finish the target (long) distance?

Well yes it is, but the long run is far, far more useful than just getting through the distance. It’s an opportunity, a test bed, an experiment, a plain old running exam that used correctly can give you that extra edge come race day.

So what then, should you use the longer distance for?

Well simply, testing everything around race day.

So test that breakfast routine, its timing, its content, the fluid intake. How much you eat prior to running and what you’ll be able to stomach come race day when adrenaline kicks in and the stomach starts its own running race well before you’ve even started?

Check out different kit options for different weathers. What keeps you comfortable, too hot, too cold, too sweaty? Where is your race number going to go, front, back, somewhere else?

Is it just shorts, shorts and running tights, just running tights, will the mankini really work? Where’s the timing chip going to go, on your shoe, left or right, or is it in the race number? Is there even a timing chip? And what about the kit options, post-race, what to change into, and how are you going to get that to the race and most importantly the finish? How big a kit bag are you allowed and what will fit in the damn thing?

Critically, test your anti-chafing routine. In wet weather, or very hot weather damp, moist, soaking kit becomes that much heavier. Heavy kit takes on new exfoliant properties, even dry kit, or seams on kit adopt the same properties.

Properties which go far beyond the smoothing effects featured in those TV ads.

Well beyond.

We’re talking, well…………..

RED F*$K***, Blood Seeping, Raw!  Fire and flames.

Not always, but best avoided if you ask me.

Ouch. And the bloody stained shirt fronts are not this year’s must have. We’ll stay up top, but never forget the undercarriage either. Invest in Vaseline and plasters, use it well, remember the 1, 2, 3, smear to cheer, and lubricate your running success.

Test gels, bloks, preferably the same ones your race organiser is providing, or if making your own check those out too. There’s no disgrace in interrupting a training run for an impromptu toilet stop because something ‘didn’t work out’, or rather because something was about to work out. Use this as an opportunity to see how you benefit from gels and bloks. Whether it benefits how you feel, perform, particularly as the distance gets really long. Do this alongside your hydration routine. Will you take your hydration pack with you on race day, or use the cups/bottles race organisers will provide on the day? If it also involves sports drinks then test those out in your training runs so your body is used to those as well. I found some give me truly terrible indigestion and this is not great when trying to push yourself.

Pay attention to the head stuff as the distance gets long. I’ve written plenty about this in previous blogs. But there’s plenty that your inner dialogue (yep everyone has it) will challenge you, particularly in the tough bits. The long run test gives you the opportunity to hear this stuff, respond internally, and practise routines to get you through the negative stuff when it comes up. If you’ve challenged it before in training you can do it again in the race, and get through it. There’s plenty to learn from it, about you and your running, and your response to challenge. Revel in this in training and your race will be so much better.

What we also lose the sense of, is something a little bit deeper, no I’m not back on the chafing again, it’s something that has come up in a book on running I’ve been reading – Running with the Pack by Mark Rowlands. It highlights how we struggle to appreciate our running as anything other than a means to an end. As the book identifies:

Certainly, that is the way the activity of running is typically justified, both to oneself and others. One runs, so one says, to stay healthy, to stay thin, to relax, to stay alive. The implicit assumption in these answers is that if running is a legitimate way of spending one’s time, then it must be ‘good for something’: that is, it must be useful in some way” (p.xii).

I fully appreciate everything above falls exactly into this trap, because the things above are things that the long run is useful for.

But, I want to end encouraging you to think of the long run as something that is important in itself, it is an experience to revel in, and enjoy, just for the sake of the experience of it. However that experience might be for you, whatever happens during or after it.

It’s just that you’re running long and:

for a time at least, one does not chase value, one is immersed in it” (p.xiii).

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Long Run Training – What the hell have you let yourself in for?

As ever more ludicrous Black Friday offers peppered my inbox, the end of the first week of official long run training was coming to an end. With it was the beginning of a further cycle of months of effort to prepare this body and mind for my target long run – the Brighton Marathon on 9th April 2016, only 19 weeks away.

What is it that will be experienced in those weeks of preparation, and what inevitable changes will it bring?

The first thing to appreciate is the obsession your running training will become. Whether you enjoy it, or not, the whole process of long run training will bring some kind of obsessive focus upon how your weekly programme of training, particularly the long runs, will fit into your regular life and what planning and project management will be required to make that fit happen. It is likely that your obsession will come to dominate the planning of your life ensuring a focus around often fitting your life around the training schedule you are working to. So Saturday nights will often be tinged with the need to be prepared for your long run on Sunday and the fact that may well curtail party attendance or alcohol quaffing. It’s also the case that slowly but surely you’ll start planning your meals around these long runs so that you’re putting in the right fuels. Trouble is you’ll often find a combination that supports a longer run on a Sunday and then seek to stick to that, so the meals become rather samey but you feel well set for your long run whilst others in your family get crushed by the tedium of yet another Spaghetti Bolognese for Saturday evening meal. This will then extend to your breakfast routine pre-race as all the ‘books’ on marathon training reiterate the importance of trying out your planned race day routine during your training so as to avoid any stomach related nasty surprises come race day. Whilst perfectly sensible, this is another part of the obsession and you can see how it starts to become ever more pervasive.

A big change will also come in the stuff you do whilst lying down in your lounge. Pre training much of this lying down will have involved the TV and not much else. Now you will be making space for new ‘tools of the trade’ involving a foam roller, variety of balls, yoga mat, a large rubber band, a range of diagrams on stretching routines, articles on injury prevention and strengthening routines, running magazines, running kit catalogues, running shoe brochures – you get the picture.

Now you’ll be spending vast amounts of time rolling, stretching, manipulating, rubbing, sighing, panting, moaning, gasping and getting in the way of the telly (“You’re not made of glass”) in the pursuit of relief from the aches and pains that will inevitably follow your descent into an obsessive. You will wonder why you didn’t do this before, marvel at how much time it all seems to take, and how you possibly can fit it into your busy life, and how it does feel worse if you don’t do it, but if it just didn’t take up so much time it would be so much better. Doing all the above in front of the telly will also radically alter your TV viewing habits as some kinds of programmes are eminently suitable for prone watching – cooking, wildlife, quiz shows; whilst others are clearly not, particularly anything involving subtitles and especially Scando-Noir involving grisly murder, as key moments will often coincide with manoeuvres designed to bring relief, but also ensure the key subtitles are not within line of sight. Leading to increasingly fraught exchanges along the lines of:

What did he say?

It was on the screen

I couldn’t see it as it says here I’ve got to get my knee here and my thigh there so I was facing the wrong way

Ok” through gritted teeth, “So he said why do you live in the caravan in the forest on your own and the other women said it was because it used to be owned by her grandfather before the terrible tractor accident that her family still blame on the local Doctor.

Ah ok, and why is he carrying the plastic sheeting again……oooooooo that hamstring is tight but I’ve got this great new stretch now and I can feel it easing. Isn’t the telly a bit loud now?

Your living abode will become a kit breeding centre. One or two tops and shorts, and a few pairs of running socks will begin multiplying, evolving into a range of different varieties of the same item, long sleeve, short sleeve, three quarter length sleeve, hi-vis, zippy, no zip, compression, hooded, gloves, hats, warm tops, very warm tops, pre and post-race tops, training kit, race kit, new running shoes.

Kit whoredom beckons as will the identification of a drawer or cupboard specifically for the kit. Laundry routines will be peppered with a range of items of technical clothing, whilst shoe storage will being to be overrun but new and older running shoes alike.

Obsessive purchase of the right running shoes will also enter the lexicon. You’ll become obsessed by their fit, the level of cushioning, do the colour match your running kit, how long before you should replace them, what’s the best way to tie the damn things, can I ‘lock’ my foot into them, how much do they weigh, and even, will they make me run faster?

In-run refuelling options will become part of your vocabulary. Gels, shotbloks, with caffeine, without caffeine, all in a variety of over designed pouches will be picked up by your running obsessive radar. Hydration is critical, but is again delivered in a variety of ways and you’ll find yourself agonising over hand-held bottle options, or hydration pouches carried in small specifically designed rucksacks with tubes and demand release valves, and other bits of plastic that drop off at a moment’s notice. Plain water, a pinch of salt, other ‘electrolytes’, other concoctions to fill it with. To use in training and nowhere else, or take with you on race day? All further queries to be posed to yourself as the training progresses.

Then there is the running watch options…..

And then the look on your loved one’s faces as they see your obsession over take you, seeing the kit multiply, stretching their necks to see the TV, ignoring the cries “yes that’s the spot, what a stretch”, to ask “and what’s for tea on Saturday?

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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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