A marathon training run

Yesterday I did something I’ve never done before: I ran a marathon.

Okay, let me qualify: I’ve actually done that five times before, but what was different this time was that it was on my own, on a local trail called the Downs Link, as a training run. To add to the challenge, it was 30 degrees Celsius, I had to arrange my own aid stations (thanks to my Dad and Southwater Co-Op). Oh and I’d done a long run and a 92 mile ride the day before!

The Downs Link itself is a fantastic multi-use trail following the old railway line route linking the North and South Downs. It stretches for 37 miles from Guildford to Shoreham-by-Sea – my family home is conveniently located mid-route in Henfield, West Sussex. I enjoy running in London: gritty, urban, yet quiet and almost social in the parks, by The Thames and along Regents Canal. But there’s something liberating about running free in the countryside, feeling the clean air fill your lungs, drawing strength from the beauty of the landscape surrounding you.

The run itself was tough. For 2hrs I felt great: low heart rate, easy pace, taking on sports drink (using a Fuel Belt) and making water stop #1 in Southwater just on the hour mark. But as I hit the turn around – mile 13 – at Slinfold (near Horsham) the heat was starting to become a bit of a factor. I’d agreed to meet my Dad by a little hump-backed bridge outside Christ’s Hospital school – 2h20 on the clock and as I saw the car I felt elated. I think I’d been dreaming about water every few minutes or so since about 1h30, not helped by running past a load of kids splashing around in a big water sports lake! Fluids consumed I resumed the mission and trotted off southwards back towards Southwater.

My heart rate remained low throughout, but I must have been dehydrated as my energy levels dropped in the final 45mins and every step felt painful in my calves and quads. It seemed an age before Partridge Green emerged; I had to focus mile-by-mile, landmark-by-landmark to get myself home. Seeing people outside the old Cat & Canary pub in Henfield (where the station used to be before the Beeching axe fell), sipping beers and getting ready for the footie really drove home what a bizarre morning I’d just experienced! If I’m honest, I’d say it was possibly the hardest marathon I’ve run – maybe even harder than my first in Stockholm in 30-degree heat; perhaps harder than my PB run in London last year. I finished in 3h42, average HR 132bpm and a pace of 8.30 minute miles. I lost 5 pounds in weight despite taking in over 3 litres of fluid.

Well, technically that’s my sixth marathon under the belt then. I’m pleased to report no soreness today and as Coach says it’s “money in the bank”. In recent years I’ve been a disciple of Tim Noakes who argues that there are no physiological benefits from runs over 2hrs. But this Ironman training schedule has challenged a number of principles I’d hitherto firmly held. Will I see the benefits from going VERY long?

I’ve put my faith in Steve Trew. I’m not one to do things by halves; in for a penny in for a pound….and hopefully – going into Ironman Switzerland in 4 weeks’ time – he’s absolutely right about how much is in my training bank.

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Weymouth 70.3: preview

The sun is shining, the birds are chirping and the sky is blue; all those hard winter months are behind us and – hopefully – the base miles have had the desired effect. Now it’s time for the racing season!

To placate my winter blues I entered a series of events to add spice to training, trial pacing and tactics and generally tune up before the Main Event: Ironman Switzerland. My major race in preparation for this will be the Weymouth Middle Distance Triathlon, Sunday June 6th.

1930m sea swim. 54 mile bike. 13.1 mile run.

I admit that – after The English Channel last September – the prospect of more competitive sea swimming does not appeal. It starts on the beach and we’ll head out in an oval loop into Weymouth Bay. The organisers release competitors in 15-min waves, so hopefully this will alleviate the usual mad-capped first few minutes as swimmers fight for clear water or a useful pair of feet to draft off. Conditions will clearly have a big effect on time here and sighting will be a challenge. My hope is to just emerge unscathed up the pebbles and into T1!

Looking at archived results, the bike leg could be fast. If it’s the same route as ’09 then – at 54 miles – it’s a shade under the standard distance. There also appears to be plenty of A roads on the route up north-east through Dorchester to Bere Regis and back, allowing some good sustained riding. Past participants have referred to it as “flat to rolling”, so we’ll see. It’s always nye on impossible to predict bike times, such is the impact of course profile; but, I’d be delighted with anything sub 3hrs.

The exit from T2 sends runners down some steps – which will be novel in a race – and onto the Weymouth sea front. It’s a two lap course and I’m reliably informed there’s “only one real hill” and the rest is pretty flat. Given the time of year it could well be a warm day; hydration will be important and it will also provide an opportunity to test out race nutrition strategy in general. If all this winter training pays off and I get my tactics right then I’m hoping to put in something like a 1h40 run time, running just under 7.45 min miles. Coach Trew’s question slash statement about Weymouth was: “this one is pretty serious to see where we are, OK?” I felt yes was really the only answer!

Here’s what some people who’ve previously completed Weymouth had to say:

“I like the weymouth race as it’s low key, cheap and easy on the schedule.”Toby Radcliffe, professional triathlete.

“great event. it’s our club middle distance champs so always a good turn out. can often be hot…”Ewan McKay, Crystal Palace Triathletes.

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Al has put together  an interesting preview of my other overseas challenge this year: the Maratona dles Dolomites. Check it out.

Trew winter training

So… I haven’t posted anything training-related of late. This doesn’t mean I haven’t been doing any! Quite the contrary I’m happy to say. I took the decision – whilst self-coaching my way to the half ironman – that I really needed to start working with others more tri-experienced. Why?

Well…. Sure I reckon I could post a decent time in IM Switzerland next year by continuing with what I was doing… but would that be enough? Would I be satisfied? What has experienced shown me?  After my first marathon I felt elated (or more specifically relieved) to have finished, but immediately (quite literally) this feeling was overtaken by a recognition of what I could have done…, and therefore what I wanted to do. I knew I could have trained better, or smarter (not necessarily more – v important distinction) and that I simply wasn’t satisfied with my performance. 5 marathons later I’m – to be honest – still not. I simply didn’t want to go through the same process with triathlon.

So Ironman. I know I want to be the very best I can be in Switzerland on July 25th. Yes like anything it will be a learning curve, and once I finish I’ll want to go quicker (of that I’m certain). But I just don’t want to leave anything to chance. 12th October marked the start of week 1 of a six-week block working with Olympic coach Steve Trew. Steve’s got me really focused on quality, not quantity. I’m doing 3 sessions of each discipline a week, building carefully but most definitely working hard. That said, he also focuses his athletes on good technique – something often forgotten with bike/run (in contrast to swim) but winter is the time to perfect form and build strength. His guidance – and the fact that I’m expected to stick to and feed back on the training he sets – is helping me make the most of each and every session. I’m really motivated for the challenge ahead.

Steve also organises periodical training camps; I spent this weekend in Hertfordshire with his group of athletes and also swim coach Dan Bullock. Mixing with fellow triathletes ranging from novices to World and European qualifiers was great, and having access to expert advice, video analysis and tuition was invaluable.

There are a number of coaches around offering on-line or distanced coaching, setting training for you, reviewing results and guiding accordingly. I would strongly recommend this for any triathlete; it’s especially beneficial given the complexity in balancing three sports. Now all I need to do is do the training….!