Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Milton Keynes Marathon 2013 - An honest appraisal of my training

I will be writing a separate blog to review the Milton Keynes Marathon and my experience on the day. First though, I wanted to look back on how I prepared and trained for the race.

One of the reasons for choosing the Milton Keynes Marathon, was the timing. Because it is one of the later Spring marathons, I thought that starting my training at the end of January would make things a bit easier. Little did I know.....

Everyone in the UK knows what a long winter we've had and the combination of the cold and the snow/ice but primarily for me, the strong winds, have made it particularly tough going. I can honestly say that training for this marathon has been, by far, the toughest training block I have completed for any race.

One of the elements I wanted to build into this training block was the inclusion of more 'race paced' efforts, both as a part of my shorter runs and during my longer runs. I also wanted to add one more run per week (taking me from 4 to 5) with a view to adding more miles. I had trained on a '2 week hard, 1 week easy' cycle, which served me well for Brighton (in 2012), so I decided to stick to this.

I had already built a good base, largely thanks to the Strava #basemileblast challenge. I started well, adding a 4 mile recovery run on a Monday morning as my 5th session. I also built my long runs well from 12 to 18 miles, over the course of the first 5 weeks and was coping well with the marathon paced sections. During this phase, I also ran the Belvoir Challenge, which although not fast was good for endurance and provided some good hill training.

I had planned to run the MK Half Marathon but managed to get the date wrong, so had to drop a 20 miler which I had planned for the same day. I decided (at the last minute) to run the MK Half hard and despite strong winds and blizzards, managed to get a PB (1:35:56). Looking back, this was probably my best session of the whole 14 week training block.

Around this time, the wind really started picking up, making any faster sessions or long runs really quite unpleasant. One of my key sessions during training is a long tempo run of 2 x 6 miles (inc 5 min recovery). In the past, this has been a good barometer of my fitness. I remember running this session at the end of quite a tough training week and tired legs, combined by the wind, meant that I wasn't able to hold the pace in the second half. It was a big dent to my confidence. As my Sunday long runs increased in length, I was finding it increasingly difficult to get up on a Monday morning for my recovery run. I decided that the rest was of more benefit that a slow 4 miler, so I dropped the session.

About 4 weeks out from race day, I realised that I had made another mistake with dates (I really must learn to read a calendar!). Because the MK Marathon was on a Monday, I thought I had one more week of training than I did. If I stuck to the plan, it would mean me having to run a 24 mile run (inc last 5 at MP) just 2 weeks out from the race. I had no choice but to drop the session. My last long run would now be 3 weeks out, a 23 miler (with a planned last 5 at MP). Other than the tempo session I mentioned above, this was the other real low point of my training. Again the wind took its toll on me, so much so, I even had to walk parts of the last few miles. Again, I felt it was another key session that I hadn't 'nailed' and I was really beginning to feel that I hadn't done enough.

Having felt really sluggish during my last taper, I had already decided I would reduce the volume but try to keep a bit more intensity (through some MP efforts and some easier intervals). I also decided (at the last minute) to run my last long-ish run at race pace. This was no doubt a last ditch attempt to try and squeeze a bit more out of the last few weeks of training. I managed to hold the pace (8:00m/m) for those 12 miles but it felt tougher than it should have done. Although I felt better than during previous tapers, it was clear that, one week out from race day, my legs didn't feel a fresh as they should. The final nail in the coffin, was running a faster than tempo paced parkrun just 2 days before race day (I know!).

Setting the conditions aside for a moment, I think missing 2 long runs (of 20 and 24 miles), combined with a taper that was too intense meant that I was not set up as well as I could be for race day. I always tend to get to a stage in training where 'I just want to get the training done' but this seemed to happen much earlier in this training cycle. I became very frustrated, particularly with my longer runs and quite bored of some of the sessions and routes. This tells me, it is time to freshen things up.

Listening to Marathon Talk recently, Tom and Martin spoke about assessing your training and making a list of 5 things that went well and 5 things that you could improve upon. Here are mine:

5 things that went well:

1) I was able to up my training volume and stay injury free
2) I stuck to my stretching/physio exercises and improved my flexibility and strength
3) I got a half marathon PB
4) It got me through my 4th marathon (3rd under 4hrs)
5) I met some great people along the way

5 things to improve on:

1) I need to pay more attention to dates!
2) I perhaps need to reassess my race day goals if training doesn't go to plan
3) I need to trust in the taper!
4) I need to freshen up my training
5) I need to take nutrition more seriously

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