Monday, 25 February 2013

Race review: Belvoir Challenge 23rd February 2013

Do you like running? Do you like cake? Then read on.........

The Belvoir Challenge is unlike any race I have participated in. If you are looking to try and get a new PB, this is probably not the race for you but if you are looking for a well organised, fun and friendly race, which offers a challenging an picturesque route and lot's of yummy home-made cake, the Belvoir Challenge is well worth a look.

The Belvoir Challenge starts and finishes in the village of Harby, in the Vale of Belvoir, Leicestershire. It offers two routes of 15 and 26 miles, both of which are mainly off-road and involve a fair bit of elevation. Hence why it's not really a PB course.

A great day out
 I opted for the 15 mile race, as I was using it as one of my training runs for the Milton Keynes Marathon. I had also planned to 'race' at a fairly easy pace and hopefully in a group including +Mike Wells (@mike30), @ainsia and @Beastipuss, among others and I was looking forward to a social run, which I was told, would feature home-made cake at the 2 check points.

On arrival to the village hall in Harby, I knew this was going to be a special race. They had a full BBQ on the go and this was at 8am! Everyone was very friendly and sign in was easy as they had plenty of volunteers and separate queues for different groups of surnames. There was no chip timing or race number to pin on, just a small laminated tag (which I tied on to my gel belt) and a map of the route. There were the inevitable queues for the loo but I can't really see how they could have crammed more portaloos in to the start area.

The race got off on time but (having queued for the loo) I don't think I have been so cold before the start of a race. The start of the race was slow but this was down to the tight nature of the village streets and, to be fair, we were toward the back with those walking the course. The first 4 miles were uphill and we settled into a good group, having fun negotiating the styles (well, apart from Mike and Kieron who decided to leap over one of the iron fences into a load of mud!). I had been promised that this race would deliver plenty of mud, plenty of hills and plenty of cake and it did not disappoint!

At about 5 miles we came across a sheep that was lying on it's side and appeared to be heavily pregnant. Despite one member of our group suggesting he could go "all creatures great and small", we decided that alerting a marshall was probably the best course of action.

At about 6.5 miles we came into the pretty village of Eaton, and our first checkpoint. They had set up the village hall and there were loads of volunteers on-hand to serve hot tea and coffee, as well as fruit cordials, Mars bars and all manner of home-made cake! We spent about 10 mins at the rest stop and allowed some of the other member of our group to catch up. Well it was an excuse to eat a bit more cake!

                                                    Is there such a thing as too much cake?!

Getting going and leaving the relative warmth of the village hall was quite tough but once we were moving again it was fine. The section between 8 and 10 miles involved another ascent to the highest point on the course (about 560ft) but thankfully there was another checkpoint on about 10 miles. Although this one was outside, it offered even more cake than the one before! If I had a rucksack with me, I think the temptation to stuff it full of cake and chocolate might have been too much!

The final section involved a really enjoyable descent and took in some more pretty villages, including Stathern. Although, in my view, taking the route so close to the Red Lion was a mistake. I was extremely tempted to pop in and have a quick half by the fire!

By this stage, I was in a small group with Ains and James and we were able to pick up our pace in the final few miles. James was having to dig deep and given he is not yet 16, did really well to keep the pace. Ains seemed to have got stronger following our rapid descent (maybe it was the pigeon feet?!) . We were passing a lot of other runners at this point and only really had to slow down to negotiate a huge muddy puddle in a farmers field. Well, when I say negotiate, we actually just ran straight through the middle of it! In fact, given all the mud we encountered, it was a miracle I got to about 13 miles before my feet got wet.

We were all feeling the miles by the end and we had helped to get each other through to this point but hey, this was still a race. We all managed to find some extra energy and had a good sprint for the line. I think on another day, James would have definitely taken me down.
                                                                                                            Now, that's just showing off!

At the end of the race you get to retire to the warmth of the village hall, where there are more volunteers on hand to serve you hot food and, yes you guessed it, even more cake! There was also a rather nice personalised certificate.

So, if you want a fun, friendly and well organised off road race, I can whole-heartedly recommend the Belvoir challenge. Oh, did I mention they had cake?

Monday, 18 February 2013

Marathon Training: How to avoid hitting the wall

"Hitting the wall", "crashing", "bonking, or the "the bonk" are words or terms that are used to describe when you run out of energy during a marathon, or during a long run, as happened to me on Sunday!

I was 14 miles into a 16 mile run when it really hit me. It had known it was coming for a few miles but still miles from home and having consumed my only gel, there was nothing I could do about it. Almost immediately, I went from feeling quite good, to having absolutely no energy. My legs turned to jelly and I was finding it hard just to put one foot in front of the other. It also effected my mental state, so much so that I nearly ran out in front of a car! I had it the wall, in a big way...

Anyone who has experienced this will know how horrible it feels. I ate like a horse when I got in in the hope of restoring my energy levels and tried to rest but I still feel rubbish today. It did however, make me think that this was a good topic to write about.
Hitting the wall can hurt!

Most people who are about to embark upon training for a marathon will have heard of the dreaded wall. In fact, even non-runners know about it and will ask, "did you hit the wall?" when you are talking about your marathon experience. But despite it being quite a well known term, most people don't actually know what hitting the wall is, or how you can avoid it. Often, people think it is just about running far enough in training, so your legs are accustomed to running 26.2 miles.

In fact, it has little to do with how fit you are or how well you have trained. You may have had perfect training and completed all of your training sessions and long runs but if you get your nutrition strategy wrong, you will run out of energy and hit the wall at some point during your marathon.

Here is a very simple explanation of what happens to your body when you hit the wall. Your body uses something called glycogen as it's primary fuel when you are running (during long, slow duration exercise, fat can help fuel activity, but glycogen is still needed to help breakdown the fat into something the muscles can use). When you have used up all of your glycogen stores, you hit the wall.

The trick is to keep your levels of glycogen topped up. Glycogen is what your body metabolises from carbohydrates, which is why you will hear people saying that they are 'carb loading' on the lead up to running a marathon. This is to try and ensure that they have as much glycogen stored in their liver and muscles. Now, before you think about eating 5 pasta meals and 10 chocolate bars the day before your marathon, your body can only store a certain amount of carbs as glycogen. The rest is stored as fat, so beware!

Everyone is different but, on average, your body can store enough glycogen for about one and a half hours of strenuous exercise. The more strenuous, the exercise, the more quickly you will use the energy (glycogen) and once this has completely gone, you will hit the wall.

Most first time marathoners will be running for 4 or 5 hours, or more. In fact many of your training runs may be in excess of 3 hours. So, it doesn't matter how well you have fuelled beforehand, you will run out of energy at some point. This is where fuelling during your run comes in. This food/fuel normally consists of energy drinks / gels / jelly beans or a combination of the above. We use this type of fuel because it is easy to consume on the run and easier for your body to digest during exercise. After all, would you feel like eating a plate of spaghetti 15 miles into a marathon?!

The only way to ensure that you don't run out of fuel and hit the wall during your marathon is to practise your fuelling and re-fuelling strategy during your long training runs. As I mentioned before, peoples metabolisms are different and their fuelling needs may vary greatly. You will also find that, over time, your body becomes more accustomed to endurance exercise and therefore more efficient at using it's fuel stores. I used to start run out of energy after about an hour to an hour and half of exercise. Now I can often go for 2 hours before I start to feel my energy levels dropping.

So, it will require some trial and error. If in doubt, it is better to take more gels with you on your training runs (unlike me on Sunday!) and if you do feel your energy levels dropping, do react to this because if you do hit the wall, it is very difficult to restore your energy levels and recover to the point where you can carry on running.

One final warning. Once you have found a fuelling strategy (both pre-race and during the race) make sure you stick to it on race day. Do this and you can avoid hitting the dreaded wall.

Good luck!

Friday, 15 February 2013

Training talk: Putting Yasso 800's to the test

I am using Yasso 800's as one of my key speed sessions as I train for the Milton Keynes Marathon.

For those not familiar with this session, you run 800 metre reps and use the same amount of time it takes you to run the sprint rep for your recovery (e.g 3:30 mins / 3:30 mins). You start (as I did this morning) by running 4 times 800m and build up to running 10 times 800m. The key to this session (as with all intervals) is to try to hit the same times for all of your 10 reps, although by the time you reach 8, 9 and 10 they are going to be pretty tough!

This session was developed the the legendary runner Bart Yasso. The reason this session is popular with marathon runners is that Bart claims that the time that you can hold for 10 x 800m reps, should indicate what you are capable of running for the marathon. This is a theory that has been put in to practice for many years, with many accomplished marathon runners.

I am going to put the Yasso 800s to the test during my marathon training. At the moment, I am running about 3 mins 30 secs for my 800m reps. My splits this morning were: 3:30 (6:57/m), 3:26(6:55/m), 3:27(6:52/m), 3:28(6:48/m).

Now, given that I am hoping to run sub 3 hrs 30 mins at Milton Keynes. I am hoping to put Bart's session to the test and see if it can help me beg a 15 min marathon PB.

Wow! I feel like Bart Yasso....Wait, that is Bart Yasso!

If you are interested in learning more about Bart Yasso and the Yasso 800s, you can read about them here.

I will keep you updated as my training plan unfolds but in the meantime, I would be interested in your experience of the Yasso 800s. Are you doing/have you done this session? Have you found it to be a good indicator of your marathon time?


Bart took the time to read my blog entry and sent me a reply on Twitter!:

@runrforlife Congrats , love the pic.The reward is living the lifestyle and embracing the journey.
1:01pm · 15 Feb 13 · web

UPDATE (19/4/2013):

I have now completed my full session of Yasso 800s and built up to running 10 reps, all of which I completed in under 3 mins 30 secs. In fact my average pace for the 10 reps today was 6:54m/m, which I was really please with.

So, if Bart's theory is correct, I should be in good shape to hit my target time of sub 3 hrs 30 mins at the Milton Keynes marathon. I will report back after race day on 6th May!


Tuesday, 12 February 2013

What a difference a day (of running) makes....

Generally I am a pretty positive person but having found my long run on Saturday tougher than I expected, combined with still feeling pretty sore (following a recovery run on Monday morning) I had a bit of a moan yesterday. Maybe it was just down to it being Monday, I don't know.

Anyway, what a difference a day makes! I met with Mike this morning and as he is currently involved in a #hillagechallenge on Strava, I swapped out my planned marathon pace 6 miler for a social run through Sharphill Woods. We splashed through boggy, muddy puddles (sometimes up to our calves!) ran up and then and flew down hills in low light conditions (which was slightly scary!) and explored fields in search of a mythical underpass under the A52!

I can see the pub from here!

It was just the sort of tonic I needed. In the end it was probably a tougher session than I had planned but unlike my long run on Saturday it didn't feel like it because we were having so much fun.

Anyway, having been a bit negative yesterday, I wanted to reflect on how different one run can make you feel. The moral of the story is that you are only one run away from feeling good again.

So, if you are feeling a bit fed up, lace up your trainers and go and run somewhere different, explore like you are 10 again, splash through some puddles and get yourself muddy. Remember running is fun!

Monday, 11 February 2013

Is this harder than I remember?

I am now into the 3rd week of my 14 week training schedule for the Milton Keynes marathon and do you know what? I feel absolutely knackered!

The last time I trained for a marathon was a year ago, when I was in training for the Brighton Marathon and I really don't remember it feeling this hard. Particularly this early on in my training. Now, I'm not sure if I just remember it as being easier or if the fact I am pushing for a quicker time (sub 3:30) just means that I am having to push myself to go that much harder?

Thinking about it logically, my first three marathons were run at a pace closer to what I would deem to be a much more comfortable pace. VLM and The Robin Hood Marathon were both run at 9:00 m/m and Brighton at 8:30 m/m. I would say that my 'natural' easy pace is around 8:30 to 8:45 m/m. In order to go under 3 hrs 30 mins at Milton Keynes, I will need to be running at 8:00 m/m for 26.2 miles. Something which still scares me!

The University of Nottingham

I know it's really early days and I even blogged recently about it getting harder before it gets easier but my I found my 14 mile long run this weekend really tough. I switched my LR day to Saturday (as I was due to be going to a party Saturday night and wanted to avoid a #hangoverrun). This meant I wasn't as well recovered, from having run 8 x 400m at 5k pace on Friday. The conditions were quite tough and wearing shorts probably wasn't the best move. I ended up getting really cold and it took me ages to warm up afterwards. I also didn't deal with my post-run fuelling very well, so ended up feeling pretty grotty afterwards! The session itself went well though. I did just under 15 miles with the last 5 at marathon pace and took in the sights of Nottingham Uni and Wollaton Hall as part of the 'old' Robin Hood Half course. It is quite a challenging/hilly route but one I enjoy for the sights.

Bruce Wayne Manor. Also known at Wollaton Hall

I ended up falling asleep on Saturday afternoon (something I rarely do) and rested completely yesterday, apart from some stretching and foam rolling. This morning I went for a 4.5 mile recovery run but my legs still feel pretty battered and I feel like I could sleep for a day!

I have stepped up to running 5 times a week (from 4 times) and this is the only thing I can really point to as being different from how I have trained in the past. I would be really interested in hearing from people who have been/or or are currently at a similar stage in their marathon training. Is this something I should expect as part of the extra training load and increased pace of the MP efforts?


Wednesday, 6 February 2013

My Marathon Majors Mission!

I blogged recently about the positive benefit that committing to and sharing my goals publicly had on my mileage in January.

Sticking to this theme, I wanted to announce publicly that I will be running all 6 of the World Marathon Majors. Granted this is not a particularly huge announcement and it is something that many people have done/are doing. If fact, I know someone who recently attempted all 5 (as they were before the recent addition of Tokyo) in one year. My first marathon in 2011 was the Virgin London Marathon and ever since then, I have thought how cool it would be to run all of the Major Marathons.

I am not going to set myself any time limit on completing all of the 6 Majors, I just know that over the course of my (running) life, I would like to be able to experience them all.

Recent unvailing of Tokyo as part of the WMM Series

I will be making a step in the right direction in September this year as I have a place in the 40th Berlin Marathon. My flights and hotel are booked and I am very much looking forward to running this iconic race, as well as experiencing all that Berlin as a city has to offer.

Assuming all goes well, this will leave me with Boston, Chicago, New York and Tokyo still left to do. Something which makes me very excited about my future in running.

Are runners the worst at taking advice?

Injuries - Annoying for everyone
I was out running last night with Mike (@mikew30) as part of our new regular #Tuesdayrunclub social run and we got to talking about injuries.

Now, I have been quite fortunate that over the 4 years or so that I have been running. I have managed to stay relatively injury free. Mike also commented that he had managed to dodge any serious injuries, although judging by some of the decisions he has made following a twisted ankle on the squash court, I can only conclude that he has some sort of Wolverine-like super steel running through his bones and joints.....only without the claws......and the beard....

We both acknowledged that we, as runners were far better at dishing out advice to other injured runners than we were at actually taking that advice and applying it to our own situations. I suspect most have us have been there at some point. I know I have had a couple of niggles and near injuries, particularly whilst preparing for marathons recently. And I whilst I have dropped the odd run or swapped out a tough session for something a bit easier, I do admit to finding any deviation from my training plan very difficult.

When running becomes so ingrained in our daily routine, it feels odd not to be running when you normally would or to have to substitute a run with a session on the cross trainer (something I did whilst training for the Brighton Marathon and absolutely hated!) You only have to look or listen to anyone who is tapering, or worse still, injured to know how frustrating it can be.

Your safe haven of Twitter, where you can share your exploits and talk to all those like-minded running buddies becomes a living nightmare as you see person after person logging run after run. Or worse still, those countless tweets from well-wishers with offers of useful (but ultimately frustrating) advice. Your timeline fills up with messages like "Chin up mate. You'll be back soon. Make sure you get plenty of rest and recover properly". (Something I am frequently guilty of!)

Mike was detirmined to bag a PB!

So, the moral of the story is, if you do feel a bit of a niggle in your ankle or a tight hammie. Think about what advice you would give to a fellow runner and more importantly, listen to that advice. Remember, we are not all Wolverine!

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Milton Keynes Marathon - Training plan reveal

Those of you that follow me on Twitter may have already caught a glimpse of my training plan for the Milton Keynes Marathon (on 6th May). I am hoping to go under 3 hrs 30 mins, which will be a significant PB, given my current best is 3:44 (at Brighton in 2012).

This will be my 3rd marathon and although I have learnt a great deal from training for and running those 3 races, I am far from being an expert. I thought it would be useful to post the details here, so that others running a Spring marathon can compare it with what they are doing, so those considering a marathon can see what training is involved and hopefully, so I can receive some useful feedback.

My training plan has evolved from taking a simple training plan from Runners World and adding to it sessions that I have read or heard about and by learning what has worked (or not!) for me in the past. The only real change that I have made from my Brighton Marathon training is the introduction of more 'race paced' running and I have stepped up from running 4 days per week to running 5 days per week, just because conventional wisdom suggests I should be doing more miles. Although it is not detailed on the plan, I also do one day of simple strength/core work and some stretching.

Milton Keynes Marathon training plan

This plan is an an evolved version (albeit a significant one) of the training plan I used for my first half marathon in 2007, so I am conscious that I could be reaching a plateau. If I don't hit sub 3:30 at Milton Keynes, I will be looking for ideas to make some significant changes to my training for the Berlin Marathon in September.

Thanks for looking and I welcome any comments!

Monday, 4 February 2013

Tech review - Garmin Sync

I will say right from the start that I am not particularly technically minded. I can get by when it comes to computers but I am far from being an expert. So anything that is going to make my life easier has got to be worth a look.

There are so many websites available that will allow you to log your runs/rides/walks these days that it can be a bit of a mission to upload your activities to them all if (like me) you are using multiple sites. Some, such as Fetcheveryone rely on you adding your activities manually or by uploading your Garmin files. Others, such as Strava and Runkeeper have apps that use the GPS in your smartphone to record your runs (in fact Strava also allows you to upload runs from your Garmin device).

I use my Garmin 405 watch to record the majority of my runs and I use Fetcheveryone as my principle training log. However, I will sometimes use Runkeeper on my iPhone if my Garmin is not around/out of charge. I have also recently started to use Strava because a number of my friends use it and I enjoy the social elements, the challenges and the fact you can bag CR's/KOM's for particular segments of your runs or rides.

I have looked in the past for a tool that would allow me to interact with these various sites but not have to use up half of my day manually uploading them! I recently (after running a Google search) came across Garmin Sync which allows you to set the site to automatically upload your Garmin Connect activities to both Strava and Runkeeper. It also (and this was something I particularly liked) allows to upload all of your historic activities. This meant that although I was late to the party with Strava, I was able to very easily and quickly upload all of my old runs, thereby giving me a chance to compete with my friends on the various challenges!

My only initial gripe with Garmin Sync is that it did not copy across the name of the activity if you had given the activity a name in Garmin Connect but this has been fixed in a recent update.

So, if like me, you want to be able to automatically upload your Garmin activities to Runkeeper and/or Strava quickly and efficiently, give Garmin Sync a try!

It's darkest before the light.....

I am just one week into my 14 week training program for the Milton Keynes Marathon and I am at that horrible stage in your training where you are doing more mileage and tougher sessions than you have for some time and it feels really hard!

Despite running more over the Christmas period than I have in previous years and having just come off of a good month of base building thanks to #Jantastic and #basemileblast (see my previous post), I am really feeling the miles and sessions of the previous week.

The thing is, the week that I have just logged wasn't even that tough. Not in the grand scheme of things and not when compared to the weeks to come. I did a 4 mile recovery run on Monday. A 6 mile run (with 2 miles at tempo) on Tuesday morning, followed my an impromptu 3.8 mile tempo run with Mike and Nick in the evening (actually that was quite a tough day!). I rested on Wednesday, just doing some strength/core work and stretching. Thursday was an easy 10k. Friday was 5.5 miles including 6 x 400m @ 6:45m/m. I rested completely on Saturday and my Sunday long run was just over 12 miles which included 2 x 2 miles at target marathon pace (8:00m/m). That's only 37 miles for the week. My longest week will be almost double that!

I actually felt stronger towards the end of my long run yesterday but to think I will be running twice that distance as my longest training run is a terrifying thought at this stage! At the moment it really does feel like that period just before dawn, when things really are at their darkest.

Thankfully I have been here before, so I know that things are going to feel harder before they feel easier. So, if you are staring at your training program and are wondering how you are going to be able to complete those longer training runs or tougher sessions, just trust your training and know that as sure as the sun will rise, you will get stronger!