A week has now passed since the Paris Marathon, and I’ve spent the last 7 days reflecting on the experience and what I (and 40,171 other people) have achieved.
Paris is one of my favourite cities having lived there about 20 years ago – so I was looking forward to a weekend in this special city. Of course it was no ordinary weekend – it included a 26.2 mile (or 42.19km) run taking in some of the world’s most iconic sights. And the weather was stunning too – albeit a bit hot for such a run.
After the lower back injury that I sustained 3 weeks before, I had been “signed off” by Jess, my osteopath and fellow BeaRCat runner, who said I was ready to go and attempt my goal of a sub 4 hour marathon. I was excited and nervous, but thankful that the week before was busy with work and various other things, giving me little time to worry or think about the impending challenge.
Nicky and I flew across on the Saturday morning and headed straight to the runners’ expo where we picked up our bibs, took in the pre-race atmosphere and had a typical French brasserie lunch, before checking into our hotel. A carb-loading feast ensued and we were tucked up in bed by 10.30pm ready for a good 8 hours sleep.
We woke to bright blue skies and sunshine streaming into the room and after an eventful breakfast (where I got stuck in the hotel lift for a tense 10 minutes) we headed onto the Metro towards the start-line at Charles de Gaulle – Étoile and the Arc de Triomphe.
There was a bit of hanging around at the start before our wave was sent on our way – and at about 9.40 we were off! It was quite something to run down the Champs-Elysées and around Place Concorde. The atmosphere was incredible. The crowds were out in force with motivational bands playing along the route. I made every effort to absorb all of the sights and sounds and enjoy the experience of running the marathon after all the weeks of training. I was aware of my back though-out, nervous that at any point it could go, but I am amazed to say that it held out.
The first 16 miles went well. I was following my pace band – with a 3 hour 55 target in my sights. And then it all started to unravel. The 17th mile was TOUGH. I was a whole minute slower and my legs were starting to tire. I picked it up again between 18 and 20 miles – but only by 30 seconds a mile – so still slower than the pace I needed to get that sub 4 hour goal. Mile by mile, I saw this goal slip from my grasp… At this point, it was about getting around, and in as fast a pace as I could. I regularly tucked into the water at each water station – the conditions were hot! And I consumed all 6 of my gels by the 23rd mile. The last 6 miles/10k were gruelling. It took every ounce of motivation to keep plodding on.
I finally crossed the line in 4:05:26 – a whole 11 minutes faster than my last London Marathon in 2010. So, despite not achieving the sub 4 hour goal – I’m mightily pleased with my achievement. And yes, it’s just a matter of when and where, but I will definitely do another!
The marathon would not have been possible if it hadn’t have been for a number of people, so my huge thanks must go to:
1. Jess from The Maris Practice – Jess performed her magic on my lower back, and alignment over a number of sessions in the 3 weeks running up to the big day. And what’s even more incredible is that there have been no issues post-marathon – it seems to have healed completely. It was also a bonus that Jess – a runner as well – had loads of great advice as well as her healing hands!
2. The BeaRCat Running Club – my thanks and congratulations to fellow BeaRCats who ran the Paris Marathon also – Nicky, Alison, John, Lee, Geoff and Chris. And of course to our leader Caitlin – who was running the Brighton Marathon at the same time along with a number of other BeaRCats. They are an incredible bunch of people first, and runners second, and I am proud to wear the BeaRCat vest.
3. Sporting Feet in Richmond – Thanks to Dominic and the gang at Sporting Feet in Richmond who helped me with the most important foundation of running – that of my trainers, along with fabulous advice and support when choosing my Garmin and other running paraphernalia. They are great supporters of local running in the community through their sponsorship of local races, as well as being a friendly bunch of people if you want to pop into the shop and have a natter.
4. Local Races and Parkruns – a huge thank you to all the volunteers who selflessly give up their time to help organise these races which are such an important part of our training regimes. Particular mention and thanks goes to the Richmond Half Marathon, Thames Riverside Half Marathon, the Thameside 20 and Old Deer Park Parkrun organisers and volunteers.
5. Hot Yoga in Richmond – throughout my training I attended a weekly Bikram Method Hatha Yoga class with Jonny and his team of great teachers at Hot Yoga in Richmond. I ramped up my yoga while I was injured through the last 3 weeks ahead of the marathon, and I think this helped maintain my fitness, while ensuring I was giving my body the stretching and loosening that it needed, not to mention the benefits of mindfulness.
My final thanks goes out to all family and friends who sponsored me and Nicky. We have raised over £1,000 (including gift aid) for two extremely important charities – Alzheimer’s Society and Mind. Both Nicky and I both have personal reasons for raising funds for these charities – and we’re so very grateful for everyone’s kind donations.
So, as I sign-off on my final instalment of The 4Ps series, my final take-away is that while things in life might not go perfectly to plan, it’s what we learn and experience along the way that’s important, which all adds to the great adventure that is life!
Thank you for reading and happy running!
Last Sunday I celebrated after my 22 miler – the longest and last of my long runs – was over. Mostly, because it signified the beginning of the taper – time to ease off the training in the last three weeks running up to Paris! But boy was that a mistake to celebrate so early…
I woke on Monday morning feeling a little weary but not too bad considering the long run the day before and set off to work with a spring in my step. I was feeling proud of my training and lucky that I’d managed to avoid any significant injuries or illness throughout.
My smugness did not last long however, as mid-morning I rose from my chair to go make a cup of tea and my lower back went into spasm. I could barely stand up! I was puzzled at first and then started to panic… What had happened? What did this mean for my last few weeks of training? What did this mean for Paris?!
I didn’t think that the injury had been sustained during the run but then remembered I had hauled a couple of heavy stones across the garden after my long run which when combined with the tiredness post run must have resulted in this injury. Typical! It’s true what they say about wrapping yourself up in cotton wool for the taper!
As the day progressed, so did the pain… I was supposed to go to yoga that night but jacked that in and struggled home to see if a good night’s sleep would sort me out.
Day two came and I had to trek across town to get a train to Norwich for a work trip. Lugging a bag across town was not fun! The pain wasn’t getting any better and it was quickly dawning on me that I would have to rest off the running for a while to be in with a chance of getting better ahead of Paris.
I managed a yoga class on Thursday night which did seem to help and by Friday the pain was disappearing, replaced more by a general stiffness and niggle.
Meanwhile I had booked myself into the local The Maris Practice to see Jess – fellow BeaRCat Runner – for some osteopathy on Saturday. Jess confirmed that I had sprained my lower back but that I should be okay for the Paris Marathon, provided I rested a few more days and then eased myself gently back into the running. She realigned my pelvis, did some manipulation of my lower back and loosened my shoulders and neck which had built up some tension throughout my training and sent me on my way.
It was reassuring to chat to Jess and to hear that my fitness shouldn’t suffer too much with this dramatic stop to my training (rather than a taper) but even so, psychologically it is hard to get my head around the fact that I haven’t run now for a week and I have a 26.2 mile run in just 14 days’ time…
Have I done enough training to get me through and in the time that I want?
I guess time will only tell and in the meantime, I just need to trust my training, trust the advice from Jess and get over these taper tantrums!
…Down to the Paris Marathon. With a little over 4 weeks to go, I thought it would be a good time to reflect on where I’ve come and where I’ve still got to go!
There are so many sayings and clichés about how running is a great metaphor for life – the ups and downs you experience, the highs and lows – from the mental torture, the utter fatigue that the body endures… and the great enlightenment too. I find it great thinking time – people think I’m crazy to run without music – but I love where my mind takes me, and the stuff I resolve in my head when on a long run.
For me, there is no greater therapy than running and what’s more… it is FREE! Well sort of… all you need is a good set of trainers and you’re off. Beware though… once you get the bug, you’ll find it is far from free… all those race entry fees, gels, hydration tablets, protein shakes, Garmins… they all add up! But, in my mind it’s more than worth it. I love the sense of achievement when you tick off another week on the training programme, and when you add another medal to your collection of race ‘bling’… it all adds to an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. Running should come with a health warning though for friends and social networks ;-)… we runners are renowned running bores. GUILTY! Deep down we only hope to inspire not to bore… ha!
But back to the point of this post – where have I come? Well a long way according to my Nike Plus app. I am 370 miles into my 550 mile training programme. That’s just short of the distance between London and Edinburgh.
Last Sunday I ran my furthest distance so far this year – with the Thames Riverside 20-miler, organised by the Clapham Chasers. Back in 2010 this race took me 3:15:38 and this time I managed to break the 3 hour mark, coming in at 2:58:02 – that’s almost 18 minutes faster! This gives me great hope for my target of a sub 4 hour time at Paris… but it does come with its consequences. I’ve been feeling really tired this week – heavy-limbed, achy, lethargic. Perhaps I overdid it? Lesson learnt. It’s so important to listen to your body and to scale back the training and intensity if you need to.
There’s still some way to go. I’ve got another half marathon this weekend. And then my longest run of all the following weekend. Then it’s just a question of hoping that everything drops into place on the day and having the strength of mind and body to keep on running when I hit the wall! Simple :-)
9 weeks down, 7 to go!
It’s a great feeling to be past the halfway point in my training for the Paris Marathon… and so to test my progress and see whether I’m on track for my goal (sub 4 hours), today I took part in my first race of the year… The Old Deer Park Richmond Half Marathon organised by Energized Sports.
After a good night’s sleep and a guilt-free carb-heavy dinner, I woke to a frosty but beautifully sunny morning… I had my usual breakfast of porridge, blueberries and banana, followed by a pint of water mixed with a High5 Sports Zero Active Hydration tablet (packed full of essential electrolytes).
Nicky picked me up and we headed the short distance to Old Deer Park in Richmond, joining fellow BeaRCat Runners Sarah and Kerry for a pre-race selfie… And then we were off!
The course is made up of a little over 2 loops, starting in Old Deer Park, and heading around Kew Gardens down the Kew Road, and back along the Thames towpath. From there it goes up into Richmond, around the green, and back down to the towpath, up the steps to Twickenham Bridge and back into and through Old Deer Park… And then repeat. The course had been adjusted slightly as there was considerable water in Old Deer Park from the high tides over the last few days.
It was a beautiful morning for a run and despite the wet and muddy towpath and grassy areas of Old Deer Park, the course was flat and enabled me to get my fastest half marathon to date of 1:49:33 – crucially sneaking under the 1:50 mark!
Now this is significant for me – as I aim for a sub-4 hour Paris Marathon… In order to give yourself the best chance of completing the marathon in under 4 hours, apparently you should be running sub 1:50 halfs… so at just over the halfway point in my training, it’s a good feeling to get this result. There’s still loads to do, and many risks to combat, but for today, I’m going to relish the moment!
7 weeks down, 9 to go!
Over the last couple of weeks I have been thinking a lot about my pace and how I ensure I achieve my ultimate target of a sub 4 hour Paris Marathon… so, in the immortal words of Top Gun “I feel the need… the need for speed!” this post is focused on time, and how I am going to give myself the best possible chance of achieving this goal.
An intelligent training plan requires a mixture of distance, speed and hill training as well as general recovery runs, and over the last couple of weeks I have not only been building up the distance, but I’ve also been focusing my training on speed with some tough interval sessions, and a couple of park runs.
With speed in mind, I was chatting to Dominic at my local running shop in Richmond – Sporting Feet – during the week about taking my training to the next level. At the moment I am training with my Nike Plus app which is a great free app that records routes, pace etc… but what it doesn’t give me is immediate feedback whenever I need it on the run.
So I asked Dom to talk me through his recommendations on a good GPS watch that’s going to give me the instant feedback that I need. Sporting Feet caters first and foremost for anyone who is looking for sports shoes – be it for running, tennis, squash or generally for the gym. But they also have a great selection of accessories for running – from belts to bottles, and gels to gadgets, and in particular we talked through the Garmin Forerunner range, and which model would suit me and my needs best:
- Garmin Forerunner 10 – an excellent entry level Garmin that GPS tracks how far and fast you’re running, as well as calories burned. You can also set yourself goals through the virtual pacer and it has motivational features too telling you when you’ve achieved a personal record – for example, a fastest mile. The 10 comes in a range of bright colours and at £100 is excellent value.
- Garmin Forerunner 15 – with all the features of the 10 and more, this watch when paired with the heart rate strap records your heart rate and heart rate zone so you know when you should be pushing harder or reining it in. At £150, this is a great option for those that want “to run with all their heart”.
- Garmin Forerunner 620 – this GPS watch is for the data geeks amongst you. With its touchscreen, high resolution colour display, this is for those that want to crunch and analyse everything from distance, pace and heart rate, to cadence, ground contact time and vertical oscillation, and everything in between. But at £360 for the watch and heart rate monitor this is not for the faint-hearted ;-) but for those that are really serious about their tech.
At first I felt that that the Forerunner 10 would be sufficient for my needs, but as Dom rightly explained, if I am thinking about my pace, and aiming for a particular time, the heart rate monitor will provide me with additional feedback to help me know if I am pushing myself hard enough. So, after mulling it over, I’ve put in my order for the Garmin Forerunner 15. I’m excited now about putting it through its paces, and me through mine! Thanks to Dom and the team at Sporting Feet for the ongoing advice.
Week 5 of 16 was about building strength – through some alpine hill-training, and my longest run so far. Here are the highlights as recorded by my Nike Plus app:
But the real highlights of my week were a couple of firsts… I participated in my first Parkrun, AND I had my screen debut at BAFTA in a short film made for the launch of Bupa’s new Health and Wellbeing app – Bupa Boost.
First things first. My first ever Parkrun. This was at Old Deer Park in Richmond. I was pretty nervous ahead of this, not really knowing what to expect. But, largely this was down to it being timed, which instantly gives me a surge of adrenalin and nerves. But there was no need to be nervous. Of course, as everyone says, these events are organised by a wonderful bunch of volunteers or “voluncheers”, who selflessly give up their Saturday mornings to encourage and facilitate these great 5k races. They are an excellent way to improve speed, if like me, that’s what you’re looking to do, or indeed just to motivate you to run. It is a wonderfully inclusive event, that caters for all running abilities. I’m hooked and will be trying out a few different Parkruns in the Richmond area over the coming weeks, not least to try and beat my time ;-)
And now for my second first of the week… my screen debut at the home of BAFTA, 195 Piccadilly. This is a very exclusive venue, limited to BAFTA members only, or corporates who use it for special events… In this case, it was for the latter, and a special event for Bupa’s new Boost app – a fun way to stay fit and healthy. The app cleverly enables you to pull in all your data from wearables and health tracking apps so you can aggregate the data in one place. It encourages you to set personal goals, and track your progress – against yourself and against your friends/family. So, when I was asked to feature in the film, I of course jumped at the opportunity!
You can watch the film here. My starring role kicks in at about 45 seconds…
And because there’s been lots of other stuff going on this week, here are some other photos from the week.
Monday’s hill training in Switzerland:
On Tuesday I swapped the Brooks for Salomons, and a different kind of run:
And here’s a selfie from the end of my 16-miler on Sunday with fellow BeaRCat runners Moni and Ali, training for London and Paris Marathons, respectively:
Week 4 of 16 was all about building a base… Appropriate as I write this overlooking a snowy Bruson, opposite Verbier in Switzerland, where the snow base is still building after an unseasonably mild winter so far.
I arrived last night for a few days to celebrate 10 years of Bramble Ski – my brother’s ski business.
Before I set off, I completed my final run of the week – a very cold 14-miler along the Thames – taking my week’s mileage to 32, and 74 miles for the month so far.
Not only did I complete my longest run since October 2014, but I also concentrated on speed again on Tuesday, with another tempo session similar to last week’s.
Interval speed sessions are important when you’re looking to improve pace, but the other effective way to do this is to incorporate some good hill workouts… And what better place to plan some hill training than in the Alps! The last time I was here in July, I took part in the Liddes-Verbier trail run, an 18-miler with an ascent of over 2,500m… I won’t be completing anything quite as challenging this week but tomorrow’s run will concentrate on hill reps, and in so doing I hope to build power and strength into my legs, and in turn speed.
3 down, 13 to go!
According to my Nike Plus Coach Programme, last week was about “Laying the Groundwork” for the remainder of my Paris Marathon training by increasing distance and taking on the longest run of my training so far.
The highlights of my week’s running was my tempo run with the BeaRCat Runners on Wednesday… and my long run on Saturday. Both were tough. But both were great for that very reason. Unless I feel as though I’ve gone through some kind of pain barrier, I don’t feel I’m making progress with my running – supporting that “no pain, no gain” theory!
The tempo run involved 5 x 300m at 85% effort (or Park Run pace) along the river between Richmond Bridge and the rowing boathouses, parallel with Petersham Road and past Gaucho and The Bingham, with recovery runs in between. These kind of runs can’t be done as successfully alone – so thank you to the BeaRCats for pushing me through it.
My long run of 12 miles took in the 7.5 miles perimeter of Richmond Park with a few miles either side to get there and back. The weather on Saturday morning was not ideal with blustery winds and torrential rain at the half-way point, but again, that adds to the feeling of satisfaction when you get home and jump in the bath (hot one for me… I haven’t quite reached ice bath status).
Richmond Park is always a beautiful place to run around with lots of wonderful views and wildlife to take in – and none more so than last Saturday – when a herd of deer decided to make a mad dash for it across my path. It was a magical moment, which I was happy to capture on camera.
The other highlight of my week was hitting my 200th run in a year – and with it completing a total of 1336 miles – I wonder if I can beat that this year?!
Week 2 of 16 complete! Week 2’s Paris Marathon training was focused on the “Fundamentals”, following the “Warm Up” week before.
Although I only ticked off 11 of my requisite 29 running miles last week (during Sunday’s long run), I covered many more than that on skis during an amazing ski break to the stunning resort of Söll in Austria.
Given Week 2 involved more ski runs than running, my focus for last week’s review is going to be on another fundamental of running – that of running shoes!
To welcome in the New Year, I headed to my local running shop – Sporting Feet in Richmond – to be fitted for a new pair of trainers (depending on your running style, trainers should be replaced every 300-500 miles). I was looked after by Miles (appropriately named ;-)) who provided me with a very interesting fitting experience.
The experience started with a foot scan using Aetrex’s iStep technology. This advanced system uses state-of-the-art digital scanners and multiple pressure sensors, to accurately measure foot size and width, and determine arch type and pressure points quickly and effectively.
The scan takes a mere 30 seconds before revealing your arch type. In my case – I have a medium arch type. Apparently this is the ideal shape for running as the arch is more likely to be flexible and help absorb impact.
A medium arch tends to indicate a “Neutral” running style – with 20% of people fitting into this category. A neutral runner is thought to be more bio-mechanically efficient and balanced, with the foot pronating normally to absorb impact, and the heel and ankle staying in a mainly vertical position during running.
However, my scan suggested that I may slightly over-pronate on my right foot, with my left foot being neutral. Around 70% of people are said to over-pronate, which results in the foot and ankle rolling in excessively, thereby increasing the risk of injuries.
The second stage of the fitting experience involved two squat tests – which are designed to confirm visually the information gleaned from the digital foot scan. Miles, asked me to stand with my legs shoulder-width apart and my feet facing straight forwards. I then sat down into a squat position. Miles was looking to see if my knees were pointing inwards or directly forward. As suspected, my right knee pointed slightly inwards, confirming the over-pronation in my right foot, while my left knee pointed straight forwards.
The second test consisted of a single squat test. Again, standing with my legs shoulder-width apart and my feet facing straight forwards, Miles asked me to squat down on my right leg only, followed by left leg. As before, he was looking to see if my knees were pointing forwards or inwards. My right knee continued to point slightly inwards.
Based on the three tests, Miles recommended I go for a light supported shoe to help limit the over-pronation in my right foot.
The next stage was the exciting one – deciding which trainers to go for! I’ve always been a bit of a Brooks fan and they are good for people with wider feet (like me!). I opted for the new Ravenna 6 style which has just been released… my new running shoes for the New Year!
So, go on… start this 2015 on the right foot, and go and get fitted for some new trainers :-)
Week 1 of 16 done! This week was considered a “Warm-Up” week, aimed at getting me back into the swing of training six times a week after some time off post Norwich Half Marathon in November.
It was a tough week all-in-all – I felt quite stiff and achy at the beginning – and it’s been hard work juggling the runs with all the festivities. The week’s training included a mixture of running, cross-training (Bikram-Method Yoga) and rest, as follows: I was staying at my brother’s down in Rowland’s Castle for Christmas, and it was a welcome change to run some new routes – they just happened to be my fastest of the week too :-) Here are a couple of photos from this week’s runs – the first on Christmas Day as it was such a beautiful day and the second was taken on Saturday’s long run (my last long run of 2014), which ended under a stunning sunset!