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!
If you’re familiar with marketing, you’ll recognise the 4 Ps as the Marketing Mix of product, price, place and promotion.
Just as a marketer would plan the perfect launch of a shiny new product, I’ve applied this thinking to my campaign to successfully realise a Personal Best (PB) at the Paris Marathon on Sunday 12 April 2015.
- Product – in this case, I’m trying to develop/realise the perfectly formed PB. How do I turn my running into a sub 4 hour reality?
- Price – how much is this going to cost me, both physically and mentally (not to mention financially), and how do I find the optimum combination of the two so I don’t burn out too early, by getting injured or all-consumed, to the detriment of day-to-day life?
- Place – on the big day the PB will be attempted/realised in Paris, but the training will take place around London over the next 16 weeks, with a few ski resorts thrown in too!
- Promotion – and we all know that you’re more likely to achieve a goal if you visualise it, and commit it to writing – better still publicly – through a plan, which is where this blog comes in…
I’ve been reading many different programmes, taking advice from some seasoned runners and fellow BeaRCats, as well as reflecting on my own previous experiences of running the London Marathon twice… And the overriding consensus is that there’s no one-size fits all plan. As Dominic from Sporting Feet, Richmond said “It’s about intelligent running” and Caitlin, founder of The BeaRCat Running Club added “Think quality if you are looking for a time…”
We all lead busy lives, and therefore need to be flexible in our approach to training for a big challenge such as this, otherwise we are only setting ourselves up for failure. It does however need to start with a plan, and yes expect to deviate from the plan, but you still need to have a starting point from which to focus and somewhere to return to, when you do go off-piste.
My programme begins tomorrow – Christmas week – a prime example of having to juggle busy lives with running…
My plan is a combination of a Hal Higdon programme, Nike Plus coach, and various other contributors, including Caitlin of the BeaRCats. If you’re interested in reading it, you can view it here: Paris Training Programme.
You can also follow my progress to Paris right here with my weekly review, tips and tricks. And of course, if you’ve got any words of wisdom, I’d love to hear from you.
Happy Christmas and happy running!
Well actually three half… marathons, a 30km trail run, a 10-miler and a 10k.
I can’t quite believe it but tomorrow is December. 2015 is suddenly around the corner. Festive lights and decorations adorn the streets. We wore Christmas jumpers to work last week. And all the talk is of Christmas parties and holidays. So as is tradition at this time of year, it is only right to review the year, and what I’ve learned ahead of another year, and another year of challenges…
In January I set myself a number of running goals and last weekend, I ticked off two of them. I achieved a PB in the Norwich Half Marathon (taking a whole 2 seconds off my previous PB set at Richmond in March!) and at the same time I completed my sixth and final running challenge of the year.
The conditions last weekend were pretty nasty. Even Steve Gill (who we met taking part in his 31st of 52 half marathons in as many weeks, on behalf of the RNLI) said it was the wettest he had run all year! And my pre-race preparations hadn’t gone to plan… I had a cough and a cold in the few days running up to the event, so was feeling decidedly nervous. Especially having followed a 12 week training programme in an attempt to try to slip under the 1:50 mark. But, as I was to learn, training programmes don’t always go to plan.
So while I was pounding through the puddles in Norfolk last Sunday, I began to think about my greatest take-outs and learnings from my running this year. And, I think I can summarise them as follows:
- Set a plan, and then plan for the plan not to go to plan… Caitlin (founder of the BeaRCats) said this in a marathon motivational talk a couple of Sundays ago. Whatever plan you set, you can be sure something will crop up to disrupt it, whether it’s a holiday, a cough, or an injury.
- Listen to your body. If you are ill or injured, take it easy. It can be the most frustrating thing to sit still and not to don those running shoes, but in the long run, it will pay off.
- Run your own race. When training or discussing target race times, try not to compare yourself to others. Running is so relative, and we all have our different strengths and weaknesses.
- Know your strengths and weaknesses. And plan your training accordingly. I know my weakness is speed, so I need to mix up my training a bit more – by doing more hills, speed training, and strength training.
- And most of all, have fun and don’t put too much pressure on yourself!
While I reflect on a year of great running, I think of all the new memories (and medals!) I have. Running is about staying fit (and sane), but it’s also about community, and my running year would not have been the same had it not been for my running buddies – Nicky and Sion, and the BeaRCat Running Club.
It has been such a source of support knowing that I’m surrounded by a group of like-minded people who are all as passionate about running as me… and as I enter 2015, and embark on the next challenge, in the form of the Paris Marathon, I do so in the knowledge that I have a great support network of running friends. And this makes me very excited about next year and the adventures to come.
Happy Running, Happy Christmas and all the best for 2015!
On Saturday I took part in the Liddes-Verbier 29km trail run in the Swiss Alps, the baby race of the Trail Verbier St-Bernard family.
In the lead up to the run, I’ve been following a 14 week training programme of around 500 miles, and definitely not enough hills! It was my friend Tori that first introduced me to trail running – when in 2012 and 2013 we took part in the Eco Trail de Paris and the Beaujolais Villages Trail together. With their combined ascents of 1,250m, this 29km at 1,498m altitude, with a climb of 2,500m+ was always going to be tougher…
The run consists of two big ascents, the first of which is higher than Snowdon (1,085m) and the second higher than Ben Nevis (1,344m)! And with fog and rain welcoming us at about 2,000m on both climbs it sadly meant we missed out on enjoying the stunning scenery of the St Bernard region.
The descents were pretty treacherous also – technical terrain made very muddy and slippy by a number of days of persistent rain. Given all of this, I was pretty pleased to arrive in Verbier in 6 hours 31 mins, in 127th place (27th in my category) and pick up my finisher’s t-shirt!
Throughout, I had a lot of time to think. When not trying to work out how long until the next check point or where to plant my next pole, I began thinking that trail running is a great metaphor for life. There are ups and downs, there are twists and turns, slips and tumbles, blood, sweat and tears, but there is always one constant… the people around you, the people that help you through the tough times as well as the good times.
It’s these people that helped me complete this challenge, and my heartfelt gratitude goes out to them all:
- My support crew of sister-in-law Miki and nieces Sana and Fumi – from the start at Liddes, to the half-way point at Lourtier, to the end in Verbier – it was such a welcoming sight to see their smiling faces supporting me come rain or shine! (And sorry Sana for “STILL talking about that silly run”!)
- Organisers, supporters and fellow runners - races like this take so much organisation, especially in inclement weather as it was this past weekend. My thanks to all those supporters/volunteers who were out in force along the route shouting “Bravo” or “You crazy trail runners!” and my fellow runners who picked me up with words such as “Courage” when I paused to rest or literally picked me up when I slipped and fell…
- The BeaRCat Running Club – I was proud to wear my BeaRCat running vest, promoting this great running club around the Swiss Alps! I’ve been a member since the end of last year, and this fab community has provided so much friendly support and sage advice over this short space of time.
- Family and friends – A huge thanks to all my family and friends who have patiently been there for me over the last few months throughout all my training. For all your encouragement and lovely words of support, I’m forever grateful.
- And finally, my brother Colin – as I said earlier, my event was only the baby distance and it is with awe that I write about my brother who completed the daddy of the races – a gruelling 105km route, over a 7,500m ascent, in an incredible time of 22 hours 38 minutes, finishing in a staggering 46th place (12th in his category). I thought of him a great deal throughout my race, having started 8 hours before me, and knowing that he would finish around 8 hours after me (at 3.30am). When the climbs were tough, the thought of Colin somewhere nearby in the mountains kept on driving me forward. What an achievement Col, I’m massively proud of you. (It’s also just occurred to me that ‘colline’ in French means ‘hill’ – very apt that he should be so at home in the hills!!)
My closing thought may seem clichéd but I can’t argue with it… We all run our own races in life… We can’t compare our chapter 37 to someone else’s chapter 40… So, whatever your goal or race be proud of what you achieve, and don’t forget it’s the people around you that are important. They are the greatest prize of all. And so it’s to them and you, that I wholeheartedly thank and dedicate this post.