Just as I’ve become a bit of a part-time Bearcat Club runner, I’ve become a part-time blogger… not because I have no love for either, simply that life is busy and other things get in the way. 

But I need to finish the story that I started at the end of last year with my article in the Bearcat Winter Newsletter, when I embarked on this year’s running challenge – the Paris Marathon in April – and my fourth attempt at going under the 4 hour mark.

The good news for those that don’t fancy reading this all the way through is that I succeeded! I completed the 42.2 kms around the stunning Paris streets in 3 hours 57 minutes and 12 seconds.

For those that do want to read on, I put this success down to four things: 

1/ SMART Goals

2/ Personal Training

3/ Experience

4/ Advice and Support

SMART GOALS

More commonly applied in our work lives, it’s true that success does come from setting Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely goals.

I’ve always followed a training plan while working towards a marathon, but perhaps my goal hasn’t always been realistic, or I haven’t focused enough on a particular part of the programme to get the results I needed. This time around I was much more disciplined in my approach to my plan, and knowing my weaknesses are speed and strength, I signed up to some personal training at my local gym – The Training Works in St Margarets.

PERSONAL TRAINING

I was told I was lucky to have James as my trainer as he’s in such high demand! And he didn’t disappoint. I signed up for a programme to kick-start my training through-out December and into January with the aim of increasing my running speed and efficiency. After an initial session where James assessed my overall condition, the areas we focused on were balance and core strength, my range of motion, and power and strength. Come February, my running training programme picked up pace and my PT programme came to a conclusion so I could focus solely on racking up the mileage.

EXPERIENCE

I’ve run a few races now which all help prepare you for what’s to come and the winter months of tough training. Early mornings in the dark, not to mention running in the cold and sometimes wet weather. And with a few training races lined up – Hampton Court Half, and the Riverside 20 miler – and my focus on increasing my pace, I got stuck into my 18 week programme which culminated with race day on the 3rd April.

It definitely helped to have gone through previous training programmes – to learn what worked well the last time, what didn’t and where I needed the extra advice and support…

ADVICE & SUPPORT

I sat with Caitlin, founder of the Bearcats over lunch at Hei-Hing in Isleworth, and she reviewed my training plan based on much more experience than mine – she told me to be realistic about how many runs to do per week – I was starting a new job in January and she was right to suggest that this would impact on my training. So I cut my runs to four a week, whereas attempts before I would have typically run five or six times a week. She stressed it was about quality not quantity and to really concentrate on my speed work – with different types of interval training and hill training, if I was to dramatically improve my speed.

FOUR IS THE LUCKY NUMBER

Race day arrived and a gang of us from TRO (where I used to work) were running in memory of the late Tom Gentle – a friend and colleague who was taken from us tragically this time last year. The sun was shining and Paris looked spectacular. I was feeling confident knowing that I had prepared well and had taken on board all the great advice I’d received. I was focused on the job in hand.

Everything seemed to go to plan. I felt strong throughout. I didn’t hit the wall. There was fabulous support out on the course and importantly, I enjoyed it! And 3 hours 57 minutes later I crossed the line knowing that everything had come together as planned/hoped.

Sometimes it can take a number of attempts to succeed in what we want to achieve – and when we finally do, it’s all the sweeter for it. In my case, it was fourth time lucky.

Thank you to the support crew of Nicky and the rest of the TRO crew who were there to support on the course and there to celebrate at the end. And to Tom Gentle – a great man who will never be forgotten.

Thanks to Caitlin and the Bearcat gang who are so incredibly supportive despite me being an infrequent member of the club, James of The Training Works gym in St Margarets and the Paris Marathon organisation for putting on a fantastic race. I’ll definitely be back to pound those Parisienne pavements again…

Sarah Mayo at Paris Marathon 2016
Sarah Mayo at Paris Marathon 2016

X

It’s been six months since I last blogged…

While that might sound more like an introduction at a Bloggers Anonymous gathering, it’s true that I’ve neglected the blog since I ran the Paris Marathon back in April… mainly as I’ve been preoccupied with summer, work and a building project on my flat. But now that autumn’s here, and I’m settled back home, I thought I’d reflect on how my running has progressed since April.

For two months after the marathon, I cut-back on my running, to give my body a well-earnt rest. I joined a local gym and signed up to an 8-week ‘Body-Blast’ programme. I reduced my running from 5 times (40 miles) a week to 2 times (15 miles) a week, and replaced the pounding of pavements with pumping of iron. And, it seemed to pay off…

Royal Parks Half Marathon

On 20th July, I started a 12-week running programme ahead of the Royal Parks Half Marathon, which I took part in last Sunday. My aim was to try and complete the 13.1 miles in 1:45 – previously my PB was 1:49 from March this year – so I was looking to shave a whole 4 minutes off my time.

Straight away I seemed to be faster… and over the weeks I got stronger and faster still. 12 weeks, 380 miles, and 55 runs later I achieved my goal and more, by slipping under the 1:45 target with a 1:44:46 finish time and a new PB!

All this goes to prove to me how valuable it is to give your body a rest every now and again, and also how important it is to build strength training into your running regime – to not only avoid injury, but to carve seconds off your race pace.

Happy running!

x

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 at Paris Expo

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.

Paris Marathon 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.

Paris Marathon Seine

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.

Paris Marathon Finish

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!

Paris Marathon Splits

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!

x

7 weeks down, 9 to go!

Paris Marathon Training

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 Review

  1. 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.
  2. 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”.
  3. 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.

Happy running!

x

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.

Soll Austria Skiing

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.

Sporting Feet Richmond Fitting Service

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.

Squat Test Trainer Fitting

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.

Brooks Ravenna 6 Trainers

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 🙂

Happy Running!

x

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.

Trail Verbier St Bernard

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…

Liddes to VerbierThe 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 view

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!

Sarah Mayo in Verbier

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:

  1. 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”!) My running support crew
  2. 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… Start of Liddes
  3. 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. Sarah Mayo Bearcat Runner
  4. 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. Colin of the Collines
  5. 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.

Santé!

G x

Running has taken over my 2014 so far.

Friday nights come and I find myself looking at my watch at 11pm, thinking I should be home, tucked up in bed, ahead of clocking up the mileage on Saturday mornings. Sunday morning’s early run club means Saturday nights are equally tainted. Monday mornings arrive and when asked how my weekend was, I hear myself wittering on about my “training”… It’s official. I’m a running bore!

workout-bore-ecard

But as much as I might be boring others with my training (I’m so sorry) – I am absolutely LOVING it!

I have just started week 4 of a 9 week training plan for the Richmond Half Marathon that takes place on Sunday 23 March. With 6 weeks to go until the big day, and less than 2 to my first half marathon of 2014 (the Hampton Court Half on 23 February), I thought I’d take this opportunity to share 5 reasons why I’m loving my running so much this year – and maybe this will inspire you with your running or other fitness goals.

  1. Goal setting – at the beginning of 2014, I set myself a number of running challenges, including getting an elusive personal best (PB) time in a half marathon. I’m sure you’ve heard it many times before, but by committing in writing or verbally to friends, this is a sure-fire way to ensure you’re more likely to stick to a goal. It’s then far easier to set yourself a clear plan of how you are going to achieve that goal – for example, downloading a 12 week training programme. goal-setting-photo
  2. Running club – another of my New Year’s Resolutions was to join a running club. Just before Christmas, I joined the lovely BeaRCat Running Club, based out of the Turks Head pub in St Margarets. This run club was founded in early 2012 by Caitlin Limmer, an incredibly passionate and motivational leader. Caitlin works tirelessly to ensure the club is welcoming and unintimidating, and this ethos trickles throughout this lovely community. The club meet every Sunday morning at 8.30am and it requires all powers of motivation to drag myself out of bed at such an hour, but it’s more than worth it! Bearcat runners
  3. Running app – I used to train with a Garmin until it broke about a year ago. Since then I have plodded on with my running without any real idea how fast or how far I was going. This was fine when I didn’t really have any goals, but now that speed is the number one thing I’m trying to improve, it’s essential to measure my progress. I’m absolutely obsessed with my Nike + Running app! The coach feature is my training programme, which I’ve been following religiously so far, and fingers crossed it’s going to get me over that finish line in the time I’m aiming for. running app
  4. Running buddy – running with others is massively motivating. Just as I love running with the BeaRCat Runners on Sunday mornings, I have found another new running buddy in the form of Nicky from work. I can safely say that I would not be pounding those pavements after work, in the cold, wet, windy, dark evenings, if it wasn’t for Nicky. It really has helped both of us with our training so far and we’ve shared some great runs, in and around the beautiful Richmond area. Nicky and Sarah
  5. New gear – all the gear and no idea! There is a lot to be said for investing in some new kit. You will run better if you feel confident and comfortable in your running outfit. New trainers are so important – they should be changed every 300-500 miles – so don’t underestimate how vital it is to have a good pair of trainers with the right support for your running style. Sporting Feet in Richmond provide an excellent fitting service – and BeaRCat Runners benefit from a 10% discount! Sporting Feet

There you have it… I truly hope these 5 thoughts inspire you rather than bore you 🙂

Good luck with your running and other training goals.

G x