Today, the 7th of April, is exactly three months until my next big running challenge and my toughest marathon to date. The new Trail Verbier St Bernard  marathon race takes place on Saturday 7th July between Liddes and Verbier, high in the Swiss Alps.

With four ascents (the largest two of which are at the beginning and the end) and four descents, this marathon climbs 3,570m over the course of the 43.21km route.

Back in 2014, I took part in the baby race of this series, a 2,500m ascent over 30km. Even the baby was a challenging experience (read all about the “Trails and Tribulations” here!), with the obvious key take-out being the need to build more endurance in the legs to tackle those mountains.

I’m quite used to building up the mileage to tackle a distance race around London but how do you train for such a series of climbs in a relatively flat area?

Over the last two years I have found balancing my running with HIIT workouts to be a great way to not only improve my speed but also my strength and endurance – seemingly the perfect complement to an outdoor running programme – and hopefully the answer to this quandary (coupled with as much hill training as I can pack in around Richmond and the surrounding areas).

With 13 weeks to go, I’m now a couple of months into my training programme. But as regulars to running will I’m sure sympathise, getting hill ready is currently the least of my worries, as I’ve recently sustained an injury to my ankle! I started physio this week and the problem is actually with my hips and glutes which are not strong enough (particularly on my right side), so my lower leg and ankle are having to compensate. I’m now tasked with a number of exercises which coupled with regular foam-rollering should hopefully see me able to build up the mileage more significantly over the coming weeks.

While I work through my physio exercises to improve my hip strength and technique, I’ll continue to complement my running with a couple of HIIT workouts a week focused on building more endurance in my quads, glutes and arms, to hopefully help propel me up those mountains come July!

There are a few morals to this story but the main one for me is accepting that nothing ever goes quite to plan when training for a marathon – in fact – when aiming for any goal in life… What’s important is how you respond to inevitable challenges along the way. Keep the faith that every mountain top is within reach if you just keep on climbing.

Wishing all those taking part in the Paris Marathon (a favourite) and other Spring marathons this weekend, all the very best! Enjoy, and relish every mountainous moment.

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

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.

Bruson

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.

Week 4 of Paris Marathon training

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.

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

Week 1 of 16 done! Week 1 of 16 Summary 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: Paris Training Week 1 of 16 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 🙂 Summary of Week 1 runs 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! Christmas Day run Rowlands Castle Twickenham Run

Week 2 of my training is going to suffer somewhat, as I’m heading to the Austrian Alps for some skiing over New Year… will report back next Sunday!
Happy Running and Happy New Year (in advance!)
x

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.

Paris Marathon

  • 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!

x