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

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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!

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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!

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…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.

Week 11 of Paris Marathon Training

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 🙂

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

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.

Paris Marathon Training Week 3

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.

Richmond Bridge

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).

Running with the deer in Richmond Park

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.

My 200th run completed

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?!

Happy running!

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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!

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