It’s a little over a week since I completed the Verbier St Bernard Marathon Trail in the beautiful Swiss Alps – ascending and descending 3,500 metres – in just under 13 hours. I’ve had plenty of time now to reflect on the experience – the ups and downs, and the highs and lows – physically, mentally and emotionally.

The greatest realisation and respect I have is for the mind, and the role it plays in endurance challenges like this. Physical fitness is of course fundamental, it’s what gets you to the start line, but it’s mental fitness that arguably gets you over the finish line… when you’re out there, pushing the boundaries of physical endurance, it’s our thoughts that are keeping us going, or slowing us down. Why then don’t we put as much time and effort into our mental fitness as we do our physical fitness?

Up until recently my mental fitness came solely from my running – a time for me to completely switch off, to think about nothing more than the hypnotic rhythm of jogging. While this still plays an important part, I also now see the benefits of being still and being totally present – either listening to a guided meditation, focusing on my breath or listening to the sounds of the waves to help me to unwind.

Being mindful and self-aware of your thresholds and stress triggers helps in so many situations – from the mountains to the boardroom… it also plays a crucial role in motivating you to head for the mountains in the first place.

Stands to reason our mental fitness needs way more respect, time and training than we realise. Whether taking part in an endurance sporting event or getting through a challenging project at work, the difference between achieving your goals or not, starts and finishes with the mind.

Set your intention for today, and discover what you can achieve through a total fitness approach in mind, body and soul.

To help get inspired, pop along to one of POINT3 Wellbeing’s health and wellness events on 4 & 5 August.

Safe to say that was THE most beautiful marathon I’ve ever run… not to mention the fact it was a mere 56km over some challenging hills.

 

 

I took the 6:30 #GoGreen bus from start to finish but left them in the final 1km to come in at under 6.25 somewhere.

Thanks to Nicky Morgan my coach supreme and Becs Rynehart for essential/amazing support and all others who have supported along the way!

Love you 😘❤️

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!

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 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:

Paris Marathon Training Week 5

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 😉

BAFTA

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:

Hill training in the alps

On Tuesday I swapped the Brooks for Salomons, and a different kind of run:

Swapping the running shoes for skis

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:

BearCat Runners

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