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.

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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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!

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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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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.

Old Deer Park Race Bling

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!

Happy Running!

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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!

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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!

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