Monday, 2 October 2017

OK, So here I am writing my first blog in almost a year.  Prior to that, I think the gap had been 7 years so I'm getting a lot more regular with my blogs!

So why the long gaps?  I guess it's a case of I don't think people are particularly interested in reading what a club standard runner, running way slower than any of his PBs is up to.  I only really started blogging in the first place because Simon from RunnersLife asked me to blog for his site when I was running at my best.  Even at my best, I was nothing compared to the likes of what Dewi Griffiths, Callum Hawkins, etc are doing and questioned what I was doing on there, but for some reason it ended up being the most read blog on the website.  At the time, blogging was a bit of new phenomenon and I loved reading what runners faster than me were doing in training, how they balanced training with working and family life and trying to glean pieces of information that might help me improve further. 

Yet here I am, back writing this blog.  Blogging has always helped me gather my thoughts, assess where I am, where I want to be and what I need to do to get there.  I could just write it down in a diary and have done with it, but there's a point in that last paragraph that explains why you'll still see a sporadic blog from me.  Reading blogs from people I related to helped me a lot, I learnt things, it motivated me even more than I already was and it inspired me.  Whether you're running at your best, struggling with injuries, low on motivation or finding it difficult to train due to work and family life, somebody will be able to relate to you.

So where am I?  I'm currently on day 17 of yet another injury layoff.  The latest injury a grade 2 calf tear sustained at the Northern Road Relays.  This will be my third long layoff in the last 15 months after 23 years of running more or less injury free.  I used to think I was invincible, I wondered why people got injured all the time and what stupid things must they be doing in their training to get injured.  Looking back, I really did take it for granted and if there's one thing I've learnt from all my years running and especially the last two years, consistency is the key to success. 

Where do I want to be?  I still have goals.  You wouldn't believe it to look at me but I turn 40 next year, and I really want to get myself as high up the veterans rankings as I can.  I also still have ambitions to run another serious marathon, but would only run a marathon again if I felt I could run a time that merited the commitment that I know marathon training requires.  After two years of inconsistent training, it's hard to lay down any time based targets at this stage.

What do I need to do to get there?  Consistency of training will be key.  I've learnt that consistency counts for so much.  One great training week does not get you results but a consistent stretch of solid weeks does. 

How do I achieve this?  I'll have to be careful with my training load.  I'm generally pretty good at coping with high mileage and respond really well to it.  I haven't managed to get my mileage to a decent level for a while but the goal will be to build the mileage slowly over the winter and for that to take more of a focus than the quicker race specific work.  Its this work that leaves me vulnerable to injury (the latest injury was unavoidable it must be added) especially on lower mileage.  I've found that once I get the mileage where it needs to be, the body is more capable of handling the intensity.  I do also need to consider not going quite as high with the mileage as previous and investing in a cross trainer to replace some of the missing mileage.

Can I get there and how much do I really want it?   The motivation is a little different now from when I was running PBs, but when I turn 39 next month, I know that the next 12 months will be critical for laying the foundations for any success I might be able to achieve after 40.  And if I can start getting my 5k and 10k times competitive in the age group, there may just be one more serious marathon in me...

Friday, 4 November 2016

Coping with injury

It's a long time since I wrote a blog of any description.  My last blog on here was over six years ago, and I only stopped because I was approached by RunnersLife to start blogging for their website.

For those of you who remember RunnersLife, this was an absolutely brilliant website with interesting articles, race videos, guest interviews and resident bloggers.  Unfortunately, the owner of the site decided to call time on RunnersLife, and I never continued my blogging anywhere else.  I look back on RunnersLife with a great degree of fondness.  Blogging was probably at it's peak popularity at the time (this was in the days before Strava so it was the only way of gaining an insight into what other runners were doing) and this was the most popular part of the website, but the site was brilliant all round and I don't think there's been anything as good as it since.

A lot has changed since I last blogged.   Not only has the blogging world changed and Strava has really come to prominence, but my own running has changed a little.  I'm the first to admit I had been very lucky with serious injuries over the years having never had more than 10 consecutive days off in 25 years of running, and I know that my consistency of training over the years had resulted in a consistently solid level of performance.  I picked up my first ever serious injury this year, being diagnosed with a stress fracture of the Femur resulting in six weeks of completely no running.

For somebody who had never had more than 10 consecutive days off in 25 years of running, this was a shock to the system.  Running is such a big part of my life, that I knew it would leave me with a massive hole in my life and daily routine.  But I was surprised how well I coped with it all, especially when I think about some niggles I'd had in previous years resulting in 2 or 3 days off and feeling like it was the end of the world!  There are two reasons I think I coped so well.  Firstly, I'd had a few niggles that weren't going away and hadn't been running as well as a result, so in some ways this time off felt like it was needed and was almost a relief.  Secondly, as soon as I knew I would be having six weeks of no running, I decided I needed a 'coping strategy'.

My 'coping strategy' was based entirely around using cycling as a method of maintaining some form of exercise.  I'd actually booked 2 weeks warm weather training in Portugal in June and this coincided with the start of my time off, so my period of cycling started with me hiring a bike out there and accompanying the group on their easy and steady runs.  The guys were very appreciative as I was the only one familiar with the running routes there so I was essentially a pacemaker and tour guide for them!  Although I wasn't running, I didn't feel I was missing out at all.  Mentally, I was covering the same ground as the group, at the same pace and sharing the same conversation I would have been if I'd been running.

I continued to cycle on my return home, only this time it was alone.  With two weeks down, and knowing the healing period was six weeks, I told myself I just had to get through another two lots of what I'd just done.  I would often cycle somewhere with a purpose - I would cycle to the track where I would usually train.  I would see my coach and training partners, and feel like I was staying in touch with what was going on and staying motivated.  I also set up a facebook page called 'RunningLive', which streamed live coverage of race events.  I set this up as I knew this would get me cycling out to running events, which would force me to get the rides in when it was tempting to sit on the sofa after work.  Like cycling to training, it also kept me in touch with what was going on and broke up the monotony of just cycling from home after work each day.  Like seeing my training partners, going to these events kept me motivated to keep working on the rehabiliation programme I'd be given and do anything else I could to speed up my return to running.

The other thing that really kept me sane during this period was the support of Saucony.  I was approached by Saucony not long before my injury to become a brand ambassador promoting all the positive things about our sport.  I was fortunate enough to receive some of their brilliant range of running footwear and clothing and was very concerned that would be the first and last drop of kit I would receive.  Saucony have been absolutely brilliant in their support, and encouraged me to stay positive and focus my return to blogging on how I've coped with injury, my return to running and my future ambitions.

Short term, my ambitions are to build my training back up to what I was doing when I was running at my best.  I have started doing some races and am using these  to track my progress.

Longer term all depends on whether my body is able to handle the training load it used to be able to.  I'd love to get back to marathon racing, and some of the niggles I had prior to my stress fracture that prevented me doing longer runs have cleared.  My last three marathons have been a 2:20 win, a 2:23 and a 2:19 and I still feel I have things I can achieve over the distance if the body allows!  Cross Country has always been my first love and the Northern and National are races close to my heart.  Going into a Northern expecting to finish in the first 10 and a National expecting to finish in the first 30 was the norm year after year, and if the body is willing, I'd love to get my fitness back to that sort of level.  But thats a big if!

One of the great things about our sport is whatever level we're at, we can set ourselves goals, and if we achieve these goals, then we can set ourselves more ambitious goals.  If we achieve our goals, it's a great feeling as we know exactly what has gone into it.  And it's even sweeter when you've achieved them after injury.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Job done!

So after all the months of preparation, the marathon is now over. I was pretty pleased with the run in the end. I was more happy with the finishing position of 15th than the time of 2:19:05. It wasn't quite the personal best time I was hoping for (I was 31secs short) but if you'd told me 9 weeks ago when I was out of action with an achilles injury and unable to train that I would get that result I'd definitely have taken it.

The London Marathon has been labelled the biggest race in the world, to finish 15th in that was one of the best experiences of my running career. I'm fully aware that on many other years my time would not have placed me as highly but it was such an experience knowing there were only 14 runners out on the road ahead of me as I was coming down Birdcage Walk at 25 miles.

Of course I had gone there with the intention of trying to improve my personal best and I knew that if I could improve it by 35secs I would have a qualifying time for the Commonwealth Games and European Championships. I also knew that to be selected for either of these teams it would probably take a fair bit more than just getting inside the 2:18:00 qualifying time so I just concentrated on running at a realistic pace which I think helped me rather than taking a risk at chasing a qualifying spot as several of my rivals did and really suffered for it in the closing stages.

The final week was as follows

Mon - 9 miles inc 3 miles at target marathon pace - 15:37, 5:12 per mile average. The usual pre-marathon feeling could I keep this going for 26.2 miles - of course I wont have done 14 miles the day before and a race 2 days before!

Tue - am 6 miles easy, pm 8 miles easy

Wed - 7 miles including 8x400m very easy on the track with about 75secs rest. 68s for each 400m.

Thu - 5 miles easy

Fri - REST

Sat - 4 miles easy

Sun - 2 miles very easy before breakfast. London Marathon!

One thing people I have spoken to since the marathon cannot get their heads around is that I didnt take on any water, energy drinks or gels during the race. I am a firm believer that if you are properly fuelled you don't need it.

I decided to follow the carbohydrate depletion and loading diet as it has worked well for me before. Basically this involves NO CARBS for 48 hours during which time you need to run approx 25 miles in total to bleed the system dry then move onto a heavily carbohydrate based diet.

My last carb meal before depletion was breakfast on Tuesday - a large bowl of muesli and some toast. For the next 48 hours I basically followed an Atkins Diet eating cheese omelettes, steaks, chicken with veg, etc. By the time I had finished my run on Thursday morning I had ran 26 miles in 48 hours with no carbs and was ready to start the loading phase. For 48 hours this just involved getting in pasta, bread, rice, etc. Fish and Chips is my standard pre race meal two days out from a race so this became part of the loading and is a great meal to throw into this phase. I always ask for them to make me lightly battered fish so that the meal is not too fatty. On the Saturday I dont like to eat too heavily so just have a fairly basic diet - beans/egg on toast at breakfast, sandwiches for lunch and a light pasta dinner. I also drink PSP22 energy drink in the final 48 hours.

I believe that a lot of people do not fuel correctly before a marathon and that is why they run into trouble in the later stages. Of course you have to have the training right as well!!

Since the marathon I have been resting and trying to maintain some fitness by running sporadically. I took 4 rest days in the week after the marathon. I have been going down to the track to see my coach and training group and on two occasions have got involved with pacing some sessions for some of the guys in the middle and back of the group which I think has helped me recover quickly and I have really enjoyed doing this. I won't be doing any serious training until next week so I'm enjoying this leisurely perios while I can!

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Taper Time!

It is now 14 days until the London Marathon which means TAPER TIME!! All of the long runs are done. All of the hard repetition sessions are done. All of the weeks of three figure mileage are done. It's time to freshen up and concentrate on staying healthy.

There isn't anything else I can do now to improve my fitness. All of the work has been done over the previous 8 weeks. Well actually I look at it a little differently nowadays. I have trained for ten marathons previously and been running for 18 years now with many weeks over 100 miles going as high as 136. Any fitness I have hasn't just come from the last 8 weeks, it's an accumulation of years of work. I hit probably my best ever period of form in the early part of this winter off an enforced period of much reduced mileage and have realised that I have so many miles in my 'bank' that it's no longer optimum for me to do as many miles as my body can handle. I think a mistake I made in my last 2 or 3 build ups was taking the 'more is better' approach which brought me great results in my early years. So I have dropped down to a slightly lower mileage, withe the viewpoint that now is the time to 'cash in' on what I have in my 'bank'.

Looking back over the previous 8 weeks, everything has gone as I would have hoped. I haven't had any stonkingly good races but that is normal for me if I am on schedule, my last race was my half marathon which only fell 5 weeks into my build up and 66:54 compared well to the 67:24 I ran on the same course en route to my marathon PB. If all goes well, I should feel three weeks out that I am coming into peak form. And the signs in my final week of hard training are that I am.

Today's 17 mile run concluded a 100 mile training week. There were two key workouts this week. 12x600m with a 200m jog recovery on Tuesday and 6 x 1 mile with 2mins rest on Saturday. The target for Tuesday's session was to run 1:41s and my average time was 1:41 despite feeling pretty jaded from a hard weekend last week. Saturday was a repeat of the same session I did the previous weekend where I clocked 4:52, 4:42, 4:40, 4:39, 4:42, 4:52. I felt this was a good session but wanted to be more consistent across the six reps. I panicked when the first rep this week was ran in 4:35. But this was followed with 4:36, 4:34, 4:33, 4:37, 4:42. I'd probably rank this as the best training session I've ever done. I've done the exact same session in the run up to 10k personal bests and not hit those sort of times.

The session leaves me very confident coming into the marathon but it's at this point you question whether you've got your training right as other people start telling you what they have been doing. There are many ways to train for a marathon and I have great trust in my coach and the training plan we set out which was based on past experiences (positive and negative!) and has gone exactly to script. And I guess that's what I have to look at and concentrate on myself and my own preparations and not get concerned about other people's preparations and how they may or may not differ from mine.

I briefly mentioned at the start of this update about 'staying healthy'. This means several things.

1. NOT overdoing the training over the final two weeks. The daily mileage over the next three days will probably be fairly similar to what I've been doing but there wont be any gruelling repetition sessions. Instead there will be a couple of 'half' sessions where I reduce the volume of reps and increase the recovery but dont run any quicker - the idea being to get some pace in the legs but come away feeling like I've done next to nothing and not take anything away.

2. NOT easing off too much! You need to strike a balance between not overdoing it and not doing too little. a 30% reduction in mileage this week is probably about right and a little bit more on marathon race week. For me, my last two weeks have been 109 and 100 miles. I intend my final two weeks to be approx 70 and 60 (NOTE! this figure includes the marathon!)

3. Eating right! As you drop your mileage, theres a danger you may put on weight. It's easy especially on race week to take the carbohydrate loading too far and over-eat. I have done this before and the result is inevitable. Cut out the crap from your diet and eat regular meals but reduce portion size a touch! You dont need a bowl of pasta the size of your head!

4. Avoid illness and injury! As you back off the mileage, you are prone to infections and injury niggles as the body starts to wonder what's going on! Avoid people who are ill, don't eat anything out of the ordinary especially a new restaurant! Eat well (see no.3 above) and make sure you get a regular sleep of 8-10 hours. A massage on race week may be useful, but don't get it too close as it's good not to be too supple! 4 days out is about right I find.

5. Avoid booze! I like a drink as much as the next man but big nights out in the final two weeks are a no-no. If you normally have a couple of beers 3 times a week, that's fine to keep doing that.

6. Don't knacker yourself out! Lifestyle choices on race week are important. Don't get stressed leaving everything to the last minute at work and doing an 11 hour shift! Try to avoid doing anything other than resting, eating/hydrating and a short jog or 2 in the final two days. The worst thing you can do is go sightseeing or shopping in the final two days and walk 4 to 5 miles in doing so. I have made this mistake before!

7. Stay well hydrated! Probably the most important of the lot - especially on race week. The hydration process starts from 7 days before. If you are insufficiently hydrated 24 hours before the race you will not be correctly hydrated on race day! Have a large bottle of water with you at all times on race week. In the final two days, add a carboloading mix such as PSP22 so you can carboload without eating too much.

To anybody taking part in the marathon, good luck! Next weeks blog will have some further tips for race day itself.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

What a difference a week makes!!

I have to admit to feeling a little dejected this week. That poor race at the Northern Road Relays last Sunday really hit me hard. As I touched on in my last blog, I know exactly what the problem was and that was quite simply a case of overtraining. I'm fortunate enough to have an experienced and knowledgeable coach in Norman Poole, who is quick to see the telltale signs and knew exactly what I needed to do to get me right again.

We'd taken a gamble on training through the race as we agreed the result wasn't important in the overall scheme of things but it still hits you hard when you've had a crap result and you've been giving it everything! Looking back, training through the race was essential with the marathon ahead and I just have to put it behind me. What I needed this week was to regroup: get my legs back together and get some confidence back because apart from last weekend, everything has been going swimmingly well!

A very easy training week indeed started with a very slow 9 miler on Monday to try to recover. Felt tonnes better on Tuesday starting slow and then picking up on my first run of 6 miles. Then I did a nice steady 12 miler in the evening with Andy and Pete Riley and we were clipping along quite nicely with most of the run at sub 6:30 miling. Wednesday we were on the track at Wythenshawe Park and my session was 5x800m at 5k race pace with a 2min rest. The last two ended up being 2-3secs quicker than 5k pace but it felt pretty good. Then it was just easy running (7 miles Thursday, 4 miles Saturday) and resting up (Friday) for Sunday's Wilmslow Half Marathon. This race included the England Half Marathon Championships.

What a difference a week makes. After feeling so rotten last week and getting such a shocking result, I needed the opposite this week. As mentioned last time, I'm pretty philosophical about Half Marathons in the run up to a marathon with my two best times of 65:24 and 65:50 achieved en route to 2:21 clockings, whereas my best two marathons 2:18:34 and 2:18:53 have come on the back of 66:19 and 67:24. My logic is that I started my marathon training too early for those halfs and my end product is now better as I peak for the right race! I said last week that anything under 67 would show me that I'm where I need to be.

I was also conscious that with me starting my build up for London later than planned that I want to be able to get some good training in over the next two weeks so didn't want to completely trash myself.

I set off in the 67:00 group and the first 5 miles just flew by, in total contrast to last week I was so relaxed, happily sharing conversation with another runner who was running at target marathon pace, singing (!) and acknowledging some of the spectators I recognised. This is just how I wanted to feel and it was bloody fantastic!! The miles went by so much faster than usual and what was an incredibly large group at 4 miles was whittled down to 4 of us at 9 miles. At this stage I was in 12th position but moved into a finishing position of 6th place with my 13th mile my fastest of the race. My finishing time of 66:54 was pretty much spot on what I was looking for, the huge bonus was that it felt so comfortable and it's left me buzzing again.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

One month to go!!

My training is all currently geared towards the Virgin London Marathon, which is taking place on Sunday April 25th. Training has been going well, everything has gone pretty much to plan so far with the biggest mileage weeks out of the way and the focus now switching from lots of marathon paced running to road racing and some faster 5k and 10k paced sessions.

I have completed seven marathons now and trained for another three (two DNFs and a DNS) and so I have a fair bit of experience and have learnt some things the hard way. I was only 23 when I ran my first marathon in 2002 and it was a euphoric experience, a pleasing debut of 2:21:01. I ran the next five London Marathons improving one second in 2003 (!) then running 2:18:53 in 2004 and then my personal best 2:18:34 in 2005. I was beginning to wonder what all the fuss was about as I'd never really had any bad experiences, but as the body has got older, I have found it more difficult to withstand the training. In 2006, I ran my slowest London 2:23:26 in a tremedous amount of pain, later to be diagnosed as a double hernia! My last attempt at a London was in 2007 when I succumbed to the warm conditions and withdrew from the race at halfway.

But it is more recently that I have had my biggest problems. An attempted return to the marathon in 2008 ended in disaster when a niggle I carried into the Florence Marathon caused me to develop cramp early in the race and I again withdrew midrace. And then an attempt at training for the Loch Ness Marathon was going very well until I developed bursitis on my heel and I was forced to withdraw. This injury has come and gone ever since and I'm currently undergoing twice weekly physio at Athlete Matters in Worsley. The injury recurred badly in February and meant that I started my build up for London a week later than I'd hoped but I've since managed to keep on top of it so far.

The injury forced me to reduce my usual training load for the first part of the winter and this coincided with probably my best ever spell of racing with a 10k personal best, the best race of my life at the UK Cross Challenge in Liverpool plus an England International vest at Cross Country. Given how well I raced off much lower mileage for a long period of time and the years of high mileage I have accumulated, I am not afraid now to lower my mileage for the final 4-5 weeks of my marathon build up and regain those fresh legs now that I have topped them up with a good block of training. And boy do they need freshening!

Starting late meant I have piled a lot of work into the last five weeks and I've been treading that fine line between improving fitness and overcooking it. I crossed that line last week, attempting to train through the Northern Road Relays which I was taking part in for my club Altrincham & District AC. Coming into Sunday's relay I had racked up 105 miles in 7 days with a 20 mile race the previous Sunday, a 17 mile run on the Thursday and a testing session of 8x1000m at 10k race pace with a couple of hill sprint sessions thrown in for good measure. It's easy to see why I felt so rough and had such a poor performance (uncharacteristic of me recently) but there have been many instances in the past of me being able to absorb this level of training, and myself and my coach Norman Poole felt that it was a gamble we would take.

A great example of this is when I was training for Loch Ness last summer. I ran the Morpeth 10k race in the middle of a 113 mile training week expecting a fairly easy ride and ended up finishing 3rd in 31:10. Two weeks later with fresher legs, I ran a 10k on the track in 29:55. I think the key is to recognise when you have crossed that line and back off accordingly, so I look on Sunday's poor run as an amber traffic light!

This Sunday is the Wilmslow Half Marathon, which incorporates the England Athletics Half Marathon Championships. I am pretty philosophical about Half Marathons before a marathon. I have ran 65mins twice for a half marathon (2002 and 2003), with a 2:21 marathon clocking following on both occasions. Yet my 2:18s came on the back of a 66:19 and a 67:24. The reason behind this I feel is that I started much earlier in 2002 and 2003 and probably peaked for the Half Marathon whereas when I ran my 2:18s off slower half times having started my marathon training a month later.

For this reason, I won't be heading into Wilmslow anticipating a personal best time. Based on the above, anything under 67mins will tell me that I am well on course. But after such a poor race last weekend, I really don't want to be too far outside 67 and feeling like I'm killing myself in doing so.

The story so far

If I was to try to talk you through my 18 years of competitive running so far, I could be here for quite some time. Fortunately, the internet is such a wonderful resource now. There is one excellent website, The Power of 10, which allows you to search any athlete and lists all of their race performances, provided they have met the site's qualifying criteria.

Link to my past race performances and personal best times.

For the last few years, I have been recording all of my training and racing on the Eightlane website. Click here to view my past training logs.

One of the reasons I decided to start blogging and posting my training on the internet is because I think that my story can offer inspiration to juniors and young seniors who aren't at the top but have the desire to progress and achieve what they can. The very first race result I have a copy of at home was an U15 boys race within the South East Lancs Cross Country League. I finished 48th out of 52. My first National Cross Country Championship was 1998 where I finished 52nd in the U20 race, the following year I was 29th and since then I have ran in every National with finishing positions of 96th, 72nd, 18th, 23rd, 27th, 37th, 29th, 18th, 27th and 18th. It was only this year that at the age of 31 I finally represented England at Cross Country. Consistency has been key - I haven't had more than six successive days off since 1996 and as I have slowly improved, I have believed in myself more and more. I still don't think of myself as talented or elite but work very hard and know that when I am running well I can compete with all but a handful of runners in the UK. If just one young athlete reading this takes some inspiration from this then writing this blog will be worthwhile.