Training & racing update – 15th April 2018

It has been over two months since my last update and as I enter the final week in the lead up to my marathon debut in London, I thought it was about time to write a blog post to sum up the past couple of months of training and racing!

National Cross Country, Parliament Hill (London) – 24th February 2018
In my last post I wrote about my final race in the Kent Cross Country League. Two weeks on from this race and it was time for the National Cross Country race at Parliament Hill. The weather on the day was dry & bright and with the senior men’s race not until the afternoon, I had already been out volunteering at Royal Tunbridge Wells parkrun.

I travelled up to the venue by train, departing High Brooms station soon after midday and arriving in good time at Parliament Hill for a warm-up and recce of the course. As expected and due to the very wet winter that we have experienced, the course was exceptionally wet & muddy and, given that the senior men’s race is the final of 8 races on the day, the course was in an even more churned-up state!

I had invested in some new running spikes following the last Kent Cross Country league race and gave these a run-out at Lullingstone parkrun the week before. The spikes are made by Saucony and were much more suitable for the conditions than my old Brooks spikes.

This was the third year in a row that I had participated in the National Cross Country, but the first time when it had been staged in the South of England (the venue alternates each year between North, Midlands and South) and so I was looking forward to performing on “home territory”. In addition, having already run at the venue twice before (Jan’16 and Jan’17) but over 15km, I was confident of putting in a good performance as the National race is over a distance of 12km.

The race starts off by going uphill for approximately 500m and with well over 2,000 men in the race the field soon bunched up as the course narrows near the top. As the race progressed I really started to feel quite tired and unfortunately, could feel that my new spikes were slightly too big as I could feel them wanting to come off as I trudged through the mud. I finished the 3 lap race with a time of 53:55 and in position 982 of 2,328 finishers.

I was a little disappointed with my performance, having run a time of 51:10 the year before, although I would say that the course this year was more challenging.

I made my way home soon after the finish as the club had arranged their post-National, annual awards dinner at Salomon’s, Southborough that evening. By the time I arrived home there was just about time for a quick shower, before changing and making the 1 mile journey from my house to the dinner. Unfortunately, I could feel a cold developing and expect that this was caused by the fact that I had spent a great deal of the day out in the elements.

The club were celebrating a convincing victory in the senior men’s race, retaining the title that they had won for the first time last year and the ceremony was a very enjoyable and inspirational event. The meal itself was very tasty – I went for salmon, vegetarian risotto and brownie for dessert.

Lydd 20 mile – 11th March 2018
Three weeks on from the National Cross Country and it was time for me to make my debut over the 20 mile distance. I had entered this race as preparation for the marathon at the end of April and felt that this would provide a good opportunity to try out my fueling, pacing and to see how my body responded to racing over such a long distance.

Unfortunately, I had experienced a bad night’s sleep on the Friday evening leading up to the race and again, managed to develop a slight cold having been exposed to the cold at parkrun on the Saturday morning. I woke on the Sunday morning feeling better, but still not 100%. I was glad to be receiving a lift to the race with a couple of runners from my group and we arrived at the venue in good time to make use of the facilities and check-in my bag.

The weather overnight and early morning was very wet but this cleared in time for the race and we were even greeted with some sunshine halfway through the race. I was very pleased with my pacing and managed to maintain a comfortable rhythm for the first half – the course being an out and back route. I had prepared my race fuel in advance (dried apricots on a wooden skewer, stored in a plastic pot and kept in my rear shorts pocket) and decided to start re-fueling at 8 miles and then every 4 miles thereafter. I did have to slow down and walk in order to take the pot out and carefully bite off the apricots from the skewer, but this didn’t take more than about 10 seconds each time and I had not problems digesting them and getting back into my stride.

I was still feeling good as I went through 16 miles, but once I reached 17 miles my legs didn’t want to know – I had hit the dreaded wall! I managed to carry on running and was having to distract myself by encouraging the runners who were finishing the last few miles of their half marathon (the half started at the same time as the 20 mile but took a different out and back route after about 3 miles) as I passed them. The last couple of miles for me were a real challenge and I was very glad to finish.

Despite the struggle that I had for the final 3 miles, I was delighted to have finished with a time of 2:23.05. A very encouraging time and one which bodes well for my marathon in April. As I was waiting at the finish for my friends I was approached by a club mate who informed me that our club had won the male team prize and I was the 3rd scorer and so I was presented with a small plaque – what a nice bonus!

Mad March Hare 5km, Woldingham – 25th March 2018
The two weeks between completing the Lydd 20 and this race had not been at all good for me. The 20 miler had had a significant effect on me and it was clear that my body was not happy with me having run the race with a cold. I developed a nasty cough and did not manage to get any running in at all during the fortnight, with the exception of leading my group runs. My total mileage between the two races was a terrible 8 miles!

Despite this, I was looking forward to this race – one which I have run twice before and had an impressive record at, finishing in 2nd place the first time around and first place two years ago. It is a lovely, low-key event which is organised in aid of a charity. The event consists of a 5km and a 10km race, the 10km being two laps of the 5km course, with all participants set off at once.

I set off at a good pace and found myself out toward the front of the field. It was clear after the first kilometre that I was going to maintain 4th position as I was unable to gain any ground on the three guys ahead of me. However, I was uncertain as to which race they were competing in. As I headed back toward the finish I noticed all three of them heading back past me, meaning that I would be finishing in first place for the 5km – a nice surprise indeed.

Training leading up to the marathon
As you can tell from the above summary of my races, my training leading up to the marathon has not been perfect although I have managed to get in the long runs that I had wanted to – including a 22 mile long run. I can summarise my weekly mileage from the turn of the year (and the 16 weeks prior to the marathon) as follows:

w/c 1st Jan – 19.6
w/c 8th Jan – 33.5
w/c 15th Jan – 14
w/c 22nd Jan – 40.25
w/c 29th Jan – 33
w/c 5th Feb – 38
w/c 12th Feb – 35.5
w/c 19th Feb – 24.2
w/c 26th Feb – 22
w/c 5th Mar – 44.75
w/c 12th Mar – 2
w/c 19th Mar – 9.5
w/c 26th Mar – 33
w/c 2nd Apr – 26
w/c 9th Apr – 18.5
w/c 16th Apr – expected to be 12 (exluding the marathon itself)

If you have made it to this part of the blog then a big thank you for your patience and I hope that you have enjoyed reading about my recent training. I also hope that my experience will allow you to plan your training accordingly and prevent you from making some of the mistakes that I have made.

My next blog post will of course be written post-London and I look forward to writing about my debut experiece over the marathon distance.

Thanks for reading and keep on running!

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