Life, the universe and training!

It’s been a while since Tokyo and a lot’s go on since then!

Back in October last year I set myself a target much like I did at the back end of 2016 of racing 4 marathons (in the space of a few short weeks), with the emphasis being on London, but aiming to run well at the other 3. The other 3 being Tokyo, Brighton and Milton Keynes, this post although touching on the events will be more of a ‘lessons learnt’ than a ‘sell’ of the events and hopefully along the way, some will benefit from those lessons.

The last time I took on 4 marathons in a few short weeks was back in 2017 as part of my taper for The 100 Peaks. That year I ran Manchester, Paris, London & MK in 3:20/3:27/3:23 & 3:26.

Paras’10 - Colchester 18.05.19 after the Spring Marathons

Paras’10 - Colchester 18.05.19 after the Spring Marathons

My grand plan back in October was geared to running a World Major PB at London and then using that as a springboard to push on towards running a GFA time for New York in 2020. Training began really well and I put in a solid 8 weeks of base training, before heading to Brecon in December to assist in the hills as part of the MST on a pre-xmas event. The weather that weekend was disgusting and by the time I was back in the car on the way home, I could feel the onset of illness taking hold.

The resulting chest infection lingered well into February and hampered massively my preparation for my Spring assault on my marathon plans. Despite the disruption to my training though my ‘endurance’ base held up really well in Tokyo and despite the conditions ran a really solid 3:20.

Between Tokyo and Brighton though I suffered with a what almost felt like a phantom injury…..after returning from Tokyo I started the process of recovery and building for Brighton and noticed on the first couple of ‘easy’ runs that I was beginning to develop pain and discomfort in the back of my left knee. Despite weekly sessions with my physio we could’t identify the source of the pain or any obvious signs of trauma, nor replicate the issue during treatment. It slowly worsened over the week until treatment and then would ease again, so initially we just put the issues down to a lack of ‘care’ for the muscles and a heavy volume of training over a number of years. I mean who wouldn’t be suffering the after affects of that, especially when you’re working hard to achieve your goals? We basically went through a period of ‘patching up’ and ‘scratching heads’ until an additional conversation just before London with Uzo Ehiogu where we just chatted candidly about the symptoms and issues I’d been having. We then broached the notion of what I may have done differently, and then it hit me…..

Over the course of winter I had decided that I would make a concerted effort to up my cadence and try and make myself more efficient over the marathon distance. With the disrupted training programme a consistent gradual effort at developing the drills proved difficult so would go out and aim to run at 180spm when on average my rate had been 164 to 166spm. At Tokyo I implemented the higher cadence and felt comfortable so didn’t think anything of it. However, the sudden impact of that change had a massive impact on my biomechanics.

The conversation I had with Uzo took place on the Wednesday morning before London, by which point I was dreading running at London, having two weeks previous completed Brighton (in 3:28, but was still in some serious discomfort with no obvious diagnosis or solution to the problem). He asked me to go out and run and just return to my normal stride and report the findings, Wednesday night I went out and ran 5 miles and ran as instructed and for the first time since Tokyo ran absolutely pain free.

With renewed optimism I was once again looking forward to being on the streets of London for the 4th year since 2014. Despite (for me a disappointing time of 3:27) I really enjoyed myself and once again enjoyed my running. Don’t get me wrong the issue was still there but I hadn’t experienced any additional issues with it, just the residual problem from the previous weeks. The following week I ran my final marathon of the spring at Milton Keynes (my 4th in a row) and once again felt freer and enjoyed the run more than I expected to have done. Again it wasn’t the time I wanted at 3:30, but it was a solid performance after running 3 marathons (at ‘almost’ race pace) in the space of 22 days.

With the marathons complete and on the whole successful, I hadn’t managed to hit my target. I know many would be happy with 1 marathon at 3:20 let alone run 3 in the 3:20’s and the additional no more than 6 secs in then 3:30’s. However, I set my bar high, because I'‘m experienced enough to know what I’m capable of, so although I was happy, I was on the whole disappointed.

What did I learn over those few weeks? I’ll get back to training and planning in a moment, but for now, London is still the greatest marathon in the world for me. From the moment you arrive at the expo to the moment you cross the finish, it’s still difficult to imagine a race out there that tops it. Brighton despite the logistics of in and out, is one of the best supported marathons I’ve ever experienced and a must do. Tokyo I’ve covered before so click the link. MK is still one of my favourites and a marathon I will actively support for as long as I can, it really is different to other marathons and continues to grow year on year and I love it.

The races themselves, what did I learn? Once the stink had been washed out of my run kit I took stock of my performances and looked at all the data from the races. Before even looking at the more complex data, my Strava outputs were pretty damning and very quickly identified the issues I’d had. Despite feeling good other than the injury there was an ‘evident’ consistent drop off in the last quarter of the races. At first it was easy just to put the drop off down to fatigue, but the reality is it was down to the fundamentals and not doing them and certainly not practising what I preach. When I looked back at my training, I knew I’d fallen down in one area and that was strength. Due to the illness and injury when I did train I substituted my strength sessions for adding to the run volume. When I looked at that objectively with the data the answer to the issue was obvious. My metabolic fitness was at 90%, my muscle endurance at 92% and the damning stat - muscle power @ 50%!

The main aim this year was to run consistently with my push towards trying to run as fast as I could at London. That didn’t happen. In 2017 it was just about keeping the miles in the legs after a tough winter of prep for the biggest challenge I’d set myself to date, that I did perfectly.

The truth is I have a lot to learn from my prep in 2017. At the very foundation of what I did back then was strength work. This year between October and December I was bang on plan then illness and injuries struck and instead of sticking to the plan, I resorted to default and just ran miles to compensate for the lost volume.

On reflection I know I went about things the wrong way, Christ I knew that at the time, so what did I learn?

STICK TO THE PLAN!!

I know I can run all day, but it’s obvious that muscle power plays an enormous part in staving off fatigue and keeping your pace up as well as enabling you to up that pace and push harder during the latter stages. Again, I’d failed to do that, despite that being the race plan. The lost hours in the gym, on the hills, doing sprints, for the sake of thinking volume is where it’s at. Volume is where it’s at if you want to be consistent and give yourself the chance of enjoying Endurance races, but if you want to go faster, you have to do the stuff that makes you stronger. My training plan had I followed it and not ditched it in favour of adding miles I’d thought I’d lost, would have meant I was, I’m sure) a lot closer to my targets, even should I still not have hit them. Again, we take another lesson…

TRUST THE PROCESS!

However, what I’ve also learnt is I need to train smarter. I’m 47 in a few weeks and I want to keep chasing my goals and dreams for as long as possible. I still believe I have what I need to get that sub 3:05 and also go sub 3. The issues of playing with my cadence has highlighted that I need to protect myself from such issues and that I can no longer get away with not doing strength work and sorting out my mobility and flexibility.

So I’m starting over, my goals are big, I know that, but I also know I’m capable of achieving them. I’m going back to basics to sort the weaknesses to make me better. How?

My training philosophy has always been to train as hard as I can because that’s the only way we achieve right? Maybe the smart answer to that is, wrong! Training for endurance isn’t just about survival, you want to be able to fully embrace it, live it and enjoy it, otherwise what’s the point?

For some time I’ve read about the benefits of ‘running slow to run fast’ (Dr Philip Maffetone, Mark Cucuzzella M.D. & Matt Fitzgerald chief among them) and to be honest I can’t find any reasonable reason to argue with their philosophies, the science behind it and why I shouldn’t try and adapt, especially now I’m bearing down on 50. I need longevity in my training to ensure I’m injury free and as fit and healthy as possible, not just for realising my personal ambitions but for my son as he continues to grow and develop into the little beast he might become! Therefore once I’ve ‘recovered’ I’ll be revising my training methods, not massively, but aiming for smarter!

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Still, I will take away a massive sense of pride, despite the setbacks I’ve still come through it. Throwing back to back marathons in to the mix with very little rest isn’t easy, not to forget throwing a fully loaded (35lb+) Para’s 10 PB (@ 1:33 and a 19th Place finish - 5th in MV40-49 Age Group) in the mix 12 days after MK, so I will take that, build on it and come back even stronger.

Ultimately it’s time to listen to my own advice, stick to the plan and trust the process!