Before I get into the meat of this blog in future posts (the gory details of Crohn’s disease and stoma surgery – both you and I need to brace ourselves first…!), I want to take a look back at 2016, in particular my build up to and completion of the London marathon. (As an aside, though with more details at the bottom, training has gone well this week with some fairly steady runs in the January cold and damp.)
2016 has been dubbed by some (mostly in the (and on social) media) as one of the worst in living memory. Yes, lots of famous people died (though I have never been a particular fan of celebrities), the UK voted to leave the EU (a very retrograde step in my mind but hopefully not catastrophic), the US voted for a rather incredible candidate to be their President (unlike Brexit, they get another vote in four years), and if you read George Monbiot in the Guardian the future looks very bleak. Instead, however, I would offer a more upbeat view from astronaut Chris Hadfield. At a personal level, 2016 was pretty good indeed, particularly for my running, where I set PBs at all the main distances from 5k to the marathon.
Following my last operation (panproctocolectomy) in 2013 for my Crohn’s disease, I slowly regained my fitness and started running training in earnest for the Oxford half marathon in October 2015, which for the first time was to start and finish in the centre of town (I was not particularly interested in the previous routes and the traffic management in places was not ideal). Training with my colleague Steve, we set sub 40 minute PBs for 10k earlier in the year and then we ran under 1h30 for the half for the first time (my only previous half marathon having been in Bristol in 2012 which I completed in 1h38).
As training had been going well (although it was not particularly structured; we just ran a few times a week), our thoughts had drifted towards a marathon and what time might be possible. So for the first time I entered the London marathon ballot, not rating my chances very highly (I have friends who have entered multiple times and never received a place). I was therefore rather surprised to gain a place, but it was perfect timing after the Oxford half PB. Steve tried to get a charity place for London to run for Parkinson’s but wasn’t successful so entered the Brighton marathon. With this being a week earlier, our training would coincide nicely.
The plan was to have a short break off after the half and then build up the miles in preparation to start a 16 week training plan in the new year. However at the beginning of November I caught a nasty (possibly whooping) cough which persisted for a couple of months and resulted in a couple of cracked ribs. I ran a handful of times during December to assess if running was possible but the pain from my ribs when breathing just moderately heavily put a quick stop to that. This gave me some concern about plunging straight into a marathon training schedule.
Fortunately the training went very well and Steve and I both set big half marathon PBs (1h26) in a race five weeks before the marathon, so we were confident of a good time in our respective marathons. Having not run a marathon for over a decade (and Steve not at all), we were rather in the dark during our training as to what finish time we should be aiming for. We thought sub 3h20 would be possible but that anything close to 3 hours would be very tough. However, after our half marathon PBs this indicated (according to predictors for running times) that we should be close to 3 hours. In Brighton, Steve went for it and ran a brilliant 3:03:03. This gave me confidence that I could run something similar in London the following week (seeing as we have always been fairly evenly matched and had done the same training). However I was conscious that I needed to pace myself and not go all out just to beat Steve’s time at the risk of blowing up after 20 miles.
I set of at 4:20/km pace (7 min miles) and maintained this well until 17 or 18 miles (putting me on course to finish in under 3h5). At this distance (the loneliest part of the course through the Isle of Dogs, when the Mall seems a long way away), my legs (particularly my quads) and the soles of my feet started to become really sore. Much as I tried, I could no longer maintain my previous pace. I kept having to recalculate in my head what time I might finish in – the qualifying time of 3h5 was gone but could I still manage sub-3h10? Not quite – I dragged myself through the final few, very painful, miles to finish in 3:12:24 (only a few seconds slower than another of our colleagues, Matt). While I didn’t encounter the “wall” this time, I struggled in the final few miles and was initially slightly disappointed with my time, particularly because aerobically I felt like I had more to give.
However on reflection (i.e. based on what we thought might be possible before starting our marathon training last year) it was a very good run at a fantastic event (the crowds and their constant cheering were terrific) and I raised over £2,700 for Crohn’s & Colitis UK (thank you to all my very generous friends, family and colleagues!), which I was very pleased with.
After the marathon I ran the Oxford Town and Gown 10k as usual in May (taking another 40s off my PB) and then the Jericho 10k in June. In the latter I felt my Achilles pop after about 7k but foolishly decided to carry on and out-sprint Steve. This prevented me running again properly until mid-September when I then had three weeks until the Oxford half marathon. By this time I knew I had a place for the London marathon so I thought I would start training again gently and use the half marathon more as a long training run, rather than a race, much as though this goes against my competitive nature. This mostly went to plan, but I got bored with running slowly around 8 miles and so pushed on to finish just under 1h40, which felt comfortable and there were thankfully no grumbles from my Achilles.
Since then I have built up the frequency and duration of my training runs, mostly at a gentle pace, with some swimming, spinning and HIIT thrown in for good measure. I therefore feel in good shape at the moment and ran close to 19 minutes at the Edinburgh parkrun on New Year’s Eve in rather strong winds, so it looks like I am close to PB form. Steve and I are planning to follow the same training plan as last year with a few tweaks (we’re thinking of doing more efforts at marathon pace at the end of long runs) to train ourselves for running at marathon pace while tired, which hopefully will help us to edge closer to the magical 3 hour mark…
Training for this week: 5 runs totalling 42 km (coincidentally almost marathon distance!). No cross training, but I did ring a moderately strenuous peal.
Monday: 11.3 km in 54 minutes
Wednesday: 6.3 km in 32 minutes
Friday: 8.3 km in 40 minutes
Saturday: 9.9 km in 46 minutes
Sunday: 5.8 km in 30 minutes