Week 3 to 7/52 – Base built (or how to run sub 17)

Here’s what I’ve been thinking over the last few weeks:

  • I’ve been running to build the base. We all know what this means: build the solid aerobic foundations upon which to add specific sessions that allow us to get faster at the distance that we are targeting.

Here’s what I’ve been doing over the last few years:

  • Nothing other than easy or steady base building.
  • No regular sessions.

Then, last night I was tagged into a post on Facebook by my good friend Shay Walker. Shay’s no slouch as his PBs will attest: 16:51 for 5K, through to 2:50 for the marathon. His Facebook post drew attention to the fact I had used the phrase ‘gotta get faster’ twice online over the last few days. The weird thing was the fact that I wasn’t aware that I had; a quick scan back revealed, of course, that Shay was right.

And then it hit me. I had used the phrase unthinkingly without knowing what it actually meant. I had used the phrase as if actually typing it would somehow bring about the result that I sought. The phrase was a metaphor for the way in which I’ve largely approached things in my running over the last few years: unthinkingly and without real focus.

This almost spontaneous approach to running does have a purpose. It has allowed me to get back into running properly, it has given me endless pleasure and joy, it has given me fresh air and new friends. But there is a downside. I’ve ended up doing more of the stuff that I enjoy but don’t really need to do, and less (or none) of the stuff that is harder, gnarlier, the stuff that will actually make me faster, presuming of course that that is what I want to be: faster.

I think many of us want to be faster. I know I want to be faster. I believe that I can be faster.

Here’s what I am going to do:

  • add a repetition session of some sort each week (track/hills/fartlek/road reps).
  • add a tempo run of some sort each week (progression run/parkrun).
  • I’m going to vary the nature of these sessions over a two week cycle.

Here’s what I’m aiming for:

  • A sub-17 minute Bolton parkrun in 2018.

Total mileage for 2018: 396.

 

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Week 2/52 – Back into the habit

I’ve enjoyed my running this week. I’ve trained everyday again for a total of 52 miles. I got back into the habit of running 10 milers in the week. The aim will be to build these up into 15 milers over the course of the next 5 weeks. Thursday’s run was perhaps the most enjoyable of these as the 8 minute miles felt comfortable again and it felt nice to be chipping away along an undulating road route.

On Saturday I ran Bolton parkrun as a steady effort. I was annoyed with myself for getting a bit carried away at the start, I need to remember the purpose of the sessions a bit more. I’m not remotely concerned that a steady effort is now the wrong side of 20 minutes (at least I’m not worried at this stage!)

Marcus Chester, Bolton parkrun
Bolton parkrun

On Sunday a group of us training for various marathons and an ultra ran a very enjoyable 15 miles on a mixture of roads, paths and trails. It’s great to do these runs without any time or pace pressure. It’s even better to put the world to rights and generally just enjoy the fresh air early on a Sunday morning. It felt great to be home and showered long before 11AM.

The target next week is to continue to chip away at the mileage. I’m planning on a couple of ten milers before running the Four Villages Half Marathon in Helsby on Sunday. On the back of this I’ll put my mind to a target for the Manchester Marathon in April.

Year to date: 98 miles

Bolton parkrun results

Week 1/52 – A tale of three parkruns

It’s not long after seven in the morning on New Year’s Day.  I’m in the carpark at Leverhulme Park. More precisely, I’m in my car looking at directions to a parkrun that is due to start at 8:30. I’m waiting for two Burnden Road Runners teammates that I have arranged to meet.  The plan is to drive over to Rochdale for the Watergrove parkrun at 8:30; trot round this; drive back to Bolton for the parkrun that is due to start at 10:00. Normal parkrun times have been altered because it is New Year’s Day. In honour of this, extra parkruns have been slotted into the schedule and the ‘double’ is now a recognised way to take advantage of the additional events on offer.

With the directions settled in my head, I wait for Katy and Aidy to arrive while reflecting on the fact that it’s over five years since I had a drink, let alone a hangover. New Year’s Day hasn’t always started so positively.  I’m grateful.

A quick pitstop for some coffee and we are on our way. We drive past houses that are still in darkness until we arrive at Watergrove Reservoir on the outskirts of Rochdale. There are already lots of runners here and lots of volunteers donning hi-vis making their way to the start.

We decide to jog for a while to get limbs… well, limber. A local parkrunner tells us that the course is hilly and that we are in for a treat. He isn’t wrong. Hilly it is. By the top of one of the two main assents that make up the course my lungs are protesting. I’m not fit at the moment having spent a lot of time since the start of October just jogging around or worse: resting. I’m trying to resolve this ongoing ache deep within my left hip.

But, the burning lungs aside, it’s a lovely enjoyable course. More like a fell race than a parkrun. I’m sweating by the time I meet my two clubmates. We exchange our views on the course and walk back to the car.

Next up: Bolton. By the time we arrive there it is already looking busy. We’ve twenty minutes to loosen legs before it’s off again, another 5K round Leverhulme Park. I can’t imagine ever being fed up of running around this course. It’s great, and before we know it, it’s over.

The rest of the week passes by just as quickly until I find myself lining up for the Sale Waterpark parkrun. By quirk of the calendar this will be the third parkrun in 6 days. I’ve never done this one before. It’s a simple out and back course along a section of the River Mersey. I muster a 6:23 first mile before taking my mind off it and allowing myself to drift. By the time I realise what I’ve done the second mile has passed in just under 7 minutes despite the course being almost pancake flat. I make an effort to get shifting again and manage another quicker mile and the finish arrives in 20:24.

I run 46 miles during the first week of 2018, and I end the week with a 12 mile ‘long run’ at just over 8:30 pace. It’s not fantastic, but it’s progress of a sort: my left hip is stiff rather than painful. Sometimes in running, that’s enough.

Year to date: 46 miles

Watergrove parkrun results

Bolton parkrun results

Marcus Chester, runner, Bolton parkrun

Chester Marathon weeks 6 to 9 (and some of 10) / 18

When I started to write up my training for this autumn’s Chester Marathon I had intended jotting down my notes each week.  I hadn’t, however, intended on being quite so busy with various projects.  This is good.  I feel much better and much more productive when my mind and body are engaged in purposeful activity.  Years ago, a colleague of mine would rather flamboyantly stride out of meetings claiming, ‘I can either talk about work, or actually do it.’  I’ve had to take this approach.  Life has been very busy and I’ve chosen to run, rather than write about it.

That said, I now have a spare few minutes…

The last 4 and a bit weeks have been very productive.  I have run 262 miles.  Within this period I’ve completed long runs of 15, 16, 18, 20 miles.  I’ve run another 4 speedwork sessions, 4 Bolton parkruns, and a 4.4 mile trail race.  The rest of the running has either been recovery runs or steady paced efforts of around 10 miles.  I’ve really enjoyed all of it.

The most important thing for me to continue to reflect on as I focus hard on the next few weeks is to be grateful.  I started this year simply wanting to get to the end of it without injury.  I spent so much time last year limping around the place that I was really questioning what was going wrong.  I worried how would I resolve the issue: every single time I got a bit fitter, I’d end up injured.   So I’m grateful that I have been able to find a solution: run more.

It’s true, and it’s deserving of separate blog post, the answer was there all along: run more.  As I’ve slowly increased my mileage, I’ve got stronger.  This strength has made me far more resilient.  Truth be told: I didn’t need to find what cross training, strength work and stretching I needed to do to avoid injury.  Instead I needed to work out how to run more to become a stronger runner.  That’s not to say that cross training and the like can’t be useful.  I’ve come to believe that if it is in addition to the maximum that you are capable of running, it can really help.  But if it is instead of running, my guess is that it won’t help you to be a stronger runner one bit.  I’m nowhere near my maximum running tolerance.  And at the moment, I’m nowhere near the limping and shuffling that characterised so much of last year.

(Thanks to Marty at Bolton parkrun for the photo)

 

Marcus Chester, Henderson's End, Henderson's End Fell Race, Burnden Road Runners, Happy Teacher Podcast

Chester Marathon week 1/18 – general election

After the ups, downs, and general confusion inherent in a general election week it was good to put my entry in for the Chester Marathon which takes place on 10 October; whatever spurious toing and froing is involved in forming a workable coalition, at least an autumn marathon lends a degree of certainty to training if nothing else.  It is now 18 weeks away.

With my only DNF at Blackpool in April, I’m obviously keen to redress the balance and give a good account of myself in October.  With the passing of time and an honest conversation with myself (and with a far more experienced runner who has lent me a supportive and challenging word or two) it’s clear why Blackpool ended in a DNF: I was simply undertrained. Or at least I was undertrained for what I wanted to achieve, which was a time between 3 hours and 3 hours 15 minutes.  Lesson well and truly learned.  I hadn’t done enough.

Since that point I’ve had one main objective: steadily increase the mileage. It’s clear that a serious attempt to get anywhere nearer to three hours in October is going to require running a far higher mileage than I have ever run before. With this in mind, I have spent the last 8 weeks building up to last week’s 53 miles.  The average for the last four weeks has been 50 miles per week.   Over the next few weeks I’ll be increasing this in order to get in the 80+ plus mile weeks which are outlined in the P+D schedule that I’ll be following.  So far it feels manageable.  Just.

But it’s not all been about getting the miles in, I’ve also managed to get some quality work in too.  Obviously, given that I spent a lot of time last year limping around with an injury, I’ve been mindful of my right calf.  My main concern this year is remaining injury free.  However, I’ve managed to run a 5K PB of 18:27; I’ve set a Bolton parkrun PB of 19:29; run a 10 mile PB (for training) of just under 1:09. I’ve also had good runs in the Haigh Hall trail race and Henderson’s End fell race…

Marcus Chester, Marcus Chester runner, Henderson's End Fell Race, Burnden Road Runners

…all of which sets me up nicely for the next 17 weeks.  I’ve also done some fartlek and hill rep sessions as a way of starting to get my legs to turn over a bit quicker and to prepare them for the sessions to come.  I’ve also managed to get my weight down to 12St 8Ibs and I have had moments where I have felt much easier and freer while running.  At 6 feet 2 inches, I could still afford to lose more – and every pound lost is one less to carry around 26.2 miles – but I’m certainly not going to get caught up in the trap of obsessing about it.

Marcus Chester, Marcus Chester runner, Bolton parkrun

The schedule for the 18 week build up is based on that outlined in the book Advanced Marathoning,  After speaking to various sub 3 marathoners and assiduously reading everything that I can online, this appears to be the schedule that many place their trust and confidence in.  I’ve spoken through my plans with another runner and have had to tweak some of the sessions to fit around family and work commitments.  I’ve also had to adjust a few sessions so that I can accommodate the club races that I want to take part in; but I trust what sub 3 hour runners have told me and I’m electing to stick as closely as I can to the plan as is set out in the book.

 

So, last week’s training looked like this:

Monday: warm up, Burnden Road Runners club challenge timed uphill mile, cool down

Tuesday: really easy 3 miles (legs still felt battered from last Thursday’s fell race!)

Wednesday: 12 @ 7:31 pace

Thursday: easy 5 miles

Friday: easy 10 miles off road

Saturday: Bolton parkrun @ 6:54 pace 

Sunday: AM – easy 5, PM – 9 @ 8:11 pace (family commitments meant I had to split the runs)

Total: 53.6 miles

Next week’s training introduces structured strides on Tuesday with a session including 10 x 100 metres.  The main event for the week is the Freckleton Half Marathon on Sunday.  My target time here is, naturally, 1:29:30 which equates to 6:49 miles.  This will be right on the edge of my comfort zone at this point in time.  I ran a couple of recents 10 miler at 6:48 pace, whether I could hold on for another 3 miles is highly debatable, but I’m up for the challenge.  Either way, with a PB of 1:36:12 (set at Freckleton last year), I’m confident of being able to smash this. Freckleton is a relatively fast, flat course and the thirteen miles of the race should take my mileage for this week to 57.

Marcus Chester, Marcus Chester runner, Bolton parkrun, parkrun, Burnden Road Runners

The benefits of a low battery

As a teacher I am fascinated by the challenge of helping people to push past their perceived limits.  I truly believe that we are all far more capable than we think.  Indeed, thinking too much can sometimes be counterproductive.

Here’s a recent personal example:

When ran my first Bolton parkrun  on Saturday 18 February 2012 my time was 25:46.  By 16 November 2013 I had managed to reduce this to 20:38 before my times plateaued.  I justified this by thinking:

  1. I was a returning runner and I was constantly stopping and starting training through niggles and injury.
  2. I was training for other things: marathons, and in 2015 IronmanUK – events that are much more about endurance rather than speed.

This rationalisation of the plateau remained until the day my Garmin battery ran out on 7 May 2016.

I found myself on the start line of the Bolton parkrun with many of my Burnden Road Runners friends wearing the club vest; we’d been asked to wear them as a way of promoting the club to the 300+ runners that were about to take part.  I looked down to my wrist and was met with a blank screen: the battery had died.   Without my watch I was forced to run on feel and I made the choice to run as hard as I could.  Luckily I had a faster club mate in front of me for most of the run and we took it in turns to push the pace along.  Without the feedback from my watch all I had go off was feel; and this is very different from running on feel at a known pace.  It was really hurting…but without the knowledge of the pace that was causing the pain it was just that: hurt and pain.

So I pushed on, crossed the line, jogged home.  I avoided any post-run discussion about the possible time that I had run, instead preferring to wait for the email to arrive later on in the day.  I thought that it would give me time to reflect on my run and try and come to a prediction about what my time would be.  In the end I couldn’t do it.  While waiting for my email I simply couldn’t work out what my time had been.  I knew that it hurt me a lot, but without that pain being anchored by the clock and given meaning through digits it was quickly forgotten.

It was then with some surprise that to find out that I’d taken 14 seconds off my previous best for the course.  It was a pleasing reminder to stop over-thinking things and just run.

Of course, there’s wealth of psychological theory to account for this.  But, I’ll save that for another post.  I don’t want to over-think the benefits of under-thinking!

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