My first marathon: Weeks 7 & 8

That’s it – I’ve officially passed the halfway point in my 16-week long marathon training schedule and it seems like everything I thought I knew about running is slowly unraveling! I don’t want to keep beginning my training recaps with “Crikey, this marathon malarky is hard” or “I’m tired out“, but seriously – it’s hard and I’m tired, and nothing I do/stretch/eat/soak/foam roll seems to get me quite back to normal.

I am at the mercy of the marathon, and I’m shitting myself about the whole thing.

This isn’t a tiredness that I’m used to or even one that I can sleep off. It’s hard to describe, but it’s a really deep kind of tiredness. I feel slow all the time, and not just when running. I’m walking slowly, cooking slowly, talking slowly, thinking slowly, sleeping slowly… Yeah, you read that right – my legs ache so much I can’t get comfortable in bed at night, so I’m slow getting to sleep each night. I never knew that slow sleeping was a thing, but it totally is and I’m doing it – every night.

Each time I’ve mentioned this slowness and heaviness to another runner they just nod knowingly and, with a wicked glint in their eye that almost resembles envy, they ask: “marathon training?“. Some of them even chuckle at my concerns, the cruel heartless bastards…

Last Monday I went to visit Marathon Girl for a yoga session in her garden and listed my concerns for her:

  1. I don’t think I can remember how to run fast.
  2. I think my legs have been beaten into an eternal shuffle.
  3. My right knee, left shoulder, right bum cheek, left tricep, lower back, left hip flexor, top of my right foot and left achilles are taking it in turns to hurt.
  4. I ate half a litre of chocolate brownie ice cream in a single sitting and I could probably do it again.

That’s marathon training, she responded. You’re learning to run long, not fast, and so you’re training in a completely different gear. 

I liked her analogy – I’m training in a different gear – and I’ve mulled it over during each of my runs. I’m running further than I’ve ever run before and accumulating mileage I used to be in awe of (I’m still a little bit in awe of it, but admitting that I’m in awe of myself is not cool), so I’m obviously getting fitter. I’m just a different kind of fit right now.

Never satisfied though I’ve decided to run a 10K race this weekend as a time trial and am running some shorter faster sessions this week to try and shift gears. Hopefully the 6.2 mile dash will blow out the cobwebs accumulated on those endless ‘steady’ runs. Any tips for last minute, gear-shifting 10K training sessions will be gratefully received in the comments below! In the meantime though, here’s my training from the last fortnight:

Week 7

Monday: Speedwork
5 x [mile @ tempo pace; 3 minutes rest]

This session was originally supposed to be 3 x 2 miles, but it was the middle of our recent heat wave and I was really struggling to hold my pace. Changing the session to single miles meant that I managed to keep my pace consistent in the heat. A few days later I discovered that running in the heat actually increases your heart rate, and so my ‘tempo’ pace on that blisteringly hot run would have been slower than usual. If I’d known that at the time may have just slowed down and stuck to the original 2 mile reps.

Tuesday: Marathon pace run (8 miles)
The heatwave continued and my planned 9-miler was cut short to 8. Despite waking an hour earlier so that I could avoid the heat I made it 4 miles up the road before clutching at a road barrier and trading in my planned loop route for an out-and-back. A passer-by laughed at me as we waited at some traffic lights together. “You must be mad!” he chuckled. Yeah, I must be… The mercury was pushing 30 degrees by lunchtime.

Wednesday: Strength training

Thursday: Long slow run (17 miles planned, 14.75 run)
After Monday and Tuesday’s sweaty ventures I was understandably nervous about going on my long run in the heat. I decided to head out of the city, hoping that it would be a little cooler away from busy roads and hot bus engines. It may have been cooler on the outskirts of North London, but it was still freakin’ hot!

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I ran through the countryside and into Hertfordshire (the ‘land of opportunity’ apparently), ducking into the shade of hedgerows whenever possible and feeling my 2 litre hydration pack getting unnervingly lighter. I knocked back energy gels every 45 minutes, as has become customary, but as I turned back towards London via Cockfosters and ran along a stretch of road that offered no shade and respite from the heat, I struggled to sip at my last gel, all warm and gooey and sickly sweet. As I ran past Cockfosters underground station and a newsagents advertising it’s chilled drinks I gave up.

Clocking 14.75 miles on one of the hottest days of the year I bought a bottle of coke, a chocolate Yazoo and a bottle of water, totally incapable of making a decision between the three and barely able to string words together as the shop assistant politely attempted to converse with me. As I sat in the cool shade of the underground train carriage the nausea and faintness soon passed, but I felt stupid for thinking that I could run that far in that heat and for running into such a rural area.

Friday: Threshold hills
4 x [8 minutes continuous hill running; 3 minutes rest]
I took every precaution I could before venturing back into the heat. I took nuun to drink and left the bottle at the bottom of the hill, trusting that no park users or dogs would nick it. I also did the unthinkable and, despite cursing sweaty, sunburnt, topless blokes wandering around the park, I went out in just a sports bra and shorts. Trust me, I’ve not got the abs for an outfit like that, but it felt freakin’ fantastic.

Saturday/Sunday: Dunwich Dynamo
120 mile overnight cycle ride
I almost pulled out of the semi-organised bike ride, but I’m glad I didn’t. I rode it last year with a big group of friends, but this year rode with a much smaller, much pacier group. I’ve never tried to cycle fast before, instead focusing on long, fun rides with friends. I’ve been really keen to try and push myself on the bike though, the same way I do when I’m running. The result? Much the same actually – nausea, tears, self doubt, numbness in my right hand…

It was so tough, but so worth it to arrive on the Suffolk coast less than 12 hours after leaving Hackney. That’s approximately 9 hours cycling and 120 miles, followed by a brief frolick in the sea. Actually, it wasn’t much of a frolick… my legs could barely hold me up as the sea crashed around my ankles and I fell over, rolled around in the shallow water like a drunk mermaid as the waves rolled over me. Ice bath? Check…

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Week 8

Monday: Rest and a lot of stretching…

Tuesday: Two failed attempts at a marathon pace run!
In another attempt to dodge the heat I embarked on a 9 mile MP run at 8am, got a mile up the rode, felt sick and ran home.

Total: 2 miles

Attempt number 2 took place that evening, just after 6pm. This time I got a bit further before feeling sick and turning round again.

Total: 4 miles

I felt like shit and contemplated pulling out of the marathon.

Wednesday: Hills
5 x [8 minutes continuous hill running; 3 minutes rest]
Unperturbed, I hit the park for another hill session. These sessions are getting longer each week and I’m finding them really tough. The sense of achievement when I finish each rep is huge though, and that pushes me on to the next. There is an outdoor gym next to the hill I run on and always loads of personal trainers dragging their clients around too. I like to think that I’m an example of how much worse their session could be.

Thursday: Speedwork on the track
4 x [400m @10K, 400m @5K, 400m faster; 2-3 minutes recovery]
I needed a boost after a crappy couple of weeks training. The heat had knocked my training and that had knocked my confidence, so I headed to the track for a session with my clubmates. I haven’t run on the track in nearly 18 months and had no idea it could be so fun. I buddied up with a new club member I’d not met before and we paced brilliantly through this tough session. Looking over my split times at home that night my confidence was restored.

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Friday: Progressive run
5K easy, 5K MP, 5K tempo
I knew it was a silly idea to run another fairly tough session after a night on the track, but as Tuesday had been such a duff run (2 duff runs in fact) I headed out to the park anyway. In the end I cut the last 5 K a little short as I had my long run scheduled for the next morning, but still got a good 8 miles out of it.

Saturday: Long slow run
18 miles. Yes, you read that correctly – 18 miles!
After last week’s disastrous long run I recruited Marathon Girl for some middle miles. She patiently waited for me, despite me arriving 40 minutes late after I took a wrong turn through Southgate and a 4 mile detour around North London. My lateness meant that she could only join me for the 3 miles between Alexandra Palace and Highgate village, but the company broke up the long run perfectly and before I knew it the miles on my watch were ticking over… 14, 15, 16, 17…

After taking in several of North London’s hills (including Parliament Hill twice – my navigation was a bit squiffy due to running-induced tiredness) my legs were shot to shit by mile 17 and I did everything I could to avoid going up another hill – a difficult task when you’re running on Hampstead Heath. In the end I ran back and forth alongside the athletics track, dodging dog walkers and wayward toddlers until my watch ticked over 18 miles, at which point I did a little cry before realising I was wasting valuable salts and pulled myself together.

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Halfway there…

How has your week’s training been?

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2 thoughts on “My first marathon: Weeks 7 & 8

  1. Well, you probably know a lot more about run training than I do (I just cycle) but what you describe sounds like over-training. If you’ve already structured your training around progressive load cycles with sufficient periodic rests it may we worth getting a test (they’re easy but not necessarily cheap – I can point you to a place in London if you’re interested) that can reliably diagnose over-training. Or just try building more rest into your schedule. Like I say, I’m not claiming expertise but that’s what it sounds like to me. If that is what’s leading to your aches and feelings of slowness it’s easy to correct at this stage.

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    1. Thanks Ian, I was surprised at just how reluctant I was to even consider that I might be overtraining! Typical runner… My training plan had been designed with a rest week every 5th week, my mileage was increasing gradually and the intensity of the sessions was also increasing gradually, so I don’t think my training plan was to blame. But I haven’t been resting properly and, as you’ve pointed out, I may have overdone it a little. I’m not working at the moment as I work in education, so I should be really relaxed, but I’ve been filling my time with lots of other activities to compensate for not working.

      Thanks for the reality check – this week has been much better!

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