Training without a plan

With just over a week to go until the Newport Liberty Half Marathon I decided to look back at my post about getting back to fitness in time just over a month ago. In that post I talked about putting together a plan but in the end that just didn’t happen.

I did sign up for the club speed workouts (but immediately missed the first two, one because of vacation), and so far the only sessions I have attended were last week and this week. The other training tools I talked about didn’t happen at all.

I’m still not sure where this leaves me for next week. I did run just over 12 miles this past Sunday so at least I have a little distance behind me (but not as much as I would have hoped), and my mileage went up dramatically last week (a very long track session, and a couple of other days where I ran further than planned simply because I felt good and decided to push). That increase in mileage broke the guide of “no more than a 10% increase week on week”, but it may have worked out okay for me. I was much stronger at this week’s speed workout.

I’m confident I’ll get through the race in a reasonable time given the training so overall I’m happy, but I will have to find another half later in the year to push myself towards if I want to see my time drop closer to last year’s levels.

Are you running the Newport Liberty Half? How ready do you feel?

(As previously noted, I am an official blog partner for the Newport Half for which I have received a free entry. I have consistently run this race for several years, most of which were before becoming a blog partner, and this status does not influence my opinion of the race, as early posts about this race on my blog will confirm).

London Marathon 2016

I was lucky enough to run the Virgin Money London Marathon on Sunday April 24th. The experience was amazing, and it’s worth a detailed look at how the day (and the weekend) took shape.

I’d had concerns over muscle tightness which affected my training but this run was never about time as I was raising money for Myeloma UK in memory of my dad.

The Expo

The expo opens several days in advance and by the time I got to London on Friday afternoon it seemed to be getting busy. Despite the stream of people heading in there was no wait at all to get my bib and final instructions. You then had to proceed to pick up the timing chip which gets attached to your shoe.

Then you walk into the merchandise area – as this is such a once in a lifetime experience (well, maybe it won’t be, but more on that later) I wanted to get some souvenirs. Walking on brings you to the vendor area.

I would imagine the expo is packed on Saturday, but it was well organised and therefore may not be too bad.

Getting to the start

I was staying at a hotel in Canary Wharf and I was a little worried about trains being overcrowded by the time I got there. I met a group of other runners in the hotel lobby and we walked together. It was before 8am so the train wasn’t too crowded. The race starts at 10am so we knew there was plenty of time. It was a little chilly so the concern was that we’d have to stand around in the cold for too long. The announcer on the train catered to the runners pointing out parts of the course visible from the DLR line and clearly indicating where we should get off. From there it was a matter of following the steady stream of runners to the park. There are different colour coded start lines, and the biggest is the Red Start which is where I was headed – everything was well signposted.


At the start area

I didn’t know what to expect at the start, but it was different from any other race I have been to. As it was still early it wasn’t crowded at all. It certainly got busier later, but there appeared to be plenty of portaloos, and urinal areas for both men and women (no idea how those were configured).

In the field was a big screen showing the starts of the other races, and showing entertainment as well as a local MC talking to people in the crowd.

After a while I wandered slowly to the bag lorries – it was starting to warm up so my extra layers I was planning to throw away got put in my bag instead. As I wandered past the end of that area, I spotted a bandstand with a TV crew set up. I was a bit too late as they were just wrapping up the broadcasts from that area, but just next to it was a tent serving tea and coffee, so I had a cup of tea.

The I headed to my start zone which was starting to fill up at around 9:30.

The start

As I was running with my phone (which is rare), I decided to try the Garmin LiveTrack to broadcast my progress. I set up a new track, set it up to share with some key people via email, and to post to Facebook and connected my Fenix 3 to my phone. Then it was a matter of starting the activity on my watch when I crossed the start line.

The start is somewhere outside those gates

Things started shuffling along and close to the line things started to move faster.

The red banner is the start line – I crossed it just before 10:05am

Early miles

Maybe the tea before the start was a bad idea, but I needed to pee almost straight away. The first set of portaloos was not far in and, as there were urinals for the men behind them, I decided it could be a quick stop and I took advantage of that.

The first few miles are fairly quiet with not a huge amount to see except other runners, including those dressed up – here’s a selfie of me with SpongeBob behind me.

The first landmark is around mile 6 when you reach the Cutty Sark

I’d planned to see family around the mile 9 mark. Soon after 9 miles I started to look for landmarks (I’d been texted a photo to help me find them – it didn’t help) but thought I still had a way to go. But then I heard my name being called, looked around and spotted my sister – I was still running, and was already past, but luckily there was space, as it was on a corner, to safely double back for my first photo op.

The kids were up on a wall, and although I waved, I didn’t get a photo of them

The Middle

By the time I reached Tower Bridge (the 20k point was on the bridge, and halfway soon after) I could tell my calf muscles were tight and I was mildly worried. I kept thinking that although my muscles had got tight in training, they’d never actually got to the point of full cramping, so I hoped that would be the case here.

I was hoping to see a family friend after the halfway point but after a while of scanning the crowds I was starting to think that I must have missed him, but suddenly there he was, so I stopped again.

I’d passed the halfway point in about 1:55 so it seemed reasonably that I would be able to manage around 4 hours, but, as I felt good, I decided to pick up the pace a little around mile 14 or 15. I’d had messages that the family were having a hard time to get to our second planned point (14.5 miles) and they weren’t going to be there in time (they probably could have if they weren’t as large a group, including 5 young kids and a pushchair). Just after that point I got a confusing text so I called my wife to find out what was actually going on. It turned out they were around the 21 mile mark so I pushed on. At this time the streets were narrower and my stops had obviously put me behind some runners who were either already slower, or starting to slow.

I was now slightly faster than I had been and I was struggling to find a way through the slower crowds having to move from side to side all over the road, and having to slow down where gaps were not available. So, advice for running here – don’t try to run your best race by taking it slower in the first half if you’re going to be slower than wherever there are a larger volume of runners – you just won’t be able to run consistent pacing.

Later miles

Spotting the family at mile 21 was easier – perhaps because I had a better sense of exactly where they were.

When I was around the 15 mile mark I had also received a text from a friend letting me know they were just before the 22 mile mark so after this stop I was keeping an eye out – however I was keeping an eye out on my right (to my left were the runners who were around 14 miles heading out to Canary Wharf) so when I heard my name being shouted from the opposite side of the road I was caught by surprise. However, I was able to get across and stand in the middle of the road to briefly say hi (but no photo).

It was soon after that my right calf had a twinge. It wasn’t much but this is how it had started in my previous marathons – although to be fair, having this happen at mile 22 rather than mile 15 was actually quite encouraging.

Around mile 23 I passed a collapsed runner being attended to – it looked like they were preparing to use a defribrillator. It was an incredibly sad moment, and is only sadder now that I know he didn’t make it.

I pushed on, still feeling good, and still passing people. The worst twinge of my calf happened around mile 24, but it didn’t seize up so I was lucky. Others were clearly fatigued and struggling. Around mile 25 somebody stumbled right in front of me and I had to move nimbly out of the way to avoid tumbling over her. She was okay and got right up.

There’s not much to say about the finish that can’t be seen in the video below

The finish

When you have passed through the finish line, volunteers check you still have your timing chip, you collect a medal, and a goody bag – I didn’t really look in the bag until later – I picked out a drink and some snacks and went to get my own bag (all very well organised and quick). The bag contained some snacks, drinks, a finisher’s t-shirt, and a heatsheet (I saw people with them but at the time assumed I’d missed that pick up point, not thinking it would be in my bag – this was fine because I didn’t really need it and was able to put my own extra clothes on very quickly).

Then it was on to the meeting points in Horse Guards Parade where I met the Myeloma UK representative and waited for the family.

I would thoroughly recommend taking any opportunity you can to do this race. This was supposed to be my last marathon for many years, but knowing that I can take my time and enjoy myself like this, it is so tempting to do all over again.

Oh, and my second half was slightly faster than my first, so I was very happy with that.

Fighting tight muscles

  • It seems like my muscles have always been tight. I used to blame cycling, and now I blame running, but what I should really be blaming is myself for not stretching enough.

I go through phases (usually because things seem particularly bad) where I stretch as much as I should. That phase is often short-lived, and within a few days I’m stretching half as much. It’s easy to find excuses – in my case, it’s not having time. I always feel under enough pressure with other things I need to do, or places I need to be, and the tightness that caused me to start stretching has eased enough to have that time taken up with just the run part of the routine (an extra mile or two instead of stretching – sure, I need the miles, why not?).

I have to find a way to break this cycle, and while I feel I got close this time around, I’m starting to slip back into those bad habits. Perhaps the London Marathon will force me back into that stretching routine. I need to make sure I’m at least in a reasonable state to run the Newport 10k three weeks later. Fingers crossed.

How do you manage your stretching routine? Do you have any methods that work to make sure you get the correct level of stretch (before and after the run)?

Here are examples of stretches I try to incorporate.

Stretching prior to a run:

Dynamic stretches


After a run – static stretch 

A variety of stretches ensuring a focus on the: hamstring, calf, quad, IT band.

Sometimes I will include a plank.



Training when injured

Injury is more likely during a training cycle so it’s important to have a plan that’s not too aggressive to limit the possibility of getting injured

Of course, there’s never a fail-safe way to avoid getting injured, and it may be something not directly related to your running that causes it.

My own “injuries” in the past (I use quotation marks as I’m not sure they count) have been minor and have barely stopped me from running. Invariably they were caused by tight muscles and usually originate in the calf. The first time it happened was relatively minor and I was soon able to determine what was pulling on my knee and massage it out myself. The second time was more uncomfortable and more widespread, but finding a massage therapist sorted that one out (and I’ve had monthly massages since).

Right now I’m in the middle of a marathon training cycle (a marathon I’ve already declared to be my last for many years, but which I am running for charity with no time goals) and just over 2 weeks ago I felt the pull on my knee that indicated to me that I had another muscle issue.

Given the timing, the fact that this was worse than anything I’ve had before, and that I have good insurance, I booked an appointment with a Physical Therapist. By that time I had pretty much decided that what caused this was an overenthusiastic Bodycombat session a couple of days earlier (the pain happened during my first run after that class and I had been giving the kicks everything I had).

So what did I do to keep myself active in the hope that I wouldn’t lose too much?

  1. Rowing machine – my morning routine includes going to the gym near my office, so rather than getting on the treadmill I used the rowing machine (at first the bike was also pulling on my knee but the rowing machine caused no issues)
  2. Strengthening exercises as indicated by the PT
  3. Occasional attempts at running – at first my knee would hurt half a mile into a run, so I would run half a mile, or extend it out to see how I coped. I wanted to see how quickly it recovered. As things seemed to be working themselves out through PT sessions, regular stretching and the strengthening work, recovery was better, and the distance I felt I could safely run got longer.
  4. This final exercise was the unusual one. Just a couple of months ago I had received a Halfbike which was the outcome of a Kickstarter campaign. I will write a full review of the Halfbike in my next post, but I have to say that, whether it helped or not overall, it was mentally the best thing for me. It kept me out with the running club and I was surprised at how much distance I was able to cover on it.

Clearly the type of injury and advice from doctors or PTs will make a difference to what you are able to do. I was able to isolate my injury to primarily one muscle and that helped determine what I could do. I’m happy to say that after 2 weeks I have now managed to run 4 miles pain free so hopefully I can build on that safely.

New Year, no posts….until now

I’ve managed to do it again – neglected my blog. What I have not been neglecting, however, is running.

It can be a tough time of year to get motivated to run, so what gets you out when it’s (well) below freezing?

Here’s my list of what is keeping me going:

  1. Upcoming races: Although I have no speed expectations this year (deliberately so), I still want to be race ready, and with the first USATFNJ Team Championship race coming up on March 20 (Miles for Music), there’s not much time left.
  2. A Running Club: Whether it’s for other people to run with, or just knowing that others are out there, this can seriously help with motivation. For me, it’s good to know there will be a good crowd out for the RVRR Wednesday and Saturday runs – in February RVRR provides extra motivation with a “breakfast incentive” in the month of February – make it to all the Saturday runs this month and you get $10 towards breakfast after the final run (not bad for a membership that costs $23).
  3. Just keeping active: just knowing that you can’t stop – I know if I don’t run for a while I am likely to be more cranky. Also, if I didn’t run I might have to cut down on beer and food.
  4. The London Marathon: Yes, I’m running the London Marathon in April – this will be my last marathon for a long, long time now that I’ve determined it’s too far for me. This one will mean a lot to me, as I’m running in aid of Myeloma UK in memory of my dad.

All you need to carry on running whatever the weather is the right clothing. Layers are good and I find that Merino Wool works well for me, quality cold weather gloves and a hat (or balaclava for the really cold days). I don’t worry too much about socks and footwear (in the really cold weather this past weekend I did wear merino injinji socks and trail shoes for a little extra warmth).