Why run a marathon?

Two years ago today I took part in my first marathon in Philadelphia.

It’s not something I had ever really wanted to do, and other than the enthusiasm of RVRR, I’m not sure why I did it then.

As before the race, I didn’t really feel like I wanted to afterwards either:

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I still maintain that I don’t want to run a marathon – 26.2 miles is too far for me. So, you may ask, why am I doing it again in 5 days time?

The simple answer is that it sort of happened by accident. I signed up early in the year with the aim of using that entry as a training tool to help me on my way to a half marathon PR. At the time I thought there was a very good chance I would just end up running the half marathon.

Armed with my newly gained coaching qualifications I soon set myself a plan. As is always the case, life can get in the way – trying to juggle (and often failing at juggling) family, work, and anything else that comes up, can easily cause the plan to be abandoned. There were certainly weeks when this was the case, but it seems I was able to limit the impact, and this was borne out by my half marathon performance at the LeHigh Via Half and the Newport Half in September where I came tantalizingly close to that 1:30 barrier I had hoped to break through.

Throughout my training my goal was to break my first marathon time. If that wasn’t going to be likely, then I would drop my plans and run the half instead (why put myself through something like that if it’s going to be a disappointment – after all, I don’t want to be running that far anyway). Along the way I have been comparing to my prior experience training for the race in 2013 and I can see, and feel, the difference.

I know I have what it takes to beat my previous time, but I also realize I am fully at the whims of the day – anything can happen to ruin a marathon – so I am not counting out a failure yet. My 20 mile run a couple of weeks ago has given me a huge amount of confidence. I felt good, with no cramping problems, and was able to easily increase my speed as I progressed. It was by far my fastest time over such a distance.

Tapering has been interesting. I simultaneously feel happy to not be running so much, but I am also struggling with the feeling that I should be out there doing more (I actually have run less than my plan had allocated, so perhaps that’s valid).

Good luck to everyone running Philly, and no matter what happens out there, try to enjoy it.

So many updates – Philly Marathon training

I mean to blog more often, really I do. So when I finally get around to it I have way too much in my mind to know what to write about.

As I am now less than 4 weeks away from the Philadelphia Marathon I decided to review how my training has been going and compare to my first marathon attempt 2 years ago (also the Philadelphia Marathon).

I certainly feel better prepared this time around, but would be lucky having already done it once anyway?

Here’s my summary of what has gone well:

  1. My average weekly mileage during this build up has been 8+ miles more than 2 years ago.
  2. My confidence has been boosted by some quality runs – in particular a 17 mile run this past Saturday that felt relatively easy and at a decent pace, followed by an 8k cross country race on Sunday where, despite tired legs, I recorded a time I was more than happy with.
  3. Despite some issues with tight calf muscles, they seem to be responding to the training and have become less of an issue.
  4. 2 years ago I had issues with what seemed to be my knee but actually turned out to be a tight muscle in my lower leg. This year I have no such issues. That problem caused me to panic slightly before that year’s race, and, not having run long for a while, just 3 weeks before the marathon I went out hard on a 17 mile run to “make up for lost miles”. It didn’t work and resulted in less running that week.
  5. Based on my coaching courses I actually set up a plan for myself.
  6. RVRR weekly track workouts have been enormously beneficial.
  7. Joining a gym a block from the office and getting to work an hour early to use the treadmill has been incredibly important in helping keep my mileage up (often resulting in 2 runs per day).
  8. A fairly accidental series of half marathon races (5 over 6 weekends, with 2 10ks and a 5k thrown in on the same weekends) appear to have helped, at least with my confidence.
  9. Through my training, my conversation running pace appears to now be faster by about 20 seconds.

and what has not:

  1. My intention to keep mileage high was sidetracked in early October with a work trip to the UK and then again by a cold that knocked me out for half a week (just last week), so my average weekly mileage should have been higher. The average across all weeks has only been around 40, but with a few high mileage weeks in the low 50s.
  2. Despite the calf muscle problems easing, I’m still not entirely convinced those muscles are ready for 26.2. In my 2013 marathon, the calf muscles were almost my downfall with muscle spasms starting at mile 18 of the race so I am wary here.
  3. Serious marathon training requires more time than I realistically have available without causing detriment to other things. I’ve seen the kids less, and I’ve not been as helpful around the house.
  4. I’m pretty sure now that 26.2 is beyond what I really want to be running. I love half marathons and I’m pretty sure that I’ll be looking to stick to that (at least for racing) for a few years.

With all this in mind, I strongly believe I am all set for a marathon PR, but, as I was discussing recently with a friend, anything can go wrong with a marathon and then all that hard work is wasted.

Nervous yet?

This was a question posed to me by a friend (this friend) on my Facebook wall, in relation to the upcoming Philadelphia Marathon, my first attempt at the distance.

My response was as follows “Not yet. Weather looks like it will be fine (temperature wise anyway), I have no expectations for time which is helping (sort of helps that my training hasn’t been as planned for 2 months because I don’t feel that pressure to run fast – of course, I’d still like to). I just want to make sure I enjoy the experience. The Runner’s World weekend reminded me of how much fun it can be when there’s no pressure (from myself).”

My state of nerves hasn’t changed in the two days since I posted this. I think my main worry in the lead up to this race has been about what to wear – not wanting to be too cold – but with an overnight low currently forecast as being in the mid-40s everything should be perfect. I have some old clothes to discard at the start so that’s no longer worrying me.

I’m not even worried that the cold I had still has me with a runny nose and very minor sore throat, or even that the muscle issue I had which caused knee pain still appears to be there (although not as bad as it was). As my friend said when I posted my reply to his query “in other words, you are ready”.

I do keep having to tell myself not to worry about time though. The advice seems to be “your goal for your first marathon should just be to finish”, and I’m sort of there with respect to thinking that way. However… my main worry is selling myself short on how fast I can be. Why should I start off slower when maybe, just maybe, I should just push it, just a little bit, to see if I can achieve that ideal, perfect goal that I would have in my ideal marathon (you know, the goal I should be saving for my second, or, more likely, third marathon).

When I signed up I indicated a finish time of that absolute ideal time which has put me in the Black corral (at the back of it anyway). I should definitely start slower than that, but with thoughts of maybe picking up the pace later on (but not too early). As with anyone else in their first marathon, it’s difficult to know what will happen after 20 miles (if training runs are anything to go by, chances are that’s when I will slow down a lot and interestingly it didn’t seem to matter on those runs how fast I’d run up to that point) but hopefully it won’t be too bad.

Realistically I’m looking for a time around 3:40 I think and if I’m going to enjoy it I probably shouldn’t push for faster than that, but I can’t wait to find out what happens on the day.

For anyone interested, my bib number is 2524 and this is likely what I’ll be wearing:

Haven't decided whether to go with a cap or beanie yet.

Haven’t decided whether to go with a cap or beanie yet.

The best way I can think to describe what this run will be like is “my longest run where there happen to be thousands of other runners, and people cheering us on”.

Running without a watch

The East Brunswick Road Races Event is one of my favorite race days for several reasons:

  1. The whole family can come along and take part in the Kids Pumpkin Dash, or the 1 mile fun run.
  2. The kids that do the dashes get a pumpkin and a table of paints to decorate it after their run.
  3. There are always lots of people I know there because it is organized by RVRR (this was the first year I have also volunteered).
  4. There is a 5k and a 10k – both start at the same time, and you can choose which one you are going to do, even as late as the 5k turnaround (there are two finishing chutes and you run into the one for the distance you covered).
  5. It’s a pleasant course – tree lined, country roads, although residential (they say it’s fairly flat “with rolling hills”, but it feels like the rolling hills dominate).
  6. The 5k/10k don’t start until 1pm, so no early Sunday morning alarm.

As I volunteered yesterday, all my race gear was packed in the car ready to change into. I helped set up the water stops, helped out for a while at registration, then headed over to see my kids run in the pumpkin dashes.

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It was then that I got ready for the race and realized I didn’t have my Garmin GPS watch with me. It didn’t bother me too much – firstly, I had no particular goal in mind and secondly, I’ve been trying not to look at it much during races this year. In previous years they’ve had a couple of people out on the course at the mile markers calling out the time so I thought I would at least have an idea of how I was doing. However, that didn’t happen this year.

After the start I soon settled into my rhythm and stuck with it despite the temptation to keep up with others – I suppose that’s another positive about this race; as the 5k starts at the same time you know there are some people who will be turning round before you, so in your mind (at least in mine anyway) there isn’t such a need to push hard at the start because you don’t always know who you’re up against. I suppose it could go the other way too if you’re inclined to try to keep up anyway, and then realize those you’ve been keeping up with are all doing the 5k.

It took a bit of getting used to not knowing my pace. I genuinely had no clue how well I was running all the way through. I was out on the road on my own for much of the time with a view of a couple of runners ahead who were pulling away at first, but after the turn it seemed as though I was gaining very slowly. I believe I paced myself well as I didn’t feel I was slowing a huge amount towards the end (although the last little hill hurt). There were times when I felt I might be pushing too hard so I eased off very slightly at those times – there’s definitely something to be said about just listening to what your body is telling you as this turned out to be a new best 10k time for me by a mere 3 seconds, but my previous fastest was on a flatter course, and comparing my time to the same race last year, I was 1 minute 22 seconds faster. Finishing time: 41:25.53 (full results here).

Overall I would definitely do this again (run without a watch that is), but I would really like to be able to look back at my mile splits to see whether I really did run it evenly. I may have to take the approach of taping over the watch screen, as I’ve seen that done before.

Thanks to Mahesha Chayapathi for these photos at the turnaround:

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ebrr2 ebrr3

Several hours after the run I had some pain in my knee – this is the first time that has happened to me. A huge part of me wants to blame my choice of shoe (whenever I’ve had problems before it’s been shoe related). I’m not sure what made me choose to run in my New Balance Minimus Road Zero when I have been so loyal to the Merrell Trail Glove 2 (and, on occasion, the Vibram Bikila) – it was probably just that I haven’t worn them much at all this year, but maybe that was a bad decision. Hopefully it’s not too bad – only 5 weeks until the Philadelphia Marathon, and this coming weekend is the hat-trick (5k, 10k, half marathon) at the Runner’s World Festival weekend.


Benefits of a running club

Technically speaking, this should probably be entitled “Benefits of joining the right running club”. I joined a running club (the fantastic RVRR) after running for a year and a half. I had decided to sign up for a half marathon (after only running in 5k races. and running a maximum of about 4 miles in a single run).

I saw the benefits early on – the simple motivation of being around people who could run much further, much easier, but also within a group of people which included such a wide range of runners that I could find people who were running at a pace I could manage. At that time I remember running with people who were chatting away as we ran but I was incapable of maintaining a conversation.

Reflecting back on that I see how much I have changed as a runner – just the other week I realized that now I’m one of those running “fast” and having conversation with others, as newer members huff and puff to keep up (don’t worry, you’ll get there, just keep going and before you realize you’re looking back as I am now at how far you have come).

Last week I ran more miles than I have ever run in a single week (51.5 miles total), and I can credit that to the running club in many ways, and I didn’t even do that many of those miles with the club.

I certainly pushed myself to do more in the weekly club speed workout on Tuesday, and I turned up early for the Wednesday club run to join a few people for a few early miles, which helped, although the Tuesday workout had taken its toll and I didn’t complete the whole Wednesday course with those I started running with, but even on Saturday, when I decided not to join the club run so I could run long without stopping, and at my own pace, the club helped.

I ran out fairly early through Johnson Park and out to the towpath of the D&R canal with the intention of running 20 miles. At first there was nobody around at all, but as it got later I came across more and more runners on the path. Then at about 8.5 miles I recognized a runner from the club going the other way, and it was enough to make me smile (which always gives a boost). I carried on, and turned around at about the 10.1 mile mark of my run. I managed to pick up the pace – I wonder if part of this was the motivation of seeing if I could get back in time to see others on the towpath running as part of the club run.

Saturday_run

At around my 16 mile mark I saw a fairly large group of fast runners from the club coming towards me in the opposite direction – as they passed I heard a shout of “looking strong” (I’m sure they were going faster than me though, but thanks anyway) and I’m sure that gave me a boost too. My final four miles were the fastest of my whole run at about 7:55/mile (mile 18 was affected by the fact you have to walk across rocks to get off the towpath back to Landing Lane) – http://www.strava.com/activities/82334472/laps

I feel positive about the marathon again – 20.2 miles in 2:48 would mean that I would have an hour and twelve minutes to do 6 miles and beat that 4 hour barrier in my first marathon and it feels like that could be fairly easily within reach (although I know I still don’t really know how I will react to those extra 6 miles).

The planning has already started to find out who from the club is running Philadelphia, and who will come along to support, and most importantly, how many will attend the after-party. I’m looking forward to it again!

Do you run with a club? Are you lucky enough to have found a group that has such a wide variety of runners that you can always find someone to run with on any particular day, no matter what you feel like doing?