I’m taking a day off running today. Just as well really; It’s raining outside and I’m tired. In fact, I’m planning to take the whole week off running. I don’t think I’ve ever taken a full week off running, not even when I’ve been injured, so this is a new experience for me.
The reason? Well, I ran the London Marathon on Sunday and this time round I am trying to give myself a proper recovery before starting my next training block. That means one week off, a second week of easy jogging and then at least 4 weeks of slowly building up the mileage with easy runs and a couple of controlled tempo efforts to strengthen my body before hitting the hard stuff again. The oft-quoted cliché amongst runners is that ‘you’ve got to build your house before you can live in it.’ I’m sure there are many more like this. The idea is that you can’t try and attempt tough sessions without building up to them. The body needs to be ready for hard training, so building your base is extremely important. Arthur Lydiard famously insisted on a prolonged period of aerobic conditioning as preparation for his athletes; even his middle distance athletes were logging triple figure mileage during their base period. And with great success. Without this base, you cannot manage the hard runs that make you a faster runner, nor do you have the strength to recover from them quickly. Now, I’m not saying my training is perfect (far from it), but my training logs from the last few years are littered with examples of trying sessions I’m not ready for or will not benefit from.
I had this conversation with Mark, one of my training partners, when we were down in London at the weekend. We had spent the evening chatting to other runners about training, racing and injury and the two of us were unanimous in our belief that a large number of the problems our fellow runners faced were due to racing when not ready or attempting overly challenging sessions for their condition. They had tried to live in their house before it was fully built. It’s hard. Everyone likes instant gratification, and it is difficult to adopt a patient approach when training. Your instinct is to rush, to push yourself too early on, and to seek assurances that you are training well with day-on-day gains in fitness. I should know; I’m as guilty of this as any other runner.
Mark also pointed out the fact that as well as the base you build in each training cycle, all your training contributes to your ‘lifetime base.’ In no distance does this theory hold truer than in the marathon. The 2:38 I clocked on Sunday was a decent enough time, but the suspicion lingers in my mind that it still isn’t quite in line with my times for the shorter distances. I’ll get there though. The strength gained with years and years of running doesn’t just disappear. I like to think of my running ‘career’ as a mountain with several smaller peaks on the way up. Whilst you need to come down off each peak, you find that when you start to climb again you are slightly higher up then you were the last time round. If I keep going, I’m sure my times over longer distances will come down even further.
No humour this time round, no tales of determination and suffering, just some thoughts that are going through my mind as I take some much needed downtime.
The aim was to have a go at 2:30, or at least try and get as close as possible. I felt I had earned the right to at least try after all the training I’ve been doing. This meant averaging 5:40 per mile so that was the pace I set off at. I was clicking off the miles nicely for 17 miles, only straying from my target pace by a few seconds at every mile marker. I ran about 14 miles with a guy from Coventry Godiva, another Midlands club, whom I recognised and realised was trying to hit the same splits as me.
At every drink station I sipped water or lucozade depending on what was being offered. Usually I cope just fine with this but today all the fluid just sat in my stomach and from about 8 miles I had a pretty uncomfortable stitch. This also meant that breathing became quite difficult, and that I didn’t take on any more as I knew this would make me feel sick. I kept the pace going but after about 17 miles the effect of not absorbing any liquids really caught up with me. I slowed down dramatically and started getting passed by some other runners. It wasn’t a huge number, but that is mainly due to the fact that the field is so thin around the 2:30 mark. The people who passed me were moving a lot quicker than I was. Just after 19 miles, I put in a surge to try and stick with a group who were coming past, but it felt as though I was sprinting just to stay with what was quite a modest pace. Shortly after passing the 20 mile marker in around 1:55 or 1:56 (it’s hard to recall this part of the race) I started wobbling and collapsed. Race over. I briefly considered getting up again and carrying on but I could barely speak, let alone run. It took the best part of a minute just to give the police officer my wife’s phone number. The St John’s Ambulance team took me to their tent and lay me down. After some time there, my stomach settled and the fluids started to get absorbed. I started feeling much better and headed to the finish to meet my family.
Some lessons learned:
1. Practise with drinks.
Sometimes I do drink on the run, but never at the same kind of pace I try to run a marathon at. Part of the problem may have been that my body is not used to taking on liquids whilst running at that intensity. Practising drinking on the run should help me work out exactly how much my stomach can handle at once and I won’t take on too much liquid.
2. Train harder and smarter.
I know I’ve increased both the volume and intensity of my training in the last 6 months, but there are definite areas I need to work on. For a start, I haven’t been running my long runs hard enough. In order to run a good marathon, you need to run a significant chunk of your long runs at target pace. The cost of this may be my long rep session on a Tuesday, but with the other speedwork I do, this shouldn’t be a problem.
Long rep/short recovery sessions will remain a fixture of my training schedule, as it is crucial to practise running when tired and with lactic accumulation in the legs. Mixing up the distances is also beneficial. I’ve found that alternating fast short efforts with long sustained efforts can really help train the body for the fatigue that comes from running 42k. Running doubles has also helped with my strength, as has the increase in the number of miles I’ve been running. This will continue.
3. Don’t trash talk
…about running times you’re not sure you’re capable of. When someone asks what time you’re going to run, be conservative in your claims.
I put a lot of pressure on myself, and perhaps I don’t need to put any more on my telling people I’m going to run a certain time.
4. Sometimes you just have a bad race
I’ve had some good races recently as a result of all the training I’ve been putting in. I’ve recorded PBs for 5k, half marathon and 20 miles, and even beat my 10k time in a solo effort on the track. Maybe I was just due a bad race. Sometimes you prepare well and just have a bad day.
Regular followers of this blog will know that I am running the London Marathon on Sunday. Doing what I do best on my days off work (browsing the internet for running related stories) I found this article about the celebrities who are taking part in this year’s race and which charities they are raising money for.
Here’s my analysis of the competition I’m up against:
Though I doubt I will ever forgive Mr Young for his cover of Light My Fire by the Doors, I have quite some admiration for the man. He clearly has an exceptional pair on lungs on him, but will they be good enough to get him round the course in his predicted 3 hours and 30 minutes?
The Trinidadian made his name scoring countless goals for Aston Villa and Manchester United amongst other clubs. He was the classic poacher with a great eye for goal, and is using his celebrity to raise funds for Vision. He famously did a runner from his relationship with Jordan, another person who has participated in this event. Can he do the same thing at London?
I predict a right sore pair of calves in the morning. The Kaiser Chiefs’ singer is competing this year in order to raise money for the Alzheimers Society.
Another footballer competing in this year’s event, the Welshman had a hugely successful career, scoring in every Premier League season before his retirement. Known for his ability to tuck away a penalty under pressure, the marathon should pose a different challenge. He is now the national team coach. He can manage Craig Bellamy, but can he manage 26.2 miles?
James Cracknell and Matthew Pinsent
These men are machines. Rowers are just about the fittest breed of athlete on the planet, and their lung capacity is matched only by their mental toughness. With numerous World Championship and Olympic golds between them, the marathon should pose little challenge. Who will be first down the Mall?
Jamie Baulch and Iwan Thomas
Another pair who competed together, but in an event slightly more similar to the one taking place on Sunday. In Baulch and Thomas you have two of the finest 400m runners this country has ever produced. Baulch holds the British indoor record, whilst Thomas holds the outdoor equivalent. There is no doubt that these man can run fast, but how do they feel about running 100 times their usual distance?
5 reasons why Tsegay Kebede will win the London Marathon on April 17th…
1. He won last year
Kebede produced an excellent performance to win the race last year, improving on his second placing in 2009. He knows the course well and is a popular athlete who will have a lot of support on the streets of London. He isn’t afraid to push the pace and will take on anyone who fancies a race.
Prize money, pride and international acclaim aside, there is nothing that motivates an Ethiopian athlete quite like the idea of sticking it to the Kenyans. Gebrselassie loved beating Tergat. Defar and Dibaba love beating Masai and Cheruiyot. Imane Merga took great pleasure in brushing aside the whole Kenyan team at the recent world cross country, and as recently as last weekend, Dejen Gebremeskel couldn’t help but remind Eliud Kipchoge exactly who had crossed the finish line first at the Carlsbad 5k.
Kebede still holds the memory of some big defeats at the hands of Sammy Wanjiru, absent this year due to injury. This year the challenge from the southern neighbours comes courtesy of last year’s runner up Emmanuel Mutai, 3 time winner Martin Lel, world champion Abel Kirui and sub 2:05 man James Kwambai.
Tsegay Kebede has run 9 major marathons in his career. The slowest of these was run in 2:10:00 and this was in the Olympic Games in Beijing. He has only finished outside the top 3 once and this was on his debut. He has a personal best of 2:05:18 and has finished within seconds of this time on other occasions. Throw in a few 2:06s and World and Olympic medals and you have the most consistent marathon racer around. The phrase ‘bad race’ is not in this man’s vocabulary.
4. The Course
Kebede runs his best races on flat courses. London fits that bill well. Although London is regarded by the elites as a twisty course, it generally produces quick times. Dave Bedford will have assembled a high quality team of pacemakers to make sure the pace stays high and that wheat and chaff are well and truly sorted. Not that our man will need them though. He is more than happy to take up the running and push the pace out of reach of weaker athletes.
5. World Championships
Assuming this summer’s world championships in South Korea are part of Kebede’s race plans, he will want to put down a marker to show the world he is the man to beat, as well as making sure he is the first name on the Ethiopian squad list. The marathon here will form part of the World Marathon Majors for 2010/2011, a title the Kebede is known to covet, particularly having lost so narrowly to Wanjiru at Chicago in October.