Race Strategy

I am now a very confused ham.

I keep hearing people talking about Race Strategy in terms of time and distance, pace and phases of the race.  I’ve never run a race that way… I thought that this flowchart described the entirity of Race Strategy

A Run Along The Canal

(Note: you can click on the pictures to see a bigger version)

One thing I have discovered about running as a hobby is that…. well… it’s not always about the running.  Take today, for example.

Don’t walk on the ice!

My plan was to run along the Union Canal.  This is a great place to run as it is comparatively soft underfoot (it’s not concrete), and it’s flat.  The Union Canal is a so-called “contour canal”, which means that it stays the same height above sea level from start to finish.

I joined the canal where it meets Nicolton Road.  The first thing I noticed was that the canal was partially iced over, and the way the thin ice had frozen resulted in a really interesting pattern of cracks.

But now for the dilemma.  I’m running, right?  That means I should be concentrating on times, on splits, on keeping the effort level up and the heart rate in a certain zone, no?

Well, for some training, sure.  For the marathon itself, undoubtedly.  But for a long, slow run where you are seeing beauty you don’t normally take the chance to see?  Sorry, no… So I stopped and took a picture.

Then came the big challenge.  The stop had obviously affected my average pace, so should I run a bit faster to catch up?  Well, I was on a long, slow run.  The idea is that you run quite slowly, a full minute per mile slower than your projected marathon pace, to get used to spending lots of time on your feet but without damaging your muscles.

Two swans a-swimming – just!

Let me say, running a minute per mile slower than you want to – slower than your natural pace – is really, really difficult.  And of course I ran faster to try to get the average pace back to where it should be!

The next thing I saw was these two swans.  When I arrived, they were walking on this thin ice, and beating it with their feet.  By the time I got the picture taken, they had broken through and were sitting in the water itself.  They must have had cold behinds!

Again I tried to catch up with the average time, but there was significantly more tree cover by this point and Runkeeper and my phone were having a very difficult time giving me an accurate position, and hence an accurate time.  So I had little real idea how fast I actually was going.  One quarter mile gave me a pace of eleven minutes thirty per mile, the next seven fifteen, with no feeling of a change of effort level on my part.


The next point of interest is one that will be my Photo of the Day today.  We had some pretty severe storms recently in Central Scotland, and the evidence is still widely visible in the form of fallen trees, or trees whose branches have been ripped off by the wind.

Well, it turns out that the canal didn’t escape either, and it is in fact blocked by a fallen tree.  I don’t know how long the canal has been blocked, and how long it will remain this way.  But it’s quite a sight to see!

The canal enters a tunnel at the south-west of Falkirk, and that was the point at which I chose to turn round and head for home.  My aim had been to run for seventy-five minutes, by the time I got home it had been closer to ninety!

Next week I hope to run a similar route, but going a bit further east before joining the canal.  I hope to stop and take pictures again!

Week 1 of Training

So, that was the first week of training, was it?

I am thinking of renaming this blog “A Life In Lycra”!  What with training on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday, and yesterday’s marathon training seminar, I seem to be spending more time in running gear than in normal clothes.

Tuesday saw a 4.8 mile “easy” run round Dalgety Bay. This route was partly road running and partly along the beautiful Fife Coastal Path. However, I think I may have let my foot fall badly at some point, because I had a few twinges for the next couple of days.

My next run was Thursday. This time, I started off trying to keep my pace solidly in the aerobic heart rate zone. That was undoubtedly an interesting experience; in order to do that I had to keep myself to around an 11:30 minutes per mile pace. I lasted with that for the first half of the run, then gave up and went at a more normal pace for the second half. I later learned that the technique was all wrong, and that I should only be looking for a specific zone after about a fifteen minute warmup.

Saturday saw the marathon training session I described yesterday, where my training plan was thrown into some amount of chaos.  We did a threshold training session during the day, where we ran 4 x 5-minute threshold runs with 90s jogging in between.  Sadly Runkeeper failed to record the session correctly, so I am going to be generous and give myself three miles for that effort and make up a calorie count.

Sunday saw my first Long, Slow Run (LSR).  Where my previous training plan told me that it should be 7 miles, this new plan has it as 75 minutes.  Given that I am going for a target pace of approx 10:10 minutes/mile in my LSRs (which I hope I would be able to convert to 9:00/mile in the marathon), the distance-based and time-based versions come to approximately similar outcomes.  But once again, Runkeeper crashed midway through the run and so the results are not as accurate as they could be.

Runkeeper is becoming something of a problem, but I do have plans for that.  I believe that my (very) early birthday present should be arriving during the week – a shiny new Garmin watch.  That will be useful in as much as it gives me the chance to have an immediate indication of pace that I can see whenever I want.  Runkeeper’s ability to report your pace every quarter mile is great, but the results are erratic.  If it is true that for one quarter mile that my pace is “eleven minutes and thirty seconds per mile”, and the next my pace is “seven minutes and fifteen seconds per mile”, I would have thought that I would notice the difference in effort.  But no, I think it was just some dodgy estimation by the app.

Hey, it’s free, it seems mean to complain, but I am looking forward to using the Garmin!

Anyway, as I sit typing up this blog I am a little concerned that my muscles feel a little tired, even a couple of dull aches.  But then I plotted my route into Endomondo and looked at the distances… After a nine mile run I reckon I’ve got a right to be a little achey 🙂

06-12 Feb 2012

Number of runs Four
Links – Tuesday – 4.79 miles (563 cal)
– Thursday – 3.74 miles (440 cal)
– Saturday – 3.00 miles (350 cal) estimated
Sunday – 9.00 miles (1060 cal) estimated
Total mileage this week 20.53 miles
Calories burned this week 2413
Total mileage since start 66.16 miles
Calories burned since start 6364
Sunday morning weight (Forgot to weigh myself)

FullPotential / Adidas Traiing

I had a fascinating marathon training day today in Edinburgh.

The day was presented by Keith Anderson, who is a Commonwealth Games marathon runner.

He covered a wide range of areas, from the theory of training through to some very practical issues relating to marathon day itself.  He made sure that we knew that miles 18-23 of a marathon are hell, but gave techniques for working through that.  He advocated the use of training that is specific to marathon running, and in particular he recommended threshold running as a way of persuading the body to restrict its lactic acid production to levels of exertion higher than those that you will find during marathon running.

It was a lovely day; it was great to meet so many cheery people who were training for their first marathon, like me, or who had achieved their first marathon and were on their second or third.

One thing that will affect this blog is that Keith was very keen on basing training – especially on the long, slow run on a Sunday – on time rather than distance.  If, as he believes, a weekly increase of fifteen minutes or so is a safe level, how can that be converted to a change in distance without knowing the performance of the athlete in question?

So, I am thinking that I shall not track my training against the training plan I have, but against a time-based training plan.  That plan has me running 75 minutes tomorrow – I’ll let you know how I get on.

Updated Training Plan

I’ve found a couple of events that are useful for “piggybacking” onto in my training plan (specifically the Devilla Forest 15km and the Lasswade 10 mile) and so have updated my training plan.

I am officially “in training” now, although with today being a rest day it does feel something of a cheat!

# W/B Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun Miles
1 06-Feb Rest 3 mile easy Rest 3 mile easy Rest 3 mile easy 7 mile slow jog/walk 16
2 13-Feb Rest 3 mile easy Rest 4 mile easy Rest 3 mile easy 10 mile slow jog/walk 20
3 20-Feb Rest 5 mile easy, with few faster stretches Rest 5 mile easy Rest 3 mile easy Devilla 15km 22
4 27-Feb Rest 5 mile easy Rest Run to hill, 9 x 40s uphill & jog back. Run home Rest 3 mile easy Lasswade 10 mile >18
5 05-Mar Rest 6 miles
Start slow, then 6 faster bursts between 2 lampposts, cool down jog
Rest Hill session as last week with one extra rep Rest 4 mile easy 13 miles easy >23
6 12-Mar Rest 6 miles
Start slow, build up pace
Rest 7 mile easy Rest 5 mile inc some fast 200m bursts Alloa Half Marathon 31
7 19-Mar Rest Warm up.
3 x 10 mins with faster bursts
Brisk walking between
Cool down brisk walk
Rest 6 mile easy with few surges Rest Warm up.
3 miles brisk.
Warm down
15-16 miles.  Very Easy
Take drinks!
8 26-Mar Rest 5 mile easy, with few faster stretches Rest 7 mile easy Rest 3 mile easy Heaven and Hell Half Marathon 28
9 02-Apr Rest 6 mile steady Rest 8 mile easy Rest Warm up.
3 miles brisk.
Warm down
16-18 miles.
Steady pace
10 09-Apr Rest 5 miles easy
Few fast strides
Rest 9 miles easy Rest 3 miles easy 11-13 miles easy jog/walk 29
11 16-Apr Rest Warm up.
6 x 45s fast, 3 min jog.
Warm down
Rest 6 miles.
Start slow.
Finish faster for last 10 mins
Rest 3 mile easy 18 mile jog/walk >27
12 23-Apr Rest 5 mile easy Rest 9 mile easy Rest 3 mile easy 13 mile jog/walk or
Half marathon
13 30-Apr Rest 6 mile steady Rest 8 mile easy Rest 3 mile easy 20mile endurance jog / walk.  Prepare drinks in advance 37
14 07-May Rest 8 miles steady Rest 6 mile easy Rest 3 mile brisk 10-12 mile jog / walk 28
15 14-May Rest 6 mile steady Rest 5 mile easy Rest 3 mile easy 10 mile easy.
Practise marathon preparation
16 21-May Rest Warm up.
1 mile fast.
Warm down
Rest 3 mile jog.
Wear racing kit
Rest 20 min jog,
inc easy strides & rest
Race Day! 30

Final week of pre-training

That’s the final week of pre-training done!

I have no great stories to tell, no drama, but – whisper it! – I am actually starting to feel quite good about running.  My joints are getting used to the idea and not complaining nearly as much as they used to, and my strength and speed are better than they used to be too.  Maybe there is something in this training milarkey!  On the other hand, maybe in a week I’m going to be injured looking back on this as a golden time!

So, three runs again this week.  One round Dalgety Bay, and a second one to go and collect the car after its unplanned sudden arboreal stop at last week’s Falkirk Parkrun.

Finishing at Strathclyde Parkrun.  Photo by Ross Goodman.

Then today I went to the Strathclyde Parkrun, run on the banks of Strathclyde Loch, in… well, Strathclyde.   This is a very flat course compared to the Falkirk Parkrun, so the times are significantly better.  There was a bit of a wind, however, so not as good as they could be.  However, it seemed a really nice, friendly event and I’ll be happy to go back again!  It was also nice that since my parents live nearby, I was able to drop in on them for a coffee after the event!

Unfortunately, I forgot my barcode, so I don’t have a time for the event.  Based on the GPS track I’m claiming somewhere around 23:00 – a whole minute faster than Falkirk!

I bought a waist pouch which I used on my Thursday and Saturday runs.  My phone was in the pouch, and I was using it both for Runkeeper and to play music.  And I discovered what many other runners have fond too, that music can really take your mind off the discomfort and let you focus on going faster, and on keeping going.

This can undoubtedly be a controversial topic for runners, especially in busy races where you really need to know what’s going on around you, but I can foresee quite a lot of music being played, especially on the faster training runs.

Next week, the sixteen week training plan I described before starts.  I think that at present I’m a little stronger than the presumed starting point of that plan, so I intend to push on it a little… I hope that I’ll be able to make some of the runs a little longer than on the plan, or take some a little harder.  I sincerely hope that this isn’t hubris.

Let’s just see how it goes.

30-Jan – 05-Feb 2012

Number of runs Three
Links – Tuesday – 3.69 miles (434 cal)
– Thursday – 5.79 miles (681 cal)
– Saturday – 3.12 miles (367 cal)
Total mileage this week 12.6
Calories burned this week 1482
Total mileage since start 45.63
Calories burned since start 5304
Sunday morning weight 11st 8lb

W/B 23-Jan-2012 – Second week of pre-training

As we approach the start of “real” training, this was a good week.

On Monday, I went for a run using an app for my phone called HIIT Interval Training Timer.  This innocent-looking little program lets you choose an amount of time to warm up, then a set number of repeats of “intervals”.  Where an interval is a period of time to run really, really fast, and then a period of time to recover by running more slowly.

In my case, I gave myself two minutes to warm up, then eight repetitions of “forty-five seconds fast, one minute of recovery”.

It sounds really easy, doesn’t it?  Believe me, I came to curse that moment when I could hear the three “beeps” followed by a whistle blast that signified it was time to go fast again.  But I did find that I ran the thirty minute route over a minute faster than last time.  And apparently this is a good way for helping strengthen the heart, making it better able to deal with the exertion required for the longer runs.

On Wednesday, another new app.  This one is called Runkeeper, and will be familiar to many iPhone owners.  Well, it’s now available for Android.

Runkeeper is another route-plotting program, just like Endomondo.  Like Endomondo, it offers you information on how fast you are running.  But where it scores over Endomondo is that you can tell it how often you want to be told of your performance.  Endomondo is once per mile; Runkeeper can be set to anything up to once per quarter mile.  It is very useful to know when you are letting the pace drop, so that you can metaphorically kick yourself up the backside and get back on pace.

A frosty Parkrun on Saturday!

Talking of backsides.  When I am running I put my phone into the little pocket in my running tights / trousers / whatever.  That pocket is in the small of my back, and is just large enough to squeeze the phone into.  When it is telling me my performance, a female voice reads out my distance and pace.  It was funny that she chose to speak just as I ran past a couple of older men standing chatting… that must be what is meant by “talking out of your arse”!

On Wednesday evening, Life Fit Physiotherapy held an open day at their Grangemouth studio.  This was really instructive.  Hugh, a biomechanics specialist, demonstrated several fascinating points about stretching and helped me realise that I really do need to (i) strengthen my calf muscles and (ii) stretch my hamstrings.  And Arlene very kindly showed me how to do an achilles tendon massage, after which the little niggle at my achilles was totally gone!

Saturday was Parkrun day, and I was determined I was going to blow away my previous personal best.  I planned to use intervals to get a time better than the 24:05 that was my old PB.

Arriving at the car park, I managed to reverse the car into a tree.  I have to say that it was not the best start imaginable, and I am going to have to find out how much it will cost me to get a new rear light cluster fitted.  It possibly didn’t leave me in the best frame of mind for the rest of the race.

Finish The Parkrun – Thank You
to Dougie for the photo!

It was also cold… really cold.  You can see in the picture of the park that ice crystals were loving it

Anyway, I started off trying to do the intervals… and it just wasn’t there.  For some reason, in spite of my trying so hard to get my focus in place, it just wasn’t working.  I was knackered!

But I kept running, albeit ignoring the little voice shouting at me from my bum.  “Forty five seconds fast”.  Aye, right!

The regular pace updates let me know that I wasn’t hopelessly out, and when I got to the final stretch I gave it all that I had… and the result is that I came in in an official time of 23:59 – not great by any means, but still six seconds faster than I’ve managed before!

So, that’s another week down.  Just one more week of pre-training, and then I start on The Plan!

23-29 Jan 2012

Number of runs Three
Links – Tuesday – 3.68 miles (433 cal)
– Thursday – 5.32 miles (626 cal)
– Saturday – 3.08 miles (362 cal)
Total mileage this week 12.08
Calories burned this week 1421
Total mileage since start 33.03
Calories burned since start 3822
Sunday morning weight 11st 9lb

Macmillan Cancer Support

A few people have asked me whether I am running this marathon for charity.  I always say “no” because the truth is that I am doing this for me.   To me, charity stunts should really be where you donate to show appreciation for someone doing something they wouldn’t otherwise do, and they’re doing it for charity.

Me in my Macmillan vest

However, I asked a few friends, and they general feeling was that they thought it would be a nice idea to use the marathon as a vehicle for raising funds for charity.

And so, I have decided that I shall invite contributions to Macmillan Cancer Support, one of the “official” charities of the Edinburgh Marathon.

My running pack arrived today, with a training plan, fund-raising guide and the famous green vest.  I even – fleetingly – stood outside to let my son Cameron photograph me in it, before rushing back indoors for a heat (vests and negative celsius do not go well together!)

Once I have read through the fund raising guide I shall post here letting everyone know how they can contribute.

I am sure that I don’t need to spend time telling everyone what a good job Macmillan does of supporting those who have this terrible disease.

On the other hand, I have to say that I hate charities badgering folk for money.

So, I shall invite – but not push for – donations to Macmillan.  Once I’ve learned how!