2019 London Marathon: Where Dreams Come True!

Leaving work on Friday I felt stranglely emotional as I had done on and off all week. Super excited at the prospect of running the London Marathon, a dream come true, but also apprehensive with a few niggling doubts as to whether I’d trained enough, if the crowds would be too much, and other such nonsense! My rational brain knew that I’d trained harder than ever before, clocking up 750 miles since the turn of the year, but it was the 16 mile long run upon which the Hanson plan is built that remained the real concern. Receiving a card from one of my classes hammered home the realisation that there were no excuses! I’d signed up, I was running for our school charity and I should be honoured to have the opportunity to do something that many people never get the chance to.

A quick turnaround and we were at the airport. The feelings of excitement continued here as we bumped into running friends who were on the same flight. This was comforting as I’m a control freak and would rather fly the plane than be a passenger! The flight passed quickly, the transition to the hotel was smooth and all was calm. Having snacked on a sandwich meal deal (perhaps not the best carb loading ever) I was pleased to retire to bed.

Saturday saw us up and out to the Expo fairly early despite not having an alarm set. I’m very grateful to Bruce for his meticulous planning. While I’d still be figuring out the route, he had read the information on the website and knew exactly where we were headed. This was a theme of the weekend: thank you Bruce!

The Expo was exciting with lots of exhibitors but did also hammer home the reality of what I was doing. I collected my race number and took my packet to be scanned in order to collect my number. When the chap wished me ‘Good Luck’ I felt very emotional and had to choke back the tears! This turned out to be a regular happening from thereon in! I really tried hard to contain myself, if for no other reason than to avoid starting dehydrated.

I resisted the urge to buy lots because:
a) I don’t really need anything; and
b) I’m a little superstitious, not wanting to jinx the race before running by buying all the branded goodies.

Instead I picked up a few freebies from New Balance and a headband, a wee memento that will stand the test of time. Leaving, I wrote on the wall – a message for my fellow Metro Aberdeen runners of which there were quite a number. Bruce offered to let me stand on him in order to make it clearly visible to all that followed. He also offered to stand on me! I declined on both counts, not wishing to break anything ahead of the big day!

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Stopping for coffee, hydration and eating being a key feature of the day, and not having gone too well on Friday, I enjoyed a rest. Leaving the Expo we met Campbell and Caroline on route to collect his number. A good chat later, we headed into central London to go to a couple of shops and have lunch. Bruce again came up trumps – I wanted a baked tattie; he found a pub that would provide.

Before long we’d clocked up around 17000 steps, a tad more than I’d have been looking for on this day of rest! Calling it quits, we headed back to the sanctuary of our hotel for dinner and a peaceful evening. I was feeling very calm and looking forward to the race ahead.

That was until some woman in the bar suggested I was being ridiculous thinking I could leave Earls Court at 7:45 am to get to the start on time. This threw me as I’d been led to believe trains would be frequent and well managed. The resulting effect was that I spent most of the night stressing about how to get there, seeing many hours on the clock. In fairness, I might have done this anyway as my bladder appeared to have gone into overdrive and I was frequently going to the loo!

5:50 am arrived. I got up and made my porridge pots, forcing two down before heading for the shower. I wondered if it was possible to keel over in a marathon due to a lack of sleep; my rational brain told me it probably wasn’t as I was rested, even if I’d not slept that well! I left early (around 7:15 am) and rerouted my journey, heading to Westminster on the District line. Heading down the escalator at Westminster a random chap wished me ‘Good Luck’ as he zoomed past. This also made me well up; it’s a rare thing in my experience for strangers to engage with one another, particularly when one is in the fast lane and nothing to do with the early morning bustle. I changed to the Jubilee for London Bridge (mindful of Bruce’s instructions to head East), then took the train to Blackheath. At each station the number of runners increased, as did the feelings of anticipation and excitement. The trains were still relatively quiet and I was very happy to be seated throughout the journey. It was incredibly easy getting around and I’m very appreciative of the free transport provided to keep us all moving smoothly.

Arriving at Blackheath at the ridiculously early time of 8 am, I got chatting to a lady from Edinburgh and we made our way to the Blue Start together. It was amazing! The sight of the red, blue and green balloons floating in the sky, the huge baggage trucks lined up, the crowds already gathering. All the things I’ve watched over the years on TV.

Security was tight, bags and bib numbers being checked, with only ‘athletes’ allowed into the runners village. I’m an athlete!! The number of people already there was quite astonishing, many sitting or lying on bags, trying to shelter behind the tents as it was slightly chilly in the breeze. Thankfully the sun was also out and this did help; it would have been mighty miserable had it been tipping down rain!

Toilet queues at this point were short; I’ve never seen so many portaloos in my life! I took advantage of this and then retreated to the side of a tent for shelter, sitting on my drop bag and finding peace amid the bustle of the crowds. Chatting to a few folks beside me, a lady returned and gave me a large piece of cardboard to sit on. I offered to share it with a young lad beside me, he then gave me a shot of his ‘Stick’ in return, and gave his bin bag to someone else. It was good to relax as we chatted easily about how training had been, what our hopes were for the race and other more mundane things, enjoying the music and atmosphere but quite oblivious to the gathering crowds and sheer numbers in our own wee safe haven, helping us all to stay calm.

Deciding I should head off for another loo stop before dropping my bag we parted ways. I met Nicola, a parkrun friend and fellow teacher, all set to run her first marathon. Nicola’s vest had the names of her class printed around the bottom! Chatting about the emotions of the day, it was my turn to cry as I spoke about my pupils, thinking of someone I’m sure would love to be able to take part in such a wonderful event.

Bag dropped, final toilet stop made, I then jogged to the pen (Zone 2) with minutes to spare before it closed. I was spotted by Campbell, heading for his zone, and we wished one another luck. Entering my zone I chatted nervously to those around me. The start seemed like an eternity away as we walked along – it wasn’t – stopping and starting, before finally breaking into a jog as the gantry loomed large, the timing mats beckoned and the music boomed out.

Despite my concerns, once the run started that was it. The clock showed approximately 9:30 as we crossed the start mats. Although there were lots of people it didn’t feel too crowded and I settled into a relaxed pace, vowing to use the first couple of miles to get my legs warmed up. This being my 10th marathon I’m very aware (having learned the hard way) that you can’t bank time and the first miles definitely dictate the last.

Meanwhile, Bruce was watching the race unfold further along the course …

The marathon itself passed very quickly. I certainly didn’t feel like I was running for a long time and the crowds along the route were amazing! There were very few areas without people cheering, playing music and generally just livening things up. I remember the ‘hump’ people, marshals standing with signs alerting us to the speed bumps in the road, calling out a chorus of ‘hump … hump’, the many bands that were blasting out all sorts of music, from steel pans to a pipe band and everything in between! There was singing and dancing, and so many great signs. Some of my favourites were the children with their Mario signs – touch here to power up. I touched three of them in the last 6 miles, much to their delight, and I genuinely do believe they had a placebo effect. Bruce liked the one that he initially thought was a beer belly, then realising it was of much greater significance.

2019 Virgin Money London Marathon Signs

The water stations were interesting – after the first one or two I realised that if I didn’t want water I should run in the middle of the road, thus avoiding being cut up as people suddenly realising what was on offer, cutting immediately in front of others with little regard for safety. The Lucozade stations were far worse, reminiscent of an 80s nightclub where by the end of the evening you stick to the carpet!

I looked out for Bruce, hoping to see him along the way but the crowds were too big at his first point (9 miles), I was a little too quick for him to catch me at mile 14 due to the jam-packed tubes, but I did hear him shout as I passed at mile 21.

Fuelled by Active Root and Shot Bloks I never felt that I struggled for energy. I did, however, reach saturation point around mile 17. Prior to this I’d been sipping Active Root every mile and taking a Shot Blok every two miles. I felt somewhat nauseous and concluded I’d taken in enough, knowing from previous experience that I’d live to regret it if I didn’t listen to my body.

I tried to avoid weaving in and out of the crowds too much, sticking close to the blue line (the accurately measured distance) where possible; sadly many people had the same idea so that didn’t always work.

I saw friends and club mates supporting on the course and was very grateful for the shouts, particularly during the last couple of miles; thank you Sam, Talia, Alison and Bill! It’s amazing how seeing a familiar face can give a boost when the legs start to tire.

2019 Virgin Money London Marathon (mile 25)

My fears prior to the race were unfounded. I never felt overwhelmed by the crowds and noise, although I will confess to getting slightly irritated by people getting in my way by the end. When I see my geeky stats though it’s not much wonder; I managed to pass quite a number of people during the second half!

Big Ben appeared on the horizon during the final few miles and I was determined he was not beating me; another motivation to keep running strong! The pain under my ribs was quite incredible (James, @physiorun, tells me this would be my diaphragm ) but my legs were solid and I managed to hold the pace. With only a parkrun to go I reminded myself that pain is temporary and thirty minutes or less is nothing in the grand scheme of a marathon.

2019 Virgin Money London Marathon (Big Ben)

Crossing the line to ‘Rockin’ around the Christmas Tree’ was perhaps not quite the finish I’d hoped for (especially when the aforementioned tree had already finished; all the same, I was delighted to have done it, achieving a lifetime goal! Surprisingly, I was so elated that I didn’t cry! Medal awarded, t-shirt and goody bag given, it was onwards to the reunion area. By this time my brain was well and truly mush and I had no idea what I’d agreed with Bruce regarding how long we’d wait for one another. I got chatting to another runner and was delighted when Bruce appeared, not just as he knew the way to the pub! At this point, I learned that although I’d beaten Big Ben, I had in fact been beaten by numerous others in fancy dress, including Elmo with his impressively large head!

2019 Virgin Money London Marathon (Beaten by Elmo!)

A Metro reunion was scheduled to swap race stories, celebrate PBs and commiserate those who had been injured on route. We met Dino and Jayne on the way. Hats off to Dino for finishing despite having to walk due to a muscle tear. Thankfully there was much more success than sadness, with some incredibly impressive times! Congratulations to you all!

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So, the final round up …

I ran a PB of 3:35:57 with which I’m absolutely delighted!

I can confirm the Hanson Method works – I did no long run beyond 16 miles in training and settled into marathon pace maintaining it without too much thought.

Hanson Method has you nailing the pace and finishing strong!

I just may return …

https://www.wonderful.org/fundraiser/clarerussellslondonmarathonfundraiser-4d93e905

The Final 16

Well, that’s it, the final long run done – all 16 miles of it. I’ve stuck to the plan and have resisted the temptation to go further, despite my fellow marathon runners and clubmates posting runs on Strava of 18 miles upwards which freaks me out a little – will I just stop at 17 miles? However, as stated at the beginning of this ‘project’, in order to evaluate the efficacy of the plan I have to put my trust in it and follow it as far as possible.

To date, that has meant a total of 665 miles in training, averaging 47.5 miles per week over a 14 week block of training. I’ve hit my training paces and have only missed a couple of sessions, one for an unscheduled day off and the others for hill walking. Although my heart rate may not have hit the highs it would have done in running, my legs certainly got a good workout on the hills. I was very aware of this on return home when my planned tempo (2 x 5 miles with 1 mile recovery) went pear shaped, ending with 1 block of 4 miles at tempo, a sore stomach and a shuffle home! However, over 90% of the schedule has been completed and that should hopefully be enough to see me through the marathon.

This week has been more positive. With some easy running, I’ve also happily completed the strength session (3 x 2 miles) and long tempo (10 miles). Today’s 16 miles was a particular joy (genuinely), running in the company of Campbell – a long term run chum who’s also running London – and Kevin, Metro clubmate who’s going from strength to strength at present. Having run on my own quite a bit recently it was good to chat my way through the miles. Around 10 miles I commented that I wasn’t convinced I had another 16 miles in me if this was race day; then weirdly, at the right side of 13 miles I felt strong again, thinking, yes, I could go on. Hopefully I’ll experience more of the latter feeling on marathon day!

So, into the final two weeks. I’ve got some easy miles this week, a short speed session of 800s – Eek! Thankfully there are only 6 of them! – and a short tempo. Race week is where I’m going to deviate from the plan again but just a little … I’m scheduled to run on Friday and Saturday before the Sunday marathon. However, work and flight schedules will make the Friday run challenging, and I’ve never run the day before any other marathon; I’m also required to find my way across London to register at the Expo, so have decided I’ll have a few days off prior to the main event.

Now it’s just a matter of staying injury free, in good physical health, and mentally sane! As my friend Wendy always tells me, it’s only running! All being well I’ll see you on the other side!

London Marathon: 5 weeks to go!

I’ve tried to take the training one day at a time. I have a plan, I get daily e-mails from Final Surge, the week is laid out in my diary – one week at a time – but essentially I’m just focusing on today, not thinking about the next run (or runs) as that’s when it all becomes a bit overwhelming.

I’ve now completed 11 weeks of training and have followed the plan pretty much to the letter. I’ve missed only two easy 6 mile runs during this time: one because I ended up working too late and was shattered, the other in favour of a 10 mile walk. The only other variations on the plan have been the conversion of a planned tempo run from 3-2-3 miles with 1 mile jog recovery to an 8 mile tempo as I was lacking time, an easy 6 miles trimmed down to 3 in order to have a 5 mile walk in the afternoon, and an easy 6 shortened to 2 miles as I had a massage booked and not enough time to fit the miles in! Two miles is better than nothing and the book states that you should do what you can if you can’t manage the full session.

The upshot of these little tweaks is that with a few additional easy miles added to date I’ve got 537 miles in my legs and have only missed a total of 10 miles. I’m not convinced that will impact on the final marathon time.

I’ve come to enjoy the SOS (something of substance) sessions. Initially I dreaded them but I’ve come to realise that they are achievable and I usually feel pretty good during them. Surprisingly, it’s the easy runs that can feel harder; I think this is where the recovery happens.

So, 5 weeks left to train. I’m now starting to think ahead to the rest of the season as I’m currently feeling strong and would like to maximise the benefits of this training block however the marathon goes.

Toughing it out

Today was the first run of the plan where I’ve really felt I’ve struggled to hit and maintain the pace required. All things considered I guess this isn’t that bad – after all, I’m now onto the eighth consecutive week of training and last week was one of the highest mileage weeks in some time; last time I hit this mileage was probably June when I was training for Fort William Marathon.

Today’s session was an SOS, Something of Substance, and totalled 10 miles. Two easy miles to warm up the weary legs – cumulative fatigue, I’m starting to feel you! Then two sets of three miles at faster than marathon pace with one mile recovery between, followed by a one mile cool down.

I realised on reflection that what got me more than anything was probably starting my speed work on an incline. Not a large incline, but just enough to notice it in the legs.

Enough said. Miles banked. Mountain of food consumed. Rest day tomorrow before the next SOS session on Thursday. This weekend’s race could be interesting! Watch this space …

Long Run & Clachnaben Walk

After yesterday’s wind we woke to a calm day today. Unfortunately this also meant ground frost and disappointment for the golfer of the house (no winter eclectic competition due to winter greens). Thus, he fancied a hill day instead. The runner of the house had other ideas though, in the shape of the first 16 miler of the marathon plan.

Off I set, a fraction later than planned – the only thing I’m ever on time for is work – and the planned four miles before meeting the Social Sunday gang turned into three and a bit instead. I made it up to the gate and all the way back down to the car park unfortunately. Picking them up part way would have made things a little easier on the legs!

Alan had amassed a fair crowd, twenty runners he said. I was glad of not having to stop and just kept on back up the side of the golf course at Hazlehead. Chat was good, pace was comfortable, and before I knew it we were at the road crossing for Countesswells. I must apologise to my fellow social Sunday runners as this was where I became antisocial. We generally regroup at this point, but my logical head was thinking along the lines of, ‘if sixteen miles is the furthest you go on this plan and you want to stand on the start line believing you can run twenty six miles, you’d better just keep your body going!’ So I muttered something about being antisocial and headed on solo.

Twice around the lovely Kingshill, I felt comfortable in the pace and ran steady, finishing back at Hazlehead under the sixteen miles which meant bimbling up and down the reps lane briefly.

Timed well, the hard core of the Sunday gang (Graham, Alan and George) then arrived, having completed their miles, and the most important part of the run, coffee, was had in the warmth of Cafe Cognito alongside some other reprobates who had knocked out their miles and headed down a little earlier.

The legs felt good, thankfully, as the golfer of the house messaged suggesting an afternoon walk. Headed out to Clachnaben for a lovely walk in the afternoon sunshine.

The view towards Clachnaben

Prepared for snowy conditions we were pleasantly surprised to find the hill clear. A fairly gentle climb, the wind picked up towards the top necessitating both down jacket and shell. We encountered only one small section of hard packed snow / ice, and being rather precious about my legs at the moment the Kahtoola spikes went on for me; Bruce managed fine without his.

Soup at the top was tasty, turned around and headed back the way we’d come. Legs felt good; it was only when we stopped off at Asda to pick up pizza I felt the efforts of the day. Hopefully short lived, another week of the plan completed.

Ice, snow … the joys of winter training

This week the weather has been somewhat irritating. Being Winter ‘bad’ weather is to be expected; sadly it does not assist in the enjoyment of winter training. Making it through our long run last weekend, only having a short section of icy ground that was avoided by running along the verge, I felt positive about the week ahead.

However, by the time Monday came, the thaw and subsequent freeze saw pavements becoming a little more treacherous. I opted to run around the local playing fields in the early morning, a joy as the snow was crisp, and I had the pleasure of seeing two foxes and a deer. The day was rounded off with a sports massage and positive comments from my therapist about the healthy state of my legs!

Tuesday saw me head indoors to endure the treadmill. Another early morning run, surprisingly I got into my stride and enjoyed the session of reps by the end. Just as well! The icy thaw and freeze continued meaning Thursday’s tempo was also safer on the treadmill. I don’t think I’ll ever love it, but am growing fond enough of the ‘dreadmill’ to accept that if needs must I can in fact bang out the miles without dying of boredom.

Friday saw a significant thaw, albeit still cold, allowing me to run my easy miles around the park after work. I must have looked a real site. Having forgotten my gloves, I wore my leather driving gloves to keep my hands toasty. I’ve managed to lose one hand, thankfully opposites, from two pairs, so had one black and one brown. They did the job!

This morning I woke up with the intention of getting a long run done, hopefully permitting me to walk tomorrow. I was amazed to see the snow dinging down outside my window, a fair bit having fallen overnight. Snow is far more pleasurable for running; I’d even go so far as to say it’s fun! Yaktrax on, I opted for the beach promenade, running the Aberdeen parkrun route and chatting with friends along the way – thanks Bryan, Graham, Colin & Alan for helping me to pass the time!

Opting to continue running in order to get all my miles done before the end of parkrun, I continued to Footdee, then running a little further, back and forth along the lower prom to ensure I didn’t run into the onslaught of parkrunners at 9:30 am. Shockingly bad at maths on the run, I then ended up significantly behind them, even the Tail Walker having passed the stones by the time I reached them!

Running to start Aberdeen parkrun - late!

Running back to the start, I exchanged pleasantries with Nik as I turned and began my ‘official run’, advising that I’d probably just be on a freedom run due to by bad timekeeping! A little injection of pace saw me pleasantly surprised on two fronts – one that I was able to do it, and two, the tail walker was in sight! I managed to catch up by the Beach Ballroom and was then able to relax a little on the lower prom.

14 miles banked, another parkrun logged, what’s not to like?

Successfully caught the Tail Walker at Aberdeen parkrun

Marathon Training is Underway with the Hanson Method

Marathon training is now underway for London. After much deliberation, browsing of plans and reading reviews and blogs, I have opted to shake things up a little. I was a bit disappointed in my last marathon attempt, Fort William, finding myself a few minutes slower than the year before despite having completed a longer marathon training period. This may have been due to a lack of base training prior to commencing the plan, but regardless, I felt the need to do something different this time around. I’ve therefore opted to go with the Hanson Marathon Method instead:

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The key difference between this plan and anything I’ve done before is that the long run tops out at 16 miles. There is lots of explanation in the book as to why this is, backed up by solid research, but the simple way of describing it is that the consistent volume of running throughout the week leads to cumulative fatigue and the body therefore gets used to running on tired legs, particularly on the long run. Thus, the 16 miles should be more like the last 16 miles of the marathon rather than the first.

Having read a few posts in the LHR Running Community group on Facebook it appears that many runners do well off these plans. There are some that add a few miles onto their long runs in order to still their mind, not quite trusting that the plan will work its magic. Personally, I love a plan and will therefore commit to it and do as it says, barring illness or injury, otherwise I won’t know if it’s worked for me. My thinking is that if I’m going to fail dismally and end up walking for miles, where better to do it than London! I’ll be guaranteed to have people to chat to; the only downside, as described by a running buddy who had a howler of a race here, is that you also have to endure 10 miles of people encouraging you with shouts of, “you can do it!” while knowing that in actual fact you can’t! At least not today. NB: the experience of aforementioned friend was not in any way related to Hanson!

The first three weeks of training have gone well. I’ve been running 6 days a week with Pilates on my rest day. I have to say I’m quite enjoying knowing that I go for a run without having to think about weather etc; consistency is key and this is what I have to do. I’ve been slowly building up the mileage, starting with 41 miles in the first week, so far managing to hit my target paces. Another key feature of the plan is that you run the easy runs at a very comfortable pace, with three ‘SOS’ (Something of Substance) runs a week that include the long run. This means having to rein yourself in on shorter runs, but I’m led to believe that as time goes on you truly are grateful for the opportunity to run slowly.

I was extremely glad of the company of my Sunday running buddies from Metro today. The weather this morning was foul, at least when looking out the window, with rain and high winds. Thankfully, the rain of last night had cleared the ice from our regular forest trails, so we managed to seek sanctuary in the woods, enjoying shelter from the winds to quite some degree, and only once really getting the benefit of the stormy weather as the sleet pelted straight into our faces at the top of Kings Hill. Considering the time we were out for this was pretty good going!

Delighted to have banked the miles, today’s character building long run ended with coffee and chat; always a delight to warm up in the cosy cafe. Thanks run chums – I really do appreciate you!