The 40th Race: Virtual London Marathon (Running My Way)

When I signed up to run the London Marathon virtually I decided against running at ‘home’. The thought of pounding the streets did not appeal, while running my local trails would require multiple loops of the dreaded Kingshill in order to make the distance. I’ve love Aviemore so decided to go there!

Torrential Downpours

Throughout the lead up to race day, the forecast looked bleak. I swithered as to whether I should cancel and run locally, but having frequently biked the trails in Aviemore in years gone by I’m aware of they drain well and made the decision just to go.

Heading to Aviemore was not the most pleasant journey. Driving over the Lecht, there was a significant amount of surface water lying as the rain fell throughout the day; it was a relief to reach our destination.

Sad Times

Aviemore usually has a great buzz about it and it was a sad reflection of current times on Saturday night, the two household rule alongside restricted numbers sucking the life out of the evening, the usual buzz of the Cairngorm Hotel sadly lacking. That said, we were well fed and able to enjoy a nightcap before an early night.

Morning Showers

Waking up during the night, I checked my phone a couple of times. Sadly it appeared that conditions were deteriorating rather than improving. Meanwhile Aberdeen looked to be getting better (or at least dryer). Happy for those that were running at home, I began to wish I’d stayed there!

I’d planned to set off around 9 am, so rose at 7 am for breakfast of a bun with banana and nut butter, and a couple of mugs of peppermint tea. Showered and dressed, I laid out another set of running kit in case I chose to stop off for a mid-marathon change, figuring this might be welcome if completely drookit!

Setting off as planned, it was drizzly but not dinging down as forecast. Cloud was hanging very low over the hills. I debated before leaving – jacket, no jacket. Feeling the relative warmth, I concluded it should be left. I knew I’d warm up quickly enough; even a decent jacket leaves you feeling like you’re being boiled in the bag!

The Route

If you’ve read previous blogs, you’ll be aware that when we go walking it’s not me that does the planning. In the same way, I had a vague notion of where I might run for my marathon but no definite plan and no real research done. I wouldn’t say this was a regret, but I did get some surprises later.

The Old Logging Way

Starting out, I headed towards the ski road and followed the Old Logging Way, my reasoning being that it would give a little shelter from the drizzle that was later to turn to rain. Along with not planning the route, I’d not planned a pace, deciding I’d just run by feel. I did however have 3 goals in mind:

A) Sub 4 hour marathon

B) Run all the way

C) Finish with something other than a personal worst!

I’ll let you into a secret – I achieved two of the three!

The Old Logging Way passes by Rothiemurchus and then gently meanders up towards Glenmore. The path was mainly dry with the odd puddle, one or two of which slowed me right down as I tried to step through on my heels rather than stomping through and getting wet feet. In my experience wet feet = blisters. Reaching a high point after about 3.5 miles, I decided to about turn rather than going downhill only to have to come back up.

This was so much easier! I hadn’t appreciated the incline until turning back.

Speyside Way

Continuing through Aviemore, I headed all the way along the main street until the end of the village, taking up the trail of the Speyside Way. Initially, this was on a single track path, but quickly opened up onto a wide, hard packed track. I’d envisaged this being flat; in effect it was gently undulating and I did groan inwardly (maybe even outwardly) on a couple of occasions as I had to go up yet again.

The plan had been to continue along to Boat of Garten. I’m not sure if I lost the Way, but found myself further on the Red Squirrel Trail after a few miles. This, I believe, did continue to the Boat; however, a couple of huge puddles taking up the width of the fire track presented a challenge, and having tramped over the heather to avoid them I came upon a wee burn that was too big to jump across. The path was covered in water with lots of grass growing under it making it challenging to identify solid ground from grass under water, so at this point I bailed and about turned. I tried heading up the Roe Deer Trail but only made it about 50 metres before meeting yet more muddy puddles. Back to Aviemore it was.

Reaching the village, my Garmin showed I’d covered around 17 miles. In a way this delighted me; however, by this point I was aware of the discrepancy between the London Marathon app and my Garmin, the former being 0.6 miles shy. There was also the thought that nearly 10 miles is still a mighty long way! However, pace was still okay and I continued running by feel.

The Logging Way Revisited

I decided to head out the opposite end of the Speyside Way towards Kincraig. I very quickly realised that this was downhill, at least leaving Aviemore initially – I couldn’t see very far ahead – meaning an uphill finish, so a snap decision was made to stick with what I know and head back onto the Logging Way. This was hard going! Beyond 18 miles, my calves were beginning to tighten and emotions were running high. I did shed a few tears as I ran past the Fish Farm, quickly getting my focus back on the task in hand.

I slogged my way back up the track, slowing to a walk for a few steps on one ascent. Again, further up I walked 40 steps on the return leg before picking up the pace again. I knew I’d meet the 4 hour goal if I could just keep running!

Heading back alongside the road I received a friendly toot as Bruce drove past and this perked me up. The final challenge was having to run past the hotel after the Garmin said I’d finished, to make up the distance for the app to record an official time. While irritated by this, my rational brain countered that a race distance is never quite bang on with the GPS, nor would I have followed the blue line in London, so this extra distance was quite apt.

Finishing was pretty cool! I immediately received a ‘Congratulations’ text from London Marathon and the app registered my official time. That was welcome as there was absolutely no other fanfare.

Thank You

Thanks to all the lovely people who commented on my run or wished me luck along the way. The kindness of strangers was appreciated. Toots from cars, thumbs up from behind the windows at junctions, all these things encouraged me along the way.

Running Solo

While it was a good experience, I don’t think I’d ever choose to run a solo marathon. It was hard work covering the distance alone with only my own thoughts for company.

I think this is partly what made it such an emotional experience; my thoughts often turned to someone that also loved the trails but sadly is no longer here to run them. I believe this helped me find the strength to go on as it made me realise how fortunate I am.

Run free! X

The Last 16: 2 Weeks To Go!

Today was the last 16 mile run of the plan. This sounds okay, particularly if you’re a Hanson devotee. However, theit’s the second of only two 16 mile runs. I’ve squeezed in a 15 and a 14, but the reality is that the training is not what is should have been. This is the problem with spur of the moment decisions. I’m sure at some point during the virtual race I’ll find myself wishing I’d stuck to my guns regarding deferral!

Reflections on Training

Last marathon block (London 2019), I seriously committed to training, running 750 miles in the build up to the race, and this fared me well. For the virtual attempt this year, my annual mileage has just nudged past this (we’re in September, London 2019 was in April!) with a measly 420 miles in training over the last 14 weeks. Weekly mileage has topped out at 45 mpw with only 5 runs, as opposed to 55 mpw with 6 runs per week. On the upside, I’ve incorporated strength training this cycle and physically feel I’ve benefited from this.

Bottom line, I knew what I was getting into and need to be realistic about what I can achieve.

Fuelling the Long Run

I decided today to run a flatter route for a change, my longer runs usually on the forest trails. I’ve been experimenting with new gels – Huma – having pretty much tried everything else on the market over the years, and figured it might be an idea to stay closer to civilisation in case they didn’t agree with me. As it transpired they did the business with no ill effects. Having taken one before leaving the house, and two more at 30 minutes and an hour respectively, I felt secure enough to leave Duthie Park, where I’d been running laps and suffering the consequences of boredom, to head out the Deeside Line. A fourth gel further out the line saw me consume what should hopefully be enough to get me through the distance in a couple of weeks time.

No sooner had I started out the line than I bumped into the Mackies. The line was busy, lots of walkers and cyclists along the route, quietening down as I moved further out from the park.

Having gone right out to the AWPR, I bumped into another familiar face, enjoying the sunshine and views over the countryside. Having stopped for a blether, I made a mental note that standing still for 5 minutes mid-run does nothing for my legs. It was a real struggle to persuade them to go again!

Autumn Approaches

While beautiful to see some of the trees beginning to change, some autumnal colours in the leaves, I found it a little sad. This year, I’m sure many will agree, feels to quite some extent like it’s been stolen. There have been so many occasions missed and little social contact with family and friends. To realise that, despite the glorious September sunshine, the days will soon draw in as winter approaches is not a positive thought.

Taper Time

However, before any of that, I have a couple of weeks of rest and recuperation to look forward to, with a long weekend thrown in for good measure. Never looking more than a week ahead having chosen my plan, it fills me with joy to realise that the runs this week are predominantly easy miles, even if I do feel like I’m ‘cheating’ by tapering after such a short plan. No amount of hard work now will make the ‘race’ any better; all I can do is trust in the training and hope my body remembers what it needs to do.

So, easy miles, rest, sleep and recovery. Two weeks to go until the virtual marathon. I may even be a tad excited.

5 Weeks To Go!

The abbreviated training plan is going well thus far – I’ve completed 2 weeks of it – and I have to say that I’m enjoying my renewed focus. Without the luxury of a full 16-18 weeks for training, I sought advice from the group at LHR Running Community, a Facebook group focusing on training the Hanson way. Luke Humphrey (author of the book, Hanson Marathon Method) was kind enough to reply directly to my question of how to proceed with training, suggesting that realistically the aim would be to finish – it’s not going to be a PB run – and I should aim to increase my mileage to 45 miles per week.

Final Surge Training Plan

Next thing to do was find a plan to support this. Since running a successful London Marathon in 2019 off an LHR plan, I decided this was as good a place as any to start. A little more digging online and I came across an 8 week plan on Final Surge.

Not quite sure that at 30 miles per week I’d have described myself as near my peak mileage, but the other bits resonated with me in that I’d been doing regular workouts over a month. Overall, it looked like following this plan would be achievable, completion the goal, and time largely irrelevant. If I am able to walk the day following the marathon that will be an added bonus!

Progress To Date

Last week saw me run a fraction off 39 miles, this week just short of 42. I plan to add a mile onto my easy run tomorrow and make the warm up on my workouts 2 miles, rather than the planned 1, in order to hit 45 miles next week. I’m also continuing to work on strength training with a running focus so hope that this will also help overall.

It’s been suggested that running a virtual marathon will be hard due to the solitary element. I’m hoping it won’t be any worse than the virtual 5k I did back at the end of June where I ended up walking! While I’m sure there will be ups and downs, aside from last weekend when I ran with two friends, I’ve been training alone since lockdown began in March. I won’t have the support to keep pushing through the tough times, but I have developed the mental strength to be in my own head for a prolonged period of time.

Running Solo

One of the main joys I’ve found in solo running is doing it at a time that suits. Today I allowed myself the luxury of a lie in, starting out at the leisurely time of 10:30 am. While this meant I’d missed the opportunity of company it allowed me additional rest and recovery time, vitally important in the throes of solid training.

I ran a steady 14 miles on the local trails. I had contemplated running somewhere flat but couldn’t think of anywhere inspiring to do this, so the usual stomping ground it was. When you stop to look around it’s easy to understand why this is a favourite.

Looking Ahead

This week holds easy miles, a session of short reps, a tempo run and a 16 mile long run to round it all off. That’s as far ahead as I’m going. One week at a time!

A Moment of Madness?

Due to injury at the tail end of the year, I deferred my place in the 2020 London Marathon. Then COVID struck, the marathon was postponed, and a new date set for October 2020. I deferred as I hadn’t planned to run a marathon in 2019.

So, what on earth possessed me, when the e-mail dropped in this week offering a virtual marathon place to think this was a good idea?

Virtual Training Begins

It would be great if it really was virtual training. Sadly it’s not. I now need to do some serious hard work.

I’ve been training regularly for the last 5 weeks with a regular 30 miles per week, having signed up for a virtual training camp online. This was led by 3 amazing coaches (Nikki Humphrey, Melissa Johnson-White and Dani Filipek) and I trained ‘alongside’ a great group of women. It helped me find my mojo, build in some regular strength training, something I tend to neglect, and get back into a regular running routine.

Moving forward, my next steps are to incorporate higher mileage by steadily increasing my runs and adding in some more marathon specific pace workouts, although I don’t intend to target this pace on ‘race’ day.

I don’t have a marathon time target. I’m more thinking of enjoying the training, getting away for a day as I don’t want to run round the local streets and having a great day out somewhere I love, enjoying the challenge for what it is: FUN!

Long Runs

Today I figured I should up the long run and decided to try 15 miles. It went surprisingly well. I enjoyed my run, mainly on the trails and met lots of friendly faces from the local running community.

It might have been a little harder had I not spent so much time blethering. However, this may be the way the virtual marathon goes too and that’s all good! The current plan is to cover the distance in a leisurely manner, stop as and when I feel like it, and maybe even practise for the ultra that’s calling my name in the future by having a cuppa and a bit of cake along the way!

Wish me luck! I’ll keep you posted.

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!

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.