Post M-word limbo

It’s now just over three weeks since Hannover Marathon. I’m still in a post-race limbo. I’ve done several short, easy runs since then. I’ve had some knee pains which oddly seem to turn up on every other run and feel like faint echoes of the last few miles of the marathon.

Today, I ran six miles, which felt hard, even though the pace was easy. It is baffling that three weeks ago, I ran (okay, ran-walked-hobbled) that same distance after already having run 20 miles. I also watched some of the London Marathon on TV. For the first time, I felt like I knew how the runners’ legs were feeling when they crossed the finish line. A noble club to be a new member of.

Right now, I feel like my fitness has disappeared. I am trying not to think about this too much. I am hoping that if I keep plugging away, gradually bringing back some faster and longer runs, the fitness will return without me realising. One day, it’ll just be there again, and I’ll greet it like an old friend (“Oh! Hi, Fitness! Great to see you again”).

In other news, I have ‘given back to the community’ in the last few weeks. Instead of running the usual 5k parkrun on Saturday mornings, I volunteered. In the last few years, I have run parkrun so much that I accidentally forgot to volunteer. Last Saturday and the one before, I was a marshal.

2019-04-27 09.01.29
A ‘giving back to the community’ selfie

Last week was a cushy assignment. The weather was beautifully sunny. I bagged the first marshalling point where all the runners/walkers charge/stroll up the path and are all gone in the space of about five minutes, signalling the end of the marshalling duty.

The second one, yesterday, was less cushy but arguably more rewarding. It was windy and cold. After a short while, I could no longer feel my toes. I was stationed at a turn around 1.5k from the end of the run, where the field thins out considerably so there is a long gap between the first and last participants. The first speedy runners came through at about 9.10am; the last ones at around 9.50am. My fellow marshal and I clapped and offered words of encouragement. We received many ‘Thank you marshals’, waves, high-fives, and a selfie with an Australian parkrun tourist. I felt tired but thoroughly cheered by the end of it. It was refreshing to experience the weekly run from a different angle.

This week coming, I am, in theory, getting back into training again for the few shorter races (two relays and a 10k) I have coming up in May and June. I’m not feeling massively geared up for it at the moment, but, as I told myself on today’s run: just focus on the steps you’re doing and don’t worry about anything else. Sorted. 

I ran a marathon. Now what?

Completing a marathon is a strange feeling. There is a sense of achievement, sure; and it’s nice to be congratulated and to bask in the glory for a while. But, also, you’ve been working towards something for four months; it’s taken up so much of your time and energy, both mental and physical: and then, suddenly – nothing. It’s all over. What do you do then?

The sensible answer, I suppose, is to rest and recover, and maybe return to the things you used to do before you spent all your spare time running/thinking about running, if you can remember what those things were. I have tried to do that this week. I have definitely rested a lot. I am surprised that my legs have now returned to a near-normal state.

I did my first post-marathon run today: a 5k parkrun, back at good old lovely Bushy Park. It was a chilly morning, and yet I overdressed and got boiling hot. I started at the back of the pack and eased into it, getting used to using my legs again (I did feel a bit wobbly at first) then sped up for a progressive run and a strong finish. I would not say I feel totally recovered yet; but I undoubtedly feel much better than I did in the couple of days after the marathon.

I have a few shorter races coming up in the next few months: a couple of 10ks and also a half marathon (as part of a triathlon relay team). This is good, because it means some shorter and faster runs in training, and just something a bit different.

2019-04-07 23.15.33And yet. I realised today that I need a bigger goal. I thought about trying a new marathon training plan just to test it out; then maybe doing another marathon next year. But I don’t think that would work: without the goal of an actual race at the end, I probably wouldn’t feel motivated enough to follow a plan.

And I also realised: I want to do another marathon. Shorter races are fine, but the marathon is the one I care about. I want to have another one to aim for. I want to see if I am capable of improving my time. And, so, I am now entered for the Abingdon Marathon in October 2019.

I had told myself: no more marathons until at least 2020. But I felt lost by the thought of waiting that long. And I do feel happier now that I’ve entered Abingdon. I also feel: what am I doing? Isn’t six months way too soon to do another one? Well, it’s done now. Here I go again! (Although not for a while yet; I will still be resting lots and doing short, easy runs for the next few weeks.)

Hannover Marathon 2019: a race report

It’s over! The big day has been and gone. I finished my first marathon and I am (pretty much) in one piece. I have had much to reflect on. I’ve divided my musings into three sections: Before, During, and After. Enjoy, lucky reader.

Before

I realise now that my 16 weeks of training was effective – but only for half marathon distance. I ran a really good half marathon six weeks ago. I didn’t do enough for the marathon distance.

For starters, I didn’t have enough of a base going into the training. I should not have tried to follow a sub 4-hour plan, as I discovered at Week 6 that it was too hard, and I scaled back. My weekly mileage then became too low for the marathon – let alone a sub 4-hour marathon.

But I didn’t think about what pace I actually wanted to run it at. I never sat back and calculated a 4:15 or 4:30 pace – I always planned to try and run at 9:09 and see what happened. So I set myself up for disappointment. I also had a stressful time in other areas of my life, which probably didn’t help much.

A week before the race, I had a nasty fall which meant I didn’t run all week. Even walking was hard. I couldn’t do any stretching or strength exercises. My morale took a massive hit as I didn’t know if I would be able to run the marathon at all. On the day of travelling to Hannover I was an anxious mess. But we arrived safely and it was nice to be with running friends, have fun, and do lots of eating and drinking. We did, however, accidentally end up doing loads of walking on Saturday (almost 27,000 steps!) which probably wasn’t ideal preparation. I did sleep well on Saturday night, though.

On marathon morning we were in a German hotel room so I didn’t have the facilities for my usual pre-race breakfast, which is something like crumpets with margarine and jam and a cup of tea, and maybe a banana. Instead, I had half a bread roll, orange juice, a few sips of Diet Coke, a banana (so one item was ticked off), and half a small Snickers bar. The bread roll was too chewy and I could barely swallow it. I had some stomach trouble (normal for me before a race) so I took two Imodium. I also took two paracetamol for my knee pain.

During

My knee hurt at first and I kept my pace slow – although, with hindsight, not slow enough. I then felt better and thought, hey, maybe I can get up to ideal marathon pace. However, I caught up the 4:15 pacer and overtook him, and then hung out not far ahead of him at around 9:15-9:30 pace for several miles, which felt steady and comfortable.

My pace started to drop at around mile 16. This was because of increasing pain and tingling in my left leg from a too-tight compression sock, and a lack of strength in my left knee and hip, as well as the bashed-knee pain. I also had painful cramp in a place that I’m not going to mention. I walked through a couple of the water stations. The 4:15 pacer sailed past me and I never saw him again.

And then it got worse. My left leg weakness and pain didn’t get so bad that I had to stop; but it did get so bad that I had to take more walk breaks. I also had pain in my right knee and IT band; and painful twinges in my left hip. My feet felt sore and it was hard to navigate any surface that wasn’t smooth pavement. This was around the time that I tripped on a drain cover and went flying – but landed on my feet. That gave me a shock, as you might imagine.

2019-04-08 16.53.19It became very difficult to start running again after taking walk breaks, but I managed it. I ran to the end and finished in 4:25:50. My quads were burning with pain. I cried when I finished. It was a bloody long walk to the medal, water, and other goodies at the end.

After

I was very glad to see my other half, S., at the end (he had just smashed out a 3:18 marathon – a 50-minute marathon PB for him). We had an alcohol-free beer and he came with me so I could collect my bag and get changed. We then joined our friends for lunch and revelled in our various running achievements. After feeling a little disappointed in my time and performance, I realised that it is no mean feat to finish a marathon and that I should feel proud of myself.

10 things I learned:

  1. I should build up a strong base of at least 20-30 miles of weekly running for several months before starting a marathon training plan.
  2. My training should not include both a tempo and speed run in mid-week. I should alternate them each week.
  3. If I have to scale back my training because I am finding it too much, I should make sure to also adjust my goal. Don’t assume I will just be able to ‘wing it’ in the marathon. Identify a new realistic marathon pace and train for that.
  4. If I am feeling tired or stressed because of running or because of other areas in my life, adjust the training plan accordingly.
  5. Taking two Imodium before a race is a good idea.
  6. If I need to take painkillers before the run, also take some with me to take mid-way into the run.
  7. My gels and hydration strategy worked well.
  8. Stretching and strength work is important. It is also important to try not to fall over a week before a race.
  9. If I feel before a race that my compression sock is too tight – don’t ignore it and leave it on. Put on some other socks!
  10. Everything you hear about that last 10k is true. It is absolutely a test of how well you have trained and fuelled; how appropriately you have paced the previous 20 miles; and how effectively you can push through discomfort, possible pain, and mental demons.

Week 15/16: Best laid plans

After I last wrote, I did my third run of Week 15: a parkrun. It was a beautifully sunny Saturday morning, with light winds and dry ground. I wasn’t sure what pace I was going to run at. I ended up running the first mile by feel. I looked at the mile split on my watch. It was an 8:05 pace, so I carried on with that. It felt fairly hard, but not as if I was going all-out; and I kept a steady pace until the end. My official time was 25:05.

I had a busy but good Saturday afternoon and evening. I met up with old friends, went to the theatre, wandered around Covent Garden in the sun, and ate and drank lots. I didn’t get home that late, but I felt rough on Sunday morning. However, I told myself I needed to get out and do a six-mile run.

The weather was much worse than on Saturday – cold, cloudy and windy, and I felt underdressed in a short-sleeved top. The prospect of six miles around the park felt like too much, even though it was only a fraction of the distance of my long runs. I jogged through a small local park on the way to Bushy Park. When I got out of the gate, I ran down the pavement leading to the main road, and then – BAM! Fell over. My knees and hands slammed into the ground. I lay there, stunned, for a bit; then picked myself up. I decided to walk back home rather than complete the run. I tried jogging but my knee hurt.

2019-03-31 10.47.35Back at home, I assessed the damage. The biggest casualty was my left knee. I ripped a hole in my running tights. There was blood and bruising. I had also knocked my right hand, right knee, elbows, and right hip.

I spent the rest of the day feeling annoyed and sorry for myself. I still don’t know why I tripped – I’m guessing it was uneven pavement that I wasn’t paying attention to because I was tired. I iced my knees and put a dressing on the knee wound. Today, I can walk, although stairs are painful, and my left knee feels very sore and stiff.

And there are only six days until Hannover Marathon. It is frustrating to have put in so much work, only to possibly ruin it all because of something silly. These things happen, though, and I can’t do anything about it now except rest as much as I can, and see how I feel on the day. Onwards and upwards.