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.

Week 15: Emerging from the chrysalis (or something)

So, my first marathon is next weekend. Next weekend!! These past 15 weeks of training have gone by quickly – but also slowly. Not sure how that’s possible, but that’s how it feels.

This is my first real taper week (after not taking it as easy as I should have last week). I did a slow run home from work on Tuesday which was actually really nice. As it’s light again in the evenings now, I was able to run through Bushy Park rather than sticking to the streets. The weather has been sunny and spring-like for much of this week, which is an added bonus.

I feel like I’ve come full circle: park running in the light evenings in late autumn; getting through the grind of a cold, dark winter; and now, finally, emerging at the other end into the light again, as a fully-fledged newbie marathon hopeful. Or something like that.

I managed a morning run before work yesterday. I decided to do some intervals to mix the pace up a little. I aimed to do 10 x 200m, but I had to stop after six because I felt really sick. I guess I’m not used to speed work at the moment. And I probably went too fast. So much for taking it easy! It was a short run overall, though – only 2.5 miles – so hopefully I didn’t do too much damage.

I have a couple of short runs planned for this weekend, and then it’ll be race week. It’s so close…and yet so far away.

9 days to go!

 

Week 14: Hindsight is a wonderful thing

This week has been busy and stressful. I’ve fit in five runs, and most of them have felt rubbish. After last Saturday’s 20-miler (and then a busy weekend travelling to visit various different family members), I’ve felt tired and achy.

This week was meant to be the first week of tapering for the marathon, and although I have dropped my overall weekly mileage slightly, I don’t feel that it’s been a restful week. Some of this is due to decisions I made about my runs – I think I probably ran some of them too hard.

Tuesday’s run was an easy four miles into Bushy Park and back. For some reason I tried to run a little quicker than easy pace once I’d done a mile warm-up; but my legs wisely stopped me from persisting with that, and I dropped back to an easy pace again. It was a strange evening – lots of dark cloud and barely anyone around, even though there had been loads of runners in the park when I ran on the previous Tuesday evening.

On Thursday I was at home, although I had lots to do. I managed to get out for a 20-minute run around the block in the late morning. I remember feeling okay for this, and I picked up the pace in the second half.

On Friday I had a full-on morning and early afternoon. I was itching for all the various events to be over so that I could get out and run, and blow away the cobwebs. I was free to do this around mid-afternoon. I ran through Bushy again – a 7-mile loop. Once again, I felt tired, but still tried to push the pace. I managed to do marathon pace for one mile in the middle, but then dropped back again. I think, with hindsight, I should have done a shorter and easier run.

This was followed by parkrun on Saturday (my weekly 5k fix). Although I didn’t feel amazing for this run, it wasn’t too bad. I started off conservatively at a 9:10 pace, then did a progressive run, finishing around 8:30-8:10 pace. I felt like there was little power in my legs, but I had no aches or pains and felt reasonably comfortable. My official time was 27:26.

This morning was my final run of Week 14. It is a beautiful day today. It started off chilly, but is now cool and sunny – a perfect spring day and great running weather. Once again, though, even though I wasn’t feeling great, I tried to push myself. I did three miles at an easy pace (in a busy Bushy Park) and then picked it up to slightly faster than marathon pace for six miles. This felt so hard, much harder than it should have; but I forced myself to keep it up. When I finally hit the 9-mile mark, I eased off and jogged/walked two miles home. I felt broken: I had an aching back and hips, and my legs were not happy.

This week my aim was to get in some marathon-pace miles. My thinking was that because I wouldn’t be doing any very long runs, I could do the shorter runs at a quicker pace. And I got this done, but I think I should have listened to my body and kept it all easy. I should also have remembered that stress elsewhere in my life has an impact, and that the body doesn’t distinguish between running-stress and life-stress.

Well, what’s done is done. Next week I’m going to do a proper taper: mostly short, easy runs, and much less overall weekly mileage. I am in real need of some proper recovery now.

14 days to go!

Week 13: Longest run and the taper begins

I finished off my running last week (Week 13 of marathon training) with a very short, easy run on Friday evening, and then a long run on Saturday morning. Friday’s run was good – I felt a lot better than I had on Thursday’s tempo/speed effort.

Saturday’s run involved an early start. I had to be out of bed by about 5.15am so that I’d have enough time to get everything ready and be running by 6am. To say it was difficult to get up is an understatement; but I managed it. I did leave the house five minutes or so later than intended.

My run started off tentatively. I had ankle pain again, and was worried that it was going to get so bad that I’d have to stop running. For the first mile or so I did a walk/run, which seemed to ease up the ankle a bit. Although the pain didn’t go away, it didn’t get worse, so I was able to complete my run.

I stayed in Bushy Park again. It was still very windy, and also rained a bit. I managed to keep up an easy but steady pace. I felt daunted by the distance, as it was going to be my longest run ever; but I tried a tactic of breaking it down into parkruns – so every 5km (3.1 miles), I would mark the time by taking a gel or drinking water, and then start the next 3.1 miles. This seemed to work well.

I got to the parkrun start for 9am, which I was pleased about, as I’d thought I was going to be late. I had done 17 miles at that point. I kept up my pace for (a very windy) parkrun, even increasing to 9-minute miles by the end. I stopped my watch at 20.1 miles, feeling tired but good. I never thought I’d be able to handle doing long runs three weeks in a row (I did 18 miles last weekend and the one before), but marathon training is definitely teaching me a lot about the amazing adaptability of the human body.

2019-03-16 09.50.48
Me with S, feeling pleased after we both ran 20 miles (separately).

I’m having a couple of days of rest now. My ankle is still sore, but I’m hoping that some stretching and strength exercises will help (and foam rolling, if I can bring myself to do it). I am glad that it’s now taper time and that all my runs from now until the Big Day are shorter ones. I might try and get in some faster paces too, ankle permitting.

20 days to go!!

Week 13: My only friend

When I last wrote, the main issue seemed to be the wind. And it’s still extremely windy. I have come to believe that wind is my least favourite weather condition to run in (although any sort of extreme – biting cold; searing heat – is obviously not pleasant).

Wind, however, makes it so much harder. I’m reminded of that scene from The Mighty Boosh in which Howard claims that the wind is his only friend, to which the wind replies, “I hate yoooou.” (I’ve just realised that episode is now 15 years old. Perhaps we’ll gloss over that.)

I took two days’ rest at the beginning of this week, although I wish I’d braved the weather and done a recovery run on Tuesday, as my legs have felt stiff since Sunday’s challenging long run (it was really windy – did I mention that?) I did run yesterday – a one-mile jog to the park, then two miles at slightly slower than ideal marathon pace, then a jog home. It is nice that the evenings are getting lighter. This means I can run in the park after work instead of sticking to the local streets.

I also ran yesterday evening. I jogged to the park again, then pushed myself by running for 3.5 miles at tempo pace, with some faster sections. I had planned to do 3 x 1 mile with recoveries in between, but messed up the interval setting on my watch. I think it turned out for the best, though, as I enjoyed doing a more random, run-by-feel workout. I also had to slow down several times for herds of deer crossing the path (not an unusual event in Bushy Park).

I am worried about continuing discomfort in my right hip, and calf issues in my left leg. I am also not really following a training plan any more, except as a rough guide, so I feel that I’m making it up as I go along at the moment. This is a little unsettling, but I think, with only three weeks to go, that it is probably okay. I need to listen to my body rather than pushing on regardless simply because a workout is ‘in the plan’.

23 days to go!

Week 12 of marathon training: a windy week

It was very windy here last week, and it shows no signs of letting up at the moment. This has made running a lot harder. I haven’t attempted any of my Week 13 runs yet.  I’m very tempted to leave them until the wind dies down, even though that may not be until next week. I need to find some motivation from somewhere!

Last week I managed two mid-week runs – an easy 30 minutes on Tuesday and a tempo run on Thursday. Just like when I last updated, I’ve left it too long to remember much about these runs, but I think the ‘easy’ 30 minutes was actually pretty hard as I was still recovering from an 18-mile run two days before.

The tempo run was also hard, because of the weather, but also because I was tired and weary. I got up early and ran before work (always a challenge for me, but usually worth it!). I ran through Bushy Park – one mile to warm up, two miles at tempo pace, and then just short of a mile to cool down. The wind was pretty strong and I was running against it for some long stretches. The flat landscape of the park is beautiful, but also very exposed. This meant, anyway, that my pace was not as quick as I wanted it to be. Still, it was good to get another fairly decent run in the bag.

Saturday was parkrun day. I don’t remember it being that windy during the run, but it definitely was at the finish, as I remember standing around in it (and wanting to be somewhere warm instead!) The run itself was a pretty good one. I felt lacking in energy at first; but warmed up by around halfway and was able to do a strong finish.

My official time was 25:37 – exactly the same as last week. This meant that I gained the Groundhog Day badge for parkrun challenges (running the same time at the same parkrun location on two consecutive parkruns). Parkrun challenges is just a fun way to add a bit more interest to the weekly run (although some people do take it quite seriously!). There are loads of challenges, from running at parkruns beginning with all the letters of the alphabet, to running more than 100 runs in different locations (a.k.a. parkrun tourism).

Sunday’s run was a long one. I was planning to do around 20-21 miles as part of an informal event called Not the London Marathon, which was started 11 years ago as a way for runners to add some variety to their marathon training. It involves running laps of the old Bushy parkrun course, as many times as you want.

54516561_10156007782005009_659348179392659456_n
Despite the wind, there was a good turnout for Not the London Marathon.

The plan is usually to have a picnic afterwards, but the weather has often prevented that. Last year there was snow and ice; another year it was hailstones. This year it was, of course, the wind. It was gusty to start with, but it was still possible to run and keep up a steady-ish pace. By the time I’d reached my sixth lap, though, the wind was incredibly strong, and I gave up trying to battle against it and had to walk a bit. I finished my run at 18.7 miles, which I was pleased with in those conditions. The park was actually closed for the rest of the day because of the risk of falling trees.

I had a sore hip during the run and it’s still not quite right now, so I’m going to try and be diligent about stretching and strength exercises this week (and maybe try and force myself out into the awful weather this evening to try a very gentle run).

26 days to go! (Wow.)

Week 11 of marathon training: Building up

I’ve managed to cram in four runs since I last wrote. The first of these was a tempo run last Thursday evening. I don’t have any strong memories of this, so I’m assuming it was a reasonable run. I did a mile warm up, three miles at tempo pace, and a mile cool down. I do recall now, actually, having to stop and walk for a bit after the third tempo mile, as I was feeling tired and had pain in my side – so, perhaps unsurprisingly, I probably wasn’t quite recovered from the previous Sunday’s half marathon.

I don’t normally run on Fridays, but last Friday I decided to run home from work. I took the shortest route (after walking for a bit to warm up), which worked out at 2.6 miles. Again, I have no strong memories of this (this is why I should update more regularly), but I managed to get myself home so mission accomplished, I guess.

Saturday was parkrun, which is more memorable (running with 1400 other people helps with that). It was a grey day and muddy underfoot from rain on Friday, but it was also mild. I had planned to do an easy run, but on the day I felt like I could get away with running a bit quicker. I started at a steady pace, then sped up for the last half and felt strong. My watch time was 25:38. I’m pleased that what not long ago would have been a very hard run for me is now a lot more manageable. It’s good to be reminded sometimes of how much progress I’ve made.

2019-03-03 07.47.37Sunday’s run was the grand finale of Week 11. As with all my long runs, I felt apprehensive about it. The weather was rubbish: wet and very windy, but also still mild, which makes it hard to dress because you want to be protected from the elements, but also not get too hot. In the end I went for my favourite pink running jacket with a short-sleeved t-shirt underneath, and long tights. I did get quite warm, but was also glad to have a barrier against the wind.

When I started running, I felt lacking in energy and had really tight lower calves, to the extent that I had to run/walk for the first mile. I contemplated cutting the run short and going home, but eventually my calves felt better and I was able to keep running.

My intention was to run for three hours and ten minutes. I stuck to Bushy Park and did three laps. On some stretches, I was running against the wind, which was trying, to say the least. I took a short break to go to the toilets, and a couple of very short walking breaks to take gels or drink water, but for the most part, I stuck to an easy pace of around 9:30-10:30-minute-miles.

Right up until I reached the two-hour mark, I continuously doubted whether I would be able to make it to three hours; but after I’d gone beyond that, it started to feel achievable. I finally stopped my watch at 3 hours and 8 minutes – a couple of minutes early; but I’d covered 18.3 miles and felt that that justified calling it a day.

So, that was my longest run so far in the bag (longest not only literally, but also figuratively). I didn’t feel emotional at all (unlike during the 16-miler of two weeks ago), but I am pleased that I have been able to cover that distance at a good pace, and that I am still in one piece. I felt tired afterwards, but my legs felt strangely good yesterday (a rest day).

Despite the fact that my body is feeling okay, mentally I could do with a break. However, it’s now Week 12. This week and next week involve some more tough training before a three-week taper and then the Big Day, so I can’t really rest just yet. I know, though, that recovery is equally as important as training. I need to remember to schedule in some proper relaxation (something I definitely need to get better at).

33 days to go!

Weeks 10 & 11 of marathon training: Recovery, race, recovery

Once again, another week has passed without an update. I’ve ticked off three more runs since last Wednesday, so I suppose I’ve just been getting on with it rather than stopping to analyse, which I think is a good thing.

Saturday’s run was a very easy 20 minutes around the block. I had treated myself to a lie-in, rather than my usual Saturday morning routine of going to parkrun. Turned out this was a good call. I realised just how much of my time lately has been taken up with running and related socialising. Not that I don’t enjoy it, but I do need my alone time.

I definitely felt the benefits of an extra bit of rest, especially as on Sunday, I was running the Thorpe and Egham Half Marathon, along with S. and a group of friends. It was an early start: S. and I picked up two friends at 7.15am, and then went on to another friend’s house, where we arranged ourselves into three cars and drove to a car park about ten minutes’ walk from the race event village.

It was a really beautiful day: a bright, frosty morning, followed by blue skies and blazing sun. It was perfect running weather. I hadn’t really decided what sort of run I wanted to do – I had been so focused on the marathon that I hadn’t really thought about this race. In the training plan that I am sort-of-but-not-really following, it did say to aim for a fast half marathon in time of less than 1 hour 50 minutes. I wasn’t sure I was quite at that standard, but I did vaguely think I might be able to do around 1:51-1:52 – which would be a half marathon PB for me, by around four minutes.

52961302_2282703498724154_6437552151546822656_o
Not very far into the race – still smiling.

I set off a little too fast (getting carried away by the race adrenaline as usual), but reined myself in and slowed down to about an 8:30-8:40 pace. This felt fairly comfortable, so I stuck at that. Although the course was hillier than I had expected, and I did feel a bit tired at times, I managed to hold my pace until the end – something I hadn’t managed to achieve before in a half marathon (I have always slowed down in the last few miles). The big timer showed 1:53:56 when I crossed the finish line. I was very pleased with that – and even more pleased to learn that my chip time was 1:52:43.

I collected a pile of post-race goodies – medal, yellow t-shirt, flapjack, etc. – and joined 52647429_10158237798678047_4814764673616314368_nthe rest of the group for stretching, photos, and then lunch at an Italian restaurant. There were several PBs to celebrate, and it was also a friend’s birthday. All in all, a good team day out.

My legs felt quite sore on Monday (and still do now) so I was glad to have a rest day. Yesterday I went for a very easy four-mile run. A speed workout was on the plan, but my legs still weren’t up to much more than recovery pace, and I was okay with that. Tonight I need to do some proper stretching (and maybe foam rolling – eek) before the next batch of training runs.

39 days to go!