Chasing Dragons – Great Welsh Marathon 2019

Marathon attempt number two! Exactly one year after the first. I learned a lot from the whole process of preparing for and running Brighton Marathon 2018 – the most important being that I can actually run that far so this time around the worry about ‘will I finish?’ wasn’t there. The second big thing was that it probably would be a good idea to make the training more of a priority so that, even expecting to have a point at which it felt horrible, that it would come at a later point in the race.

I set up a training plan via Strava which started from three months ahead of the event day, early February, but started building up to that by running every day (even if it was just one mile) during January. Last year I had decided to do fewer runs during the week but focus on doing at least one fast run and one long run and trust (blind hope) that I’d be in reasonably good condition from teaching BodyPump and Body Combat to get round. Those classes are a great way to improve and maintain fitness but it turns there’s no substitute for logging the miles week in week out. This year I committed to more runs during the week, even if I only had time for two miles, and slowing down and taking the time to run further on the weekly long run. For the stats geeks, in 2018 from January to March I ran 150.2 miles across 23 runs and in 2019 it was 340.6 miles over 73 runs. Over double the distance and three times as many runs. The longest run I’d done in 2018 was 18.41 miles in 3:10:51 and in 2019 was 20.40 miles in 3:39:46. All this definitely contributed to a different type of experience on race day.

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The first big difference was the scale of the event. I deliberately chose the Great Welsh Marathon as I wanted to do something smaller than Brighton. Fewer runners, smaller crowds of spectators and easier getting around on the day. It ended up being smaller than I’d imagined but for me that helped the whole thing feel more relaxed and more focused on the running. I travelled down with my parents the day before and after having checked into the hotel (a very convenient 10 minutes walk from the race start!) went out for a recce run to get an idea of where everything was and to see the sea! On the Sunday morning after an early breakfast my mum walked down and waited with me while the half marathon runners got started and it was time for the full marathon runners to toe the line. No waves and finish time based colour coded start funnels this time just everyone in together. Then, off we went!

The first mile went unbelievably quickly, a bonus of there not being huge numbers of other runners, we were able to get into a rhythm very quickly. Soon after that I warmed up into it and even considered taking a layer of clothing off despite the cold and wind (although very glad I kept wrapped up by the time the wind picked up later). The course was a 13 mile figure of ‘8’ shaped circuit run once or twice for the half or full marathon. The first loop was a roughly eight mile stretch along a nature walk and out to some roads around a business park which was lovely smooth road to run on. As it was a double lap course all the mile markers for the second lap were out, taunting us, which at first was a little discouraging but then I started to imagine how tired I might feel on the second time around and prepare some motivational thoughts with the hope they would pop back into my head on seeing the signs again. I think it worked as that part of the course was definitely the easier section both times. The second part of the loop, after running back past the start/finish line, went out to and along the sea front and while this was much more scenic there were more obstacles to think about, like benches and spectators, and the wind! And seemingly endless corners to go past before getting to turn around and run back to the halfway point.

The second 13.1 miles is where the marathon really starts. By this point I’d been running for about 2 hours 10 minutes and very happy with that split. So much so I started wondering if I could keep a similar pace going and finish near to 4:20 and that thought really helped boost the energy and the pace a little for the next few miles. My prep work on the first loop definitely helped. Well, seeing the mile signs again and remembering what I’d told myself first time around was something to amuse myself with other than thoughts like ‘running mile after mile like this for fun is just a little bit bonkers when I could still be in bed’. Then from mile 19/20 the pace was starting to slow and mini walk breaks were necessary but everything still felt manageable was ticking over quite nicely and, crucially, keeping ahead of the 4:30 pacers. That second loop of the second lap, the last five mile stretch, was where things really started to get ugly. Energy levels were actually okay, I’d managed to keep myself going quite well with gels and Nakd bars, but muscles were tired and I had now been running further and for longer than in any of the training sessions. Mentally the most challenging thing was the endless corners. As I wasn’t familiar with the route every time I saw a bend up ahead where the other runners went out of sight I would start thinking ‘oh it’s just past there that we get to turn around and start running back to the finish’. Five hundred times. Alright only five or six…. brutal highs of expectation then disappointment about having to keep going further away. Eventually the turning point came and now finally heading back to the finish my body decided it had had enough and various muscles started to object and felt like they wanted to burst. A horrible pain developed in my left foot so the pace slowed yet again with longer walk breaks and a shuffling waddling run type movement. But, it was forwards movement, even when it didn’t feel like it, and the determination to get over the line got me there with a finish time of 4:29:18. That’s about 27 minutes faster than Brighton. Amazing!. (Although there’s a strict PT in me that can’t help thinking ‘well, yes, that’s what you get when you actually properly train for it’ [insert eye roll emoji]).

shuffling over the finish line

Post-marathon was a surprising shock to the system. Last year, because the intensity had been lower, the recovery was fairly easy and after a good night’s sleep felt alright again but this year has been much more of a struggle. My appetite was up and down, aches and tightness in the muscles to be expected but the pain in my foot was not one I’d ever had before so that was quite worrying. For the first week when teaching classes I found I was getting much more tired earlier in the workout that I was used to. Although the physical niggles were annoying everything seemed more or less back to normal again within a week or so. I managed three miles run/walk again on the following Sunday. Mentally and emotionally the hit and the recovery has been much harder and slower. People talk about ‘hitting the wall’ in a marathon where you completely run out of steam and have to dig really deep to keep going. For me it felt like that moment didn’t happen until the Tuesday afterwards when I finally crashed and let go of all the focus and determination that had been carrying me through the training and the event. By that point the initial excitement of the achievement and sharing it all had mostly gone so didn’t have that to distract me and over the next few days I ended up feeling really, really low and lost. Even more so as my go to thing for feeling good is usually running and I wasn’t sure at that point how soon I would be able to do that pain free or have the fitness back to increase mileage again. I’d been so fired up pre-marathon I’d expected to take a few days off but then pick up and carry on going at the same rate so it was really hard to accept that wasn’t happening. But I did accept it, I decided that it was normal to feel this way after a big long-term project coming to an end (not just the marathon but strength training and the pressure of a Les Mills launch overlapping) and that it was rest time now and to take it easy. Save my physical energy for teaching classes, only do what I felt like I could definitely mange for my workouts outside of that and not try to force myself to feel better trusting that would happen on it’s own eventually.

It’s now been three weekends since the marathon and I am just starting to feel back to ‘normal’. I was able to run ten slow miles on Sunday and five slightly more energetic ones yesterday (for a new challenge, more on that in a separate post) and the difference it makes to my mood is some kind of alchemy that I’m not quite sure I will ever understand. I have new things to look forward to now which is always a nice place to be and one of those things is a non-running related project which I hope will be very interesting… (…tbc). I have started thinking I would definitely run a marathon again when I can and take what I’ve learned from this one to do even better but would be fun to try a trail event next time I think… we’ll see. Watch this space!

Run Up To Christmas 2018

What a great challenge this was!  A brilliant way to round off a year full of running.  The idea of the challenge is to set a target distance (50km, 100km, etc) and log those miles and kilometers in your own time between 1st and 25th of December.  I set a target of 150km (about 93 miles) which was high considering the distance on my runs had tailed off somewhat following the Oxford Half Marathon in early October.  I managed to get off to a good start with a medium and a long run on the first weekend in December clocking up nearly 26km (16 miles).  The following weekend did not follow suit.  It started with some Parkrun tourism in Cardiff which was a really enjoyable course and I had a good run at it but after that the focusing switched to socialising and then ‘holiday’ mode as I stayed over in the Brecon Beacons and ended up drinking more wine than expected so didn’t manage to get the trainers on on the Sunday morning.

Cardiff Parkrun Finish Selfie

The following weekend I took myself down to the Ridgeway for some trail running practice.  That was such an amazing morning.  The forecast had been for rain but it was beautifully clear, crisp winter morning and I managed 8 miles of very enjoyable but challenging running (and photographing!).  A few less than originally planned but definitely  enough of a workout for the legs.

 

Although still managing to get some shorter runs logged on the weekdays I ended up getting towards the final weekend before Christmas with around 50km still to run.  That’s a marathon (26.2) plus just less than 5 miles.  Make or break time.  The organisers of the challenge are really flexible so at this point I had the option to call it quits, claim a medal based on having run 100km already and donate any extra to another runner falling short, or keep going.  I decided to keep going and just see if I could do it.  Saturday, after having taught classes and before going to get my nails done I squeezed a 6 mile session in.  Then on Sunday, suffering a horrible hangover from work drinks the night before I somehow jogged 7 miles.  On the Monday, thankfully no work so I had time, and had recovered enough, for a 13.5 mile slog up to Oxford and back.  I was gearing up to have a double run day and finish off the final 4 miles that evening but after seeing a message pop up that Christmas Day runs could be included in the total decided to save that for the morning.  A shorter, faster push to finish the distance.  Repeatedly refreshing Strava until the total for the month to date showed 151km.  I actually did it!  Now it’s time to relax and enjoy Christmas!

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Long Run Mis-Adventure

Over recent months I’ve been finding myself more and more inspired to do more trail and off-road running and thanks to Instagram I have access to endless beautiful pictures to fuel the obsession.  Most of my running happens on suburban roads or on the cycle network through the park but I’ve been trying to see if I can find some nice routes from home rather than having to drive to get there.  Last month I used the Garmin connect hive mind (from the data logged by other GPS watch users) to find a lovely loop to the north of Abingdon which had some great views.  This time I decided to see what lies to the south and whether or not I could get to Wittenham Clumps (local nature reserve) which feels like a long way but is about five miles away.  Used Google maps to get a route and added in a cycle path I’m already familiar with, that follows the river out of town to a local village, before going across to the Clumps giving me a roughly 15 mile round trip.

The first three miles were easy and beautiful, town (Abingdon), river, cycle path, village, then I had to pull out the phone and figure out which way to go, one brief wrong turn then back on the right track.  Started heading out of the village onto paths alongside fields, opening out onto an end of a road looking bleak and abandoned, stony underfoot, rusty looking tanker thing and a view of Didcot Power Station.  Oh well.  Keep going.

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Sounds of traffic and activity emerge and I turned a corner to find myself at a waste recycling place with huge trucks thundering past in both directions.  Drivers no doubt bemused by the site of a runner as I’m guessing no-one ever runs that way.  Tried not make eye contact and not get run over while also trying to look like I know exactly what I’m doing and where I’m going.  Start checking the phone, apparently I was on the directed route until I got past the buildings and further out along the road, suddenly I’m lost and not going the way Google is telling me to.  I think the path I needed was blocked by roadworks and, having considered scrambling through the hedges, didn’t look passable.  So, ignoring Google, I followed the road the trucks were on in the hope that it would get me out to a main road I might recognise.  It did.  The arse end of Didcot.  Not pretty, but familiar from when I lived there years ago.  Hope returned, maybe this was just a detour and I would still get where I wanted to go.  Followed the road around to the B road the map suggested.  Then, dead end. Well, sort of.  It was one of those B roads that lots of cars drive very fast on and there’s barely a grass verge let alone a footpath.  Thought about seeing if there was a way through the adjacent fields but by this point was too deflated to keep going that way.  I’d forgotten to take any money with me otherwise at this point I would have seriously considered stopping and found a bus to take me back to Abingdon (my monkey brain did wonder whether I could fake an injury and hope a kindly bus driver would take pity on me but was overruled!).  At least by this point I knew where I was and how to get home but also getting fatigued, hungry and dehydrated (so glad I thought to take two water bottles for once and, that long run staple fuel, jelly babies!).

 

As I started running back I realised the road I was on was one I used to run on way, way back when I first started running and was training for my first 10k, in Lincoln, which was before the days of social media bragging so I can’t even really remember when it was (2006, I had to look it up).   Even with the hundreds of miles I’ve run since then and being roughly three stone lighter (although, over 12 years older) it seemed as though it was just as difficult as it used to.  Kept plodding on home, past the uninspiring office job I did while doing Personal Trainer qualifications, past the post-A Levels warehouse temp job I did pre-weight gain and pre-starting smoking.   During this stage of the run walk breaks were being dictated more by refueling needs rather than map checking.  Happily after all that my thoughts were focused more on the positive side of having run so far out, with all that to cover again (as opposed my default setting of multiple loops that could be cut short at any point), which was that I would hit my target distance as long as I could keep going and could get there quicker by keeping running.

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The last three miles were the hardest, as they often will be, but today unusually uplifting.  The river winding in to where it gets closest to Abingdon, lots of anglers along the opposite bank, the Anchor pub and overflowing flowerpots along the wharf in front, St Helen’s church  were very welcome sights.  Even more welcome was the water fountain in Abbey Meadows for me to refill my flask and start to rehydrate during the walk home from there.  Contemplating.  Although I didn’t manage to find what I was looking for with this run, a nice route and the satisfaction of getting to where I wanted to go, there were bright blue skies, warm sunshine, refreshing breezes, and it was interesting.  And I’ve learned that I need to work a bit harder at route planning in future.  If I manage that I will let you know!

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2018 Training Plans

Over the past couple of years a lot of my focus and physical energy has been on gaining new fitness instructing qualifications (e.g. BodyPump, BodyCombat) but with all that starting to tick along nicely I decided it was time to set a different challenge and revisit what got me really into fitness in the first place – running.  Having run several 10ks and a few half marathons it felt time to move up to full marathon distance.  26.2 miles.  Twenty six point two MILES. Yikes.

I entered Brighton Marathon with a WWF charity place and set myself up with a training plan.  [I use my.asics.com for this and would recommend to site to anyone looking for guidance on how to structure their running training.]   When the longer training runs started to appear on the calendar I struggled with them a lot more than I’d imagined in various ways.  For example, fitting it in the weekend around a social life, and then needing energy to have recovered enough for work, not knowing quite how to layer up effectively against the freezing cold.   The couple of snowy weekends we had limited how far I was able to run when I was supposed to be increasing mileage and throughout the couple of months leading up to marathon day (15 April) I swore I would not be putting myself through any of this ever again and couldn’t wait for the whole thing to be over.

Once the tapering phase, reduced mileage and reduced weights in BodyPump, kicked in I started to be able to look forward to a trip to Brighton and was determined to enjoy the whole experience as much as possible.  In hindsight I must have been more anxious about being able to actually complete the thing than I realised.  When it actually came around I had an absolutely brilliant day.  Getting up, fed, and on my way to the start line was relatively stress free, given I was in an unfamiliar place, and from there it was easy: dump the bag, queue up, and just… run.  The running almost continuously for five hours was about as hard as I’d expected, certainly not too much worse, and at times even felt really good.  Crossing the line was emotional.  I realised that I hadn’t been convinced I would be able to finish.  But I did.  I did it.

After the event I slept so well – a combination of the physical activity and the release of the stress of having been worrying about it – that the next day and for the rest of the week I somehow felt so much better, more motivated calmer, and more ‘myself’ than I have done for a very long time.  Perhaps, ever.  So of course I immediately started researching other marathons.  Less than a month after swearing “never again”.

In the last month since the event I have briefly entertained the idea of attempting an autumn marathon this year but decided to hold off until I can take more time to build up to it more gradually.  Post-marathon running volumes are comparatively low, doing 3-5 miles per session rather than the 7 milers and 13-16s that I had worked up to beforehand.  The next big focus for me now is to run the Oxford Half Marathon in October which will my fifth go at this event.  High on the sense of achievement from Brighton I’m looking for a personal best – to beat my 2014 time of 1:48:40.  This will mean I need to be to be around 45 seconds faster per mile (for the 13.1 miles).  So, the focus for training over the summer will need to include practicing speed work as well as building back up to longer distance runs.

To help keep me focused and on track with this, and in the hope that my readers might find it inspiring or at least interesting, I will be sharing my training progress and thoughts on the process here on this blog.  Watch this space!

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New challenge: running Brighton Marathon 2018

This month I ran Oxford Half Marathon for the fourth time and so far that 13.1 miles is the furthest distance I’ve achieved.  Now it’s it’s time to take on a new challenge and tackle the full 26.2 miles distance.  Eeek!  I’m very excited to be doing this and especially excited to have a place with Team Panda in the 2018 Brighton Marathonraising money for WWF.  Head over to my JustGiving page to see fundraising progress and (if you can) make a donation!

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/rhianwenbeint