The spreadsheet isn’t always right.

28 March 2017

Week 6 of the EMF2017 training plan turned out to be the one where things fell apart. Ok, that’s a tad dramatic, but it was a pretty poor week for training. Of the 70km or so I was meant to run I managed the grand total of 18km over two runs, and that’s with some rounding up.

The week started as it should with a 5km recovery run, much needed and now fully appreciated after earlier moans from me of this being a wasted activity session. This would be the peak of the week as things quickly went downhill.

My wife is also in training mode with a half marathon coming up in May. She too is going all out on the training and doing one hell of a job given, as she herself admits, she doesn’t really like running. After commenting on “not feeling right” before her Monday recovery run she set off regardless, keen to not let the training plan slip, and ran the prescribed 5km. This did not aid recovery. That night she became more and more unwell and as a result spent much of the following two days in bed. With nursery unable to take A an extra day this bought me a day and a half off work, and also meant no running for me for two days. Up to this point I’d been strict in my training and stuck to every run, squeezing in pre-work runs where possible when evenings weren’t going to be an option. However I was getting tired, my legs were still struggling to recover from the previous week’s exploits. An extra rest day or two to stay on call at home was most welcome.

As my wife recovered and was well enough to look after A, it was time for me to run again. Admittedly I didn’t feel great, but as I’d missed the last two days training I decided I had to stick to this one and set off to the Thursday club run. There’s no structured training at these, it’s just a run with the group around the area at a reasonable, but comfortable pace. Things did not start well. We live approximately 1km from the club meeting point and about halfway through my run to club I was struggling; 500m in to a gentle warm up I stopped running and walked. I told myself it was down to a lack of running over the last two days, and that I’d soon pick up once we got going properly. In short, I didn’t. The following hour and a bit was torture. I usually keep a reasonable pace on these runs, pushing up the hills to keep pace with the quickest folk and circling back down to regroup with the rest of the pack. This time I stayed with the rest of the pack. In fact I was the tail of the pack. My stomach was cramped, my breathing was short, my legs just weren’t interested. If I’d been out on my own I’d have turned back, but not wanting to lose face with the group I kept going. At one point I looked at my watch and saw we’d only been going 20 minutes, my heart sank. I was struggling, and we weren’t even half way through yet! I just about made it to the end of the run, the worst run I’d for a long, long time. I mumbled some goodbyes and sloped off home to collapse on to the sofa.

In hindsight I should’ve listened to my body as I got ready for the Thursday run. I didn’t feel great because I was getting ill (albeit my wife had it much worse than I did). The following three days were complete and utter write offs for training and worse, meant my day with A on Saturday (whilst my wife works) was perhaps one of the most boring days of her life. I had no energy to play with her and we spent a lovely sunny day getting through until Mummy got home. I regret that Thursday run. Whether it exacerbated things or not is hard to say, but regardless I shouldn’t have run. I was so het up over recovering an already slipping weekly training schedule I ignored what my body was telling me and made it work harder than it wanted to for an hour. An hour of such poor quality running that it can’t possibly have had any positive effect on my training.

Being relatively new to training plans, certainly of this intensity, I’m learning as I go and the key lesson here is to pay more attention to what your body says than what the spreadsheet on the fridge says. Yes, there are times when motivation drops and you need to force yourself out on a run, and I’ve found the printed [not laminated I hasten to add, I’m not that bad] training plan is a good stick to keep myself going. But it’s important to recognise those times when forcing yourself out on a run isn’t the best thing to do, something we both now understand after a miserable few days preceeded by runs we both knew were mistakes. A 16-week training plan has enough give to afford the odd missed session to cope with injury or illness, or just a break. If the quality of the runs is deteriorating then what good are they doing? Get yourself right and go again when you’re back to your best.


This week was always going to be a bit higgledy piggledy in terms of training, with Mother’s Day on Sunday. The long run would’ve needed to be brought forward to Saturday evening, something I’m quite glad my illness scuppered. Evening running is never the same, and two hours of it just seems unnecessary. Even under normal circumstances I would’ve wanted to make sure my wife got the Mother’s Day treatment she deserved, instead of disappearing for a couple of hours at sun up. However for us, days like this aren’t exclusively a day for celebration. They’re a jolt to remind you what’s missing, and require that bit more focus to make sure we all get through. These are days to stick together, and take full advantage of the smiles and laughs from happy A to keep right. Sunday must have been hard for my wife, it was for me, but she never showed it. It looked as though A enjoyed herself which always helps, stubbornly refusing to be carried as we walked up quite a sizeable hill in a local park (she obviously doesn’t share my dislike of hill work). All in all Sunday was a nice day, a nice day that didn’t involve any running.

 

 

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To donate or not to donate? What about the training….

20 Mar 2017

A slightly longer blog this time, not to make up for not posting last week, but to sneak in a bit about my blood donation. Fear not, this isn’t a blog talking through the donation itself. That was as straightforward and uneventful as always. However this time I went in to my donation from the mind-set of someone training for a marathon and trying not to let the training plan slip.

Before I get in to it, I’ll start with a confession. In the days leading up to the donation I had considered cancelling. Not because of work, or childcare commitments, or because I was unwell and unable to donate. Nope, my sole reason for wanting to cancel was to ensure my marathon training was unaffected. Now I’ll add to this confession, I have moved donations by a week or two to fit around imminent races. Donating does slow me down and, although I’m only racing myself at these things, I do go in to a race wanting the best time I can get. I can just about excuse this by booking in to donate straight after the race, coping with the heavier legs and heaving lungs on some easier runs until I get back to normal. However moving a donation to keep training going, when training still has another 11 weeks to run? That’s harder to justify. A donation cycle is 12 weeks so in effect I’ll be skipping a donation, not postponing.

I didn’t cancel. This was only donation four for me, after 15-plus years of not taking the opportunity to donate I still have a lot of catching up to do. To my shame I’d never even considered donating until E was in hospital. But seeing everything that was thrown at her to try and save her you see just how important these things are. It shouldn’t take something like that to make you donate, but for me it did. Thankfully there are plenty of people out there who haven’t needed that prompt and do their bit regularly.

Back to the start of the week. The donation is booked for Wednesday so Monday and Tuesday’s training can go ahead as normal. Wednesday is down for four miles, and knowing that you’re not really meant to do much exercise immediately after donating I opted to run to work to get the run in before donating. In hindsight this may not have been best idea, particularly after a pretty tough Club session the night before. The day after donating was a struggle, much more so than previous donations. I woke up with a banging headache and zero energy. I’d already mentally rejigged my training plan to make Thursday my rest day if I needed. I did. I rested my arse off.

The rejig left me facing three decent sized runs in three days. 8 miles Friday, a pacey 8 miles Saturday, and 15 miles on Sunday. Although I felt better by Friday I knew this was going to be an effort. My past experiences of running after donating told me that I’d be slower. The hills would feel steeper, the recovery would take longer, the breathing would be heavier. I decided to just take my Friday evening as it came, set off slow and see how the run goes. If I need to stop, stop. Just get some miles in and get the legs working. The run was hard, harder than normal, but I got round and I was pleased I had.

Saturday would need to be an early start to fit a run in before my wife went to work. This was a struggle. My legs hadn’t recovered fully from the evening before (truthfully they hadn’t recovered from Tuesday’s hill session at Club). The first two miles or so felt like a monumental effort, the next two still being a sizeable effort. This was supposed to be a run at pace, it most definitely was not. Thoughts turned to my Strava postings for the last two days, “my average pace is gonna look slow”. As I turned back for the final four miles I tried to figure out a run title that would light heartedly justify my loss of pace without coming across as an excuse. For someone who doesn’t really “do” social media I was inordinately worried about my appearance on Strava. A swift and well-deserved telling off followed “grow up and get on with it!”.

Sunday was another early start. I knew I didn’t fancy anything too hilly, which isn’t easy around here, so I decided to run to the canal towpath and do as much as I could on there. 15 miles roughly broke down in to thirds; 5 miles to the canal, 5 miles of gradient free bliss, then 5 miles back. Surprisingly I felt good on the way out. It was windy, it was wet, those hills were still there, but my legs were working. I got to the canal in reasonable shape and set out for my first towpath run. After five pleasant miles filled with many “good mornings” to the countless runners, cyclists, dog walkers et al. that were all out braving the conditions, it was back to the pavement and the return leg to home. The gradient returned almost immediately and with it came the petulant protest from my legs. They liked the flat, why couldn’t they stay on the flat? Sadly the canal doesn’t run near my house, so I had no option but to head up hill. It quickly became clear I hadn’t thought this through properly as this particular hill was approximately 3km with some pretty drastic climbs (you dont notice the length when you’re running down it). The headwind didn’t help, there were parts where it felt like I was just jogging on the spot, unable to make progress up this never ending “hill” (see also: mountain). My legs had nothing more to offer, the pace wasn’t going to improve but I couldnt stop, just get yourself home. Eventually as I hit the brow of the hill (not the fake brow that appears about 2/3 of the way up just to break your spirits as the remaining 1/3 reveals itself around the corner) I let out the last of what had become a slew of grunts and obscenities (it’s a quiet road, no-one was about) and began my recovery down the hill back towards home. 15 miles done, training plan hit for the week even with the donation. What was I worried about?

I’ll end this week with an appeal to anyone with the same doubts I had about donating this week. I did plenty of reading in the days leading up to the donation, looking at articles and forum posts from runners talking about blood donation whilst training. A lot of the advice was not too, which for a while was fuelling my desire to cancel. However, what’s that going to achieve? What’s the harm in me struggling a bit more than normal for a week or two when a blood donation could potentially be a life saver?

BDM

Although I’d like to think otherwise, I’m not an elite athlete. My performance isn’t the be all and end all. If I can’t run at full pelt for a bit then who’s going to notice except me? Yes, training for the last few days has been harder than it would have been otherwise, and will be for a good few days to come. But I’ll recover. I’ll get back to normal and by the time Edinburgh marathon comes around my body will be virtually ready to donate again. More importantly, in the next few days I’ll receive a text message from the NHS to say where my donation has been used and that means more than any race time. Those text messages alone make donating real and I implore any runners having the same doubts I had this week to donate. Training can be adapted, donating is far more important. Speaking as someone who saw blood brought in to an intensive care ward regularly to try and save the lives of child after child, it’s important not to take for granted that blood is available when it’s needed. It’s a life saver, and it’s only available if people donate. If you’re worried about donating whilst training for a marathon, don’t be. It can be done and when you get that text message you’ll know you’ve done the right thing. I’ll be back in the donation centre again in June, just as the training for the Yorkshire marathon gets going. I might just plan in a couple of extra rest days this time.

Marathon training on hold for a 10k push, and lots of sleeping bunnies.

A week where enthusiasm waned slightly, but still just about keeping on track with everything.

The week begins as always with a dull 3 miles. It was run, that’s all that needs to be said about it.

Hills on Tuesday with running club. I know I’m not alone in this but I find hill sessions difficult. It’s the one training session where I feel like I’m having to work twice as hard as everyone else to keep up with the pack. Some of ‘em don’t even look like they’re trying as they power off in to the distance. However this week I felt surprising good, managing to keep a reasonable pace throughout. My breathing was still a little erratic in places but my leg coped with it. I even had enough left to sprint the last 100m effort to keep ahead of the guys behind. Something clicked during this session, I stopped leaning in to the hill and concentrated on not running off my toes. It made a huge difference. Apart from that last 100m sprint my technique felt better, keeping control of my legs and not ending up hunched over gasping for air. Despite these positives it was almost all for nothing – Strava was down. There’s probably a hundred blogs about that this week, but it was genuinely annoying. What’s the point of running up those hills if they don’t count towards your monthly climb challenge? Thankfully, with a bit of manual upload jiggery-pokery, I was able to add the run data to Strava and finish the February run climb challenge. Two from two so far this year, I think that’s all I managed in the whole of 2017 so a decent start.

Wednesday was back to the morning run. Worked as a recovery 3mi after the hill efforts from the night before. My legs were genuinely knackered so this is when I see the benefit of these short runs, my aching legs perked up no end by the end of the run. It was a struggle to get up and get out though, this was the first time I considered sacking off a run. But, I made a promise in my last blog that I’d be back on the morning runs, so off I went.

Thursday was another run to work along a slightly elongated route to get the required 7 miles in. This should be an easy run, for the most part it’s all downhill from home to work however it’s becoming my slowest effort of the week as I fail miserably at running with a backpack. More organisation required before the next one to make sure I stockpile clothing and lunches at work the day before, meaning I can leave that sodding backpack behind. If fairness, this will teach me for ignoring the advice of not skimping on a decent backpack for running with. It’s my birthday soon, a new one is on the list (or more accurate IS the list).

With another 10k road race coming up on Sunday, my second of the year and another attempt to break the 40 minute barrier, I took and extra rest day to prepare and did no exercise on Friday or Saturday. Well, no official exercise. Saturday afternoon with A involved a lot of “sleeping bunnies”. If you’re not familiar with this it’s a nursery rhyme that starts off with sleeping bunnies, for which you lay down pretending to be asleep, then half way through the bunnies wake up and start hopping around with gusto. As you do.  After a while this up and down, jumping and hopping starts to take on a HIIT vibe and left me begging A for mercy. She was relentless, revelling in my suffering as her laugh took on a sinister undertone, laying down beside me saying “No daddy, See-ba-boo” (that’s A speak for sleeping bunnies).

p-txt
Sleeping Bunnies, the next big HIIT session. Hands off Body Coach, this idea’s mine!

Still, who needs rest when this is the alternative? We never did sleeping bunnies with E, it’s a new one on us. That helps a bit when mucking about with A. I know it shouldn’t happen, but when you find yourself doing with A what you used to do with E it can get hard. That tinge of sadness creeps back in, maybe even guilt sometime, and takes the sheen off what should be a happy moment. She loves it though, she’s getting more and more grown up by the day.

To Sunday and race day. I still had this niggling doubt as to whether or not I should even bother with this. Even with my bonus rest day my legs were tired from the extra running I’d been doing recently. And according to my training plan, todays run should have been at least 13 miles. “What’s the point of going all this way to not run as far as I need to and in all likelihood, not run as fast I as want to?!?!” Still we went, the sun was shining and we’d arranged to meet a friend there who’d set me on to this race in the first place as “a good one for a PB”.  As we travelled across to the wrong side of the Pennines the sun slowly disappeared behind the gathering grey clouds. We arrived in the dry, quickly ducked inside to collect my race number only to remerge in to a monsoon. The rain started about 30 minutes before the race started and only got worse. We lined up at the last possible minute, desperate for the race to start. If running away wasn’t an option then we needed to get running to warm up a bit.

The race started. A slightly clumsy start followed through tight congested streets, these soon cleared and I hit my stride with the only concern being how numb my face felt with the cold rain pelting down in to it. “It’s too cold, too wet to worry about times. Let’s just finish this and get some coffee to warm up.” The first couple of miles ticked by and my pace was good. By this point in my February 10k the kale smoothie had kicked in and was slowing me down. First milestone passed, breakfast this time had been a success. “Let’s keep this going, see what happens.” Miles three and four were equally uneventful. I wasn’t checking my watch often, but a quick pace check around mile four showed my pace was still good and averaging below 4min/km. “This could actually be on, don’t let your pace drop now.” As the realisation dawned that I was running a good race I focussed and was finally warm enough to expose my hands from within my long sleeve top. It’s worth noting I was the only person in eyeshot who, not only had long sleeves but had any sleeves at all. Its commitment to the club vest when you’re rocking it in this weather. As I got in to the final couple of miles I was within reach of a sub-40 and more importantly I knew I could do it. My vow to not keep checking my watch went out the window as I kept checking to make sure I wasn’t slowing down. The rain was worse now but, other than the puddles which were now merging to form lakes, it wasn’t having any effect. I had enough left to push on slightly but I was conscious this wasn’t a time to be stupid and risk making anything go pop. “Four minute kilometres are all you need, don’t push it and blow up.”

In the end I got round in a time exactly as planned for the Feb10k – 39:45. I’d done it, a sub-40 10k to add to the list. There, waiting at the end was my sodden wife and well concealed A who had the best spot of all; snug in her pram safely behind her rain cover. (Just to guard against thoughts of cruelty on my part, my wife and A hadn’t been outside all race. There was an indoor sanctuary). Soaked, cold, and hungry after skipping my lovely kale smoothie it was time to return home. A napped most of the way, tired at having been woken up from her bed for the 7am depart, and making sure she was well rested for the afternoon. After all those bunnies would need waking up again when we got back.

With no more races planned before the Edinburgh Marathon its back to normal now for this week. My longest run for almost six month awaits on Sunday, 13 miles. I’m quite happy to be hitting this point, I racked up a good few Strava half marathon badges last year but am yet to score in 2017. Ah Strava, who would motivate me if you weren’t here? Don’t ever go offline again.