Marathon Training Week 3: turbo, run, gym, run, cycle, run – “I don’t know what I’m doing*”

Coffee stop at Coln St Aldwyns in Gloucestershire

I had planned to run on Monday but it was very wet and I’m a bit of a fair weather runner. I have been slacking in my personal trainer duties recently so when my wife said she would run on Tuesday, I decided that I would run with her. Accordingly, it was on the turbo early Monday evening – 21.7km in 45 minutes @29kph (13.53m @!8mph).

On Tuesday, it dawned on me that a good way to do the week’s long slow run would be by simply carrying on for a while after my wife stopped. It worked well (benefitting from the extra day’s rest from running) and I ran for 14.56km (9.05 miles against a target of 8) at a proper ‘long slow run’ pace. It felt pretty easy aerobically but the right Achilles nagged and both quads complained a bit.

As a result, and happily unencumbered by any knowledge, I decided to increase the reps and take a bit of weight off the leg exercises when I went to the gym for an hour on Wednesday. It all felt OK although I arrived with a few aches and pains from Tuesday’s run.

I’m sure I haven’t yet plumbed the depths of the disadvantages of advancing years but a reduced speed of recovery seems to be one of them.

It was back to the gym on Thursday with my usual gym companion. As I’d been there the previous day I decided to use the treadmill and ran for one of the training plan’s required 4 milers – 6.5km at just over 4 hour marathon pace.

It’s been a long time since I did any distance on a treadmill and it brings home how much of running is in the mind. When I run loops on the road, it’s soon easier to carry on rather than turn back – and stopping is rarely convenient. On the treadmill it is always a tempting – and attractively easy – to slow down or stop. I had to dig fairly deep to push on for the whole of the planned run.

It leaves me unsure about using the treadmill – it’s easy to control pace, the footing is safe, the weather isn’t a factor (apart from a hot gym feeling a bit like a sauna) – but it’s boring and mentally tough. It’s noticeable that I’ve done over distance on all my other runs – but I stopped this one promptly!

Perhaps I’ve found the one place where I’d be tempted to use headphones but for now I’ll leave the treadmill for the times when it’s the only sensible way to get a run in.

I took Friday as a rest day – but we had friends for supper in the evening. That meant a late night which wasn’t great as I was on duty as sweep for one of the club’s rides on Saturday morning. It was breezy and a couple of degrees cooler that I’d have liked (probably just under 50℉ – 10℃). I wouldn’t have gone if I hadn’t been ‘on duty’.

I was also caught by some rain for the last 15 minutes – but I enjoyed it and was pleased to be useful. I stayed at the back – more sheep dog than cyclist – occasionally towing stragglers back to the group. We had a very good 84km (52 miles) taken at a comfortable speed, with 733 metres of climbing (2,400 feet). The only downside from the whole ride was finding out Pat’s very unfavourable views on the Rotterdam Marathon – stemming from her run at it 10 years ago in 35℃ (95℉). 

I ran with on Sunday morning for 12.25km (7.59miles) so I had 6 days of exercise, completing the week’s full training plan (with the turbo replacing the running intervals again) plus the Saturday ride as a spare.

Three weeks into the training and so far so good. I’ve not missed a session, even though they haven’t been done at the right times or exactly at the right speeds – and with the interval runs being replaced with tough turbo sessions to protect the dodgy achilles tendons. In fact, I’ve usually managed more than the programme requires and have only taken one rest day a week, instead of two. That’s felt OK so far but I guess I’ll be taking both as the mileage increases.

The right Achilles is still playing up but not getting worse and (whisper it very quietly) it might actually be improving.

Week Run Cycle Gym
1 16.1 m  (25.9km) 9.8 m  (15.8km)  2:00
2 18.5 m  (29.8km) 13.3 m  (21.5km) 2:00
3 20.7 m (33.25km) 65.8 m (105.9km) 1:00
  ‘Running’ totals 55.3 m (89.0km) 88.9 m (143.2) 5:00

*A familiar chant at UK football grounds (usually directed at the referee) is “you don’t know what you’re doing”. My favourite use of this was when a fan proposed to his girlfriend on the pitch at half-time and, spontaneously, the crowd chanted “you don’t know …”


Run silent, run deep – are marathons (or bike rides) better with a musical accompaniment?

If I want music, appropriate choices will be easy to find

I am a completely talent-free zone when it comes to music. I can’t read music, play an instrument or even sing in tune.

Happily, that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the talents of others – from Mozart to Eminem, Mendlessohn to Matthews Southern Comfort, from Bob Marley to Bob Dylan, from Jackson Browne to Led Zeppelin … and many stops in between.

What has got me thinking about this is a number of blogs I’ve read about playlists to listen to while running. It’s not the music choice I’m on about – it’s the very question of running with music.

I guess the case in favour mainly revolves around relief of boredom – there is apparently a study that showed that listening to music enhanced endurance by 15% (whatever that means).

Coming from a cycling background, I’m not used to having music on as I exercise (although I watch TV on the turbo). Out on the road it’s much too important to be able to hear traffic or warnings (and to chat with fellow riders) for me to think about using headphones. Even cycling alone for 550 miles from Caen to the alps this summer, I didn’t take any music with me and didn’t miss it at all. 

Running locally in rural Oxfordshire means a lot of country lanes with no pavements or street lighting so I wouldn’t train with headphones for the safety reasons that also apply to cycling. However, I don’t plan to take music with me on the Rotterdam Marathon next April, even though, of course, it’s on completely closed roads.

The new bone conduction headphones might be the answer to the safety issue but the pathetic weight weenie in me doesn’t want to carry any extra weight in terms of the phones themselves or the music source.

Equally, I want to be a fully aware of what’s going on around me and be an active part of the event and occasion – I don’t want to be detached from what’s going on. I also find it helpful to be able to hear my foot-fall and breathing – both can be useful clues as to how I’m running (usually badly).

I’m perfectly content with my own thoughts and, happily, I do pass the Alanis Morisette test “Why are you so petrified of silence, here, can you handle this …………………………….’.

No, Alanis, I’m not petrified of silence, and yes, I can handle it quite well.

I don’t need headphones to shut me away from it all – or to block out the pain by taking me to a world of my own. I am sure I will be in my own little world of pain at some stage, headphones or not.

I appreciate that I might be missing something here – but for me it’s like the film, Run silent, Run deep.

I doubt that either Clark Gable or Burt Lancaster realised that their 1958 submarine drama would find it’s way into a marathon running blog but I’m sure they’d be pleased.


I was really sad to hear of the death of Paul Sherwen – I missed his cycling career but have loved his commentaries on Le Tour for so many years. My condolences to all his family and friends. He was only 62 – a year younger than me.


Marathon Training Week 2: run, bike, gym, run, gym, run … learning the hard way

By the end of the training I’m going to check if I’ve worn a rut in the road

So, second week of training done and dusted. That doesn’t sound much but it’s 10% of the duration of the programme – if only it were 10% of the total training effort required.

After the gym on Wednesday I woke to the usual sore Achilles tendons on Thursday morning – I don’t know if there is anything at the gym that irritates them as I don’t use the treadmill or do any calf raises. 

Despite that, there is modest progress. It feels like the exercise I’m doing is slowing full recovery a little but not causing more damage. It’s a frustrating injury – you go to bed with them feeling quite reasonable and wake after a good night’s rest only to find that they are worse, until they ease up again (if you’re lucky) once you get moving. Generally a good night’s rest improves illness or injury!

There must be a trade off between the benefits of carrying on with the exercise I can do, and the prolongation of the injury – but it feels that the balance is OK at the moment. So, for now, I’ll carry on with the reduced running and increased turbo trainer and gym sessions to compensate.

On Thursday there were weather warnings in place for high winds and rain. I waited until the wind dropped below 40mph and went out for my long slow run of the week – target 7 miles (11.26km).

It was a bit milder than I thought and I over-dressed, but I ran for a windy 8.35 miles (13.43km) at just outside 6 minute kilometres. That’s about 9:45 per mile – surprisingly, faster than last week’s long slow run (which was itself about a minute a mile too fast). Hmmm – must work on pace judgement.

Friday was the only day forecast to be dry for a week or more but, having run on Thursday, I was hobbling and couldn’t take advantage of that with another run – so it was back to the gym for an hour.

To be honest, I’m not sure why I went to the gym – even though I enjoyed it. It was the 5th straight day of exercise and I would have been better taking a rest day but I seem to have a foolish notion that a rest day is a day wasted. I keep running more than the target distances too, perhaps I have some subliminal idea that if I do more now, I can ‘bank’ the extra and withdraw it later when I have to miss a session.

Saturday was wet, but I went for a run. I didn’t resent ‘having’ to do it but it was certainly in the “I think I’ll go now and get it out of the way” category.

I know I should have taken a rest day but that would have meant running on Sunday which, in turn, would have pushed next week’s first run to Tuesday or Wednesday. The target distance was 4 miles but I ran 9.4km (5.85m) at close to 4 hour marathon pace. At least it was faster than the slow run on Thursday.

That’s it for the week. Unless Geraint Thomas phones to ask me out for a ride, or Mo Farrah suggests a friendly run, Sunday is a rest day.

So, all of two weeks into the training programme, what have I learnt so far?

  • I’m so pleased to have made a start
  • I quite like running, but not in high winds – at least with hills you can see why it’s hard
  • If it’s cold or wet, I like running better than cycling
  • Running is slow – it seems to take forever to get to the end of a long straight road 
  • My Achilles’ aren’t up to more than two or three runs a week
  • If turbo intervals will adequately replace a run, I’ll be OK for now
  • My muscles are generally OK – but the quads are starting to protest 
  • My cyclist’s puny upper body complains a little after the gym
  • My joints all seem to be bending in the right places but are creaking a bit
  • Cross-training in the gym is good
  • Rest days are more than just doing nothing – rest is an essential part of training
  • The Rotterdam Marathon in April feels like a proper challenge
  • I want to break 4 hours
  • I’m old enough to know better.
Week Run Cycle (Turbo if no ‘R’) Gym
1 16.1 m  (25.9km) 9.8 m  (15.8km)  2:00
2 18.55 m  (29.85km) 13.3 m  (21.5km) 2:00

‘Running’ totals
34.65 m (55.75km)
23.1m  (37.3km)


Spade splayed, tendon tender, turbo trained (and some weights and running)

I’m sure it didn’t look like that in the shop

Sunday didn’t turn out to be a textbook rest day once I realised that the 50 hedging plants that were delivered on Saturday weren’t likely to plant themselves.

It was surprisingly hard – I was trying to fill gaps in an existing hedge and I struggled to plant the new ones between and around existing roots. I wouldn’t have been able to run because the right Achilles was still protesting about the run on Saturday – but that also made digging with a spade surprisingly tricky.

It wasn’t much helped by the fact that the spade bent early on – sadly, I think that owes more to it being a really poor quality spade than me becoming stronger. One of the few occasions that a spade has been better used the wrong way round …

Monday was the start of week 2 of marathon training. It was supposed to be a rest day but I’m already off piste in terms of doing any particular training on the right day, so I planned to run one of this week’s two 4 milers. First thing, the right Achilles tendon was suggesting that was a bad idea but it eased as the morning wore on so I decided to show it who’s boss and took it for a run anyway.

I’m not sure whether we came to a final decision as to who is boss as it complained all the way round – but together we did 4.44 miles (7.15km) at just over 4 hour marathon pace. The run was particularly useful as a test of whether I can run 2 days in 3 (recently it’s been 2 in 4, at best).

I hobbled about for much of the rest of the day before friends came over for supper. Graham was a good runner when he was in his 30s, living in the USA. He got very close to a 3:30 NY marathon and reckons that it’s necessary to do a few weeks in training where you run twice the target race distance. The programme I intent to follow (loosely) doesn’t come close to that. I hope he’s wrong.

Tuesday – sort of – gave me the answer to the ‘can I run 2 days in 3’ question. In the morning the legs were a bit better but still not right so, yes, I can run with just a day’s rest – but it’s probably better not to at this stage. Surely, it couldn’t be that the pain is a clue that things are not perfect at the back of (in particular) my right heel, could it?

I had to take a car into the garage in response to a manufacturer safety recall – I had planned to put a bike in the back and go for a ride while the car was being worked on but it was both cold and wet so that didn’t happen. I did get on the turbo in the evening for an intervals session to replace the intervals running – 21.45km in 45 minutes @28.6kph (13.3 miles @ 17.8mph).

Wednesday I probably could have run (with the usual discomfort) but it seemed more sensible to give the tendons an extra day’s rest, so I went for an enjoyable hour on the weights and rowing machine at the gym.

So, it’s early days and it’s going OK but I could really do with two healthy Achilles tendons. I can feel myself running a bit flat footed to protect the right one and would like to be able to run more naturally. There has to be a danger that a strange running style will cause some other problem in due course.

I could also shift a little weight – I probably need to restore my usual ‘if it looks like it owes more to the factory than the farm, eat less of it’ approach – but it’s only in the region of 7 lbs so, in the spirit of not getting (too) neurotic about any of this training lark, that can look after itself for now.

I suppose there’s always the possibility that lifting weights in gym is putting on a little muscle, but that’s probably just self delusion.

Marathon training: week 1 – run, cycle, run, gym, gym, run – and still breathing

Thursday, midday. Obviously, the locals are already in peak physical condition

It’s testimony to how hard the interval sessions on the turbo trainer are that, to avoid one, I decided to run on a windy Wednesday, dodging both snow and rain showers.

As always, the hardest part of the run was getting motivated to leave the house – once I was going I enjoyed it.

I did the week’s long slow run (target 6 miles – well, it is only the first week of the 20 week programme) but apart from the cold, the wind and the tendons the main issue was running slowly enough (that’s something I never thought I’d write).

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I am a fast runner (my aim for the marathon at this stage is to do it sub-4 hours) but it’s just that I’m used to pushing reasonably hard if I’m running alone. As I understand the training plan, my long slow run should be done at somewhere around 11 minutes a mile – and that feels slower than even I’d expect to be running.

I actually ran 6.7 miles at 9min 58sec/mile (10.8km at 6.12minutes/km). I managed to get warm enough to take off my hat and one pair of gloves but I should be running another 10% slower for the future long slow runs.

The legs were in reasonable shape at the start so both Achilles’ must be improving – but I could feel the right one, a little, pretty well all the way round. It looks like I can run perhaps two or three times a week which is better than I’d been expecting.

I drove to the gym on Thursday (with the usual sore Achilles’ after running the day before) for an hour on the weights as the week’s cross training day.

My usual gym companion hadn’t been able to make it on Thursday but I saw him in the evening and he suggested going on Friday – so I went back for another hour in the gym with him.  On Saturday morning I ran (partly with Mrs O) for a gentle 5.1 miles (8.2km).

Sunday is, fittingly, going to be a day of rest to see if that helps the Achilles tendons to be in a position to run on Monday.

So, that’s week one of the marathon training programme ticked off. The three ‘normal’ runs (with an extra 2 miles), two days cross-training (one as a spare!) and one turbo trainer session to replace the interval running (because that didn’t look too sensible with the dodgy Achilles’).

Week Run Cycle (R=road) Gym
1 16.1 m  (25.9km) 9.8 m  (15.8km) 2:00
‘Running’ totals      

The start of Marathon training … well, not quite … perhaps a bit … sort of (oh yes, and Snow Patrol)

Snow Patrol. Absolutely excellent in London on Monday night

This is the first week of my 20 week training programme for the Rotterdam Marathon on 7th April 2019. Bizarrely, the programme started with a rest day!

It looks like a bit of straight line thinking by the programme designer – subsequent Mondays come after a long slow run on Sunday so it seems sensible for them to be rest days. By definition, that’s not the case for the first Monday!

The plan has four runs each week (two at marathon pace, a session of intervals/speed work and a long slow run) and one day of cross-training. For the first few weeks the two shorter runs are 4 miles each and the long run starts at 6 miles and increases by a mile a week.

My aim had been to arrive at the start of the training in good shape, ready and able to take up the challenge. I failed and I arrived with dodgy Achilles tendons – either the result of age deterioration, poor running style or stupid calf raises with too much weight on the gym’s leg press machine.

The result of Sunday’s run was a sore right Achilles for the rest of the day, despite an ice pack, stretching and compression and it was quite painful when I woke on Monday.

On the plus side, it was no worse than it has been for the last couple of weeks and the left Achilles was not too bad at all.

I’ve said that I will be flexible about the training programme and am starting the way I intend to carry on by deciding that the run with my son on Sunday actually took place on Monday and so counts towards the first week’s training.

In part, that’s because we were up in London on Monday. Mrs O won tickets for us to go to a London performance by Snow Patrol (I like them but she really likes them).

I was not too enthused but I have to admit that they (with just a three-man lineup, no drummer or bassist) were absolutely excellent. It was a small, intimate, venue (no more than 600) and we were in the front row. I just hope that Gary Lightbody didn’t look down from the stage, see a 63 year old retired solicitor, and wonder if that’s an ominous sign as to where his career is heading.

While the legs wouldn’t have let me run on Monday, I had to resist the temptation to get out for a run in London on Tuesday morning. Later, back home, on Tuesday I did 30 minutes on the turbo for 15.85km @30.7kph (9.85miles @19.7mph).

The key questions now are:

  • does carrying on running worsen the injury (not really acceptable)
  • does carrying on running benefit the training but slow down the recovery just a little (probably acceptable)
  • will more on the turbo help the training, without consequences for the Achilles?

Although, originally, I hurt both Achilles, I re-hurt the right one more recently. The fact that the left leg has certainly improved suggests that perhaps carrying on as I have been, with a little running but more in the gym and on the turbo, will work.

What is clear is that I’m not going to be running four times a week just yet. So, for now I’ll try to run twice a week, one run of about 4 miles and the other being the long slow run. I’ll cover the other two scheduled running days with the turbo trainer, adding a gym session for the official cross training day.

Seems like a plan.

Running, cycling, in the gym, mowing cow pats and watching (poor) football


Little Coxwell part of a lovely route I’m likely to see a lot of in the next few months

I kept to my decision not to exercise on Wednesday. I’d done 15 out of 16 days and although no individual day was excessive the cumulative effect was beginning to tell.

Instead, I mowed. It was suitably hard work – with longer grass than usual and the contents of several trees strewn on top. The grass collection system constantly blocked up and I was strangely reluctant to stick my hand in it to clear it out (even after turning off the engine).

Could that be something to do with the fact that I’d hoped the ‘calling cards’ left by the invading cows last month would dry and become easier to remove – but they hadn’t dried and hadn’t been removed. Cow pats do not mow well.

The legs benefitted from the rest but, to give them a longer break from the running, on Thursday I drove to the gym (with my usual gym companion) for about an hour on the weights but also including the rowing machine and a gentle km on the treadmill – just to test the tendons.

Back on the turbo trainer on Friday after a morning picking up (another) six wheelbarrow loads of fallen apples. The turbo was a particularly tough session – 45 minutes with 4 x 5 minute hard intervals (clicking up two gears and trying to maintain the cadence). In all, 22.69km at an average of 30.25kph (14.1miles @ 18.8mph).

I can’t help thinking that this particular workout is much tougher than running 5 miles, which would have taken a similar time. Something like this may be able to replace any runs I’m not up to in the coming weeks.

The turbo on Saturday morning was slightly gentler – 30 minutes with two 5 minute intervals – this time keeping the same gear but holding a higher speed for the intervals – I don’t know why, just for something different I suppose. Another hard 15.28km (9.5miles).

It never ceases to surprise me how doing intervals makes a ride of the same distance at the same average speed so much harder.

My cross-training is coming on well but I can’t help thinking that it’s supposed to be in addition to, and not instead of, running.

Our younger son (Alex, who will be running the Rotterdam Marathon with me) came home for the weekend and we went to watch Swindon Town – our local football team. They are on a terrible run of form and replaced their manager in the week. There is often a positive bounce in those circumstances as the players try to impress the new boss. Sadly, there was no evidence of that on Saturday as they lost 4-0 and were fairly dismal, now standing 86th out of 92 league teams. Despite that, a really enjoyable trip out together.

With improving tendons, we ran together this morning (Sunday) – my first run for 8 days. A fairly gentle 6.9km @5:51 per km (4.3 miles @ 9:22 per mile) – left leg pretty good, right leg a bit so-so.

Good fun and encouraging, subject to the reaction of the tendons tomorrow …….