Category Archives: Marathons

Ultra marathon? – all sorted (oh, apart from starting training and actually running it)

Rotterdam – site of this year’s marathon, and blessedly flat

For my 3 marathons so far, ‘run all the way’ has been target No3, just behind ‘get round safely’ and ‘try to enjoy it’. Having now signed up for an off-road ultra, early research suggests I need a rethink.

Although I’m sure there are many great athletes who run ultra marathons from start to finish, it seems that, for a mere mortal like me, a run/walk approach is recommended. I’ve seen claims that incorporating, say, a minute of walking for every 10 minutes of running can perhaps double an individual’s effective range.

Instinctively, i’m the sort of person who would prefer to run until I could run no more, and then walk the rest. Apparently, that doesn’t work well for an ultra as the walking miles are likely to be something of a death march – the benefit of recovery while walking needs to be taken regularly and before it is too late.

I’ll need to practice the run/walk to see how it works for me but perhaps the walk bit could be used for the steeper uphill sections?

I don’t mean to underestimate the challenge but I can’t help but think that as my ultra is ‘only’ another 8km (5 miles) more than a marathon, I could keep with ‘run all the way’ and just do normal marathon training (plus a bit). However, my occasional lucid moments tell me that those who have completed ultras know much better than me, and I’ll find that ‘just’ those 5 miles, the hills and the absence of a good road surface will make a huge difference.

So, being too far away to start any specific training i’ve been doing the next best thing – researching on the internet. Recognising that internet research is a dangerous thing if I have not been able to separate the wheat from the chaff, more key learning from my reading so far:

  • losing weight is a good idea (well, how did they think that one up)
  • hydration and nutrition are vital (ditto)
  • don’t get injured – who, me?
  • there are 4 feed stations on the route – only 10 km between them so it looks like carrying one bottle will be enough, unless it is very hot
  • that might mean just a running belt to hold the bottle and some snacks?
  • I need to run on the Ridgeway in training – partly for familiarisation, partly for the training benefit and partly it will help decide on appropriate footwear (will running shoes be enough?)
  • I can keep cycling (good cardio exercise and easier on the body than running)
  • I can keep up with the gym (especially good for the core)
  • the 16 week training schedule I found that started with a 31 mile week is not by any means out of the ordinary! Damn
  • back to back long runs seem to be a vital part of the training. Double damn.

It’s just possible that next year could be a bit tough. The training now won’t help with the cardio aspects but I can carry on because I enjoy it – and any strengthening of my core and legs will be a bonus if taken through into the early spring.

How hard can it be …

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Run, cycle training, gym, gym, run, gym

Back to hitting the mean streets of Little Coxwell

The training continues – I’ve been to the gym, run or used the turbo trainer on 11 of the last 12 days – but with no challenges until next year, I wonder about its use. I think it’s just ‘enjoy it for what it is’.

It rained heavily through Saturday night but we ran on Sunday morning – 6.2km (a bit under 4 miles). The light rain at the start was very pleasant but we ended in rather heavier rain which was a bit less so.

Later we went to the cycle path to do some more training – despite the weather we had a lot of children on the balance bikes, some more of whom, I think, will be cycling properly next week.

A bit of the afternoon was spent watching the men’s road race at the world championships in Yorkshire. The weather was foul and led to a shortening of the route; they cut out the Buttertubs and Grinton Moor climbs that I remember so fondly from our visit to Yorkshire for the early stages of Le Tour back in 2014. It was a seriously tough day for riding a bike – with 75km still to go, more than half the field had abandoned in the pouring rain and with temperatures down around 12ā„ƒ (low 50’sā„‰).

On Monday morning it was back to the gym for an hour. I’ve increased some of the weights again. I tend to do 3 sets of 12 reps until that gets comfortable, then I increase the weights and reduce the reps to 3 sets of 8 (if I can) , before building them back up again. I’ve no idea whether that’s a good way to do it …

I’m now on the machines’ maximum weights for leg press (200kg), abductors and adductors (both 60kg). On the leg curl and leg extension machines I’m at 55kg … again, no idea if that’s good, bad or indifferent – but it really doesn’t matter, I’m enjoying it.

I had planned on running on Tuesday but it was raining heavily so I went to the gym again and I ran with my wife on Wednesday morning – just under 4 miles on a cool, clear and crisp morning – and faster than we have run together for a year. I know that the gym is no replacement for running or cycling but I’m looking forward to a ‘proper’ run or cycle to see how I shape up at the moment.

Gym on Thursday and a day off on Friday to rest the tired muscles – and a very good weekend in prospect.

Congratulations to Katarina Johnson-Thompson for gold in the world heptathlon. Great athletics – dismal crowds in the stadium.

Gym, turbo, run, turbo, gym (lost old friends and ‘grate’ expectations)

Hidden away since 1953!

On Wednesday I said goodbye to two old friends – the cars we bought for our sons for learning to drive, and that they used for over 10 years, went to the great car park in the sky. Both blue VW Polos, they have been at the house for so many years that they were rather like members of the family – but both failed their MOTs and were beyond economic repair so we bowed to the inevitable. I was surprisingly sad about it.

On a happier note we decided to open up some fireplaces in the house that have been boarded over for many years. Inside two of them we found newspapers from 1952 and 1953 so I do mean many years. Two have splendid grates intact, so that’s an unexpected bonus – sometimes you get lucky.

For activity, the week started – as many do – with a trip to the gym on Monday morning for 50 minutes on the weights. Although my back felt a bit sore during my daily planks routine on Wednesday, I was on the turbo in the evening, with no back problems.

Recently, I’ve been hitting the turbo fairly hard but doing only 30 minutes. This time I went a bit slower and managed a fairly comfortable 45 minutes (but in a proper pool in sweat) – @29.6kph (18.4mph). On Thursday morning I ran with my wife (a bit short of 3 miles). It’s turning autumnal (a lovely word, in my opinion) here but was really good to be out in the early morning sun.

Just out of interest, if ‘autumnal’ is the word for ‘like autumn’ here in the UK, what is the word for ‘like the fall’ in the USA or Canada?

It was back to the turbo again in the evening – 45 minutes @29.5kph (18.3mph – almost exactly the same as the previous day, despite a bit of cumulative fatigue). Another 50 minutes in the gym on Friday finished the weeks main exertions.

A good week in many ways but it tells me that 5 sessions of training in 5 days (even with none of them being particularly long) is plenty. With no challenges in the diary for the rest of this year I’m still wondering why I’m pushing myself reasonably hard – probably the thought that next year’s ultra marathon training starts with a week of 31 miles.

On the professional sport front, congratulations to Essex County Cricket Club for winning the County Championship (after an unnecessarily sweaty last day), in addition to winning the T20 Cup last weekend. I’m particularly happy as Essex has been the team I’ve followed for over 50 years, having lived in the county between the ages of 5 and 15.

Congratulations too to the the English rugby team who have won their first two games in the Rugby World Cup. A decent performance by the USA on Thursday – apart from a nasty shot by John Quill that thoroughly deserved the red card that it got – but out-gunned (although managing to score right at the end with only 14 on the pitch). England looking OK so far but with a citing for Piers Francis for a high tackle as a bit of a blight on the performance.

Happily we don’t play the USA at American Football (but, sadly, I’m not sure the LA Raiders are playing it either).

Gym, gym, turbo, run and a big success (best of all, not my success)

The cycle track at its opening in the summer – sadly nothing but rain this week

Gym on Thursday and Friday – and some bike fettling to continue sorting out the bikes awaiting attention at a friend’s house (which looks a bit like a bike graveyard). A number can now be used to ride properly and some more have been stripped down for use as balance bikes for larger children and adults.

I used the turbo for 30 minutes on Saturday evening @ 20.4mph (32.95kph). I think I’m getting stronger through the gym but the cardio aspect was hard at that speed, showing my lack of real cycling recently. However, it was certainly faster than recent attempts on the turbo so that’s encouraging.

We ran early on Sunday morning (just under 3 miles in very pleasant weather) and then both went to the cycle park to give some more training to children – in fairly heavy rain. All credit to the children (and their parents) for coming out in it. One family had driven 28 miles (45km) to come.

The week’s highlight

During last Sunday’s training session, I spent much of the hour with a delightful little girl who was making progress but hadn’t quite cracked the balance. Her father told me they had previously found it hard to get her interested in cycling but that she had been keen to come back again.

In just 10 or 15 minutes this week her balance clicked and she spent the rest of the time cycling round the track.

I am so pleased – that’s what makes it worthwhile!

Elderly relations, cycle training, gym, run, (+ cricket and the Rugby World Cup).

The Thames from the east bank. It was much brighter on Tuesday but I didn’t have a camera to capture it.

We drove the 7 hour round trip to take my father out for lunch on Saturday, together with our younger son who came back for the weekend. My father is still in very good shape for 95, and long may that continue.

I spent a couple of hours at the cycle park on Sunday, helping to run more training classes for children still on balance bikes, and some just moving on to pedals. With a good deal of pedal removal and saddle height and brake adjustments, it was a rewarding session, but hard work in unseasonal sunshine.

A long walk Sunday afternoon was a great way to finish the weekend and a visit to the gym early on Monday morning for a hard 50 minutes was a good way to start the new week. I’m a bit worried that I’m enjoying the gym too much and have even caught myself looking in the mirrors (happily, my physique does not justify any vanity on my part).

Later on Monday we drove up to London to take our son back, check the older boy’s flat and collect my wife’s (ridiculously expensive) watch from its (ridiculously expensive) battery change and service. Still, she gets great pleasure from it so it’s well worthwhile.

On Tuesday morning we ran from the flat and did the usual run into Hammersmith, down the Thames Path and back. In all, 7 km (4.3 miles) and very enjoyable in more good weather. Nearly a seventh of next year’s the ultra marathon distance – not sure if I’m encouraged or daunted.

My crusade to make contact with fellow runners in London was not going well until one very nice lady runner not only smiled but engaged in a brief conversation. From such small beginnings ….

On Wednesday I spent some time going through the bike graveyard that has accumulated in association with the Woman’s tour coming through Faringdon, and the cycle training and cycle park. The aim is to produce some workable bikes for use in the training.

After that I mowed. The willow tree succeeded in taking the ear defenders off my head and has a new tactic – it managed to sweep the lever that operates the blades into the off position so I mowed a certain amount beneath the willow without cutting any grass at all. I hate to admit it but that’s 2-0 to the willow …. outsmarted by a tree.

To paraphrase ‘Chicken Run’, those willows are organised.

On a rather more professional sporting note, a classic cricket ‘Ashes’* series against Australia has finished – a 2 wins each from the 5 matches (one match drawn), the series is tied, but Australia retain the Ashes (boo).

Now on to the Rugby World Cup. I wish the best of luck to everyone competing and look forward to a great tournament – but I hope that all but England are fighting for the runners-up spot.

*Australian cricket had its first series win in England in 1882-3. A mock obituary to the death of English cricket appeared in a newspaper, stating that the body would be burnt and the ashes taken to Australia. After wins on the next tour in Australia, the English team were presented with a small urn said to contain the ashes of a burnt bail (one of the bits of wood that sits on the top of the stumps) described as the ashes of Australian cricket – a symbol of what the English team had come to retake. The urn takes pride of place at Lord’s cricket ground in London, the ‘home of cricket’.

Gym (3), run (3), (attempted cycle). Steady as she goes?

Almost home from home now

This feels weird. The key challenges are sorted for 2020, but I don’t have any more for this year. It leaves me in limbo – nothing specific to train for now – and any training I do won’t help with next year.

I suppose it could go one of two ways. I could lose motivation for a few months, do little, get fat and suffer more in February when I try to pick it up again. Alternatively, I could carry on with relaxed, sensible and varied exercise on the bike, at the gym, and on my feet, without any real pressure – just for the pleasure of doing it.

Tough call – but I’m going for the latter.

I’ve been reading about ultra marathons – mine is (only) 50km in early July. Some of the news is good:

  • mental strength is important (if that means bloody-mindedness, I’m a natural)
  • it’s not about speed (I don’t really do speed, so that’s ok)
  • walking is expected and actually encouraged – was I ever going to run 31 miles?

Unfortunately, ultras require more training than a marathon (surely not!) and the 16 week schedule I’ve found starts with a 31 mile week. They say don’t increase weekly mileage by more than 10% so that suggests a couple of months of running to be fit enough to start training (and I’m supposed to be in full cycle training at that point for April’s sportive).

I’ve taken heart from a contribution from Michael, who is older than me and about to tackle his 12th marathon of this year. That’s a really impressive maintenance of a high level of fitness – so it can be done ….. but can it be done by me in 2020?

In that spirit, I went to the gym on Friday, and promptly undid any good from that at a splendid 25th wedding anniversary in Brighton on Saturday and a delightful 70th birthday drinks in the village on Sunday.

As a result, a slightly larger version of me ran to and from the gym on Monday (5.8km – 3.6miles), with 50 minutes of weights in between. On Tuesday I had to take a car into the garage for a new wheel bearing. My wife came with me and we ran back home (5.14km – 3.2m).

Not exactly testing running but the good news is that the Achilles tendons felt no worse than usual – the less good news is that my calf muscles were a bit sore. I guess that’s an indication that, in protecting the Achilles’ over the last few months, I’ve also gone easy on the calf muscles. Something else to add (cautiously) to the gym programme.

London on Wednesday for various chores, including watering our older son’s house plants while he is in the USA – and on Thursday it was a cycle to the gym, more weights and then a walk back having punctured just before I arrived (as it’s less than a 4 mile round trip I’d not taken a pump or replacement tube – rookie error). I ran to and back from the gym on Friday for another 5.8km (3.6miles).

2020 here I come – but how do I train for multiple challenges?

OK, four of the 2020 challenges are set: White Horse Challenge (sportive); Race to The Stones (ultra marathon); a week’s alpine cycling; and a marathon. I hope others will crop up but these are the focus for now.

The next issue is how do I train for them?

Assuming about 10 weeks for the cycling, and perhaps 16 for the marathon (I have no idea at whether a longer training period is better for an ultra marathon but, scarily, I’ve found one for 16 weeks that starts with a 31 mile week!) it could look a bit like this:

2020 J F M A M J J A S O N D
WHC   ccc cccc ccc                
RTTS   rrr rrrr rrrr rrrr  r          
Alps         ccc cccc ccc          
Mar         rr rrrr rrrr rrrr rrr    

Obvious issues are:

  • having to start with the cycling in February (but at least it seems to come after my normal skiing holiday thanks to the absence of a marathon in April)
  • cycle and running training simultaneously in March, April, May and July
  • two lots of running training and cycle training simultaneously in June!

I assume that there is a lot of overlap in the training benefits – no need to do a full training programme for both disciplines at the same time – which is good as I am sure I don’t have the ability to do that anyway.

However, I don’t understand how some cycle training might replace some marathon training without harming the prospects for the marathon. Triathletes manage the juggling act – thank goodness I’m not trying a swimming challenge too (although I do fancy doing another triathlon next year).

Equally, questions like how a taper for the ultra marathon in June affects what should be full cycle training at the same time is quite beyond me. At least triathletes are training for all three disciplines to deliver together.

Ideally, I would like to carry on training now and ‘bank’ it for withdrawal when needed next year. If only it worked like that.

Three things are clear:

  • At 64 I cannot keep any training going at full pelt for 9 months. I wonder how I fit in a few easy weeks for rest and recovery?
  • I cannot afford any time for illness or injury. Thank goodness I have no existing issues with knees or Achilles tendons ……. oh dear.
  • I cannot afford to start from scratch in February – I’ll need to rest over the winter, but not too much.

It looks like the MSU approach will have to be to the fore – when in doubt, Make Stuff Up.