Big Time

There are milestones in marathon training that signal, to me, different stages of the cycle. I have always regarded as anything over fifteen miles as counting as “big miles”. This week I am back in the big miles.

Fifteen miles is a great milestone to get past. It represents a step up from the half marathon distance and it also is when you get to the point in a marathon race where it is not unreasonable to begin counting down to the finish rather than counting up from the start.

But it also represents something else. That realisation that, despite how great a distance fifteen miles is, there are still more than eleven miles to go to get to the marathon finish line. A marathon is a SERIOUSLY long way.

But every week brings new challenges and this is just another one. The good thing was, when I planned my route, two of my friends offered to join me for parts of it. There is something very special about running with other people when you are going up the distance ladder, so I was really grateful for the company of Jeanette (who joined me for most of the run) and Cara (who did a 10k loop) for this week’s fifteen mile extravaganza.

With Cara and Jeanette at the River Dee

The company of others is a great way to distract you from the various moods and stages you go through on a long run. The easy early miles give way to the “just ticking them off” middle miles and then the hard graft as you push yourself beyond what you have previously achieved to reach the latest target distance. That was what this run really felt like.

The final few miles felt really hard. I had been monitoring our pace throughout the run, trying to keep it easy (ish), but it was not until I got back home later that I realised that through the later miles we actually began to speed up. This would probably explain why I felt so grim as I got to miles twelve and thirteen! Ironically once I got past that, I did feel much better and by the time we reached fifteen I was much more in the groove than I had been.

“work on my fueling strategy”

I also think I need to work on my fueling strategy a bit more. I am trying to lose a bit of weight just now, and I think this may be having an impact as I get to the longer distances. I am not really dieting as such, I have just cut out the morning cakes and biscuits which I would have as part of my work from home routine, and I am watching my portion sizes a bit more. I also have been avoiding beer since New Year, though as I have a few social events in February, I will be having a beer or two over the next few weeks.

In previous marathon training cycles, I have actually put weight on, as it is very easy to eat everything in the house as you are training pretty hard, but I want to drop a few more pounds as every pound you cart around a marathon course counts. At this stage, I plan to stick to the “no cakes and biscuit” routine at least through February and see how I feel then.

“want to try out other approaches”

But perhaps I need to fuel a bit more and drink a bit more the day before my long runs to ensure I do not run out of gas. I am also now running with a gel and also with a protein bar of some kind to eat on the way round. Marathon training is all about getting prepared for the big day and trying different things out, this is simply another thing to keep working at. I know what has worked for me before, but I want to try out other approaches, so that when I get to the start line, I know precisely what my strategy is going to be.

It has actually been a strong and positive week for me. Tough in many ways, but good in many others, and another one to build on. As I wrote about last week, when you are in the midst of a marathon training programme and am struggling a bit, it is all about holding onto positives and focusing on that.

This week I returned to leading the JogScotland 10k group for the first time since I got injured back in early January. I was very nervous about taking the group out, unsure of how I would cope with the faster pace over the longer distance, but I got through it ok. Not perfect, more of a struggle in some parts than I would have liked, but I got it done. I also went to the usual hill reps session, which was pretty brutal, for two reasons. The first was the session itself.

The hill reps chat

But hill reps just are hard, right? Twenty minutes of up and down to test your heart, lungs, legs and head. Buckle up big boy, knuckle down and get them done. But what was especially tough this week was that the location of the reps meant that after I had done that. I then had this to enjoy on the mile and a bit run back home.

The joy of living at the top of a hill

So, as you can imagine, this was not the greatest way to conclude a reps session, but I got through it (mostly) and, a bit like the 10k group leading, it is all about making progress. Every run counts, and these ones where I am pushing myself count for a lot.

This week also saw the end of January, where I finished up with a running total of one hundred and twelve miles. Given at the start of the month I was toiling to run five miles at a time, I am really pleased with this final total. Now it is a case, in February, of building on that and taking the big miles a step further. Next week will be a step back to a half, and then it will move on to seventeen, to eighteen. It is daunting, but it is part of the process. Ten weeks to go.

Reflect

Take every positive you can when in the midst of a marathon training block. Often it can be difficult to see the bigger picture.

There are times in a training block where you just need to hang on to positives; to find that nugget of hope and inspiration that breeds a bit of faith to carry on. And at times they can be hard to find. With the head down and the focus on each run, there are occasions where it is important to step back and reflect. Looking back can be as rewarding as looking forward.

The big positive for me this week has been that I completed the furthest run of the year so far and in fact the furthest I have run since I completed the Venice Marathon back in October. A chilly start and some frosty, icy roads were the biggest obstacle to getting over the fourteen mile line. So a big tick for that, not just for the distance but also the time I spent on my feet.

Time on feet is something I have always felt was a vital component of long distance running. Just getting your body used to running for two, three, four hours and more is an art in itself. Before I began running, I could not imagine how you could run for an hour to complete a 10k race, far less go for longer than that. And now I recognise the value, in training, of simply spending a long time on your feet. But with that also comes the fact that the reason I am spending more time on my feet is that my long runs are quite slow, in comparison to my previous pace. Now pace is something which is entirely relative. Someone’s fast pace is someone else’s slow pace. This is very much about me.

My longest run this year

As a consequence, this is where the doubt creeps in among the positives, and why the positives are so crucial. On the face of it – given where I was only a few weeks ago – I should be over the moon at getting past fourteen miles. A lot of me is very satisfied, thinking “job done, move on”. But part of me is thinking “yes, but…..”.

I am the kind of person who is very self analytical – in both my professional and personal life – so I am always seeking to do better, and when I do not, I beat myself up about it a lot more than I should. So when I got in from the run and saw my pace, I will confess my heart sank a little. It felt a lot harder than the pace would suggest. It would be easy to then focus on that, rather than the simple fact that I did it.

“pause and reflect”

This brings me back to what I mentioned earlier, it is so important a times to pause and reflect, rather than getting caught up in the moment. So as I looked at my mile splits I stopped myself. I could not change anything about the run, and I certainly was not about to go back out and do it again, so I stopped, took a breath, and reminded myself that just over a month ago I was not able to run at all, yet here I was, casually boxing out a run that was greater than a half marathon distance. For many years – through what I now label my “fat period” – the concept of doing something like that would have been so alien as to fry my brain.

So it is up to me to be positive., to take the good things from what I do. Yes, analyse any performance but do not get lost in the weeds of detail. I need to take a look at the bigger picture and the bigger picture is that this run took me past one hundred miles for the month (160km). This run built on my previous long runs and was always going to be a significant step up after running nine miles last weekend, so it is great that I did it at all and that this is a reflection of the progress of a few weeks of solid effort just to even get to this stage.

Work this week intervened and made it more difficult to get out, so I had to swap out my Tuesday evening run for one on Tuesday morning, when the weather was unseasonably mild. It has been quite some time since I ran in just a t-shirt in shorts in late January, but there we were and it was worth it for the lovely sunrise sky.

Skies have been gorgeous this week

That run came after a solo five miler last Sunday where I did make a conscious effort to up my pace over the shorter distance and also to mix up my routes a little, just for a bit of variation and attempt to keep things fresh, so I drove a few miles from my house towards the university area of Aberdeen and started and finished my run there. It can be easy to get stale and bored of the same routes, particularly when you run from your house so this is another tactic I am employing to vary the training this time around.

An old mill was just one of the sites on the run

I have also continued my hill reps training with my JogScotland group and I do believe it is making a difference, as hard as it is at the time. Everything adds up in the end.

Training for any race is about preparation. Training for a marathon is an endurance event in itself, with many weeks of gradual buildup and I need to remind myself that this is precisely where I am right now. I am not at the end of the block, in fact I am not even close to the middle yet. Yes, there are many challenging weeks ahead as the mileage builds and builds but that is the point of a training programme. It is not about running a marathon at the start of it, it is all about running a marathon at the end of it.

Therefore, I will reflect on another week of progress. Another week of miles in the legs and hours on the feet. Another week of hill reps building strength. Another week closer to the ultimate goal. Eleven weeks to go.

Chill

Every run takes me a step closer to the marathon start line, and every run gives me a little bit more confidence that when I do get there, I will be in half decent shape. I am not there yet, but the groundwork is getting done.

The Rotterdam Marathon is now twelve weeks away. It feels simultaneously far away and yet staring me straight in the face. I feel seriously undercooked right now, but remarkably relaxed about it all. I guess that is what experience of running five marathons brings. It is not arrogance. I would barely even call it confidence. It is just that I know what I need to do to get round.

I was contacted by a friend this week who has signed up for their first marathon. We met up for a coffee and we chatted through what lay ahead and I passed on any advice I had to them, thinking back to when I did my first marathon in 2018. The big thing? Do not panic. Push back on those thoughts of being overwhelmed about what lies ahead and concentrate one week at a time.

Their marathon is in Edinburgh at the end of May, so is still some significant time away and they have plenty of time to train. In my case, three months may seem like a long way away but the reality is that I will be standing on the start line in next to no time, so why am I so chilled about it?

This would have been a good week to get worried. Cold, icy conditions, particularly on the streets around where I live made running nigh on impossible for a couple of days. My plan to get my midweek mileage in by running to where our hill reps session is then running back wen totally out the window due to the conditions, So I drove over, and then we ended up running on the grass as the path we intended to run on was just too slippery to even contemplate it. The following night work got in the way, so I could not run then either. So to an extent the training plan went out the window this week, the mileage went right down and the progress I feel I have begun to make ground to a bit of a halt.

A nice sunrise but sheet ice on both pavements and roads this week

But the reality is, for runners like me, is that this is all part of the process. The training regime is not going to be perfect. Not everything is going to work out alright all of the time. There are going to be days when life gets in the way (or the weather, or work, or something else), and this is all ok. I just need to accept it, move along and keep focused on the next stage of the training plan. Clearly, I want to stick to the plan as much as I can, but this week it has not been possible, for perfectly reasonable reasons. Accept it and move on.

The runs which I have done have been a bit of a test of fortitude. The reps I mentioned were harder going than usual due to being on the grass, the JogScotland five and a half mile run I did on Tuesday night was partly done in a blizzard with snowflakes blasted into our faces by a searingly cold northerly wind, and even the run I did on Saturday, while it was ultimately great, started on a freezing cold point with a gusty and icy wind doing its best to deter us from making a start.

A stunning sunrise over Aberdeen beach

But make a start we did and with these kinds of views to enjoy, then what is there not too like? Similar to many runs, those opening miles are hard. Trying to find a rhythm, trying to adapt your breathing to your effort, trying to get comfortable and into the groove so that you are not pushing too hard to get round.

I still feel like I am on the recovery trail just now, trying to work my way back to where I was a few months ago, but I definitely feel as if I am making progress on that trail. The five and a half mile JogScotland run I mentioned earlier felt a lot easier than I had anticipated, building on from my running last week. Then this weekend, while the mileage for my long run was down from the twelve miles of last week to nine miles this week (my programme features what I call “down” weeks where you ease back the miles before returning to the increased mileage the week after) those nine miles felt pretty good. The first mile was a bit of a write-off into the wind as I said, but other than that, I built into the run and for most of it felt pretty comfortable as I ran with friends Susan and Jeanette.

5km in to my 15km run

And that sense of feeling comfortable is all that I am after right now. I am not trying to go all out, I am not trying to beast myself with punishing distances and fast times. I am not trying to set any PBs or anything like that. I am trying to build within my self that sense of confidence that, when I get to the end of my long distance runs, that there is more in the tank. That there is more to come. That there is a further opportunity to build. And at this point, I believe I am heading in the right direction.

I wrote a couple of weeks ago that I hoped that the short runs I was doing then – as tough as they felt – would begin to bear dividends in a month’s time. I believe that they will and in fact I believe that the runs I am doing now will bear dividend a month on from that. The distances are going to increase for sure as each week rolls on, and there is an undercurrent here. That undercurrent is that every run takes me a step closer to the marathon start line, and every run gives me a little bit more confidence that when I do get there, I will be in half decent shape. I am not there yet, but the groundwork is getting done. Twelve weeks to go.

Ace of Base

There is a famous quote about madness which goes “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. Now while there may be doubts about who said it first, there is no doubt that there is a lot of validity in the phrase itself. And that is why – even though you could argue you need to be mad to do a marathon anyway – for this marathon training block I am going to do some different things.

During the training for the Venice Marathon last summer, I really struggled to motivate myself to get out for the midweek run. This was the Wednesday night run, so not the ones I do on a Tuesday and Thursday with my JogScotland group. While I did it, there was no real pleasure in doing it, and for a lot of it, it just felt like a box ticking exercise to get the miles under my belt. Valuable yes, enjoyable no.

“I want to do something different”

Now that I have started the formal training for the Rotterdam Marathon (thirteen weeks away), I want to vary things a bit, while still sticking to the broad principles of what is in the training plan. (If anyone is interested I have used training plans from the American runner and coach Hal Higdon for most of my marathon and half marathon races). This means that I will continue to stick to the long run distances over the weekend and the other runs in the plan, but for the midweek run, I want to do something different.

For the last couple of years, our JogScotland group has arranged a hill reps training session for a Wednesday night. Now while this will not get me the distance which I would usually require, hill reps are a serious test of fitness and a great way to boost fitness, so I am planning to go to them whenever I can, at least over the next ten weeks. I also plan to run over to where the reps are taking place and run back, so that will also help me with my distance work. There may, of course, be things which will get in the way of that plan – not least work commitments – but I think it is a good goal to have, and to offer a bit of variation to what is already a pretty full on training schedule.

“grim in a good way”

I went to my first reps session this week and it was fairly grim, but grim in a good way. I found it very, very hard. The cold I have been suffering from is lingering around, really now manifesting itself as just lots of mucus which makes it quite hard to breathe when running hard. And one thing reps is, IS hard, so it was a struggle to keep going through the session.

An important thing about reps – like a lot of running – is to run to your own abilities and to run at your pace, ignoring what anyone else is doing. I know right now, I am nowhere near as fit as I have been in the past, so it was a case of keeping my head down, keeping going at my pace, and focusing on the longer term benefits which this will bring.

“building a base”

Having run over to the reps location, during the session, when I was struggling, I thought I would take up the offer of a lift home from some of the other runners, but I resisted temptation and when the reps were done, I dug in to run home too. Every run just now is about building a base. It is about the long term goal, it is not about how fast or slow I am going at the moment, it is about getting miles in my legs and minutes on my feet and that is really what I am focused on.

To that end, the mileage on my plan increased quite a lot this week – this is really due to the fact that I am joining the plan a few weeks in so am playing a bit of catch up to get to where I need to be. Having only run a couple of 10ks, this weekend’s long run was due to be twelve miles, which I did on Saturday.

Building the miles

As I lay in bed in the dark, hearing the wind howling down the street and the rain battering off the window, the greatest temptation was just to stay put, but as I said in my blog last week, marathon runners do hard things, so it was back to the old routine. Get up, have some breakfast, go back to bed for a bit, get dressed and get out.

To say it was miserable does the word miserable a disservice, it was truly grim. I had planned out a route which take me into the city centre and back out, but what this also meant that for most of the first five miles I was running into the wind, so the rain was blowing straight into me. I was well layered up of course – running in Aberdeen generally means you have all the necessary cold and wet weather gear – but it was as much a mental test as anything else to run through that part of the route.

I can’t remember the last time I ran with leggings on

It did, of course, mean that the route home was pretty much wind behind and for the last couple of miles the rain did begin to ease up, but living on top of a hill also meant that those miles were up, up and more up. All I wanted to do was get through it, get home and get warmed up. By the time I got to the final few streets around my house, a thought crept into my head that if I I really wanted to, I could keep going.

This was a truly positive turn of events, and probably the first time this year that I have felt a bit more positive about my running. I am not where I want to be, but I am further along than I was last week and that is all that I can ask for at this stage. To get through the reps session and to get through the long run have been big wins this week, it is now about taking these positives and continuing the progress next week. Thirteen weeks to go.

Hard Days

The easy thing would have been to stay indoors and not go running at all. But marathon runners do not do easy things. We do hard things. And there are lots of hard days ahead.

It feels very difficult right now. It will feel better in a month. If there are two sentences which are keeping me going at the moment, it is these two. It has been a bit of a tough week.

This was not too much of a surprise to be honest. After not running for three weeks during December and only just getting back out again around Christmas, I then had a further setback by picking up a cold around New Year. Nothing serious, not Covid, not the flu, but enough to set things back once more.

The start of this training block for Rotterdam feels very different to my previous marathon efforts, and really not what I anticipated when I signed up for it in the aftermath of the Venice marathon at the end of October. At that point, with a half marathon planned for November, I fully anticipated going into this block with a really solid base behind me and in good shape for the effort ahead.

“I am back to the start”

What has happened is pretty much the opposite. The injury and illness, in some ways, has made me feel like I am back to the start of my running journey. Clearly this is not the case, but in a world where how you feel mentally is as key as how you feel physically, it is difficult to convince myself of the opposite.

I talked last week in my blog about resetting expectations, and this is so true. Once again this week, as I felt bunged up by the cold, it took a big effort to get out the door and get some miles done, but at least I did it. That first run, in particular, was grim. Five miles in the dark on my own. It was about one thing. Getting through it.

During the run itself, I was still wary about the foot I injured more than a month ago. A few tweaks in my ankle right at the start of the run were the only indications of any issue and as I loosened up, those faded away and the foot felt fine. My breathing was laboured and heavy and I am not afraid to say that I really struggled. But one thing which marathon training (and running in general) has taught me is the value of resilience. Pushing through hard times is part of the game and returning to what I said right at the start, it is also about recognising that what is hard now, will feel better and easier the more that I do it.

“do not expect instant results”

As you can imagine, for many people, January can be the time for the start of their fitness journey. It was for me back in 2016 as I got my first Fitbit and started to walk my 10,000 steps a day, long before I was able to even consider running, and certainly way before I had any kind of ambition to do anything as daft as run a marathon. So my one bit of advice to anyone who is starting out, perhaps doing couch to 5k or some classes at the gym is that do not expect instant results. In fact do not expect results for some considerable time. It will feel hard and it will feel frustrating as it continues to feel hard. For weeks. But benefits will come if you persist. I am certainly banking on this and that is what will drive me through the next few weeks.

The other thing which has kept me going this week has been back out with friends; the social aspect of running. It can be both great for motivation – you feel you cannot pull out as you would be letting the other person or people down – and also as a way of taking your mind off some of the physical difficulties you may be going through. It can be difficult at times trying to keep a chat going when you feel that your lungs are about to leap out of your chest and slap you in the face for doing something so foolish as go for a run, but even if you are not chatting, it is just nice to be in other peoples’ company doing something you enjoy.

“determined to get through this phase”

It would be fair to say that the actual act of running is not bringing me a huge amount of joy right now, but that is ok. I am determined to get through this phase. As the effects of the cold wear off, every run, however long or short, will help along the way to the Rotterdam start line (and the Inverness Half Marathon race in nine weeks). It is about the cumulative effort when it comes to marathon training. One good run does not make a training programme, nor does one bad run ruin everything. It is about just keeping going. As long as you keep moving, you reach the finish line eventually.

I might be an extremely long way away from that marathon finish line right now, but the three runs I have done this week – five miles, 5k and 10k – are as important as any others. Important because I did them, even though they were painful, difficult, exhausting. The easy thing would have been to stay indoors and not go running at all. But marathon runners do not do easy things. We do hard things. And there are lots of hard days ahead.

Gently Does It

Returning to running is not easy. Progress is not straightforward. But at least I am on the way back, a road to take me to the Rotterdam Marathon. Fingers crossed.

It is dark. It is cold. The streetlights cast shadows on the pavements and the road. It is damp. There is a light mist of rain in the air. There are few people about. Christmas lights on trees sparkle from warm living rooms. Outdoor decorations bring life to the darkened streets. And I am out. And I am running.

Not far. Not fast. I feel very tentative. Each footstep is carefully planted. Each yard I move forward is logged in my brain. Every pothole or uneven surface of the road or pavement is eyed warily. This is the first time I have been out running since injuring my ankle and foot back at the start of December. This is not the time to take risks. This is not the time to push it. This is not the time to set the recovery back.

This is the time to be careful. This is the time to ignore the watch. This is the time to take it easy. This is the time to trust that I have not lost all of my fitness. This is the time to focus on the journey ahead. The time to focus on four months time and getting in shape to run the Rotterdam Marathon in April. It is not about running it next week.

Right foot with strapping on, but at least I was back out

Having got through that first run, still with my ankle strapped up, and felt not too bad, it has been a case of slowly building the distance. Two miles the first run, three miles the second, four miles the third. Each one has helped the confidence. Each one has helped restore the fitness a little bit more.

But it is not linear progress. It is not as simple as just adding a bit more distance every time and getting fitter and quicker. I wish it was, but it is not. Progress is up and down. Progress is steps forward and steps back. Progress is taking all of that into consideration and recognising that each run is part of the process of recovery.

Running with friends Jeanette and Susan

But running, for me at least, is much more than physical fitness, important though that is. It is about friends. It is about supporting each other. It is about kindred spirits who share the same joy for running and who you enjoy being in their company and spending time with. It is about helping each other through the tough parts of running.

“this is not the time to panic”

And so after a couple of runs on my own, my other runs over the past week or so have been with friends. Not all have been further than the previous one. Not all have felt as good as the first one. That is just to be expected and I need to remind myself of that constantly. Not running at all for around three weeks, combined with travelling for work and of course the indulgences of the festive period are all going to take their toll. I need to tell myself that this is all ok, that this is all fine. This is not the time to panic about how I am feeling about my fitness.

I have made it up to 10km distance but that run was a real struggle, a reminder that running is hard, really hard, and that there is a massive way for me to go in order for me to reach the finish line of the Rotterdam on April 16. On previous times when I have started a marathon training block, I have felt in much better shape than I do now, so the way back is to re-calibrate my expectations for these initial weeks and just be grateful that I am able to run at all. Many others are not as fortunate.

“a time to rest up a bit”

Given the year that I have had – injured in January, then six races (marathon, four half marathons and one 10km) stretching from March through to November – December was always planned as a time to rest up a bit, though of course not as much as I have ended up doing. As it coincided with work travel and also the coldest December in ten years, to be frank, I probably could not have chosen a better time to have a few weeks off.

I need to take all the positives I can from the rest. It has given both my body and mind an opportunity to heal; to recover from the rigours of the previous ten months and to re-set. But that is hard to do once you start running again, as you spend most of your time thinking,”jeez, why am I so unfit”!!

But that time is in the past now and it is now the case of focusing on the positives. Friends, fresh air, gorgeous views, the return of the physical fitness that has seeped away, the mental health benefits of just getting off the sofa and getting out to enjoy the local environment. Aberdeen is a great place to run, though the streets around my house have a monotonous familiarity about them, so a great thing about marathon training is stretching that distance and running in places I only get to when I am back into the big miles. Something to look forward to, even in the depths of winter.

The other good thing is that for Christmas I got a new pair of running shoes. Having used Reebok this year,I have decided to go back to Brooks Ghosts, the shoe which I have used for most of the past few years. While the Reeboks were very comfortable, I do feel they became a bit spongy, so while I will contine to use them for shorter distances, it is the Ghosts which I hope will get me round the longer distances ahead.

Those days are in the future, but not too far off. It is time to dig out the marathon training plan once more. It is time to consider doing things differently. Let’s see what the next few weeks bring. For the moment, I am just thankful to be running again, to be with friends and to be on the road to recovery. I know it will be bumpy ahead, but at least the journey has begun.

Here I Go Again

I am injured. I need to get used to the fact. Rest now will help me in the long run, or else there may be no running at all.

“Ach, it is not too bad”. If I could pick a phrase which sums up how I have felt for so much of this year, then that would be it. But no more. Another injury has made me finally realise that “it is not too bad” is not really a sustainable strategy for the long term.

Regular readers will know that shortly before I ran the Falkirk Half Marathon a few weeks back, I injured my foot and ankle while sorting out the wheelie bins in our street. Despite that, I went ahead and did the race, finishing without incident, and since then have been back to my regular running schedule.

Adopting the attitude that “it’s not too bad”has got me through a lot. I think many runners run with some pain somewhere along the way, and in fact, getting used to enduring pain is part of the process of either running faster or running further. It is not called endurance running for nothing.

“opportunity to fully rest”

In 2022, however, I started the year with an injury and it looks like I will end it with an injury too. It is the same foot which I have hurt, though in slightly different places. At the start of the year, it was my ankle which was in pain, having trod in a pothole on an early morning run between Christmas and New Year. Having overcome that, and got through all of my races this year, this injury has given me a chance to reflect and a genuine opportunity to fully rest and ensure I truly recover this time, rather than just get through one run after another.

The injury happened when I was out running with my JogScotland friends earlier in the week. I had felt a couple of twinges in my ankle when I was running on Tuesday, but that had come very late on in the run and I had no concerns to run again on Thursday night. I had been wearing an ankle support on Tuesday, but chose not to on Thursday as I felt the support itself was causing a bit of pain in my heel.

“hanging on”

As we passed the three mile mark of our 10km run, we were running along a pavement when my foot just gave way on a bit of uneven paving. A variety of expletives later, and I was hanging on to a piece of railing next to a pedestrian crossing, unable to put any weight on my foot. The pain was not in my ankle, but on the inside of my right foot, running from my sole up to the bone on that part of the foot.

My initial reaction, once I stopped swearing, was to think “ach, it is not too bad”, and consider carrying on with the run. But it was instantly obvious that that was not a realistic prospect. So a phone call to my wife was in order to ask her to come and pick me up and the run was abandoned there and then. And at this point, I have no idea when I may run again.

“a total fool”

The ironic thing is, by the morning after, I was thinking, once again, “ach, it is not too bad”, as my hobble around the house was not as pronounced as it had been the night before, and in my running addled brain, I began to consider whether a little runnet might be in order. Then I realised what a total fool I was being.

Now is the time to rest and recover, the thing I would say to anyone else in the same situation. Now is the time to genuinely put my feet up. Now is the time to take it easy, and allow not just my foot to recover, but to allow both my body and my brain to truly get over the exertions of this year, and to get ready for 2023. My other fear is that If I do not rest this properly this time around, then I am running the risk of getting into a downward spiral of injury after injury which could potentially end me running at all.

I still have Rotterdam Marathon as my goal race for 2023 in the middle of April, and with the Inverness Half Marathon as a stepping stone towards that in March, and so if I rest now and resume training at the start of the year then that would give me around fourteen weeks to prepare for Rotterdam which is definitely achievable. It is slightly daunting to see people already training for Spring marathons, but I need to trust that these next few weeks, when walking will be my only main exertion, that taking it easy now will truly benefit me later.

“a version of maranoia”

This does not come naturally to me. Though I value rest days so much when I am training, to have rest day after rest day, with no training inbetween, does not feel natural. This might be a version of maranoia – that feeling of paranoia when you are tapering before a big race – except this time it is coming not in the days in advance of getting to the start line, but in advance of the training regime actually beginning at all.

Now the plan is to strap up the ankle, keep it elevated as much as I can, walk a little bit, perhaps do some strength training as the weeks move on, but with one fundamental. No running. And what will be the deciding factor when I feel I can run again? When I no longer think, “ach, it is not too bad”, but actually think, “this feels really good”. Let’s hope that feeling is only a few weeks away.

Picture This

Race photos are a weird thing. They should be the ultimate triumph. A reflection of the effort and determination to get through the race challenge. A joy to behold. In reality, I have only ever bought one race photo, out of all the various races I have done, because in virtually every one I am a sweaty, vein bulging, face like a beetroot, pain and struggle etched on every sinew, mess. And then there is this photo. And this photo says more to me about running than any other I have ever had the misfortune to be in. Because this photo sums up why running is special to me.

The photo shows me, my brother Gary, and our friend David, whom we have known since primary school. David was in Gary’s class at primary school and lived only a couple of streets away from where we grew up. The three of us are heading towards the finish line of the Falkirk Half Marathon, having run the race together.

At times I ran with Gary. At times I ran with David. At times Gary ran with David. At times all three of us were together. As we got towards twelve miles or so, and Gary and I were together, David dropped back slightly, so we slowed down to make sure we finished as one.

The Falkirk race was important to me for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I am from Falkirk so was very keen to support this inaugural event – though the organisers did not make that easy – plus with the opportunity for Gary and I to run with each other. The last time we ran an actual race together was a 10km event in Edinburgh back in 2018 I think. We live more than one hundred miles apart so it is not too easy for us to line up on a start line for the same race. When I did the Glasgow Half Marathon in 2019, Gary did the 10km as he had not been able to train for the half distance, so this race was always going to be special.

“I did not think I would able to race”

However, three days before it, I did not not even think I would be able to race, due to the latest in a long line of stupid injuries which I seem to have endured this year. After straining a calf muscle walking out the front door to fill up the bird feeder a few months back – yes, honestly – this one was even more dumb. Injured picking up a wheelie bin!

The weather here was awful, so on the day of the bin collection, one of the wheelie bins outside our house got blown over by the wind. I went in the pouring rain and high winds to pick it up, to discover it was our neighbours and not ours, so I was a bit annoyed at that. As I picked it up, trying to get it down quickly so I could get out of the gale and pelting raindrops, by mistake, I planted my right foot half on the kerbstone on the side of the pavement and half on the road. Immediately, it felt like a hot poker had been shoved straight into the inside part of my foot.

“I could barely walk”

I spent the whole of Thursday with my foot elevated and wore a strapping around it. On Friday morning I could barely walk and I said to my wife at that point that I did not think there was much chance of me being able to run. I event struggled to walk a couple of hundred yards to get from my car into the office. Less than ideal with the prospect of thirteen point one miles on the Sunday morning looming right ahead.

So this was when I began to ignore every bit of advice I would ever give anyone else. I decided that painkillers was a reasonable strategy to try and get at least to the start line. Now I am not recommending this to anyone, but I really, really wanted to run. And so, a couple of paracetomol popped in on Saturday morning and things began to feel a bit easier. Keeping the foot elevated had also helped take down the swelling. the strapping even felt ok. Maybe this was going to work out.

“no clue how things would go”

When I got up on Sunday morning, the foot was not too bad. It was not great, but it was a million percent better than it had been on Friday morning as I hobbled my way around the streets of Aberdeen. So at least I was not going to be a DNS (did not start), but I still thought there was a pretty big prospect of being a DNF (did not finish). I genuinely had no clue how things would go. My only strategy was to take things easy and see how it felt. I have written many times before about how running builds resilience, well this was going to test that resilience, and probably test out my pain threshold too.

Strapped up, ready to go. Well, as ready as I was going to be…

When we got going, I was very concious that I was running with a limp – there is a video at the start which I saw subsequently, and the limp is very pronounced – but as I got going, the foot felt ok. It was sore, but not agony. And in that first mile, it did not deteriorate, so this was fine. As almost all runners will know, running with a bit of pain is not particularly unusual. As the race developed, there were a few stinging twinges, and I was doing all I could to make sure I ran on solid ground and avoided any pot holes on the road or any twigs or uneven surfaces in the off road stages. It was more than bearable.

The route was great and I loved the race. There was also a large group from my JogScotland group taking part too and it was lovely to see them beforehand, and out on the route too.

The JogScotland team before we started

I mentioned earlier about the organisation, so a quick note on that. Prior to the event, I had received zero communication about the event, relying on other people who were taking part to pass on information. The only info I actually got from the organisers was when they replied to a question I posed on their Instagram account. Less than ideal and I hope that is fixed for any future events.

Returning to the race, as the miles ticked by, the foot just stayed as it was. A bit sore, but nothing more than that. as we ran past Falkirk’s finest sights – Calendar House, the Falkirk Wheel and the magnificent Kelpies.

Passing The Kelpies with only a couple of miles to go

Certainly nothing that was going to stop me finishing. Part of my twisted logic – along with the painkillers – was that this was going to be my last race of the year anyway, I was planning to rest a bit in December, so who cared if it hurt. I would not particularly recommend this strategy to anyone else, but it kind of made sense to me at the time.

So as we turned down that finishing straight, together, having got through adversity to get there, having put up with the crappy pre-race organisation, having ignored the pain to race in the first place, that is why this picture means so much.

It is friendship. It is family. It is pleasure. It is pain. And for me, this is what running is about. Testing yourself, yes, but much more than that. It is about enjoyment and the pleasure in doing something which is special and means so much with people you love and care about. And for that, I will always cherish this image.

Again

Just weeks after completing one marathon, why sign up to put yourself through it all again? Unfinished business.

It is mile twenty four of the Venice Marathon. I feel like death warmed up. Legs are in bits, brain is mush, feet no longer feel connected to my body, my arms are moving but they seem to bear no correlation to anything else, it is hot and I am shattered.

Fast forward three weeks and I have signed up to another marathon so I get the chance to put myself through it all again. I must be off my head. Why, after everything I went through in Venice, do I even want to consider doing that to myself one more time?

To be honest, Venice left me with unfinished business with the marathon. I got through it and got to the end – and am totally delighted with all of that – but I also got to the end thinking that this was not the end of my marathon journey, and perhaps these images also help explain. I had a look this week at some of my marathon pictures and they kind of summed up the marathon in just two images, the imaginary and the reality of a marathon finish. First the imaginary.

Nearing the end

So here, I am gliding to the line, with so much energy that I can punch my hand in the air and roar out my joy and delight at defeating the 26.2 course. It is me against the marathon distance and once again, it is me who has won. Five time, undefeated champion, of the marathon course.

And then there is the reality.

After the finish line

Getting past the finish line and I could barely stand up. Everything drained out of me at this point. Any energy I had left was simply being devoted to not falling over. I was so wrecked at this point, so wrecked. But it was over, I was relieved, I was gone. Four months work, another one ticked off, now get me my medal.

I am sharing these two images as I think it is important to recognise the range of emotions which a marathon puts you through. From the ecstatic to the demonic. From elation to exhaustion. And that goes from mile one mile to mile twenty six. It is a true test of every part of you. Not just the physical part, but the mental side too. If anything, the mental part is the hardest bit.

“why on earth do it again”

So returning to my question, why on earth do it again, and why so soon after the race. In truth, after running three autumn marathons since 2020 – virtual Dublin, Manchester and now Venice – I really could not face another summer training block. I am not a warm weather runner and really struggle in the heat. While I benefit from cooling temperatures as the training wears on, the prospect of more long distance running through July, August of next year was not something I wanted to do. But I still wanted to do a marathon next year.

That then moves the focus to Spring races, and then it becomes about choice. There are many races, both in the UK and elsewhere, so it is about picking one which appeals, and also one that is easy to get in. While many people will try to get into some of the big marathons – London, Berlin, New York etc – the demand for entries is so great that to do so, you have to enter through a public ballot (or through a charity place or get a great time and get guaranteed entry through a “good for age” ranking). Virtually all other races, you can just enter, pay your money, ship up and race.

Here we go again

That is what I have chosen to do. I have entered the marathon in Rotterdam in the Netherlands, which will take place on Sunday, April 16 next year, almost exactly five months away. Why this race? Well with a date in April, it means I can give my body a bit of a break (once I get next week’s half marathon in Falkirk out of the way) through the course of December, and then start my marathon training plan in early January. I have not yet decided to do a fourteen week or twelve week block for this race, that is something to consider a bit later.

This does not mean I will not be running through December of course, but what I will not be doing are the extra midweek runs or the long weekend runs which so characterise the marathon training programme. I will stick to running with my JogScotland group during the week and then my usual weekend social runs with friends, like the 10k I ran with my friend Maxine this morning, to keep things ticking along.

Lovely run with Maxine

The focus for the next week is to rest up a little bit and then get through the Falkirk Half marathon next weekend. Though I grew up in Falkirk, I have never actually done a race there, so it will be a really great experience to run on familiar territory, though looking at the course, it also looks like I will be running in places where I have never run before, which is always exciting.

And then a bit of a reset. I feel I have recovered well from the rigours of Venice, but I also need to appreciate the need to truly let my body recover, given that I have been running solidly really since the early part of July this year. But once we get Christmas and New Year out of the way, I will be back at it. As I said earlier, I must be off my head…..

Next in line

The big race is done. So what next? A bit of rest. A run with friends. And on to the next challenge. But most of all? Enjoying it.

You run the big race you have spent months training for. You complete your main goal for the year. You achieve what you set out to achieve. And then? Well then, there can be a big gaping hole where you left all of your ambitions.

It is not particularly unusual to have some kind of “post-race blues” once you have done a race, even if it is not the only race you plan to do. So much goes into the build up for the event that it is perhaps not surprising that there is almost a sense of loss once it is over. That thing that gave your running focus for weeks or even months in advance is suddenly no longer there, and while there is the joy and satisfaction of knowing that the race is done, the medal is bagged and the t-shirt is safely in the drawer, it can be difficult to find motivation to get back running again once the job is done.

“ease off the gas”

After completing the Venice Marathon I had always planned to take at least a week off from running. The cumulative effort of doing a long distance event puts a large strain on your body, not just the race itself of course, but the hundreds of miles of running which get you to the start line in the best shape possible. Even the greatest marathon runners only run one or perhaps two marathon races per year, such is the importance of rest and recovery as part of their training programme, so it is not unreasonable that us mere mortals should ease off the gas a bit too.

Adding my Venice marathon number to my album of race bibs

After not running for a week – but walking quite a bit while on holiday which I find aids the recovery by keeping the muscles active in a low impact way rather than just resting up and progressively getting stiffer by the minute – I was really ready to run again. Not to do any huge distance or anything like that, but much more for the social aspect of running.

A lot of my training – particularly my longest runs and the majority of my midweek long runs – was done on my own. Nothing wrong with that, in fact, in many ways I think running long distances on your own is a great mental test so is good preparation for a race itself. But having spent so much of my time solo I was really keen to get back out with the friends with whom I usually run at the weekend.

“it is about… friendships”

It had been so long since I had gone for a nice leisurely run with a few friends around Aberdeen beach and it was such a pleasure to be back out with them once more. Running for me is much more than the races and the medals (though they are important to me, no doubt). It is about the friendships which I have been fortunate to make, the times when we have been out on a run, enjoying each others company, chatting about the things which are going on in our lives, being out in the fresh air. These are the things which are truly significant about running. It is not all about smashing it, about pushing yourself, about straining every sinew, about going for it, about always trying to outdo what you did before. It is about enjoying yourself, and being able to do that in the company of others.

So nice to be back out with friends once more

The other aspect of getting back out running – I find – is that it is also good to have another target, once the big race is done. Now this target does not have to be a race, it could be just to go out for some social running, or to get back to parkrun, or to return to running with your club or group, but I certainly thing I need to have some kind of target to motivate me to continue my running journey.

My next target is the Falkirk Half Marathon in two weeks. Now you may think that after running a marathon that a half would be a total breeze, but in my experience, returning to distance running can be a challenge. After one of my first marathons, I vividly recall going out for a nine mile run – and feeling like I was going to pass out after about seven miles!! In marathon terms, a nine mile run is barely worth getting out of bed for, but after a break and a bit of relaxation, that long distance fitness can feel like it just drops away very quickly. I do think a lot of that is in my head, but it is one of the reasons why this weekend I chose to do a ten mile run with friends. This was just to prove to myself that I still have it in me, a couple of weeks out from the actual race.

Marathon medal number five added to the collection

You might think that that is a bit daft, that of course I could run ten miles, but there is something psychological about just proving that you can do it, just to get a bit of a confidence boost about being capable once more. I have also done a couple of 10ks this week with my JogScotland group which have gone well and I feel totally fine after the exertions of Venice.

One thing which I am glad to be having a break from is that extra midweek run which I was doing. I really found them challenging to do – not so much physically, but more mentally – and each time I had to do one I felt like I was dragging myself out of the house to get it done. Just not having to do that every week has been such a joy, that has felt like a boost in itself. Never mind the motivation of a run, this is the motivation coming from not running!!

With weather like this, running with friends is such a pleasure

This simply emphasises the importance of a bit of rest, something which I still think is undervalued when it comes to running. Now this is no criticism of those who run every day – great work, go for it – but it is a reflection of who I am as a runner. I need a break. I cannot constantly get myself out there unless I feel there is some respite from it all. I looked forward to my rest days throughout my marathon training, and now, adding in another day without running is helping me recover better and therefore be better prepared for this next event.

I have allowed myself to look a bit towards next year, and perhaps another marathon. This is unusual for me. Normally when I finish a marathon the last thing I want to consider is putting myself through it once again, but for some reason this time it is different. I have quickly put the disappointment of not getting into London behind me – though I have entered some competitions to win a place – and have definitely progressed into looking at a spring marathon for 2023. But first, let’s get Falkirk out of the way. And then use December for even more rest before the build up can perhaps begin again.

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