So where to next..

The sun is shining the rain has gone and it suddenly feels like summer is almost here yet I haven't stepped foot outside the door for a run since Sundays marathon.

I deliberately planned in 4 days of nothing but eating loads, sleep lots (I wish) and reflect on what was a very satisfying performance. It's the first time I planned in some proper downtime and I think it has really helped me mentally as well as physically. Although I was a little surprised to find that my calves, hamstrings and ankles felt absolutely normal on Monday my quads more than made up for it. Going downstairs wasn't straightforward but it wasn't so painful I had to sit down. The DOM's resided mostly after the third day and by today my legs feel like they did shortly before the race.

I was meaning to get out for a short run today but didn't wake up in time this morning (better stop that right now) but I'm sure the extra day won't harm anyway. Well the question most people are asking me is what's next on the schedule. To be honest I haven't made my mind up. Of course it would be great to target a faster marathon, sub 3:10 is definitely a good stretch goal on a flat marathon course and there are plenty to choose from in September/October. The thought of racing a shorter ultra is good as well and there are some possibilities early summer. Either way I need to work out my next training cycle and decide soon what challenge to set.

In the meantime I cannot wait to get out running in the sunshine. Bring on Summer.

Every Cloud Has A Silver Lining

One year ago, I was recovering from a very disappointing performance at my first official marathon race. After the event I was very honest with myself that you cannot fake racing hard over the marathon distance i.e. you have to put in the mileage, hard sessions, the long runs in order to give yourself the best chance of achieving your goal time.

Last year the goal was 3:30 and I had a very rude awakening during the last 10 miles of the race and ended up running 3:53. Following that experience I descended into a downward spiral with my running. I didn't want to run, I didn't want to go out daily getting my fix around my local park trails or the quiet roads early in the morning and it took me a while to understand that I was suffering a loss of motivation on a scale I hadn't experienced before. I had set a goal but my plan to achieve it was built on a wing and a prayer and I had no plan or desire to race again after that.

Fast forward to 2014 and I have changed my whole running philosophy and approach to this matter. Back in January I decided to commit to a running program again namely structuring my training using "Arthur Lydiard principles" so that I could avenge my performance from last year at Halstead. What followed during the16 week build up I have documented somewhat already on this blog but during the training cycle I have changed completely from the runner and person I was last year.

Marathon day didn't start out too well as the rain was pouring and driving 45 miles in that weather was not ideal. The temperature was not too cold around 12 degrees and I was always going to wear a singlet rain or no rain. I don't mind the rain but the 20-25 mph winds was something that I could do without. As we were gathering outside getting drenched the Race Director announced that a gentleman named Andy Wilmot was starting us off and that he would be running his 600th marathon! Absolutely incredible. I would be happy getting to 100.

The gun went and we set off. As with every marathon everybody sprints off at what feels like 100 mph. I had my game plan and I know not to go out like a sprinter down the first downhill especially because within 400m were we would be going straight back up the hill!

The Halstead course is full of undulation with lots of sharp little uphills and downhills and is certainly not what you would call a flat fast marathon course. Couple this with the blowing wind it was always going to be a massive challenge to achieve the goal time I set out - 3:10. Pretty quickly during the start of the race I knew 3:10 was out of reach today but I had a plan B which was sub 3:15 and plan C 3:15-3:20. After the initial surge I settled into a 7:20-7:30 minute/mile pace, again the undulation was making it a challenge to find a consistent pace but I felt reasonably comfortable  so now it was going to be a question of how long I could keep this going and focus on the road ahead.

5 miles - 37:15, avg HR 162

I was feeling very good, the legs felt strong and I was very much in control. I decided before the race that I was going to make a conscious effort not to keep staring at my Garmin and to run based on feel. Of course being obsessed with stats this is difficult at the best of times. The rain started to ease off and the wind was causing a problem yet. I knew though that this would change as we started to hit the back roads and the course changes direction.

Mile 11 
10 miles - 1:14:50, avg HR 163

Between 5-10 miles the field usually spreads out and runners that set off too fast start get pulled back. I have learnt quickly that the race doesn't start until the last 10km so it's all about focusing on your pace, pace and pace. I was so focused in fact that I didn't really look at anything but the runners and the course ahead. This is very different to ultras where I tend to let my mind drift. Of course a lot of runners like doing this at any time but I was here to crush my marathon PB so there was no room for letting my mind drift. I started to feel a little thirsty around 6-7 miles and I was always going to ensure even in these wet conditions not to dehydrate (i tend to sweat a lot). I made sure I got enough water at the aid station giving the supporters a big smile and be courteous at all times. At miles 9 and 10 the wind was suddenly in my face and my pace slowed by a good 10 seconds per mile. I didn't panic though and tried to relax and keep the pace at 7:30 min/mile. Focus Focus Focus!

13.1 miles - 1:38:13, avg HR 162

One thing I didn't want to do was go out to fast for the first half of the race. So when I arrived at the halfway point I glimpsed at my watch and could see that I was around the 1hr38mins mark. This was a little slower than I was looking for and 1hr37mins or there about would have been ideal but with the weather and course it was still pretty good but I knew then that Plan B was going to be an uphill battle as a negative split for sub 3:15.

15 miles - 1:52:28, avg HR 161

I was still drinking sufficiently but hadn't eaten anything. In fact I didn't bring any gels for that matter. I usually don't eat on runs but appreciated that I was pushing myself to the limit today so i grabbed a few jelly babies from road side supporters washed down with water, I am a man of simple tastes after all. Just 3 or 4 were enough and fortunately I didn't choke on them. I had been running for almost 2 hours and the legs still felt good, my upper body felt relaxed. I was really having a great time but knew this couldn't last forever could it?

20 miles - 2:29:57, avg HR 164

At mile 16 I had my quickest mile of the day (7:13 effort) and I was feeling good but again I kept reminding myself just to keep ticking the miles off and focus on the next one. Heading back into the wind at mile 17 my pace dropped back to slightly more than 7:30. There was only the odd runner at this point ahead of me and that nobody really had passed me since the 10 mile mark. There was however one guy in a white long sleeved top who surged ahead of me periodically but I caught him up on the uphills and soon passed him at the 18 mile mark. After 30km I knew that the tough miles were immediately ahead of me. The wind was still blowing strongly and I could feel that the pace had become ever so slightly slower. It was at this point last year I hit the wall badly but I didn't this time. Having looked at my Garmin results the splits from 18-20 miles were - 7:34, 7:35, 7:37. With the wind gusting up and me trying to maintain the pace I set earlier becoming increasingly difficult I knew my body must be at some point getting ready to stop me. Then my right quad started to hurt!

25 miles - 3:10:13, avg HR 163

At mile 21 my right quad was telling me, this hurts Mr Stewart slow down! I hadn't noticed any problems before except for a dull feeling but with the constant undulation and downhills on the oad my quads had taken a battering . I knew that the last 5 miles were going to be painful but this pain was more muscle tightness related. I had run so strong and comfortable up to this point and had made sure I took on board enough water but I hadn't catered for the pounding of the downhills and the windy conditions over the course of time. The pace for this mile 7:55. I knew having looked at my Garmin average pace (yes I was looking  at my watch all the time now) that I was now in danger of missing my plan C goal of sub 3:20. I attempted to power on into the wind but it was proving to be a real beast of a challenge this late in the race. Mile 22 - 7:47, the miles were now proving lonely as there were almost zero runners ahead to focus on.

It really was about grit and determination now to get to the finish. The support on the course was amazing and with the sun fully out I cracked a smile when passing through every drink station and never once did I not say "thank you" for the drinks. The wind was punishing yet my focus now unrelenting but i couldn't raise the pace. Mile 23 - 8:10 and Mile 24 - 8:19 were slow. I had to do something. I had slipped so far back pacing wise. Was I going to miss my times completely!

Between mile 24 and 25 I got this surge of mental energy from somewhere deep down that just pushed me forward. I was not going to let the clock time me out! Mile 25 - 8:02. Just before you reach the final mile I had completely forgotten that the course diverts up a grass bank onto the mud. Suddenly from out of what seemed nowhere the guy in the long sleeved white top passed me going up the grass bank.

I kept him in my sights but he was slowly edging away. My legs were shot at this point as we made our way through the field onto the main road. I guy in the white shirt was about 10 seconds ahead of me. We passed the 26 mile marker - I had 3:18:21 on my Garmin! Was I going to make 3:20!!!!!!

I picked up the pace with everything I had left and as I turned the corner for the final 50 meter sprint I could see the clock ticking. I could feel the burn in my legs and lungs as I crossed the finish line.

The clock said 3:20:00. I had done it. 

If you had been at the finish line you would have seen a 6ft 2in man sprinting like a lunatic across the line, trying to punch his fist in the air. It was not a pretty sight!

I picked up and guzzled down a two cans of full sugar coke plus a couple of bananas which made me feel so much better. After getting my medal and goody bag I headed inside the leisure centre to pick up my bag and shower up. My quads were going to be sore for sure especially the right one as it felt tight so I decided to get a quick 10 min post race massage that was being offered. It was worth every penny.

Well earned post race beer

As I lay back on the massage table I thought to myself that the day had been bitter sweet. I hadn't hit my plan A or B goals but I had delivered on crushing my PB by 33 minutes and achieving 3:20:00 finish. This is a great time on that course and with the weather conditions as well I couldn't help but smile and soak up the occasion.

Having drove home and settled down to enjoy a post race meal and beer (got free one in the goody bag woo hoo!) with the family I felt like all the hard work had been worth it.

The rain had dried up, the sun had come out and in doing so I felt like the black clouds have now passed over from last years disappointment. Time to heal and move forward.

Net: 3:20:00
HM1: 1:38:31
HM2: 1:41:29
Rank: 53rd out of 535
avg HR 163


It's almost time for my first real race of the year. Tomorrow I will be driving the short journey to Halstead, get my race number, and after a somewhat good sleep hope to smash my PB. The unanswered question really is what is the target. I'm reasonably confident I can deliver a sub 3:15-3:20 but have trained with the specific aim to break 3:10.

There are a few hills on the course that could certainly test my pacing our there and as always I have still have not learnt to run sensibly at the start as race fever grips you. I will be wearing my Garmin and although I don't intend to be a slave to it during the race and try to run based on feel but I certainly will be keeping an eye on my average pace as the race progresses but not glue myself to mile tracking due to the fact markers are never where your gadget tells you. I will go out with a plan to run at 3:10 pace and then adjust based o how I feel.

I have had the tapering madness all week with both niggles, aches and worries but nothing that will stop me tomorrow. The last 16 weeks has been the most consistent training block I have ever put in. My average weekly mileage works out at 47 miles, although that is not a lot for many that is the most consistent I have been since I started trying to run in the last 5 years. I have learnt a great deal about using a periodization approach to training and understanding exactly what the purpose of each run is, run pretty much at least 6  and learnt to adapt the plan based on how I feel rather than blindly follow the schedule.

I have already started thing about the next race and I have thought either a shorter ultra in the next 3-4 months or another early autumn marathon would be good with perhaps some shorter faster stuff thrown in. With the training approach I have embraced I know what works for me and it has made me more disciplined and more satisfied in my running than ever before, now it's a case of executing on the work done.

"It's just a matter of understanding what's necessary and discipline yourself to do it." - Arthur Lydiard