Saturday, 12 April 2014

Camels, Tapering and the Virgin Money London Marathon

Pleasant Distractions

A lot of non-running related matters, all good - highlights being beginning a fantastic new relationship and getting final confirmation of my diploma coming through, and so beginning the search for a new job - have meant I haven't blogged for a while. I haven't run a lot recently either, which in the build up to the London Marathon may seem like a bad thing. In fact it's fine - but more later, first I need to report on last Saturday and the small part I played in a World Record Run.

Camel Run

So I was honoured to be asked by my good friends Rob "front end" Saunders and Lorraine "rear end" Collins, to be part of the support crew for their world record attempt at Colchester Castle Parkrun, where they ran the 5km route dressed in a pantomime camel costume.

In ancient Roman times, Colchester was known as Camulodunum
This stemmed from a fancy dress run at Christmas and the realisation that by going slightly quicker they could get into the Guinness Book of World Records.

To do so, they had to make a formal attempt to get under 30mins, involving copious amounts of paperwork, proof that the course was accurately measured, at least two separate videos as evidence, and the whole thing to be witnessed by a public notary. Along with another friend, Gareth, I was appointed an official camel pacer. On the day, Gareth took over the role of clearing the way, and ensuring fellow parkrunners didn't get trampled by our marauding camel, and I concentrated on keeping the time and pace consistent throughout, whilst also giving verbal instructions since vision was limited from inside the costume. Especially at the rear end. Apart from the last quarter mile or so, when Rob began making some alarming noises suggestive of imminent vomiting, all went well, and they achieved a superb time of 25m30 - hopefully a record that will stand for some time. The atmosphere around the park was great, loads of "come on camel" type cheering all the way, and I believe I can speak for all members of the entourage, including Angela, Cath and Graham following with their video cameras, when I say it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. However, I have never known Lorraine so quiet.

The award for cheesiest grin goes to.....The day had begun with my being unexpectedly awarded a trophy - this was the parkrun's first anniversary in Colchester and so lots of awards were given out, including to fellow Commando Runners Danny (Male Points Winner) Jen (Best female junior) and Kerry and family (Best volunteers.) Regarding my own award, for "Male Parkrunner of the Year", I understand this was awarded on the basis of embodying the ethos of parkrun - ie, in part for my running, (on a good day I tend to make top 20 but I am far from being one of the fastest ) but also for volunteering regularly, pacing, guiding, etc. I suspect that being friends with most of the core committee members (who made up the voting panel) didn't do me any harm either! 

On Sunday, a number of Commando Runners (this is a running group I am a part of that is based primarily in the Colchester area, though not exclusively) competed in marathons. Angela had a fantastic run at Manchester, getting under 3hr40 which guarantees her a good-for-age place at London next year, and is only 5 minutes outside the time she needs to qualify for her dream race in Boston. Danny managed a sub 3hr25 debut marathon in Brighton, the first step on a journey I suspect towards the holy grail of amateur running, a sub 3hr marathon. Lots of other friends also managed great times at Brighton, and these runs have only made me more determined to do well myself at London.

Which is tomorrow.....


And so back to the fact that I haven't run much recently. This is deliberate, and is known as tapering. It is the part of a marathon training schedule all runners fear. Let me explain

Most marathon training plans are at least 16 weeks long. For London, this means beginning just before Christmas. I didn't do this. I enjoyed Christmas safe in the knowledge I would knuckle down in the New Year, and coming off a good base fitness level, 15 weeks proved to be fine. I haven't actually followed a specific plan, but have used one or two as a guide, including the excellent one drawn up by our club coach Trevor. Life tends to make it impossible to follow a plan to the letter, but I have ensured I have kept up my usual mix of runs each week, whilst using the plan to let me know how far my weekly long run should be. I booked in four races as part of my training, being an initial half marathon to help me decide what pace I should train at, two 20 mile races to give me experience of racing longer distances, and a final half to tell me whereabouts I was as I neared the end of my training. All went well, and with the exception of a lean couple of weeks after the second 20 mile race (the Essex 20) which took a lot out of me, being quite hilly and on a warm day, I have been fortunate that I have been able to train fairly well throughout. I had a slight niggle in my left ankle and calf after that race, compounded by a freak accident at work involving a car and an un-applied handbrake, but a couple of days of discomfort and then all was well.

And so, towards the end of all good training plans, you come to the taper. Essentially, this means dramatically reducing your mileage in the final two or three weeks before race-day, to ensure you go into the race with fresh legs. Since your body only reaps the benefits of a run about two weeks after you've done it, there is practically nothing to be gained from running in the last two weeks, other than to keep your muscles from tightening and, more importantly, to keep your mind right. Any runs done in this time should really be at a pretty gentle pace, and over much shorter distances. When you have become used to high mileage, it becomes surprisingly difficult to reduce your training level so dramatically. To go from a peak mileage of around 60 down to perhaps only 15 or so is strangely difficult.

Some runners begin to feel guilty that they are not running when they would be normally. Some panic that if they don't run, their fitness level will drop off. It is common to begin imagining illnesses and injuries. Every minor ache becomes a potential race-threatening major injury. Every cough of sneeze is imagined to be the onset of some horrible disease. It is known as taper madness, and can ruin your race if you let it.

Personally, I prefer to take the whole of the final week off completely, with the exception of a relaxed parkrun on the Saturday. This has worked for me ever since I began racing. Today I ran with a friend, Michael, who got a pb, despite having only run his debut marathon last Sunday in Brighton. The previous week, I only ran once - a 10 mile training run with fellow HRC runner Charlotte (also running London,) who needed to check where she was with a knee injury (all good fortunately.) Charlotte and I have begun dating very recently, and this has been at exactly the right time regarding the marathon, since it has given us both something else to occupy our minds, and has stopped the taper madness from getting to us. I should probably point out this is not why I am dating her, just a useful side effect...

Virgin Money London Marathon

I am going into tomorrow's race full of confidence and with few worries. Thursday I had my pre-race sports massage/physio with Becky, and all seems okay. Yesterday Charlotte and I met up with some more commandos - Nina, Paul and Jean - at the expo in the Excel arena, where you pick up your number, etc, but also a really great day out, making it all seem very real and imminent. And so I am ready to run only my second ever marathon.

Target 3hr40

Or maybe 3hr30. My training suggests I should be somewhere between the two -- my first half marathon of the training plan gave me the confidence to aim for 8m30 pace per mile, but as I've progressed through the plan, my times have improved, and I think 8m15 or even 8m00 is achievable. The race day strategy now is to start off at 8m30 pace for the first 10 miles, then up the pace to 8m00 until mile 20, and then see if I can "race" the last 6.2 miles (or 10k) to get as close to 3hr30 as I can. Whether or not this is achievable, I really don't know -- but good to go into a race with a demanding target, and I know that whatever happens, it's going to be an incredible experience.

I shall of course be blogging next week with a full report. To anyone else reading this who is competing tomorrow, in the VMLM or anywhere else - have a great race.

1 comment:

  1. Another interesting post, Ian. I particularly liked what you have to say about tapering as I think lots of people struggle with this. Great idea to write about other aspects of your life which inevitably overlap the running. Hope both you and Charlotte had a great VMLM and I am looking forward to your report. I hope you let us know how Charlotte did too - it sounds such a romantic start to a relationship I wish you both much happiness:-)