Post Marathon: time off and what’s next

I’m still riding the happy wave of Chester Marathon. I’m so pleased with how it went and it’s given me a bit of a boost with what I could achieve going forward, which is of course onwards to another marathon.img_3207I’m not massively eager to bash out a ridiculously fast time or try and beat my PB (which was still around 4 minutes faster than Chester) but I’d quite like to do another really focused training segment where I include some actual workouts, like tempos, intervals and hill sessions, rather than the very relaxed running I was doing this time around. Though mentally it was nice to run without any real pace aims or targets, I really enjoy the process of seeing my paces get faster and just feeling more confident in my running.

My next marathon is Tokyo at the end of February [insert scared emoji]. I signed up with a tour company a while ago as I knew I wanted to do it at some point and I really have nothing stopping me doing it. Of course it’s ridiculously expensive to do it this way but I get a guaranteed entry (which is good because Tokyo is very, very hard to get into through the ballot, like London), flights, accommodation near the marathon start, transfer to and from the airport, some meals and I’m with other runners and a guide to help us get about. Seen as how I can get lost pretty much anywhere, I think this is probably the wisest approach in such a culturally different foreign country!

I think my parents (and my friends) are quite concerned about me getting lost there. Me too, me too. My dad jokingly said he’d put a tracker on my phone to make sure he knew where I was…though actually I don’t think he was joking. So being in a group of people and basically handheld through the process is perfect for me! Originally I was going to go with a fellow Marathon Major enthusiast but he selfishly bailed on me – apparently Boston is more important *cough cough* 😉

So Tokyo is the aim and, as ever, not a given because of my injury proneness. And unlike Boston, if I did get injured I wouldn’t still go as the trip is purely for the marathon with a bunch of other marathoners so how fun would that be if I couldn’t run? But anyway that’s a long way away at the moment.

For now I’m enjoying a bit of time off of running and gym-work. I don’t think I’ve had a week off from the gym for a long, long time so it was a nice reset for me during my week away. But don’t get me wrong though, I was looking forward to getting back into it! I do love going to the gym and having my normal routine.

In terms of running, I have no races in the plan apart from the Gosport Half Marathon (I sign up every year as it’s literally around where my parents live and the past three times I’ve been unable to do it due to injury. I almost didn’t sign up for fear of cursing myself), 10k near Christmas just for fun (I say “fun”, 10ks are never fun for me) and an obstacle course race thing with my friends in a few weeks but that’s not really running. I might take another week off of running or do the odd plodding about. I haven’t really made my mind up. My calf needed a bit of time post-marathon to feel happy again and it’s basically fine now but I don’t want to jump back into anything too soon. I’m also keen to address why I keep having this calf/shin issue. I’ve managed to get rid of all other issues (*touch wood*) but can never fully stop this when my mileage gets higher so I might have a gait analysis done.

But basically October is a chill month for me. November will ideally be when I’ll gradually build the mileage up again for Tokyo. Then it’ll be all go again! I also have a place at the London Marathon next year (Good For Age) but it’ll depend on Tokyo whether I do it or whether I defer.img_5915It’s all a bit fuzzy right now and nothing is ever set in stone for me.
But I feel very content and happy right now just bumbling along without a plan. This will change soon I’m sure as I start getting itchy feet…

What are your racing plans?

Do you like to follow a training plan or go off piste from time to time?

Have you had a gait analysis done before?

Chester Marathon 2016

If there’s one thing I know about marathons it’s that it never gets easier. I suppose after the first one you’ve completed there is a sense of reassurance that you can actually do the distance and not combust after mile 18, but it is never easy. And, at least for me, I’m never going into without feeling nervous and terrified.

On the morning of the marathon I got up at 6am, got dressed, had a quick black coffee and made my porridge to take with me in the car.img_5541My parents were driving me there and then supporting me. So at 6.30am we piled into the car and headed to Chester, which was about 1.5 hours away from where we were staying in the cottage. Thankfully a quick petrol station stop allowed the necessary pre-race toilet requirement to be achieved (whew – runners, you know what I mean!) and we arrived at Chester at 8am, the time that the Chester Racecourse car park closes. This didn’t matter as my parents were just dropping me off and then heading off to find breakfast and mile 15ish to wait for me. However, we were very lucky as the road closures were literally happening around us at that point (we didn’t realise the roads to and from the racecourse would be closed. Normal well-organised people might, but us chancers? Noooo).img_5543The temperature was very nippy and I was thankful for having a charity shop purchased fleece to keep me warm.img_5544The race village was quite cool being in the racecourse. There were several tented areas full of things to buy and the bag drop area but I headed out to the main grass area to get into the loo queue because really what else can you do when you have about 45 minutes to kill before a race?chester-marathon-race-villageThe grass was wet and my trainers were annoyingly getting a bit soggy. I noticed several people had blue plastic shoe covers on their trainers to keep them dry and wondered where they got them from. But I wasn’t bothered enough to hunt them out for myself. A loo visit was more important! There didn’t seem to be a huge number of mobile loos it must be said but I was able to go twice so I can’t complain! No bad loo experiences so that’s always a plus!

Eventually we were called to the start. I felt really nervous. For me, a marathon is never a proper marathon unless I have some sort of ailment to worry about beforehand and in true Anna-style I was worried about my calf. It had been feeling very tight and a bit, dare I say, niggly during the week. I felt it a bit at parkrun the day before…In normal circumstances a week off would have probably put it to bed but not possible when race day is that week! But anyway we started and it just felt a bit tight so I tried to ignore it.

The first mile is run partly on grass as you come out of the racecourse and then onto the roads of Chester. There were quite a few clusters of small crowds and local running clubs who cheered us on. It was a lovely atmosphere. I remember distinctly how easy that first mile felt and thinking how it would later contrast with the final mile…

I hadn’t really got a strict pace plan. I decided to see what felt comfortable and go with that – as long as it wasn’t under 8min/miles as that would be silly considering my training. I stuck pretty consistently to 8-8:10min/miles and felt very relaxed, if not a little bored after we came out of the main city (which happened fairly quickly). Don’t get me wrong though, the Chester Marathon course is beautiful. So scenic. The first bit through the city was cool because of all the old walls, the Tudor-style buildings and the Chester Cathedral that you run past.img_5590

Taken later in the day

To take my mind of the monotony I listened in to other’s conversations around me and checked out what people were wearing. One man amusingly had some sort of race finisher’s t-shirt that for some reason, amongst all the other writing, had the word “Male” printed largely at the bottom. I wondered why!?

As we got deeper into the countryside I decided I just had to take a photo. I was wearing my Flipbelt so my phone (and my gels) were easy to get out.img_5552It was just perfect. Or at least it would have been had the sun not been shining directly in our eyes for about 90% of the first 10 miles! I envied those who were wearing sunglasses.img_5551

But that blue sky! The temperature was still fairly cool, especially in the shade, so it really was perfect running temperature. The course was not entirely flat, with a few undulations here and there but nothing major.10kSo the first 10k went by fairly uneventfully. I chatted to a guy who was running the same pace as me (his 14th marathon) and we had roughly the same time goals, though he was more keen to get closer to 3:30 whereas I was more generally 3:30-3:45. I know it sounds a bit off but I didn’t really want to chat too much. I was happy to just sink inside my brain and not think for a bit rather than make conversation but we stayed in the same pace range and it was nice to have his company there even if we didn’t chat a huge amount.10-miles

We ran over a mat at 10k so I knew my parents would know how I was doing on the tracker thing. My first main milestone was 8 miles as this was when I was to have my first gel. My watch was already out from the mile markers annoyingly so I made sure to wait until the actual 8 mile mark rather than my watch (because I’m neurotic like that). The gel was an SIS Red Berry with caffeine flavoured one which I hadn’t had before. I’ve had SIS gels before but not this particular flavour. I’ve never had an issue with gels before and I’ve tried quite a few and thankfully this was fine. Though the flavour was DISGUSTING. So pleased I have an entire pack of them at home…

At 10 miles I was grateful to final allow myself to listen to a podcast (the BBC 5 Live Film Review). The pace was still consistently around 8 min/miles and though the country side was beautiful I was a bit bored. The podcast really helped though as I lost myself in that until 13 miles, when I had my next gel. Oh the excitement! 😉16-miles

After my gel (one I’d picked up from an aid station – a High5 IsoGel – very liquidy) I started to look forward to seeing my parents. As I got to 13 miles I realised my parents wouldn’t be at 15 as it was a weird part of the course that goes off and does a big square before turning back towards the city at mile 15. So mile 13 and 15 are practically next to each other if that makes sense.chester-marathon-course

At this point you can see the super speedy people running back towards you as they’ve already done the square – I saw the sub-3 pacer storming along and realised that the square would take about 30-40 minutes. It was nice to see the other runners coming towards you so that amused me for a while.

As I got to 16 miles, around a small village called Holt, I spotted a crowd of people and scanned them to see if my parents were there. They were! I was so pleased to see them!img_5575

I went a bit crazy cheering and waving much to the delight of the spectators. I think they must have thought I was mental!img_5576Then I was off again. My next milestone was 18 miles for my final gel. This time it was a Honey Stinger Acai and Pomegranate flavoured one which was a bit thicker but so tasty; fruity and sweet.21-miles

There were so nasty short inclines around this point that were actually quite tough.chester-marathon-elevation

I tried to ignore how tired my legs were and just get them done. The nice decline afterwards wasn’t entirely welcome either because that still works the muscles pounding downhill!img_5554As I got to mile 20 I wondered if I had anything in me to boost up the speed for the last 10k. I didn’t feel I did and wondered if this was the difference between doing speed work during marathon training and not…But I decided to put on my “let’s get going” playlist and see what happened.

Well, it certainly helped boost me along! I thought to myself, just get to 23 miles and then it’s just a parkrun. It definitely helped. When I finally reached 23 miles I was smiling and feeling good and shouted to a marshal it was just a parkrun to go and he laughed and said I looked too happy.26-milesThere was a nasty hill around 23-24 miles but I could smell the finish line and just pushed on. I started overtaking people and several people cheered me on, one guy yelled with a lovely Northern accent, “You go, girl!”. I don’t know what happened but suddenly I was flying. The crowds of supporters got bigger and I kept a smile on my face and they cheered me through. I just kept passing people and it was such a buzz. We ran alongside the River Dee and loads of people were having lunch or coffee in little cafes alongside the river or standing and cheering and it really helped keep my momentum going. One more mile, the quicker I do it the quicker I can stop. The finish was in sight, we were now back on the grass of the race course and I just needed to get to the end. And I was done!

I checked my watch and couldn’t believe it: 3:28:22. Sub 3:30! My A Goal! I also couldn’t believe how I managed to pull out a sub 7 minute last mile. Over a minute faster than my first mile and about 100 times harder!img_3207I got my medal, a foil blanket, a technical t-shirt (very nice) and a goodie bag and then spotted my parents who were waving madly to me. Ahh so nice to see them so quickly after finishing!img_5566I was on cloud nine 🙂

My calf was a bit grumpy, I won’t lie, but otherwise I was feeling fantastic. The sun was shining and I was over the moon with how consistently I ran and how much speed I was able to pick up in the last 10k. It just felt fantastic running past all those people and hearing the crowds. I’ll never forget it.

Right, I’ll leave it there as this post is already far too long. Chester Marathon is a fantastic marathon and I’m so glad I did it. It was well organised, well supported, scenic and just a joy to run. Top marks!img_5592Have you ever done Chester Marathon before?

What kind of course do you prefer: countryside, city, etc.?

How many gels (if any) do you take during a marathon and what’s your favourite?

Process or Goal Orientated?

I thought I was goal-orientated. I’m ambitious, driven and determined. I create plans and lists for targets to hit and tick off. I’m a Type A personality (a very common thing in the fitness world).

But I was walking Alfie the other day and listening to the Marathon Talk podcast (episode 349) and Martin was interviewing an amazing guy called Joe Grant. Joe talked about the crazy challenges he had gone on, running and cycling hundreds of miles and going on fantastic adventures. What became apparent straight away was that he focused on the “journey” not the outcome, like his time or placings. It was all about the experiences he gained, the training he went through that got him to the point of doing all those incredible races.

It made me suddenly realise that that’s similar to how I think. OK I am in NO WAY comparing myself to this amazing ultra marathoning pro, but in terms of what he focuses on is exactly how I feel. I asked myself, why do I keep running marathons? Surprisingly it’s not to hit some elusive time goal or smash my PB. It’s the training weeks leading up, it’s hitting those long runs and feeling accomplished afterwards. Obviously not always as sometimes they suck and I feel pants, but you take the good with the bad. Next week’s run might be different. The fact is though that I don’t need a race to validate my running and fitness.

Of course I have time goals for marathons, because otherwise how would I know how to train or what pace to set off at? But if I don’t hit that goal it’s not a failure. The marathon, instead, is the goal – the victory lap. I’ve done the hard weeks of training, ticked off all those long runs and now I get to see if I can make it to the end.

When I got my PB at Liverpool of course I was over-the-moon but actually had I finished in a similar time to the marathons before or slower I’d have still been happy. That training cycle was awesome. Each week was showing me what I could do and the race was just the cherry on the top to say, “you did it, it worked! Well done!”. And no, it wasn’t because I was getting faster or hitting PBs. It was because most of the runs I felt strong and I was happy running.

It’s the same with parkrun. When I first started parkrunning I was keen to beat my time every Saturday I went and it drove me to injury after injury. I lost the love. But when I stopped caring about my time (to some extent of course, I still look at the results and enjoy seeing progress), parkrun suddenly became fun again. And instead of aiming for things like “sub-20 minutes” or “first female”, I now aim for how many different parkruns I can do over the UK. Where’s my next one going to be? Where can I visit next? What’s the course going to be like? Of course smashing out a fantastically fast time (for me) is fun once in a while, but if I don’t get a PB it’s not a waste or a failure. It’s just another experience on another day.

Like I said in a previous post, I’m reading the Brownlee brother’s books and it’s fascinating. I love hearing about how hard they train and how ambitious they are. Reading their book though does feel a little empty to me at times. The most interesting parts are when they talk about their training or race in depth and detail. Of course they can’t do this for every race because it would be a mammoth book, but even aside from this, what’s clear is that they are very goal-driven. A race to them is summed up by the outcome first and foremost: where did they place. OK obviously that is hugely important to them because they are professional elite athletes and their placing is what’s important at the end of the day, but I almost don’t care about where they came. I want to hear about the details and the experiences – the nitty gritty. Instead they sum up races very quickly with “the swim went well, the bike was hard and the run went fast and I came first”.

For me, when I write race recaps (different league and incomparable talent completely, of course) I go into flowery details about when I needed to pee, what gels I took and what that marshal said to me at mile five. My result is purely incidental. Yes it’s important, but it’s not why I set out to race. (Please forgive my stumbling comparison to the hugely talented Brownlee brothers, it’s a whole different thing I know but it just made me think how different elite athletes are to the average Jo(e)).

For Chester Marathon I just want to finish uninjured and with a smile on my face. The journey has been tough with its ups and downs in motivation and hot weather but I can look back fondly and think, if the marathon goes tits up then I don’t mind because that 21 miler was cool, running to Fareham parkrun was so much fun and the Reigate Half surprised me with how good it felt.

This is not a rambling post to try and sandbag my time or claim nonchalantly “I don’t care what time I finish”. Of course I care. In fact, I’ll lay it out for you bare:

  • A Goal: sub 3:30 (this is really quite ambitious considering my training but hey ho, aim high! If I feel good on the day who knows what could happen…all the planets need to align though)
  • B Goal: sub 3:35 (realistically this is within my grasp I think)
  • C Goal: I’d like to beat Boston’s time (sub 3:38) or at the very least sub 3:45. I did my 21 miler at around 8:15-8:20 pace and this time goal is sitting just under that pace. But it will also depend on tangents and things like that.

But ultimately, I’m happy as long as I finish uninjured. If I don’t get any of the above goals and “just” finish the marathon, it’s another one ticked off my list and (after some actual time off – I promise, this time!) I’ll be on to the next one, happy as ever. This is why I’m happy to tell you my goals because if I don’t achieve them, I’m not embarrassed or see myself as a failure. It’s something I can dissect and improve upon next time. *Rubs hands in glee* all that data, all those training runs…It builds into the next training plan to polish it all up for the next marathon.

Are you goal or process driven?

Why do you race?

Do you often have targets you want to achieve? What are those targets: times, experiences, quantities of events?