London Marathon 2018

Incase you missed me telling anyone who would listen… I ran the London marathon on Sunday. It was my first world major, and happened to be the hottest London marathon on record, so to be able to say I finished is a massive achievement. In the end it took me 4hrs and 7mins or there abouts to cross the finish line, and although its a considerable chunk of time slower than I wanted to be I don’t regret taking my time at all, and I am sure you are all dying to know if my trainers held up… they did! And to be honest they were the LEAST of my worries on Sunday.

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All smiles at the finish line when I saw my friends from my running club!

 

Despite the time it took me and the horrendously hot conditions I actually had a lovely run, and its true what they say about the supporters making London what it is because without them I wouldn’t have been able to finish. From the lady handing out ice-pops at mile 5 and the spectator who went in his bag to hand me a bottle of iced-water when I had accidentally dropped my own to the people who were shouting and cheering the whole way, those guys made the run possible.

Since Sunday lots of people have said to me that they would love to do the marathon “one day”. To those people I say just do it! The training is long and difficult (and in some cases very, very cold!) but as long as you can commit to a couple of hours a week for a long slow run then absolutely anybody can run/walk/jog a marathon. I have always known this, but the conditions in London this weekend really proved that to me. Its not about how fast you can go its about keeping yourself moving and getting over that line. So to the 2hr finishers to the 8hr finishers CONGRATULATIONS, you all have my upmost respect!!!

So what did I learn from this weekends run?

1. Having your name on your shirt can be both a help and a hindrance. I chose not to have my name on my shirt (because I hadnt decided on my outfit until the last minute), and there were times when I was struggling and I thought it would have helped to have people shouting my name. In Barcelona last year my name was on my number and I really found it was a huge boost hearing “Vamoose Stephanie” at regular intervals, but there were also times this weekend when I wanted to tell people to just leave the poor participants alone and let them walk!!

2. Energy drinks make you thirstier, and don’t really help on a hot day. I usually partake in a gatorade or two when I am running, but this weekend the Lucozade stations really were a nightmare because they were there in place of water stations, and believe me when I say that we all needed water!

3. Respecting the conditions is key. I saw so many people passing out or falling down at the side of the road, and every time I did I slowed down just a little bit more. This weekend I walked more than I have ever had to walk in a race, and I am not ashamed of that in the slightest. There are always other marathons to try for a better time… you just have to get to the end of this one first!

4. Don’t underestimate the power of a tempo run. I had missed my tempo runs due to my triathlon and weight training, and its not something I would recommend for anyone hoping to get in a certain time. I am sure that I would still have been a lot slower that the 3:30 I really wanted this weekend even if I had put in the faster runs, but I think they would have helped me keep my speed up a little bit more!

5. Runners are the best! On Sunday I saw people handing out suncream, sharing water, linking arms with struggling participants, and just generally being there to help each other. The running community really comes together at events like this and everyone is there to support each other.

 

Maranoia

I am now just over a week away from London marathon, and of course the maranoia has kicked in. My particular form of pre-marathon freak out seems to be around my shoes. I do a lot of cross training in my running shoes, I know that I shouldn’t, and I do own “proper” bike shoes, but the clips on them aren’t compatible with a spin bike, and I changed my pedals when I arrived in Ann Arbor because I was scared of skidding on the ice or falling down a pothole and not being able to unclip quick enough to avoid disaster, (also my bike shoes don’t have a whole lot of room for extra pairs of socks which are an essential requirement for cycling in Michigan in the winter). And aside from spinning I sometimes run to the gym and don’t want to take my gym shoes or they won’t fit in my bag usually because I have packed too much food, so yeah if in doubt I default to my runners. All of this is really just to say that despite being just over a year old my running shoes have seen better days.

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Ruined shoes or extra-ventilation?

The rational part of me knows that they still have miles left in them, and they are super comfortable, so the best course of action is to wear them for the marathon then invest in a new pair for my next sporting endeavor. However, approaching a marathon turns us all into crazy people, and there is a part of me that is worried that the hole in the toe of my shoe is going tear and reduce my trainers to flip-flops mid-marathon, or that the wear-and-tear is going to cause me to develop some sort of horrific injury, and that what I really need to do is buy new shoes and wear them constantly to break them in over the next 9 days. Of course I am not going to do this, but I do remember feeling exactly the same way before Barcelona about the predecessors to these shoes (although they were DEFINITELY in a better state than mine are now).

The point of this whole post is that its totally normal to start worrying about silly things like this before a big race (and big doesn’t mean long it means whatever is big to you). We all have our own way of turning our nervous energy into an imaginary problem, but the only thing that is important is to just ignore it. Even as I was writing this post I had a thought in the back of my mind that maybe 9 days is enough to break in some new shoes but now that its here in black and white that I will be running the marathon in my battered Saucony’s I am committed to doing what I know is the most sensible thing, even though I could very easily tell myself otherwise.

Lessons learned

Today my schedule contained my last long run before London… 22 miles! I had been looking forward to putting in this run all week, and getting my number pick-up details through on Friday made me feel super motivated to go out and put the miles in so today should have been great… but instead it was AWFUL, and I only have myself to blame. I really messed up today for four main reasons, and all of them were entirely my fault.

  1. I had Ice-cream for dinner on Saturday. I have been on a really strict diet all week half trying to build up my carb sensitivity and half because I decided I had gained a bit of weight since I arrived in the US and I could do with losing a few pounds before I come back to London and see all my friends. Like they are going to see me and be like “Oh my gosh look what a heifer she is!”. NEWSFLASH STEPH: NOBODY CARES WHAT YOU LOOK LIKE!
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    NOT A GOOD PRE-RUN DINNER.

    So now I have told myself this important bit of information, I am going to go back to Saturday night. So my normally when I am craving carbs a quick check of my Fitbit or the MyFitnessPal app tells me I’m in a ridiculous calorie deficit and I make myself a couple of slices of toast or grab some fruit. This weekend I had lost my Fitbit charger and it was completely dead so I had to trust my instinct… and my instinct told me I must be pretty much starving to death and could eat what I wanted for tea which turned out to be a GIANT bowl of cereal topped with ice-cream and cookies, followed by a full packet of Mike and Ikes which are supposed to be 4 servings per packet. Now I know there can be some confusion about what to eat the night before a race but I am pretty sure this isn’t it, and as a result I woke up feeling awful this morning. Me and one of my best friends have done some runs severely hung over, and on very little sleep (Yes DJY I’m referring to you)… but this was way worse!

  2. I wore regular thin trainer socks. I run in a pair of battered up Sauconys and they are super comfortable, and genuinely not worn out despite looking like they are nearly at the end of their shelf life… but like all good running shoes they are slightly bigger than my regular shoe size (this was on the advice of Running experts in the shop), and the reason for that is so that you can wear a nice comfortable pair of thick running socks, of which I own several pairs, but for some reason decided not to wear today. This resulted in foot rolling about my normally cloud like footwear like a child wearing their parents shoes.. and 10 miles in my toes were blistered and sore and I genuinely wanted to stop. Why didn’t I wear proper socks? Because I wasn’t planning on doing a white wash this week. Seriously, I own about 10 pairs of running socks, I could have gone a week with them sitting in the wash basket.
  3. I didn’t have enough sleep. This one was only partly my fault as I had a Skype meeting at 9:30am but I am following an online program to improve my sleep quality and have read about keeping the same wake-up time every day so I set my alarm for 5am as I do every week day and figured 3hrs 20mins would be enough time to get back. Firstly, I should have just arranged my meeting for another day incase I felt like I wanted longer in bed.. but like I said earlier, I am an idiot. Secondly, this getting up at the same time thing is great IF you go to bed at the same time, which I generally don’t on a weekend… I’ll say it again I. am. an. idiot.
  4. I decided to skip the gels and fuel up with Peeps. What are peeps I hear you ask? They are the quintessential american easter treat, and they are basically marshmallows covered in that really gritty candy floss style sugar. Actual scientists get paid to develop gels to improve athletic performance and endurance but clearly since its easter marshmallows will be just as good ‘cos I said so right? WRONG. Why didn’t I just take a gel for back up incase my wonderful idea of marshmallows for my race fuel failed? You guessed it… IDIOT!
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NOT THE SAME THING!!!!

There were loads of other factors that ruined my run today like the cold/wind and my lack of a proper route due to it being dark when I set off but if I had properly taken control of all of the things I have listed I probably would have gotten through those 22 miles instead of coming up short at 17, two of which were 10:30+ minute miles.

I haven’t decided whether to just accept it as a bad run and start my taper based on last weeks 20 miler, or if to try again in the week and make sure I put in the full 22. On one hand I was definitely better trained at this point in my prep for Barcelona, but on the other hand I went into Barcelona having never completed a marathon so maybe the experience is worth more than the miles? One thing is for sure though I will be properly fuelled, wearing good socks and well rested on marathon day either way!

 

Buoy Drama

In my head I had been picturing my ironman swim as a semi-leisurely couple of laps of the lake and I was focussing my training on making sure I could manage the distance comfortably… this weekends swim session made me realise just how wrong I was.

I was really excited about a proper swimming lesson with a coach and was hoping to learn some new techniques.. I am not a brilliant swimmer so I need all of the help I can get! We got in the water and ran through a couple of cool drills to learn about drifting and picking up our speed (you’d be surprised how hard it is to swim with your eyes closed  in the middle of a length and still keep on breathing!) and then it was time for the swim around the buoy challenge. During my time swimming around the dock in London and also at the Blue Lagoon I had never had much problem swimming around a buoy, I never really learned to sight I just followed everyone else, and I couldn’t front crawl at the time so it wasn’t really a problem. However when there are 20+ people in a 25 yard pool all swimming for the same point it is very different to a cruise around the dock. There were arms, legs, and feet EVERYWHERE. I was swallowing water, coughing and spluttering, and making up new swimming stokes left right and centre.

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The calm before the storm

This was definitely a wake-up call for me because I had never thought about the beginning of the swim when it is frantic and stressful like that… and after a few times of the drill I think I learned how to deal with that situation as a slower swimmer so here are my top tips (that I gained from the guys at Parker Performance):

  1. Practice freestyle swimming with your head out of the water. It will give you a HUGE advantage if you find yourself stuck in a situation like that.
  2. Dont panic. If you need to switch to breast stroke for a few strokes to get your breath back just do it and pick back up when you feel ready.
  3. You can apologise all you want but nobody can hear you so you’d be better off saving your breath
  4. Definitely practice being in this environment before you consider racing. If I hadn’t experienced this session and it had happened on race day I am not sure I could have pulled it back.

Next week I am focussing primarily on running as the marathon approaches but hopefully I will also be able to get another ride and a couple of swims in. I know for a fact I will be alternating between heads up and heads down sets because it really is a crucial skill to master.

To Hell and back (almost)

This week was a funny old one… Ive not been in the pool once due to a hip injury I have been struggling with for a while now, I missed my long run again due to said injury (although it was only supposed to be a fast half and I’ve given up on speed now remember), and then I almost missed my brick but decided at the last minute to just go out and do it. This week I was supposed to do a 56 mile bike ride and a 10km run so I looked at the map and found a place called Hell, Michigan, that was about 25 miles away and set off on my way. Spoiler alert… I didn’t make it to Hell, but thats because google maps tried sending me on a dirt road for the last 3 miles and my little road bike just wasn’t built for that kind of surface.

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Mentally however, I probably came closer than 3 miles to Hell. On the face of it it was a beautiful day, the sun was shining, and it was almost warm enough for shorts… but (and I didn’t realise this until I was a couple of miles into my journey) it was also extremely windy which makes for less than ideal cycling conditions, and I found myself asking “why am I doing this?”. At first I didn’t have an answer, I don’t have anything to prove to myself anyone by doing an Iron man and I certainly wasn’t enjoying the ride, but then I hit the Border-to-Border trail. The B2B will be a 35 mile bike/walking trail connecting the county I am now living in when it is eventually completed. Right now there are only sections complete, one of which is in Ann Arbor but yesterday I discovered another in Huron Mills Metropark. This trail was a bit like Richmond park but with less deer and more water, and it was BEAUTIFUL. It was here that I realised that if I wasn’t training, I wouldn’t have discovered this hidden gem just 10-15 miles from my home, and I came to the conclusion that I am doing this because I can. Will I do another full Iron distance triathlon? Probably not… the training is just too time consuming, but I will finish this one, and that is all that counts.

365 days later

Yesterday marked a year to the day since I ran my first ever marathon in Barcelona, and today marks two years since I ran what still stands as my half marathon PB at Silverstone. A reminder of these two things probably couldn’t have come at a better time for me as I put in my first real long run in my prep for London as seeing pictures of myself as both made me remember that I don’t have anything to prove. Yes I want to improve my time but as I heard on the podcast I was listening to during my run on Sunday not every race is going to be a PB.

Training for a second marathon is definitely very different to the first and its hard not to compare how training is going now against what it was like last time. For example, my most recent 20-miler was slower than when I was training for Barcelona (although not as slow as strava would have you believe due to some inefficient watch pausing on my part), and it definitely felt harder so I came home feeling a bit disheartened on Sunday but have I mentioned its cold here and that running in the cold is hard? Its no surprise that I found this weeks run more difficult that putting in a downhill plod one balmy March day like the last time I ran this distance.

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41km into my first marathon!

My goal in London is to come in under 3hrs 30 minutes (I was 3:35 in Barcelona). This would give me a qualifying time for Chicago and maybe even Boston, but seeing the photo of my at the finish line reminded that all I wanted to do in Barcelona was finish. No watch, no time pressures, no racing, just get to the finish line, and I am certain that I will finish at London with my friends and family there to support me. Last year, I didn’t know if I had it in me to complete the course, this year I know without fail I will cross that finish line, maybe not with a sub 3:30 time, but I will definitely finish, and somewhere in my training schedule I forgot that completing a marathon is a huge achievement and that is all that really matters.

With a little help from my (new) friends

After last weeks brick workout, I spent some time reading over my plan and realised that I am actually almost 3 weeks ahead of where I should be in my triathlon plan, but slightly behind in my marathon training plan, especially with my long runs. This means I didn’t even have to do the ridiculous freezing cold ride I did last weekend… but thats a different matter.

To fix this I decided I would put in a 16 mile run on Saturday to get myself back on track, however I only managed just short of 13… and I wouldn’t have even got that far if it wasn’t for a new found friend. This weekend I experienced the worst part of Michigan’s winter, the ice!! Running in the cold is hard enough but about 10 miles into my run on Saturday morning I hit a patch of thick ice and then the pavement in quick succession. I fell so quickly that my knees and face hit the floor at the same time… my arms didn’t even try to get involved. Now normally an incident like this would have sent me home in tears (I wasn’t seriously hurt but I did end up with a few scrapes and bruises and a hole in my favourite leggings), but luckily for me I had made a new friend over the course of the run and he pulled me up and we kept on going. Pretty impressive since he went down about 1.5 seconds before I did. He also gave me a lift home from the run cutting off my last 3 miles which given the cold and my sore knees I was totally grateful for.

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Run was tough but my splits weren’t bad to maybe it is just the cold??

I did notice that I found the run really tough, and I don’t know if its because I am out of shape, or not used to running in the extreme cold. If anybody has any advice about this please let me know but I am hoping that 13 miles in the freezing cold = 16 in regular temperatures?? If anyone can advise me on how true this is, or how to get over it, please drop a comment below because either way I am going to have to man the hell up and put in some serious miles next weekend to get myself back on track!

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My new tuesday night run club (I know I have been talking about the cold but Tuesday was 16 degrees compared to -9 today!). Photo credit to Ann Arbor Running Co, and Parker Performance.