Outside the afternoon rained on… He sighed heavily. The books were stacked up all around, finished and bleak-looking. He was tired of reading. He sat his mug down on the table with a grunt. He was tired of tea.
He hauled himself to his feet, walked stiffly over to the picture window… He was tired of walking around with his joints creaking like an old man. He had a sudden passing desire for broccoli.
Afternoon workout was an hour and a half away; time to begin thinking about it. He was tired of psyching himself for workouts.
He was tired of being tired.
From, “Once a Runner” by John L. Parker, Jr
We’ve all been there. Tired. Tired to the point of being so tired, that we’re tired of being tired. Tired of doing all the things in life that we love. Tired of running, of reading about running, of drinking tea instead of alcohol, of eating right and of course of being sore. Tired because perhaps, our goals seem so distant, or perhaps, not as important as we convince ourselves that they are. Does your race time really matter? Isn’t work, friends and family more important?
Well to this runner, and I imagine most of my running friends, that race time, and the period of training leading up to it, is pretty much all that matters. Tired, because all our energy is engaged in a task. A task that will see us arrive on race day in perfect shape to achieve our goal. Me? I was tired. Tired of striving for better times, tired of not achieving what my training suggested I was capable of. Tired of having PBs that were not in the same league as my training partners. Tired of not being a sub 3 hour Marathon runner!
This was me as I began a twelve week block of training leading up to the Plusnet Yorkshire Marathon. I was struggling to snap out of a negative, tired phase in my running. Like everyone else, If I’m not running, I generally think about running and of how to improve. This generally doesn’t help lift my mood. Books, podcasts, films, websites, anything that might light the spark that turns me into a better runner, or at least just gets me motivated again. We read and/or listen to articles by runners, coaches, nutritionists, bio-mechanical specialists and anybody else that wants to have a say. But rarely does something strike a chord with me quite like this one simple word. A word that stuck with me throughout my training, and throughout the race itself.
One morning I was listening to Cloud259 on the way to work. Cloud259 is a podcast, the USA’s version of the excellent Marathon Talk. Cloud259 gets it’s name from the search for a sub 3 hour marathon – 2 hours 59 minutes. On this particular episode, they were interviewing American runner, Christo Landry (Team Mizuno runner, but small fish in a big pond really!). Like Marathon Talk’s, “If you had 6 months perfect training… how fast could you run a mile?” Cloud259 have a final question. “What one piece of advise would you give to somebody looking to break 3 hours for the marathon?”
Christo Landry said just one word. PATIENCE.
Further questioning revealed that yes, he meant in the race, but also in training. That we shouldn’t expect things to happen too quickly. A block of training is designed to get you to where you want to be at the end of that block. Not at the start of it. The penny dropped, the spark was ignited.
I’d had some hideous races over 10k and 5k in the lead up to this 12 week block of training. That’s when I got stuck in the ‘tired’ phase of running. Everything was negative and I had no confidence. Hearing the word ‘Patience’, suddenly made me stop stressing. Even before it was explained, I knew. Your ‘Target Race’ – the same as I’ve discussed previously regarding Charlie Spedding’s autobiography – is the race to be patient for, the day to become the butterfly. Anything in the lead up to that moment is not important. Yes, I want the best times I can produce, but ultimately, its just more training in the bank for your main goal.
Patience is not something I am blessed with. Put me behind the wheel of a car, in front of a computer screen or in a queue at the supermarket checkout and you’ll soon see my lack of patience in abundance! Even the fact that I have become known as pacepusher perhaps reflects this. But somehow, hearing the word in this context, especially with regard to the training block, it all made sense. Follow the plan, trust the training and don’t judge the results, or your ability, until the race you are targeting.
Patience on race day is something I would read about and consider throughout the training block too. After being introduced to Julian Goater’s book, “The Art of Running Faster”, thanks to Disco Dave, I would find myself constantly practicing pacing, running technique, efficiency, breathing and race craft. It brought new life to my running and I found myself in love with the sport again.
My twelve week training schedule would be a little different from the rigidity of that by Pfitzinger and Douglas that I followed before the Manchester marathon. It would also contain about a third less mileage per week. In Manchester I failed in my sub 3 hour target. The pace felt fairly tough early on and I felt pretty broken by the half way point of the race. Therefore, it seemed obvious to me that what I needed before my next attempt was more basic speed. Secondly, I felt that I began the race tired; therefore I would reduce my mileage, include a rest day each week and have a longer taper. Thirdly, I was very nervous before Manchester and I think this also affected my performance. So, it again seemed like a fairly obvious decision to race more often in the build up to the Yorkshire marathon.
The key would be to include shorter speed interval sessions, more races and less mileage without sacrificing the endurance aspect of the training. So, I decided to draw up my own training plan. Now anybody that knows about my training plan for the West Highland Way Race in 2009 will know that when I draw up a plan, I don’t actually draw up a plan. I just make it up as I go along. It worked then, and I was confident that I could make it work again. I have enough experience to know all the main requirements for a Marathon training plan and I knew that this approach would give me more flexibility, leave me more inclined to except the need for rest/easy days when I needed them and that it would keep me more relaxed throughout my training.
So each week would have the following basic structure:
Mon – Easy run or rest
Tues – Club track session
Wed – Medium Long run
Thur – Club speed session
Fri – Rest
Sat – parkrun (easy or race)
Sun – Long run
Total approx. 40-60 miles
Returning to the theme, this would also allow me to be more patient. I could take recovery when I wanted, move sessions around and let the improvements develop at my own pace. It would also allow me to run with the Club, and with friends more often, further increasing my enjoyment of the training and again, keeping me relaxed.
Training had its highs and its lows. Yes I had the odd moan when things didn’t go well, but I tried not to dwell. I kept looking at the big picture. Patience! I was enjoying the track sessions, but I wasn’t really seeing improvements in my race times over shorter distances. Patience!
The breakthrough came in early September. I ran the Highland Perthshire Half Marathon on 6th September, which was a fantastic event. My time of 1:26.53 was not the time I was looking for, but I’d had a much better run and there were many positives. I ran with patience, sitting in a pack and waiting for the right time to up the pace. I got a bit carried away though upping the pace downhill and struggled in the last few miles. However, it was the closest I had been to my PB since I set it in 2008! Patience.
I was racing again the following weekend over 10 miles. So, flexibility and all that, I increased my medium long run to 20 miles on the Wednesday evening. It was horrendous. I struggled from start to finish. It was a real ‘grit your teeth’ kind of run. Patience – 20 miles in the bank for race day. The Cumbrae 10 mile road race arrived. A club championship race, I was hoping for about 65 minutes. Again I sat in a pack for 5 miles and then started to push on. I finished first from the club and 9th overall, in 63.35. Delighted.
The Runners World race pace predictor was now suggesting a 2:56.29 marathon. Suddenly I was starting to believe that patience really IS a virtue!
I had two more key sessions that I wanted to complete. Both would leave me full of confidence if they went well.
The first was my last long run. Three weeks out, it would be a 20 mile race pace session that I designed based upon others I had read about. The session would be 2 miles warm up, followed by 4 x 2 miles @ 6:40 m/m pace with one mile recoveries (approx. 7:30 pace) then 2 x 2 miles @ 6:30 m/m pace again with one mile recovery. I completed the session exactly as planned and got a real boost from it.
The second session, 12 days out, was classic Pfitzinger, an 8 mile run including 3 x 1 mile intervals, with 3 minute jog recoveries. I ran the intervals at 5:58, 5:31 and 5:42. This was much faster than prior to Manchester when I ran 6:02, 6:04 and 5:59 with longer 5 minute jog recoveries. Now all I had to do was endure the taper and I knew that I had a great chance of attaining my target – just one more spell of patience!
On the Friday morning of race week, I climbed onto the scales. I had reached my goal weight of 11st 7lb for the first time, having been 11st 8lb throughout the final week. I had been losing only 1 or 2lb a week throughout the training period, consuming a basic level of about 2500 calories, which was increased if the training volume required it. Yes, I’d even been patient in my weight loss!
On to race weekend then… I was staying at my parent’s house near York so I had a reasonable sleep on the Friday night. Then after an easy parkrun on Saturday morning at Pontefract Racecourse, I spent the day drinking coffee, watching my Nephew play football, shopping and eating pizza! I was very relaxed, more so than before any marathon previously. I felt in control, ready to race and ready to get the job done. All my kit was ready and for once, I even knew exactly what my race strategy was! I was in bed reasonably early and slept as well as could be expected. I wasn’t nervous though, I was excited and I just kept going over everything in my mind, making sure I knew what I was doing and when.
Race day morning and I’m up and eating my tried and tested breakfast (50g porridge with 75g blueberries and 250ml skimmed milk – exact I know!), I didn’t want it now, but knew my body would later. We (Me, Dad and Mrs pacepusher) were soon heading towards York in the correctly forecast thick fog. The organisers had emailed and text competitors over the two days previous warning of traffic disruption and a possible delay to the start of the race. In the end, thankfully, it didn’t cause any problems, but the fog didn’t lift until after I had finished the race. During the journey I was forced to admit to Mrs pacepusher that I was finally feeling a little bit nervous. A little bit of nerves is a good thing though right?
I had a quick chat with the 2:59.00 pacer in the start area, to reassure myself as much as anything else that this was the right strategy. He suggested running just ahead of him for a few miles to keep out of the pack, but I knew I was safer keeping him in my sights and making sure that I started at the right pace.
I was soon nervously in the starting area waiting for England Rugby Legend, Matt Dawson to get us underway. As soon as I crossed the line, nerves disappeared and I settled in the group with the pacer. Patience. Patience. Patience!
Original photo from http://www.yorkpress.co.uk
Mile 1 – 6:48 seconds. “Congrats Mr Pacer, bang on time” I joked, and it seemed to break the ice in the group. From then on, those that wanted to chat and joke did, whilst others just ran quietly along side. My experience of running in a pack in the two build up races was invaluable. I was able to relax into the pace and at times just tune into the sound of the groups foot fall.
Running through York City Centre and past the Minster was great, and the crowds were excellent. I saw Mrs pacepusher and my Dad here and gave them a reassuring thumbs up before we headed out into the countryside. The crowds had made us all pick up the pace a little and miles 2 and 3 were 6:40 and 6:37. It was at this point that I realised the pace would be exactly what I would want and that I would stick with the group until at least 20 miles. Patience.
The chat continued between a few of us, but largely just me and the pacer. He was called Martin Rea and he was using the race as a training run for the 100k in Doha. We now realised that we had some further common ground and that I knew many of the names he was talking about, including amongst others, Jo Zakrzewski, who was also running the marathon that day and would go on to finish 3rd lady.
As the miles passed by, I couldn’t believe I was just chatting, laughing and joking with guys in the group. 10k – 41:45. Every now and then I would notice a group member starting to breathe a bit too heavily, and then they’d drop off from the group. I felt sorry for them. I knew how the rest of their day was going to pan out. It had happened to me in Manchester. 20k – 1:23:57 (42:12). Martin (the pacer) commented on how comfortably I was running, and he was right, it felt so easy that at the half way point (1:29:36) I started to push on a little. Mrs pacepusher’s final words to me that morning were, “Don’t be a dick!” I had told Martin this in the first half of the run and as I began to pull away he shouted to me, “Hey, don’t be a dick!” Brilliant! I settled back into the group… patience!
Mile 14 and another reassuring thumbs up to Dad and Mrs pacepusher who had arrived just seconds before I did! I was so pleased to see them though and let them know I was still in good shape. This little out and back section had very large support. We’d been saying how quickly the miles had been ticking by and now it was evident why. Between us, the group had picked up the pace again 6:27 and 6:36 slightly uphill! Experience told and Martin suggested at the drink station on 15 miles that we all grab a drink, slow down and get our breath back – sound advice. I was strict with my fuelling strategy throughout, knowing what had worked in training. A gel and water at miles 3, 9, 15 and 21, and Powerade at miles 6 12 and 18, worked perfectly.
Photo taken from http://www.yorkpress.co.uk
Miles 14 to about 19.5 are considered by those in the know to be the hardest section of the course. 14 to 18 is a long straight gently undulating stretch from the turning point of one out and back to another. You can see a long way ahead, and start to see people coming back towards you before you even reach the second out and back stretch at about 16.5 miles. This is where the fog was our friend! At no point could you see more than 100-200 meters ahead of yourself. Mentally, it made the section much easier than I imagine it would have been otherwise. Course knowledge can be valuable. I had researched as much as I could and knew where the hills were, and about these two out and back sections. The pacer was clearly reading our minds though. As we headed down to the 18 mile turning point (30k – 2:07:02, 43:05 10k split), I think all of us remaining in the group were thinking that the slightly uphill stretch back to the left hand turn at 19.5 miles would be a very long drag. Having run it last year, Martin advised us not to worry; that it wouldn’t feel as long on the way back. He was right and we actually picked the pace up through 18-20 miles (6:44 & 6:38).
The pace continued like this until the 24 mile marker (40k – 2:48:26, 41:24 10k split, my fastest 10k split of the race!) when Martin (pacer) said he was slowing down a bit to try and get as many people through under the magic three hour mark as he could. He suggested those feeling good push on. I didn’t look back, but I don’t think anybody else came with me at this stage. I don’t think I picked the pace up, but I certainly maintained it, and I was picking off those in front of me one by one.
I hadn’t struggled at all up until the 24 mile point. Running in a group had definitely helped, and any low points had been quickly dispelled by dropping back slightly for a short time, following someone else’s foot fall, then confidently moving back to the front of the pack. I only had to do this twice as I remember, once just after 15 miles, and once after a gel at 21 miles. This was the only time I had to take a High 5 gel from an aid station. I had carried 3 of my preferred SIS gels from the start, and knew I’d be using the High 5 brand at this point. I had tried them in training and although I think they’re rotten, I knew I’d be ok. However, I didn’t even know that a company would be daft enough to make an apple flavoured gel!!! It was disgusting, and for a short period I thought I was going to start being sick. Thankfully it settled fairly quickly and I was back at the front of the group. Thinking about it now, the 24 mile point was the first 3 mile split that I didn’t take on fuel other than a few sips of water (that’s all there was). Whilst fatigue must have played a part, it is perhaps no coincidence that I struggled from this point onwards. Perhaps another gel would have seen me able to pick up the pace a little over the closing two miles?
There is a nasty hill at about 25.5 miles. Before my discovery of Julian Goater’s book, I would have been dreading this. Equally, if I’d been having a bad day I’d have been dreading this. As it was, a runner (In a ‘Drumstick Lolly’ running vest – Classy!) that I had passed at about 25 miles, had just come back past me. I knew I would take him again on the hill, and with short fast strides, I passed him again, and then another runner before reaching the long downhill finish. I now, finally, allowed myself to believe I had done it; that I had smashed the three hour barrier. However, there was a female runner a fair bit ahead, and two angry runners behind that wanted their places back. I opened my stride and went for it – no more need for patience! However, unsure exactly where the finish line was (it was further back than the start line had been – I should have noted this whilst I was waiting at the start. School boy error!) I still held a little something back until I saw the gantry. I gave a massive celebratory fist pump in the direction of Mrs pacepusher and my Dad (still frantically waving his Bradford City scarf to help me spot them more easily), passed the female, and held off the chasing two, crossing the line in a fist pumping frenzy in an official time of 2:57:09 – BOOM!
I waited in the finish area and congratulated guys from the group that were coming in under the three hours. I was delighted to see one lad who I grabbed and hugged as he burst into tears crossing the line. We had caught up with him at about 21 miles and he had voiced his disappointment that his sub 3 was now gone. “No” said the pacer, “we’re 2 minutes up, just keep me in sight and you’ll do it”. The lad had dug in, joined the group, and then managed to stay with it. A great effort, I know from experience how hard it is when the group catch you. To then pick up your pace and stick with them is a monumental effort and a hugely deserved first sub 3. I knew why he was crying!
As a group, we applauded the pacer over the line at almost exactly 2:59.00. I shook his hand and thanked him, then headed off to find Mrs pacepusher and Dad. I was feeling very emotional and hugging Mrs pacepusher almost reduced me to tears. Just talking to Dad about the race whilst walking back to the car had the same effect!
After I had collected my bag, and put some warm clothes on, I spotted the pacer. Taking Mrs pacepusher to meet him I said, “Tell her what I wasn’t”. He laughed, and trying to be polite, said, “Well he wasn’t a D.I.C.K.!”
pacepusher. Not Me!
A couple of days after the race, there was an article by Meb Keflezighi on Facebook, courtesy of competitor.com. American, Meb Keflezighi, won the Boston Marathon this year, and is a fellow lover of Skechers running shoes (although he gets his free!). Here’s how his article finished,
The marathon is all about patience. When you have a bad day, don’t let it knock you off track. Keep your main goal in focus, stay healthy and gain confidence through consistent training. Imagine the excitement of the last few miles of the race at the end of your long runs and let that carry you to the finish line.
Patience readers, it is indeed a virtue!