Today marks the 7 week countdown until my first marathon distance trail run, with Man vs. Lakes. Crap.
If I’m being honest, preparation has been mixed. I smashed out a Tough Mudder run a few weeks ago and really enjoyed it, and felt great. But I still keep coming back to that feeling of being underprepared, nervous and tense. It’s a different ball game. Course. Distance. Stress.
I know I’m not the first to get these kind of pre-run jitters, and I won’t be the last, but it does highlight a personal issue of mine around confidence. I could run the course several times and still feel nervous about doing it again.
I did have a training plan in place for this year, but, life does kind of get in the way. That’s not to make excuses, but instead acknowledge reality.
My ankle knock at the end of last year hasn’t helped. Before Tough Mudder a few weeks ago I hadn’t run more than 15k continuously on trail, maybe out of worry of injuring it again. This run in coming up in July, being a full marathon, is around 42km.
That said I am starting to feel spurred on by the challenge. I’m not a professional runner, but just someone who enjoys doing this kind of thing, and I want to do the best I can in it. And with the reality that there is only 7 weeks to go, I just have to focus and do what I can with the time I have.
Getting the balance right
There’s that unwritten rule with first time / amateur marathon runners that you shouldn’t push for the full distance when training, especially not in one sitting before the big day, but you should definitely be fully aware of what you’re getting yourself into.
So over the next 7 weeks I’ve figured I can build one long, steady run (LSR) once a week in my training plan, and then a couple of shorter runs (SSRs) to, say, the gym and back, or a lap around the business park I work at. They’re more to work out knots in the legs and keep me fresh, rather than hammer my legs for a fastest time.
The two keywords right now for me are balance, and adapt.
I know I don’t have time to do the distances I wanted to do – because of injury, personal life commitments, work etc. But what I can do is do my best to get comfortable, and build that mental and body confidence. If for some reason something comes up in the diary, that’s OK, just shift the plan around to get something done that week. If I have a spare 30 minutes one evening, why not go for a quick jog to relieve that nervousness.
Looking at the course, the mixed training could work to my advantage. The route isn’t a straight forward road run. It starts with a run across a bay ffs! There will be parts that are slower pace (Rat Race’s Vertical Kilometre anyone?), and others which are quicker (technical trail through woods). If I can work out an average and stick to it I know I’ll be fine.
While they’re two different types of course, I think some of the lessons learned I picked up from doing Snowdon have helped so far with preparation.
With each new LSR I’ve given myself about ~4km increment increase. That’s not to say I must run an extra 4km every week (I don’t hate myself that much) but that if I’m feeling good after a long run, take a quick break and then try and squeeze in 1 extra lap around the park I train in. Even if it’s at a snail’s pace or walking, get it done. Go for distance, not worry about fastest time. I’ve been doing it a couple of weeks now and it’s a great way to visualise and practice that final straight into the finish.
I’ve run long distances before over different kinds of trail, and so I do feel like I have an idea of what to expect. What’s helped is seeing things on YouTube, like this one from Mudstacle and Neil Bailey so I can visualise the course and see what it’s about. Who knew selfie sticks & GoPros could be so handy?!
Taking into account Tough Mudder #4 at the start of May, I’ve been back on the trail paths running to work up stamina again. The first week of training after Tough Mudder didn’t go too well, but then again, seeing the positive, I managed to do just shy of my target. I was still getting back into using the right food, gels, running technique and running with a somewhat full kitbag.
This week has been much better. I ran out a half marathon distance on Saturday, using my current kit and gels to try and get back into the swing of it. My knees have felt a little sore the last few days despite stretching and taking it easy on rest days (maybe new insoles needed?) but aside from that I’ve felt great and comfortable running at that kind of pace and distance again.
Even better, I’ve felt great for days afterwards. My mood, appetite and even sleep patterns feel like they’re getting into some kind of routine.
Looking at the plan, I know there’s a good 8-9km gap between my final training week, and the actual overall distance. Because reasons. Aside from there being no real time to get the full distance, speaking to other runners and reading forums this seems like the most logical approach. Too much distance in a short space of time risks greater injury. Why knacker myself out so close to the race? I also realise that probably around the mid/end June time I might need to reduce distance to probably half, so around 15-18km, just to help reduce the strain and refocus. As I’m learning, rest is a big part of training.
Also, there is an element of hope that will come from the crowd cheering and that sudden hit of adrenaline close to the finish line to help make up that 8km gap. It’s a big IF, but as I’ve found out on many different competitions, the crowd has a massive effect on your running style and mentality. Running in the pack can help you push through a couple of km without realising it.
This week’s aim? Repeat last week – go for that 23km/half marathon distance again. And then add a little bit more. Just 1 more lap, and see how I feel.
As much as it’s a big personal challenge, both physically and mentally, I want to finish in some kind of respectable time and manner – but keep reminding myself why I’m doing these kinds of things, and to just have fun with it.
So with 7ish weeks to go, I’m feeling somewhat comfortable, if slightly nervous. But I know I can manage it.