2017: The year without a marathon

Enjoying the Devon country lanes…

When I pulled out of Vienna marathon back in the spring, I told myself that it was just a case of life getting in the way of my training, that it was just a temporary blip, that my motivation would come back soon enough. I told myself that I could start over in the summer, make the most of the sunshine, hit some of my time goals and finish with a sub-5 in Berlin to end the year.

But work got busy, that crazy heatwave happened, and somehow my motivation didn’t come back. I was struggling to even finish my 5ks, and my pace plummeted. For the first training cycle ever, I found myself dreading my long runs to the point of making excuses not to do them. And my carefully planned buffer of cut-back weeks dwindled, the mileage stayed low, and I found myself in complete denial of my September marathon as the weeks ticked by.

In theory, at this point I still have 3 more long runs on the schedule. I could still ramp up the mileage and make my way round those 26.2 miles in September. But the tough question I’ve had to ask myself recently is: ‘do you still want this?’

On paper, of course I do. I’ve been SO lucky to secure a Berlin ballot place and I feel awful at the idea of giving that up when there are others out there who would love my spot. I love marathons, I love the satisfaction of hitting those increasingly high miles on my weekend long runs, of feeling my body getting stronger, seeing the shorter runs get faster and faster. I love the atmosphere on race weekend; feeling like a bit of a celebrity wandering round a new city with my race bag, and with my bib and medal on race day.

But right now, at this point in time, I don’t want it enough.

It’s true what they say about 90% of marathon training being in the mind. Since mentally giving up (and that’s exactly what the issue has been) I’ve been struggling with not just motivation, but with the miles. I’ve found myself taking walking breaks on 5k recovery runs, and I’ve been struggling to get my pace back down into the 9s even over that distance. I haven’t been to parkrun all year. I’ve only hit double digits ONCE since my last half marathon back in the spring.

How running SHOULD make you feel.

I know that deep down, I still love the sport. I still want to get my sub-2 half, my sub-5 full, and to push myself on the shorter distances. I want to explore some more off road trails, to try new events and to work harder with my cross training, my running form, and to feel strong again.

In the past I’ve always seen a goal race as a way to motivate myself. Counting down the weeks has got me out the door, and having a plan gives my sessions a purpose, and smaller goals to hit along the way. But this year, for some reason each event I’ve done has only led to increasing worry, anxiety, and a lack of confidence in my fitness, my ability, and my commitment.

I’ve run 3 half marathons this year. Whilst yes, I managed to complete each one, I was left feeling flat at the finish line. I’ve always thought that a DNS was a sign of weakness, of giving up, of laziness… But this year, I’ve learnt that it’s far better for me personally than finishing for the sake of it. It’s not worth pushing through the miles when your heart isn’t in it.

So in short, I’ve decided to DNS Berlin. I’ve also decided that I’m not going to book a spring marathon – or any other races in the meantime – until I can get out of this rut and find that joy again. I need to build back my weekly routine, to finally look forward to those short mid-week runs, the cross-training sessions, and to building my mileage on the trails at the weekends.

I’m sure there’ll be plenty of races in my diary next year. I just want to do them justice. And in the meantime, I’m still looking forward to a weekend in Berlin – and I’ll be cheering all of you lovely runners on from the sidelines!

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Have you ever DNS’d a big race? How did you feel?

Struggling with nerves before a long run

You’d think that after 2 marathons, my brain would have gotten over the whole ‘ok, you need to run quite a long way now’ thing.

Erm, or not.

I recently mapped out an A-to-B route for one of my long runs, which I’ll be doing the weekend after next. (I was originally going to do it this weekend, but decided to give the 16 miler another go instead, and use this one as my last long run before the taper). Mapped out like that, it looks like a flipping long way:

Long Run Route

It’s actually Hampton Court to Worplesdon/Guildford, so not the whole thing! About 18-20 miles if all goes well. So still pretty far. (It takes 30 mins by train, and having also cycled the route I know it’s not something to be taken lightly!)

But I’ve done 18 milers before. I’ve done 16 milers, 17 milers, and 2 full marathons. And I did alright.

So why am I freaking out about running that distance this time round?

This seems to happen every year. I sign up for a marathon, I get to the 16-mile point, and suddenly I start to get so many doubts and insecurities when faced with the distance.

Last year, I did my 16 miler at the Kingston Breakfast Run, and crossed the finish line with a big grin, feeling strong and capable:

Kingston Breakfast Run 16m Finish Line

I think this year’s tendon injury has really set me back; not just physically, but mentally, too. My training started so well, with 5k and 10k PBs, and sub-10:00 miles for my 12 miler (unheard of for me!)

But each time I run, I worry about the niggle. I’m hyper aware of every ache and twinge, and I’m convinced it’s going to flare up again. I’m conscious of my bad running form, of my weak core and wobbly ankles and overpronation. And I’m starting to convince myself that I’m not strong enough to run long distance.

In previous years, I’ve hit tough patches in a long run and been able to power through them. This time round, I’m finding it harder and harder to stop myself from taking a walking break when it gets tough. I’m more sporadic, and feel like the mental side of things is letting me down.

My leg IS holding up ok, and I know that my body is capable of the distance. I’m faster than before, doing more cross training, and I’m progressing well. But I’m worried that I’ve psyched myself out – that I’ve lost the mental strength which has got me through those tough final miles in the past.

And without the mental strength, it almost doesn’t matter how much training I put in – I end up walking or stopping when I’ve still got energy in the tank and miles in my legs, and I could kick myself for wasting the long runs the way I’ve been doing.

Please tell me I’m not the only one!?

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Have you ever faced this problem? How did you snap yourself out of it?

… Anyone fancy running 18 miles through Surrey or London with me in a couple of weeks!?

A bit of winter running motivation

A few months ago, I signed up to the Runners World daily motivation emails – and there have been a few absolute gems. Unfortunately, I tend to read them and then just store them away; which means that by the time I need a bit of inspiration, I’ve completely forgotten them. So I decided to pull together a few of my favourites, and share them with you!

If – like me – you need a bit of a kick up the bum, a bit of a confidence boost, or just fancy a few happy thoughts for your next training run (especially at this time of year!) then take a read. And if you like these, then I’d definitely recommend signing up to the Runners World ‘Quote of the day’ emails – there’s pleeenty more where these came from 🙂

Running Motivation 1

Running Motivation 3

Running Motivation 4

Running Motivation 2

Running Motivation 5

Running Motivation 7

Running Motivation 6

Running Motivation 8

Running Motivation 10

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How do you motivate yourself to get out there in the cold and the dark? Do you have any tips or tricks?

5 handy tips for big training sessions

When it comes to marathon training, I’ve pretty much sussed out the weekly long run – the route, the kit, fuelling and hydration and pushing through the tough bits – but I’m still a fairly novice cyclist, so when the reality of my upcoming 100-mile cycle event hit me, I might have freaked out a little. (Ok, a lot).

I’m cycling the Prudential RideLondon 100 on August 2nd, to raise money for the Devon Air Ambulance Trust (an incredible organisation that saved my Dad’s life a couple of months ago). When the magazine came through the door, it still seemed a looong way off, and I registered without thinking too much about it. Since then, I’ve managed a few cycle commutes (14-mile round trip) and I’ve done Guildford to Brighton (42-45 miles) twice on the hybrid.

100 miles is a bit further than that.

I should have started building up my distance on the road bike weeks ago. But if I’m completely honest, the idea of heading out on a long cycle – solo, and on unfamiliar roads – scared me.

Finally, after weeks of procrastinating, on Saturday I finally bit the bullet and set off on a 100km solo cycle through the Surrey hills.

60-mile Surrey cycle

And you know what? I survived. In fact, it was actually quite fun. Yes, I got lost (multiple times – the route above was meant to be a neat loop!). And yes, I completely failed on the nutrition front and hit the wall massively at about 50 miles… But on the plus side, I didn’t faceplant instead of unclipping from the pedals; I didn’t accidentally end up on the A3; I didn’t get hit by a car; my phone (i.e. Google Maps) didn’t die on me, and I made it home unscathed (albeit with crazy tan lines). Result!

Whilst they didn’t stop the nerves completely, I found that a lot of the tips and tricks I’d picked up during my marathon training applied just as well to a long bike ride, and really helped me to feel a bit more confident about the whole thing:

1) Prepare, prepare, prepare!

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail, right? (Or yknow, something a little less melodromatic). If there’s anything I’ve learnt over the past couple of years, it’s this: You can never be too prepared! Sort out your kit, and lay it out ready to go; plan your route, and print off a map if you think you might need one; work out your fuel and hydration (not just what you’ll eat and drink, but also how you’ll carry it with you) and add it to your kit pile. The last thing you want is to be running around like a headless chicken trying to find your socks when you’re meant to be heading out the door!

2) Plan your route carefully

If you’re attempting a new distance, it can be a bit daunting, and you might want to break it up into smaller sections. ’15 miles’ sounds a lot tougher than ‘2 10ks and a parkrun’, for example! And when it comes to planning a route, the options are endless: Out-and-back? Big loop? Small loops? A-to-B? Whilst this is really down to personal preference, it’s worth thinking about the logistics: if you want to stick closer to home, repeating a smaller loop is a better option than a long out-and-back slog. And if you fancy the A-to-B option, how will you get to/from the start/finish? Will friends be joining you along the way?

3) Pick your time wisely

If you have plans that afternoon, you’re going to want to get it out the way first thing. Equally, if it’s going to be a late one the night before, chances are you won’t be heading out at the crack of dawn! And that’s fine – schedule it for a time that works best for YOU. That said, if you’re training for an event with an early start, it’s a good idea to schedule some of your longer sessions for that time of day – breakfast logistics are as much a part of training as the session itself, after all 😉

4) Accept the worst case scenarios

Fact: Things WILL go wrong at some point in training. We’ve all been there! Whatever worries you have – getting lost, hitting the wall, kit malfunctions, tummy trouble, mechanical problems, chafing – make a list, and then think about how you’ll work around them. Whether that’s getting familiar with Google Maps; planning a route via shops or loo stops; learning how to fix a puncture, or packing some vaseline – trust me when I say that you’ll overcome it in training, and you’ll overcome it on the day!

5) Avoid time goals

When it comes to longer sessions, don’t stress about the pace – especially if you’ve not covered the distance before. If you need to slow down, walk, stop and stretch, make a pit stop, throw a bit of a wobbly – do it! Leave the finish times and mile splits for race day, and just focus on getting the miles in your legs (or wheels). It might feel counter-productive if you’ve got a time goal in mind, but trust in the training and you’ll be amazed by how much the adrenaline, crowds and taper will carry you along on the day!

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What are your go-to tips and tricks for getting through the big miles? I’d love to hear them!