The Journey Ahead…

So it seems my last blog caused a mixed reaction, most have been great, wishing me luck and a few questioning my sanity. I’d thought I would expand a little on the goal / target and discuss my rationale and driver behind such lofty ambitions.

Firstly let me say this…the target in my opinion is attainable. As I’ve said many times over the years, I am a huge believer in never putting limits on performance however, there needs to be a degree of realism to your targets. There’s little point in me saying that I want to run 2h:10m marathon as no matter how hard I trained, this would never ever happen and I would be setting myself up for failure. However a stretch target of 2h:45m for the marathon is, in my opinion achievable; especially when you give yourself until October 2018 to attain the target. Will it be easy? Of course not. Could I fall short? Yes. Is it worth the risk? Yes.

You see, as I’ve said before, this project is less so about hitting the target and more about learning what it takes to hit the target. As Miley Cyrus once sang “Ain’t about how fast I get there. Ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side, it’s the climb!”…you can tell I live in a house full of daughters. I’m expecting to learn lots about myself, physiology, phycology and sports performance during this project.

The one advantage that I have in this project is that I have some quick gains to make…namely, I’m currently a chubby northern monkey and weigh in around 13 stone 7 pounds. Given that I am 5ft 10 inches tall my BMI is less than ideal and my racing weight for someone of my height is around 11 stone. Simple maths states that every excess pound costs adds around 1 minute to my marathon time so, hitting my ideal weight would be a drop of around 35 pounds which, as a result would drop a whopping 35 minutes off my marathon time. Before you all jump on and say “It’s not as simple as that!” let me say “Yes, I know it isn’t that simple” I understand that you need to manage strength and performance closely when you’re attempting to drop weight.

Apart from the weight management there is another easy change to make that will aid performance and also reduce the likelihood of injury to boot….strength and conditioning, or as I call it ‘physical preparation’. By introducing twice weekly, progressive and targeted strength and conditioning training I should be able to gain the requisite muscular stiffness to apply and withstand the forces produced when training for a hard marathon effort. This in itself will probably shave between 5 and 10 minutes during the course of a marathon.

So with targeted weight management and strength training we’re already talking about a possible improvement of between 40 to 45 minutes. That would still leave me short of the target / goal…so where would the rest come from? Training…the training for such an endeavour would require me to increase my weekly training volume. Luckily for me, I have a long window in which to increase the volume. The rest of 2016 will be about laying the basic foundations to ensure that I am able to start a gradual increase in volume during 2017. This phase is what I call my “Train to Train Phase”. Over the next 6 to 8 weeks I will just focus on getting my body prepared to start a gradual increase in training volume starting mid to late January 2017. The 2017 will see me take my weekly mileage up slowly as the weeks and months pass. All the time balancing the volume with the need to recover. I may need to shift my training week from the traditional 7 day training cycle to a 10 day cycle as the volume increases. This is to ensure that I get plenty of recovery between hard sessions as the volume and intensity increase. This is something I will watch closely during the coming months and throughout the project..!

So that’s pretty much it…my plan is a threefold attack; weight management, physical preparation and more training. Simple eh?

I have no doubt that this will be a rollercoaster ride of discovery and will give me plenty of success and undoubtedly a reasonable dose of failure too. Keep watching out, I will blog as I progress along the journey if you want to see my training just buddy me up.So it seems my last blog caused a mixed reaction, most have been great, wishing me luck and a few questioning my sanity. I’d thought I would expand a little on the goal / target and discuss my rationale and driver behind such lofty ambitions.

Firstly let me say this…the target in my opinion is attainable. As I’ve said many times over the years, I am a huge believer in never putting limits on performance however, there needs to be a degree of realism to your targets. There’s little point in me saying that I want to run 2h:10m marathon as no matter how hard I trained, this would never ever happen and I would be setting myself up for failure. However a stretch target of 2h:45m for the marathon is, in my opinion achievable; especially when you give yourself until October 2018 to attain the target. Will it be easy? Of course not. Could I fall short? Yes. Is it worth the risk? Yes.

You see, as I’ve said before, this project is less so about hitting the target and more about learning what it takes to hit the target. As Miley Cyrus once sang “Ain’t about how fast I get there. Ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side, it’s the climb!”…you can tell I live in a house full of daughters. I’m expecting to learn lots about myself, physiology, phycology and sports performance during this project.

The one advantage that I have in this project is that I have some quick gains to make…namely, I’m currently a chubby northern monkey and weigh in around 13 stone 7 pounds. Given that I am 5ft 10 inches tall my BMI is less than ideal and my racing weight for someone of my height is around 11 stone. Simple maths states that every excess pound costs adds around 1 minute to my marathon time so, hitting my ideal weight would be a drop of around 35 pounds which, as a result would drop a whopping 35 minutes off my marathon time. Before you all jump on and say “It’s not as simple as that!” let me say “Yes, I know it isn’t that simple” I understand that you need to manage strength and performance closely when you’re attempting to drop weight.

Apart from the weight management there is another easy change to make that will aid performance and also reduce the likelihood of injury to boot….strength and conditioning, or as I call it ‘physical preparation’. By introducing twice weekly, progressive and targeted strength and conditioning training I should be able to gain the requisite muscular stiffness to apply and withstand the forces produced when training for a hard marathon effort. This in itself will probably shave between 5 and 10 minutes during the course of a marathon.

So with targeted weight management and strength training we’re already talking about a possible improvement of between 40 to 45 minutes. That would still leave me short of the target / goal…so where would the rest come from? Training…the training for such an endeavour would require me to increase my weekly training volume. Luckily for me, I have a long window in which to increase the volume. The rest of 2016 will be about laying the basic foundations to ensure that I am able to start a gradual increase in volume during 2017. This phase is what I call my “Train to Train Phase”. Over the next 6 to 8 weeks I will just focus on getting my body prepared to start a gradual increase in training volume starting mid to late January 2017. The 2017 will see me take my weekly mileage up slowly as the weeks and months pass. All the time balancing the volume with the need to recover. I may need to shift my training week from the traditional 7 day training cycle to a 10 day cycle as the volume increases. This is to ensure that I get plenty of recovery between hard sessions as the volume and intensity increase. This is something I will watch closely during the coming months and throughout the project..!

So that’s pretty much it…my plan is a threefold attack; weight management, physical preparation and more training. Simple eh?

I have no doubt that this will be a rollercoaster ride of discovery and will give me plenty of success and undoubtedly a reasonable dose of failure too. Keep watching out, I will blog as I progress along the journey if you want to see my training just buddy me up.

Fear of Failure…

For a while I’ve harboured a dream of being able to run a good for age marathon qualification time and yet, despite having a few good training blocks over the years, my marathon PB stands at a rather sedate, for my lofty ambitions, 3 hours and 39 minutes and often I flatter to deceive when it comes to racing.

Over the last few weeks I’ve taken a long hard look at my training and racing history and have made the following observations:

• I’m a better trainer than racer
• I am inconsistent in my training
• I make some very poor diet choices
• I will undermine my performances

Looking at the above it is very clear that if I am ever to achieve my goals I will need to get to the underlying causes of the above and work on a plan to mitigate these issues. Over the last week or so I’ve started to think about what the underlying cause of these could be. At first I came up with the usual stories that I tell myself, stuff like “my life has been busy”. “I’ve been unlucky in races”, “I can’t get good quality food when I work away” etc. etc. The truth is however much more simple than this and is something I’ve never admitted before…Fear of Failure.!

That’s right, the real truth is that I am scared that if I truly commit that I will fail and will be judged on that failure. Externally I exhibit confidence and composure, internally however, way deep at the back of my consciousness, I am in a state of fear and panic. This fear of failure manifests itself in undermining behaviours. Rather than doing the things that I know will ensure success I will start on the pathway and then, quickly find a way to undermine and destroy my progress in an attempt to save myself from the potential failure that may come with committing to the goal 100 percent.

Crazy eh? Despite kind of knowing this for the last few years it’s taken ‘til now for me to be acknowledge this and admit that I have a fear of failure!

It’s all very well and good knowing this but, how will this change my behaviours? Going forward, what will I do different? If I’m ever to truly achieve my full potential it is something I need to manage better. The first step in managing this is admitting the issue…check, done that! The next step is to recognise when I start to undermine by progress. This is a little more challenging. Often I don’t notice until it’s too late…now however, I intend to review every training session / run I complete with a critical eye. The first question I will ask is “did I attempt to undermine my progress?”. This will also be asked at the end of each training week. This will hopefully help in spotting those fear of failure symptoms earlier and allow me to intervene and halt the destructive behaviours that are associated with this.

OK, so what about the original goal? Whilst a GFA qualification is a reasonable target it should not be my final destination. I am a strong believer in never putting a ceiling on individual performance. Life and coaching has shown me many examples of people who achieve extraordinary results with a modicum of ability and a large dose of focus. For me, now that I have finally admitted to myself the real reason of my lack of progress, my goal has now be redefined entirely. I am going to work towards at 2 hour 45 minute marathon PB over the next 18 months. Wow are you crazy? That’s nearly an hour off your marathon PB! Will I achieve this? This is something I cannot determine today, but it does seem a hell of a stretch goal and is a long way off from where I am today. If I can’t even put 5 x 3 minute 55 second kilometres together today how on earth can I expect to put together 42k at that pace!!!

My plan is simple however, over the coming weeks and months I will gradually build up my volume and intensity of training, focus on my nutrition and perform regular checks on myself looking for those ‘fear of failure’ signs and symptoms. The overall aim is less so about achieving the actual time target but more about what I learn from attempting to run a 2 hour 45 minute marathon in 18 months. I may not achieve the end time however, I am certain will learn a whole lot about myself during the journey and should come out of the other side in the best shape of my life…

Wish me luck, I’m gonna need it!

Focus…

This is a blog for myself…my own personal reminder in an attempt to ensure I remain focused and on-task over the coming weeks. The idea is for me to review this every few days and see how I am progressing against the various points raised in this specific entry.

2016 for me has been, in terms of running, a up-and-down year…probably more down than up. Life, work and coaching has meant that for the second half of the year my own running took somewhat of a backwards step. This was mainly down to some inconsistent training and work / life stress that resulted in some very poor diet choices. The end result was a slow increase in weight over a period of months taking me from low 12 stone to mid 13 stone…!

Over the last two weeks I’ve been a little busy with work and coaching and, also picked up the winter cold that is currently doing the rounds. This meant that I have not been able to get any runs in for the previous two weeks…this enforced break however gave me a chance to recharge my batteries a little and also gave me a period of reflection. The upshot of this is that I finally have the desire and (excuse the pun) appetite to tackle the weighty issue of my diet. Work and life seems to be a little more balanced at the moment and I have some work stability for the next 6 months.

I’ve cleared out my race diary for the remainder of 2016 so I can focus on getting back into running again without the stress of worrying about races. My next race will be the Cleethorpes New Years Day 10k quickly followed by the Brass Monkey half-marathon two weeks later. The plan for those two races is simple…they’re just fitness tests. A chance to see how the recent training has affected the body and mind. Between now and then I will be focusing on the following;

1. Building Fitness Up
2. Weight Management / Nutrition
3. Physical Preparation

:: Building Fitness Up ::
This will be a solid block of training where I gradually increase the miles and slowly introduce some intensity to my training. The first few weeks will be mainly aerobic running with a weekly fartlek session. Then after a few weeks I’ll replace the fartlek with some Kenyan Hill work. That will probably take me right up to the two races.

:: Weight Management / Nutrition ::
This is key for performance…I have to get the weight down before I rock up to the start line at Manchester Marathon on 2nd April. The good news is that past experience has shown me that I can drop weight relatively quickly once I start regular running without impacting performance too much. Nutrition is hugely important to performance, not just in weight management but also in terms of ensuring I consume the appropriate vitamins, minerals and fuel to support my training and racing goals. There’s little point in dropping the calories if all you do is replace burnt calories with junk / empty / low value calories. Remember, not all calories are equal…the focus will be to ensure that I maintain good quality nutrition and not just drop calorie intake.

:: Physical Preparation ::
I like the term physical preparation as opposed to the traditional strength and conditioning label…the rationale for me is that I need to improve my flexibility and mobility as well as do some traditional S&C workouts. So I will brand them together, each session I do will consist of some traditional S&C exercises and will also have a section that will specifically target my extremely poor mobility and flexibility. My flexibility is so poor that it is extremely surprising that I haven’t had a significant injury.

So…that’s my plan over the next few weeks, taking me into the end of 2016 and into early 2017. Fingers crossed I will quickly drop my excess weight and ideally will be in the low 11 stone range come 2nd April.

The Journey Begins

So the journey begins….

Most great adventures start with a conversation over a few relaxed beers and mine is no different.

Going back to the 2016 Olympics I was sat in a hotel bar watching the highlights programme of the television at the corner of the bar, chatting with a couple of fellas whilst sinking a few relaxed beers. As the evening went on we ended up talking about running or more specifically marathon running. One of the fellas has previously ran a marathon for charity and another had done the Great North Run. During the ensuing conversation I made the assertion that most runners never fulfil their full potential and that, given some quality training and proper focus, the average club run could be capable of running a sub 3 hour marathon and indeed could well run a sub 2 hour 45 minute marathon. As you can imagine, this was received with a huge degree of scepticism and just a little derision. For a while I kind of put this on the back burner, not really paying it much mind however, over the last few weeks it’s started to come into my thoughts on a more regular basis. With that in mind, I’ve set myself up a little project. The aim is to take myself, a chubby, asthmatic, late 40s middle of the pack 3 hour 39 minute marathon PB runner to not only a sub 3 hour marathon runner, but a sub 2 hour 45 minute marathon runner.

This is a rather grand challenge for me, I’m a long way from running a sub 3 hour marathon let alone a sub 2 hour 45 minute. At best you’d call this a stretch target, are worst you’d call it a fantasy…in reality it’s probably somewhere in between. That said, if you shoot for the stars you may just achieve.

Whilst I may be a long way off the target there are some very obvious things I can do to aid my journey. Firstly is weight management. Today I weigh in at 187 pounds, or for those from the UK that’s 13 stone 5 pounds. This is hugely overweight for marathon performance, to get anywhere near my target I’ll need to be down at around 154 pounds or again for the benefit of those in the UK, that’s 11 stone flat. They say that every pound lost takes off around 3 seconds off your minute mile pace and I’m talking about taking 33 pounds off. Basic maths would state that the weight loss would take around 1 minute 39 seconds per mile for the same effort so the weight loss in itself should see me crack or be very close to running a sub 3 hour marathon. But what about the rest? Sure a sub 3 hour marathon is a great time however, how do I get from sub 3 to sub 2 hour 45 minute? Whilst there’s no simple solution the aim will be to be a little more focused on the training. Gradually increasing the volume, adding some strength and conditioning work and focusing heavily on quality nutrition. I feel if I nail the key components of weight, volume, strength and nutrition that I should have a very good chance of hitting the target.

So what next? Well I’ve registered a domain name for a website that I intend to use to track and blog my journey and progress…’Project164.com’. Why Project164? Well a 2 hour 44 minute marathon is 164 minutes…simple eh?  Over the next few weeks I’ll build and stand-up the website and shift the progress updates to there. In the meantime I’ll keep updating here.

Work / Life Balance

Stressed
Stressed

Stressed, frustrated, fatigued…these are three words that can be used to describe my current thought and feelings in relation to work, life and running.

Managing the mental health issues that come along with a teenage daughter who has a disability and learning difficulties is challenging to say the least. There’s seldom a day that passes by without my wife and I feeling the heavy weight of stress on our shoulders. Sometimes it can be so hard and physically draining that I can struggle to muster the strength to get out of the door for a run. Adding to that my work is a little crazy at the moment. I am in constant in demand, being pulled this way-and-that and, last minute weekend working has meant that I’ve had to pull out of two races this month.

 Last Sunday I was meant to be rocking up at the Great North Run however, I spent the Saturday and Sunday providing support for a telephony upgrade at work. I did manage to watch the race (and what a race it was) on the good ‘ol internet however, it was not the same as actually running the race I had entered. Sure, I wasn’t gonna challenge the front runners but it would have been good to get up there and see I’ve adapted to the recent block of training and what needs to be tweaked before next months marathon.

 So the big question is “where does all this stress leave my plans?”, “I have no idea.” is the answer. I still want to have a crack at a sub 3 hour marathon over the next 18-24 months however, will my current work / life stresses have too big an impact? Maybe I should just hedge my bets and go back to running for fun rather than time? The thing is…if I do that I will always feel that I never reached my full potential and will be living with regret. I guess the answer is, I will need to find a way to reduce and / or manage the stresses better.

Well no one ever said life was gonna be easy and my certainly isn’t.

Making the Dull Bearable

Occasionally, when needs must, we all have to turn to the treadmill for a run or too. For me, I tend to run most of my ‘speed sessions’ on the treadmill and the occasional other run. As I do most of my runs solo, that is to say on my own, I find it hard to maintain effort and pace on the speed sessions. This is where the treadmill helps. Sure, I know it is not as effective as running on the open road however, the benefits of being able to maintain the pace / efforts during the whole session outweigh the downsides.

Speed sessions are also a good way of maintaining your mental focus when using the treadmill too. Many of us would just give up and die of boredom 20 minutes into a run on the treadmill however, with a targeted speed session, most tend to be able to hold the focus and keep going. Some of my favourite treadmill speed sessions are listed below:

Pyramids

10 mins warm-up to get the blood flowing, then 1-2-3-4-5-4-3-2-1 followed by 10 mins warm-down jog. This session is 1 minute hard, 60s recovery, 2 mins hard, 60s recovery, 3 mins hard etc. I always try and run the second half harder (faster) than the first.

The ‘Classic’

10 mins warm-up, then 6 x 3 mins hard (5k pace or less) off 90s slow jog recovery between each effort, followed by 10 mins warm-down. This is the classic speed / interval session and is easy to execute.

Tempo

This is a little harder to focus on however, can be a real effective session. I usually start with 10 mins warm-up jog followed by 20-30 mins at tempo (that’s around my 10 mile pace) and finish off with 10 mins warm-down jogging.

400s

This is a real cracker and is also VERY  tough…I start with 5 mins warm-up jog, 8 mins at my lactate threshold, 2 mins easy jog then do 8 x 400m efforts at sub 5k pace off 60s SLOW jog recovery for the first 4, then have 60s/45s/30s/15s recovery on the second half. I then do 8 mins at lactate threshold, followed by 5-10 mins easy jogging. This one is brutally tough however, if you can do this for a few weeks you’ll soon start to feel the benefits.

Long Repeats

Longer repeats can be great for developing your lactate threshold which, in turn, can lead to better race performances. One of my favourite long repeat sessions is the mile repeats. I usually start with 10 mins warm-up jog followed by 5 x 1 mile repeats at sub 10k pace off 90s jog recoveries, then finish off with my usual 10 mins warm-down jog.

So there you have it…if you’re forced into using treadmill the above sessions will help make it just a little more bearable.

Coaching…

Despite being an experienced running coach at my local club and helping many athletes achieve performances they once thought were out of their grasp I’ve always had a difficulty in coaching myself. For some reason I am just unable to follow my own advice and end up experimenting on myself, skipping sessions or making some basic error in my own coaching plan that leads to poor performances.

Since my goals and targets are somewhat grand (for me) I have decided to take on a new coach to map out my training over the next 12 months or so. After a little internet research I engaged the services of Tom Craggs and Nick Anderson over at Running with Us. All the stuff I’ve read about them makes me believe they can help me along my journey and, within seconds of chatting to Tom I knew I would be engaging them to help.

We’ve started working together this week, with the view to having a solid performance at the Liverpool Marathon in the middle of June. Once from there we’ve identified the Great North Run half-marathon in September, the Yorkshire Marathon in October and the Manchester Marathon in Spring 2016 as my key target races.

I’m looking forward to the experience and, having someone to be accountable to, feel that this should be a huge success in terms of performances etc.

All About the Base and Marginal Gains…

Progress towards my marathon goal at London in April is well on-track. Despite being quite busy at work, juggling home life, sick children and pets, I’ve managed to train consistently over the last few weeks. I’m feeling that I am getting a real strong aerobic base starting to build and have managed some decent training mileage. I’m not fast or sharp yet, however that is exactly what I expect as I need to peak in April and not in February.

With just over 2 weeks ‘til my first race of 2015 (Snake Lane 10) and am looking like I have a chance of nailing a PB on the day. It won’t be as fast as I’d like to go as I’m going to be training hard right up to the race day. All the recent hard training will mean that I’ll have a little fatigue in my legs so realistically can’t expect to be running at my top end however, I should be well capable of running a new PB.

The only real fly in the ointment is my weight…I’m still not dropping it as fast as I’d like. Possibly down to the continued social work events resulting in me consuming a couple of high calorie Indian meals, a few too many beers and not enough of the high quality carbohydrates, proteins and fats needed to support my training.

This mornings weigh in was a little disappointing, I am still around 28 pounds heavier than I need to be on race day however, luckily for me the social events have all now passed so I can start to focus on my diet, ensuring that I eat the proper fuel for my training and dropping those pounds. Each pound of excess fat lost is worth around 2 seconds off my minute mile pace so if I can hit that 28 pounds I should be looking at running 45-60s faster per mile for the same effort. Now that is some marginal gain…!

Well that’s all for this weeks blog…back to work and training.

Feeling the Gains…

After the recent block of training I’m starting to feel the gains and running is becoming easier…take this morning’s fartlek run for example; the run was simple, 15 mins steady, 50 mins fartlek, 15 mins steady…1h:20m in total.

Go back four or five weeks ago and a run like that would have destroyed me both physically and mentally…I’d have been blowing out my harris after 30 mins and would probably of struggled to last the duration. After the recent block of training I found the run was more than manageable and I actually felt strong throughout the entire run and always felt that I could have lifted the pace if needed…something I’ve not experienced in quite some time I can tell you.

My weight is still an issue…despite running some high mileage (for me) I’m struggling to drop the pounds. I know this is purely down to some poor eating habits combining with a few social nights out. I am going to track all my calories over the coming weeks in an effort to wrestle control back. My first race of 2015 is in just over 3 weeks time and I need to lose and additional 7 or 8 pounds between now and then to get back ‘on track’. This shouldn’t be too much of an issue if I stay focused and don’t allow myself to make the recent bad food choices. I need to keep focused on this as the excess flab is definitely having an adverse effect on my ability to hold pace for longer. Focus Daz, focus…

It’s still early days in my London Marathon training and I’m just focused on base training however, I feel that I am pretty much ‘on track’ and making solid progress towards my goal.

The next couple of weeks should see me top over 250 miles of the month, my highest monthly mileage since March 2011, and my base phase of running is due to last through to the end of February.

Building a New Runner…

That’s what I’m doing to myself…building a new runner.

Over the previous years I’ve not really focused on getting the best out of my training and race performances, hence some rather poor PBs. Since I’m attempting an aggressive (for me) marathon performance at London in April I know I have a lot of work to do. As I’ve stated previously, one of my biggest limiters of performance is my weight.

Post Christmas I tipped a whopping 187lbs. That was quite a shock..! The heaviest I’ve been in around 7 years and, that was despite running every day during December. The issue for me is I’m not great at controlling the calorie intake. Sure I can burn through 800 calories in a steady 50 minute run, but I can easily put it back on by making some very poor diet choices. To that end, my diet and associated weight has also become part of my focus in the marathon buildup.

I’m a chubby little northerner at the moment and, despite that I’m comfortably capable of running 10 miles in 75 mins. The most conservative running weight calculators suggest that I have around 33lbs to lose and, this corresponds with my weight when I used to play soccer as a youth. They also say that each pound of excess weight lost can give you 2-3 seconds per mile of free speed. So…if I shift the weight and all things remain equal, I should be looking at being able to shave 66-99s per mile for the same effort. Or to put in another way, my 75 minute 10 mile run should be at least 10-15 minutes faster for the same effort. Imagine that…running a controlled 10 mile run somewhere between 60-65 minutes. Now if that’s not motivation enough to lose the pounds then nothing is.

Since the start of January I’ve begun building the weekly mileage. The plan is to run two or three weeks of high (for me) followed by one easy, cut down week. The advantages of the higher than normal mileage for me are two fold…one, I will improve my run fitness and two, the higher mileage will help control my weight. Indeed, since the start of January I have already managed to shift 4 or the excess pounds and, look on course to be anywhere between 8-10lbs lighter than Christmas come the end of January.