Having never run anything more than 10k – and in an average 48 mins - the training plan I was following was scary in itself. I have worked with a number of endurance athletes and remember at the time thinking they were mental. Their long runs seemed inhumane and certainly not something I would be capable of doing.
I knew I needed a plan and as I had just got a Garmin Fenix 5 I decided to go with their Intermediate marathon plan. Not only was this free I figured it wasn’t necessarily the quality of the plan that mattered it was just that I had one. As for intermediate – well I couldn’t pick beginner, could I?! I’m supposed to be a sport scientist after all.
You may be wondering why I didn’t write one myself, which is a valid question. The main reason was I didn’t trust myself to follow something I’ve written myself. I have done this with gym programmes before and find that following something that is written by another person gives me slightly more accountability and I don’t second guess what is written.
The plan consisted of 12 weeks of running and was based on the duration of each run and my heart rate training zones. Only once did it contain a distance-based session which was a half marathon a few weeks out. This duration-based approach was great at the start when it was easier to consider running for half an hour rather than go and run 5 miles. However, after a while this approach got wearing – I felt more confident and was keen to test myself over distance and be able to compare the times.
I’d say I stuck to 80% of the plan but as I’ll mention later fell off a bit with the plan in the last 3-4 weeks. I also tried to mix the sessions by replacing 40-50min easy runs with cross-trainer sessions on occasion. The other 10% of sessions I missed or didn’t complete were the intervals, no reason for this other than laziness. If I was to do it again those would be the ones I’d look to be more disciplined with.
Away from the running programme I did gym-based strength training with largely consisted of injury prevention work around my pelvis (I’ve previously had a hip arthroscopy), my hamstrings and calfs. I also seriously stepped up my ‘core’ exercises like planks, side planks and groin holds. Previous to this I had been doing a lot of upper body hypertrophy (bodybuilding) type sessions which I reduced to very occasional sessions with players at work.
" I would try to increase the amount of lower body strength work in the early parts of the plan before the distances accumulate"
For any future endurance training plan I would try to increase the amount of lower body strength work in the early parts of the plan before the distances accumulate. If I’d managed this better I think I’d have had a better base strength level to maintain rather than maintaining for the whole period of time. It was my legs especially my hip flexors and calfs that caused me the most issues throughout the training plan so strengthening these areas is a must for any other running plans.
For the most part I enjoyed the training which is a little unusual for me as I was always hated training and preferred the competition when I played rugby. Maybe with age and more experience training others I can appreciate the importance of each step in the training process and enjoy seeing the small changes from week to week.
The long runs were the sessions that I was fearing the most from the plan but I managed these fairly well. My wife couldn’t understand how I was able to run 20 miles with no music and no one to talk to for three hours but somehow I managed to get into a ‘flow’ for the majority of these. I did struggle with hydration during the longer ones as I detest holding things when I run – next time I’ll be better prepared and buy one of these rucksack water carriers.
After my last long run – a 20 mile effort around the Ayrshire countryside – my training dipped a little. I’m not sure if this was a feeling of completion and that I had done the hard work or that my work took over a little more than normal but I let it slip. I think in the last four weeks I went from 3-4 runs a week to 2. For someone going to run a marathon this isn’t ideal!
Added to the reduce training my alcohol consumption increased as well – this definitely was one reason for the reduce running. I don’t think I appreciated when the marathon was in conjunction with the end of the football season and the amount of work events I would be attending. Added to the normal events we would attend we had a few more awards nights due to a reasonably successful season for the team. All in all it wasn’t the best preparation for a marathon!
In hindsight and for future runs I definitely need to improve my ability to say “No” and plan my life a little more to fit in everything that needs to be done. Running was always the expendable part of my diary and this can’t be the case if you want to do it well. I guess it’s all part of the learning curve! I’ve only every been used to fitting in shorter sessions – 90 mins maximum – so finding time for the long runs is extremely important and something I need to prioritise.
The last week of my training plan was reasonably straight forward. I did three runs and nothing at a great pace or distance. The first two runs were 30mins or so with a 10 min period at or around marathon pace (which I thought would be 8 min/mile pace). The last run I completed the day before and was literally a 20 min leg opener.
Some people have said to me that the last week is the hardest because they just want to open their legs up and go for it. I can understand that when you have been slogging out lots of miles and you have tapered off. The feeling of freshness is unusual and something which you want to utilise! However as I have said my three weeks before that hadn’t been the greatest and I hadn’t clocked up the miles I should have. So, I’d been feeling pretty fresh for a while!
My main focus in the last week was getting a good routine for eating and sleeping and trying not to clock my usual 20 000 steps a day. This was easier said than done! I’m not the greatest at doing nothing (just ask my wife!) and I spin numerous plates all of the time. As I said before I need to get better at saying “No”! IN the final week I agreed to go to a swimming meet and present to coaches during this. If anyone has been to one of these it’s not the coolest and I spent most of my time sweating.