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What's it like to train for London (part 2)

As many members will know, the club gets the opportunity to send runners to the London Marathon each year.

Those places are given out to people who have volunteered for the club at least once in the previous 12 months.

This year I was one of the 'lucky' winners.

My name is Rob, I've never run a marathon before, and this year I'm running London in support of The Avenues Youth Project.

This is my story...

(And if you want to start from the beginning, part 1 is here)

A beaming Susan, Emma and Rob running the Watford Half Marathon in full Hoopster kit.
Running makes you happy!

30th January: T minus 82 days

At the end of my last entry I said “Pace is key”.

Yesterday I remembered… PACE ISN’T KEY!

I’m supposed to following the mantra:

  • Effort, not pace

  • Duration, not distance

EFFORT is key, not pace!

Instead of focusing on a target page, I should be focussing on putting in a certain amount of effort - or, to put it another way - hit a target Heart Rate.

And instead of trying to run for a certain distance, I should be aiming to run for a certain amount of time.

So instead of “10km at Half Marathon pace”, it should be “1 hour at Half Marathon heart rate”.

Question is - what are those heart rates?

To remind myself I went back to basics and picked up an old book I used when I first started training for half marathons.  “Heart Monitor Training for the Compleat Idiot”, by John L. Parker Jr. (and yes, it IS spelled 'compleat').

Before you read the next bit, I need you to repeat after me:

  • Rob is not a qualified running coach.

  • Rob is NOT a qualified running coach.

Now, I don’t know if the book actually talks sense or not, but sometimes you just have to start somewhere (and he does seem to agree with Gildas on a lot of points).

The crux of it is exactly the above - train to effort and duration - and it gives formulas for each of the target distances (as well as extremely complicated training plans that are impossible to stick to).

Take your resting heart rate (mine is around 50), and your maximum heart rate (generally the max I see in Strava is about 185, but I never train to destruction, so I estimate it to be 190).

You then work out percentage targets based on the amount between your resting heart rate and max heart rate - so 50% of max for me would be halfway between 50 and 190 = 120.

John L Parker Jr suggests the following:

  • Recovery runs (his term - and it seems to equate to Zone 2 runs) = 70% = for me 148 bpm

  • Marathon = 75% = 155 bpm

  • Half Marathon = 80% = 162 bpm

  • 10km = 85% = 169 bpm

  • 5km = 90% = 176 bpm

How does that affect my training?

Well last night I started the week with a 1 hour run at my estimated Half Marathon HR (trying to stay between 155 and 162) - which should be absolutely achievable, finishing in a good state to train the rest of the week.

And… bingo - for a first run out with some new numbers, it worked well.

I ended up running just under 6:00 per km, which pretty closely matched my Royal Parks time from October (incidentally, I was gutted with that at the time - but that’s an entirely different story).

Maybe the effort could have been a bit higher, but over the next month I can tweak the numbers.

Next up is Marathon HR (148 to 155) at the Watford Half Marathon.

Unfortunately, I can’t just stop at 2 hours, so 21.1km it has to be.

6th February: T minus 75 days

It’s 2 days after the Watford Half Marathon, and I’m feeling pretty decent.

I went with full marathon kit - a backpack with 2 litres of water, 1 energy gel per 45 minutes, and a plan to stick to under 155 bpm - and it broadly went to plan.

I started with a mental warm-up with George - trying to work out the best way to decide the target time for their random runner £2k prize. We decided it was probably a weighted random selection, based on the distribution of times from the last 20 years - obviously.

Anyway, I very happily walked to the back of the pack knowing I wasn’t going for a time.

It was a lovely chatty run with Emma, Susan and Saikat - talking all things marathon (and there’s a lot of experience in those heads). 

We hung behind the 2:10 pacer for the first half, then accidentally sped up in the second half as more and more of the route turned downhill.

I let Emma and Susan kick on for the last km, as I struck up a conversation with (random other runner) “Mark from Manchester”, jokingly telling him: “I’m just luring you into a false sense of security before I drop you in the last 200 metres.”

I dropped him in the last 200 metres to finish in 2:05:17.

OK, it was over 12 minutes slower than last year’s PB - a 5:57 per km pace and an average heart rate of 155 bpm - but that was the plan, and you know what - I felt good!

I could have kept running - maybe not for another 21.1km, but for a few more, at least - and that’s a first for me (as was the experience of negative splits in a half marathon).  So coming out of the race I felt like it was an achievable pace, and that my target HR was solid.

Yesterday was an easy run of 8km.  I’m not going to say it was actually easy, because it wasn’t.  I didn’t ache too badly, but the body and mind were both pretty tired and it was hard to motivate myself - but I did it.  By the end I was feeling good.

I haven’t decided if I’m going to track tonight, or on Thursday.  I’d planned to leave it a day to let my body recover, but I actually feel really good.  The plan is to not do quite so much running this week (as Susan so rightly pointed out, you need a week every now and again where you turn it down a little) - but we’ll just see how it goes.  It seems crazy that I’ve got to the point where a 40km week is a light one.

A serious question though - my training distance is increasing linearly.  So why is the amount of washing I need to do increasing exponentially?

15th February: T minus 66 days

I guess it had to happen eventually - the last week or so has been tougher.  No injuries yet, so that’s all good - but there was a bout of illness and a period of just feeling washed out and a little overwhelmed by the whole thing. The combination of loads of running, and thinking about raising money + work + general life does get to me sometimes, and I felt no guilt in taking a few days off.

To be fair, I was actually ill; nothing serious, but really heavy lungs, and a really tired body.  And you know what - we often talk about the massive mental benefits of running - when I’ve been out for a run I generally feel amazing - but we rarely talk about the negatives of when it overtakes you a bit.

It really did overtake me, and I felt down.  Really down.

It’s not the first time, and it won’t be the last, I’m sure, but I’m going to try to pay more attention to that aspect of my running and make sure that I don’t drive myself into that fog again.

In retrospect, maybe being front and centre at a sweaty Friday night gig in Camden, populated by 19 year olds, followed by 5 days of tinnitus wasn’t the best idea for keeping myself marathon ready.  It’s OK though, only two more of those before mid-April.  It’ll be fine. I’ve bought earplugs.

A box of MusicSafePro earplugs
Must remember to wear these

Anyway, a few days of rest with no running and I’ve started to get my mojo back. So this week has been a few zone 2 runs, then track tonight for some intervals, and a combination day with around an hour of running with a fair pace around a hilly parkrun and then a good hour and a half of zone 2 in the afternoon.

Next week I promise to get more organised about my tempo runs and have already put a 1 hour session into my watch: 

  • Warm up

  • 20 mins @ high HR

  • 20 mins @ easy HR

  • 20 mins @ high HR

  • Cool Down

I have to admit, I’m not looking forward to that one - but hopefully I’ll at least be able to start it with a smile back on my face.

17th February: T minus 64 days

A milestone!

My biggest day of running ever today.  25.5km, split over two runs - a total of 2 hours 40 minutes.

Over 1/6th of the time I was awake.

29th February: T minus 52 days

Quiet on the diary front recently.  Things have settled into a bit of routine now and whilst the milestones drop each week it’s become a twisted new reality.

It’s an odd pattern of getting towards the end of the week, looking at the weekly numbers, hitting that target and then watching it tick back over to zero again on Monday morning in the knowledge that I’m going to have to do it all over again. 


For that reason, I’m looking less now at my ‘weekly kms’ and more at my ‘last 7 days kms’.  I thank Garmin for that option!

All said though, I don’t feel too bad.  Legs are holding up nicely, and I don’t actually feel that tired - just starting to get a bit tired of running.

It’s track tonight, and based on the last few weeks I should cover about 11 km - and that’ll take me to about 70 km for the week, 230 km for the month. 

Graph, from Strava, showing the distance run each week, increasing from 36km in December to 71km the end of February
A nice, steady increase

I find it unfathomable that next month I’ll probably run even further.

To be honest though, this is probably close to my peak training.

I was asked last night - “If you had to go and run the marathon tomorrow, do you think you could do it?”, and the answer was an absolutely honest, “You know what, I think I probably could”.

Maybe I’m kidding myself, but I feel like I’m about there, and that the next 5 weeks of training is more about getting myself in a better state, getting myself faster, rather than getting myself to the end.

And yes, you read that right - there’s 5 weeks of training left, and then the tapering starts.

It’s getting close.

Rob's running the London Marathon, raising money for 'The Avenues Youth Project'.

It's an amazing charity, local to the club, that supports kids and young adults with a vibrant centre for learning, play and support.


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