London Marathon 2015 – Taper final days and the Expo

I have been so busy running, eating and sleeping that the writing has gone out the window and nearly two months late am I finally getting round to these posts! And there are a fair few other posts I’d like to do too!

The taper final days

I managed to stay sane during the taper – it wasn’t easy! I had to go away for five days with work and there was some awkward explaining (more than once) as to why four lettuce leaves and a tomato did not constitute a suitable vegan alternative for a chicken wrap. In the end I had the venue cooking me up risottos and all sorts specially – great, but the effort to get to that stage was monumental.

But the taper did not thwart me, I was a good girl. The week before I ran a local 10k and was thrilled to nab a 3rd place (and a spot in the local rag too).

imageThe Expo

I travelled down to London on the Thursday before the Big Race, eager to get my number in my hands and have a good look and the Expo without worrying about being on my feet too much the day before the BR. I went with Craig and two fellow club mates who were also running, which was great – sharing in the excitement.

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The Expo was great fun, full of running brands and event promoters and very excited runners. I was like a kid in a candy shop (Craig too, but more because he sampled a few too many caffeine gels!). I picked up my number and timing tag with no queueing at all(!) and spent a great couple of hours enjoying the stands.

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Oh yes and I might have come away with a couple of souvenirs…. Including the limited edition London themed Saucony Ravenna 6s…. Too beautiful to ignore!

The Expo was well ran, full of goodies and a fantastic way to kick start my VMLM experience (back at work the next day I was a useless jittery wreck!).

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Your Simple Marathon Part 3 – Taper Time!

It has arrived: the most challenging, mentally draining and panicky time of the marathon training plan – the taper. You’ve been following a plan (more or less – see my previous post on this) for fourteen or more weeks, the ‘hard work’ is done, and now is the time to begin resting and preparations for race day. But what exactly does this mean?

Three weeks today and I will (all things being good) be running my first London Marathon. My longest training run is behind me and I am faced with the prospect of the taper. So many questions. Do I start now or in a week, or two weeks? How many runs? How far? Can I still do hill reps or speed sessions? Should I eat more, the same, take out shares in a pasta manufacturer? I’ve heard rumours of this thing called ‘taper madness’ from my co-runners who are already in taper full swing for Brighton next week. I ran a marathon last year, but all I remember from my taper then is a panic I had a few days out when my old knee injury made a fleeting appearance…

What do the experts say?

Reference 3 weeks out 2 weeks out 1 week out
Pete Pfitzinger 80% of normal volume 60% 33%
Runner’s World 50-60% of most intense week No runs over 4 miles, and slower than MP
Nicole Hunt 90% volume 85% volume 50% volume
Runners Connect 85-90%, reduce long run by 10% 70-75% reduce long run by 50-60% Daily runs 50-60% reduced, extra rest day

So there is a bit of variation, but in my mind that leaves room for tailoring the taper to your individual requirements. So, based on my average weekly training volume, which is 42 miles (calculated by taking an average of the last 6 weeks of training), I am looking at, roughly:

  • Three weeks out – 85-90% = 35-38 miles total
  • Two weeks out – 70-80% = 30-33 miles total
  • Final week – 50-60% = 21-25 miles total

It’s a bit of guess work, I am still a newbie marathon runner so I don’t know what works for me and certainly couldn’t say what works for you. I will be logging my taper and reflecting on it in the light of my experience on race day (along with the rest of my training plan) to see where room for improvement lies.

taper_madness_graphic_finalWhat else should you be mindful of?

Browsing the above links, and drawing upon advice from fellow, much more experienced runners I know, there seem to be some general nuggets of wisdom, summarised here:

  • The number one thing to remember during the taper is that the hard work is done. In the last two-three weeks, you cannot get fitter or faster, but you can get overtired or injured. I know of people who have not ran at all in the last three-four weeks, due to recovery from injury or illness, and gone on to complete the marathon just fine. Trust in what you’ve done in the weeks leading up to the taper.
  • Recovery is very important. Add an extra rest day (which you don’t fill with cross-training!), take longer between reps, reduce the volume, get more sleep.
  • Runs will feel harder. I haven’t experienced this yet, but anecdotal evidence points to sluggish, lethargic feelings as the taper gets underway. Your body needs time to recover from the battering it has taken so far, so don’t feel disheartened! (I am mentally preparing myself for this right now!)
  • Minimise the risk of injury; don’t try anything new! The focus on training runs now lies in marathon pacing and recovery, with the odd speed session if it’s something you are used to. I saw on a forum a runner asking if they could start some new exercise class with their free time during the taper – absolutely NO! I’m going to be keeping my cycling inside and away from roads…. Just in case…
  • Don’t worry about a little weight gain. This one will be particularly hard for me, but now is not the time to be cutting down. Some advice I’ve read recommends reducing the size and increasing the frequency of meals so that you don’t feel so full but are keeping in energy coming.
  • To carb-load or not, that is the question. Read this article on tapering marathon nutrition. My plan, based on this advice, is to eat my normal foods but avoid anything that could cause a problem – takeaways, spice, alcohol, excessive caffeine. By now you should have your race day nutrition sorted. One day before, I will pay particular attention to eating wholesome, carb-rich foods.
  • Start drinking more now! If you’re not hydrated by race day morning, it’s too late!
  • Your last should be 2-3 miles the day before the marathon. Rest the day before that. My past experience with other races is that the last run feels bloody awful – don’t worry, I think it’s supposed to!

The mind game

Physical strength and fitness alone will not get you around the marathon.

If you’re running to your best, at some point it will hurt and your body will want you to stop. Here, your mental strength needs to keep you marathon-4focussed on your goals, whatever they are.

On the start line, your body will be pumped full of excitement and adrenaline and your target pace will feel too easy. Here, your mental strength will need to keep your speed in check, stick to your race plan.

The morning of the marathon, your guts are likely to mutiny on you, you may feel sick or panicky. Here, your mental strength (and some Immodium instants!) will be called upon to stay calm, push away the doubts, try to enjoy the experience.

During your taper, you may feel tired, sluggish, have phantom niggles and feel anything over than marathon-ready. Or you might get restless legs and feel irritable and tempted to get out and run, push for another rep or go too far. Here, your mental strength will be key in reminding you to trust in the taper process and in your training so far.

If you’re panicking in the run up to the marathon, take some running headspace. Read a book or watch a film (not running related!), meet some non-running friends or family, play a game.

Good luck with your taper guys, and if you have any taper tips please share them!

Your Simple Marathon Part 2 – Nutrition and Hydration

It’s less than 7 weeks to go until I run London, and even less time until others I know run Brighton and Manchester. Which means that we are well into peak training weeks, with 20, and even 22, milers on the cards. Fueling on these runs and, ultimately, during the marathon is a hot topic.

A quick Google and one soon realises that there is most certainly no one way to do marathon nutrition and hydration. There are so many gels, sweets, carb drinks, isotonic, hypotonic, super-duper-PB-guarantee-o-tonic… (if only!) that it is confusing even for an experienced runner to sort the wheat from the chaff.

For 5ks, 10ks and even half marathons, my nutrient strategy is fairly basic – water, and, on a half I might pop a couple of gels. The marathon, and the 18-22 milers we bash out in training, are different animals that need a little more planning. When you’re out for 2:30+ hours running, incorrect fueling could mean anything from a slow recovery to an upset stomach or failing to complete the run. None of these is conducive to a successful training plan!

I’ve been doing a bit of research, to get you started on your marathon nutrition and hydration strategy. Here are my top, simple tips:

  • Find out what the marathon you are running is handing out at their stations and where these are. This is a good starting point – try these out on a couple of long runs because it will be the easiest (and cheapest) way of keeping fueled.
  • However, nutrition and hydration on a marathon is unique to you. If you don’t like the flavour or consistency of the gel or drink, it makes you feel sick or upset your stomach, or it simply doesn’t leave you feeling fueled, try something else. See below for a summary of what you can get from your fuel.
  • ronhillConsider how you can carry your nutrients. You can get belts (I like this one by Karrimor), handheld bottles, hydration backpacks, my friend is trialling a FitSip (or what she calls it, ArmTit!) and getting on well with it. When I ran Edinburgh last year I carried my gels in this cargo top by Ronhill. There are loads of different options, try a few and see what works for you.
  • The #1 rule is never EVER have something on race day that you didn’t try before. Don’t get tempted by offers at the Expo, or to grab a gel off the table that you haven’t tried before. Be warned!

What should you look out for when deciding on your marathon fuel/hydration?

guMy starting point was to find a gel that I both liked and agreed with me. This happens to be a rather scrummy gel called Gu,salted caramel flavour. I love the thick consistency and the flavour is so yummy and it doesn’t give me the runs – win! There are a myriad of different energy gels that are available, different sizes and flavours and consistencies. Ultimately, you need to like it (so you actually use it) and get on with it (so you get the benefit). Once you’ve found that gel (some people like to pick a couple, for variety) check out what of the following features it has:

  • Carbohydrate and calories. In my experience most gels have around 100 cals. The aim isn’t to replace all your calories, but to replenish, so 100 a gel seems to be an accepted standard. How much you might need can be calculated on sites such as Active.com
  • Electrolytes. Does it have them and what is their balance? Check out the nuun blog to see why electrolytes are important during exercise.
  • Caffeine content. For some people, caffeine on a run is a big no-no, for others it can be a good boost. A summary of caffeine for runners can be found here.

The carbohydrate is from sugar (of varying kinds, I don’t tend to worry whether it’s fructose or glucose or whatever, it’s only going to be a small part of your overall diet), and some gels have added vitamins/minerals (again, not something I care about, for the same reason).

Once you have your gel and figured what it does and doesn’t give you, you can decide whether you are happy to have water, a carbohydrate drink or electrolyte drink to keep you hydrated.

ll-tube-4up_largeMy Gu salted caramel gives me carbohydrates, electrolytes and caffeine, so I have decided against using the Lucozade sports drink, which has more carbohydrates, electrolytes and caffeine. I have found that drinking water with a nuun tablet (added at the ratio of 1 tablet to 500 ml of water) quenches my thirst and, more significantly, speeds up my recovery.

Nuun come in a variety of light, very drinkable flavours. I have tried the Lemon + Lime (my favourite), Tri-Berry and, most recently Strawberry Lemonade. Once again, finding a drink that you enjoy is important, otherwise you won’t drink it (this has been me in the past…). For example, I was excited to try the Strawberry Lemonade and, whilst the flavour was nice and I felt hydrated, it left an aftertaste. Lemon + Lime is my flavour of choice.

How much, how often?

A good rule of thumb is to have one gel about 15-30 minutes before the race or long training run, and follow this up every 45 minutes or so. This should be flexible though, analyse where the drinks stations are, for example, as you should take on water with your gel (I take a look at where there are hills – a gel worked in just before is a great mental boost!), and the most important thing is how you feel. Don’t wait until you are feeling weak to have a gel, listen to your body and learn where your limits are by trialling out your plan on long runs.

I train drinking water with nuun before and after my runs, and drinking water alone during. I take a Gu gel 15-30 minutes before and then around about every 5 miles. Yesterday I ran a 20 mile road race which gave me a good opportunity to trial out this strategy and it seems to be going well…

Disclaimer – I am no nutrition expert etc. I am just a runner who is very interested in their hobby and keen to learn how to maximise their running. If you have any tips, advice or corrections, please let me know!

Your Simple Marathon Part 1 – It doesn’t have to be hard…

Okay, well the running will be but the planning shouldn’t be!

With just over three months to go until M-day (marathon day!) I am a little over a month into  training for my second marathon. As are SO many others! My club is full of them, my Twitter feed, the streets around my house. Marathon fever has well and truly hit! And, if they’re anything like me, it’s all they bloody talk about too.

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Unfortunately for those poor souls, there are still a good 2-4 months of this to go before peak Spring marathon season is over. And if you are one of those people, you might want to Sri reading about now ;-).

I ran my first marathon last year in Edinburgh and I was lucky enough to come in under 3:45 and secure myself a place in this year’s London marathon. Since then, I have also become an active member of a running club, and improved my shorter distance times greatly, even getting the odd podium in smaller races. I have decided to run for Mind Charity, see why here. Add this all together with my own high expectations, a full time job, part time Masters degree and the pressure is on!

I’ve come to believe that the logistics around marathon training needn’t be stressful – So, second time round and with all this pressure, how am I approaching London Marathon training?

The plan

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked ‘what plan are you following?’  One of Higdon’s many? Asics? London Marathon’s own? Honestly, I have not subscribed to any one plan, for three reasons:

  1. I got put off by any plans that talked in minutes rather than miles, had over complicated speed sessions (e.g. 4 min 65% MP, 3 min 75% MP, 2 min 5k-15%, 1 min WYH (with your hands) – okay, I am exaggerating but any plan that needs me to have the mental arithmetic of a Maths PhD is an immediate turn off!), heart rate training etc. I like my plans simple! Running is not supposed to be difficult)
  2. I like racing. The typical marathon training plan usually allows for one or two half marathons but not a lot more. That will not satisfy my competitive juices. Off the top of my head, I am signed up for at least one 5k, 10k, and two 20 mile races, with my eye on one or two others….
  3. Flexibiltiy. This is key. I see so many runners stressing over missing a session or working in a weekend away and beating themselves up when they have an injury. Perhaps this is more about how you treat a marathon plan, they should be for guidance not gospel.

As someone who runs distance (up to 14 miles) regularly, my plan, loosely goes something like this:

Mon: rest/x-train/recovery run (depending how I feel after the Sunday run)

Tues: Hill session at club, e.g. 3 x 10min loop –

Weds: medium steady run, starting at 5 miles and increasing every few weeks to 9 miles.

Thurs: speed session at club, e.g. 4 x 1 mile repeats; 10 x 400m repeats. On real paths, no tracks!

Fri: as Monday.

Sat: Changeable, maybe parkrun, maybe a 3 mile or 5 mile tempo, maybe rest if a heavy race the next day.

Sun: long run or race. At the moment I am up to 16 miles. This week I have a 12 mile trail race, then a 5k, then 10k, then back in with a ~18 miler. I am planning on doing two 20s (both races) and  22 on Easter weekend. Pace wise, I am still experimenting, but I sm aiming for somewhere between steady and race pace.

Mileage matters 

The other thing I am keeping my eye on is weekly mileage. I know some runners who are more particular on this – they have heavy volume weeks interspersed with lighter volume weeks. A good way to keep a track of this is using an app such as Strava. No adding up required to see how your mileage has been trending!

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Pop along to Strava.com to see how it might work for you. I recently joined after learning you can upload your Garmin and other GPS watch data, so you don’t have to lug your phone on speed sessions or worry about draining its juice on long runs.

Keeping it simple (And interesting!)

Marathon training is tricky enough without wrapping yourself up in numbers and slavishly following training plans. A few other tips I have gleaned/learned so far to help things along:

– Run your long runs with other people. For one thing, setting a date and time means you. will turn up, for another, the miles roll by more easily when chatting and, finally, if you pick the right people to run with you can keep your pacing under control or push yourself a little harder.

– Rotate your shoes. I have three pairs, all slightly different and I have just settled on which I want to run in for the marathon (I will re-buy the same pair in a few weeks). Read this Runner’s World article for the reasoning.

– Book in a couple of races of different distances/types. Motivation can wane night after night of mile after mile on the road. Some other races dotted in shakes things up, gives some mini-milestones and keeps the ‘art of racing’ fresh (getting used to race day nervy belly etc).

– Go off road and up hills (both at the same time too!). Firstly, this will help with the motivation thing, secondly it’s awesome for leg strength and thirdly your joints and core will thank you for it.

– If something does hurt, don’t ignore it. A week off resting will do far less damage to your plan than continuing to run.

– Set some mini goals for motivation – Races, a run before or to work, master a negative split, a fundraising target, etc.

and remember….

 

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And finally, try not to bore your friends and family too much. Get online where there are loads of interested runners happy to offer tips and advice. I for one will never tire of talking marathon/running/etc, so send me a message or follow me on Twitter 😄. Disclaimer: I am no coach or qualified running anything. This is stuff that works for me and might or might not work for you. Happy running!

*****I am running the Virgin Money London a Marathon 2015 for Mind Charity. Read my story here and please support me with a donation here, for all the fantastic work they do. Running and mental well being are a perfect pairing****

 

 

 

Why you shouldn’t always go large – An ode to racing local

You’ve got your race bib on, your laces double-knotted and your GPS logged in. You’re jogging on the spot, trying not to tread on the heel of the guy in front of you. The countdown begins, your heart rate soars, the klaxon sounds and… you can’t take more than a jittery step forward. Ahead of you is a sea of runners, shuffling to the start line, bouncing up and down in anticipation and frustration. Eventually you reach the start, it might have taken you three minutes or thirty. And you’re (finally) off, but still going nowhere fast. You are wriggling and weaving around others, hopping on to the pavement to catch a break. The adrenaline coursing through your veins, desperate for flight may even lead you to fight (ahem, elbows) and your race plan is ruined.

"New York marathon Verrazano bridge" by Martineric from Lille, France - Marathon de New York : Verrazano Bridge. Wikipedia

“New York marathon Verrazano bridge” by Martineric from Lille, France – Marathon de New York : Verrazano Bridge. Wikipedia

This is me at mass participation races. Bath Half, Bristol Half, Bristol 10K, Edinburgh Marathon. After a few miles field starts to thin out and time can be made up, but that feeling that the first miles were not your own race persists. Those elites, with the open road ahead of them, they got it so easy ( 😉 ). When I first started racing, my racing calendar consisted of two or three of these large races a year. Don’t get me wrong, the atmosphere and buzz of mass participation races is fantastic and I long for the day when I can do the New York Marathon, one of the biggest, but there are a few drawbacks:

  • Cost – the big races come with a hefty price tag, from around £25 for a 10K to £70+ for some of the most popular marathons. And, unless you are lucky enough to live on the doorstep of your chosen race, their are travelling, parking and accommodation costs to factor in.
  • Stress – The above mentioned travelling, parking and accommodation can be incredibly stressful for some people and take away from the enjoyment.
  • PB potential – The startline crush is enough to mess up anyone’s pacing strategy. I’ve lost count of the number of times I have heard concerns/moaning/tips about the difficult first few miles. In longer races such as Marathons and Halfs, those first few miles probably won’t impact much on your overall time but for the shorter races it can have a significant impact.
Bristol 10K 2014 - Dan Regan, Bristol Post

Bristol 10K 2014 – Dan Regan, Bristol Post

One of my running revelations of 2014 was the discovery of smaller local races. I’ve ran in races with as few as around 30 participants, but more usually with a field of 200-300. If you haven’t taken part in these, you may be thinking what I used to think – elitist club races? Err, no thanks! But there is far more to the smaller races…

  • Cost – Many smaller races are as little as £3. Okay, so you don’t get the medal and the goody bag and the technical T-shirt always but how many of those do you actually need? Plus you can travel from your own home on the day, no worries about dodgy hotel breakfasts, and be back home for Sunday lunch.
  • Stress – Local small races often do not sell out, and accept entries on the day. They also generally allow for number swapping if you have to pull out, so if your plans/goals/injury status changes you may have the opportunity to recoup some lost fees. You know your area, so travel is not a big issue.
  • PB potential – Smaller fields = less elbows. I won’t lie, there are still some, but the crowd thins out a lot more swiftly. For middle-of-the-packers, you are a lot closer to the speedier club runners to start with – great inspiration and the opportunity to get pulled along a bit.

Local races are usually organised by local teams, and these are very important events which the clubs take great pride and ownership in. Today I ran in my own club’s annual 5 mile race, with a field of ~250, and the representation of members both in the race and volunteering was fantastic. Sometimes, when running bigger races, I get the sense that the organisers have somewhat lost touch with the runners and what they want from a race – Edinburgh’s race time debacle and Bristol Half’s t-shirt miscalculation are just two examples. And don’t think that, just because it’s little and local, you don’t get support. More so in the smaller races than any of the large I have witnessed, everyone from the first the last gets encouraged and cheered.

In smaller races the field opens sooner so you can run your paces - Linda Franks 5 mile 2015, Photo: D Lewington

In smaller races the field opens sooner so you can run your paces – Linda Franks 5 mile 2015, Photo: D Lewington

Other nice touches that you don’t get with the bigger races:

  • Raffles and Spot prizes – not a frontrunner? Doesn’t mean you can’t be a winner!
  • Cake sales – I think my club’s are becoming legendary…
  • Novel prizes – placemats, cider, chocolate medals and often some nice trophies
  • Different times – evening and night races in the week or on a Saturday
  • Familiarity – with the routes and also the other participants – a bit like a family (or a cult…)
  • Free/cheap photos – and more chance of getting photographed too!

Have I got you convinced? Check out Runner’s world, Running Bug and local running club websites for some smaller races and see for yourself.

[The one slight irony to my writing this post is that I am currently training for my first London Marathon, not exactly ‘small’ or ‘local’, and I am the MOST.EXCITED.EVER. The point of this post is not to bash the bigger races, they are fantastic for attracting runners of all abilities, amazing support and really good for charities and local businesses. Merely I am hoping to enlighten you to other possibilities, I know I wish I’d found out sooner…]

My efforts for the bake sake. Cheap, delicious homemade cake is the best reason to get round the race fast!

My efforts for the bake sake. Cheap, delicious homemade cake is the best reason to get round the race fast!

The 9Bar ‘Chilly’ 10K Castle Combe – Race Report

Officially measured 10k run over a flat, smooth, running surface on the famous Castle Combe race circuit. Safe, traffic-free, multi-lap running, suitable for beginners and experienced runners alike.

Chilly by name, but not by nature, the Castle Combe 10K promised a PB-friendly surface and it did not disappoint! As a general rule, I strongly dislike lapped races; they generally mess me up psychologically. And, as a general rule, I like my running as green as possible; fields, woods, changing scenery. By face value, 3.4 laps of the Castle Combe racetrack does not sound like my cup of tea.

But I left the house on Sunday morning kitted up with one thing on my mind: a new 10K PB, and the Chilly was, purportedly, the place to do it.

Pre-race

We arrived nice and early and parked on-site; the racetrack was obviously well set up for parking. Things were already in full swing – not only was there a 10K on, but the Chilly Duathlon was taking place later. The two big brands, 9Bar and organizers DB Max, were loud and proud, and there was a triathlon pop-up and sports massage too. The toilet facilities were a little lacking in number for 250+ runners (plus the early Duathletes) suffering pre-race nerves. A few portaloos would have been appreciated.

Pre-registered racers collected their numbers and timing chips separately to day entries. The chips, DB:MAX of course, comprised a disposable loop for your laces. The DB Max team were hot on accuracy – I was summoned over the tannoy as they were concerned that my chip code was duplicated. It wasn’t, but it was reassuring for a prospective PBer to know that their details were being taken seriously!

The race briefing commenced at approximately 10:20, as we were led to the start line. The start line was out on the track, but was a tad unusual as we had to run a few hundred metres in one direction and then turn and run back on ourselves to do the 3 laps of the track before veering off a slip lane and round to the finish. The race started art 10:30, allowing 3 wheelchair athletes to set off first before the runners got underway.

The route

As would be expected of a race on a racetrack, the course was flat and there isn’t much I can say descriptive-wise! The field was fairly broad and the lapping made for a good spread of runners across the route; nice for spectators. The spectators were all gathered near the buildings, also where the water station was located, so there wasn’t much support out on course, but the cheers at the one point (times 3!) were enthusiastic and encouraging.

Chilly 10K route - 3.4 laps of the Castle Combe racetrack

Chilly 10K route – 3.4 laps of the Castle Combe racetrack

Chilly 10K elevation - flat, flat, flat!

Chilly 10K elevation – flat, flat, flat!

Personally, I actually found the laps to be helpful for my own pacing strategy. I was targeting sub-42 minutes, and had it in mind that if I could average 9 mph I would more than smash that. So I endeavoured to keep around 9mph for the the first two and bit laps and step it up a bit on the last. My timings were not spot on, but by lap 3 I was aware of where the slight inclines and declines were so I could make full use of them. I think this goes on record as my first ever negative split race!

On to the finish! (Original has been purchased; awaiting delivery!)

On to the finish!
(Original has been purchased; awaiting delivery!)

The turn off from the track was exciting, a short run down a chute, round the corner and to the finish, cheered on by marshalls and spectators. I was handed my lovely medal (it’s purple, my favourite colour), a water bottle and a 9Bar, before staggering off to join my husband and revel in our new PBs.

The goodies

Nice medals!

Nice medals!

DB Max events have an awesome added bonus (they were at the Gloucester 10K I ran earlier this year): instant confirmation of your chip time. None of this fretting over your Garmin rubbish – did I do it, did I not? – we were able to go straight to a couple of computers, type in our race numbers and get an instant print out.

Let the PB celebrations commence!

Let the PB celebrations commence!

And, not only was my PB confirmed, but my position as overall 3rd female – which I didn’t have a clue about until I got my slip!

The aftermath of the race was rather crowded as the competitors for the Duathlon were now arriving en masse and there were very nice bikes everywhere. I was informed that the prize-giving was to take place just after 12pm, once the first wave of Duathletes were sent on their way. It was a bit later than that, and I was starting to shiver, but nothing could temper my excitement – I had spied trophy boxes and 9Bar goody bags…

Official results

Men

1 – George Frost – 32:51 – Team Bath

2 – James Donald – 34:34 – Team Bath

3 – Alistair Robinson – 35:54 (who apparently missed the prize-giving because he was off competing in the Duathlon! – Team 9Bar

Women

1 – Fee Maycock – 38:18 – Belgrave Harriers (but an Almost in her spare time!)

2 – Elizabeth Smith – 39:46 – Westbury Harriers

3 – Amber Bullingham – 41:36 – Almost Athletes

A great day for Team Bath who also scooped the men’s team prize, but a special mention to Almost Athletes men for taking second, including my lovely other half!

My first running trophy!

My first running trophy!

Best bits

If you’re looking for a PB and are lucky enough to get a non-windy day, this course is a must. The medal and prizes were very nice and the organization of DB Max is very good. The official race photos are high quality and offer a reasonable low res (suitable for social media) option of £4.25, plus you can view your finish for free on YouTube.

Room for improvement

Competitors who entered on the day were not entitled to a finisher’s medal, which seems a bit mean. I can understand about ordering but either have it where there are no on the day entries or order more medals – I overheard some who were not aware about this rule until after they entered.

Overall verdict

Not the prettiest of races, but well organized and supported by some fairly big names. Definitely good value for money and a great chance to stretch your legs properly and work on your pacing. I would consider running it again, but maybe not for a while. Also, it’s important to note that the race is not UKA affiliated, only ARC, so your hard earned PB won’t be appearing on RunBritain Rankings or Power of 10, if you’re interested in that kind of thing.

Running Through the Ages

With less than 600m to go there were still two strong women ahead of her, battling for the top podium position. A bronze would have been a fantastic achievement, but it wasn’t enough today. Just feet shy of the beginning of the last lap, the bell ringing them home, she kicked it up another notch and took the lead. The commentators ask, does she have another gear? Can she hold on to this gold medal position? Third place drops off, but second is still determined. With 240 metres to go she continues to eat up the ground with her lean strong legs, pumping her arms and, most probably, gritting her teeth. This is hers. Today is her day. She rounds the corner and, from somewhere deep in her soul, she finds yet another gear and makes certain that that medal, the first major championship gold of her career, will be coming home with her tonight.

On an August evening this year, Jo Pavey made history by storming home to take gold in the women’s 10,000 metres at the European Athletics Championships. Not only was it the first major gold of her career, she became the first athlete over 40 to claim a gold medal in the history of the Championships. I still get tearful when I watch the last couple of laps of Jo’s magnificent run. She gave it absolutely everything and got exactly what she deserved. That it came to her so far into her career can only have made it sweeter. Watch her gutsy finish here.

Long distance running is an unusual sport for a fantastic reason: its longevity in the lives of its devotees. In so many other sports, on a professional and amateur level, youth is almost always a massive advantage. A quick peruse of some of the more recent literature found:

  • A study of over 300,000 German marathon and half marathon finishing times from runners aged 20 to 79 were accrued and analysed. Significant age-related declines in performance did not occur before the age of 50, with mean marathon and half marathon times for each age group practically identical (Leyk et al. 2007)

graphs

  •  An investigation into performance trends of duathletes (run-bike-run) analysed the finishing times of over 2,000 participants in the Powerman Zofingen long-distance duathlon from 2002 to 2011. There was a significant age effect, but the fastest times were achieved in the age range 25 to 39. Particularly interesting (for women, anyhow) were indications that female gender and increasing age were positively associated to performance. Cycling beat running however, with the overall decline with age much less pronounced (Rust et al. 2012).
  • Another study focussing on marathon performances sought to investigate the trends in participation and performance of veteran runners (aged 40 plus) and the effect of gender differences. They collated the finishing times of the best male and female runners aged between 20 and 65 in the New York Marathon from 1980 to 2009. Participation of veteran runners has increased, particularly for women. The researchers concluded that males (over 65) and females (over 45) have probably not yet reached their limits in marathon performance, another encouraging finding (Lepers and Cattagni, 2012).
  • And finally, a study of the performance of triathletes participating in the Hawaii Ironman triathlon between 1986 and 2010 analysed leg and total times for men and women aged 18 to 69. Again, participation of veterans increased over the time period, and statistical analyses found that men over 44 and women over 40 significantly improved their leg and total times. Interestingly, the gap between male and females between the ages of 40 and 59 also decreased.

Certainly in my running club, a large town-based club that welcomes members from across the ability and age spectrum, many of the top tier are in the V40+ age group. What might contribute to this? Is it only the best who carry on into later years? Other theories include:

  • Conventional wisdom and many a training guide tell us that the first marathon (or half or 10k or whatever) is just about finishing. No amount of training and reading can equal the experience of actually racing, what it feels like to hit the wall at mile 20 of your marathon or spew at the end of a half. The more you race, in theory, the more you get better at racing, so long as you learn from your experiences. Naturally, that takes time.
  • This is linked in with experience. How many green keen newbies (usually youngsters) have you seen pelt away from start line only to be pulled up with a stitch or similar half a mile later? Patience with training, as well as with pacing and racing, increase with experience.
  • Marathoner Meb Keflezighi, in his late 30s, told Runner’s World of his strict routine and how he pays a lot more attention to diet than in his younger days.
  • Late starters. Some, such as Tim Noakes, author of the Lore of Running, observe that most of the best older runners they know did not start running until their late 20s or early 30s. He speculates this may be something to do with not subjecting your body to high-intensity training at a younger age.

I’d be leading you astray if I suggested that it’s all good news as you get older. Quinn et al (2011) tackled the question that will plague all runners at some point if they continue to run into old – why am I getting slower? They found that, whilst running economy (how efficiently the body uses oxygen at a certain pace) in older runners was the same as younger runners, there were other factors acting against them. Keeping that running economy up there comes at a cost – VO2 max (the body’s capacity to transport and use oxygen during exercise) and maximum heart rate were both much lower.

The good news is that this was when comparing over 60s with under 40s, still meaning that runners have the capacity to keep performance high well into their 50s. Which keeps running up there in terms of longevity as a sport.

An inspiration - Ed Whitlock completes Toronto marathon in 3:41, aged 82 (http://www.runnersworld.com/elite-runners/ed-whitlock-runs-341-marathon-at-age-82)

An inspiration – Ed Whitlock completes Toronto marathon in 3:42, aged 82 (http://www.runnersworld.com/elite-runners/ed-whitlock-runs-341-marathon-at-age-82)

When the news of Jo missing out on funding from British Athletics’ World Class Performance Programme broke earlier this month, I had decidedly mixed feelings. Jo was not surprised. She told the BBC that she was “probably too old” for funding. Granted, the funding is targeted at athletes who British Athletics deem to have potential for success at the next Olympic and Paralympic games. By the time of the 2016, Jo will be 43 and there is many a rising and current star to challenge her on the world stage. Nonetheless, she is planning on a fifth Olympic Games.

Whatever the reasons and the finer details, the overall message is one of inclusivity and longevity. Good clubs welcome runners of all ages, and younger ones have a long career to look forward to, provided they take care of themselves. At 26, for most sports I would too old to even entertain the idea of having any kind of success or even progress. But as a runner, I look to people like Jo Pavey and Paula Radcliffe, and older runners at my club achieving their best in their 30s, 40s and 50s and I am dually inspired and relaxed. Inspired to keep going for my goals, but nabbing a bit of their wisdom and not fretting that my age will be the defining factor as to whether I do or not.

References

Lepers and Cattagni (2012) Do older athletes reach limits in their performance during marathon running? Age, 34(3), 773-781

Lepers et al. (2013) Relative improvements in endurance performance with age: evidence from 25 years of Hawaii Ironman racing. Age, 35(3), 953-962.

Leyk et al. (2007) Age-related Changes in Marathon and Half-Marathon Performances. International Journal of Sports Medicine28(6), 513-7.

Rust et al. (2013) Gender difference and age-related changes in performance at the long-distance duathlon. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 27(2), 293-201.

Quinn et al. (2011). Aging and Factors Related to Running Economy. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 25(11), 2971-2979.