Countdown to the Edinburgh Marathon: eight weeks to go

The marathon wasn't an original goal for me. I entered it basically because my training was going so well. It became more of a question of "why not?". As a bit of a secondary goal, it hasn't been foremost in my mind. And so, with only eight weeks to go, it feels like it's crept up on me a bit. I'm not sure how my first marathon has done this. It's still a serious undertaking. So, better late than never, it's time to plan my preparation.

#1 Do not get injured

Last November I picked up a niggling strain that stopped me training for six weeks. I hope to learn the lessons from that experience.

Firstly, I'm going to stick to a more moderate training plan. I'll aim for just one session of extended faster paced running each week.

Secondly, I will listen to my body. If I'm aware of a potential strain, I'll rest until I'm confident it's not going to turn into an injury.

Thirdly, I will follow a preventative maintenance programme of core strength work, stability exercises, massage (foam roller) and stretching.

#2 Manage my weight and nutrition 

As far as miracle interventions go, losing a small amount of weight is one of the most effective and efficient ways to improve long distance running performance.
I need to strike a balance over the next two weeks of managing my weight and still properly refuelling to maintain my energy levels and avoid injury.
I want to try to lose approximately 2 kgs. I think my ideal race weight is somewhere between 65 and 66 kg.
Two things have worked really well for me in the last year:

i. Count calories. 

I've had excellent results using MyFitnessPal Calorie Counter. In training weeks aim for daily net calorie balance (ie discounting calories burned during exercise) of 1700 - 1900 calories per day. In rest weeks, assuming I'm not already on target weight, aim for 1450 net calories per day.

ii. Eat more protein. 

After scouting around the net and reading several other reference sources, I will be aiming to consume about 2 g of protein per kg of body weight. For me, this means about 135 g per day.
This is highly complementary to counting calories. It's very hard to eat enough protein without thinking carefully about your diet. To get the balance right I will be eating a lot of lean protein sources: cottage cheese, eggs, tuna, chicken, turkey, prawns, and beans/pulses.
Based on the last year, if I plan my diet around lean protein, the rest will fall out quite naturally.

The only other nutritional consideration that I am keen on is to make sure I'm eating enough healthy fish oils from mackerel, sardines, salmon, etc.

#3 Plan to peak properly

I guess this whole thing is about the 5 Ps: Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance.
A good general training guide is to train progressively in blocks of 3-5 weeks with a rest week between each cycle of training. My own experience is that I feel better with three week cycles. I find that towards the end of a four week cycle I'm getting noticeably fatigued. Maybe it's my age, my genes, or my relative lack of long-term endurance training (or all three). Anyway, I've noticed it and, considering my desire to avoid injury, I'll be sticking to it.

My training plan is largely driven by the constraint of only including one session of extended faster pace running each week. As a high level summary, April is about longer distances and shorter tempo runs; May is about longer tempo sessions and race tapering.

A rough breakdown of the training plan is:
w/c 31/03: Rest week. Total miles = 25.
w/c 07/04: Total miles = 50. Key workout = 6m with 4m at Half Marathon Pace.
w/c 14/04: Total miles = 55. Key workout = 6m with 4m at Half Marathon Pace.
w/c 21/04: Total miles = 58. Key workout = 8m with 6m at Half marathon pace.
w/c 28/04: Rest week. Total miles = 30.
w/c 05/05: Total miles = 58. Key workout = 24 miles with 12 at Half Marathon Pace + 15s.
w/c 12/05: Start taper. Total miles = 40. Key workout = 15m with 10m at Half marathon pace + 10s.
w/c 19/05: Race week. Taper.
w/c 26/05: Rest!

So, I think that covers the three key components of my next eight weeks of training.

I've arranged my travel and accommodation. I think I can now just settle in, enjoy the training and get excited about the event.


A powerful way to reignite your motivation

As I've mentioned quite a few times, I'm running my first ultra marathon in November. Of course, with my various personality traits, it's not really enough for me to "just" run it. I want to finish high up the field of entrants and I also want to use the event as a trigger to get people to sponsor me a huge amount of money to donate to Azafady. I don't like to do things by halves.

Don't make it easy on yourself

Along the way this year, I'm planning on achieving personal bests for 10km and half marathon races (done already at Bath Half). I'm also planning on completing my first full marathon (Edinburgh at the end of May). And, typically, I want to finish my first marathon fast enough to qualify for "Good For Age" entry to the 2015 London Marathon.

As a bonus challenge, I'm doing this while picking up a new role at SCISYS. The new role means learning new skills and doing things outside of a professional comfort zone that I've established over the last decade. It also means travelling a lot.

And I'm trying to achieve other personal goals to experience life to the full with my family, read more, learn more, write more, do more.

All of this means that I'm facing a year of dedication, discipline and no small measure of selfishness in terms of hours apart from my family.

Getting off to a good start

Ten weeks into the year and progress has been good.

In January, I conquered my niggling running injury from last November. I've lost a couple more kilos of weight. I'm hovering around 66-67kg.

I've added a reasonably consistent strength training aspect to my training schedule and I'm managing to run about 40 miles per week.

My first race of the year at Slaughterford went much better than expected. I finished 32nd. This was a huge improvement on my previous finish of 123rd. In the Slaughterford 9, you count finishing position rather than time, because the weather and course conditions can vary so greatly.

I got a new personal best in the Bath Half Marathon.

I've been eating well and managing my weight effectively.

I've been reading more, writing more, doing more.

However, in the last couple of weeks, I've noticed my motivation beginning to drift slightly.

What does losing motivation look like?

For me, losing motivation feels like losing focus.

I've stopped counting calories. And I've almost immediately noticed that my discipline towards my diet has slipped dramatically.

I'm not particularly focused on a training plan. I'm running, but with no firm direction.

I'm not reading as much about running and fitness. I'm not thinking as much about it. I don't feel as engaged.

Some of this is a natural reaction to completing the Bath Half and achieving a significant personal goal. I've wanted to finish a half marathon in under 90 minutes for around 12 years. To be achieve that goal by such a long way is a big deal to me. I deserve a little rest and and a celebration.

What's important for me is that I have more goals to achieve in running this year. I can't let my celebration drift and turn into a total lapse. Managing weight is especially difficult and probably even more important for the marathon. The marathon is only 10 weeks away, so I don't have too much time to recover from a major lapse.

How can I reignite my motivation?

Today I paid a visit to the offices of Azafady.

Aside from being a useful visit in terms of my fund raising planning, it did two other things for my motivation.

1. Making a public commitment
By meeting face-to-face with Tegan at Azafady, I've made a public commitment to my goal of fund raising linked to the ultra marathon in November. I don't want to let the team down. I don't want to have to publicly discuss my failure to achieve my goal.

This is a bit like the stick in a carrot and stick approach. Public commitments have a small positive reinforcing element to them, because they give you an opportunity to boost your ego. I believe that they largely have a negatively reinforcing element, because you are looking to avoid having to admit failure.

2. Making the goal feel personally meaningful
Talking through the work that Azafady does helped me to understand the impact that successful fund raising could have. The meeting refreshed my feeling that I'm doing a very worthwhile thing. I'm excited to be helping a brilliant charity. I've never raised funds for a charity before and this has helped me feel that I've started and that it's a Good Thing.

Making a goal meaningful is definitely a vital thing. If the goal is authentically engaging for you as an individual, your motivation to achieve it will be constantly threatened. Even goals that are very personally important can go through dips. Finding ways to remind yourself of their meaning and refresh the sense of personal value will help to maintain motivation in the long run.


An online content collection and reading strategy

Photo Credit: Bookshelves by Germán Póo-Caamaño (CC BY)
I like reading.
I love the Internet.
I am a bit of a news junky.

I these things combine badly. I end up getting frustrated by two contradictory problems:
Firstly, I can't keep up with all the news I want to read.
Secondly, I feel like I'm wasting time footling about surfing stuff on the Internet when I should be living my life.

I'm not as bad as I was. A few years ago, online news became something of an addiction. I'd be pootling about surfing the Internet and regularly refreshing the BBC news website and sites like NewsNow (an early online news aggregator) and then getting frustrated when there wasn't new news. The urge to keep refreshing came from the sense that you might be missing out on something. I'm pretty much over that now. Although that's largely because there are so many sources of "news", it's impossible to feel that you have exhausted them all.

Part of my problem is that I have a fairly wide range of quite diverse interests. If I was only interested in one or two specific areas, that would make it easier to stay on top of those few topics and get quite in depth.

In an attempt to reduce the frustration of my reading / news addiction, I've been working on implementing an online news gathering and reading approach. The approach makes use of four main tools:

Feedly and Zite are my collection tools. I skim these tools looking for articles that appear to be interesting. I then save them in Pocket to read later. If an article is particularly useful as a reference item, I then save it from pocket to Evernote. Evernote is my ultimate library / archive.

This creates a workflow where I can skim if I don't have energy or time to read in detail. I can read in detail later. I feel in control of the flow of news.