Edinburgh Marathon Weekend #2: Race Day

Carb-loading at Laila's Bistro
I spent a relaxing Saturday pottering around Edinburgh. I made sure I wasn't rushing and generally took it easy. I found a great place to have lunch: Laila's Meditteranean Bistro. I treated myself to a delicious Chicken Shawarma wrap, with a side of hummus and bread. Hey, I was carb-loading!

Race morning arrived and I felt good. I was a little nervous, although this was mostly displacement nerves as I was keen to make sure I got to the start in good time.

My now traditional pre-race
Race day breakfast was my tried and trusted staple of marmite toast + a banana. Considering I was about to run hard for three hours, I decided to add a Total Breakfast shake from MyProtein. I've been drinking this on mornings when I run into work or if I have to leave at stupid o'clock to travel for conferences or meetings. I figured the extra protein would be a bonus.

Having packed my bag, I walked up to the start line. It was grey and drizzly, but much warmer than I had thought.

I actually found the start area quite confusing. There was a half marathon even earlier in the morning. There were also two starts for the marathon. So it was very hard to work out where I needed to be. I asked a marshall for directions to the bag drop and they sent me to wrong set. Where I needed to be was about 5-10 minutes walk away at the other start point. Queue some extra fretting about not missing the bag drop cut-off time. Still, at least it gave me a bit of a warm-up! I drank 500 ml of caffeinated electrolyte drink (Science in Sport Hydro+) and had another banana about 25 minutes before the start.

Standing at the start line, I was glad of the poncho that my host Catriona had given me. There wasn't really any rain, but it was overcast and grey. I stayed warm and calmed my heart rate down and reminded myself of my race tactics. My race plan was to run the first half at 7:00 min/mi. If I felt good at half way I could accelerate slightly to something like 6:50 min/mi. Then I'd check at 16 and 20 miles and judge how I was feeling. I didn't want to push too hard too early and having nothing left in the last few miles.

Once the race started I was glad that I'd positioned myself near the front of the bay. I wasn't obstructed and could get off at my natural pace straight away. Over 26 miles, there's plenty of time to recover from a slow start if you're baulked by people. But it's much nicer to get into your rhythm and zone straight away.

The first 2-3 miles are basically downhill, so I found that I was running slightly ahead of schedule. It was only a few seconds, so I just kept trying to focus on running at a comfortable pace. I didn't really get much chance to look around me during the run. I certainly don't remember too many features of the route. The route quickly gets to the coast and then it's a fairly long out-and-back along the coast. As promised, the route was flat with very few noticeable climbs or descents. That obviously helped me to maintain a steady pace.

At halfway I had been running consistently a few seconds under 7:00 min/mi, so I just tried to maintain that pace. At 16 miles I still felt good and decided to push a little bit harder. I increased to around 6:50 min/mi. At 20 I pushed on again and dropped to around 6:40-6:45 min/mi. My legs felt strong and I was breathing fairly comfortably.

During the race I made sure to get a drink at each water station. I carried 3 High5 energy gels with me and also picked up 3 more at water stations at 16, 22 and 24 miles. My plan was to take an energy gel roughly every 3 miles from about 10 miles. This worked really well. I felt like I had good energy levels all the way around.

The last two or three miles were hard work, but not agonising. I was pushing on again. I wasn't overtaken by many people on the from the turn point at the far end of the route (about 17.5 miles). In fact I definitely overtook a lot more people coming back. This was obviously hugely motivating. Much better to be in that position than feeling heavy legged and shattered. For the last 8 miles or so, I kept trying to focus on running lightly; keeping my cadence high and my steps light on the ground. It felt like any of the runners I did pass were hitting the ground hard with each step and sapping their energy further.

Recovery shake, banana, medal.
My last full mile was the fastest of the race at 6:37 min/mi. Did I wimp out? Could I have run harder for longer and taken another 20 seconds off my time? I don't know. It didn't feel like it. I think if I'd been running at 6:45 min/mi pace from halfway I'd have really struggled in the final few miles. Overall, I'm sure I got my pacing spot on and my overall race went exactly as I had planned it. In fact probably slightly better. I don't think I can ask for anything more than that.

If you're interested (crikey, you've read this far, so you must be), you can examine my race here: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/506663553

At the finish line, I got my goody bag and headed straight to the baggage pick-up to grab my post race recovery shake + another banana. I also scoffed a small sample pack of oatcakes from my goody bag. I had a quick shower and change and then had to walk 20 minutes in the rain to the shuttle buses. Not the greatest way to end the race, but probably a good thing for stretching out my legs.

After I'd got back to my flat, I showered properly, packed, said thank you to my host and headed in to town for a thoroughly well-deserved burger and chips and a pint of beer. I ate at Hollyrood 9a and I can highly recommend both the food and the quality selection of beers.

Burger and Chips at Hollyrood 9a

To round off an excellent day I caught up with a school friend, Matt Garner. We had another beer in the Halfway House tucked away near Waverly Station. I then headed to the airport to get my flight home (and grabbed a huge caramel latte from Cafe Nero).

So, I will need to do another marathon again in the future to break the 3 hour barrier. I feel that with another 6-9 months of training, I should be able to aim for something at least in the 2h:55m region.


Edinburgh Marathon Weekend #1: Adventures in Travel

Fortunately internal flights
don't go through customs
When was the last time that you did something that made you feel like a child again? Something that felt adventurous, or new, or totally different to your normal day-to-day life? Something that gives you a buzz of anticipation and excitement. Something that makes you want to bounce like a Tigger.

Before this weekend, it has been a long time since I can honestly say I felt that I was doing something to make me feel that way. The whole experience of the Edinburgh Marathon weekend has been a childlike adventure for me. Sorting out my flights, booking accommodation, arranging my own travel, planning my packing, organising my logistics for race day, exploring Edinburgh, running a marathon, eating a lot of good food. 
I think I've got everything
I do have a reputation for being slightly obsessive about things. My preparation for Edinburgh was not really any different. I wanted to make sure I'd packed the right nutrition and all the appropriate kit. And then I organised my packing so that I could just take hand luggage on the plane. I wanted to travel in a relaxed fashion, but milling around a baggage carousel doesn't do it for me, no matter how Zen I'm feeling.  

The joy of stuff sacks
Another cool thing about this weekend was discovering the impact of available travel apps. It's easy to take new technology and applications for granted. Only a few years ago, travelling by plane meant trying to phone the airport to see if your flight was on time, turning up in hope, being disappointed to find it delayed, queuing at check-in for ages (even if you are travelling with hand luggage) and generally wondering whether it wouldn't have just been quicker to drive.

Travelling to Edinburgh this weekend was the first time I've flown in a couple of years. Two apps on my phone made me realise how much things have changed.

Firstly, about an hour before I was planning to leave for the airport, Google Now popped up with a notification that my flight was delayed by 15 minutes. This totally surprised me, because the flight wasn't due to leave for at least 4 hours.

Secondly, when I arrived at the airport I used the Easyjet Android App for check-in. I checked in with the app the day before travelling and downloaded my boarding passes for the outward and home journeys. I'll admit, I was slightly dubious about whether the QR code on the phone was going to work (and slightly more worried that my Nexus 4 would run out of battery before I'd get chance to find out). When I got to the airport, I even had to go to the customer services desk just to check that it really was as simple as presenting my phone at the security gate. It was. Brilliant! And it really worked. A quick scan at the security gates, again at the departure gate, and even at the WH Smith self-service till when I wanted to get a drink and a snack. All-in-all it worked perfectly. No bits of paper to lose. No queuing. A total result. 

One area where technology couldn't help was that my flight was eventually 30 minutes late in leaving. But I had my old-fashioned technology (a book) to keep me occupied, so I was still happy and relaxed.
My actual travel was relatively uneventful. I had carefully sourced some cheap airport parking at Goblin Combe Farm (http://www.goblincombefarm.com/). My journey there was there uneventful. The transfer to the airport went really smoothly. My flight was delayed, but I was able to chill out and read my book, so it was fine. Flight was good and getting out of Edinburgh Airport on the Airlink bus service was easy.

Sophie was a beautiful 15 year old Birman
My accommodation for the weekend was a spare room that I found on Airbnb (https://www.airbnb.co.uk/). My host was Catriona. She was really helpful, thoughtful and welcoming. I felt at home immediately, even down to being greeted by Cat's two cats (what a sentence?!). 

Lizard taking a well-deserved rest
After I'd unpacked, including Seb's Marvel Lizard character from a Kinder Egg that Seb had given to me to "look after me all weekend", it was a 5 minute walk up the road to Morrisons to get hold of chicken, salad, bread, skimmed milk, bananas and, most importantly, marmite for my weekend fuelling.

A chicken salad sandwich, a milkshake of instant oats & banana flavoured Nesquik and it was time to sleep like a baby. Which I did. I even managed a lie-in until 0730. Unheard of in the last few months.


Goodbye training, hello taper

The final key workout has been been logged into the training diary. All that's left is maintenance and sharpening. No more 2+ hour runs. No more long tempos. 

My last session went really well. It was an 18 mi run with the middle 10 at roughly 6:45 min/mi. That's a bit faster than I plan to run for most of the marathon. 

I managed the tempo pace pretty well. It felt physically and mentally fine. I had one difficult and uncomfortable mile in the middle. It turns out that running uphill into a headwind is actually really tough. Who knew?! Even this mile was at an average 7:11 min/mi and I recovered to run close to target again for the next mile. 

What really gives me confidence is doing this is the middle of my training and with less than perfect preparation.

This is another 50+ mile training week.

The run started at just after 6am; I didn't get up at 4am for breakfast. I just had a banana and a caffeinated electrolyte drink 20 mins before the run.

I didn't carb load the day before, or really focus on a pre run nutrition strategy in the way I will for the marathon.

My sleep hasn't been brilliant recently. I hope to have improved this by race weekend. 

It feels like my training has gone really well. Now I just need a good taper over the next two weeks and I can know that I've given myself the best chance to run to my current potential on race day. 

Next up: increasing the level of my "current potential"!


I just can't get enough ...

What is insomnia? NHS UK defines it as:
“Insomnia is difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep for long enough to feel refreshed the next morning, even though you've had enough opportunity to sleep.”
It describes the following symptoms:
  • difficulty falling asleep
  • waking up during the night
  • waking up early in the morning
  • feeling irritable and tired and finding it difficult to function during the day
In the last few months, I’ve been waking up earlier and earlier. I’m commonly awake by 5am and my brain just switches on. I’m also waking more frequently at around 3-4am to go to the toilet.

I don’t have a problem falling asleep. I’m usually asleep by about 10:45pm. It probably takes me less than five minutes to fall asleep after finishing reading and switching off my light.

As the Edinburgh Marathon approaches, I’m starting to get slightly concerned that I’m not allowing my body to get enough rest. I’m getting less than seven hours sleep most nights. I’ve generally found that I feel at my best after about seven and a half hours sleep.

Generally, I think I follow most of the guidelines for “sleep hygiene” quite well.
  • We don’t have a TV in our bedroom.
  • I don’t work in our bedroom.
  • I avoid caffeine after about 3pm.
  • We have blackout curtain linings - the room is plenty dark enough.
  • I have a very supportive pillow (Tempur memory foam pillow - can’t recommend it highly enough) and a super comfortable mattress (an extravagantly expensive pocket-sprung + memory foam mattress from John Lewis).
  • I drink very little alcohol (did I mention I’m in training for a marathon and I have a bit of an obsession with calorie counting and maintaining a net calorie controlled diet)
  • I have a pretty good bedtime routine. It’s not perfect, my life is a bit too complicated for that (e.g. Last night I stayed in a hotel in Reading after being a work function in central London). Generally I manage to read in bed for roughly 30 minutes at about 10pm.

I suspect a link to a couple of things:
  1. Depleted carbohydrate stores from training and restricting my diet and aiming for higher protein content. For example, I often have a salad for lunch rather than sandwiches.
  2. Drinking too much later in the evening. I usually drink out of a pint glass. I frequently drink at least two pints of water or squash after about 7:30pm. 

So, my self-prescription is:
  1. No large drinks after 8pm. Drink from a smaller glass with dinner (or not at all).
  2. Continue to avoid caffeine after 3pm.
  3. Take a herbal sleeping aid (e.g. Kalms, Nytol) about 30 mins before I plan to sleep. I’m happy if I just get the Placebo Effect.
  4. Have a small supper like a bowl of muesli and skimmed milk about an hour before sleep time.
  5. Have headphones in my phone, by my bed, ready to listen to a podcast or audiobook if I do wake up a bit early.
  6. No screen time (phone, computer, TV) at least an hour before sleep time.
  7. Eat more carbohydrates during the day. Cut back on salad lunches. Especially in the next few weeks in the lead up to the marathon (except perhaps at the start of marathon week, because I’ll probably do a moderate carb-fast for carb-loading).
Picture credit: Blue Alarm Clock, Pavel Ĺ evela [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons


It's the end of the Road-X 255

Inov-8 Road-X 255 running shoes on recycling pile
Inov-8 Road-X 255s finally consigned to the recycling pile

I finally accepted that it was time to retire my first foray into less structured running shoes today. My Inov-8 Road-X 255s finally got dumped in the recycling pile. They've not been used in about 2 months, because they have definitely run their course (pun intended).

They've given me just under 600 miles of quality road running. The first time I wore them, I noticed a completely different feel to my running. I felt much more connected to the ground. The shoes were lighter and I felt like a faster runner almost straight away (yes, placebo effect and being a sucker for marketing). Sadly as time has gone by, the shoes have started to develop a dead feeling. I think that they've just reached their mileage limit for maximum effectiveness. I'm sure I could run another few hundred miles in them. There are some signs of wear and tear, but they are structurally sound. The feel has just gone off though.

I now race in Inov-8 Road-X 233s. I love them. The grip feels amazing and they just feel fast. I also have a pair of Saucony Kinavara 4s. I'm less enthusiastic about these, I don't get the same sense of responsiveness. 

I suspect I'll be experimenting with a few more shoes this year as I rack up the miles.

It's not just about running ...

Today was one of those low energy days. The last thing I wanted to do when I got home was to force myself to do another training session. But, with the marathon under three weeks away, these are the last few training sessions that will make a difference. It's not time to wimp out now.

I did a lunchtime run of about 5 miles. It was supposed to be an easy run, but it felt like a real slog. I managed to commit to a few striders towards the end. I think those 30 seconds of faster running actually helped me loosen up.

Today was also a strength training session. Helena was out at the gym, so I did the boys' bedtimes. Seb was an angel. As soon as I'd finished reading him Dr Seuss, I headed out to the garage to chuck some iron around. I knew I had to go straight away or I'd just slump in a chair and the evening would be over.

I try to do some form of strength training twice a week. Normally I mix some heavy lifting with low repetitions (typically 3 sets of 6 reps with 90 seconds rest between sets) and something more focused on my core or general conditioning. General condition sessions include medicine ball circuits, swiss ball work, superset circuits and tri-set circuits.

The main reason for incorporating weight training is to help with my longer distance running. I'm fairly sure that building strength in my legs and core will help reduce injury risk. I am also sure it will help me to maintain form and pace in runs over 20 miles.

If nothing else, keeping a consistent routine of strength training is marginally offsetting the impact of losing weight from my endurance training. Hopefully a small amount of muscle definition will minimise the "scrawny malnourished little boy" look that I'll otherwise be rocking on the beach this summer.


Three is the Magic Number

There are only three weeks until the Edinburgh Marathon. So far, my training has gone really well. I’ve had great results in the Bath Half Marathon and Corsham 10k. Each of those races has been a personal best. The half marathon was particularly satisfying, because I’ve finally laid to rest the ghost of my previous best time of 1:30:32. Those 32 brief seconds have been intensely frustrating for over a decade.

The marathon is getting close now. Even though it will be my first I feel I’m on track to achieve my goal of finishing in around 3 hours. I’m still a bit nervous, because I’ve never run that far at that pace. But I know I can cover the distance, I’ve been working on my strength, and my race results show that I’m running at the the right level.

The next three weeks are therefore all about making sure I achieve my potential best on the day.

Thinking About The Taper

With only three weeks left, there is not much training left as far as improving my potential performance goes. Yesterday I completed my final 20+ mile long run. It went nicely and I averaged a fairly comfortable 8 min/mile pace. I've logged about 53 miles of running and done two strength training sessions this week.

My last major workout is going to be an 18 mile run with 10 miles at tempo pace next Friday. Other than that, it’s going to be easy runs with the occasional set of short “striders”. Striders are 30 seconds bursts running comfortably fast - the sort of pace I’d expect to hold for 10k / half marathon generally. They help to keep some sharpness in my legs.

As my training mileage has increased in the last month, I’ve started to notice that I feel more fatigued. I think this is good. I’m not quite at over-training stage. I’m just pushing my body and as it recovers, the adaptation should lead to improved performance. Equally, I need to be careful, because if I get silly and push too hard, I’ll get injured or not recover in time for the race. With three weeks left I can consolidate my fitness, but I’m not going to shave 10 seconds a mile off my potential best time.
The last 10 days before the race will be a rest / tapering phase. I'll aim to do a few easy miles of running. The main aim is to be rested and ready for race day though.

You Are What You Eat

I often attempt to reconcile myself with my OCD tendencies by trying to see them as giving me an advantage in sporting performance. It’s one of the ways I try to maintain some level of sanity (although opinions may differ on my success).

One area where I think this might actually be true is in managing my diet and nutrition. Since the start of the year, I’ve been disciplined in using an app called MyFitnessPal to track what I eat. I mainly use it to think about my “net calories” and to ensure that I’m getting a reasonable balance of carbohydrates, protein and fat. I think of net calories in terms of calories consumed from food minus calories expended in exercise. I don’t tend to factor in daily activity, unless I’m doing something significant like digging out foundations for a shed.

I aim to average a daily net calorie balance of around 1950 calories. However, my training plan means that it’s actually a bit more nuanced than this. I aim to consume between 500-1000 more net calories on the day before and on the day of a long run (i.e. anything over 15 miles or 2 hours). Then, for the rest of the week, I aim to consume a little under the 1950 calorie target, ideally around 1700 calories.

So far, this strategy seems to be working. I’ve maintained a fairly even weight and continued to lose weight slightly. This is all good. There’s no point in carrying any excess lard around for 26 miles. I’ve seen some models that suggest that losing 1kg of weight can result in around a 7 second / mile speed improvement. If they’re correct (5 minutes searching Google Scholar didn’t immediately turn up any concrete research),  I’ve probably done as much to improve my performance through losing weight as I have through training.

I'll also probably increase my vitamin C intake over the next few weeks. I might as well give myself every chance of avoiding colds etc.

The 5 Ps: Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance

As much as getting my training tapering right and managing my diet are both hugely important, I believe a major aspect in getting my best time on the day is going to be around my preparation for race day. There is no point in wasting energy by being stressed during the race weekend. I want to start the race refreshed, relaxed and excited.

I remember having a bad pre-race experience at the Bristol Half Marathon a few years ago. I left late to get to the race, got stuck in traffic and then wasted a lot of nervous energy fretting about whether I'd get to the start line on time. I ended up starting the race already feeling tired. Being mentally stressed at the start also translated into running a race that didn't really stick to plan. I ran at a pace I knew I couldn't sustain. Predictably I almost completely blew up by mile 11.

So, getting myself ready for race day is what I'll spend more time on over the next few weeks. This is all about the details:

  • Review my travel plans: when to get to the airport, where I'm parking, what I'm going to do at the airport
  • Plan luggage for the weekend: I want to travel with hand luggage only, so I need to make sure I pack the right kit
  • Check my accommodation details, how to get there, etc
  • Think about what I am going to eat during the weekend and what food I'll buy in Edinburgh 
  • Make sure I know how to get to the start
  • Where do I drop my bag before the race?
  • Make sure I understand the race route
  • What am I doing after the race?

As well as reducing stress over the weekend, for me, this preparation is also about getting excited about the race weekend. I'm really starting to look forward to the whole adventure.

PS Once I’ve completed this race, the real push towards the Brecon Beacons Ultra begins. I am collecting sponsorship for Azafady. You can get in early and sponsor me here: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/DavidBlamire-Brown