Lows and highs (Brighton marathon training, weeks 4 & 5)

I started week 4 of my marathon training, or more accurately ended week 3 as I warmed up for the long run which concluded that week, by injuring myself with a foam roller. At the time of my post I hadn’t realised the significance of my achievement. As I rolled my upper legs and hips in preparation for my long run, I somewhat absently moved the roller to my chest and took my body weight on it just as I began to get up. The roller rolled down my ribs and momentarily, and painfully, I took most of my weight on my lowest right rib. For the next couple of days even laughing or pronounced breathing was painful due to my, apparently bruised, rib. Fortunately, running wasn’t precluded and although the discomfort has now all but disappeared, the embarrassment lingers.

Meanwhile, just after my first run of the week, I noticed a slight burning sensation behind my right kneecap which I recognised as the symptom preceding prepatellar bursitis, which wrote off the last two months of 2015 and continued to affect my running into early 2016. I skipped my planned Sunday run and used ice and a compression bandage to manage the symptom with some success. I was able to complete my Tuesday and Thursday runs unaffected. The latter, my long run, was my longest run for almost two years!

week 4 – ending Thursday 12 January

day* training
Sat 45 mins easy, 2 separate runs (5:14/km average)
Mon (swim 1.4k, 39 mins)
Tue 60 mins easy (5:01/km average)
Thu 90 mins easy (5:06/km average)
total 3 hrs 15 mins (-25 mins versus training plan)
* The plan I’m using has long runs on a Sunday, as is traditional. I currently do mine on a Thursday, hence the shift compared to the snippet below.

Week 4 of the ‘2016 improver plan’ that I am using as a template for my training. [Available via Virgin London Marathon plans, devised by Martin Yelling.]


My longest run for almost two years!

Fortunately, week 5 of my training plan was essentially an adaptation week and so I have been able to rest my knee to some extent. However, the burning sensation behind my right knee cap has persisted, albeit typically when I am not running. Fortunately, the symptoms have not progressed further and I have continued to treat with ice and compression. At this point, I am somewhat apprehensive about what the effect of returning to more intensive running in week 6 will be …

week 5 – ending Thursday 19 January

day* training
Sat 22 mins easy (4:58/km average)
Sun 34 mins easy (4:52/km average)
Mon (swim 1.4k, 40 mins)
Tue 22 mins easy (4:54/km average)
Thu 60 mins easy (4:47/km average)
total 2 hrs 18 mins (+8 mins versus training plan)
* The plan I’m using has long runs on a Sunday, as is traditional. I currently do mine on a Thursday, hence the shift compared to the snippet below.

Week 5 of the ‘2016 improver plan’ that I am using as a template for my training. [Available via Virgin London Marathon plans, devised by Martin Yelling.]


Backing off

Even as I posted “Back on track (metaphorical)”, I was anticipating a 1500m at Norman Park track a few days later and revelling in my wit in titling the accompanying post “Back on track (literal)” thereby confirming my place in the blogging firmament.

The following day I ran an easy 10k, but experienced some knee pain from about 9k.This was frustrating. I concluded the most likely cause was worn out shoes; the pair I wore had covered 475 miles and I typically retire shoes at 500. I switched to a pair with only 100 miles on them and ran another 5k season’s best a couple of days later at Dulwich parkrun on Saturday 11 June . The next morning I set out for another easy 10k. I experienced similar knee pain and again from about 9k. This was annoying.

I had to conclude that I had been overdoing the mileage. Even as I wrote “my mileage has returned to what I consider ‘normal’; around 30 miles a week”, in the masterwork that was “Back on track (metaphorical)”, I had just completed two consecutive weeks of 34 and 32 miles and was about to complete a third of 35. Even though I didn’t include it in my post I had committed myself to maintaining a strict ceiling of 30 miles per week for at least a couple of months before making tentative increments. (Throughout the last four months of 2014, I averaged 30 miles per week and ran fast and injury free. Then in January 2015, I averaged over 38 miles per week; and I now think this precipitated my subsequent injury affected year.) I doubt I am the only one who, when fit and strong, enjoys running so much that it is easy to run too much out of sheer exuberance.


Even as I wrote the masterwork that was “Back on track (metaphorical)”, I had just completed two consecutive weeks of 34 and 32 miles and was about to complete a third of 35.

Trying not to repeat previous mistakes; of continuing to run at the same level and ignoring, rather than treating symptoms, I stopped running after last Sunday’s recurrence. Self-control was particularly hard because my anticipated 1500m was scheduled for the Monday evening. However, doing the right thing was made easier by a viral infection that made me feel nauseous and I did stay at home. I am also treating my symptoms with ice, compression and anti-inflammatories.

I didn’t run again until yesterday rationalising that a parkrun after five rest days definitely constituted backing off. I was pleased to run 19:29, just six seconds outside last week’s season’s best; again at Dulwich. I have race commitments this coming week, but apart from the races themselves I am not going to run. Beyond that, I am going to gradually return to running 3, 4 and then 5 times a week over the next three weeks and again gently increase my mileage. This time genuinely observing the 30 miles a week ceiling.

I am looking forward to my races this week; the inaugural Dino Dash, a 3k trail lap relay, on Wednesday and a 10,000m at Orion Harriers Fast Friday. (On Friday.) The latter, you will notice, is also a track event. Assuming this week’s exuberance doesn’t result in race-ending injury it seems the wit-revelling is not going to have to wait too long.


One of the fragments of running knowledge I have acquired is that I do know the difference between a 5000m / ‘five thousand metres’ and a 5k / ‘five kay’ – the first is five kilometres raced on a track and the second is the same distance run on the road. A little over a week ago I ran only my second 5000m race.

The event was part of an open meeting at Highgate Harriers‘ Parliament Hill track. It was the first open meeting with a full programme that I have attended – there were four field events and the 5000m was the last and longest of six track events. All but one of the track events was organised as two or more independent races grouped by ability; the 5000m was divided into two races and I was in the second of those. I arrived early enough to relax and watch several of the earlier events before needing to prepare for my own. I particularly enjoyed the second of the three 800m races and watched with a broad grin as runners of all ages from pre-teenage girls to men approaching my own age, with age and gender representatives of most groups in between, raced in close competition and crossed the finish line within seconds of each other.

I arrived at the meeting with a target of 18:50 for my race; the same optimistic target I set for my last two 5k parkruns. I had fleetingly considered that a track should be more conducive to speed than road and hoped that I might set a 5000m best faster than my current 5k PB of 18:53. But I hadn’t considered how much better. Whilst getting changed into my race kit I chatted with another runner who suggested, in an encouraging way, that the track might be worth 25 seconds or so over a road 5k! I hadn’t considered it might be quite that much, but didn’t reflect further at the time; my 18:50 target was pretty optimistic anyway.

By the time I lined up at the start for my race (8:43pm according to my Garmin) it was dark beyond the floodlights of the track and I was feeling just a little tired – I was about to start a race around twelve hours later than I typically do! I had also warmed up anticipating an 8.20pm start … But enough excuses already, I was still excited enough to start quickly and glancing at my watch just after we passed the finish line for the first time confirmed just how fast. My pace was well inside 3:40/km and knowing my 18:50 goal required an average of 3:46/km I needed to slow down. I only wanted to slow down a little, but running in such close proximity to the others – I was in the middle of the 13 starters as we traversed the second bend – I wanted to be sure I didn’t compromise anyone else’s race. I quite enjoyed the sensation of looking around to make myself aware of the runner on my shoulder and those just behind me and then carefully modifying my pace on the second straight. Several runners took their cue and passed me before the next bend.

By the time I reached the finish line again, and saw the 11 laps to go board, I had settled in and a lap later finished the first kilometre in 3:47. By this time I think I was already in thirteenth place and focussed on running my goal pace. I completed the second kilometre in 3:48 and already knew I was not going to be able to achieve my goal pace for the entire race. I modified my goal to sub 19:00. There was a slight, but still significant, wind in the back straight and running unprotected by other runners it had some effect on me. I completed the third kilometre in 3:54. I could still see the runner in twelfth place, within 100m of me, and tried to avoid being dropped further. The rest of the field though were out of sight – I was glad I’d asked before the start about the etiquette should I be lapped. I think it was during the next kilometre that the twelfth place runner slowed down and we swapped places – it was definitely him slowing; I completed kilometre four in 3:53.

Running essentially alone I found the decreasing laps to go board something to aim for and having seen it showing two laps to go I was on the final bend when I became aware, at first from the cheering of the crowd and shortly after from the noise of the runners themselves, that the lead runners were completing their final lap and in so doing were catching me up. Quite quickly. I didn’t look round, but accelerated slightly as I approached the one lap to go board to ensure I didn’t get in the way of the finish. And to make sure I didn’t get lapped. 😉

This, and my own finishing push in the final 150m or so, helped to ensure that I completed the final kilometre in 3:39. My official time was 19:01.53. I was initially disappointed not to run inside 19:00, but reflected that I had run my fastest five kilometres of the year so far and in so doing had beaten my two competitively paced parkruns of the year – 19:15 run at Dulwich eleven days earlier and 19:04 in Poole just four days, and twelve hours, before the race.


So, hypothetically, how much is a track worth over a road at this distance? A 5000m time of 19:01.53 produces an age grade, for me, of 75.21% which in turn equates to a 19:27.39 5k. Or, from another perspective, my 18:53 5k PB produces an age grade of 77.49% which equates to a 5000m time of 18:27.97. Both of which seem to make last week’s performance look less positive. Ah well.

Perhaps I’m not in the most positive frame of my mind right now; last week I joined in a track session for the first time in about a year and had to abort the main workout when I strained a muscle in my right calf. It has now been five days since I last ran.

Non-optimal preparation

As I crossed the line at Brighton Half Marathon on Sunday 22 February in a new PB of 1:26:29 my running had been going well for several months. Several minutes later as I waited for my pre-booked post race massage I noticed that my right calf/Achilles was becoming increasingly uncomfortable, but the post race massage ameliorated it such that as I travelled home it wasn’t a matter of concern. I was looking forward to Paddock Wood Half Marathon on Sunday 29 March and an even better time.

My plan for the intervening period was a recovery week, two hard training weeks and then a full two week taper to maximize my PB potential on race day.

week #1 – ending 1 March – 7.1 miles total

Mon 23 5.5k recovery @ ~5:28/km
Fri 27 6k easy @ ~4:49
On Monday my calf/Achilles was very sore during my recovery run even though my pace was very gentle. Then, at around midnight on Tuesday, I began to suffer severe abdominal pain and this continued intermittently for several days. My sleep was interrupted every night and the combination of this disruption, the abdominal pain itself and my calf/Achilles discomfort, meant running really didn’t seem to be the best idea. I managed just one more run in the week when my ankle did seem quite improved.

week #2 – ending 8 March – 29.5 miles total

Tue 3 8k easy @ ~4:59/km
Thu 5 19.3k easy @ ~5:02/km
Sat 7 10.5k easy @ ~4:37/km
Sun 8 9.7k easy @ ~4:39
On the Monday of the second week, my abdominal pain finally subsided. I had one previous episode of serious abdominal pain in October 2012 and the diagnosis then was kidney stone pain. In the interim I have often suffered relatively mild abdominal discomfort and have retained the assumption that kidney stone transit was the cause. I saw my GP on the Wednesday who was able to confirm the presence of kidney stones and referred me for treatment. Free of distracting pain I returned to my running. Unfortunately each run, after Tuesday’s fairly comfortable one, became progressively more uncomfortable in terms of my calf/Achilles and so I resolved to rest and seek advice and treatment. I booked a sports massage for the following week.

week #3 ending 15 March – 3.7 miles total

Wed 11 6k easy @ ~5:00/km
Resting until Wednesday I was pleased to find my calf was significantly recovered; the closest to a totally comfortable run I had experienced since Brighton. I attended the sports massage session later that day and my therapist was able to confirm there was no injury to the Achilles, but that there was a small tear low down in my calf. I felt much better after the massage, but was quite disappointed to hear the recommendation that I rest from running for a week.

week #4 …

Tue 17 7.1k easy @ ~4:39/km
Wed 18 9k easy @ ~4:53/km

And so here I am in what would be, if my preparation had gone as planned, the beginning of my pre race taper. Having followed my massage therapist’s advice my calf does now appear to be all but fully recovered – I have no pain when running or applying direct pressure to the muscle. I am just still aware that there is the remnant of an injury, but I am confident, having now run twice this week, that it will recover fully in time for my race.

As there has been no hard training a full taper is clearly redundant at this point and so I am going to take each day as it comes and complete the final weeks pretty much by feel. As of now I am planning another easy run, about 11k, tomorrow and after resting on Friday I may parkrun on Saturday if I am feeling absolutely 100%. Or if, as I anticipate, my recovery is not quite complete by then I will run easy again and aim for a longer tempo run on Monday or Tuesday of next week before a short four day taper into my race at Paddock Wood.

So pretty non-optimal preparation or, as legendary Scottish ultra-runner Robert Burns might have it, The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley. [The transcribed text at the end of that link barely hints at the genius of the original performance. You may need to buy the DVD to achieve the full effect.]

Ouch, bugger and looking for the positives

Yesterday evening I went to my second track session with Kent AC at Ladywell Arena. Slightly delayed by a late running train I joined the group on their second warm up lap and briefly renewed the acquaintances I made last week. After a few dynamic stretches we returned to the track for a few strides before starting the session for the evening. In only my second week I still have the sensation that I’m missing something and asked for clarification; eight sets of 500m with 100m walked recoveries. “Right, this week I’m going to remember it and complete it with everyone else”; last week I managed to convince myself we were doing 5 sets of 800m with 200m recoveries and so was a bit surprised when everyone else took off for the sixth 800m just as I was about to leave the track.

Initially I settled into 5k PB pace as this was what I’d used the previous week (based on the rationale that 6 x 800m = 4.8k). As we approached the 100m point of our recovery at the end of the set I was surprised that the group seemed to be intending to walk 200m. All but one other runner seemed certain that this was correct; that sensation again. So, given the proportionately longer recovery period and the shorter total distance (8 x 500m = 4k), I decided to increase my pace by 10 seconds per kilometre to about 3:30 per km and set off on the second set.

As I approached the end of the second set I felt physically comfortable, clear in my head what I wanted to do in the session and relaxed. The runners in front of me slowed as they approached the 500m point at the end of the back straight, slowing further before stepping off the track to the infield where they began their 200m walked recovery inside the bend. I remember noting them slowing and being aware that I was maintaining most of my pace right to the end of the straight. I slowed a little into the bed and, mindful of my newly learned track etiquette responsibilities, knew I needed to leave the track into the infield. In that real time slow motion that one’s brain records of such moments, with an understated lowercase “oh shit” subtitle, I realised I was going too fast and that skipping over the small railing was going to be an awkward manoeuvre. Stepping my left foot over the railing, I attempted to do the same with my right, but already into the bend and being very close to the railing I couldn’t put it down securely enough to produce the force to divert my whole self over the railing. My right ankle turned over and I fell grazing my right palm and left knee heavily. I found myself in a heap, in the infield so etiquette observed, and hurting.

Once the cold, heavy, inert sensations in my ankle thawed enough that it could no longer limit my thoughts to “Bugger!” and synonyms thereof I moved on to “Bugger! I’ve sprained my ankle. Again. The same one.”
I’m so annoyed with myself, primarily because it was my own fault; running too quickly and not taking enough care in an unfamiliar environment. I have been running well, have recovered fully from spraining the same ankle in December and was beginning to browse for upcoming races. Also I had just begun to get to know a new group of runners whose impression, after just two weeks, could well now be “the guy who can’t remember the sessions and falls over”.

Looking for positives …
From the beginning of two interminable hobbles, one from the track to Ladywell station and one from Clock House station home, I found myself looking for positives in the situation …
I have not pre-entered any races. Certainly there will be races that I would have raced and parkruns I would have run, but at least no entry fees wasted and no race day deadlines to coerce me into running and racing sooner than my recovery dictates. Also I had seen my GP earlier in the day who advised that refraining from intense workouts would help the recovery of “strained breathing/chest muscles” (my paraphrase) possibly strained during the Brighton Half Marathon last month. They will now be getting the most thorough rest possible short of getting myself a mobility scooter. Ummm … My wife would be working from home the next morning and so I wouldn’t have to hobble my eldest daughter to school. Finally, as a data obsessive, the fact that I’d forgotten my heart rate monitor and so would have not had so much data to pore over anyway after the session. This struck me as a positive quite quickly.

All is well …

It’s almost the New Year. I have just completed an amazing running season in which I achieved all the goals I set this year. And I’ve set challenging goals for 2014 in confident tone. All is well.

Or rather all should be well. I turned my ankle over on 10 December and sprained it and consequently my season ended rather more abruptly than I had planned. As I write I’m planning my first tentative couple of kilometres back in running shoes for tomorrow morning. I’m hoping that it’ll be a non-event and I’ll return home mildly warm having had nothing to distract me from playing with my new running watch. That’s what I’m hoping.

Assuming all does go well I plan to add a kilometre every run and resume running four or five times a week as I was until the tenth. Here’s hoping tomorrow morning isn’t worthy of a blog post to itself.