Digested read: back on the Monsal trail for a 21 mile long run. Oh my, you should have seen the ice formations in those tunnels, it was a spectacle of wonders indeed. Still not sure how best to train for this London marathon business though. It’s a mystery. Glad to have that run done, hoping for one more long one before the Big Event. Aaargh.
If you asked me to provide any kind of rationale for my London marathon training plan, I’m not altogether sure I could do so. From the outset I had the idea that it would be important to crack the 20 mile boundary, but I’m not sure now quite why. There is accepted wisdom that you should be increasing the length of your long run week by week, and that if you can get to 20 miles in training then on the day the crowds and atmosphere will carry you through. Then again, I’ve heard repeatedly that it’s after the 20 mile mark you might encounter ‘The Wall’ – balanced against this is the very sensible observation that really, if you train and fuel your body properly this should by no means be seen as an inevitable part of the marathon event.
More recently, I’m reading articles that question the wisdom of doing really long runs unless you are a sub three-hour runner. Spoiler alert. I’m not. I don’t know if this is because now I’m in the final stages, and I’ve had to miss out one of my long runs I’m seeking retrospective justification that this won’t be ruinous to my London sojourn. Runners’ World put together an article ‘in the long run‘ back in 2002, that says, amongst other things:
2. What is the best long-run training distance for marathoners?
In short, there is no perfect distance. We have seen marathon-training schedules which never take you further than 13 miles and ones that suggest you run the complete distance or further in training.
In our marathon training schedules the longest distance we ever suggest is 22 miles for the sub-3:00 group, other groups don’t go quite as far because they’re running more slowly and consequently will be on their feet longer.
What you find is that many marathon schedules don’t go further than 20 miles, although that’s probably more because 20 is a nice, round number than anything more concrete. In countries that use the metric system, 30K (18.6 miles) is equally round and frequently used.
Most coaches feel that once you reach 16 miles, you’re in long-run territory. That’s the point where the psychological and physiological changes start to take place. Some coaches prefer to keep track of the long run by time rather than distance, which is the approach we generally recommend for the slower groups in our marathon schedules.
Your time goal for your longest run should approximate the total length of time you expect to run in the marathon itself, without worrying about the distance or the speed. For example, if your marathon time goal is three hours, you should probably do at least one long run of close to three hours. The exception: If you’re a first timer with a goal of four hours or slower, you shouldn’t do a long run of that length. It’s too risky. Instead, do one long run of at least three hours, but no more than 3:30.
I don’t know what to make of this. I have found from experience that I’m out for so long on my long runs (I’ll be ecstatic if I get round in 6 hours) that it does take me a couple of days to recover from these. But if I only ever went out for three hours max in training then I think I’d just die of shock when out for twice as long on event day. Another article in a different source suggests slow runners do two three hour runs on the same day, to cover the distance but minimise the risk of injury. Well that’s never going to happen in my world. I do enjoy going out for lengthy yomps for the most part, but once I’m home and dry I’m done. It would take a great deal to have me had out again on the same day. Anyway, for my part I decided early on, almost unilaterally, to go with the mantra of ‘time on my feet’. I don’t care if it’s running or walking, I will just cover the distance. I’m hoping I will have built sufficient stamina and gained sufficient confidence if I’ve come close to the full distance, but it is a balancing act. Oh lawks a lordy I hate my cumulative ineptitude. I suppose nobody has a perfectly executed preparation for a marathon, and few are blessed with a genetic inheritance that enables them to blag it on the day. I’ll just have to join the start and take my chances along with everyone else. I have tried to prepare as far as my own limitations and the weather has allowed. … even so, I am pleased to report that I did achieve one 21 mile run in my training. Strictly speaking 20.85 miles, but I stopped my Strava before wandering around in car park and general post run faffing, so I’m happy to call it 21. I fully appreciate that logic won’t help me if I bow out of London at the 26.05 mile mark, but I’m hoping that situation won’t arise.
As usual, I’m playing catch up with my blog, so writing this post on 3 April with less that three weeks to go and in the grip of major maranoia. However, the run in question was actually on 20th March. It turned out to be my last long run, and a bit earlier in my training plan than I’d have liked, but then again, at least I’ve done it. I met another runner recently who is training for Brighton. She’d been wiped out with a flu type virus and missed 4 weeks training and only managed to get in two 18 mile runs, albeit closer to the event. She had banked some 20 milers earlier on though. Aargh, I don’t know whether to stick with my taper, or get one more long one in. Hard to know. Thankfully though, my last long run went really well. Unexpectedly so.
It was cold, I’d wanted to go out the day before but snow and ice had made it impossible. Blooming beast from the east. I’m not impressed. My regular reader will know however that I’m conscientious if not keen. I’d committed to doing this longer run, so I headed out anyway. Back to the Monsal Trail. The novelty of this route is definitely wearing off, but, on the plus side it is flat, with even terrain and good facilities. The predictability of the terrain has massively helped me get into a rhythm with my running. When London is finally over, I might try to make an effort to get over there every six weeks or so to do a long flat run, I think it would significantly help me run more consistently.
So headed out. Brrrrr. I wasn’t feeling the lurve, but I was feeling committed to doing this thing. My last long run, 19 miles, at Monsal had been OK, more than OK, it went well, and I reckoned by just adding a tad of distance at either end I’d be able to ramp this route up to 20+ miles easily enough without any navigational challenges. I was a bit on edge. I wanted to bank another positive experience of a long run, but each time the distance extends, I’m inching into unknown territory. The Strava of the route is hilarious. Nothing to see people, nothing to see, I guess you had to be there:
I’m going to try to exercise restraint in logging a post about this run. After all, I’ve banged on about the Monsal trail quite a bit of late, I don’t want to alienate my only reader. However, there were some sightings I want to document for posterity. Also, I like to think if I ever do look back on my marathon preparation it might be helpful to be reminded of how I felt and what I did at the various stages of my training. Hindsight is after all a wonderful thing, and I am not immune to re-writing history once I get to the other side of this challenge, better to nail down a more honest account here and now.
First things first. Turned left from the cafe and trotted down to the trail end. This time though I paused to photograph the llama – only it was too far away. I had to make do with a snapshot of an alpaca. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very fond of alpaca, but it’s not the same.
If you are ever in doubt about how to differentiate between the two, the secret is all in the ears. Llamas have much more banana shaped ears, alpaca ears are shorter and more spear-shaped. Granted, there are loads of other differences too, but the ears are easy if you only have one of them in view. Here is a handy summary of other distinguishing characteristics in case of need. I don’t agree with the negative comments about Llamas by the way, they are unkind and unnecessary. In fact, I may try to find an alternative more respectful guide. Llama and alpaca identification is quite an art. There are two different types of alpaca as well you know, huacaya and suri – that’ll come in handy at a pub quiz some time some place somewhere. You’re welcome.
I also took a photo of the old Bakewell railway station, just because. Still haven’t ventured as far as Bakewell itself, another destination for another time.
And ventured down the muddy path beyond the trail end. Lots of inviting paths headed off in all directions. From this lower level you can look up and appreciate the amazing bridge construction. I was going to explore a bit further, but thought the better of it. I didn’t want to get too side-tracked off my route, and also who knows what was going on inside the parked cars in this remote spot. Probably nothing, but I’ve developed a wariness based on experience. Once years ago I was with a friend and we got lost on some country roads in Warwickshire. We pulled up into a layby thinking to ask directions from the occupants of a car parked up ahead. I clocked the steamed up windows and rocking before my companion, who was initially a bit nonplussed at my insistence we fend for ourselves and pass on by!
Back on the literal track, it was cold so I pressed on. I’d made an inward resolution to try to focus on this run, and capitalise on the lessons learned last time out by trying to run consistently and slowly and minimise the stop start faffiness. I kept to this reasonably well, running purposefully (by my standards) from the start. The only problem with this is that I was somewhat paranoid that this might constitute starting off too fast in my world, and I wouldn’t make the distance. Then again, I reasoned best to try this out in training than save it for the actual day.
It was freezing, so not many people out and about at all. The run has a meditative quality when it is so deserted. I never listen to music when I run, actually, I never listen to music at all anyway, another on the long list of my many
peculiarities eccentricities. Usually I find my surroundings are more than enough to occupy me when I’m on the trails, other times I like to just use the time for thinking things through, but I do concede on these long runs, it can be a bit dull potentially. It just feels like a slog. Doubling back to the cafe, I just had some water and made the call the hat was staying on, and off I trotted.
The tunnels were as ever a high point. Which is ironic, as really strictly speaking they are low points, burrowing through the base of the hills through which the original railway passed. I love running through the tunnels, the other-worldliness of it, but today they offered up something even more impressive and spectacular. It truly was like entering a parallel universe. The recent icy blast had obviously swept down the tunnels, significantly lowering their temperature within. The corresponding micro-climate created arctic like conditions, and the tunnels were full of ice. Not just little bits here and there, but great structural crystals in shards like fallen masonry on the ground or clinging like icy stalagmites from the ceiling. It was absolutely amazing. I reckon this is the nearest you can come to recreating experiencing the geology of superman’s birth planet Krypton, with all its huge crystals and weirdly compelling crystalline structures within the boundaries of Derbyshire.
Compare and contrast:
Planet Krypton – or possibly fortress of solitude but the comparison stands:
Monsal trail ice and tunnels:
I know! Uncanny. Practically indistinguishable. It was completely brilliant. Yet another reminder that there is always something to see on a run. I’d expected to be bored rigid by this route, trotting down it all over again in its entirety so soon after my other long run, but it was amazing. Unexpected and surreal. You should have been there. No really, you should.
I didn’t actually see superman, but I think he died a while back anyway didn’t he? Also he is a fictitious character, so that would have been a stretch. I did see other things though. Particularly notable was a group of primary school children heading out on bikes and each wearing giant-sized cape like cagoules, accompanied by two teachers. This added a certain frisson to proceedings as periodically the children would stop and regroup, I’d lope past and then they’d be released behind me in a torrent of spinning wheels and billowing coats excitedly pedalling furiously along somewhat random directional lines. Fortunately, volunteering at Graves junior parkrun has equipped with the skill of taking evasive action when a small child comes bowling towards you at speed. It isn’t a question of who has right of way, it is a question of survival. I shared a greeting with the teachers and pressed on. Pausing to satisfy myself that the instructional signs are indeed as gendered as I suspected. Yes they are.
I carried onwards, through the tunnels, and to the far Buxton end of the trail. This time I carried on as far as I could. I had to remind myself to eat a naked bar, I wasn’t really hungry, but I’m trying to eat before I feel my energy levels are depleted. I picked my way gingerly down some snow-covered steps, past the pretty stream which was crisscrossed by amazing arching bridges, and then beyond through a car park until I was spat out at the end onto quite a busy road overlooked by a weird stone structure on top of a hillock. What is that? A question to be answered another time.
I felt I’d reached a natural turning point, so started to head back. Trot, trot, plod, plod. I’ve definitely turned a corner in my running. If I can hit the right pace it seems I am able to maintain it, as long as I manage not to draw attention to the fact that I’m doing so. I think it’s like riding a bike maybe, if you consciously tried to think about how you balance it would be impossible, but if you just trust the muscle memory of your body away you go. I mean, I’m slow obviously, and I wouldn’t say it was easy exactly, but it is achievable. If it weren’t so cold I’d be tempted to one day just run as far as I could just to see how far that is. I guess I may find out at London, fingers crossed it extends as far as 26.2 miles – and a bit, to account for having to walk a way to get to the start line!
There were a few more out now it was a bit later. I’d been ages of course, so hilariously, I came across the teachers and their primary school charges all over again – only this time it was another group. This meant in the time it had taken me to do this distance, the teachers had been able to finish off one group, return them to Sheffield for lunch and come back out with their second lot of young riders. It made me feel a bit pathetic truth to tell. However, then the teacher back marking stopped on her bike, recognising me from earlier in the day and asked ‘What on earth are you doing? How far have you run‘ I blurted out apologetically and a bit embarrassed that I knew I was really slow but I was trying to get to 21 miles. I thought she’d be nonplussed and unimpressed, but in fact she was so encouraging. Even though she’d seen me walking sections earlier, she was really positive. Turns out she runs too, though only on her own – I tried to recruit her to join me and my fellow Smilies at Smiley Paces, as she’d come across from Sheffield Primary School, but I don’t know if she will. It helped rally me though, I yomped onward and homewards.
I took a few minutes to explore the weird lime-kiln (I think) construction. It seems this was my day for exploring parallel worlds. It is an extraordinary feat of construction. It does remind me of wandering through temples of Angkor Wat, no really, the doorways you pass through, the way each opening frames and then reveals unexpected structures. There was one flooded subterranean section, I took photos just so my flash would allow me to see what was there. This would be an amazing film set for something, or a pop video (do they even do them any more) but you’d have to wear wellington boots or at the very least sensible shoes, and other than The Wurzels, I’m not sure many youth bands rock that look these days. See reference above, I’m not big on listening to music, so not my area of expertise. At least I don’t try to pretend otherwise.
Impressive isn’t it. Why they haven’t put out a series of Lego models based on these Lime Kilns – or Angkor Wat for that matter I can’t imagine! Or maybe they have. I can’t be bothered to look. Oh hang on – I can, someone has – made a lego model of Angkor Wat (and Stonehenge and the Niagara falls) apparently, but strangely enough not of the Monsal trail lime kilns. Project for the next snowed out bank holiday people. Go on, you know you want to..
Now you might think that I’d crammed in quite enough excitement and parallel worlds for one run, but not so. The finale of my run was feeling like an extra in Apocalypse Now. I was plodding along in silence, minding my own business, when suddenly there was unmistakable ear-splitting roar of military helicopter blades closing in. I was just approaching one of the bridges, and this monstrous metal mosquito swooped upwards, out of the valley and over the bridge, hovering for a bit and then disappearing from view. I presume it was practising some low flying technique, exploiting the bridges, valleys and geography of the place to take on technical challenges. They are intimidating things. I can’t imagine the fear they must induce in war zones and the horrors they unleash. Makes me shudder.
I ran on, and found myself back at Hassop cafe at almost exactly 21 miles. I did feel a slight drop in sugar levels about half a mile before the end, but basically all good. I think I might carry glucose tablets with me just in case at London. I was fundamentally fine, but with still 5 miles to go, probably wise to have a contingency plan.
I treated myself to chips and a sandwich, with ridiculous amounts of added salt.
I felt relieved as much as pleased. I’m happy that the run went well, I still felt like I could have carried on at the end of it. Also, and this is weird, when I uploaded my run on Strava, I found that my average minutes per mile for this 21 mile run was within 2 seconds of my average minutes per mile for my shorter 17 miler. I don’t run even splits, but it seems I’m really right when I insist I seem to have just one pace. Maybe, as long as I’m sensible and hold my nerve, I really can sustain that for longer. Plus, I significantly picked up speed after mile 5, so again, it seems it takes me a while to hit my stride. I kept that up for about 5 miles and then relapsed to be fair, but it’s still a noticeable pattern I can maybe play to.
And that was that dear reader. 21 miles done. Yay. I’d never say I was feeling confident, but I did feel hugely better for having achieved this distance however slowly. Plus, I was delighted by the mini-adventures and glorious sights this potentially unprepossessing route offered up. Also, next day, felt fine, legs feeling good. Tired yes, bit of stiffness, but nothing felt sinister which can only be good. Never regret a run. So true. Just need to step outside and make it so.
Go on, you know you want to!
Here’s hoping your next run takes you to unexpected wonderlands of your own. It will. Even if only in the mind. Unless you are running on a dreadmill. Then you are on your own.
The real challenge for me now though, is what and when and how far to run in the last few weeks. I think I spent so much time agonising over how on earth I’d ever get to the distances required for the long runs, or to this stage in the build up without injury, I never consider how to approach the taper. Turns out, that last push, the taper, could be the biggest challenge yet. Make or break. Aaaargh.