Digested read: my marathon training preparation may be lamentable in conventional terms, but I’m trying. I did a looooooooooong walk of the Sheffield Round Walk yesterday and it was reet nice out (get me and my Sheffield riff). We are so lucky to have all this on our doorstep in Sheffield. Get out and make the most of it people, you will not regret it. I promise.
It occurred to me dear reader, that you might have been wondering how my marathon training has been going. I know I have. It’s quite a worry. Can’t lie. I’m scared. Terrified even. I have spectacularly failed to get into any kind of running routine, which I’m pretty sure is the key to any consistency in training and getting close to achieving this goal. I’ve been thwarted to some extent by ice, snow, house move related annoyances (who knew you have to waste whole weeks of your life waiting in for people various who may or may not come), and my confidence has taken a knock. I have difficulty even in saying out loud ‘I’m doing the London Marathon this year‘ in case people openly laugh in my face. I need to do so though, to make it real. I suppose inside I must believe this is possible, or I wouldn’t be putting myself through it, but a huge cloud of self-doubt hovers overhead. I wish that would go away, it isn’t really helping, and maybe it’s that black cloud that is lowering the temperatures to such an extent that black ice makes even stepping outside the front door too hazardous to contemplate let alone venturing further afield. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh.
There have been some minor steps in progress along the way. I got a London Marathon place, that’s a biggy, with the ballot odds as they are for the London Marathon. I am not starting from nothing. I have to keep reminding myself of this. I may be a slow runner, and generate a reaction of incredulity rather than admiration in those that see me out and about training, but I have got round a fair few events now. Including the Sheffield Half and the Dig Deep 12.12, both of which I was pretty sure were almost impossible before I actually did them. The almost is critical here. I knew they’d be hard, but deep down inside I thought sheer bloody-mindedness should see me through. However, with an actual marathon I’m not so confident. I fully appreciate that the jump from a half to a full marathon is a huge one. I won’t be able to blag it, and I have to recognise that whilst I’ll give it my best shot, I can’t possibly know how I’ll cope until I’m doing it. Preparation is key, but oh my, how much does life/ the elements/ injury get in the way of it. I suppose if it wasn’t a challenge there wouldn’t be much point in doing it, but aargh, I wish I was further on that I am as we enter February.
What I did do, just before Christmas, was see a physio because I was angsty about miscellaneous niggles and stiffness, and I didn’t know if I was developing hypochondria, Munchausen’s or whether my body was actually disintegrating by the hour. On balance, I was pretty sure it was the latter. Whilst I didn’t want to give up before I’d started, I wasn’t over keen on having body parts fall off either on the way round the London route or during training. I thought a check up might help. On a serious note, my real fear at my age (50+) and with no natural sporting aptitude whatsoever, is getting injured in training. In my heart of hearts I think if I make it to the start of the London Marathon uninjured, I’ll make it to the end. However, I didn’t fancy embarking on a training plan when my calf was all exploding with cramp and my legs wont bend properly. It’s no an auspicious start is it, when your body is in constant protest if you try to run, it’s hard enough overcoming my mental reluctance to set foot out of the door.
Well dear reader, the visit to the physio was a great move. Apart from the mysterious ability of physios to do magic mendy things with their bare hands, it was very reassuring. So I went to see a local physio who I picked because I’d previously been to their ‘preventing running injuries’ workshop, and that was really good, and for me, relatable. I’m a recreational runner, not part of a sporting elite, and I felt it had a lot of realistic, ‘common sense’ type information and advice I could understand and implement. Probably. So I made an appointment just before Christmas and on a chilly day limped over and then spewed out all my concerns at the feet of the poor physio. In essence, I’m supposed to be doing the London marathon, but my knee niggles, my calf complains, my legs laugh at me, my back aches, and I’ve hardly run for a month due to, well life basically, getting in the way. Oh yes, and due to me being generally a bit crap. That too. And I keep seeing other people posting their Strava triumphs and I’m way behind them and… well ‘what am I thinking? Who am I trying to kid? What should I do?’ That kind of thing.
So her first question was:
‘Do you actually want to run the London Marathon?’
This was in fact a really good question. Because I absolutely do, but I get that maybe some people, on receiving a ballot place that they never seriously thought they’d win, panic and feel obligated to go through with something for which they never had any real serious intent. I’m not in that category. I really, really want to do this. So much so, that I can hardly breathe (and not only when I’m trying to run), but I am scared of not doing it justice and I don’t really know how to go about it. Well I do in theory I suppose, but doing it for real is another thing altogether! Anyway, the sincerity of my response told me, as much as her, that yep, I’m absolutely up for this, but I want to avoid injury in training at all costs. I believe if I start, I’ll finish. Probably, well I hope so. My main challenge is to keep injury free so I can do the training.
‘Yes I do! I really do, but I just want to get around, I’m not fussed about time‘, I practically wailed. Hopefully, she’ll have seen all this before, and I didn’t scare her (too much). She did move offices quite soon afterwards though I noticed, but I expect that’s just a coincidence. Anyway, her reply was quite reassuring:
‘That was my next question. Are you aiming for a particular time? Because if not, then it’s completely doable, you could do it tomorrow, it might not be pretty and it might break you afterwards, but it is doable. So right now, we just need to get you back to running regularly and build up from there‘
Easy. Logical too I suppose. It is nonsense to compare myself to other people, especially when they are inherently fit and 25 years junior to me. I have to start where I’m at, and not be deflected too much by training schemes that aren’t relevant to me and might actually be detrimental. So instead, she did her magic physio fairy dust and healing hands and tweaked and shifted muscles and limbs so I left with them functioning OK, and I re-set my running aspirations more realistically, and left with a plan to build up miles on my legs with walking, and just start doing what I can regularly, because frankly anything is better than nothing, and procrastination is not my friend. Turns out I’m not broken, though I am stiff, and there is no reason why I can’t run apart from previously referenced innate inability and lack of personal motivation. Which is what I said, not her by the way, I think most physios are trained not to pass judgements as harsh as those we pass on ourselves, even if they are true. Well not out loud anyway.
So I need to get going, and I need to remind myself why I want to do this, and it’s actually hard to articulate without resorting to memes or clichés. What the hell, let’s use those:
See. Nothing like over-worked clichés to put you back on track! What none of these cover though, is the fear of failure. If I blow this chance… well I shudder at the thought. I need to hang on to the ‘why’ as that may help motivate me. Even so, with all the motivation, and all the help at hand, I’m still struggling to put together a workable plan and put it into action.
So, my plan, such as it is, is to acknowledge, I’m not going to be able to run the whole thing, so I need to accept that, and pace myself accordingly. It also means, there is little point in me doing ever longer long runs in my training, lengthening the distance by 10% each week (though I now know that’s an over-ambitious figure anyway) as if I waited until I could continuously run the required distances before extending, I’d never get beyond 10k. Instead, I’m going to do some Lucy style training. This is idiosyncratic I know, but I’m hoping not entirely without merit. So, the plan is, accept my limitations, but put a lot of focus on miles on the legs and hours on my feet. I am resigned to the fact it is going to take me a loooooooong time to get around the London course, well, I want to get my monies worth by being out as long as possible, obvs. Hence, that’s what I need to replicate in training. I’ll keep my staples, my weekly parkrun, and two other runs a week. However, once a week, I’m going to go out and do a really long walk, the plan is just start by walking, literally, because I know I can do that. As my fitness improves, I’ll start running sections, and, the theory is, over the coming weeks, the percentage time I spend running as opposed to walking will increase, so I might not be extending my runs in the conventional way, but I will extend my running time and at the same time clock up distances without risk of injury from over-training.
It helps that I have the Sheffield Round Walk (about 15 miles) right on my doorstep. This takes in some lovely views, its a fair old hike, so that’s miles on the legs, and there’s some respectable elevation too, about 1,864 ft. That’s got to help with cross training, surely?
Here it is again, I give you the Round Sheffield Run Route via Strava. Lovely 🙂
There is a really good outdoor city guide to the route but weirdly, and I speak as someone who has done the run/ walk many times, it seems that it is only signposted if you do it in an anti-clockwise direction. The signage is patchy to be fair, and I doubt you could to it ‘in reverse’ if you didn’t already know the route. Anyway, I digress, the point is, I decided I needed to just test my fitness, and head out and do the 15 mile (ish) walk. So that’s what I did.
First though, I googled ‘can I train for a marathon in 12 weeks’. Astonishingly, google was not all that conclusive or personalised in its advice. Though I did come across a hilarious training programme that basically started from zero, assuming three runs a week. And the first long run was 6 miles, and you kept adding 2 or 3 miles each week, until you got to 22 miles and then climaxed with the actual marathon. So that’s very easy. Looks good on paper indeed. I conceded, not without some reluctance, that browsing hypothetical training plans was less helpful than actually going out and getting some miles on my legs. The day before had brought with it blizzards and biting sleet, not so much ‘wintry showers’ as shards of glass, flying at you through the sky, from all directions! Yesterday though, there was something of a break in the weather. This was the day. I will do this. I deliberately wore walking rather than running shoes, so there was no pressure or temptation to run. I’d actually been ill earlier in the week. Properly, in bed with a temperature, so I didn’t want to overdo it, but I did want to head out. I wrapped up in warm clothes, and took water and some cash and off I went. Beginning with a march down to Endcliffe Park.
It was reet nice out! Bit nippy, but bright sunshine, some ice. Endcliffe park café was mysteriously surrounded by thick-set security guards in hi-viz and what looked like an ambulance response unit. Also the café was shut. Turns out they were filming something, I don’t know what, but hey ho, that was novel. I made my way through the park and up towards forge dam and beyond up to Ringinglow. And do you know what. It was gorgeous. My legs felt strong, the air was fresh, the few people around friendly. I feel so lucky that we in Sheffield have all this on our doorstep. Underfoot, the terrain wasn’t great. The higher up I got, the thicker the ice and/or mud. There were some cheery exchanges with other walkers out and about debating whether or not we’d make it up or down depending on which direction we were heading off in. I wouldn’t have felt confident enough to run in this, even if I’d been wearing my fell shoes. Not so much the mud, but the ice, I just don’t know if my shoes would cope.
Plus, I wouldn’t have fancied getting ankle-deep in icy mud early on, on a 15 mile route march, cold feet are grim. Wet cold feet are grimmer still! But you know what, it was glorious.
Look at this:
Actually, I’m not sure the photo does it justice, but you get the general idea.
Down through Limb Valley, where tree-lined banks loom up beside you. There was no-one about, but it was truly spectacular.
Coming down towards Whirlow the light made some of the trees take on amazing silhouettes. Check out this giant rhinoceros beetle! I know. Huge.
and then you are in Ecclesall woods, and there were mysterious hidden dens and some stunning pine trees. The sound of this wood is different from the march up through Whitely woods.
Emerging from here, you cross Abbeydale road, and encounter the killer steps. Even though this is a walking section for the Round Sheffield Run, they are not for the faint hearted. I felt my energy levels subsiding, I promised myself a drink of water when I got to the top and wished I’d brought some food with me as well. It’s astonishing how long it takes to walk this route. Even though my ‘running’ is comically slow, it is still apparently, a lot quicker than walking the same distance. It was lovely out, but I was beginning to nurse dark thoughts. I’d not even walked 10 miles yet and I was flagging, how am I supposed to run 26 plus miles! I tried to remind myself that I’ve still got time to train, London is flat, game’s not over yet, but the enormity of the challenge is pretty clear. I gave a hollow inward laugh as I wondered if with training I’d find myself scampering up these same steps a few weeks from now.. Doubtful But you know what’s really, really annoying? It’s that in photos the steps look completely innocuous. Inviting even. How the camera lies.
Like I said. Really annoying.
The temperature started to drop, and truthfully, I started putting my head down and just marching through, there were fewer photo stops, and more inward cursing my lack of fitness.
On the plus side, I could still put one foot in front of the other, I would do this, and next time will be lots easier. There were still lovely surprises to take in along the way. Catkins, I defy anyone to look at a catkin and not feel joy.
Even on the grimmest, litter strewn part of the walk, just after graves park when you go down alongside a school I think and down a steep narrow path where discarded syringes play for space alongside cans, crisp packets and other rubbish there were little moments of joy. Like this bench, which I’d never noticed before has little carvings on it. How lovely is that. And the bright yellow gorse, that doesn’t just attract rubbish onto its thorny foliage, but was full of bright flowers.
I’d like to think that maybe in the summer I’ll come back to this path with a bin bag and gloves and do a litter pick, it was pretty bad. Looks like a rat run for the school perhaps, or maybe it’s just the way the landscape funnels the wind so rubbish from everywhere gathers. Depressing though.
Not depressing, was the group of walkers I found at the bottom of the hill. Raucous, not particularly appropriately dressed for the elements but having a ball. One had lost his shoe in the mud and, to much hilarity, others were shouting advice but offering little in the way of practical assistance. A micro adventure in the moment. That is what happens if you head out and about, running or walking or otherwise.
I can’t lie, I nipped into the co-op on my way to Meersbrook, but I was starving. I remembered I needed to buy some loo paper too, but decided that even though the large packs were on special offer, carrying a 9 pack of toilet rolls for the remaining 3 miles of my walk might not be the best of plans, even by my low standards!
Quick check of the Bishops House, and the amazing view, which in the winter sunshine gave all the building really clear outlines. It was like looking at a painting. You could even see the snow on the hill tops beyond the city buildings.
Then as I left the park, there was a curious lost creature. I thought it was a teddy at first, but it was sort of pig like. Very peculiar. I hope it found its way home. The temperature was plummeting, and globules of icy rain spitting down on me. Not nice to be out and about.
There followed my least favourite bit of the Round Sheffield Run/ Sheffield Round Walk. Quite urban, and something of a shock to find yourself in amongst houses and shops and the paraphernalia of daily life after the relative solitude and loveliness of being up on them there hills. However, on this occasion, things were looking up. I’d been inwardly debating what to do for my Smiletastic ‘find something appropriate for Valentine’s Day on your run’ in order to bagsy my individual bonus point for the w/c 12 February. Being somewhat cynical about the whole idea of Valentine’s Day, my original idea was to write a pamphlet on why it’s a cynical capitalist construct and be done with it, but I wasn’t sure that would be accepted as being quite within the spirit of the challenge. Imagine therefore my delight at seeing this, a symbol of the disposable nature of romantic love if ever I’ve seen one. Brilliant:
There followed more hearts, bringing new gloriousness to this part of the route. How have I previously missed these I have no idea. I’m quietly confident my Valentine’s Day Smiletastic claim is in the bag. Hurrah!
I had a bit of a spring in my step after that. Maybe because of that, I was feeling the Smiletastic love, so noticed with new eyes the colourful mural on the back of B&M. It’s an area of Sheffield where a group have worked really hard to create a garden of sorts and a colourful picture of native wildlife – albeit not entirely to scale. Although the grasshoppers were not evident in the picture, other Smiletastic 2018 teams (dragonflies, ladybirds and bees) are represented. Surely a symbol of our collective endeavour? Do you think it would be better if the hedgehog is the size of a ladybird or the ladybird is the size of a hedgehog? I’m not sure. I’m thinking a dinky little hedgehog would be rather delightful, but a giant ladybird somewhat terrifying. Especially if it was an invasive harlequin ladybird. They aren’t good news. This looks like a proper native one though, so that’s OK.
From there, that was it, nearly home. 15 and a bit miles later, weary feet, but job done.
What I’ve learned.
- I need to do more long outings to get miles on my legs, it has to help with stamina and cross training, those hills are killers.
- My base line of fitness isn’t great, but nor is it the worst in the world. I just need to stick with it and not get disheartened too quickly.
- Foam rollering afterwards did genuinely help with my calves. Note to self, need to read up how to do this properly so I don’t just slide about/ off the foam cylinder, but at least I’ve now got it out of its wrapping and created a space for foam rollering. It’s only taken me two years to do this. Progress.
- Food would have been a good idea, I was out for ages. I didn’t feel weak exactly, but I think I’d have been more cheerily disposed to the second half if I’d taken some peanut butter and Marmite sandwiches with me.
- Sheffield is ace. The Sheffield Round Walk is full of surprises, worth doing a bit more slowly than usual
- Why do the Sheffield Round Walk signs only direct you one way round? I’d like to do the route in reverse, but I think I’d get lost, the signage is pretty rubbish.
- At some point, I am going to have to do some actual running on my training runs. A harsh but incontestable truth.
So, I think from yesterday’s excursion all is not completely lost in relation to the London Marathon, but I do have a very long way to go. In summary, this is what have I done towards the marathon so far:
- Secured a place – that’s quite a biggy actually, and I know against the odds I have been incredibly lucky
- Booked a train ticket and accommodation
- Been to see a physio
- Googled training plans ‘is it possible to train for a marathon in three months?’
- Gone for a very long walk
- Got angsty about what other people are doing
- Signed up to do Smiletastic
Well, it’s a start, a small step along the way, and you know what, that’s how every journey and every run starts. One foot in front of the other. Then repeat. How hard can it be?*
I hope a few short months from now to look back on this post and laugh with joy at having achieved the seemingly almost impossible. I recognise I may have to face an alternative truth, wehre I look back on this post and laugh at my naivity for even thinking I could try. No worries. I’m not going to predict the outcome now and make it into a foregone conclusion. Other people have done this, why not me. Plus, think of the bragging rights, and the getting to feel invincible, even if only for a moment. That’s some runners’ high to hold out for.
What are the odds? Who knows. I don’t believe anyone can run a marathon, let’s face it, not everyone would even want to – I’m not sure I even believe I can, but I do believe I can give it a darned good shot, and find out by trying. I also know from watching the London Marathon that the people who finish aren’t necessarily those you think will. It’s a mental strength and tenacity that carries people through. Why me? Why should I get around? Well, why not me? Let’s do this. Here’s holding out for the time I can say, been there, done that got the t-shirt. Now wouldn’t that be something… Just so you know, if I do, this wont be me:
Run a marathon without talking about it! Pah. On the plus side, I’ll be way too self-absorbed to notice if you aren’t listening, even if you have your fingers in your ears shouting ‘don’t care, don’t care‘, so nothing to worry about on that score. Plus, I’ll probably be unable to walk for months after, so you’ll have no worries getting away from me.
Also, it’s only a marathon. Not like an ultra on the Dig Deep weekend or anything. Now that really would be a tale to tell….
*Rhetorical question. I know the answer. I am just not ready to hear it spoken out loud.
For all my Round Sheffield Run related blog posts see here, scroll down for older entries.
For all my London Marathon related blog posts see here, scroll down for older entries.