Tuesday, 6 March 2018

So how is my Paris Marathon training going?

Last autumn I signed up for a couple of challenges that I hope to take on this year. One of them was the Etape du Tour, and the other one was the Paris Marathon.

As the marathon is taking place in April I have been focusing mainly on running. And it has definitely been a focus!

Preparing for the Paris marathon has been a quite an undertaking, not least getting in the regular training and staying injury free.
It won't be my first attempt at running 26.2 miles (42.2km), but the previous times when I ran a marathon I was a sprightly young lady in her early to mid thirties as opposed to now, roughly fifteen years later, with joints that get that bit stiffer and creaky. Plus I need more time to recover after exercise, and am just an tad slower than I used to be.

Although I have done a lot of running in my time, in recent times my running training has just been limited to 3- or 4-mile outings, the odd Park run, and then once a year a longer event like a half-marathon or 10-mile race that I would plod round.

Running 26 miles just seems such a long way, and a long time to be on my feet. What am I going to do for four or even five hours while I pound the pavements? I might get bored! For the first time I may have to break a life-long habit of not wearing headphones just so I can get through the challenge. Yes, challenge is exactly what it will be! It's quite handy that the setting for the challenge is in a lovely place like Paris, which should make the task a less arduous ordeal!

I also rely on the fact that the two London marathons that I did were such a long time ago that if the running experience was not good that trauma has now been erased from my mind! I vaguely recall crying as the finish gantry on The Mall came into sight, but that might have just been relief that I had managed to get through it in one piece! I also recall the volunteer who gave me my medal avidly congratulating me as though I had won, when I had probably finished in around 13,000th place!

So here I am, just over one month away from the big day in Paris. Training has been going okay. I have not followed a set training plan from on-line or a magazine, preferring to start my training early - back in October - and running on feel. The aim was just to get up to running 13 miles by Christmas, and then to run 20 miles by early March at the latest.

I have achieved that, but it wasn't easy and it wasn't pretty - especially the 20 miles I ran along the River Thames a couple of days ago without properly carboloading! While doing my training I have been doing cross-country league races with my clubs in London - Serpentine RC and South London Harriers - so that has made it complicated to juggle.

A short fast run over mud, wearing spikes is just as taxing as a long slow run on smooth ground. So doing these back to back on the weekend just means my legs are shot during the week! As the long runs have gotten longer, the Saturday cross-country league races have had to be run slower just so that I could have a bit left in the tank for my Sunday run!

Since getting past the 12-mile mark things have become more sketchy for me in terms of risk of injury. Throughout my adult life I have suffered from either patella syndrome, ilio-tibial band syndrome, Achilles tendinitis or calf strains.

So as the training runs have lengthened, this has steadily become a greater and greater exercise in injury prevention and damage limitation! I am spending a lot of time (and money) at Crystal Palace Physio Group to get in regular massages and keep my muscles loose. The foam roller, a tennis ball and a golf ball have become my best friends. Yoga has also been the order of the day, though I have tended to do that at home because when attempting it in a class I felt so self-conscious at how rigid my body is compared with all those supple women of a certain age!

Then I have reintroduced the post-run sitting in freezing water routine to my regime. That moment when I hit the water is massively unpleasant, takes my breath away, makes me squeal, I worry I might get hyperthermic afterwards, but it is character building (apparently) and healing!

There have been good parts in this marathon preparation though. It has made me vary my runs that bit more and go to new places. Instead of just running the usual parks in South Norwood and Crystal Palace, I have also added in Dulwich Wood, Dulwich Park, Cator Park, Beckenham Place Park and Shirley Hills.

San Silvestre 8k in Buenos Aires 
Wherever I have travelled I have kept my trainers nearby to get in a few miles. So I ran to work when I worked in Central London, I did regular runs around the Royal Parks, including Richmond Park. Of course when I recently travelled to Argentina I ran - around Buenos Aires, Bariloche, Mendoza, even doing a running race while there.

I also did a running race in Tortona, near Milan and plan to do some running in Paris when I recce the route. I even did a run en route to join my second claim club, East Hull Harriers, up in East Yorkshire! It had been tempting to just peel off the motorway to go running around some National Trust land in a place called Sharpenhoe, near Luton!

My biggest issue now is that I will run out of time to go to some of the other interesting places I had hoped to run in. I haven't yet done the South Downs or the Box Hill area yet, and I was also hoping to do a bit more stuff north of the river like Hampstead Heath or Hackney Marshes. There's nothing like a marathon to get you out discovering new places!

The other great thing has been in this era of social media (which didn't exist when I last ran a marathon) it has been great to connect with other people. There's a Facebook group for Londoners who are running the Paris marathon, a group for all women who are running the Paris marathon, as well as equivalent groups on Strava. These are great ways to stay motivated while training, get tips and advice if you have doubts, and even make new friends.

Catching up with Mariana in Buenos Aires 
When I went to Argentina I managed to meet up with one of the girls from the Facebook group, Mariana who lived in Buenos Aires. It was great to be able to catch up with one of the Paris marathon girls on the other side of the world.

I look forward to seeing her when she is in Paris, and also when she comes for holiday in London.

So how is my marathon training going? Well, it's not too bad. I haven't had any injury or illness, apart from a cold a couple of weeks ago. There have definitely been moments where I thought this is all a silly idea and I won't get through it - particularly on those days where I felt really tired just doing a 3-mile run! But in the end I just had to really hang in there and believe in my strategy.

I have put in a few miles, so I am almost good to go. I just need to not break my leg during a ski trip that I've got planned, or pull a muscle during that final 20-mile training run! The coach trip to Paris (without Brendan!) is booked, my lodgings are sorted, so I just need to show up at the Champs Elysées on 8th April. But even now I'm not taking anything for granted!

Some might ask, why do a marathon? It's so time-consuming, there's a risk of injury, it can be painful physically and mentally. It's hard to fit around everyday life, it can be expensive when you add in the cost of equipment, travel, accommodation, entry fees and medical bills to prevent or treat injury. After all, I have done a marathon before, so it's not like I have anything to prove.

I guess the answer is that I do have something to prove. These challenges can't be taken for granted. Also my pet hate is living off my achievements from many years ago. I feel much happier celebrating something I achieved last week than trying to milk off something I did more than 10 years ago!

So as long as I am getting older the bar will naturally be getting higher, and so there will always be something to prove! Perhaps it is part of the mid-life crisis phenomenon but hey, I say if it's keeping me off the sofa, I'm happy!

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Another challenge for 2018 - Paris Marathon

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