Paris Marathon 2023
Updated: May 8
Welcome and thank you for showing interest in my preparations for the Paris marathon.
The purpose of this blog is to share the training plan I have put together, provide an account of the training I actually complete, and ideally, to help people who may be planning their own training. I want to treat this as a "live" blog post so I will make weekly updates. Over the weeks I will discuss some of the thinking behind why I have chosen certain training sessions, give more detail about my strength and conditioning (S&C) sessions and touch on topics such as recovery, nutrition and race day preparation.
For ease of navigating through the blog I have included links to different sections below.
Week 2- Progress over Perfection (Makeshift gym session!)
To put this all in context I think a brief background of where I'm coming from is necessary.
Occupation: Self employed physiotherapist and strength and conditioning coach.
Training Availability: Currently aiming for 5 running sessions and 2 S&C sessions per week. I'm married but do not have children!
Training History: Competitive team sport athlete (mainly Gaelic football) until early 20's. Running recreationally until late 20's. More "competitive recreational" runner over the last 5 years.
Race History: I have completed 2 trail marathons and one trail ultramarathon (58k). On the road I have completed numerous half marathons, 10k's and 5k's. This will be my first marathon on the road.
Times: Most relevant personal bests are the ones set this year. 80mins 23 seconds for a half marathon and 17mins 10 seconds for 5k.
I had some lab testing done in October last year which gives a good indicator of my physiological profile. Sharing some of that information will help explain the thinking behind some of my goal setting and training decision making.
I will reference these tables and explain any key pieces of information as they come up. If there is anything that catches your eye in the tables please let me know and I will happily discuss it.
*As requested I am happy to share the couple of months leading up to this plan. It is important to note I was running close to the volume of the early weeks of this plan before starting. The dip in December was a fairly generous taper for a 5km race.
Now that you're a bit more familiar with my starting point let's have a look at the plan for the next 5 weeks. I am going to race a 10 mile event on February 5th so this brings us to the weekend after that race. I'll share the second half of the plan then.
The second table helps understand the main training programme.
Training Plan Jan 2nd - Feb 12th
Plan Key and Training Guidelines
As you can see, Week 1 finishes today and I have marked all completed sessions in yellow. The grey session on Tuesday was a gym session I did not complete. I'll use this system over the coming weeks.
You will get a feel for the weekly layout pretty quickly. Monday is a steady run, Tuesday has 10 mile specific intervals, Wednesday has marathon pace work, Thursday is easy running with some sprints and Saturday is the longer run with marathon pace work. Two S&C sessions on Tuesday and Thursday is the aim. All going well the Friday stays free but if I miss an S&C session or the easy run on Thursday I will do it on the Friday. The Sunday will usually stay as a recovery day but if the weather is good I might get an easy cycle in with friends!
83.4k is the biggest training week I think I have ever done. I'm quite happy with how I felt during the week and the 10k at marathon pace as part of my long run felt comfortable.
I'm going to leave it there for now, that's plenty to be taking on board! Updating this post consistently is the goal so keeping the entries concise will be my strategy. What I would love to see is some feedback either in the comments here or through social media. I'll happily consider altering the style of the posts or the content to meet demands.
Thanks for reading,
*A large part of my physiotherapy caseload are runners and I have developed S&C programmes specifically for runners for the last 5 years. You can learn more here - https://www.runningbuddytraining.com/
Alright so that's another week wrapped up. Ticking off solid weeks where there are no setbacks, niggles or major interruptions has to be appreciated. I'm happy to report this week falls into that category.
Before we review the training week I want to highlight one addition above. It was shrewdly pointed out by a few readers that including my training for the weeks leading up to this plan would be helpful. I have added a graphic that shows total volume over November and December. Keep the feedback coming, that was a good suggestion.
This was a controlled steady run for 15k. Average HR for that block was 157bpm which is about 82% of max HR. Pace averaged at 4.15min / km which is slower than estimated marathon pace. I have made a conscious effort to slow this run down a bit, I was trying to do it at marathon pace. There are two main reasons for making this decision. By training at paces a bit slower and a bit faster than your target pace you can improve your ability to hold the target pace. This is my main session that is close to marathon pace without hitting it. As the race draws closer I may introduce some intervals at, or quicker than marathon pace to this run.
The second reason is that my fastest interval work is on a Tuesday. I think it is worth sacrificing a small bit of intensity in the Monday run to be fresher for the demanding intervals the following day. It's not rocket science but I'm comfortable with this rationale for the change to my week.
The deal was now that I'm fresher for this session the intervals should be high quality. I was feeling confident about this until I stepped outside. I knew it was going to be raining but I didn't expect the wind to be so strong...29km/hr to be exact.
For 1k intervals I have been using a stretch of a cycle path near my home. It doubled as a wind tunnel on Tuesday morning so my aspirations for the intervals had to change. The purpose of the session was to work hard enough to maintain peak Vo2 or even improve it. The research is pretty strong that getting to approximately 90% of your max HR during intervals of three to five minutes and repeating it four or five times is enough to maintain Vo2 max. In perfect conditions I would hope to be at about 3.30-3.35min/km pace for each interval.
The strategy was to keep the runs into the wind fast but steady and avoid spiking my HR too much. I knew the times would be slower than I'd like. Trying to run 3.30min/km into the headwind would have basically ruined my session. My lactate would have risen quickly and caused me to slow down and that wasn't what I was after.
Clearly the wind at your back is sweet, I was happy pushing the pace here and wasn't too worried about the HR spiking too much. I had to consciously push harder to ramp the speed up enough to hit higher heart rates.
I was kind to myself here too, doing three intervals with the wind at my back was a deliberate decision!
I tweeted during the week about the Tuesday evening gym session being under pressure again. Basically, I took an extra appointment in work which ate into my gym time. By the time I was finished work it would have been peak January gym madness. That wasn't happening. The alternative was to use the equipment in the clinic to do a modified session. This worked out quite well and it was definitely better than just skipping it. Having good quality adjustable dumbbells came in very handy.
Fairly straightforward thinking for this session. I want to be able to hold a certain pace for 42k so I have to spend a significant chunk of time training at it. These 15k runs have been in my weekly programme since October and I know I can tolerate them. Plenty of people would say they are on the hard side when the marathon is 11 weeks away but I like having them in there. Average HR was under 85% max HR which is what I'd be looking for too.
Easy running felt good after pushing a bit the previous day. The strides at the end felt smooth too. 10 seconds is on the shorter side but I wasn't looking for any fitness boost here, the purpose was to recruit type II muscle fibres that aren't called upon with slower paced running. One error here was with how I set the session up on my watch. I should have stuck a "transition" period in after the steady run. Then you can do a few warm up strides so you're ready to rock when you start your first proper rep of the 6. Using the watch to programme these is far better than trying to hit the lap button at the end of 10 seconds.
My work diary allowed me to fit my gym session directly after my run. I don't do this often but it worked out well. Main lifts were completed without any issues and the load used was very close to what I'd use if I was fresher. This has given me some thinking to do as I usually try to fit a gym session in on the evening of a Tuesday and Thursday run. This can be challenging to execute due to work commitments so doubling up a gym session directly after this easy Thursday run may be a solution.
I went into the longest run of the week feeling well recovered. Not running Friday or Sunday is an attempt to optimise the stimulus provided from the biggest session. Being too fatigued coming into this session can limit your options of what you can actually do and a run the following day would mean I have 5 running days in a row. I like having Sunday free for my non running life too! I feel like I could handle an easy run on the Sunday which would bump my weekly volume up nicely but I don't think I need it at the moment.
The plan called for 3 x 5k at marathon pace with a 1k recovery. 6k easy at the start brought it to a 24k run. I completed this with one of my regular training partners, Adam, who is also preparing for a marathon. Luckily for me, this guy is still minding himself post injury so training together is manageable. When he's at his fittest I would basically be racing trying to complete this session with him!
In saying that, looking at the highlighted 5k efforts our pacing was probably a bit quick. 4.05min/k pace would be the upper limit of what I'd expect to hold on race day. I don't think there is really a negative to this, if the 5k's were getting very hard or there was a big HR spike that would have been an error but we were chatting throughout (my sentences were a bit shorter than Adam's) unfortunately. It's something I'll keep an eye on when the length of the intervals increase.
One point of note, I have been taking a gel during these longer runs over the past few weeks. I fell into the classic trap of having loads of time to get ready but still rushing to get out the door and I forgot to stick one in the bag. I used this as a chance to reaffirm what is most important in terms of preparation. Had I eaten well the day before? Yes. had I slept well and had some breakfast? Yes. Would I run out of glycogen on a 24k run? No. Panic over. The purpose of the gels at this stage is more for gut training and getting used to them. The thought of one every 20 or 30 minutes during the race isn't overly appealing so I want taking them to become second nature.
On the more practical side of things I had one other consideration this week. We are having some work done at home so there was no shower available for the week. A small thing but it needed planning to actually work around it and changed where I did some of my training. It's easy to see how something like that could lead to missing sessions and it was an eye opener to how reliant on regular routines we are. The takeaway really was that if you want to train you will put up with some inconvenience and plan accordingly.
That's it for another week, I enjoyed the training and I hope you can pick something out of the report that gets you thinking about your own training. Keep the feedback coming, I'm happy to adjust these pieces.
I'm happy to report another solid week. No dramas and key sessions ticked off nicely. There was some logistical juggling due to having no shower access at home and I made the most of being in a gym last Sunday so that altered my week slightly. I posted about trialling a soft flask and taking gels during my long run, this sparked a few questions from readers which I will address here. Keep the feedback coming!
Unusually, I kicked off my week with a gym session on Sunday. My mother in law was showing interest in joining her local gym, I was more than happy to set her up with a programme and used the opportunity to get some work in myself. I had done a 24k run with 15k at marathon pace the day before so I wasn't expecting to train the house down but I was feeling relatively fresh. Session plan is below.
1a) Hex bar hip hinge x 5
1b) Countermovement jump x 5
1c) Weighted push up x 8
2a) Single leg heel raise isometric hold 10seconds x 2 each side
2b) Pull up x 8
2c) TRX plank saw x 10
3 rounds of each tri-set and I wrapped it up. I knew I had 4 days of running to put down so that was plenty, it took me about 30 minutes.
Let's have a look at an overview of the week. Note the green additions this week.
Good start to the week with a 17.5k early morning run. 15k of this was steady and averaged at 4.12min / km. Similar to last week where I was catching myself going a bit quicker and consciously easing off. I was happy to see an average HR of 155bpm, that's about 80% of max and feels pretty comfortable. I usually complete this run at home but headed across to work early so I could shower in the gym afterwards. There is a huge park close to where I work and the scenery is far more appealing than my local route. It's easy to vary the terrain there too, nice mix of trails and gravel paths to choose from. I'm not sure if it outweighs the convenience of showering and having breakfast at home though!
I was happy with this session. 3 x 2k intervals at 10 mile pace completed effectively. My heart rate readings were all over the place so I was forced to ignore them and tune into how I was feeling more closely, never a bad thing. I was able to keep an eye on my pace too which helped of course. The main change I made to this session was cutting the recovery between intervals from 3 minutes to 2 minutes. Hitting the same paces as my last time doing this session a couple of weeks ago with less recovery is an encouraging sign.
I'm not sure what happened with the HR readings, potentially an issue with the chest strap and the cold conditions. It was 0degrees C for the run, it's something I'll keep an eye on the next very cold day.
I asked a few clever people on twitter if they had any thoughts and the consensus was that is was measurement error due to the equipment. One suggestion that I have never heard before was that using ECG gel would improve the conductance of the chest strap. One to try compliments of Howard Luks.
I snuck in a 20 minute gym session after this run. Getting back to the gym in the evening wasn't an option due to work so I picked a key lift and hit 3 good working sets. I paired it with an upper body exercise and called it a day. Hex bar deadlift was the lift of choice and I worked up to 135kg x 5 reps. Helping people to strength train effectively with limited time is a key objective of Running Buddy. The same principles come into play with my own training.
Another chance to work at marathon pace with this session. I was on a different route to normal again and the novelty was enjoyable. The last couple of kilometres felt like work here but I finished into a headwind and I could I could feel the previous days gym work. Seeing the average HR sitting just under 85% of max is pretty much spot on. I felt like I didn't need to check my watch much to manage pace, I could hold 4.05 min / km without having to think too much about it which was nice. I need this pace to feel familiar and comfortable.
Easy running with a few blasts of reliving my youth. I thoroughly enjoy the faster work and trying to hit max speed is a nice feeling. A background in team sport means I have reasonable sprinting mechanics and a history of recruiting type II muscle fibres. I like to check the "Best Pace" figure here and make sure it's similar to previous months top speed. I'm pretty much flat out for 8 seconds during these efforts.
I did some extrapolating this week with the numbers. I was thinking surely this pace can't be sustained for long by elite distance runners. Well, I was way off. Holding 2.35min / km would land you a 5k time of 12min 55 seconds. The world record is a blistering 12min 35 seconds set by Joshua Cheptegei, that's 2.31min/km....truly frightening ability.
I did 6 sets of bounds and 3 or 4 warm up runs before the 6 sprints, that explains the multiple blue spikes.
Running at top speeds calls upon your hamstring muscles much more than easy running. You need to develop high levels of force very quickly so this counts as a great stimulus for this muscle group. To complement this I chose a longer duration isometric hold in the gym to hit the hamstring muscle group. The longer duration allows far more time to recruit higher order motor units. Doubling up the sprinting and this exercise is a big stimulus for the hamstrings, the thinking is that this will ensure they can tolerate longer bouts of steady marathon pace running easily. A single leg smith machine squat was the other key lift for the gym session today.
As usual, the longest session of the week was Saturday morning. I ran with my buddy Adam again and it is astonishing to see how well he is coming back into fitness post injury. He has started sharing details of his training on his instagram page which I strongly recommend following.
A pretty miserable couple of hours weather wise but having company helped massively. We agreed this type of session alone would have been grim and it is inevitable that day will come! Everything went smoothly with the session and it's worth highlighting the same average HR for the last 12k of this run and the marathon pace run on Wednesday. Definitely good to see that after 14k I can kick into marathon pace and have my HR be the same as when I go straight into marathon pace work. In terms of managing pace during the run there were far more times when we had to rein it in rather than push on too. I'm looking forward to longer chunks at this pace and seeing how we do managing it.
I took the opportunity to trial some race specific fuelling strategies too. Running with a drink allows you to skip fuelling stations in races, certainly in the early parts. This can help you keep your rhythm going as trying to grab a cup can be chaotic. A Running Buddy subscriber who has ran Paris mentioned the stations were very crowded and this is prompting me to think about running with a drink. I have used these soft flaks in a vest for trail races and found them handy. When running with them in your hand I like how they can be compressed and the fluid doesn't slosh around. I just used water today.
I haven't drawn up a strict fuelling plan yet but I know I'll be trying to take in about 90g of carbohydrates per hour. That would mean a gel with 30g of carbohydrates every 20 minutes or a combination of gels and a drink with carbs. These gels have 23g of carbs so I have some research to do to find a 30g one that I like. All I was interested in today was taking two gels 20mins apart moving at marathon pace. It's important to get used to this interruption to your running, I feel it interferes with your breathing and it's easy to lose focus. You also need to know if you can tolerate taking gels on board in relatively quick succession while moving at a decent pace. Some people find this very difficult and experience gastrointestinal issues. This was small scale gut training basically in addition to helping my performance.
Providing individualised nutrition plans is outside of my scope but I'm more than happy to share what I do and what I have learned from formal study and self directed learning. I have picked up loads of quality information over the last couple of years from fellow Irishman Evan Lynch. I have also referred people from the physio clinic to Evan and they have been delighted with his services. Check out his resources if you're keen to brush up on your nutrition knowledge.
Right, that's plenty for this week. As always, fire away with any feedback and let me know what you's like to see included in future posts.
Last week I highlighted how important it is to appreciate weeks where you feel good and everything goes to plan. This week tested me a little bit more. A discomfort in my right calf gave me some decision making to do. This is a good chance to get into the mentality around running injuries and I'm happy to share my thought process. Firstly, let's keep the weekly overview going.
Despite some changes to the plan I think this is the biggest week of running I have ever put down. I can't recall breaking 90k and a quick look back at my Garmin stats would back this up. Big volume in itself isn't something I set as a priority but when there is good structure to the training and a purpose to the sessions it's a nice byproduct to see it increasing. I do realise that "big" is a relative term when it comes to volume. This wouldn't be half a week for some elite distance runners. For example, Mayo born athlete Sinead Diver has clocked 220k weeks in marathon build ups. That was over 13 runs. I'm doing 5...I wouldn't want to be getting carried away.
It is important to point out how gradual this build up has been. The dip in the graph below is the week of a 5k race (Dec 11th). There hasn't been more than a 5k jump in weekly volume since the week after that.
The week started well with another steady 17.5k run. I used a route near work I haven't been on for a couple of months and the change of scene went down well again. Nothing special to report and the body felt good at 4.13min/km pace. I knew I had a tough session the following morning so getting through this smoothly was the priority.
I was back to 2k intervals at target 10 mile race pace here. The programming was simple, keep the 2min recovery but add one more interval. That would bring me to 8k at 10 mile race pace overall. I stuck on the Vaporflys for this session as I wanted to get an accurate feel for pacing. I usually don't train in them and I still get a little surprise when I wear them and see a slightly faster pace than I'd be expecting for the effort level. It was a calm morning and there is a 1.8k loop around a business park near where I live that worked well for the session. I was pleasantly surprised by the splits to be honest.
I'd like to be under 60 minutes for the 10 mile race so I'm aiming for 3min 42second/km. That would give me about 30 seconds to spare. To see 3.35's in these intervals is encouraging. Clearly I need to string a lot more than 2k together continuously but this gives a good indicator of where I am. Average heart rate for the last one was about 90% of max HR. It will be a big push but I'm in with a chance.
I had a break in my working day about 6 hours after finishing this run and managed to get a strength session in. Hex bar deadlift, countermovement jumps and seated heel raises were the main focus. I have been tracking the weight I use for the hex bar deadlift over the last 4 months and I equalled that for a set of 3 reps in this session. I'm very keen not to lose strength as I build up the running volume. This is an easy way for me to keep an eye on it.
This is where things got interesting. The planned session was a 2k warm up, 15k at marathon pace and a short cool down. There was a bit of general muscle soreness from the day before but nothing I wouldn't be used to. Having marathon pace work on the Wednesday is partly to become accustomed to moving at that pace when my legs are fatigued. I basically expect to start the run with some carry over from the day before.
About 6k into the marathon pace work I had a sensation in my right calf that I did not like. it wasn't a sharp, immediate pain or anything that would stop me in my tracks but definitely an awareness that it felt different to the other side. I was happy enough to keep moving and monitor how it felt. By chance, the route got easier and I had a tailwind for a few kilometres which helped. I maintained my pace and generally felt okay. When the route became more challenging there was a definite awareness again of something not being quite right. I didn't feel it was necessary to stop so eased off the pace slightly and it was manageable. I have experienced these kinds of sensations plenty of times before and they are mostly transient.
Again, once the route became easier the sensation reduced a bit and I nudged back to marathon pace without much bother while still monitoring how it felt. I was happy to finish the session and I did manage to hold the target pace for the 15k. I knew the feeling in my calf wasn't a disaster but something I had to respect.
I have done a proper number on a calf muscle before, that was weighing on my mind. I wrote about that experience and detailed the recovery here.
Thankfully, the plan was easy running only with a few strides at the end. Before leaving the house I was happy to bin the strides. In the knowledge that peak plantarflexor (gastroc, soleus, achilles tendon) forces increase with running speed I didn't see the point of risking them. In the general scheme of things, six strides at the end of one run will not make the difference on the start line in April.
I kept the pace very easy and although I was aware of the calf it never got worse or had me feeling like I needed to stop. I picked a route with some grass and single track trail too to vary the stimulus through it.
The scheduled gym session for the Thursday evening was a a pipe dream due to my work schedule. I was happy to push it to the Friday morning. I did want to take some action for the calf though. I did 3 sets of isometric heel raise holds off a step for 30 seconds with a 16kg kettlebell. Providing some stimulus typically helps with tissue remodelling and healing. The underlying rationale for this is explained by the physiological process of mechanotransduction. It's a bit heavy to be diving into here but the summary is that applying mechanical stress to tissue by loading it triggers cellular responses that cause structural change. If you do want to read more I can point you to this paper.
I had about 12 hours recovery from the previous bout of calf loading so I was happy to stimulate it again on Friday morning. A single leg Smith machine squat was my main lift but this doesn't recruit the calf much. For this I used an isometric hold in the Smith machine and paired it with a low intensity single leg pogo. This challenged the tissues at different points of the force velocity curve. Basically, high levels of force with plenty of time to develop the force complimented by a task where force must be developed rapidly. I was able to load up the non calf exercises without any issues.
Single leg pogo
That left me with 24 hours until my planned long run. I wasn't sure how to tackle it being honest. I knew some recovery time would help and that I might be okay on the run but there were definite doubts about whether taking on the planned run a week before a race was a good idea.
28k was on the menu and I prepared as if I was going to hit the run as planned. This meant fuelling for it the night before and morning and of the race, getting gels ready and making a post run smoothie. Even going through this routine I wasn't convinced I would be completing it. I also mentioned to my wife before heading out that I hopefully wouldn't be home earlier than expected!
The session plan was 6k easy, 6k marathon pace with 2k steady x 2 and finish with 3k marathon pace + 3k 10 mile pace. I wasn't even going to tell my training partners, it becomes more real you have an issue then. I did in the end to minimise the abuse I'd get if I did pull out! I was happy to start off and see how it felt with the 6k of easy stuff. I did have some awareness but that didn't change as the session went on. Coming to the last 6k I was sceptical of trying the 3k at 10 mile pace but I really couldn't say I felt uncomfortable enough to leave it out. If there was any change as I increased the pace I would have had no bother easing off.
Thankfully, it ended up being a quality session and I cant say I was overly bothered by the calf. By no means am I out of the woods but I'm glad I got another good session in and didn't completely change my schedule due to a minor niggle.
I think this raises an interesting question. What is a running injury?
In this scenario I definitely felt discomfort in a muscle. I'd be slow to call it pain but there was something up. Would I class it as an injury? Not a chance. There is decent research done on this and the consensus is that a running related injury is "pain in the lower limbs that causes a restriction on or stoppage of running (distance, speed, duration, or training) for at least 7 days or 3 consecutive scheduled training sessions, or that requires the runner to consult a physician or other health professional.” I would feel comfortable saying I'm managing a bit of a complaint rather than defining it as an injury.
I'm sure from your own experiences you'd think similarly. This would also be supported in the research where running with some sort of issue is accepted as part and parcel of the sport.
With a race next weekend my plan is to slightly reduce volume anyway so I would see that as the key management strategy here. I hope I'm right!
I'm writing this on Saturday morning as I wanted to summarise my week before racing tomorrow. Last week I mentioned some calf discomfort and this week there is a bit more to throw in the mix. My original taper plan for this race is outlined in my intro. In keeping with previous weeks I have tried to colour code what I actually did in training versus the original plan. More green means I made more changes. This is easily the greenest week so far!
The day before was a rest day so I was hoping I'd have recovered nicely from the challenging run on the Saturday. I performed as expected in the run and other than feeling a bit of a sniffle I felt alright. Pace and HR were where I wanted them to be. There was some residual fatigue in the legs but nothing out of the ordinary. I was keen to see how my calf felt and to be honest I did notice it but again, it wasn't enough to have me changing the session.
What did stand out on Monday was an unusual HRV reading. HRV stands for Heart rate Variability and it's something I have been tracking since October. The purpose of tracking HRV is to try and have an objective marker of how well we are responding to stresses we experience. Clearly, training is the main stressor I'm conscious of but the beauty of HRV is that it's a function of the autonomic nervous system so everything else is represented in the score too. That includes the physiological stress produced by busy periods in work, managing difficult periods of relationships or bouts of illness. The application to training is quite simple. If you're showing reliable signs of overall physiological stress being outside of your normal range then there is an increased likelihood you won't benefit from higher intensity training. It's a fascinating topic and the creator of the app I use to measure HRV, Marco, has written excellent blogs to help understand it. I have had some interactions with Marco through Twitter and he was quite reassuring about this reading.
5 x 1k intervals was the plan for this session. I can't say I was overly excited about completing it due to a poor sleep and energy levels being lower than normal. My HRV reading was similar to the day before and the advice recommended was to limit intensity. This was the last higher intensity bit of training planned before my weekend race and I was keen to keep it in the programme.
I was back to the 1k wind tunnel strip for these intervals and it's a 3.5k easy run to get to the start of it. I said I'd do this bit of the run and if I felt okay I'd do the first interval and take it from there. As can happen, once I was warmed up and did the first interval I was happy to keep going. You can see the difference in every second interval dictated by a headwind or tailwind but I was expecting this. The 3.43 (interval 4) was fairly sluggish and probably a good indicator I was tired. I was glad to have this session wrapped up. Moving at a quicker pace didn't cause any increased calf discomfort which was a positive.
My run of poor sleep was continuing and on the Wednesday morning I was definitely feeling below par. Nothing drastic but clear signs of fatigue, it wasn't surprising with the cumulative effect of poor sleep, keeping the training going and some out of the ordinary work commitments. I was interested to see what my HRV app had to say as I have had periods before where I felt rubbish but the objective reading looked okay. I should point out that the HRV reading does include a subjective questionnaire too which is important.
However, in this case how I felt and what was detected from the HRV reading were a good match. I have had a few amber messages to "limit intensity" before but have never seen a red "take it easy". I took this as reliable info that easing off from the planned session was sensible. At the moment Wednesday is a non clinical day for me. This means I can train later in the day and recover quite well. I had 15k at marathon pace in the programme but I knew that wasn't a good idea. In all honesty, even if I was feeling great that would have been a big session with a race a few days later. Although I wasn't in top form I did feel like I could run. I wanted to make the most of the non clinical day to train as my Thursday and Friday were particularly busy in the clinic.
The negotiations with myself led to completing a 15k run with the last 5k at marathon pace. That's a third of the the moderate intensity work that was planned. You could argue that I should have left that out but I knew I'd have a rest day the following day. Anyway, I got through it and the marathon pace work felt okay.
Despite being on the tired side I did have a birthday to celebrate that evening. A craft beer and two glasses of red wine were enjoyed....maybe the thought of turning 35 was the root of my poor sleep!
No training. I was very happy with this. I had a cancellation straight after a lunch break so I strolled for an hour through a park which has a river running through it. I arranged a phone call with a buddy for the second half of the walk. These are both things I generally get energy from. Knowing I had a couple of easy days training wise before the race was nice too.
Friday and Saturday
Very little excitement to report here...as it should be a couple of days before a race. Thursday was 10k easy with 6 strides at the end and this morning was some dynamic mobility, drills, easy running and strides.
I'll take it easy for the rest of today and sort my gear for the race and an overnight stay tomorrow. The rest day Thursday and easy day yesterday looks to have nudged HRV readings back into normal ranges too.
I'm looking forward to the race and feel like I have plenty of work done. I was conscious of not dropping total volume too much as the main goal is the April marathon but allowing some "freshening up" is important if there is a meaningful goal for the race. Finishing in under 60mins would be a very good result for me. The decision making about when to ease off and drop sessions or just keep going despite feeling sub par is complex. A combination of being in tune with how you are honestly feeling and using reliable data driven objective scores is the most helpful approach. I don't think everyone has to track HRV but of all the metrics out there I do believe there is value to it. I'm happy to chat to anyone interested about my experience of using it and the blog I highlighted is well worth checking out if you're considering it.
I haven't gone into detail this week about strength training. There's a very simple reason for that...I didn't do a whole lot. That may sound like a strange admission from a guy who is selling subscriptions to a strength training app but there is a solid rationale behind it. In general, I would drop from two to one strength sessions the week of a race anyway. I would usually do it early in the week, either the Tuesday or Wednesday if it's a Sunday race. From what I've described above we can see that I was questioning whether the running sessions were pushing it, I don't feel like the benefits derived from one strength session would have been worth the added physiological stress. I'm also confident in the block of strength and power work I have done up until now. I'm sure it will stand to me and I will happily reintroduce it next week.
What I did keep in the routine was isolated calf work. I stuck with what was described last week and completed it on Wednesday and Friday evening. It's always a concern having some sort of calf awareness or niggle but it has held up fine with a hard, long run last Saturday and quicker intervals this Tuesday so I'll be on the start line with confidence in it.
The original training plan I shared accounted for next week. I'll reevaluate that post race and I need to write up the next block of marathon training. Once I have done that I'll share it with you again and we can start to look forward to the main event in April.
As always, if anything catches your eye in these posts please get in touch. I'm happy to answer emails or contact me through twitter or instagram.
Alright, so this is an update from 8 days after the 10 mile race. It feels like there is a lot to report back on!
Thankfully, the race went smoothly and in all honesty I performed better than I thought I would. I stated I wanted to be sub 60 minutes and my strategy going into the race was to try and hold 3min 40sec pace which would have got me home in 59mins. To be able to hold onto 3min 37sec pace and cross the line in 58mins 13sec was a great buzz. I was confident I had a solid block of work done and I had completed good quality 10 mile specific sessions but I wasn't sure how I'd do trying to string 16 and a bit relatively quick kilometres together.
The conditions were as good as it possibly could have been for a February day in Ireland and the strength of the field worked in my favour too. Falling in with runners who were at a similar pace or slightly quicker than I wanted to run was a big help. I ended up with a sherpa like character guiding me through 3 or 4k too, he was a local runner who knew the course inside out. When he told me he has ran a 56min 10mile I was very happy to let him cut me loose!
The first half of course felt like it was nearly all downhill and I was ahead of pace by the halfway mark. I knew it was going to get tougher and there was a drag to get back up into the town near the end which definitely tested me. It was encouraging to be able to pick the pace back up after that and I managed to accelerate again to cross the line. Managing the incline near the end and being able to accelerate for the last 100 metres is a nod to some of the strength work I have behind me I think. Clearly there needs to be a general fitness base but I felt confident for these sections of the race.
The race was a Sunday and I stayed in Dungarvan the night of the race. I enjoyed the night away, ate and drank plenty and was more than happy to have the Monday as a day off running. What I underestimated was hopping on a bike to cycle on a local Greenway. It was all very leisurely but I clocked up nearly 50k before the day was over....probably a mistake!
Easy recovery run with the only goal of getting the legs moving. Pace was about 5mins / km and HR averaged at 137bpm. I quite enjoyed the easy pace and not having to focus on effort levels or splits. The only thing I noticed was some muscle soreness in my quads but I think it was the cycling more than the race caused this!
As this was going to be a 4 day running week I didn't want to let the intensity slide too much. I went for a 15k steady run. I debated keeping this as another easy one but I felt recovered enough to increase the intensity slightly. All straightforward in the end which increased the confidence I had recovered okay from Sunday. I was building towards a long run on the Saturday morning and wanted to be going into that ready for a hard workout.
I have been trying to do a 15k marathon pace run in the middle of the week but it just didn't make sense this week. I was happy to drop it to 5k at marathon pace to make sure I was in a good enough place for the weekend. I wanted to get a solid strength session in after the run too. It was noticeable during this run that my calf wasn't in my mind at all. Long may that last.
I was back into some heavier strength work after this run and I was glad to be including it again. I will be aiming for two decent sessions over the next 5 weeks. On a hex bar deadlift I was happy that I hadn't dropped any strength with the slightly reduced frequency of lifting due to the race.
This was one of the tougher long runs I have done as part of the marathon preparation. The layout of the session was challenging and it's the first session like this I have done on my own. We had guests staying with us on the Saturday so getting the session done early and close to home was necessary. I went for a 3k easy warm up and then 7k at marathon pace with 2k recovery repeated 3 times. Total distance of 30k with 21k of it at marathon pace. The last 7k interval was challenging in the middle but I finished it fairly strongly and I was surprised with how quickly the session felt like it passed by. Part of this was due to a slightly different route and I listened to an audiobook. I usually never use headphones but it definitely helped here, I'd use the strategy again for a solo long run. It took me about half an hour to pick something to listen though, need to work on that!
I'd like to hit a 40k run with 25-30k at marathon pace before Paris. I have my training plan pretty much written but I need to cross reference it with my training partner before sharing it. It makes sense to align our sessions as much as we can.
I will have lab testing completed in early March too. I'd be interested to see how effective my training has been in shifting the numbers. I feel like I have improved my fitness significantly, some of the race results would agree with that too. To see a clear improvement with the physiological testing can confirm this and help inform future training plans.
In wider Running Buddy news, I was a guest on a podcast hosted by RTE (the national broadcaster in Ireland). The host, Brian, is an experienced runner and he quizzed me fairly thoroughly on all things strength and conditioning for runners! You can listen to the episode here - https://www.rte.ie/radio/podcasts/22208850-mind-over-matter-tips-from-a-physio-and-a-psychol/
Right, back to it. This felt like a more regular week of training with the 10 mile race well and truly behind me. I ended up hitting 96k volume wise which is uncharted territory for me. It is one of the cooler things about training for a marathon, it demands you do things you normally wouldn't with your training. There is risk associated with this of course but that's where the quality of the programme combined with the ability to adapt to how your body is responding is crucial.
It has been nice to have people getting in touch to wish me well with the preparations and when I meet friends it invariably comes up in conversation. It was during a chat with a friend that it dawned on me the run in until race day is still bloody long! It's just under 6 weeks at this stage. I've definitely had feelings where I'd like the race to be in about 3 weeks. I think that comes down to feeling well prepared and knowing that the next few weeks are going to be hard work. The chance of picking up a niggle or an illness would be in the back of your mind with the longer run in period too. I'm definitely conscious of this now and as much as I want to hit all my big sessions I know that getting to the start line healthy is the main priority. The incentive to keep training as I have been is obvious. There's still time to get fitter. There is a big training stimulus from the type of long runs I'm doing at the moment and the more of these the better....as long as you're handling them. Hopefully I can complete the remaining ones as I'd like, I will be sure to discuss any decision making here if I do alter the long runs significantly.
Training Plan Part Deux
This is my programme for the next 4 weeks. It will bring me up to the start of a taper and I'll reassess that closer to the time.
Similar layout to the previous programme but I have made a few scheduling changes. The main change of note is moving the mid week marathon pace work from Wednesday to Thursday. Wednesday will now be easy running with sprints at the beginning or strides at the end. I will keep Friday as a day to freshen up before the longer / harder Saturday run. I was starting to feel the cumulative load of the higher intensity work on Tuesday and marathon pace work on Wednesday was potentially becoming too much. I'm not sure how it will go with marathon pace work on Thursday and then again on the Saturday but I'll soon find out. I'm hopeful the rest day between will be enough to recover. Another change I was considering was just cutting the amount of marathon pace work mid week. This is my most likely move if I feel like I'm struggling.
I'll chat through the long run decision making as I get through the sessions.
Keeping two strength sessions is the goal too. I definitely feel best when I hit these. Like everyone else, fitting them in is a logistical challenge. Doubling up once a week and strength training straight after a run is a strategy I'm going to try and use more. From the times I've done that I don't think I lose much quality in the session. When I do this I walk from work to the gym, get changed and start running. I get back, eat something small and get into the gym session. Cutting down on the mini commute and need to change and shower twice makes a big difference. Saving time like this can be the difference between one or two gym sessions per week. Over time the cumulative effects of this add up, sorting the small details can have a big positive impact on your training if you think of it in terms of years.
Monday - Saturday
This week was actually an outlier in terms of structure. A Sunday long run felt completely foreign to me! The reason for this was work on the Saturday afternoon. I was recording videos for the next Running Buddy programme and I have made the mistake of doing a long run before this previously. Not a good idea to run 30k in the morning and film yourself doing strength and power exercises in the afternoon...I could barely get off the ground when trying to jump!
For this update I'm going to focus on the long run. You can see the other days training and to be honest they all went smoothly. It was one of my better 5 x 1k sessions too so I'll take that.
Longest run to date and a healthy dose of marathon pace work in the mix. I wanted to increase the challenge near the end of the run so gradually increasing the distance of the marathon pace intervals was my strategy. I joke with my training partners that my sessions definitely won't win any awards for creativity but I don't really care as long they're getting the job done. I think more complex sessions are only for entertainment a lot of the time, keeping the session design simple can be just as effective.
It was another solo effort due to the aforementioned training partners having a race. I went without audio assistance too, I was on a route I hadn't been on in a while and I wasted about 20 minutes trying to find something to listen to so I ditched it. A couple of hours without tech (other than my watch) has to be embraced too.
I was happy with how I felt during this one. I managed my energy well and hit my pace targets comfortably enough. I ate well the previous day and had a decent breakfast, that makes a difference. I had a gel before the 7k interval, before the 10k interval and with 3k to go in that last interval too. I have ordered a different brand of gels too, I'm looking forward to trialling them next weekend.
I was chatting to a friend about this run when he saw my splits. He was asking would I try to run at 4min / km pace in the marathon if I'm managing 4.05's well in training. It's a valid question but I really don't want to underestimate the challenge of stringing 42 decent kilometres together. All the horror stories you hear start with..."well I went out a bit fast!".
Right, that's plenty for this update. Keep the comments and questions coming in please, it's great to know so many people are regular readers.
Another week down and another week closer to race day. It dawned on me yesterday that I only have two long / hard runs left. That snapped me out of the funk I was in about feeling like there was a prolonged block of training still to go before the race. The yellow report card below reflects a week that went smoothly. The Sunday long run last week and a Saturday one this week blew up my 7 day running volume. This is usually steady as I tend to do long runs on Saturdays.
The same amount of work in a more condensed period deserves some respect so I made sure to keep the Monday session easy. Seeing 126.5k over a 7 day rolling training load was wild but compared to the Monday to Sunday load of 93k it makes sense. I should be back to Saturday long runs for the rest of the run in. I don't know if I'll ever plan to run a 126k week!
This was very low intensity and I put myself under no pressure. I tipped away for an hour and managed to get about 20mins of the session on grass and trails. No worrying soreness after the previous days effort was a big positive. I got into the gym Monday evening too, I stuck with my usual routine and left out the plyometric section.
This felt harder than expected. I thought I'd be closer to 3.40's but I never really got going. It's not too surprising considering the effort on the Sunday but it was a good one to learn from. Easing up slightly and being under the 3.45 mark was still a decent session and I'd be confident the physiological benefit of the session wasn't much different. Expectation levels in these Tuesday sessions may have to be reigned in slightly, it's more important to be performing at a reasonable standard and staying healthy compared to really pushing these and picking up an injury or just burning myself out.
Back to easy stuff here and I was keen to get the shorter sprints back into my routine. There is a nice hill about 1.5k from my front door which works well for these. I don't know the exact gradient but the bottom part of the hill is a very easy slope, perfect for these sprints. I increased the recovery time between efforts too, I wanted 2 minutes of very easy jogging between reps. Accumulating fatigue or looking for metabolic benefits from these isn't the point. To recruit type 2 fibres that aren't normally recruited you need to be recovered well between reps. 2 mins is probably the minimum amount of time you should be taking. I kept the sprint to 8 seconds duration too, that ensures it doesn't turn into a lung burning effort.
I felt pretty good for this bit of the session and was confident trying to accelerate and hit max speeds. A definite highlight was checking my watch afterwards and seeing a max speed reading of 34km/hr. We can be 100% confident the reading wasn't accurate, otherwise I'd be on the track full time! Good fun sticking it in the Whatsapp group afterwards all the same though.
I knew a Thursday evening gym session was not an option due to my work diary so I added hamstring and calf work onto the end of my run. This wasn't ideal but it kept the strength stimulus going to hit the twice a week frequency.
Last week I mentioned being tempted by 4min/km pace for the marathon. The 15k marathon pace run during the week is a good place to be testing this.
To hold the pace for an hour was okay, it was a manageable effort level and the average HR was 160bpm for the 15k. I'd like to see that slightly lower but I'm confident I wasn't above the second lactate turn point. I'm going to try and hit this pace for my mid week marathon pace work from here on in.
This was a standout in the training plan. It was the longest run in total and the biggest push at marathon pace in one chunk. 15k easy and 20k at marathon pace. I was delighted to have Adam back on board for this run. He had a race the weekend before so didn't fancy the full 20k marathon pace block but agreed to 10k of it....which we both knew meant he'd probably do 15!
Conditions were perfect and I wanted to simulate the race scenario as much as possible. I wore Vaporfly's which will be my shoe of choice for race day and I introduced a new gel. If I want to hit 90g of carbs per hour in the race I need to practice three gels an hour a few more times.
Sock choice is important too, something that's fine for an hour of running may not do the job for 3 hours. Chafing is a horrendous experience for anyone who hasn't dealt with it. Luckily, I've rarely had issues but longer duration events and increased temperatures and humidities increase the likelihood of skin or gear rubbing. I'm hoping this Bodyglide does the business.
The run itself went well. The sun was a nice boost and the 15k easy flew by. We were chatting comfortably enough during the marathon pace block and were slowing ourselves down rather than speeding up to hit target pace. I had the last 5k of marathon pace work on my own and pushed them closer to 4min / km pace. In all honesty I felt pretty good finishing. Definitely happy to wrap up the session but the thought of keeping that pace going for another 30 minutes didn't frighten me.
The gels went down okay, I don't think I'll ever enjoy them but I stomached them well and the flavour was acceptable. Shoes, socks and skin all held up well!
I know deciding on your marathon pace isn't straightforward. I think I'll aim for 4min k's in my next two long runs and see where I am then. I also have retesting in the lab booked for March 8th. That won't be the deciding factor but if I see a good shift in lactate threshold there it would be further encouragement to go for it.
Right, until next week.
Another week down. Not as smooth sailing as last week but the key sessions were ticked off well. The spanner in the works was some pain behind my knee. As I'm writing this I have to admit that it's probably moving from something I'd normally ignore to something that I have to respect. When there is a heavy block of training it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly why issues crop up. In this instance, I do believe I know what I have done. I'll give that some focus this week and go into slightly less detail on the day to day training.
I have programmed steady runs on Mondays in the latest programme update. This was a bit ambitious. After a big effort on the Saturday I think starting with a chunk of easier work on the Monday would work better. I could add a block of 5k or 20min at a steadier pace but the whole run at approx 4.15's probably isn't needed. My compromise this week was to add 6 x 8 second strides at the end of the run. Generally I felt fine during this run.
I alternated back to the 5 x 1k interval session this week. Nothing spectacular pace wise but I hit the types of intensities needed to get the adaptations I wanted. This is designed to help keep peak VO2 capacities at their highest. I wore Nike Invincibles for this session, once I pick up a second pair of Vaporflys I'll use my current pair for these types of sessions I think.
Tuesday afternoon was when things took a turn I think. I wanted to get a strength session in but I had an online booking come in which narrowed my window to get to the gym. I decided to do a short session in the clinic but knew I was cutting it fine between patients. One of the exercises I selected was an eccentric hamstring slider with a disc. You start in a single leg glute bridge position and let your heel slowly slide away from you. It's a great exercise to develop hamstring strength and I have used it during this training block from time to time. Looking back at my training the combination of Monday sprints, hard intervals on Tuesday morning and a high demand eccentric hamstring exercise on Tuesday afternoon was pushing it. I should have eased into it more too, I was definitely rushing and there wasn't much of a warm up.
First warning signs that things weren't quite right. I woke with a stiffness behind my knee and it wasn't overly comfortable walking about. I had an easy run planned and as is the way with a lot of morning aches and pains I stuck with the plan to head out and see how I got on.
I could definitely feel it a bit during the run but it actually eased off. If it felt like it was progressively getting worse I would have had no issues stopping the run. I kept the run to 12k and decided to see how it felt before giving it much more head space.
Not good Thursday morning. Clear pain behind my knee and not really comfortable bending it back all the way or squatting down. It didn't feel as bad as the previous morning though, I took some solace that the run the previous day didn't make it feel much worse. I decided to postpone the run that morning. I brought gym gear to work to have the option of trying the bike or the cross trainer.
During the day I was surprised with how good it started to feel. It basically went away completely by the time I was heading home at about 6pm. With no soreness I was satisfied I was good to go so I did my Thursday session that evening. 15k at marathon pace felt okay. I was aware of something feeling slightly different but my stride wasn't altered and there was no progressive soreness. I covered 17.5k with 15k at 4.05min/km pace.
As usual, this was a planned recovery day before a big session on the Saturday. I could certainly feel that soreness behind my knee but I knew I wasn't running that day and that the run the night before didn't stir it up massively.
I did give it a bit more thought on the Friday and came to the conclusion that I had irritated the distal attachment of one of my hamstring tendons. I was confident it wasn't the knee joint and my mini self assessment and review of my training provided good evidence it was the hamstring tendon.
With the confidence of the back of the knee soreness being soft tissue in nature I was happy to go ahead with the planned session. 3 x 7k at marathon pace with 2k float recoveries was the plan with a 5k easy warm up. I took it as another chance to test nutrition and gear for a good chunk of marathon pace running.
This was a vote in favour of being ambitious and aiming for sub 2.50 on race day. We decided before the run to try and hit 4min/k's for the 7k blocks and although it definitely felt like a bit of work it did feel manageable. The hamstring tendon wasn't an issue during the run. That can be the way with tendon issues so I'll monitor the response and plan accordingly. I have a 3 x 10k session planned for next Saturday where I'll hit 40k in total. The main focus of the week will be to have myself in a position to nail that.
Until next week!
It's starting to get exciting now! My last long / hard run is behind me and I was chuffed with the session. I'll recap on the week and chat through the long run then. There was one significant outlier too, Wednesday was a lab testing session. I used this as my high intensity day programming wise which worked out well. It did influence what I did for the week but the information gained was worth the disruption.
The hard run on the Saturday wasn't without it's repercussions. My cranky tendon let me know it was worked hard and gave me some discomfort on the Sunday and Monday morning. I got out for an evening easy run for 60mins and it felt like plenty. I spent as much time as possible on trails and grass too. Partly for a change of scene mentally and I like varying terrain once in the week if possible.
This would usually be a tempo or VO2 max based session but with lab testing the following day that wasn't on the cards. I kept it easy again but extended the session to 80mins. I did sneak in 3x15second strides as I wanted to be sure I could actually hit some sort of decent pace and not embarrass myself by pulling up during the lab testing due to a sore hamstring!
Lab testing provides excellent objective physiological data and I don't think I'd do it justice with a short entry here. I will write a separate account of what happened on the day and how results compared to my October testing. In terms of a workout I was on the treadmill for about 60mins and the intensity peaked at 90 seconds of running at 3.09min/km pace....I was close to flying off the back of the treadmill!
The testing required maximal effort which is something usually reserved for races. I was pretty happy keeping the Thursday run easy in intensity and just racking up more minutes on my feet. I went for another 80 mins run and ended up with an average HR of 139bpm, a good sign it was a proper easy run. I had one eye on Saturday too. I was completing hamstring focused exercises daily and I completed a full gym session on the Thursday evening. This is one of the pairs of exercises I included. The knee extension machine allowed me to load the quadriceps without stressing the distal hamstring. I typically use a hex bar deadlift or a single leg smith machine squat but neither felt comfortable. The weighted push up is an extremely time efficient upper body exercise and a very good challenge for the anterior trunk.
I had committed this to paper four weeks ago and it was a stark reminder that ambitious session plans are easy to write down but not so easy to bring yourself to do! A few times during the week I was rationalising why cutting some distance or taking out some of the intensity was needed. I remember writing it that I felt hitting 40k would be a big mental milestone. Experiencing marathon pace deep into the session was designed to replicate the scenario of needing to dig near the end. I saw it as a proper dress rehearsal for gear and nutrition too.
I started with two training partners, one was due to run about 20k and the other closer to 36k Unfortunately, Adam hurt his calf and pulled out about 16k into it. I was gutted for Adam but I wasn't much use to him and he waved me on. It probably did make the session tougher but in a way it replicated Paris more closely, I'm flying solo for that so easy conversation or pacing from someone else won't be a definite option.
I stuck with my protocol of a gel every 20mins. This felt like a lot but in combination with hitting about 500g of carbs the day before I think it was a big positive. Having a lighter breakfast helped stomach the gels. Eight gels is a fair amount to carry but I think I have that sorted. I have a pair of Adidas Terrex trail running shorts with pockets in the waist of them towards the sides. I can easily get two gels in each side. I used a running belt for the remaining four. Running with the belt in front was a bit awkward but I got used to it after a few kilometres. On the day I'll take gels from the belt first and when they're gone I'll either ditch the belt or just flip it around so it's behind me. A 500ml soft flask lasted me the whole run. It was fairly cold so I wouldn't be surprised if I needed more on the day. It does look like there will be a plentiful supply on the course, I'm happy I won't be stuck for water.
In terms of executing the session I was delighted to hit the 4min/km pace for the 3 x 10km blocks. It's an effort but I didn't feel like I was working extremely hard. It's very hard to predict how I'll feel 30km in on the day but this session is a good sign attempting sub 2.50 is realistic.
Short and sweet this week as I need to get a gym session before my next block of patients in the clinic!
Keep the questions coming please, I'm really enjoying chatting to people about the training and trying to give advice where I can.
This week started in the knowledge that my toughest training was behind me and that the main priority was maintaining fitness, staying healthy and not worrying about gaining "new fitness". This coincides with the tapering period that I'm sure many of you are familiar with.
Tapering means different things to different runners and from a research standpoint it is one of the least understood phenomenons within training. In the running world there does seem to be a consensus that race performance can be boosted by up to 3% with a well executed taper. (That's improving a 3hr 30min marathon to 3hrs 26min approximately.) When it comes to actually planning the taper, as with most things in running, there are varied approaches that can be effective. It must be stated that there is likely large within person variations in terms of response to different tapering strategies.
The plan I have attached is my taper. The principles below are what I draw on to programme what I think will be most effective. I have gathered these principles from quite a lot of scientific journal reading, expert opinion through blogs and podcasts and many discussions with experienced runners!
1) Use from at least 10 days to a maximum of 3 weeks.
2) Aim to reduce total training volume (distance / time) by 40-60%.
3) Maintain frequency of training sessions, in the same pattern if possible.
4) Maintain intensity within sessions or slightly increase it.
5) If needed, use an extra rest day in the week of the race.
These principles transfer quite well to strength training during a taper period too. I will keep two sessions in my programme until the last week where I will do one. Additional considerations below.
1) Two weeks out, maintain frequency but drop from 3 working sets to 2 working sets of main exercises.
2) In the last week complete the session early in the week. 2 working sets of 2-3 key exercises and aim to move the weight as quickly as possible. Reducing weight slightly is fine.
3) No new exercises. No sets to fatigue.
The first week of this plan has been completed and it was pretty straightforward. The notable outlier is the cross training session on the Monday. I wanted to shift my weekend run to Sunday as that's race day but I didn't think I needed two total rest days. That resulted in a Saturday 40k run, Sunday rest day, Monday cross training and back into running on the Tuesday. I used the bike and cross trainer for a 60min cross training session. I was surprised by the cross trainer, I was expecting to hate it but it was actually quite nice! I never use it but I would now consider it to increase total volume in future programmes.
I wasn't sure how I'd be after the testing run the previous Saturday and debated changing this to an easy run but I was conscious my week before had loads of easy stuff. Once I got moving I felt good and the notes I took immediately post run reflect that. I'm trying to use the notes bit of the Garmin app more but I'm fairly inconsistent with it. I think there is good value to having a couple of sentences attached to each run. When looking back you typically only have the numbers and unless there is something very obvious you won't remember how you felt.
The main bit of this was 2 x10 mins at tempo pace with 5mins recovery. I picked 3.45min/km as my target. From the recent lab testing this would have me under my second lactate turn point. This means I should be producing lactate at a rate I can use it as energy and avoid having it accumulate to detrimental levels. Trying to be more accurate with these sessions is one of the practical implications of having the testing done. What the testing doesn't account for is the drudgery of running loops around an industrial estate in the wind and rain. I cared far more about getting a hot shower rather than what my lactate was doing to be honest.
This was an easy 80 minutes where I clocked up 16.5k. My runners were still wet from the day before so I stuck on a pair of old Pegasus. You can see what I thought of them in the comments! They were ditched a few k's in when I passed the front door. I remember feeling quite hungry near the end of this run. I'm usually okay without food before an easy run but the session the day before may have taken more out of me than I had realised.
I actually worked Paddy's Day morning as the gym I film the Running Buddy programmes in was closed. I couldn't pass up the chance to get some recording done for the new programme (thanks Ed!). This was about 3 hours of demonstrating exercises and moving about so I was happy keeping my run a bit shorter. I also snuck it in between finishing work and having friends over for dinner. It was very close to getting the chop altogether as I was stressing about cooking! I enjoy these mixed sessions. Easy warm up, a few hill sprints, more easy stuff and then a steady run home.
This long run was really the start of my taper. The distance was chopped from 40k to 25k and the marathon pace work dropped from 30k to 15k. The conditions were poor and I was solo so getting this run done and dusted was the main priority. No surprises and another decent chunk of work at marathon pace. This will be reduced again next weekend.
I am looking forward to winding the training down over the next couple of weeks. It's a strange period but I have responded well to tapers before so I can fall back on that if I'm getting the urge to train more. There is satisfaction in getting to this point too. Reflecting on the work that has been done is important and acknowledging I have done a decent job at improving my fitness is allowed.
In saying that, I know that I won't be truly satisfied until I put the work to the test in a couple of weeks!
That's my first real taper week ticked off. I've had loads of people asking if I'm managing to stay sane and to be honest I don't know what they're on about! The easier week was quite nice. The reduced training isn't challenging my sanity but Emmanuel Macron and the French public are starting to properly test me. More on that shortly.
I pretty much stuck to my original plan and as the weekly trend shows below it's a significant drop in volume, as it should be.
The Monday and Tuesday training was very straightforward and one of the highlights was equalling the weight I used for this single leg squat exercise in the Smith machine. I hadn't performed it in a month due to modifying my gym work around the hamstring soreness. To be able to pick it back up and hit the same numbers was a good sign I didn't drop any quad or glute strength. That will be definitely be tested late in the marathon.
I dropped one rep from the session plan here. There was a 30km/hr wind which would have made rep 5 into the wind. I felt like I had got enough out of the session and didn't see the need to slog through the 5th rep into a headwind. During a regular week the guilt would have got the better of me but I wasn't bothered turning for home this time. The paces were decent for me too.
Thursday and Friday went to plan and I enjoyed the quicker work on Friday. It was only 6 x 8 seconds at 90% of max pace but it felt good to open up. It's funny how the mind works too, I was actually thinking about the 10k I'm signed up to the day of the Cork Marathon. My mind had completely drifted to what changes I'd make to my training. I wouldn't want to be getting too ahead of myself!
This was my last decent block of marathon pace running before Paris. I was in two minds as to whether this was too much but I felt that because I have had 15k marathon pace blocks in my mid week training I should be able to recover from this without any issues. It's also a third of the marathon pace work I did for my peak session two weeks ago.
Decent weather made a welcome difference and also helped me feel less silly wearing a singlet. I ordered a new one and I'm a firm believer you have to test gear before sticking it on for a race. The run itself felt average enough. I'd be lying if I said I felt a miraculous boost in performance due to the easier week but I suppose I'm planning for that to really have an effect on Sunday.
As I mentioned in the intro there is a genuine risk that this marathon will not go ahead. There have been protests and strikes all over France due to the pension age being raised and there doesn't seem to be an amicable resolution in sight any time soon. There is due to be an announcement from the event organisers tomorrow (March 28th).
If the race is cancelled it will clearly be a major inconvenience but I have been looking into back up options. The real disappointment would be missing out on the holiday side of the trip! I have family coming to Paris with me and as you'd expect there are dinner reservations and everything else researched and booked in.
I'm hopeful the race will go ahead...supposedly the French don't protest on a Sunday!
As I'm writing this I'm just about getting over that I'm not starting my day with a café allongé and a pastry. The marathon is done and dusted and I have the quad soreness to prove it. Before getting into the detail of the race I'll stick with the weekly summary. I'll keep it brief!
The only change I made to plan was to swap the Tuesday and Wednesday sessions. When looking at the plan again I felt the 2 x 5min tempo was a better fit on the Tuesday. 3.45min /km pace was the target and it was my last bit of sustained work above marathon pace. Keeping this in the plan on the final week was mental as much as physiological. Moving quicker than marathon pace and feeling good was reassuring. 2 x 5 mins was playing it safe too, there was no risk of overdoing it.
Another short run with but with some purpose to it. 2k easy warm up and 4k steady at approx 4.15min/km pace. It's easy to fall into the "just run easy" trap in the last week of the taper but that doesn't fit with best practice guidelines from the research or coaching experts. The easiness this week came from chopping the length of the runs. This was the first day where I really felt the taper coming to fruition. A notable "lightness" to my legs and an awareness that they hadn't been battered by training which becomes a baseline sensation for most runners.
This was the shortest and easiest run of the week. A 5k just to move around really and enjoy feeling fresh. The following day was a travel day so I was happy taking the Friday off.
This wasn't a training day but there were a couple of important tasks to tick off. I wanted to pick up my race number from the expo so I didn't have to worry about dealing with the crowds on the Saturday. Our flight was delayed so we were late getting to the Airbnb. This squeezed my available time to get across the city before the expo closed. I made the call to hop on an electric bike and I think it was one of my best calls of the weekend! Very good fun blasting along the cycle lanes without having to do much work. I spent 5 years cycling around London when I lived there and this reminded me how much I miss it.
I got into the expo after a 5 minute queue and had my race number within 2 minutes. I tried to go back out the door I came in but the security lads were not having it. You're funnelled through the expo so you have to pass every stand...it took me about 15 minutes to get out of the place! Normally I wouldn't mind but it was getting dark and we had dinner booked. The e-bike had a limiter of 25km/hr on it and I pushed that the whole way back.
I was fortunate to have a back room team for the trip. My wife, parents and brother traveled. My other brother didn't make it but I didn't have much sympathy for him, he's traveling around South America. As I was getting the race number the others looked after a shop so I didn't have to go traipsing around a supermarket the day before the race. I posted on twitter about the merits of the shopping list.
The map of this run tells you all you need to know about it. I had a nearby park picked out from Google maps research and I ended up running around it fairly randomly. My brother and wife got involved too so we did a bit together and then split up. All I needed to get out of it was a bit of movement for half an hour and I did four strides at marathon pace for about 20 seconds.
It was a long day to pass so I had a farmers market lined up for after the run. It ended up being more time on my feet than I would have liked but knew I was going to be in the apartment for the rest of the day. I clocked up approximately 17,000 steps for the day. That wasn't in the plan.
Eating enough on Saturday was the other key consideration. People joke about being in running for the carb loading but actually trying to hit recommended carb guidelines is not pretty. I didn't track exactly how many grammes of carbohydrates I took in but the target was 700-800g. Keeping this low fibre was the other priority. I tried to eat foods I was used to like bread, rice and the all important rice krispies. To ramp up the carb intake there was generous amounts of honey on the cereal and loads of jam on the bread. I got through about 150g of Haribo and close to a litre of apple juice as easy carb additions too. Being more precise in this area is something I would consider in the future.
I woke at 5.15am naturally and felt fairly refreshed. I got about 6 hours sleep but the quality felt good. I stuck with tried and tested pre run food and had rice krispies with a banana and some bread and jam. My gear was sorted the night before and the route to start line was planned out.
My wife, Laura, put in a serious shift on the morning of the race. She came with me to the start and waited while I warmed up. I was able to leave my gear with her and get straight to the right part of the Champs-Élysées that matched my starting wave. Laura also lugged around my change of clothes for after the race so I could get straight into the festivities.
The options for estimated finishing times went up to 3hrs so I knew I'd be in a pen with runners I should be as quick as. I think most runners know the feeling of crossing a start line and being stuck in traffic, shuffling forward and trying to work your way into open space. I was a bit worried about this as I was directed fairly far back into the bunch of 3hr runners. I was surprised with how quickly I got into my stride though and I was at 4 min/km pace within about 30 seconds. This was fine until I noticed I had caught the official 3hr pacer with a huge bunch behind him. I was held up in a narrow section for about 200 metres but once I had a chance I was happy burning a bit of energy to get around them.
My strategy for the race was simple. I wanted to stick as close as possible to 4min/km pace. I had my watch set to auto lap every 5km so seeing a split in the high 19’s was what I wanted. Of course, there would be easier sections of the course and the wind would impact some sections but having 5km splits is a good way to average this out. The obvious challenge is splits slowing down due to fatigue.
Nutrition wise, I knew I needed to have a gel every 20 minutes. I carried water in a 500ml soft flask that I knew would get me to at least 30k. The conditions were similar to what I was used to training in. Grey, windy and a threat of rain. There wasn’t a notable increase in humidity either so I wasn’t worried about needing more water.
The splits tell the story of race quite well. The first two 5k sections you’d expect the pace to feel very manageable and the first 5k was a net loss elevation wise. The only early issue I had was clipping a ledge at the edge of a fountain as I was going round someone. I rolled my ankle in classic Vaporfly style but it snapped back up immediately and other than scaring the life out of me for about 10 seconds it was grand!
I wore a running belt with 4 gels in it to help carry the 8 I had. It’s a cheap thing from Decathlon but I have never had any bother with it….until now. It kept loosening and slipping down lower on my waist. It was driving me mad. I ended up transferring a couple of gels to the side pockets in my shorts and just held onto one. The belt was thrown in a bin. Good riddance.
The route was class, you seemed to be hitting monuments and castles every few minutes and some of the noise was unreal from live DJ’s and bands. It’s a strange sensation as you appreciate the sights but don’t really take them in. I was in my own world as I was approaching my family too, they were stationed at the 32km mark and if it wasn’t for them roaring my name I would have drifted past. I would have been in serious trouble. My mother came to watch the Cork City half marathon last year and loved it. She took the supporting seriously and insisted on Irish flags and scarves for everyone else. As embarrassed as I was when I saw them coming out of the luggage I got a great buzz from seeing them on the course.
There were parts of the course that were quieter but were through lovely parks that I imagined myself training in if I lived in Paris. There were clear uphill drags in parts of the parks but nothing to really upset your rhythm. I was looking forward to the 10k stretch along the Seine. This ran from 25k to 35k and I was expecting cruisy riverside running along nice paths. I watched a route review video the night before that mentioned tunnels but I didn’t give it much attention. I probably should have, I was not expecting to be in a tunnel for a kilometre! Losing GPS signal is a bit worrying but you have to trust you’re maintaining your pace. This really shouldn’t be a problem, it’s what you perfect when you’re training. There were a few steep slopes for underpasses and once you turned off the river you knew you were heading for the finish.
The routine of ticking off 5k, checking the split, having a gel and repeating that cycle was a good mental strategy. It really cut the race down to smaller chunks. I got a couple of stitches during the race but that was something I had actually thought about. I decided if it happened I would acknowledge it but take the approach of thinking “Yeah that’s a stitch, it’s annoying but it’s going to feel great once it passes”. It certainly helped having a plan.
The inevitable thoughts of “It would feel so good to stop” came as they normally do. Endurance sport is really about not listening to that voice and tipping away with your plan. I had a few moments where I felt the pace drop but they were lapses in concentration more than being unable to hold the pace. As the 5k chunks passed by and I was getting to the business end of the race I was confident I would be okay. I had been on top of my nutrition and knew there wouldn’t be a drastic “hitting the wall” moment. Having a solid base of strength work done is critical at this stage too. I drew on training runs quite a lot mentally. I did one 3 x 10k run at marathon pace 4 weeks before the race and once I got to the 30k mark I was telling myself I’ve done 10k when tired before and ran well. The last 2k I was telling myself “you can see how you feel”. I kept some hope alive that I might be able to turn up the pace for the last 2k. Deep down I knew this was unlikely but the idea of it kept me excited!
As it turned out I was hanging on for the last couple of kilometres. Knowing you’re that close the thought of stopping nearly takes over and I was amazed by the amount of people I saw blowing up around the 40/41k mark.
I did manage to pick it up for the last few hundred metres but I was incredibly relieved to finish. The sensation of being able to stop is a glorious feeling whatever the distance but this was exceptionally good. Knowing the plan came together and I had hit a time that squeezed as much as possible out of me was very sweet. The immediate realisation that I had absolutely thrashed my legs wasn’t so sweet and I was surprised by how quickly I seized up. My family had managed to get themselves to the finishing funnel and the few moments with them was exceptional.
A few days afterwards and with some reflecting with friends about the race I keep giving the same description. I have been saying I found the race strange as “nothing really happened”. It was an odd feeling just repeating the same 5k chunk and knowing the finish was coming, all I had to do was to keep doing the same thing. It has been pointed out to me that not everyone has a similar experience and it’s a positive when you can follow a plan and have it go well. 2.47.40 is a a result I’m proud of and a nice target to aim for. In saying that I am making absolutely no commitment to when (if ever) my next marathon is!
Sharing my training has become part of the rhythm of my week and I have found it a nice way to reflect on my running and consolidate why I do some of the training I do. I have received some lovely messages from people who have enjoyed reading and picked up tips from the blog. To everyone who has been reading and shown support I would like to say thank you.
Writing is a skill I would like to develop so you will probably have to put up with more of my ramblings. I haven’t decided exactly what my next articles or blogs will be on but it’s very likely they will be training related. If there are topics you’d like me to cover please let me know.
For now, I’m going to wrap up this Paris marathon blog and hope my quads are back in action soon!
Thanks for reading,
*A large part of my physiotherapy caseload is runners and I have developed S&C programmes specifically for healthy runners and runners returning from injury for the last 5 years. You can learn more here - https://www.runningbuddytraining.com/