Sunday, 12 September 2010

Dead Legs

I have found that it is around mile 16 of my training runs that my legs stop working. All the running information in well meant books or glossy magazines does not quite prepare the novice runner for the pain that comes with this failure. As a beginner you are advised that if pain surfaces and slowly gets worse then it is best to stop and take a day off. Indeed, this is a common sign of overtraining or ill health. But what happens when you know that to complete your goal pain is a necessary symptom. In fact, part of the process is to become used to the pain and to overcome the fear of it. My past two long runs have been 18 and 20 miles. They were the longest I have ever run and hurt like hell.

After the Newark half marathon I took around a week to recover properly. I started to focus on tempo work and hill work but for some reason I couldn’t bring myself to get out and do the long runs. This is the problem I have with races. The success of completing a long distance race gives my brain an excuse for lethargy. You see, my brain is much cleverer than me. It finds reasons to get my body out of training, from the weather to the type of dinner I had the night before, anything is an excuse. The important thing is that I finally went out and got back to the long training runs and last week did 20 miles. It was the first of my long runs that I decided to do in a loop format of 2.5 miles. This was to include a series of inclines and declines that I knew would be testing and might simulate the challenges of the Snowdon marathon. It would also allow me to have my drink bottles roadside meaning I could run without a backpack.

The first ten miles flew by quickly and I kept a steady pace up to about mile 15. The pain started slowly and was just the aching that comes with being on ones feet for a while. As I progressed the aching became tangible and spread from my feet throughout both my legs. Soon every step was painful and my pace dropped considerably. Each footstep slapped the ground, devoid of grace and smoothness. The last three miles of this training run were by far the most extended physical pain I have ever been through. Even with a warm down, the pain took a half hour to subside. Post run I was curled up on the sofa, rocking like a small child. Teeth gritted and sweaty, the pain left me leaving only exhaustion and hunger.

I have never considered myself as tough person but the physical discomfort on these longer runs has taken me by surprise. I think what I have been encountering is stupidly known as “the wall”. If that was a wall then I’m the next Gebrselassie. More like an ever deepening quagmire filled with acid. Ok, not such a snappy phrase but much more accurate. I have been concentrating so much on my nutrition and hydration during my runs I have been neglecting the rest of my diet. I need to eat more the night before and morning of these runs. This will hopefully minimise my discomfort and exhaustion and if there is one thing I am quite happy to do, it is eating more. At the moment I am alternating between 45 mile and 20 mile weeks to avoid overtraining. My legs are feeling strong and I am feeling fitter than ever.

Yesterday, I went on my first proper fell run. Getting out onto the fells and the mountains has always been an addition I wanted to make to my training. From reading books and watching videos on the matter, fell runners somehow seem tougher and more in touch with their environment than other athletes. They read the terrain and adapt to weather conditions. They are self sufficient and rely on wholesome things like sweet tea and cake to get them through runs. Forget about energy drinks and gels. That stuff’s for weaklings. It just seems a much more pure way for amateur runners to spend their time training. Anyway, I’ve been too much of a wimp to actually get out there on the mountains by myself. I can’t navigate for shit and have a fear of running off a cliff in the middle of fog and howling gales. I can’t get anyone to come with me because everyone thinks it’s a very stupid idea to go running up mountains (or hills or anywhere for that matter). However, I recently got a Garmin GPS device which has given me the confidence to actually get out there. I went for an 8 mile run up Moel Famau which was great fun. Slow on the way up then fast on the way down. I’m going to be doing a lot more of these runs as it was a genuine pleasure to get off the roads.

I’m really enjoying my running at the moment and for the first time ever I look forward to my next run. This is the most important time in my preparation for the Snowdon Marathon. I should be peaking in a few weeks time and I’m feeling good and strong already. There are two points which need to be addressed. First off, I need to tighten up my diet as it’s been a bad month on that front. I know what to do I just need to up the discipline a bit. Secondly, I need to fine tune my race plan in the last couple of long runs. With all this I should be able to avoid such painful long runs and be totally prepared for my first marathon.


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