Running out of Steam

As the lovely Lili von Shtupp, the “Teutonic Titwillow” sang, I’m Tired.

I cheated today.  Fortunately the only thing I cheated on was my training plan. I was due to run 12 miles tonight and just couldn’t face it. I am too tired, both mentally and physically, so I swapped workouts around and went to the gym at lunchtime and did a short speed session instead. It wasn’t a huge session, it was hard work, it wasn’t pretty, but at least it was something worthwhile, and will hopefully give me a wee bit longer recovery before attempting the longer run tomorrow night instead.

My lunchtime run took me to 501 miles for the year so far which I am pleased with.  Last weekend was a big one, I did a really good 21 mile Fast Finish Long Run on Saturday followed by 26 miles on the West Highland Way on Sunday.  So no big surprise really that I am tired. I’v ebeen here before many times and know that I am in those last few difficult weeks before tapering starts.

There are now less than 6 weeks left until the Boston marathon.  The real trick now is to keep the training going while staying healthy. My training plan for the next few weeks looks a bit like this:

B-6 50 miles Long run 17 miles at race pace

B-5 37 miles. Alloa Half marathon aiming for PB pace

B-4 68 miles. Back to back weekend 14 miles race pace and 30 miles easy

B-3 50 miles. Last longrun 22 miles FFLR and start taper

B-2 30 miles. Tapering.

B-1 15 miles. Tapering

B+0 40 miles Race and Recover

B+1 62 miles including 53 mile Highland Fling race.

I am looking forward to my 17 mile race pace run this weekend. It will be a real test of what sort of pace I can realistically shoot for at Boston. Things have been going well so here’s hoping I get a nice surprise!

Talking of nice surprises, my new racing shoes arrived today. Brooks Racer St5. This will be my shoe for race day, so I shall run maybe 30 miles in them over the next few weeks and treat them very nicely to keep them happy for marathon day.

Brooks Racer ST5
Brooks Racer ST5

Every Picture Tells a Story

sweaty gym kit
sweaty gym kit

This picture shows my gear from my treadmill session at the gym tonight.

Nothing too unusual in anything in the picture. But there are a few stories to be told. Lets start at the bottom:

The Shoes

Brooks Racer ST5.  I wore these shoes as I walked to work this morning. Probably one of the few people to walk down the road in a suit and a pair of racing flats. There has to be a reason of course beyond sheer eccentricity and mine was straightforward. I had to walk to work because Helen needed the car. We live too far from work to walk in shiny work shoes and not far enough away to make it worthwhile running, not that I could have run this morning because the DOMS in my groin (don’t ask) were nipping. I had a treadmill session planned for after work so needed my gear and rather than carry yet another pair of shoes with me it just seemed easier to wear them. I did discover however that the venting in the shoes upper makes for chilly toes on a cold morning! If you are interested the ST5 is a great lightweight shoe, I refer to it as flats for fats because it is supportive enough that less svelt runners like myself can wear them right up to marathon distance. I still think they were faster in the previous colour scheme of blue and orange!

The Shorts

Sugoi 42K. Most marathon shorts are rubbish. I cant understand why manufacturers can’t come up with a split short which has a big zip pocket and some mesh pockets for gels. Most brands have a variation which has some but not all of these features.  The other problem with marathon shorts os that by the time you put a few gels in the pockets you have to pull  the string really tight to stop them falling down when you run. This in turn means that I end up with the skin on my back rubbed away and  bleeding from the elastic on the waistband rubbing.  One more place to have to remeber to apply vaseline. Sugoi gear is really good and the previous version of the sugoi shorts had big mesh pockets but for some bizarre reason they removed them and replaced them with silly flaps on the bum which have velcro fastenings so flimsy that if you put anything into them the fastening comes apart.  I guess at some point I shall have to try out a pair of Race Ready shorts now they are more readily available in this country.

The Towel

A piece of merchandising from the Swiss Alpine Marathon in Davos. This is one of those bucket list races. Scenery to die for, running over the Swiss Alps, you get glaciers, helicopters, alp horns, cow bells, chocolate and red mountain trains. It is also my slowest ever marathon. The altitude absolutely killed me and even though I felt I was running flat out, I was actually running in slow motion.

The Shirt

The shirt sums up this running lark for me. It is from the Little Rock marathon in Arkansas. Little Rock is renowned for the size of its massive marathon medal and for the fact it is the home of Bill Clinton. I haven’t run Little Rock, but was given the t-shirt by a lovely lady called Hobbit (yes Hobbit) at the expo for the marathon in Niagara Falls, Canada. She was there promoting the race and we got chatting, learned she was wanting to come to Scotland to run Loch Ness, exchanged contact details, and she kindly gave us a shirt. We were in Niagara Falls to run the marathon there only 7 days after running the Toronto waterfront marathon. We ran Toronto again this year because it was our first overseas race in 2006 and from running there, we met some wonderful people with whom we are now great friends, and every time we run another race there are more introductions and our circle of friends grows and grows.

So there you go. A routine picture which hides a tale or two.


I have run quite a few marathons in my relatively short running career. It is  my favourite distance because it is almost the perfect challenge, long enough to really stress your body but still short enough that you can try to run fast.

If there is one thing that running more than 25 marathons has taught me it is respect. Respect for the distance, respect for the training, respect for the event, respect for the volunteers, the race directors, and every other runner who takes it seriously.

I love the marathon, especially the big city marathons, for all the reasons Helen Munro describes in her excellent blog post here

I don’t care how long it takes you, so long as you take it seriously, do it right, and try hard.

At the risk of sounding like a Grumpy Old Man, the thing that gets my goat, yanks my chain or whatever is your expression of choice,  is people who disrespect the race.

That disrespect manifests itself in various ways. Here is my top 5

1. I am too busy, clever, fit, good, famous to train. Frankly bollocks. If you don’t want to do the race don’t do it, but don’t skimp on training, turn up on race day then tell us how hard it is when the race takes you 90 minutes longer than it should.

2. I don’t need a training programme. Yes you do. You might get away with it once but you wont perform to your best and ultimately you will get hurt. Thats why people write programmes and thats why the very best runners in the world follow programmes.

3. I Can’t Run Without Headphones.  I have news for you,  your legs work independently of your ears.  And while we are at it, it says in the rules “no headphones” so it is non-negotiable whether you like it or not. And if its not too much trouble you might actually want to listen to those marshalls and supporters who got out of their beds early to stand in the cold and cheer you on.

4. I am going to get as near to the front as I can at the start. Yes, thank you very much it is great fun to set off at the start of a race only to come grinding to a halt after 100m when you run up the back of someone running half your pace who should be in another corral. This also applies to the  “I am running/walking for charity so I am going to link arms with my friends and spread out across the course so no-one can get past” crew as well.

5. My race is so popular I am going to charge you a small fortune to enter and if you want to come from overseas I am going to charge you even more! Overseas runners make a big contribution to the local economy and already pay more for flights, accommodation, merchandise so dont screw them for higher entry fees. It is discriminatory. NYRR you know who you are.

So why am I thinking about Respect? Initial prompt is a friend Margaret who is aiming to do her first marathon in Barcelona later in the year. She wrote the most wondeful thing on Facebook earlier in the week. She said “If Hal Higdon says it, I run it”.

A oouple of other reasons for thinking about Respect. First is that I have managed to give myself a busy first half of the year. The main focus of the year is the West Highland Way Race and as a first-timer the race demands my absolute respect. However, I am also lined up to do the Boston marathon and given that you have to qualify for the race it is only appropriate that I do all of the necessary work so that I run the race at my very best, to do any less would be disrespectful both to the event and the other Boston hopefuls who didnt get a place.  Devising a training programme which respects both events has proved to be an interesting challenge. I am trying to balance some back to back long weekend runs, with at least one of my weekend runs done at marathon training pace and my midweek runs focussing on speed and strength.

The second reason for the respect theme is Lance. I am not going to go into the whole sorry saga, I shall leave that to those who follow cycling. In distance running we have our own share of stories whether Wanjiru or Goumri and many others. The thing which got me thinking though, is where do we cross the line between enhancing performance through technology and disrespecting the event by cheating. Many years ago when I rowed to a reasonable level I remember distinctly taking an extra high dose of painkillers before the start of a race. It didnt occur to me that I might have been cheating. I had a foul cold, was running a fever and all I wanted to do was remove the symptoms to allow me to compete at my normal level. Is it cheating? As a schoolboy I used to put extra sugar on my cornflakes and then eat a mars bar for my breakfast before playing rugby because I believed it gave me a competitive advantage. Was it cheating? I certainly didnt think so at the time. Last year running the Highland Fling race, I took some Ibuprofen after 26 miles because I had really sore feet. The pain went away and I ran a strong second half to the race.  Should I have struggled on with my sore feet and not taken the painkillers? In my bid to enhance my performance should I forgoe compression clothing, electrolyte drinks and carbohydrate gels.  Does listening to motivational music on an ipod give an unfair advantage? What about using GPS to judge pace? Where is the line?

I certainly don’t want to cheat, but I do want to do the best I can. I am never going to be in contention to win anything so does it matter? To try my best is respectful. To get an unfair advantage is disrespectful.  Is cheating the act or the intention? Is it the spirit of the law or the letter of the law which counts? In using technology, gadgets and supplements to perform as well as I can am I showing respect or disrespect? Hard stuff.

Seeking inspiration

As a child I used to read voraciously. During the summer holidays it wasn’t unusual for me to make 2 visits to Alloa library in the one day, taking my limit of 3 books each time.

I would read anything and everything. When I started at secondary school and discovered the joys of rugby I think I read every rugby book they had, everything from a history of Kelso rugby club to Carwyn James Back Row paper which revolutionised the role of the flank forward. I read the biographies of famous players, coaching manuals galore, I learned about the Pontypool front row and knew that all of Max Boyce’s tales were true because as he said “I was there….”

And then after buying hundreds and hundreds of books for some reason I stopped reading. It wasn’t a sudden thing and I am not sure there was even a reason for it. From wandering the word strewn lanes of my imagination maybe I was just too taken up with the here and now to allow the time to read.

I have recently started reading again. I got myself an iPad and eventually got hold of the kindle app and despite my reservations dowloaded some books. Suddenly I found it easy to read again. I rattled through The Hunger Games Trilogy, and while it isn’t exactly great literature it is sufficiently different to be quite readable.

And so to the running books. The ease of access to books through the kindle is great and I quickly started getting my hands on some running books.

BorntorunThere has been a lot of hype about Born To Run. It was good, but for me it wasn’t the epiphany that sone people claim. Having missed the bandwagon associated with this book, I hadn’t even heard of Micah True until I started reading up on him when he died a short time ago. Don’t get me wrong, I think this book should be read by everyone who runs. A lot of the background is fascinating especially some of the history and politics of the running shoe industry. The characters are painted colourfully. The book got me interested in finding out a bit more about Scott Jurek. I knew of hs name, but didn’t really know of his pedigree. It didn’t make me want to go barefoot, but it did reinforce my interest in running long distances in the hills. It also left me feeling a wee bit sad at the exploitation that happens to indigenous peoples, and I think that in some ways the author was both celebrating and exploiting the Tarahumara himself.

eatandrunNext up was Scott Jurek’s book. This was a book which I really enjoyed. I knew Scott Jurek’s name from being associated with Brooks running shoes which I wear but nothing really about him. After reading this, I have no doubt that Scott Jurek is the real deal, unlike ultra celebrities like Dean Karnazes who are exploiting the lack of knowledge the general public has about ultra running to build a cult following by having white teeth and some good sound bites. Much as I liked this book it isnt going to turn me into a vegan, though at least his logic for his dietary choices is well thought out and arrived at for sensible reasons. I will confess to having skimmed the recipes. I was however inspired to start taking Spirulina, which is allegedly the supplement of choice of Aztec warriors. It hasn’t turned me into an Aztec warrior, but in a very unscientific sample of one I do seem to have more energy and am less likely to fall asleep in my comfy chair in the evening when I take it. He also comes across as a nice bloke.

charliespeddingCharlie Spedding won a bronze medal in the marathon at the Los Angeles Olympics. When you consider that now, 25 years later, the top British men aren’t getting anywhere near the times he and Steve Jones and a host of others were running then, it says something about the state of British distance running. Again this is a good book. He just talks so much sense. His approach to training and how he managed to become an Olympic medallist despite years of injuries and relative mediocrity (at least compared to his illustrious peers) are fascinating. His views on why we don’t produce great distance runners  any more are forthright and probably spot on. We simply don’t exercise enough and we don’t aim high enough. He argues that part of the problem is that for many modern athletes consciously or sub-consciously limit themselves – their goal is get lottery funding and maintain full time athlete status rather than having a goal of being the very best.  He is also a strong advocate of competition in school sport stating the obvious that everyone can’t be a winner and that by removing the distinction between the winner and the loser, you also remove the need to try to be better.  He also has interesting views on how to prepare yourself for racing as opposed to preparing yourself for training.

feetincloudsThe final runing book I have read recently is Feet In The Clouds. This book is about Fell Running or Hill Running as we call it in Scotland and about the author’s quest to complete the Bob Graham Round. The book itself dragged on a bit, but what it was really interesting for, was its description of some of the old timers such as Kenny Stuart who, by all accounts were phenomenal athletes, many of whom fell foul of the old amateur/professional nonsense where the amateurs earned more than the pro’s but the pro’s were banned from competing at the major events because of their so called professional status. It was also really interesting to read about the significance of the Alva Hill race in the folklore of the sport, especially as I live only 3 or 4 miles from Alva and to my shame havent yet ever run the Alva Hill despite running in the local hills a fair bit.  So, worth a read for the history and the philosophies of the old timers which are captured respectfully and enthusiastically, even though the descriptions of the hills in the Bob Graham do drag on a bit.

Is there inspiration to be gained from these books? Actually there is. The lesson that comes through loud and clear from all of these books is that to be a good endurance runner (whatever good means)  requires running to be a lifestyle. Technology and training all help, but fundamentally you need to have an active lifestyle that builds your endurance through your day to day activities, whether that means running through the mountains of Mexico because you have no transport, working on a sheep farm and walking up and down hills all day or just plain old knocking out 120 mile weeks.  Or as some of us remember, running about the streets playing 20 a side games of football which lasted from first thing in the morning until the last player was shouted in by their mum when it got dark. The other common factor is that the running lifestyle includes a very simple diet. No modern processed foods, and no modern portion sizes.  Add to the lifestyle a willingness to work really hard,  a resillience to and acceptance of suffering as part of life, the imagination to dream up big goals and a refusal to give up and you have something approaching a formula for running long distances.

The question for me is that having identified a formula, can I apply that formula to myself and come up with the right answer?