Well, that’s the question I’m hoping to find out the answer to on 15th October, when I (hopefully) cross the finish line of the Amsterdam Marathon!
I’ve been following the FIRST: Run Less, Run Faster marathon plan for 11 solid weeks, and feel like now is a good time to share my thoughts, before I get swept away in the last few weeks of training, tapering and racing.
Taking a look at the top line numbers, by this point I should have clocked up 55 workouts; 3 runs and 2 cross training sessions per week. My geeky excel shows that I’ve actually managed 45 of the 55 sessions, not counting 6 yoga classes and the hours spent stretching and foam rolling. Of the missed ones, only 3 were runs – not great, but life and niggles happen and I’m learning to listen to my body and understand when I need to rest.
For someone who hasn’t spent much time running intervals, I’m really enjoying these sessions. I typically start my week with this session, as it tends to be a fairly short stint and they set me up nicely for the rest of the week, especially if my motivation is waning slightly after the weekend’s long run.
The paces are really challenging, especially when you’re at your 12th 400m rep, but I feel such a sense of achievement when it’s over. Including these in my weekly plan has made a noticeable difference to my speed too, especially when it comes to my tempo sessions.
I’ve only had to stop early a couple of times, normally after a bad night’s sleep or a stressful day at work. Seeing as I barely did any interval sessions in my last marathon training cycle, I’m really hoping that come race day I’ll have some extra speed in my legs.
Tempo runs are my favourite run of the week, particularly the long tempo run, which is between 8 and 10 miles. For me, there’s something really calming about running at a steady threshold pace, just on the right side of comfortable.
For both of the long tempo runs I’ve done so far I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to maintain the pace, but I’ve been ended each one feeling strong and confident that I could run faster.
All of those intervals are also paying dividends when it comes to tackling the shorter tempo runs, too. My planned pace for these is 5:00/km and I often end up feeling like I could run a lot faster, but I’m trusting the plan and trying not to fatigue my legs too much, especially as I tend to plan my tempo for a couple of days before the weekend long run.
I’ve had mixed feelings about the long run this time around. I found the first few weeks brilliant and managed to stick to the 5:40/km pace pretty much, but by week 4 the cumulative effects of 3 hard runs and 3 hard cross training sessions was paying its toll.
Whilst I managed a good pace for weeks 5, 6 & 7, it just felt a bit too fast, and I had started having to take a few breaks to drink and stretch, which isn’t something I want to repeat during the race.
The hardest week was probably week 8, after 5 days in Italy, including an 80km cycle around the mountains of Como. I got the 21km done, but the pace was almost at 6:00/km and even that felt horrendous.
The other terrible long run came a week later, where I had to abandon 4km in due to awful stomach pains. I really tried not to let it get to me, but it does make you nervous for the next one. As a result, I took the planned 22.5km for week 10 much slower, and although I got it done I actually found the slower pace hurt my legs a lot more than running faster. Has anyone else experienced this?
Week 11, last week, marked the big one. Whichever way you cut it, 20 miles (32km) is a long way, but splitting my route in to manageable chunks made it seem way less daunting. All I had to do was run 2km to the river, run 7km in one direction, 7km back again, 7km in the other direction, 7km back again and then the final 2km home. Simple, right?
And it was! I felt amazing the whole way round, the pace felt comfortable and I only had to stop a couple of times to stretch a tight glute (lols). Aside from splitting the route, which helped mentally, I was also really careful with my routine the day before, ensuring to eat carb heavy meals, drink lots of water and clocking up a full 8 hours of sleep. I know they’re all obvious things, but it’s often the simple things which get taken for granted.
With only 4 long runs left (15 miles, 20 miles, 15 miles and 10 mile) I’m hoping to repeat last week’s success, safe in the knowledge that if I’ve done it once I can do it again.
In terms of cross training I’ve been fairly good at getting in a couple of session a week. I try and do one cardio based session, normally Spinning, and one weight session, like Bodypump. The difficulty I’ve had is fitting these in on days where it isn’t going to affect my runs. I found that when I need to do a long run on a Saturday, adding a weights session on the Friday my legs would feel really heavy and unresponsive.
This all comes down to trial and error and what works for you personally, but I try and have a rest day the day before my long run and then one either mid-week or the day after the long run.
All in all, I’m feeling pretty good. Looking back at where I was at week 11 of my last training cycle I can see a huge improvement. I’d written about running 10km @ 5:15/km pace and described it as “so hard, but so good” whereas this time I’m breezing through 12km @ 5:10/km pace. I also found it really interesting to look at my long run, and how I was only taking 2 gels – one at 15km and one at 24km – whereas this time around I’m having at least 3, starting from 10km in.
It really goes to show how consistency and hard work pays off, even if at the time it feels like you aren’t improving drastically. With just over 4 weeks of training left I’m really excited to see whether this new tack will pay off come race day.