The first week of a new year and most sensible people are still getting over their Christmas and New Year excesses; not me, I'm straight into my 18 week marathon training programme. I have Belfast Marathon at the start of May in my sights and as has been the case the last 3 years, I'm straight over to the Hal Higdon web-site (www.halhigdon.com) printing off the Advanced Level 1 training schedule, which includes three 20 mile runs. I have gradually worked my way through a number of Hal's schedules but this one worked for me last year and got me a sub-4 hour time, so I thought I did stick with what I knew. The only slight change I made, was to have 2 rest days (Monday and Friday) and to limit the number of Wednesday runs I did. It wasn't enough to have a schedule to follow, I had to have an achievable goal in mind or how else was I going to be able to run at 'goal' pace? A time of between 3.45 and 3.55 seemed about right, so I knew my pace on the long runs would need to be around the 8.45 min/mile.
January was fairly uneventful, in that all my weekend runs went to plan, the sessions at Dromore A.C. were a good mixture of intervals and tempo runs and I stayed illness free despite many of my friends and colleagues suffering with viruses and colds.
February started off badly, with my first long slow run (LSR) of 14 miles being my worst run of the last 12 months. Although, I got the pace right (8.25), it was a real struggle. Two factors caused such a dreadful run; setting off too soon after breakfast (a bowl of porridge) and the orange squash mixture that I had made up, was much too strong and caused dreadful stomach cramps. I have always refused to believe all the hype that surrounds sports drinks, so have relied on either water or orange squash (with a pinch of salt) on my long runs. Up to this point, I had had no adverse reactions to my orange mixture but this was a turning point, so I vowed that in future I would go back to plain old water. Things improved over the next few weeks, with regular interval sessions at club and a LSR of 16 miles which I ran at 8.41 pace. My LSR of 17 miles on the last Sunday in February was a disaster. To be honest, I shouldn't have even set out as I was suffering with a raging sore throat but I was stubborn and set off with my water bottle filled with a sugary, honey mixture. The first 8.5 miles went OK and I was hitting my goal pace but my breathing was a little laboured and I was coughing at regular intervals. I struggled on and by mile 14, my stride was shortening, my pace was dropping and my throat was unbelievably sore. Over the last 2 miles, I was almost walking but I was determined to finish the 17 miles. This run had taken me 2 hours 37 mins at 9.10 pace and I couldn't take one positive thing from it. I did learn the hard way that no run is worth it, if you are feeling unwell.
March began with me taking 5 days off from running and re-evaluating my training schedule. I was going to restrict myself to just 4 days of training, which would comprise 2 club sessions, my Saturday pace runs and Sunday LSR's. If I got the opportunity, I would fit in some Wednesday hills or intervals but I wasn't going to out running just for the sake of it. March was going to be my toughest month with a couple of 20 milers and the Larne Half Marathon to look forward to. I was pleased that by the time my 19 mile LSR came around, I was almost fully recovered and this showed when I completed the run in 2 hours 42 mins at a very steady pace. A few speed sessions at club was mixing up my training nicely and then on the horizon I saw my first 20 mile LSR looming. I needn't have worried as the run went smoothly, despite a couple of hills. I kept to my word and just took water with me and as for those boosts of energy, I took jelly beans and a natural energy bar (TREK). The Larne Half Marathon was now only a week away and this 20 miler had filled me with confidence, that I would be able to run a big race. However, mother nature had other ideas and suddenly Northern Ireland found itself in the middle of snow storms, freezing temperatures, snow drifts and flooding. The event organisers only called the race off late on the Friday but by this point I was already contemplating not racing as a 70 mile round trip to run a bad race, wasn't worth it. Thankfully, the race has been rescheduled for the start of June. Strangely, the weather around our village had stayed calm and we didn't see any snow, so I was able to get out and run 13 miles without any difficulty. The last Sunday in March and it was out on the roads for another 20 mile LSR. I chose a different route but one with a few more inclines, just to keep me interested. Again, no major problems with the run, only that I was a couple of minutes slower than 2 weeks ago, but I put this down to extra hills and strong headwinds. I was still under 3 hours and close to my marathon goal pace.
Early April and I finally entered the Belfast Marathon and my number is 2511. I left it late to enter as I wanted to be 100% that my training was going to plan, that I had no niggling injuries and that I had put the February bad runs behind me. So, I have one last 20 mile LSR to get in before the taper and then...well we'll have to see how Belfast 2013 turns out!!