I have approached my training for Lakeland this year with a view to covering the distance in a shorter time and with a view to making gains on the uphill sections of the race, where I was strongest last year. I believe the key to covering the distance quicker will be to race shorter distances often and the key to uphill strength will be regular, testing treadmill hikes.
The key sessions each week during my first 4 weeks of training were treadmill hikes, 3 races over three weekends at various distances and then a long weekend of back to back to back long runs on the South Downs Way.
Weeks 5 and 6 saw racing as the key workouts – first of all a successful attempt at lowering my road half marathon personal best and then the following week another crack at my 5 mile personal best, which although not successful proved to be a very good race for me as I finished 4th!
After a 2 week break from treadmill sessions, this week (Week 7) saw their return and another preparation race too – this time the North Devon Trail Marathon. The plan for this particular race is to condition the quads and to run hard on the downhills, particularly on the second half of the course. Depending on how that goes I may write a race report which has become something of a rarity on this blog!
But now, onto a breakdown of Weeks 1 through 6.
The day before Lakeland 50, session 1 happened to be the Hertfordshire County 5 Mile Road Championship and I was very pleased to line up with my club. My aim was to get the legs turning and to keep the speed up with a view to running under 31:00 on a tough course – I ran hard off the gun and felt good all the way, my legs felt heavy going up the first climb but they soon got into the swing of things and I was really pleased to remain calm and focused to secure 24th place in a time of 30:58!
I took a rest day after the race and then started my Lakeland 50 training with the treadmill session outlined above. I was trying to emulate the ascent profile of the 4km section out of the aid station and up to the top of Fusedale but I fell short by 90m or so when all was said and done!
I carried on past 4km really focused on hiking strongly and breathing deeply, the run sections at 10kmph weren’t too tough but once I dropped to a 5% incline and increased to 12kmph I started to struggle so I decreased the pace and incline further for the final kilometre ‘cool down’.
I felt it was a solid start to the training block and it left me feeling strong, focused and confident.
By the end of the week I hit 73.7km having set a 70km goal.
Mile 4.2 – Herts County AAA 5 Mile Road Championship
I took a very low mileage and low impact training approach during Week 2 as I knew I had the North Downs Way 50 miler to contend with. It was a big race for me because I was going into having not finished an ultra since Lakeland 50 in 2016.
Redemption is sweet and I finished the race in a pretty respectable 40th place with a time of 9:03:20 – not a PR and clearly not a sub-9 but that really didn’t matter to me for once! After two ultra DNF and one ultra DNS since July 2016 the time came to put it right. I was, and still am, 100% happy with how redemption feels – my pacing was solid and my heart rate was consistent throughout. No big surges of pace or HR, just a solid [very] long run effort!
For the first time ever in a race my A-goal was just to finish and I repeated often: ‘You’re running with and for you, not against yourself, anyone else or the clock’.
The weather was perfect and the scenery was beautiful and it was amazing have Sarah out on course crewing me at 2 Aid Stations and a Crew Access Point.
I finished the week feeling really pleased and with a growing confidence that my 2017 Lakeland goals were achievable.
Camping the night before NDW50.
North Downs Way 50, somewhere around 55km
By the end of the week I hit 111.6km having set an 80km goal.
After a decent shakeout run on Sunday after NDW50 and a pretty great rest day on Monday I felt it wasn’t beyond me to get in a fairly hefty treadmill workout early in the week. My legs felt really good post-race but my quads were still a tiny bit sore but as the week went on that faded and I got back to my pre-race condition.
Everything clicked during the first treadmill session of the week and I felt really relaxed and focused. But then, well, then life happened and I found myself battling through a pretty tough week at work!
By the time Friday rolled around my brain was so frazzled that I couldn’t even begin to think about a route to run outdoors so I decided instead for the sometimes easier option of a treadmill session. I had no real aim at all for the session and I was too tired to figure out zones, goals or anything so I just ran and listened to techno! It’s not often that I will make a treadmill workout easier as it progresses but as I felt the workout getting more difficult I reduced the incline at first, and then the pace as I just wanted to switch off my mind and relax. After 30 minutes it worked, so I stopped and shifted my focus to my third race in three weeks which would follow two days later!
‘All trails, roads and treadmills lead to Lakeland 50’ – that is the mantra I repeated from about the 3km point of the Wheathampstead Trail 10km when I started to feel really tired. I hung in and at about 4km I put in a surge to break out of a little group, 2 other guys came with me and then we battled it out to the end. I felt pretty much spent at the 7km mark after putting in an effort on a downhill stretch and then the race came to a gravel section and it seemed to suck the life out of me. This was followed, cruelly, by probably my least favourite surface to race on and a further loss of energy – we hit grass. Ugh.
I pulled myself together mentally and physically at 8km and focused on maintaining my pace and my position. This was a success and I finished in 16th place in 40:47 which I felt was not a bad effort at all considering the previous week’s 50 miler along with some tough treadmill sessions leading into the race – definitely good tired legs speed training!
Wheathampstead 10k, final 400m
By the end of the week I hit 47.6km having set a 40km goal.
I started the week on Tuesday with my customary Lakeland treadmill session. I began this one with a 5km ‘warm-up’ – for the first 2km this was the case but it got very hot as the sun beat through the windows of the gym right onto the treadmill. It got pretty tough then! I was glad of the ‘respite’ when I got to 5km and then slowed to a fast hike as I increased the incline. The 3km hike section was also pretty tough but only really for the first mile or so – after that I settled into a rhythm, concentrated on my music and when I felt like I was struggling I fixed my eyes outside and admired the sky and the trees. It’s workouts like this one that I will draw upon during the race itself this year – it is always possible to distract the mind if there is something to focus on aside from running metrics or the physical body…and, if the mind still wants to stay locked into a negative aspect, you can always force it to think back to the tough times on the treadmill when there wasn’t really anything to look at and there was no fresh air to breathe!
I covered 25.5km on Friday straight after work and set in motion the plan for a back to back to back long run weekend. The Friday run was great, with the vast majority in zone 2 under a beating sun but with very light legs and an empty mind – it set up the rest of the weekend perfectly.
On Saturday morning of Week 4 Sarah and I set off for the south coast for the weekend – this was certainly the highlight not only because we got away from ‘real’ life but also because the Saturday and Sunday long runs on the South Downs Way were amazing – a great way to get in some ‘off-treadmill’ ascent in beautiful surroundings! I haven’t run on the Downs since South Downs Way 50 miler in 2015 and it brought back many memories as it was my first 50 miler. I ran 20.2km on the Saturday and rounded out the weekend with 24.4km on Sunday – both runs were on the SDW50 course which got me to thinking about entering it again at some point in the future…
With the B2B2B long weekend done I felt really good both mentally and physically. I knew that the following week was going to be a low mileage affair and I had come to peace with that during the course of Week 4 – as I’m sure many of you reading this will know, it is so difficult to dial back the mileage at any point during a training block but I focused on the fact I really wanted to put in a PR performance at my local half marathon!
South Downs Way
By the end of the week I hit 93.1km having set an 85km goal.
This is probably the first week that I haven’t hit my mileage target for any other reason than injury in a long time! I dialed back the mid-week miles and spent a lot of time undertaking mindfulness practice, visualising what for me constituted a perfect road half marathon in preparation for the weekend’s attempt!
When race day arrived on Sunday it was very, very hot out. Which works well for me because I absolutely love running in the heat and I think I I took advantage of it – I locked into a pace just in front of the 1:30 pacers and stayed there. If I could choose a few words to summarise: surprising, comfortable, ecstatic. This is the first time I’ve run with pacers and it took about 8km to get used to it – at first I felt pressured but in the end it was cool and I felt really comfortable from 10km onwards, chatting with the pace guys. I left them with about 2 miles to go and starting catching people up and racing in over the final 800m.
St. Albans Half Marathon, final 200m
I loved the run, loved the weather and I was really happy to finish the race with a 10 mile and Half Marathon PR on a tough, hilly course! The finish line was great and pretty special too as Sarah and her nieces were waiting at the finish chute – they surprised me and spent the wait time making banners for me which was so cute! It was a great end to a race that I ran 5 years to the day before in 1:38:05 – my first half marathon and only my second race. I finished the 2017 edition in 61st place with a PR of 1:28:49!
Isla & Elsie – creating cheer banners!
By the end of the week I hit 53.2km having set a 60km goal.
The last ‘no treadmill’ week before Lakeland and the reason again was to save my legs the incline training before attempting a 5 mile PR at another local race!
I had some pretty good runs during the week, although Tuesday’s start was a little sore as I didn’t take my post-race recovery very seriously after St. Albans Half Marathon so I found myself suffering with DOMS over the course of 18.2km on trail and road! The rest of the week I spent a fair amount of time in the local spa pool, foam rolling and shaking out my legs on gentle trail runs.
Saturday rolled around and with it, race day too. The only goal I had was to give 100% and considering it was 31°c I think I did okay and gave a good account of myself! It wasn’t my fastest 5 miler but it was certainly a good hard, 100% effort and I was delighted to finish 4th place in 31.22. I went into 4th place around the 1.5km mark and decided to put in a surge over the next 800m or so to stay in touch with the front three and hopefully drop the small group I was at the front of. It worked but around 5km I found myself running solo as the front 3 broke away. That was probably the hardest thing – feeling like I was being chased down – I couldn’t tell if I was because there were no turns on the course that allowed me to see who was behind, or how close they might be! I always try my hardest to follow Paula Radcliffe’s advice during road and cross country races: ‘Never look behind, focus on running as hard as you can!’ Anyway, it was super hot and as the gradient increased at the 6km mark my pace began to suffer but I gritted my teeth, pushed on through Zone 5 and was very glad to see the Finish arch when I got to it.
The Harpenden Oval Race, finishing sprint.
By the end of the week I hit 85km having set an 85km goal.
That’s it then for the first half of my Lakeland 50 training block. For the most part, so far, I feel very strong both physically and mentally. There have been a couple of wobbles but I would say far fewer than in previous training blocks in years gone by. I am confident that whatever happens come race day on July 29th I will be ready to put one foot in front of the other, give 100% the whole way and as long as I cross the finish line knowing I’ve suffered well I will be happy. The likelihood is I will post a summary of the second half of my training the week before Lakeland (Week 13) as I’m not counting that in the block – that week will be purely tapering, probably not cold turkey, but a massively reduced training load for sure!
Thanks for reading guys! For newcomers to my blog, I hope you found this useful and/or interesting and for those regular readers – thank you so much for your continued support.
Peace & Blessings