My First (and last) Marathon At 47 Years Old.

Clarendon way marathon

I’ve been enjoying my mid-life crisis whether it’s been trying my hand at Motocross racing or driving around in an old sports car.  However, my foray into marathon running gave me a wide range of emotional ground to cover (I’m still not sure whether I acutally enjoyed it).

Anyway, when I started toying with the idea of running a marathon I wasn’t too bothered about the location as long as it ticked a few personal boxes for me.  The most obvious choice would have been the London marathon, however I didn’t feel that this would be for me-the admin, the early start and just the numbers of competitors.  Don’t get me wrong, I think the whole event looks awesome, but didn’t feel drawn to it on an emotional level.

This is where the Clarendon Way marathon enters the scene.  For those of you that don’t know (and I was one of you until I stumbled upon the venue) the Clarendon Way is a trail which was used in centuries past by Kings and Queens travelling to Clarendon Palace (now ruined) in Wiltshire.  Nowadays it is a collection of mostly off-road trails and paths and is designated a UK National Trail.

To get back to the point, every October there is an off-road, one way marathon (not a circular route) linking Salisbury to Winchester (it can also be organised from Winchester to Salisbury).

Now, the Clarendon Way marathon appealed to me on 3 or 4 different levels:-

  • Off-road  I’ve alway enjoyed running in the countryside on paths and trails rather than through towns and it therefore seemed a natural step to enter an off-road marathon.
  • One-way (Salisbury to Winchster).   I like the idea of actually moving from one place to another and would feel cheated if, after putting in many hours of pain and determination, I was to end up exactly where I started!  Additionally, Salisbury to Winchester just seem so much further geographcially than a Marathon.
  • My Race Time doesn’t matter.  As it is quite a niche and specialist event there would be no need to compare times with other marathon runners.  It is hilly, it is off-road and it is actually running non-stop from Salisbury to Winchester.  Heck the time doesn’t really feature very highly.
  • Scenery The route is said to be one of the most scenic and picturesque marathons in the UK.  I thought that this would enourage me to complete the race and would also help to take my mind off of what I’d be experiencing.

I applied and paid in April giving me 6 months to prepare for it.  For some reason I wanted to work out my own training programme rather than follow a standard one.  At the time of application I was running around 3 times a week, a distance of 3-4 miles together with some mountain-biking, swimming and basic body-weight workouts.

Around May time I decided to up my mileage and did a 6 mile run which was fine.  I then carried on with my usual 3 mile runs.

My training route was off-road and gently undulating with some short, sharp climbs in it.  The next training run was 8 miles.  About 5-6 miles into it my left knee started hurting and I decided to walk for 0.5 mile or so.  I then continued running but it continued to hurt.

For a couple of days afterwards I noticed the tightness in my knee and it was difficult to bend.  I wasn’t too worried as I had experience similar soreness in previous years and I just eased down on my mileage.

I decided to lay off of any runs more than 3 miles and did extra CV work by swimming or on the cross-trainer and I hoped that at some point I would instinctively know when to start tranining again.

This “magic-moment” did not appear and at around the middle of June I realised that I would have to start training and try and work through the pain.  I mentioned this to a work colleague who asked whether I had ever tried “muscle flossing” AKA VooDoo Floss, I hadn’t even heard of the technique let alone tried it.

I was rather dubious, however, I trusted my colleague as he is a practical, down to earth chap and thought that I’d give it a go.  He lent me his flossing band and showed me what to do.

 

Muscle (Voodoo) Flossing

Basically, it’s a way of compressing the muscles/ligaments above and below the knee (or other joints/areas) using a wide, stretchy rubber band and then carrying out some mobilitiy action such as squats (with no weights).  There are lots of videos on youtube (see links below).  I was surprised to say that after just a few minutes of trying this that my knee did actually feel less painful and appeared to have a bit more flexibility.

It would seem that nobody really knows how or why muscle-flossing (VooDoo flossing) acutally works but there are countless examples of it helping people to recover.  There are also lots of other uses for the bands (which I have not yet explored).

It is very popular with the Crossfit community and seems to be gaining acceptance amongs weightlifters too.  Kelly Starrett is seen as one of the leading proponents of this technique.

There is an interesting introduction to it here:-  Link to Triathlon Magazine Article

Anyway, it is my opinion that had I not been shown this technique then I would not have been able to carry out my marathton training.

I still use the technique now if my knees are feeling a bit stiff and it still helps to loosen them up.

The bands are fairly inexpensive and there doesn’t appear to be much difference between the branded/unbranded bands available.  I picked mine up on ebay for around £9 or so.

The result of this was that I actually fell behind my training plan.  I looked at the remaining time which was around 15 weeks or so.  I decided to do one long run every 7-10 days, 2 smaller runs and some core exercises every week.

I started the long runs at 8 miles and then increased by 2 miles every 7-10 days.  I wasn’t sure how far to train up to but thought that 20 miles or so would be about right, however I thought I’d wait until I was at this distance and then make a decision based on how it felt.

Some of the longer runs went well and I felt strong and confident, however some did not go well and turned out to be very challenging-physcially, emotionally and mentally.

There didn’t appear to be any particular factors which determined whether I would have a “good” or “difficult” training run.  Sleep, diet, work/stress; I couldn’t see any correlation so rather than worry about it I just accepted that I’d have good runs and bad runs and the fact that I had been training at all should be taken as the positive takeway for the day.

 

Snacking During Training

I also used the long runs as an opportunity to work out what snacks I was going to use, when I would use them and how much I would need.  I didn’t want to go down the gel route so I used raisins/fruit mix and some fruit gummy sweets.

I continually found that I would have an energy dip at some point around 10-12 miles (my training times were very slow) so this would be around the 2 hour point.  I then estimated that about a spoons worth of snacks was good for around 20-30 minutes.  With this in mind I could measure the total amount I needed to complete the run.

 

raisins-a-great-training-snack-for-running
Raisins were a great source of energy whilst training for the marathon.

For my own peace of mind I also ensured that I had an “emergency” supply of snacks which I stored in a different place to be used only to get back to the car (I kept an emergency supply on marathon day and did actually use the stash to get through the last 2 miles).  I probably didn’t need it from an energy perpsective, I think it was more for a psychological boost and it certainly did help to get me through the last few miles.

 

Maximum Pre-Race Training Distance Run

The maximum training distance seems to be a widely discussed topic amongs marathon runners.  My own online research found runners promoting anything from no more than 16 miles through to 24 miles.

I decided to go on my gut instinct which was to aim for a 20 mile maximum training run.  For me personally this was to allow enough of an “unknown” to feel some sense of achievement (assuming I finished the actual race) but enough distance to feel that I had prepared enough!

BUT, my 20 mile training run (supposedly my last big run before race-day), was an absolute disaster, I had no energy, every part of my body seemed to hurt-my feet, my knees, by back and my shoulder.  From 16 miles or so I had to focus just on one-step at a time!

I felt gutted, after training and preparing for so long and feeling so good during my 18 mile training run it felt like I had not progressed at all!

In an attempt not to see it as a failure I tried to pick apart different aspects of my preparation and physcial being.  I was then able to assess my performance relatively objectively.  In the end I put it down to not eating enough carbohydrates (I was “playing” around with a Tim Ferriss style slow-carb diet and eating more protein/fat than I normally would) in addition to just having an “off” day.

Mentally I needed to shake off the demons that this training run had put in me so I decided to do another 20 mile training run to put the demons to rest.

I went back to a more carbohydrate focussed diet and ensured that I was rested prior to the run.

Fortunately this last 20 mile training run actually went so well that I added a 2 mile loop at the end of it to get my last training run distance up to 22 miles and to well and truly put the demons to rest.  Everything worked well-my water intake, my mid-run snacking and my pace.  It was a great way to finish my longer training and left me with a confidence that I should be able to finish the Clarendon Way marathon on race day.

 

 

 

 

 

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