Wednesday, 14 January 2009

All Creatures Great And Small

If you take a look at the training schedules, you'll see that there's a lot of variation. This is an important element of marathon preparation. For one thing, you need to train to be comfortable at different, often changing, speeds. If you only train at one pace, your body can find it uncomfortable to have to run at a different pace. This often only becomes apparent on race day, when the congestion from so many runners means it's difficult to run at your normal speed. At the 2004 London Marathon, I’d covered 6 miles before I was able to run at my own pace. Prior to that, I’d been falling over guys in rhino suits and getting into a most unseemly tussle with a chap dressed as a giraffe.

Such is the importance of varied training, I unintentionally introduced some very unusual elements into my preparation for the Dublin marathon. Not least sheep-herding. As I was running back towards my village, the road was blocked by a flock of sheep. The farmer explained that his assistant was off sick, and asked if I could help him to herd the sheep down the road into his field. He disappeared to open the gate at the other end, leaving me to perform some "One Man and His Dog" heroics. All but I didn't have a dog. Things got progressively worse as I got nearer and nearer to the village and the farmer had disappeared. The realisation dawned on me that, just maybe, the sheep didn't belong to the farmer at all, and I was now stealing sheep on his behalf. I imagined myself in Penrith nick, trying to fashion a plausible explanation as to why a man dressed from head-to-toe in lycra was stealing 38 sheep. When the farmer did finally reappear, I noticed my heart rate monitor was reading almost 175 beats per minute. What a stress, and not the variation I was looking to introduce into my training. More recently, when a friend came over for dinner and we drove along the stretch of road where the sheep-rustling had taken place, I related the tale. To be fair, she was more than a little bemused, and wasn't buying my story for a moment. By sheer coincidence, on the way home from dinner, a cow had managed to jump out of its field and was stuck in the middle of the road. A practical demonstration of my now finely-honed herding skills removed all doubt.

Congestion is just one of the things which doesn’t come up during training, which is why it’s worth entering a few shorter races before the big day, just to re-acquaint yourself with race conditions. Precisely for this purpose, I've lined up some shorter races in between the marathons: the Coniston 14 on 28 March, and the Great Manchester 10km on 17 May. I've entered these events with my friends Lucy, Amanda and Martin: TEAM fivemarathons. My preparation is really benefiting from the team's support, advice and irreverent commentary.

London Marathon 2004. Rained all day. Inexplicable sunglasses.

Even with the right preparation, race day rarely goes exactly to plan. In New York, the queue to get started was so long, the clock was reading 36 minutes before I could even see the start line. To deal with this inevitable delay, the big races tend to use Champion-Chip tags to time runners individually. The chip is detected at various points of the course and provides data on your pace and overall time for the race. In London, the organisers had linked up with a major mobile phone supplier to use the data from the chips to text your loved ones with up-to-the-minute information on your progress through the race. Unfortunately, the technology wasn't up to it and the system went into meltdown. On the Wednesday following the race, my parents received a text confirming their worst fears: it had taken me 72 hours to cover the first 3 miles.
With big thanks to Kirsten Arnold and Rob Ainscough, who are respectively masterminding fundraising and PR for fivemarathons, I'm pleased to announce that our webpages on are now live:

This week’s training schedule:
Monday, 19 January 2009 Rest
Tuesday, 20 January 2009 6 miles fartlek
Wednesday, 21 January 2009 7 miles steady
Thursday, 22 January 2009 5 miles easy
Friday, 23 January 2009 Rest
Saturday, 24 January 2009 20 mins easy, including a few strides
Sunday, 25 January 2009 Race 10 miles or half marathon (target 1 hr 20 / 1 hr 52)

Barcelona, 1 March 2009
London, 26 April 2009
San Francisco, 26 July 2009
Berlin, 20 September 2009
New York, 1 November 2009

Christies is the charity which provides funds for, and supports, the work of the world renowned specialist cancer centre, The Christie, in Manchester (see Macmillan provides practical, medical, financial and emotional support for people affected by cancer and campaigns for better cancer care (see


  1. One question on the variation you're introducing to the schedules - presumably your heart rate is bouncing up and down as the terrain and pace varies. When you actually come to do the marathon are you aiming to keep the heart rate at a steady pace throughout the marathon? If so, how does the variation in training help?

  2. Thanks Downtown - it's a good question. Fortunately, Marc Laithwaite of The Endurance Coach ( is on hand to answer:

    "It is important in a marathon to hold your HR steady, it's like motorway driving compared to inner city.. you can burn less fuel sitting at 70mph in the middle lane than when you average 10mph in the city, what the rev counter does has a big impact on your fuel economy and if it's constantly up and down you empty the tank very quickly.

    However.. training at marathon pace is relatively slow and because of that it doesn't tax your CV system very much, you can also 'biomechanically' get stuck at one pace and you can't co-ordinate your legs to go any faster which can become a limitation for your comfortable or cruising pace. Training for the marathon is like making a stew.. if you only have one ingredient the performance can be a bit bland..."

    Hope that helps. Thanks for your support and keep running!



NYC Marathon, 2004

NYC Marathon, 2004
NYC Marathon, 2004