Saturday, 8 August 2009

Ich bin ein Berliner

Last weekend was the Lakeland 100 ultra marathon ( and North Doodle was one of the principal sponsors. I manned the Wasdale Head and Mardale Head checkpoints with fellow guides, Martin and Tei. While it’s a fantastic event, through some of England’s finest countryside, I don’t think I’ll be signing up for next year’s race. Two days and 100 miles of non-stop fell running and navigation, through the pitch black night and whipping rain. Now, that’s a challenge. It was hard enough work handing out the flapjacks and pouring the drinks at the checkpoint.

With Tei and Martin at North Doodle’s Mardale Head checkpoint

Training for Berlin starts here. Monday’s 6 mile run felt great. After a week of enforced rest following the San Francisco Marathon, I was starting to go stir crazy. When you add the time you spend tapering down to the race, to the time you spend recovering afterwards, it’s at least a fortnight between proper runs, apart from the marathon itself. Tuesday’s speed work session at The Endurance Coach was particularly good. Marathons are all about discipline. It’s about moving smoothly and keeping in your rhythm, but ultimately it’s about holding yourself back and not pushing too hard in the first 18 miles. After the race is over, it’s such a relief to get into some speed work and let rip. It’s hard to explain the importance of speed work to marathon preparation. I mean, if marathons require you to run steadily, and slower than you can comfortably run, what’s the point of speed work? Let’s say you normally run comfortably at 8 minute 30 second miles. Speed work sessions could have you running at 6 minute mile pace (even though you might not complete a mile at that pace). After 6 minute miles, 8 minute miles feel like you’re cruising, and are much easier to maintain. So, by increasing the speed at which you can run before reaching your threshold, you inevitably also increase your cruising speed. This is the crux of Laith’s training strategy for the fivemarathons.

The traditional wisdom for marathon training is based on a pyramid. First you build the base of the pyramid by training to run the distance comfortably. Once the base is in place, you train towards quickening your pace, building the pyramid stage by stage. Laith’s approach is to invert that pyramid. We start at the summit of the pyramid, and train to run fast. When that’s in place, we stretch it out by training to maintain that pace for the whole of the race. It’s taken me from a 4 hour 52 marathon runner, to a 3 hour 43 marathon runner, so it’s hard to argue with the results. And who knows? Hopefully there’s more improvement to come.

In the build up to a marathon, you inevitably spend far too much time over-analysing your strategy for the race. Do you chase a personal best and risk your legs going bang at mile 20? Do you run more steadily, re-evaluate at half marathon distance, and hopefully wind up the pace in the latter stages? What if it’s particularly hot or cold on race day? You need to stay hydrated, but you don’t want to lose valuable minutes on toilet stops. Recently, I’ve been debating these issues as I drift off to sleep in the evenings. On several occasions, I’ve awoken in the small hours with the ideal strategy all worked out, with every last detail catered for perfectly. I’ve then gone back to sleep feeling smug. Unfortunately, when the alarm goes off, I can never remember a word of my perfect strategy and I’m back where I started. After this had happened on two or three occasions, my frustration got the better of me and I hit upon a plan. I would leave a pen and paper on the bedside cabinet and, the next time I awoke with a plan, I would scribble down every last detail. Last Wednesday, I awoke with my strategy worked out in microscopic detail and, as planned, I furiously noted it all down, writing what appeared to be pages. When the alarm went, I couldn’t remember any details, so I grabbed the pad, eager to view the masterplan. You can imagine my disappointment when all I’d written was “Vinyl Matt Emulsion. £15 for 5 litres at Homebase”.

Laith and I will sit down on Tuesday to finalise my training plan for Berlin. You can view the route of the marathon below (click on it), or download a copy from Check out the name of the street for kilometres 10 to 11: Mollstraße (Moll Street). Both I and fivemarathons’ PR manager, Rob Ainscough, think it’s a good omen! See Rob’s blog, “For Moll”, from 14 February 2009 (you can navigate to past blogs using the links on the left hand side).

While I was living in Germany, my then girlfriend had her parents over to stay with her. When they visited Berlin, her Mum was tasked with noting down the name of the street where they parked, so that they wouldn’t have any difficulty finding their car. Her Mum located the street sign and wrote down the name. 8 hours later, my girlfriend asked her Mum for the name of the street where they’d parked. She was horrified when her Mum told her the sign said “Einbahnstraße”. Unluckily enough, Einbahnstraße means “one way street”. Still, only 50% of Berlin’s streets are one way, so her Mum had at least narrowed the search down for them.

This week, TEAM fivemarathons’ Amanda and I signed up for the Congleton Half Marathon on Sunday, 11 October 2009. This should fit in nicely with my training between Berlin and New York. The course is undulating, but not too hilly, so hopefully it’s a good opportunity for a personal best before the fivemarathons are complete. If I’m not too tired from Berlin, I’d love to get inside 1 hour 40 minutes.

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

This week’s training schedule:

Monday, 3 August 2009 6 miles steady
Tuesday, 4 August 2009 Speed work
Wednesday, 5 August 2009 6 miles quick
Thursday, 6 August 2009 8 miles steady
Friday, 7 August 2009 Rest
Saturday, 8 August 2009 4 miles easy
Sunday, 9 August 2009 18 mile training run

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

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NYC Marathon, 2004

NYC Marathon, 2004
NYC Marathon, 2004