Week 15: Nutrition, Nutrition, Nutrition
The weather has been beautiful this week with lots of sunshine - great for running. It is also noticeable that it is light when I run at 6.30am. Yes, I think Spring is arriving at last, leaving the worst of the Winter conditions behind. I have looked forward to this everytime I have run in the snow or the freezing cold dressed in three layers of running kit over the last three months. But now that it is here, I realise that Spring brings with it some pretty fierce London Marathon training. Certainly Week 15 has been the hardest yet.
This is only partially because the runs are all longer and more intense. It is partially self-inflicted because I wanted to do my Long Run on Saturday and the way events fell meant that I had to train on three consecutive days in midweek. Two of those days were a hard 6.5 mile Tempo Run and a 45 minute intense speed session back to back.
The good news is that just two weeks into my focus on Speed Training I am definitely seeing results. Last Sunday I ran my favourite 6.5 mile run in a new fastest time of 51.41 mins - an average pace of exactly 8 mins a mile. I went out and did the same run on Wednesday of this week and lowered that time to 50.44 mins - an average pace of 7.51 mins a mile. This is a run I have been doing for about a year and I have set a new PB twice in four days. Something is going on!!
Having trained Tuesday (Recovery), Wednesday (Tempo) and Thursday (Speed Intervals) I gave myself a day's rest before the Long Run on Saturday. Having had a step back to 6.5 miles last weekend, it was back to the real Long Runs this week with 14 miles on the agenda. I spent my rest day putting thoughts of speed and tempo to one side and putting my Long Run head on.
It dawned on me that although there are just over six weeks to go until the day, after this weekend I only have two proper Long Runs left - that is runs of 15 miles and over. There are several shorter Long Runs scheduled but runs that I can realistically use to rehearse Marathon routines and plans are running out. And whilst I have been experimenting with strategies for hydration and nutrition, that's all they have been - experiements. It is time to start firming some things up. So my plan is to use the 16-miler this coming weekend to try out a few more ideas and then use the 18-miler on 1 April as a full dress rehearshal for the big day.
I think I know pretty much how I am going to manage hydration - it's nutrition that I need to concentrate on. I have gained a little bit of insight into this subject from devising a successful nutrition strategy for both the Salisbury and Race Your Pace Half Marathons. But in truth a good nutrition strategy for a Half marathon is a "nice to have" - for the full 26.2 it is mandatory if you don't want to find yourself sitting on the roadside at 18 miles.
As with all of these scientific subjects I cant explain what happens in bilogical terms, but my layman's understanding of nutrition and endurance events is that your muscles use a short term fuel source to work that is called Glycogen. For the purposes of my plans I think of Glycogen as Carbohydrate that is stored in your muscles. Your body can store enough Glycogen for several hours of activity - obviously this varies depending on the person and the type of exercise. If you work so long that your Glocogen stores are totally depleted and you do nothing to replenish them, you simply run out of energy. This normally happens after two to three hours of constant exercise or in Marathon terms somewhere around 18 - 20 miles - a phenomenon runners call "hitting the wall". Runners who hit the wall experience very heavy legs (one runner said it was like an elephant had jumped on his back), a lack of energy, a loss of all motivation and often an inability to think clearly. I saw an extreme example of someone hitting the wall in the Salisbury Half Marathon - he was reeling from side to side of the road as though he had drunk 15 pints of beer and he had lost all ability to speak or think clearly. I am assuming he hadn't drunk 15 pints of beer!
Once I had had the whole thing explained to me, it made tackling it easier. The name of the game is to start the race with your Glycogen stores as full as they can be and then replenish them regularly during the race. For the pre-race bit I am going to do what I did for the Half Marathons because it worked. If anyone is still thinking about this, I used the Marathon Nutrition Guide that is available on the High5 web site. I can vouch for the fact that it works! So what is my plan once the race starts?
I think the best way to take on Carbs during a race is to use energy gels. Solid food is not practical and you would need to drink a huge volume of energy drinks to get enough Carbs into your system. Energy gels are a compact, easy to take and quickly absorbed source of Carbs. The energy gels that I am going to use are Lucozade Sport for the simply reason that Lucozade are giving them out at two places on the London Marathon course - that's two less gels for me to carry. My embryonic plan is to take two gels 15 mins before the start followed by one 40 mins into the race and then one every 25 mins. That won't keep the Glycogen tanks full, but it should ensure that I don't completely empty them before the finish line. If I run a four hour marathon that will mean consuming eight gels during the race. If I subtract the two that I can pick up from Lucozade on the course, I will have to carry six with me. My current plan is to fit four into the pocket in the back of my running shorts and carry two in my hand. I really want to avoid wearing any kind of belt or bum bag. This way I will have got rid of the two in my hands by around the 60 minute mark. I definitely need to rehearse this on my 16-miler this weekend carrying the full six gels even though I won't use them all.
I carried three gels with me on my 14-miler this weekend, all packed in my shorts pocket and all was fine. Over the last few months I have been practising consuming them on the run with mixed results!! I had some messy attempts to begin with when I got more of the stickly gloopy gel down my front than I got in my mouth. Gels are absorbed fastest if they are taken with some water. It took me a while to work out that this didn't necessarily mean running with a gel in one hand and a bottle of water in the other. It required an episode which ended with orange flavoured gel in my hair and water all down my front to make me to think that there must be better way - practice makes perfect. Now I quickly take a gel as I approach my water stop. Seems a bit obvious doesn't it!!
Other aspects of Saturday's run were more positive. Once again I set myself a target pace - this time my Marathon pace of 9 mins a mile with the extra goal of stepping the pace up to between 8 - 8.30 a mile for miles 11 and 12. It was noticeable to me right from the off that I found the faster pace very manageable. I was also pleased with the ease with which I stepped up to the faster pace. Results at last!
So all in all my thoughts are getting more focused as the day draws nearer. I am pleased with my progress and pleased to have got a very intense week of training behind me, even if it does usher in an even more intense week with even greater mileage. One nagging concern is that I still haven't really got to grips with a mental strategy for the day. I have no question that my mental preparation will play a huge part and getting my head around what I am taking on and preparing myself to handle what I am sure will be a very tough challenge is important. I need to think quickly about how I approach that. That sounds like my task for week 16!!
Weeks to go: 6
Miles run to date: 354.09
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