They say not to meet your heroes in life for fear of disappointment, but that absolutely wasn’t the case when I attended a Great Run forum the other week to listen to a Q&A with distance running experts including the legendary Liz McColgan.
The event formed part of the preamble for the Great Birmingham 10k (held last weekend) and October’s Great Birmingham half and brand new International Marathon. It’s the marathon I’ve got my eye on given that Manchester was hampered by my thigh injury and this was an opportunity to find out more and hopefully pick up some useful tips.
Also speaking were Chris Thompson, European silver medallist over 10,000 metres, and health and fitness writer Peta Bee.
I wasn’t sure what to expect but I have to say it was a really enjoyable and informative evening. Most of the questions had been pre-submitted and covered a fairly predictable array of topics – what’s the difference in terms of training for a marathon versus a half, what kit do you need, what should you eat and drink to aid recovery and so on.
You quickly realise the vast gulf between casual runners and professional athletes when someone like Liz talks about taking things relatively easy these days and just “keeping fit” by running a hundred miles a week!
Things got interesting when someone asked the panel, but mainly Liz, if they would trade in all their current achievements for one Olympic gold medal. Without hesitation she said yes and then spoke very openly about her disappointment at only ever having achieved silver at that ultimate level and how the medal stayed hidden away in a drawer for many years after being beaten to the line at Seoul in 1988.
We got a glimpse of just how intensely competitive and driven to succeed she is and it’s no wonder she achieved as much as she did in her long and illustrious career.
As for the tips I was hoping to get, well some of the nutritional and hydration Q&As were insightful. What constitutes good carbs, the need to take on food within 20 minutes of completing a long or intensive run to aid recovery, the danger of overhydrating – all very useful.
We were invited to go up after the panel had concluded and ask any further questions on a one to one basis and I was lucky enough to get a couple of minutes with Liz.
After embarrassing myself with the obligatory selfie, I told her about the difficulties I sometimes get with stomach cramps from caffeine-loaded sports drinks and gels. Her recommendation was dioralyte for hydration and flat coke for a sugar hit. Sounds more like a remedy for recovering from illness to me, but I’m willing to give it a try!
Being organised by the Great Run team, there were plenty of none too subtle hints throughout the event about future runs in Birmingham and particularly the big October marathon. I have been considering it, although the looped section on the course does put me off a bit, especially as it’s taken from the existing half marathon route that I’ve ran five times already.
There were training plans being handed out and I took a look at the ‘improver’ one. Surprisingly it was spread out over 24 weeks and at first I thought that’s way too long, but on closer inspection the first month just covers the sort of distances I’d be doing for general fitness and recreational running anyway.
What I like about it is how it mixes up the distances. Being more spread out, the long runs fluctuate quite significantly in length which adds more variety compared to the very linear 16 week plan I’ve followed previously. That concept of ‘add another mile to your long run each week’ is getting pretty dull now and inevitably means I keep running the same routes over and over.
The Great Run one also stresses the importance of pace – easy running, 10k pace, half marathon and full marathon pace all make up the various sessions. I’ve been guilty in the past of just going out and always running as fast as I can, which wastes energy and risks injury. If I decide to sign up for another marathon, this could well be a good plan to follow.
In terms of actual running, I’ve not been doing much. A couple a week, three or four miles at a time, just to keep ticking over. I’m still doing the exercises and stretches the physio recommended but these past few days, even without running, the right thigh muscles are sore and tender again. Maybe it’s part of the healing process, or maybe I’ve aggravated them again. I have a follow up appointment in two weeks, so we’ll see what he thinks then.
I was going to run the Silverstone 10k again last night (2 May), but a mix of injury concerns and also some difficulties in arranging childcare meant I had to give it a miss this year. Probably a good thing as in race conditions it’s especially hard to just take things easy.
I’ve loved reading up on everyone’s London experiences and have thrown my name into the ballot for 2018. It will be my fourth attempt and I’m yet to have any joy (I took a charity place in 2015), but you never know – got to be in it to win it, as the saying goes.
That’s it for now and I’ll let you know when I’ve decided about Birmingham over the coming weeks.
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