#grtwproject26.2 ‘Having a virtual coach keeps me accountable – and running even when I don’t feel like it’

The final of our four winners of #grtwproject26.2 winners, Rachel Sparkhall, 43  reveals how accountability and b-run-ches have been so important for the first four week block of her Paris Marathon training…

Taking part in fun events can help to off load the stress of marathon training

Race: Schneider Paris Marathon

Target: 3  hours, 59 minutes

I read a quote this week, ‘the marathon is the victory lap’ and this struck a chord – it will be the culmination of 14 + weeks of not only running an amazing amount of miles but also the thinking time and juggling of work/life as well – I think the mantra ‘this is the victory lap, enjoy it’ might really help me on race day!

Running a marathon has never figured high on my bucket list until last year when I completed the South Downs 100KM Ultra Challenge. If I could cover 100KM with a run/walk/run method in 16 hours and survive training through the hottest summer in decades, then maybe, just maybe I could run a marathon? And so I was delighted when I won the #grtwproject26.2 competition to win a mentoring package worth £300. 

GRTW coach Tara initially loaded a four week block of runs on Training Peaks, which was brilliant as it allowed me to see the progressive mileage and speed work build up and I found the alternate run days worked well, allowing me recovery time and to also plan life around training rather than it dictating it. 

It meant some early mornings and dark evening runs, but I’m fortunate that I work from home on some days which allows me to be more flexible. Still, training for a marathon can be all consuming.  To compensate, I integrate my longer runs with coffee/cake or breakfast get together’s.  This means I have a destination to run to which is more motivating than constant laps/loops on the longer routes. 

In the first couple of weeks, I had a few issues with picking the right routes that suited the tempo and interval training and had a couple of rather frustrating watch malfunctions. All I really wanted to do was run and perform well, so I invested in a Garmin watch and I got this nailed.

Old watch vs new Garmin

If anything, the runs have been slower than I’ve been used to but with that, came more focus on tempo and interval work which forced me to actually start doing them rather than just reading about them.

I think the most important point to make about training with GRTW  can be said in one word – ACCOUNTABILITY. With all my training runs planned and any other training recorded, I’m motivated to get my trainers on and do the session, particularly as Tara can see my exact results on Training Peaks. 

The first 2 weeks flew by but by week 3 I hit a wall. I felt fatigued and had taken a lot of medication for migraines which I’ve suffered from for years, so every run became a challenge. 

Usually, running helps me feel like i’m cleansing my system of any medication but intense exercise can also trigger a migraine attack so it’s a double edge sword.  It’s very easy to curl up in a ball and drown myself in the vat of sugary products even though I know that it will only make things worse.

A hilly run on my third Sunday long run was awful and if it had not been for my coaching plan, I wouldn’t have gone.  The first hill run was truly awful and I stopped wanted to go home, but then I thought about Tara and the effort she was putting into helping me and I thought about how I’d feel if I failed to hit my goal. GOT.TO.KEEP.TRYING. Hopefully this extra little push is going to make all the difference in getting me closer to that sub 4 hour goal.

A beautiful but brutal run

Thankfully, week four has been a recovery week with less mileage and it’s been a fabulous week. Although the weather turned colder, each run was enjoyable and I ended it with the 10K London Winter run.  A fantastic fun themed event where 20,000 participants descend on London to run amongst penguins and snowmen, it was great to go as part of a group and enjoy the social aspect.

The London Winter Run 10k

I started the run, semi frozen in -4 temperatures and with the niggling doubt that I’d lost some speed with all the longer runs I had been doing but was pleased to see that I was achieving 7.30min/miles on course and ended with a PB of 48.10 on what is a flat but very busy course. 

Roll on the next block of training. Now, less than ten weeks before I stand under the Arc de Triomphe.

To  follow the journeys of our four Girls Run the World marathon training winners, follow #grtwproject26.2 on Instagram.

If you are interested in having a personalised training plan written by Girls Run the world or our mentoring package, please email info@girlsruntheworld.co.uk

#grtwproject26.2 ‘Having different training zones has transformed my running’

Our third #project26.2 runners, Kerrie Flippance, shares how recovery runs and training zones has transformed her running…while she contemplates a 5am start as she juggles marathon training and motherhood 

Kerrie at her weekend cross country race

Manchester Marathon will be my first marathon and I ‘panic entered’ last August after reading a friend’s Facebook status which led me to believe it was about to sell out. To date there are still places left!  After I entered, I tried to forget about it, ignoring all my friends’ excited social media messages about who was training on what days and where could we run to vary our training.  I was in denial. 

Until I received an email from Girls Run the World, informing me that I had won one of their amazing marathon coaching packages. I never win anything, well except four tickets for a gig from a phone-in competition in 1992.  I was filled with excitement and utter terror.

 

My first thought was, ‘If I have a coach, I’ll actually have to run 26.2, I can’t make an excuse on the day that I’m not well enough or or fake an injury.’ And I also knew that I’d have to stick to a plan and I was scared I wouldn’t be able to. A month into my plan, it has been the best thing to have happened, having Rachael from Girls Run the World as my virtual coach.

Receiving my first two weeks of the training plan (they’re delivered in two week blocks to help accommodate what may happen within a fortnight), it was great seeing all the varied sessions and to be given ‘zones’ based on my pace, something I’d never thought about before. 

Although I’ve always done a variety of training runs, a long slow run and a weekly track interval session, I’d never really thought about what my pace was and the importance behind knowing different zones and how they impact progress and recovery; for instance, there’s a pace for recovery runs, one for interval work, tempo work, etc. Now I can really bore my husband and non-running friends with even more talk about running! But, more importantly, I now understand how training can improve my running.

BUT over the first two weeks, I was shocked at seeing five rest days in my training diary and that made me panic! I knew the importance of rest days, I’d read about it time and time again, and been told so many times by running friends that I needed a rest day, after I’d moaned about how tired I felt.  But FIVE days off running? 

This has been one of my biggest learning exercises so far.  I’ve followed the plan to the letter and the rest days have been tangible.  I use them wisely by following the stretching, yoga or core work that’s been set on the plan or go for a swim.  For the first time ever, I’ve never felt tired on a run, a first in ten years of running.

I know this may not be the case throughout my marathon journey but I am surprised by how good I feel and this is down to a plan that is personal and allows my body to recover ready for the next run. 

I felt pretty rubbish for a few days during week three of the training block after competing in our county cross country champs, but I’d raced hard.  And whereas usually, I get to the point where I want to slow down, and feel like the hills and the mud are breaking me, I was able to keep pushing.

My two running pals, who normally catch me at the half way point, still caught me but rather than the distance between us growing, we stayed together. It was the most consistent performance I’d put in for a cross-country race, and I believe this is down to a carefully tailored plan.                                    

My high so far was my long 15 mile training run last weekend. I’d been dreading it as I had only ever run that far once before. Plus, the training plan specified to run the final three miles at my marathon pace! No way was I going to be able to do this, I thought, not after already running 12 miles. Rachael warned me that it would be hard and I really thought that this run was going to be my first ‘fail’ on the plan. 

But I ran the 12 miles at the easy pace recommended by Rachael, and I felt pretty good.  I’d run with my husband for the first four miles and a friend for the next seven miles, but told her that I wanted to run the last four on my own so I could focus.

My watch beeped to let me know when to change pace and it was like someone had fired a starting gun or given me a huge slap on the backside. I instantly changed mind set and went for it and my legs went from feeling tired and sore to feeling great, they wanted to run at this pace. 

AT first I thought I was probably running too slow  when I looked at my watch, I was running at 30 seconds per mile faster than my marathon tempo pace.  The shock of feeling so in control with a good amount of energy in the tank really spurred me on, although Rachael has told me that I need to be more disciplined on future runs or risk undoing all my hard work, but it was a great confidence boost.

So far, I’ve loved my training butI live in a  beautiful part of the country with lots of trails that pass by castles, canals and cycle paths. And my training hasn’t interfered too much with life, although this will change over the next few weeks when my children’s social lives will interfere with my weekend runs (I’m envisaging having to get up at 5am to get my long run done, or worse still, doing it after they’ve gone to bed). 

So, four weeks in and I am no longer in denial, I’m excited and ready for the challenge.  I love not having to think about what training I should be doing, and whether I am doing too much or too little!  I’m not having to think very much at all which is amazing when you have a very busy life.  Rachael and my carefully devised training plan think for me and all I have to do is lace up my trainers and run.

#project26.2 ‘Marathon training is the same as any other running, just longer, right?’

In her first block of virtual marathon training as part of Girls Run the World Project26.2, Catriona Ward Sell, 31 has learned that running longer distances requires a totally different mindset…

 

Catriona, volunteering at junior Parkrun

I recall, at about age 8, going to football practice with my wee neighbour, John. Unable to kick the ball hard and fast, he became frustrated. “The trouble with practising...” he exclaimed, booting the ball away, “is that you have to practice and practice and practice, just to be any good at practising!”

Surely no truer words have ever been said about marathon running, either.

I am a middle distance runner. In my year-and-a-half of club running, I’ve reached a decent local level; I can consistently run a sub-20 parkrun, am knocking on the door of a sub-40 10k, and perhaps slightly fluke-ishly, qualified for a Club Championship place at the London Marathon by running two sub-1:30 half marathons.

I perhaps clicked “apply” to the London Marathon too light-heartedly. How different could marathon training be? You just run for a bit longer, right?

Oh, you naïve former self. Marathon training, as I have discovered with Tara, my excellent coach from Girls Run The World, is a whole different ball game.

Firstly, there is a lot of slow running.  I’m an adrenaline junkie; I like doing intervals as quickly as I can, turning the treadmill to a level where I risk flying off, or putting my pride on the line by challenging the guys at work to a race (to contextualise, I am in the Army, so extreme physical challenges are pretty much encouraged in my vocation).  Marathon training does not appeal to adrenaline junkies. Marathon training requires slowing down.

Secondly, there are a LOT of kilometres to cover in a week. This was expected but I thought the bulk of the distance would be in the once-weekly designated Long Slow Runs (in runner’s jargon and Insta-hashtags, LSRs). Nope. The distance of every run during the week will increase.

And lastly, at this stage, the types of training runs aren’t ending with my lungs on fire. This might seem like a welcome break to some of you, but I love the feeling of a hard run. It gets the endorphins flowing, and, yes, I feel more justified in reaching for an extra doughnut when I’ve reached that maxed-out zone.

Getting used to longer, slower runs has meant I’ve had to work on my mental game, find a space to put my mind.  Because, on longer slower runs, you have a lot of thinking time, and depending on how the run is going, your head can take you to some downbeat places.

Learning to focus on mental strategies with the miles

For the first few weeks, I felt frustrated and bored. The first run which I enjoyed was my second LSR. I’m new to the area in which I live, and I found a beautiful wooded trail which goes on uninterrupted for miles. I did 16 kms here after volunteering at Junior Parkrun, and both experiences helped me to remember a different side to running – its inclusivity and offers of exploration.

Neither of these are better or worse motivations than chasing PBs, which I expect will always be my main goal. But is a different side of the same medal, and deserves equal recognition within the sport.

I was also worried. My speed seemed to be zapped from my legs. A Cross Country outing with the Army in the middle of week two wasn’t in my training plan – but when, in the military, your boss tells you to run, the only acceptable response is to ask “how fast?”. Although I finished second female, I was slower than usual.

This week, however, has been much more positive. Within a couple of runs, I’ve managed to glimpse my old 10km time (4:00 min/km). Although in time I aim to be faster, for this marathon training cycle, I was scared that I was just getting slower.   Perhaps, as was first feared, that isn’t happening. Perhaps it’s just my body getting used to the extra miles.

But back to the task in hand: I’m not sure yet if I’m looking forward to the actual marathon, nor if I’ll do another one again. It’s too early within this training cycle to say, and frustrations, fears, anxiety and – just this week – some kind of nervous hope has created mixed emotions. But one thing’s for sure: John, you were definitely wiser than your 8 years. Mentally, physically, and emotionally, even feeling like you’re training for running takes a lot of practise.

Target: To finish fast

Goal finish: 3 hours, 17 mins

To follow the progress of our #grtwproject26 runners, search for the hashtag on Instagram. 

Girls Run the World offer personalised virtual coaching for all distances and all levels. For more details click here

 

#grtwproject26.2 How running slower is making me faster

After winning a virtual marathon coaching package as part of the Girls Run the World project26.2, Marie Knight reflects on her first month where she discovered the value of recovery runs… 

Marie, at the start line of the Maverick Race

I can’t quite believe it’s the end of week four of my training plan, and it’s been a learning curve; getting to grips with new running shoes, new training app (Girls Run the World use Training Peaks to deliver personalised plans from their team of female coaches), a new approach to nutrition, not to mention learning to programme my Garmin watch correctly, which I’m ashamed to say I’ve owned for 2 years without ever doing this. And then there is the small matter of the running itself.

I usually take part in GRTW Runuary to kick start my year of running without any particular focus for each day’s run other than the fact that I know I need to complete one at some stage. So it’s been an exciting change to having weekly plans delivered to my in box detailing distances, pace, focus, tips on form and type of run, all designed to help me to achieve running the Brighton Marathon in a time of approximately 4hours 35 minutes.

I’ve loved being able to look at the plan for the week ahead and shift things to fit around work and play. I’m also enjoying not having to worry about what training I’m going to do each day, trusting the coaching process to get me where I need to be in the end.

I’m a classic over-thinker and I would already be panicking about having the week off for skiing I’m having in February and what impact this would have on the rest of fitness and plan.

The biggest thing I’ve learnt is the value of running slowly…which sounds a funny thing to say as I’m not what you might consider a fast runner to start with. Settling at the correct recovery pace has been so challenging but it’s also given me the chance to focus on form, breathing, cadence. It’s also been the hardest thing to nail because it often feels like I’m barely moving faster than walking pace.

But most interestingly of all, it’s helped me to achieve more during the speed interval sessions , as well as providing valuable time on feet with active recovery. I guess the clue is in the name? (D’oh!)

The strength and core work included on my plan via the Girls Run the world YouTube channel have been a love/hate addition to my plan. It’s the area of my normal fitness routine that I’ve always abandoned when training for half marathons, thinking I didn’t have the time.

It turns out these short, guided, 20-minute workouts can fit in but they leave me feeling more exhausted than the running (which I know is exactly why I need to include them) and deadbugs have become my new personal nemesis. 

My favourite run so far has been the Maverick Inov-8 West Sussex, which was part of the GRTW January meet up. Stunning scenery to distract me whilst tackling brutal, muddy hills and undulating forest routes.

The focus that I was given was to treat it as training rather than a race  by keeping at easy pace throughout (which I eventually did after starting off way too fast with the excitement of the starting line), running alone rather than with run buddies to help give me a feel of how it will be during the marathon, and completing the distance without the use of gels. The theory being, your body can fuel aerobically using fat storage and if you get your body too used to gels, it won’t be able to get the maximum benefit when racing.

Marie, finishing strong, gel free after a 14 mile trail race

I hadn’t even considered it possible to run that far without gels and it felt great to finish and know that I have the endurance to run without gels, allowing my digestive system a chance to be without them for a while. It’s also given me something to think about in terms of using them for future training runs at easy pace, as I clearly don’t always need them.

It was a tough and challenging 14 miles all-round, but I got to the finish to be cheered in by a smiling GRTW crew. Plus a beer in my goody bag to go with the medal.

If you want to follow the journeys of our four Girls Run the World Project 26.2 runners, follow the IG #grtwproject26. Lend them your support and learn through them as they journey towards the marathon finish line. 

Girls Run the World offer personalised virtual run coaching from £92 per month. For more details email info@girlsruntheworld.co.uk.