#grtwproject26.2 ‘I’ve gone vegan while marathon training.’

In this month’s blog, #grtwproject26.2 runner, Catriona Ward-Sell, explains how changing her running technique is helping her run..and the big change to her nutrition

When training for a marathon, it’s easy to let an obsession with stats and goals touch every part of your life. ‘Will I finish work in time to get my long run in? Will these biscuits I’m eating fuel or hinder tomorrow’s paces? Should I take my foam roller to the cinema with me?’  I have also been thinking about how my running fits into the bigger picture of my life, health, and the world around me. This has resulted in two fairly dramatic changes in my running career.

Firstly, I’ve decided to continue my marathon training as a vegan. I’ve been vegetarian previously for a 13 year stint but cycling 8000km solo across Europe in five months during 2017 ended that. I was welcomed warmly into the homes of strangers across the continent with a bowl of chicken soup, or hearty traditional meal. Call me ill-disciplined, but in those grateful moments, I felt in no place to refuse such hospitality. Indeed, after cycling up to 150km in sub-zero Serbian winters, I didn’t exactly feel like refusing such delicious food, either.

Joining the Army upon my return, I found little motivation to switch back to being vegetarian. Fully catered for during training, the Army’s vegetarian options are unvaried, and on exercise, beans aren’t always the best fuel for moving at quick readiness.

Now that I’m out of training, I have more control over my diet, and having read and heard so much recently about how bad meat and diary is for the planet I’ve found that I’ve been reflecting on this. After all, a 30km run through local countryside not only gives exposure to nature, but also two hours of thinking space within it.

However, I was nervous about going vegan and the effect that having less protein would have on my running. But a conversation with some vegan runners put my mind at ease, and I decided to make some changes. These changes were reinforced by keeping a nutrition diary by Girls Run The World to check that I was fuelling well for training and recovery. I won’t go into the recipes here but I’ve noticed a few differences in my running since changing my nutrition.

I’ve felt lighter on runs, and my recovery time has been noticeably quicker. I think this is because I’m being more mindful on the whole of getting the right nutrients – tracking it all on My Fitness Pal, I’ve surprisingly not lacked protein at all. I previously didn’t pay much attention to macros, just “ate normally”. It’s likely that any increased mindfulness to a training diet will cause positive changes, but  veganism has definitely played a part.

However,  my transition to a plant-based running diet (where I can – sometimes, I’m forced to vegetarian) is not necessarily a fast track to improvement. There’s been negatives too. Perhaps similar to living on Army ration packs of beans, beans and beans, I’ve had an increasing need to ensure that a public toilet is on my running route. Vegan runners certainly don’t lack fibre in their diet!  That’s something I need to remedy before the marathon.

Speaking of my upcoming race, this leads me on to the second significant change to my running since I’ve been coached by Girls Run The World. Knowing that speedy running will have to take a back foot, I’ve started concentrating on, well, the back of my feet. Namely, my ungainly (yet somehow uneconomically not-slow…!) running style: heel striking.

I immediately identified to Tara, my coach, that I was a heel striker, but that I would like to change this. It’s not that I heel strike occasionally or when I get tired: every single pace of mine is an over-stretch.  It’s been proven time and time again that forefoot and mid-foot strikers are the speedy runners over the distances I enjoy.  However, getting out of a habit I’ve had for long is going to be painful. It will be a gradual, sometimes frustrating, and slow process, but ultimately worth it… much like running a marathon!

Slowing down my pace but getting lots of miles in has given me the opportunity to address my form. Tara has given me lots of tips, such as concentrating on my hips rather than the actual heel itself, and how the entire leg works – not just the foot. Initially, just a few kilometres would have me in major DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) the next day. Now, I have completed an entire parkrun without reverting to heel striking.  So far, I’m not  identifiably quicker but it has given me the potential to work on that sub-19 parkrun and sub-40 10km which has so far eluded me. Not only this, but running with a better form should allow me to have a longer and healthier running career.

So, all in all, marathon training is proving to be quite a health-focussed, holistic and spiritual journey. With quite a few public toilets on the way!

Cat working on fast efforts, focusing on improved run technique


#grtwproject26.2 ‘I’m riding a rollercoaster of emotions.’

Pre marathon anxiety is now kicking in, not least what to wear. Is planning your marathon day outfit as complicated as choosing your wedding outfit?!It’s beginning to seem so for Rachel Sparkhall 

With the second four week block of training provided by Girls Run the World, Tara completed, it certainly feels like the clock is starting to tick fast and training intensity is ramping up.

Nerves are rumbling around and whilst I’ve completed all the training and hit the required mileage, I’m riding a roller-coaster of emotions.  ‘Can I get my nutrition right on the day and not need to dash to the loo?  Can I control my pace well enough so that I hit the time I think I am capable of but not blow up too early? ‘

As the big day gets closer, I find myself becoming absorbed in details such as outfit planning; wanting to look smart to  vs just being really comfy in worn out 10 year old leggings. It seems that everything associated with running a marathon is all consuming, justifiably so I guess, after all 26.2 miles is a really long way!  A niggle that can be tolerated for an hour is manageable but chafing or leggings that ride up or down is unacceptable for 4 hours and needs much more consideration.

Rachel tries out her gels and outfit for the day

 Unlike the first training block, I’ve not had one bad week where I’ve felt completely fatigued, just the odd run where I have lacked energy or motivation.  A particular tempo session stands out where even the 10 min mile warm up pace felt hard,  let alone the speed sections  But overall, I think my body and mindset has adjusted well to the format of running every other day. 

I have relaxed my attitude to other commitments I used to have with other fitness classes which has helped me to keep the balance with energy levels, life and work.  And the lower mileage week at the end of the four week block was very welcome, especially as I was hit with a really bad run of migraine which was not ideal prior to my strategically planned Cambridge Half Marathon, a stunning race setting where I was able to put some of the training and advice to the test.

   Tara had provided me with some excellent guidance on pacing strategy to use, as well as nutrition and timing throughout the race. I had a set pace to target and hold throughout the race, and to try and lift and run faster in the last few miles if I felt strong enough. 

To be honest, I’d felt so awful the 2 days before the event, combined with wet and windy conditions, I had no expectations of a fast time, even on a flat course. However, I ran strong even with all the weaving and although I struggled to lift the pace and finish strong, I achieved a PB by over two minutes and learnt some very good lessons about runner traffic congestion and what to expect on a very busy Paris marathon.

Rachel with her Cambridge Half Marathon medal

This run was a massive confidence boost and really underlines the consistency of the training plan and improvements it is bringing to my running.  On a bad day, feeling pretty crappy, I still ran a really good race. I continue to trust in the training.

I am looking forward to the final block where the highest mileage will be achieved, with more focus on race strategy and pacing so no doubt a few tough weeks ahead before taper begins.

Girls Run the World coaches provide personalised one to one virtual coaching to female runners and triathletes of all levels from around the world. From coaching women whose goal is simply to run their first half marathon or ultra, to those aiming for personal bests, we are experts in coaching women. For more details visit our mentoring page.

#grtwproject26.2 ‘Keeping a food diary has helped prevent me chain-eating biscuits’

For the first time, #grtwproject26.2 runner, Marie Knight, believes that running the marathon really is possible. And how to ensure that she doesn’t eat herself out of house and home as the miles increase 

Marie even had time to learn to ski within her training

When I was growing up, The Wizard of Oz was one of my favourite films and never have Dorothy’s words ‘I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore,’ felt more true.

I’m writing this feeling very pleased with myself for having finished my long run, 17 MILES. This is the longest distance I have ever run, and more than I’d normally cover in a total of seven days running in my normal running world. 

Approaching the end of block 2 of GRTW project26.2, and with just 6 weeks to go until the Brighton Marathon, it’s not a surprise that my running mileage has increased considerably, but it is a surprise to discover how good I feel about it. Today was a prime example of waking up with a multitude of reasons for not running.

It was a perfect Sunday for staying inside with coffee, newspapers, Netflix – dark sky, horizontal rain, and gusty winds. But the great thing about having a race approaching and a tailored plan to ensure that you make it to that goal, is that you feel compelled to get out and run and it holds you accountable. 

The leap in mileage this month has been accompanied by a massive increase in my appetite. And whilst it’s been tempting to use this as an excuse to chain-eat cake and biscuits, it has made me much more mindful about nutrition, the value of what I put into my body and how this effects my running.

I’ve noticed that when I’ve had a few days of quick food on the hop, or lazy cooking that isn’t really ticking all the right boxes. As part of project26.2, we were all asked to complete a food diary over a weekend which helped me understand more about how I was feeling both during and after the different types of run that I do.

I can quite often feel headachy or nauseous at the end of a long run and looking at my food diary I could see that I wasn’t drinking  enough water on the days before a long run. Hints and tips from Coach Rachael have helped me adapt what I eat and drink, and more importantly, what time of day I am eating it.

The two big revelations for me is that I rely too heavily on sports rehydration salts to hydrate (I thought the salts were helping!), and that by bringing my meal times forward by an hour or so here and there, I can remove the need for unnecessary snacks. The result so far is feeling better fuelled and feeling more settled during and after each run.

Everyone told me that marathon training is all consuming and I can confirm that this is true – joyfully so! But as well as noticeably building up my strength and mileage in February, I also managed to enjoy a full week away from running for some much-needed holiday time. I am not sure my legs would 100% agree that the holiday was a true rest from running given that I decided to put them through a different kind of punishment instead by learning to ski.

It was amazing to go away and feel confident and fit enough to give this a go. I’m not sure I would have done this three years ago and a lot of this confidence has come about from my running and the different events I’ve done in the past, knowing how much the human body can do if you give it the chance. It was a good reminder that completing the marathon is definitely possible!

A week off in the middle of training like this would normally have felt like a ridiculous thing to have planned, and put me in a spin about what a disaster this would be for the rest of my marathon training. However, part of the point of a personalised training plan is that it works around your life and the plan was designed to work me hard in the weeks before I went away to allow me this week of ‘rest’.

My plan is giving me a new-found respect for proper rest and recovery. Despite giving my legs and feet the shock of their life by spending a week in ski boots, I came back from my week in the Alps feeling well rested and ready to get back to running. There was a 16-mile run scheduled for day after I returned which initially felt impossible, but I managed to get out there and complete nevertheless. 

Rest and recovery remain a key feature in my training now that I’m back from the mountains albeit that it sadly involves a lot less cheese-based cuisine. Sleeping is my super power; my friends often joke that I could sleep standing up and I think I’ve come pretty close a couple of times this month. I’ve noticed a definite need to sleep more in February as the miles have increased and particularly after the interval sessions which did not normally make up part of my weekly running routine. These seem to work me harder than the long distances.

Sports massage and foam rolling are also regular components which is a lot less easy to make myself do than heading to bed an hour early but are still a necessary evil. My feet in particularly are feeling tight which apparently is a result of tight calf muscles and hamstrings. I now have a whole selection of beastly but annoyingly effective foam rollers dotted around my flat so that I can roll whenever I have a free moment or chance to watch the tele. I definitely prefer the deep baths full of fancy bath oil to treat tight muscles and aide recovery, but they don’t seem have quite the same effect. On the plus side, I’ve stopped arguing and ranting at the TV and radio because I am now too busy grimacing on the foam roller.