Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Couch to Marathon in 12 months (1 year) - My Journey

Couch to Marathon in 12 months (1 year) – My Journey!

London Marathon 2017

On the 10th April 2016, I watched as the Limassol marathon got underway on a relatively sunny Sunday morning in Cyprus. As a 34 year old I had spent the previous 7 or 8 years drinking too much alcohol and being busy at work but frankly being pretty lazy with my health and fitness. I went to the gym occasionally to push a few weights around and would occasionally do 10 – 15 mins on the exercise bike with the  occasional long walk but that was the extent of my fitness.

It was at this point I decided I should try and run the Limassol marathon in 2017. I had always wanted to run a marathon at some point and as I’m not getting any younger decided this was the time. I had done cross country at school but that’s going back 20 years and since then I had started and quit smoking twice, the last time a year before this challenge started so I was no longer in particularly good shape! On April the 20th 2016 registration opened and I eagerly put down my name for the marathon on March 19th 2017. After speaking to my colleague, he decided to join me in my endeavour and in our euphoric (read idiotic) idea generating state we then decided it would be an awesome idea to also run the 2017 London marathon as well and raise some money for a charity and thus we found two charities (Breathing Matters and Treloars Disabled School) and registered to run the London marathon on April 23rd 2017 as charity entries for them – these two marathons became the focus of the training with the aim being to finish the first and go under 5 hours in London.

That gave me 12 months to prepare, so I did a lot of reading, downloaded programs and training plans (both paid for and free), registered for a subscription with map my run to track my workouts and bought a new pair of running shoes! I want to share with you the plan I put together to get me across the finishing line of the London marathon in 4 hours, 56 minutes with only a year of preparation raising over £12,000 for charity in the process. Is it the best training plan in the world? No. Am I a qualified coach? No. What I do have and what this plan has is real world experience of how it adapts to all of the injuries and problems that came up along the way. Hopefully it shows you that it is possible to achieve this goal even with all the crap life throws at you.

The Plan

Due to family and work commitments (and having a life!), I decided I could commit to 3 training days per week and I decided that instead of training for a marathon I would gradually train for smaller distances along the way to make it easier mentally (and physically – more on that later!!). So I went for the following:

Couch to 10k – 3 months – This plan ran from my first run on April 26th to my first double figure run on July 24th

Half marathon training plan – 4 months – This plan ran from the 10k in July to a half marathon race I registered for on November 27th in Paphos, Cyprus.

Marathon training plan – 5 months that became 4 months! – This plan ran through to the marathons in Limassol on March 19th and London on April 23rd with the main focus being London.

I guess this can be considered a couch to 10k, couch to half marathon, couch to marathon plan or anything in between! I tried to keep my workouts fairly simple in their nature - I’m sure there are better ways to do this but I simply split my runs into 3 types each week. A long run, a general/recovery run and an interval/speed run.

Generally my workouts were ordered as a general/recovery run on Tuesday, an interval run on a Thursday and a long run on a Sunday. I didn’t manage all three workouts every week as life, weddings, holidays and injuries got in the way!! In fact for the whole year I only managed 107 workouts or just over 2 per week average! I missed 34 planned workouts plus 6 weeks due to holiday / injury. In total there were 101 completed runs plus 6 bike workouts so 107 total.

If I missed the Tuesday run I would try to move the schedule to Wednesday/Friday/Sunday or would sometimes do Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday or Tuesday/Friday/Sunday – either way I managed to complete three runs a week in the schedule more often than not and always tried to keep a rest day in between each run although I did occasionally run on consecutive days. On days off I would mainly just do a little stretching for 5-10 mins (when I remembered!!).

Time wise I was looking for an average speed of 5.45 mins/km on my interval runs, 6.15 min/km on my recovery runs and 6.45 min/km on my long runs although often I ran faster/slower than these times. Why those numbers? I knew that 7min/km gets me round a marathon in under 5 hours. The point is, I was looking at around a 30 second difference between each run type so you can easily adjust the plans below to fit your abilities. My interval runs would involve running at a steady pace (around 6.15 min/km pace or my general/recovery run pace) with 30 – 60 second intervals every few minutes at 5.15/5.30 min/km pace.

Plan Part 1 - Couch to 10k – 13 weeks

My first run on April 26th 2016 was 2.63km and took a little over 15 minutes – I woke up the next morning feeling like I had been hit by truck!! Generally the training plan for the 10k went fairly smoothly and I got my three runs in successfully on most weeks. Eventually I ran the 10k three months later on July 24th in 27 degree heat and 80% humidity (even at 7.30am!) in 60 mins 51 seconds which I was delighted with having been aiming for 60 mins. Below you can see both the original plan and the actual runs completed. As you can see I missed three sessions in early June due to getting married and thus having family visiting! I generally tended to run a little further than the plan. The training for the 10k went very smoothly with few issues.

Date
Distance (km)
Type
Target Time
(hrs:min:secs)
Actual Distance (km)
Actual time
(hrs:min:secs)
Tue 26th Apr
2
General/Recovery
12:30
2.63
15:03
Thur 28th Apr
2
Interval
11:30
2.45
14:28
Sun 1st May
3
Long
20:15
3.77
22:23
Tue 3rd May
2
General/Recovery
12:30
2.68
17:10
Thur 5th May
2
Interval
11:30
2.43
13:26
Sun 8th May
3.5
Long
23:37
3.78
23:35
Tue 10th May
2
General/Recovery
12:30
2.53
16:42
Thur 12th May
2
Interval
11:30
2.21
13:18
Sun 15th May
4
Long
27:00
4.52
29:31
Tue 17th May
2
General/Recovery
12:30
2.18
14:10
Thur 19th May
2.5
Interval
14:22
2.98
20:20
Sun 22nd May
4.5
Long
30:22
4.75
30:49
Tue 24th May
2
General/Recovery
12:30
2.17
14:44
Thur 26th May
3
Interval
18:45
3.23
20:25
Sun 29th May
4.5
Long
30:22
4.90
32:10
Tue 31st May
2
General/Recovery
12:30
2.20
12:53
Thur 2nd Jun
3
Interval
18:45
3.22
20:58
Sun 5th Jun
6
Long
40:30
6.02
39:20
Tue 7th Jun
2
General/Recovery
12:30
2.18
12:56
Thur 9th Jun
3
Interval
18:45
3.29
21:41
Sun 12th Jun
4
Long
27:00


Tue 14th Jun
2
General/Recovery
12:30


Thur 16th Jun
3
Interval
18:45


Sun 19th Jun
5.5
Long
37:07
5.56
38:03
Tue 21st Jun
2
General/Recovery
12:30
2.22
14:10
Thur 23rd Jun
3
Interval
18:45
3.32
20:37
Sun 26th Jun
6.5
Long
43:52
6.59
45:12
Tue 28th Jun
2
General/Recovery
12:30
2.15
13:02
Thur 30th Jun
3
Interval
18:45
3.19
20:52
Sun 3rd Jul
7.5
Long
50:37
7.54
53:46
Tue 5th Jul
2
General/Recovery
12:30
2.13
10:58
Thur 7th Jul
3.5
Interval
20:08
3.58
22:17
Sun 10th Jul
9
Long
01:00:45
9.0
59:28
Tue 12th Jul
3
General/Recovery
18:45
3.09
19:27
Thur 14th Jul
3.5
Interval
20:08
3.67
19:14
Sun 17th Jul
7.5
Long
50:37
7.52
49:42
Tue 19th Jul
2
General/Recovery
12:30
3.89
25:43
Thur 21st Jul
3
Interval
18:45
3.02
17:51
Sun 24th Jul
10
10 KM RUN
01:00:00
10.04
01:00:51

Plan Part 2 - 10k to Half Marathon – 15 weeks

This section of the plan meant upping the distance on the training runs to become more comfortable on the longer runs. Doing the variation of the couch to 10k gave me a really good base to start building distance on and had got me used to the habit of running three times a week.

There were two big issues during my training for the half marathon race. The first was a two week holiday which meant that after the 10k I only managed a single general/recovery run of 4km (not included in the data here) before I left to relax for a couple of weeks. I had taken my running gear away with me with the best of intentions but managed a grand total of zero runs while enjoying the delights of Tuscany and the South of France – the wine was just too good to ignore. That meant my training plan restarted in earnest on August the 16th and actually I think the two week break worked well to give the body some time to rest and repair.

The second issue during this training section developed around 5/6 weeks before the half marathon. After having pain in and around the heel of my right foot and ignoring it while it gradually got worse I was eventually diagnosed with Plantar Fasciitis – this is quite common for runners and is essentially inflammation of the tendons that run under the sole of the foot from the heel to the toes. It causes pain while walking (and running!) around the heel. There is not a lot of easy cures except rest and a process of stretching to help loosen the tendons (and interestingly lots of calf stretching as tight claves have a big effect on plantar fasciitis problems). One thing to say here is that I ignored the pain for quite some time before going to get it checked out - so if you start to feel something wrong, go and have it looked at. The pain really developed extensively after my last long run (a 19km effort) three weeks before the half marathon so my taper was somewhat ruined but after test running a 5km then 10km around a week/10days before the half marathon and still struggling with the pain I bit the bullet and consulted an osteopath (who also happens to be a biomechanics coach, ex-team GB Olympic triathlete coach and crazy ultra-marathoner so understood my desire to run the half after so much training!). After discussion, I decided to KT tape it up and still run the half after three weeks rest (bar the 5km and 10km). Not the best preparation in hindsight and it led to 4 weeks off afterwards. I still got around the half on November 27th in 2hrs 18 minutes and 38 seconds despite having to run / walk the last 8km due to the foot pain from the plantar fasciitis.

The other thing to mention here was the half marathon was the first proper race I had been involved in since getting back into some sport. It was a huge lesson in what not to do. I went out far too quickly for the first 11 km running at around a 5:30 min/km pace when I had been aiming for a 6:15 pace on the way around so that depletion of energy added to my foot pain made the last 8km immensely more difficult mentally and physically than it should have been! It was a disappointing experience after running the 19km in 1hr 51min a few weeks earlier as I missed my time goal (2hrs 10 mins) and fell apart mentally when around 3km from the finish I had to run past the hotel I was staying at. If it hadn’t been for an older couple on the side lines outside the hotel cheering every runner I would probably have given up there and then – in hindsight it was a really useful experience and I would encourage everyone to have a race test day before your actual goal race.

Again, the training plan below shows the plan and the actual as recorded. As you can see there were a few periods where I missed some of the runs, mainly due to work commitments, however, I always made sure I completed almost all my long runs each week as I felt they were the most important. In October I was running faster and more distance than my plan suggested on my general/recovery and interval runs which I think was one of the things that aided the onset of the plantar fasciitis by overtraining slightly instead of sticking to the plan.

Date
Distance (km)
Type
Target Time
(hrs:min:secs)
Actual Distance (km)
Actual time
(hrs:min:secs)
Tue 16th Aug
5
General/Recovery
31:15
6.01
36:58
Thur 18th Aug
3
Interval
18:45
3.42
21:46
Sun 21st Aug
7
Long
47:15
7.02
45:47
Tue 23rd Aug
5
General/Recovery
31:15
5.00
29:42
Thur 25th Aug
6
Interval
34:30
6.84
42:19
Sun 28th Aug
9
Long
01:00:45
9.00
58:42
Tue 30th Aug
5
General/Recovery
31:15
5.03
29:32
Thur 1st Sept
6
Interval
34:30


Sun 4th Sept
7
Long
47:15
7.12
44:58
Tue 6th Sept
5
General/Recovery
31:15


Thur 8th Sept
6
Interval
34:30
6.01
35:57
Sun 11th Sept
9
Long
01:00:45
9.41
01:06:12
Tue 13th Sept
5
General/Recovery
31:15
5.01
30:38
Thur 15th Sept
6
Interval
34:30
6.02
34:04
Sun 18th Sept
8
Long
54:00
8.67
01:03:06
Tue 20th Sept
5
General/Recovery
31:15
1.04
08:58
Thur 22nd Sept
6
Interval
34:30
6:24
38:21
Sun 25th Sept
10
Long
01:07:30
10.68
01:13:06
Tue 27th Sept
5
General/Recovery
31:15
5.12
31:14
Thur 29th Sept
6
Interval
34:30
6.02
35:54
Sun 2nd Oct
12
Long
01:21:00
12.17
01:30:36
Tue 4th Oct
5
General/Recovery
31:15


Thur 6th Oct
6
Interval
34:30
6.00
38:30
Sun 9th Oct
13
Long
01:27:45
13.02
01:22:54
Tue 11th Oct
5
General/Recovery
31:15


Thur 13th Oct
6
Interval
34:30
6.86
43:01
Sun 16th Oct
10
Long
01:07:30
14.11
01:26:50
Tue 18th Oct
5
General/Recovery
31:15
5.32
31:46
Thur 20th Oct
6
Interval
34:30
6.77
41:52
Sun 23rd Oct
15
Long
01:41:15
15.02
01:32:13
Tue 25th Oct
5
General/Recovery
31:15
8.02
46:10
Thur 27th Oct
6
Interval
34:30
7.51
43:11
Sun 30th Oct
17
Long
01:54:45
17.01
01:43:17
Tue 1st Nov
5
General/Recovery
31:15
7.00
47:30
Thur 3rd Nov
6
Interval
34:30
7.49
45:19
Sun 6th Nov
19
Long
02:08:15
19.02
01:51:42
Tue 8th  Nov
5
General/Recovery
31:15


Thur 10th Nov
6
Interval
34:30


Sun 13th Nov
12
Long
01:21:00


Tue 15th Nov
5
General/Recovery
31:15


Thur 17th Nov
5
Interval
28:45
5.00
27:50
Sun 20th Nov
10
Long
01:07:30
10.03
59:09
Tue 22nd Nov
5
General/Recovery
31:15


Thur 24th Nov
3
Interval
18:45


Sun 27th Nov
21
PAPHOS HALF MARATHON
02:10:00
21.01
02:18:38

Paphos Half Marathon 2016


Plan Part 3 - Half Marathon to Marathon – 13 weeks / 18 weeks

Having rather foolishly registered for two marathons in the space of five weeks, it meant the training plan had to get me to the point where I was ready for the first marathon but aiming to run the best time at the second. As such the Limassol marathon on March 19th became more of a test run for the main event: London on April 23rd

A quick aside here – when planning to run a marathon for the first time do not register for another within 2/3 months after the first. The recovery time is nowhere near long enough and trying to arrive in good shape for both was tough. Obvious to most people I guess but much easier in hindsight!

Due to the ongoing plantar fasciitis issues I had to take a proper break from the training routine to allow my foot to heal so I stopped doing anything at all for four weeks after the half marathon. That took me through to Christmas and I started my training again in earnest preparation for the marathon on December 20th working on an exercise bike so there was no impact for a couple of weeks before getting back to the runs on January 6th leaving me around a 10 week training period to the Limassol marathon and 15 weeks to London.

At the same time of the discovery of the plantar fasciitis I was also made aware of my right patella (knee) being around 6/7 degrees out of line. This issue caused me some lingering knee pain for a day or two on almost all runs above 20k and meant I had to ease off during the week - often having to move my training schedule to a two session a week plan with a long run on the weekend and a shorter run mid-week. Keeping the long runs in place was the most important for me as that directly translated to what I would need to do for the marathons.

The Limassol marathon was a difficult experience. I and my running partner stayed together for both the marathon races but he struggled badly in Limassol, leaving us to walk / run most of the last 20km of the race and thus bringing us across the line in 5hrs 54 minutes. It also meant I didn’t get a chance to properly test my fueling and hydration strategy ahead of London. He wasn’t prepared physically or mentally for the race (having not really carb loaded ahead of the run) and his last 6/7 weeks before Limassol he had struggled to get his longer runs in due to a health issue. However, having completed the distance ahead of London it once again meant that his Limassol experience benefited him hugely ahead of London as he knew what had gone wrong and mentally knew what the distance was like now. Again I can’t overstate how important it is to have that race day experience before your target race. Even if the distance is different.

Doing the Limassol marathon only 5 weeks before London was a truly awful idea as it meant the five weeks between I was really limited to only one or two runs a week as I needed the recovery time and a couple of times couldn’t get the distance I would have preferred due to some lingering knee pain from the 42km slog around the Cypriot sea front.

Date
Distance (km)
Type
Target Time
(hrs:min:secs)
Actual Distance (km)
Actual time
(hrs:min:secs)
Tue 20th Dec
20
Bike
01:00:00
24.65
01:00:00
Thur 22nd Dec
30
Bike
01:30:00
31.54
01:30:00
Sun 25th Dec

No planned workout



Tue 27th Dec
20
Bike
01:00:00
23.91
01:00:00
Thur 29th Dec
30
Bike
01:30:00
32.22
01:30:00
Sun 1st Jan

No planned workout



Tue 3rd Jan
30
Bike
01:30:00
31.42
01:30:00
Thur 5th Jan
5
General/Recovery
31:15
5.14
33:21
Sun 8th Jan
15
Long
01:41:15
15.05
01:41:09
Tue 10th Jan
5
General/Recovery
31:15
5.21
32:97
Thur 12th Jan
8
Interval
46:00
8.11
55:57
Sun 15th Jan
20
Long
02:15:00
20.16
02:31:59
Tue 17th Jan
5
General/Recovery
31:15
5.06
31:58
Thur 19th Jan
8
Interval
46:00
8.03
51:42
Sun 22nd Jan
20
Long
02:15:00
20.23
02:23:07
Tue 24th Jan
5
General/Recovery
31:15


Thur 26th Jan
5
Interval
28:45
5.09
30:45
Sun 29th Jan
10
Long
01:07:30
10.19
01:07:01
Tue 31st Jan
5
General/Recovery
31:15


Thur 2nd Feb
10
Interval
57:30
10.07
01:04:42
Sun 5th Feb
22
Long
02:28:30
22.05
02:44:43
Tue 7th Feb
5
General/Recovery
31:15


Thur 9th Feb
8
Interval
46:00
22.8 *BIKE
01:01:55 *BIKE
Sun 12th Feb
22
Long
02:28:30
22.42
02:39:00
Tue 14th Feb
5
General/Recovery
31:15
5.00
31:54
Thur 16th Feb
8
Interval
46:00


Sun 19th Feb
25
Long
02:48:45
25.04
02:58:18
Tue 21st Feb
5
General/Recovery
31:15


Thur 23rd Feb
8
Interval
46:00
8.18
53:62
Sun 26th Feb
28
Long
03:09:00
28.09
03:14:14
Tue 28th Feb
5
General/Recovery
31:15


Thur 2nd Mar
7.5
Interval
43:08
7.51
46:51
Sun 5th Mar
32
Long
03:36:00
32.06
03:46:34
Tue 7th Mar
5
General/Recovery
31:15


Thur 9th Mar
5
Interval
28:45
5.08
30:57
Sun 12th Mar
10
Long
01:07:30
10.71
01:08:58
Tue 14th Mar
4
General/Recovery
25:00
4.06
25:30
Thur 16th Mar
3
Interval
17:15
3:56
23:46
Sun 19th Mar
42
LIMASSOL MARATHON
05:30:00
42.89
05:54:19
Tue 21st Mar
3
General/Recovery
18:45


Thur 23rd Mar
3
Interval
17:15


Sun 26th Mar
10
Long
01:07:30
10.04
01:07:18
Tue 28th Mar
5
General/Recovery
31:15


Thur 30th Mar
5
Interval
28:45


Sun 2nd Apr
20
Long
02:15:00
14.24
01:44:09
Tue 4th Apr
5
General/Recovery
31:15


Thur 6th Apr
5
Interval
28:45


Sun 9th Apr
12
Long
01:21:00
10.55
01:09:21
Tue 11th Apr
5
General/Recovery
31:15


Thur 13th Apr
5
Interval
28:45
9.08
55:37
Sun 16th Apr
7.5
Long
50:37


Tue 18th Apr
4
General/Recovery
25:00
5.10
31:60
Thur 20th Apr
3
Interval
17:15


Sun 23rd Apr
42
LONDON
MARATHON
05:00:00
43.19
04:56:05

Limassol Marathon 2017


Summary

I and my running partner completed the London marathon in 4hrs 56 minutes, just under our five hour target (after running a whole kilometer extra – not following the perfect blue line marking the most efficient route can be costly!). It was a huge accomplishment. On race day I hit the wall around 19 miles in (approx. 30km) which made the last 12km quite a slog but all the training paid off and together we kept each other going to drag our tired bodies over the finish line and raise over £12,000 for Breathing matters and Treloars Disabled School and College.

The plan above is exactly what I did to achieve that goal, down to the second! A few key things I learnt along the way:

-        -  If you feel an injury coming on, reduce your training and seek medical opinion early. It will probably save you a longer lay off in the future.

-         - Have a practice race so you can understand the feeling on race day of being lined up at the start with the adrenaline flowing. Even if it’s for a shorter distance than planned – you will go out too fast in your first race!

-         - For first time marathon runners don’t try and train for two of them if they are less than 2/3 months apart!

-        -  The body adapts amazingly quickly. When I first started even 10k seemed impossible and now I can happily go out and run 20/25k and think nothing of it.

-        -  Stick to your plan but understand things get in the way. Stay flexible and keep a good balance with life / training. It’s ok to miss a training session or adapt your original plan if life / injuries get in the way (and they will!).

-        -  Get advice on shoes. I don’t have the luxury of a specialist running shoe retailer in my area but there is lots of good advice even at a basic level in most sports stores. I first bought a pair of Nike's for €65 euro that i had to change after only 3 or 4 weeks as they were not right for me (they looked awesome though!). Proper running shoes that are a comfortable fit are money well spent!

-        -  Join a running group or find a partner. Running can be fun when you have someone else to run with occasionally – you will also get some good advice from them.

-        -  The long run is the most important when training for a marathon. Don’t miss them!

Overall it has been an interesting year and I have learnt a lot about myself. I think I’m stronger mentally now than ever before. The marathons (London especially) were a brilliant experience, however, I think now my long running days are behind me - although every day I recover further from the marathon the crazier my ideas become – I found myself mulling over a 50km race in the mountains in November, however, for my next challenge I just registered to do an Olympic triathlon in March next year instead – at least the cycling and swimming should be easier on my joints! Now where did I put my speedos and goggles . . . . . . . . .

Hope you find something useful out of all this or if nothing else it was an interesting read for you. Good luck in your endeavours - whatever they may be!

Feel free to comment below, Andrew.

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