Sunday 20 October, the Abingdon Marathon – my first ‘mini’ marathon. Mini as in my first marathon wearing minimalist shoes. What’s more, not the shoes I’d done the majority of my training in. I’ll admit now to being a bit apprehensive a few weeks out from the start line. A busy work schedule interrupted by one of those terrible hinderances in a training schedule – a holiday – doesn’t help matters! But very few people are lucky enough to be able to prioritise marathon training above everything else. These challenges are part of the process. The process of how best to run a marathon.
“A whole 400m track ahead with a big digital clock at the end – absolute heaven! About a 100m and I can’t resist that final little push and there it is – the finish line.”
My training is a combination of the Chi Marathon programme, RunnersWorld SmartCoach and a few of my own ideas thrown into the mix. I work on good old fashioned effort level, maintaining a constant cadence and pace, and aim to finish feeling strong with little or no recovery necessary – I of course plan a post-marathon two-week recovery period into my schedule. I find these process-oriented goals fundamental to a balanced training programme. I deliberately don’t focus on a time. If the process works and you follow the principle of gradual progress – working on technique and then building distance, the conditions for speed are in place. The key is keeping strong, balanced, your body aligned and relaxed. This creates energy efficiency and I work on being as efficient as possible – get the most out of putting the least in. Equate running a marathon to a long drive up the motorway. Think of how to get the most miles per gallon – steady cruising. I ‘cruised’ my long runs at an effort level (rate of perceived exertion) between 11-12 (on a scale of 6-20) – a good steady aerobic pace.
Energy-efficiency is not just important during the run. I make a conscious effort to keep calm and controlled throughout training. Plenty of rest when not training. Accepting that things don’t always go to plan and being able to adapt with the least amount of stress or effort. I travel to Abingdon the night before with a friend who is also running. We stay at a lovely restaurant/hotel and enjoy a delicious meal of chicken pasta and ice cream – no carb loading for me. My diet throughout training consists of basic non-processed foods – natural fats (butter, full-fat milk and yoghurt, coconut oil, red and white meat, fish), lots of fruit and veg and few carbs such as bread and pasta. Since low intensity exercise predominately burns fat as the main source of energy, getting my body efficient at metabolising fat when glycogen levels become depleted should help avoid hitting the dreaded wall.
A good night’s sleep follows dinner but not before flooding the bathroom by putting bubble bath in the jacuzzi. I wake afresh at 5:30 to the sound of torrential rain! – Don’t panic as this will raise stress levels but in the back of my mind is last week’s run in the pouring rain. My feet were soggy and cold within minutes as my Vibram Speeds seemed to soak up water like a sponge. Not to worry, I have my Luna Sandals strapped to my CamelBak for emergency use.
For breakfast I have a smoothie of oats, greek yogurt, milk, coconut oil, frozen winter berries and agave nectar. I hydrate with CherryActive, a concentrated cherry juice diluted with water. After breakfast we set off for the start about 8 miles away. But the satnav takes us to the middle of a country lane – don’t panic, think energy-efficiency! Surely everywhere will be signposted clearly when we get into the town? – not! We eventually find the car park at 8:20am with the race starting at 9. This in fact turns out to be a bit of a blessing as there is a brief break in the downpour so we save ourselves from getting soaked before the start. The problem comes when I step out of the car as the ‘sponges’ on my feet immediately soak up a few puddlefuls of water. Do I want to run the marathon with soggy feet or in sandals? Another option – Vivobarefoot Ones, but I’ve only road-tested them to 10 miles. They’ll be warmer than the sandals – I decide on the Vivos.
We arrive at the start in the athletics stadium and are immediately surrounded by lots of limbering up club runners. It’s a small field so popular with clubbers looking for PBs. Since we had a good walk from the car park I do a few dynamic stretches and essential joint mobilisation not to waste too much energy. And we’re off – one lap of the track and then out into the unknown. I’ve not studied the course so that I could relax and enjoy rather then think about what is coming up. However just ahead of the mile 7 marker is the mile 17 one so I know I’m heading back this way at some point! I eat Jelly Babies and sip regularly on water mixed with Viridian Sports Electrolyte Fix. At mile 8 I check my Garmin. I’m slightly ahead of my London Marathon 2010 pace and heart rate is good.
At mile 15 it’s raining heavily. All is looking good but I remember from the first lap that we are heading for Windy Ridge again, a house at the top of a steady incline. I love these ‘flat’ courses that have ‘steady inclines’. It feels like climbing a mountain with the wind and rain lashing in your face but I keep focused on low intensity – keep metabolising that fat as by now I’m sick of Jelly Babies!
I feel confident at mile 20. I’m encouraged by a number of marshals, and a couple of runners I pass, who comment on my form saying how strong I look – any bit of encouragement at this point is a great help. Lap two now around the industrial estate and some runners ahead are walking. Keep going, keep the cadence high I tell myself. Those that are slowing pace are also dropping cadence, becoming heavy and plodding. Remember what I teach day-in day-out – our body loves rhythm and a constant quick cadence equals energy-efficient running. I’m experiencing this first hand. I think how difficult it would be now if I lost rhythm. I know I would struggle.
Mile 24 and we’re back in the town centre. I’m dodging Sunday shoppers and trying to spot the next marshall. I’m confident but I know anything can easily go wrong at this point. As i turn a corner people are heading towards me with medals – the runners that have finished. I can’t decide if this is encouraging or not but I get a boost as one guy shouts “looking good for a sub-4”. We turn left into the stadium, not far now – wrong! We’re taken on a meandering path though the park. Four guys ahead are looking close to collapse. At last onto the track. There’s just two of us now (the others didn’t collapse), a whole 400m track ahead with a big digital clock at the end – absolute heaven! About a 100m and I can’t resist that final little push and there it is – the finish line.
My friend ran a great time and I meet her at the end. We head up the stadium steps (not a good idea for the glutes at this stage) for tea and biscuits. Then back the to car – a good recovery walk pumping blood back from the calfs to the heart – Iron Woman Helen Hall gave me that great tip. Then a two hour drive back to London in torrential rain – almost another marathon in itself. Recovery food was a massive Sunday dinner of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding followed by sticky toffee pudding and custard.
The following day I was absolutely fine. I had no muscle soreness, aches or pains. My legs felt fresher than they often do after a long Sunday run. I was back training clients at 4pm and with my Beginners Chi Running Club at 7pm.
I’d achieved my goals: I ran my first minimalist shoe marathon; felt strong throughout; followed a sensible, basic diet without the need for any over over-hyped sports supplements; was 5 minutes quciker than my 2010 London Marathon time at 03:54:24 and, ultimately, needed little or no recovery. Bring on the 2014 ultra!
Gray Caws is a certified Chi Running and Chi Walking Instructor and Personal Trainer with a REPs Level 4 Certificate in Specialist Exercise. Fore more information visit www.N8pt.com