Before I had children, I ran an enormous amount. I’d regularly clock up 100km running weeks, on top of a couple of spin sessions and typically at least one Strength & Conditioning session a week. In my peak weeks, I’d periodically break 100 miles.
These days, Geoff and I run our own business and have two wonderful children. Time is far scarcer than it used to be! Outside of work, time used to be our own. Now, there is no real work/life boundary anymore and our two children, Alex (5) and Ben (2), require some serious energy! So, the way I train for marathons has changed dramatically to adapt to the reality of our lives today.
In training for London this year, my running frequency has probably been the lowest it ever has been. Some weeks, I’d only get my Sunday long run done. However, the key thing is that I was making up for the lack of run volume with cross-training in Digme classes.
This year, I built up a pretty solid routine in the week of Digme Ride and Matrix classes, with the one running constant being my long run on the weekend. I’d usually (though not always) get in one to two other shorter runs during the week – often around Richmond Park with Ben in our running pram, singing songs with him and with a compulsory stop to feed the ducks!
I found this really effective. Three weeks out from London Marathon, I nailed my last long run with a few race pace sections built in. I’m certain I’ve never run as little as I did for this marathon, but I felt really good after this key session, so I was doing something right!
Fitness is fitness, at the end of the day. Yes, there is sport-specific fitness. However, what matters is consistency over a long period of time when it comes to building up a cardio-vascular base. Once you have the engine, it is a matter of adapting it to the task at hand.
The great thing I’ve found with doing so many Digme classes is that I’ve maintained a really good base level of cardio that is very transferrable to running. This means that when it comes to building for a long race like a marathon, I just don’t need to do vast mileage.
Of course, there is no short cut when it comes to doing the long runs. And, if aiming for a time is your thing, you still need to get in your speed sessions.
However, so many runners get niggles and injuries as they build up the mileage for their races. It’s understandable – running is a high impact sport and if you’re not from a running background this can quickly lead to niggles that prevent you from hitting the key training milestones.
The great thing about cross-training with Ride and Matrix classes is that they are lower impact but still absolutely terrific training sessions. As such, they don’t tend to lead to over-use injuries that are so common when people just ramp up running frequency and volume.
Having said all this, it is a bit ironic that I did pick up an injury – but it originated in a week that I ran every day! Three weeks out from the marathon, I broke my routine as we travelled to Ireland for Easter. I have no Digme in Ireland (yet!), so Geoff and I ran every day while we were there. By the end of the trip, I had a really sore psoas bursa (a fat pad near your hip) and a week later I needed an injection to reduce the swelling.
As a result, I ran almost no mileage for the last 2.5 weeks before the marathon – I managed two short runs and very little else. I was a little unsure how I was going to hold up on the day itself.
Having run quite a few marathons over the years, I knew roughly what kind of shape I was in on the basis of my training runs. However, the late injury complicated that calculation a little bit! My plan was to set off at the pace I thought I could hold had I not had the injury and just see how the race panned out.
My eldest son Alex had made me a good luck picture to carry with me for the race – a beautiful butterfly as he wanted me to “fly” in the race – and I had that folded in my pocket as a positive anchor. I also knew where to expect Geoff and the boys at a couple of cheer points around the race. And I knew they were going to be meeting up with the Digme crew near Blackfriars Bridge so there would be some good noise in the crowd there!
The atmosphere at the marathon start is always amazing. There’s nothing like the feeling of 42,000 people embarking on a huge challenge together – the fear of the first-timers, the passion of the charity runners, the ambition of the elites. I love the energy, the nerves, the banter, the mad fancy dress outfits and the crowds. London truly is a special marathon.
Seeing Geoff and the boys at 11 miles put a bit of wind in my wings – I bounced over to them for hugs and high fives and flew down the road with happy tears flowing down my cheeks. And it was amazing seeing loads of friendly faces out in the crowds including lots of Diggers! I managed to hold my target 3:15 marathon pace until about mile 16 when the lack of exercise in the last few weeks started to take a toll. Leg cramps kicked in at about mile 20 but I pushed through, counting down to mile 24 when I would see Geoff and the boys and the Digme crew. They didn’t let me down – the smiles were warm, the cheers loud, the Digme flags waving furiously. This carried me through to the finish.
I came over the line in 3:21 which, all things considered, I am really happy with. I know I’ve got it in me to go under 3:15 again and I’m really motivated to give it another crack soon but that was the best I had in me on the day and I’m proud of it.
A big ‘Mahalo’ to everyone who helped get me to the start! All of the amazing instructors that I attended classes with need a big thank-you. Special thanks must go to Dan, our Head of Fitness - along with my long run on the weekend, his Saturday and Tuesday morning sessions in Richmond were the mainstay of my training!
Training for these long events is actually a team sport. Thank you to Geoff, Alex and Ben for helping me fit in the training and for the warm and loving cheers on the day.