Project Sub 3 – Part 1

In my previous post I gave the background on my running up to Autumn 2018. After Newport I made the decision to have one last go at going sub 3 hours for the marathon. At 53 I knew I still had a few years when I could try and do it, but I really wanted to focus on Ultras. I wanted to put everything into the task knowing I’d done my best. If I failed it wouldn’t be because I hadn’t tried my best.

I’d used the same training plan a couple of times. I knew that a plan really helped but that this one wasn’t enough. I needed another plan but rather than just randomly pick one I decided I’d rather go the full hog and employ the services of a coach. Chippenham Harriers is very luck to have Michelle Maxwell as a head coach. She, with her husband Chris, run Maxwell Coaching. One of my weaknesses I’d identified was a lack of race speed so I decided to do some shorter off-road races through the winter. It was at the first of these, the Brinkworth Bash, that I nervously approached (see my previous post where I mentioned my social awkwardness!) Michelle and asked her about coaching. I followed this up with a call and email conversation and we arranged to meet up to discuss. In the meantime I did my usual over the top think by putting together a 4 page running CV (CVs should never be more than 2 pages!).

Early November I very nervously turned up to Michelle and Chris’s place CV in hand. Michelle went through what they do and I told her about my short term goals:-

1 ) Sub 3 hour marathon in 7 months time

2) Jurassic Coast 100 mile 7 weeks later

I think it was the JC100 that was the biggest shock. It’s a hard ultra (it’s a UTMB 6 pointer) and just 7 weeks after a tough (and very different) block of training made it a big challenge. Michelle’s first question was “How far ahead of JC100 can you pull out and defer your entry?”

One important aspect of how Maxwell Coaching works is the use of TrainingPeaks as a means for tracking and planning. I’ve been using SportTracks since 2008 and my training log includes every activity I’ve done since then. Knowing Maxwell Coaching used TrainingPeaks I imported all of my data from SportTracks.

Michelle agreed to take me on and an assessment session was booked for her to look at my running style and work out my overall physical condition.

The assessment was both a scary and an exciting thing. I’d been running for a few years and had soaked up a great load of info,so I knew loads but often didn’t understand how it related to me or how to pull it all together. To have someone who really knew what they were doing take a look at how I worked and what state I was in was quite daunting but I really didn’t need to be worried. The assessment started with me running backwards and forwards at various speeds with Michelle watching and videoing. I also did a few drills. These were something I knew about but had no experience of, these were something for runners who knew what they were doing! What this showed was that my legs crossed over and my hips were not stable. I also needed to work on my arm movement looking to bring my elbows back. Other pointers included holding my head up as if there was a balloon lifting it up. I don’t think I came out of this as bad as I thought I would.

The next part of the assessment was the conditioning side. I knew this was one of my weaknesses as I’ve always been hit and miss with strength and conditioning (S&C) work. Michelle put me through a range of exercises to check my general S&C as well as mobility. What I did demonstrate was my woeful coordination.

Michelle had provided with an initial physical prep plan ahead of the assessment. After the assessment this was updated to focus on the aspects I needed to work on. After the summer of 2018 I’d had an ankle issue so the plan included a big focus on ankle and foot conditioning.

Also after the assessment my TrainingPeaks started to be populated with my training plan. This was in two parts.

1)The overall plan for the next few months, the Annual Training Plan. This is the outline showing the training blocks

2) The Calendar – the day to training tasks.

Michelle gives a week or so ahead as well as a few key future training sessions. I initially struggled with this as I was only used to roughly knowing what I was going to be doing and what I did was much more basic. It took a few weeks to get going as I’d often misread or not properly understand what I was supposed to do. I had to get into the habit of properly reading through the plan to enable me to schedule things in but once I got the hang of things I loved it.

Running – the start of the story

I started running again 2007 (more about my background elsewhere on this site). For a good few years this was just social and it wasn’t until September 2013 that I did my first race doing Chippenham Half Marathon. I’d worked steadily but without any structure but I did have a good view of what I could do. I went in with a A, B and C Plan:

Plan A – optimistic 1:30:30

Plan B – realist 1:32:30

Plan C – pessimistic 1:35:00

In the event I was bang on with Plan B with a chip time of 1:32:30. I really enjoyed it but at that point I still had a relaxed view to my running, it was very much still just a means of keeping fit. The next year I planned to push it a bit more and entered my first marathon. This was Bournemouth in October. Based on what I read about marathon times being 2 x Half time plus 10 minutes I really thought 3:12 was possible so that was my target.

I did Chippenham Half Marathon again in September which I got round in 1:32:52. A little slower than the previous year but I put this down to the focus more on miles. When it came to the This was marathon and I got round in 3hrs 40mins 21secs. This was a tough introduction to marathons and a great dose of reality. I hit half way in 1:39: 06 which I thought at the time was well paced. It was all OK until I hit about 18 miles. Then I hit what everyone knows as the wall but actually in this case it was the big hill from the seafront up into Bournemouth town. My knee hurt and cramp kicked in. Going up the hill a much older lady came passed me. I looked her up after in the results and she was 63 and put 14 minutes into me in the last 6 and a bit miles. I also looked at her results and she’d gone much faster. Importantly she’d run North Dorset Village Marathon which put this race on my radar (more about this elsewhere). That passing by an older person became one of my early inspirations. It’s quite easy when you’re getting on a bit to use that as an excuse. I decided to use it as a challenge and to embrace it. I was 48 and I knew I could do a lot more. How much more? That’s my on going experiment and this site is about documenting and sharing in this experiment. Sub 3 was not my challenge at this point, I still had 3:12 as my target.

It took me 3 years to finally beat that target in 2017 but it was 2016 that made the initial big jump forward in my running.

2016 was a big year! I was 50 which at the time felt like something to celebrate. 2015 had gone alright and the running bug had firmly bit. I decided in 2016 to do a few different events to celebrate my big birthday and chose to do it for charity. The choice of charity was made simply by being asked if I wanted to do Bath Half for the Cystic Fibrosis Comfort Fund, a small Bristol based charity, independent of the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, which aims to help those who suffer from Cystic Fibrosis in their daily lives and enhance their quality of life. I got round Bath in 1:31:16 for a modest PB. After Bath my next race was North Dorset Village Marathon in 3:23:40 for a 15 min PB. This was my 4th marathon and the first where I thought I’d sort of got to grips with the pacing. It was also the race at which I met John Howard for the first time, a character who pops up very often in my running journey. My next marathon was in June with Yeovil Marathon which I got round in 3:19:47. This was a significant race for me. Early on I was running with the legendary Marathon Man Steve Edwards who at this point had run over 800 marathons in a average time of sub 3:20. I made the mistake of dropping him and as camp kicked in at 22 miles he came passed me. He cheered me on and realising I was struggling he explained I needed to shorten my stride to counter the cramp. This made the difference allowing me to beat 3:20 which I didn’t realise until then qualified me for the London Marathon with a Good For Age time. I only had a week after Yeovil to enter so I did it!

A month after Yeovil the next big running thing happened…. my first Ultra! I can’t remember what it was that pushed me in the direction of Ultras. In cycling I always had a preference for the longer stuff so I think that was part of it. Also, when trying to get sponsorship money out of people doing marathons was a bit “old hat” so I needed to do something a bit different. The race was Race to the Stones 100k which I got round in 12hrs 8 mins for 67th Overall and 4th M50. It was also my first negative split! (i.e. I did the second half faster than the first). I was totally broken after which worried my family. I could not eat and every time I stood up I felt faint. But I knew I had to do it again!

Autumn came and I repeated my two autumn marathons of 2015 with Bournemouth (3:19:17) and Abingdon 3:14:54. I was really pleased with these as they showed big improvement and also confirmed my improved confidence in race pacing, but I still hadn’t beaten 3:12!

I’d really enjoyed my running in 2016 so my plan for 2017 was to try and repeat it but improve. I made two big changes:

  1. I followed a training plan for the first time. I got this online from here.
  2. I joined Chippenham Harriers, a proper running club.

Joining a club was a big thing for me. I’m not a particularly social person (in fact my kids would say I’m very much “socially awkward”). I used to find this a part of my personality I really struggled with but with age (and running!) I’ve come to accept it. I didn’t throw myself into club life, I still haven’t, but I’ve slowly got into it and I’d thoroughly recommend others to at least give a club a chance. The reality is that many obsessive endurance athletes have the same personality traits as myself so you’ll actually find there are many like minded odd fellas out there in clubs.

Following a training plan made a big difference. The plan I chose was a simple one and in hindsight wasn’t the right one for me but it did prove to me the benefits of a plan.

For 2017 I planned to duplicate the structure of my 2016 season with spring marathons, summer ultras and autumn marathons as I felt that worked OK. Spring was harder with 3 marathons in 4 weeks. Manchester was first up. My training had focused on Sub 3 marathon pace. I knew before the race that I could not do that but stupidly for the first few miles I thought I could… a lesson learnt, you can’t suddenly get better on the day, if you know your limits be vary wary of exceeding them! I hit half way in 1:32:31. I faded from 15 miles but did not properly blow finishing in 3:11:57. Finally I’d beaten my original marathon target. Two weeks later I did London Marathon in 3:15:00. I was disappointed and really didn’t enjoy London as marathon but I did enjoy it as an event and a weekend away with Dawn. Just a week later was another crack at North Dorset Village Marathon. I enjoyed this much more clocking 3:14:48, a week after London on a hillier course, I love NDVM and didn’t like London, I’m a bumpkin!

A couple of weeks later was my 2nd go at an ultra in with the Dragon Seeker 60k. I got 4th overall having got lost, adding 1.5 miles and finishing just 12 mins behind the winner. For the first time I was starting to think I could be competitive.

Next up was my second crack at the Race to the Stones 100k. I improved a little on the previous year in terms of time with 11:26 and 80th Overall with 3rd M50. At the time I thought I’d managed the 3 marathons in 4 weeks well but in hindsight I realised I’d over done it and my Autumn marathons were further evidence of this as I struggled. Bournemouth Marathon 3:18:49 and Abingdon Marathon 3:17:36. I was supposed to race another marathon but pulled out knowing I needed to recover.

The plan for 2018 was to build on the lessons of 2017. I planned on 2 spring marathons with Newport as the target followed by NDVM as a bit of fun. Then 4 summer ultras: All three Threshold Series Races plus the Cotwsold 24 hour race.

I followed the same marathon training plan as 2017, again very much focused on sub 3 pace. 3 weeks out from Newport I tweaked my hamstring for the first time. It was a very minor tweak and I should just have rested for a few days but I kept pushing it and hurting it. It calmed down before race day so I was able to race. I knew sub 3 wasn’t on was targeting 3:05. I hit half way comfortably in 1:31:53. I started to fade a little at 20 miles but at 21/22 my hamstring started to twinge so I had to ease off. In the circumstances I was reasonably satisfied with a final time of 3:07:36. Newport was a great marathon with a fast flat course. It was at this point I made the decision to have one last crack at sub 3 in 2019. I needed to “scratch the itch” and move on to what I really wanted to focus on which was Ultras. Fast marathons take a lot of effort, the training complements ultras to a point but I found mixing the two hard.
A week after Newport and 20°C warmer I got through North Dorset Village Marathon in 3:15:26, I only did it as I love NDVM but it was disappointing to be slower than the previous year. Time for the ultras….

This was the hottest summer for years and all 4 ultras were on hot days.

Race to the Tower 53miles 12th Overall 9:50, 2nd M50, 10th male – a massive shock to be in the top 10 men. Headed out slow finished very strong.

Race to the King 54miles 18th overall 9:23, 4th M50 – last 20 miles were fast as the terrain was very runnable, this proved a challenge. Post race my lower legs and ankles really swelled up and walking was hard till the next weekend. I’m usually OK by Wedensday,

Race to the Stones 100K 20th Overall 11:10 20th Overall, 1st M50 – I was dissappointed with the time but top 20 from 1,200+ field was OK. FIrst M50 was good but I didn’t realise I was till months later!

I picked up a posterior tibial tendon niggle in my left foot running too far a week after RTTS. This hadn’t cleared by the next race but I did it anyway…

Cotswold 24 Hour 8th Overall 18 x 9K laps in 23:25 (just under 100miles ☹, I thought I’d made 100!). Faded big style in the last few hours but it was a great experience.
I rested well after this. It wasn’t the end of my 2018 racing but that’s another story….