The only sporting goal I set myself this year.
Go under 3 hours in the London Marathon.
I have only run one marathon before and that was as part of Ironman UK - a day so full of emotion and joy that the pain of those last miles has been mooted.
For those of you who just want to skip to the ‘how i did it part’ take a peak at my Strava profile - although this allows no reading between the lines.
Just over one year since giving birth; my priorities, my perspectives and my expectations have gone through a progressive shift as described in my previous blog.
I knew when I fell pregnant that I would never return to racing as a professional athlete. I knew the toll it takes on the body and mind and increasingly i was yearning to return to medical practice and learn more about a functional medicine approach to health and healing.
In pregnancy - not ‘training’ felt natural for me. Replete with pregnancy hormones designed to relax and nourish the body, I exercised daily but didn’t push myself and rested as much as I could. I had another soul to think about.
Often training becomes an aim within itself - and we do not feel ‘normal’ without our daily fix.
Some go even further and exercise/training becomes a form of self-harm - of distraction - of cross-addiction - preventing us dealing with whatever we would have to deal with if constrained in four white walls with no way out.
Post partum - its just your head and your body again.. and hormones levels drop off precipitously and that desire to move, to run, to get a glimpse of your previous fitness, comes rushing back. Despite facing chronic sleep deprivation, warped food cravings, emotional shifts and the fact you now have a whole small human to love and care for.
To start with i did as much as i could within the confines of the above. Think about how you feel after acing a race - matching or exceeding your expectations - you are already entering your next race the same night - and eager to get going with training again - often foregoing the fact you need to reflect and absorb the race you just aced.
But then real life kicks in. I went through a round of career interviews just 2 weeks after Sophia was born whilst she was still in the ITU - as I was due to return to the NHS to finish my training to consultancy. I started working as a locum when she was 8 weeks old (2-3 days a week) and all the time working on my business baby www.curoseven.com in the background. I will forever be grateful to my mum who travelled from Devon to London most weeks and stayed overnight so i could rest. Sophia woke every few hours in the night until she was 10months old. I feel like i aged alot in this time!
Running is simple. Put appropriate - or sometimes not so appropriate - clothing on and get out the door. One foot in front of the other.
I entered a half marathon 5 months post partum and used it as a goal to get myself running regularly. I ignored advice to wait for the 6 week checkup from your doctor. Pelvic floor exercises and core stability were essential but I started running easy at 2 weeks post partum. My legs felt like they do in the last 10k of a marathon from the outset. But slowly it improves. And the power of running to change your mood, emotional energy and clarity of thought is immense. Studies now show that it triggers neurogenesis - the growth of new brain cells (through BDNF production)- some stick around (esp. if you nourish them with healthy fats and anti-oxidant rich foods - some don't - esp. if you don’t sleep and drink wine like its 1999)
I had no training plan.
I just ran and listened to my body - sometimes a plod. Sometimes i hit a 6 min/mile.
I averaged around 40k a week over a 6 month period.
First 1/2 mara in Richmond I ran 1.23 which is pretty much the same time as I had ran a half marathon prior to pregnancy when I was training a huge amount more - but in three disciplines.
2 months later I ran Bournemouth 1/2 marathon in 1.22 and somehow managed to win the race.
The next small challenge was the Endurance Life Coastal run - 16 miles of crazy terrain along the Dorset coast line. Anyone who has completed these races will know just how brutal they can be - not just in their geometry/elevation but how commonly one faces strong opposition from howling winds and rain. It took around 2hr 20 to cover that distance but I managed to win by a fair margin - although at the time - it felt more about survival in the face of gail force winds… which i often feel are a metaphor for life. You just keep on pushing and eventually you get there.
I finished strong on this day and it gave me hope that my years of endurance training were still buried in my physiology - despite not actually doing much in the way of long sessions at all at the current time.
After this Dorset trial race there was a bit of a hiatus until next towed the line approximately 4 months later at The Bath Half Marathon. I caught yet another nursery bug in the lead into this race and was without voice and snuffly on the start line.. but it was a chance to catch up with two of my favourite people and athletes Claire and Dunc Shea Simmonds - a good incentive.
Stunning race - wonderful support and even Chrissie Wellington showed up in her first 1/2 mara post baby (3 months?). I felt pretty blah throughout the whole thing.. it just passed in a blur and i just let my legs do the running, not actually breaking 155 heart rate. I managed a couple of near 6 min miles coming to the end, so clearly I hadn’t pushed as hard as i could, so it was reassuring to see the clock at 1.21 when i crossed the line, ahead of some super speedy girls - Vicky Gill being one. Chrissie ran a 1.25 smiling as she does most the way round. I was most impressed that she prioritised breast feeding her little one just minutes before the start.
In the early months of 2016 I had been focusing on some career networking/business development for Curoseven and studying a mix of functional medicine, endocrinology and bio-identical hormones in my evenings when Sophia had gone to sleep
I was running 3-4 times a week with 1 or two strength sessions thrown in - of which i would count climbing stairs and superman flies with Sophia as part :)
My previous coach Tom Bennett of T2 coaching always said i could run a sub 3 so that rang in my mind when out running, as did the words of my other former, and perhaps more infamous coach Brett Sutton that women didn’t need to run long regularly in order to run long well as we were naturally better at endurance. Funny how selectively biased the brain can be - esp. as 1 i didn't have the time or 2. the inclination to run high mileage.
I periodically googled “how to run a sub 3”, I even downloaded the ASICS run sub 3 plan and would give it cursory glances now and then choosing a couple of the sessions, but ignoring the fact it told you to run every day pretty much and the 15mile plus runs every Sunday. I did 3 runs over 22km in the entire 8 month lead in.
As most of you children know - the first few years after they start nursery - they pick up every bug going and largely smear it all over you when home. I use one of those nasal suction devices to remove the snot from Sophia’s nose so she can breathe better. They work but its a messy process. She only attends nursery twice a week, my long suffering mum looking after her on the other days I work.. a choice made easier by the fact that almost every week she would bring home some foul virus of sorts (i watched a program where they looked at the bugs grow from hands of children in nursery - millions of virulent organisms) .. and almost every week my immune system was being challenged again. I do as much as I can from a nutrition/supplements stance to give my immune system a chance. I follow a high healthy fat diet, with periodic carbs (predominant pm as it helps bring down night cortisol and enhance tryptophan production and hence sleep) and lots of veggies. I largely avoid gluten, but do have a small amount of full fat dairy as tolerate it well and good source of calcium. When asked why i avoid gluten - i do not have coeliac disease, although have tested positive for blood antibodies to Gluten in 2010 - I only found out about this retrospectively when requesting my historical blood tests from my NHS GP - it was not mentioned to me. They reverted to normal when i worked on my stress and gut function/diet as my knowledge working through curoseven evolved. Who knew Sultana Bran with skimmed milk wasn't a healthy breakfast ;)
Go to supps when affected by a bug are :
- High Strength Probiotic with variety of lactobacillus strains - at least 5 billion CFU
- Oregano Oil (natural anti-microbial)
- Chelated Zinc
- Garlic Oil
- Vitamin C 4 x 1000mg during active illness.
but stress is a potent immune-suppressant and if you’re not sleeping well - working or multi-tasking like a mo-fo it will take its toll. HRV Monitoring through an app like HRV4TRaining can help manage this and if you heed its warnings - adapt your exercise accordingly.
I often question now when athletes comment on their 'fitness' being lacking. Often this is based on perceived effort for a given pace/wattage. However if you are deficient in X nutrient or running too high or too low on cortisol or testosterone or other hormones are out of whack then perceived will feel infintely higher. Additional if life stress is high and then you stress yourself further by a high intensity session - reprimanding yourself when you dont hit your numbers - it becomes a recipe for poor health long term. A bit more on this here.
In the month leading into London did two of my biggest ever running weeks 70/80km. I know for runners out there this does not sound like much - but it was all quality and a lot of race pace and above race pace work. Race pace started to feel super comfortable. But the only long run i did of 30k 3 weeks out - reminded me of what happened at Ironman UK in 2014. Around the 15mile mark something starts to ache - whether the hip, the toe or just generally legs slow down - despite CV system feeling ok and not feeling low on fuel. This I have come to realise is just what happens when you are not used to running big miles. I have the endurance from years of triathlon, but not the mileage in the legs. I have however, remained injury free for the first time in years despite running consistently for a year. I put this down to the addition of some strength work - adding a heel wedge to my left shoe which has helped a chronic RIGHT high hamstring tendinopathy - and eating a higher fat, more nutrient dense diet.. and generally training less!
London Marathon - The Race will be published as next blog shortly!