Run Happy

This update might be controversial. Not sure. It’ll be interesting to see what people think. 

Here’s the thing; I’m pretty sure I’m going to run slower on marathon day than I originally said I intended to...but on purpose. 

Not something you hear runners admit to everyday. And I promise I’m not sandbagging. 

When I first got the ballot place I’d already been thinking about targets for my next marathon. I ran 4:10 at Richmond and immediately decided that meant my next one should be all about the sub 4. It’s only 10 minutes, I thought. I’d taken 21 off my previous time at Richmond, what was 10 minutes? 

So that was my intention heading into training. I worked out all the paces for the different sessions and it all seemed pretty doable, if a little on the higher end of my capabilities. Eager to check I could run at the required pace I added some mid-week 8 milers at race pace, scheduled for a seemingly far distant 4 weeks into the plan when I believed (optimistically) that I would be back at full fitness and coping tremendously with this new way of training; 5 sessions a week with speed work and hills a-go-go. 

Yes. Well. The road to wherever is paved with good intentions and all that. 

There have been two issues with my original plan. My body and my brain. Let’s deal with the easier of the two first; my poor old knackered body.

It just doesn’t like this much impact. I’ve tried a few times to train 5 times a week now, and my body just does not like it. I think it’s because I’m not very well behaved when it comes to getting my strength work in, so I’m just not strong enough to cope with the extra training load. Although I’ve been getting the distance in, my long runs have been slower than during my last marathon training block - partly by design but mostly from necessity. And needless to say those race pace 8 milers have not materialised thus far.  

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As well as my stiff heels and ankles, I’ve been suffering a little bit with the return of a creaky (and to be totally honest with you, crunchy) right knee which has been a problem off and on for years. It’s usually always the same type of discomfort in the same place and I know how to deal with it. It doesn’t stop me running, I just wonder a bit more each time about whether I should start a sweepstake for what age I’ll be when it gets replaced for a bionic one. 

This time however the pain has started to refer to a different area, I suspect just from a tired muscle that has just been chilling out doing nothing up to this point and that I need to roll out as soon as I can work out how (it’s in a super awkward position for rolling!). 

So yes; as far as the physical issues go, a sensible return to a 4-run week with more strength work incorporated is probably in order. Honestly at this point 5 runs a week just feels like punishing myself for the sake of it - maybe when I’ve got the strength up a bit I’ll be able to try again. 

Hopefully that will sort out the body part. Or body parts?! Not body parts in a Burke and Hare way though, just to be clear. Although they probably didn’t spend much time sorting them out…but I digress…

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The trickier part to sort out is what’s happening in my brain. 

For those who don’t know, I had a bit of an unhappy time of it last Spring with a period of extremely high anxiety. It was brought on by an ongoing stressful situation and when the stressor was removed (or rather when I was removed from the stressor) I was left in a state of moderate depression which thankfully I’m now out the other side of. 

The anxiety part however never quite went away. I’m naturally quite an anxious person, or at least a person who holds myself to pretty high goals which can be a cause of anxiety if I think there’s a chance they won’t be met. 

So yeah, marathon running is all kinds of sensible for me with my bad knee and my stupid anxious brain, especially when you factor in a scary new goal. 

Since the new year I’ve been trying to work out how to properly deal with my anxiety. The situation that knocked me out last year was directly related to a specific set of circumstances and once I was away from them the anxiety gradually faded into the background. This didn’t teach me a better way to cope with future stressors, however, and at the start of this year I could feel panic starting to rise again every so often. Not exactly overwhelmed, but to borrow a phrase from Ten Things I Hate About You if I may, just a bit ‘whelmed’. 

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During a general health check at the doctors last month I mentioned how I’d been feeling and was recommended to look up a CBT book as clearly there was still work to do. I thought I better had, having no desire to return to last year’s fun times alternating between being almost catatonic one moment and screaming at people the next. 

I found a straightforward CBT book and am working my way through it, but that’s not what I want to tell you about. As I was rooting around in the self-help section on Amazon I came across a book by Derren Brown (yep, that Derren Brown) called ‘Happy: Why More or Less Everything is Absolutely Fine’. 

Well, with a title like that how could I resist? I downloaded it to listen to, devoured it and am now on my second listen. 

It’s brilliant. It’s about taking ancient philosophies (including Stoicism, the forerunner of CBT) and using them to understand and control your reactions to situations to reduce anxiety and frustration and stay, if not constantly happy, then at least on a more even keel. It’s funny and clever and sensible and helpful. And it’s such a simple concept. So simple, in fact, that I got a bit sad that I hadn’t learned this years ago and been happier for it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure I won’t suddenly turn into a Zen like being who never gets pissed off about anything, but it’s a good place to start. If you have any issues around anxiety, especially if your anxiety has to do with needing to feel in control, I do urge you to look it up.

What does Derren Brown have to do with marathon training? Well, a big part of the book talks about goal setting. Specifically the positive thinking entrenched, you-can-do anything-if-you-just-believe-enough style of goal setting, which he argues sometimes leads us to cling to unrealistic goals against all common sense or evidence to the contrary. 

In this particular case, I have a goal to run a sub-4 hour marathon. That’s fine, and it can stay a goal for as long as it takes to achieve it. But if I decide that it’s my only goal for London when common sense and my right knee are telling me that now may not be the time, I risk two things. I risk properly knackering my body up, and I risk aiming too high for my current ability and then feeling bad on the day if I fail to run a time that starts with a 3.  

Far more sensible, Derren and his merry band of philosophers suggest, to make a small alteration to how you frame your goal which allows you to be human, and allows for the fact that Lady Luck or the Fates or whoever you prefer to picture doesn’t owe you anything. There will always be external factors that might cause your plans, however well laid, to go awry.  What counts is how you deal with what life throws at you so you can carry on. Tenacity, not perfection.

To achieve sub-4 at London I’m very aware I would probably have to aim for faster than 9 minute miles all the way round. Honestly, that’s not realistic and it would be foolish and very stressful for me to pretend it is. 9:15’s or 9:20’s on the other hand, maybe that’s doable. It wouldn’t be sub-4, but it would be a PB. 

So that’s why as things stand (and I know we’ve still got almost half the plan to go), instead of declaring my goal as going sub-4 or broke, I am going to say that my goal is to try to achieve a new PB at London, and to do as well as I can with the goods I’ve got on the day. That way as long as I head out from Blackheath on 28th April with the intention to do my best to do the best I can, then whatever happens I will have met my goal.

I feel better already.  

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The Yamauchi Triangle

It was all going so well...

Week 5 of marathon training and I’d been diligently building up the Sunday long run mileage, running up and down hills and doing some actual proper speed work. My fitness and pace seem to be on their way back and I was pleased to be heading into the heaviest week so far with a 14 miler already under my belt and feeling happy that I was on schedule.

Ah yes. The heaviest week so far. Such fun.

I had a 6 mile training pace run in the Tuesday night drizzle followed by a very exciting Yasso 800 session during which I ran my fastest ever 800m and did all but one of the reps under 4 minutes. Then a 5 miles-ish hill reps session, a day off and the weekend double of a jog to Northala for parkrun and 16 miles on the Sunday. By Sunday morning I was delighted I’d hit all the sessions and feeling ok, if a little sleepy.

Last Sunday’s long run, however, will be logged as one of those runs we decide are character building. What a difference a run makes.

I’d already run just under 22 miles that week before I even got my shoes laced up, and I’d had a couple of little irritating body issues playing on my mind.

The first is that this year my hands have decided that what I really need is to start suffering from Raynaud’s for the first time in my life. Leaving aside the worry that this might be an indicator that I’m definitely going to develop arthritis sometime soon, it’s massively annoying and quite painful.

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Raynauds = Annoying

The second niggle is more concerning. Those two little words that every runner fears...plantar fasciitis. I often get a very minor point of soreness in my right heel which usually disappears if I poke a spiky ball into it, but it had been nagging all week.

By the time I made it to 11 miles into Sunday’s run my useless hands had been spasming for 6 miles and were so numb I couldn’t grip my gels to open them, and my heel was really hurting. My frozen legs were complaining every step of the last few miles and when I emerged from the shower after the run I was in bits, hobbling around trying to work out if I’d scalded my forearms from running them under warm water than I couldn’t feel was too hot.

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Early in the run when I could still feel my hands!

So what went wrong? Everything had been going swimmingly, why had things started to feel so hard?

I’ll tell you what went wrong. I had fallen into the usual trap of only focusing on the running.

I had neglected the Yamauchi Triangle.

Nothing to do with missing planes and boats. Sorry.

The Yamauchi Triangle is what I’m calling the model that the EA marathon workshop chaps showed us back in January. The lovely Mara Yamauchi was on some of their videos and offered the completely common sense advice that your training, rest and nutrition levels should always increase or decrease proportionally with each other, so they form an equilateral triangle.


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The Yamauchi Triangle

So if you do more training, you need to eat enough food and rest more. My triangle, after a 38 mile week, was looking decidedly wonky.

38 miles may not sound a lot but that’s the highest mileage week I’ve ever done, and clearly it took its toll. I thought I was getting my triangle in proportion, because I’d worked out I needed to take more care about eating and drinking enough and had upped the nutrition third of the triangle to match the training third.

What I was missing was the rest. Less Yamauchi Triangle, more Duff Banana.

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The Duff Banana

Now, I’m factoring ‘recovery’ into the rest element as well, because for most of us by the time we’ve worked our 9 to 5, done the running, done some strength and cross training, kept the house in one piece, cooked and fed ourselves, scaled the washing mountain and managed to hold at least one coherent conversation with our partners there is actually not a lot of time left in the week for rest. You know. other than actual bedtime.

But what I do need to do is recovery work and do the short list of physio stretches and other bits that keep my body together during these long weeks of marathon training.

Short list. Ha.

Calf raises, knee lifts three different ways, icing everything that aches, rolling with at least two different implements and after I’ve done all that, lying in the floor with my feet in the air to boost circulation to my lower legs.

I mean, at least when I’m doing that I’m resting. Technically.

People will read this and think, crikey. You’re mad. It can’t be worth it.

It is worth it though. It’s worth the sports massages and the endless stretching and the buying comfortable old lady shoes from Ecco that you found on a list of shoes that help with PF and the special heel impact insoles and the fear that you’ll never make your goal and the pain of the long run.

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Emergency Purchase Magic PF Fighting Old Lady Shoes

It’s tough. It’s really, really hard work keeping your triangle in proportion when you’re training for a marathon.

It’s not my natural inclination to rest when I could be doing something ‘more useful’, and it might seem counter intuitive to train better by resting more. But think I’d better start going against the grain.

Who’s for a catnap?

What Does it Take?

What does it take to run a marathon? 

 That’s a question with lots of possible answers. Some more helpful than others. We’ve all seen those memes about the need to be a special kind of idiot and all that jazz. 

 I’d agree, not that marathon runners are idiots exactly, but it does take a certain amount of stubborn, willful disregard for what’s strictly sensible. It’s bloody hard work, running a marathon. It takes a lot of time, effort, determination, and chafing in unpleasant places. 

 So what extra things does it take to run a marathon to the magic target I’m aiming for this time? I might as well be honest, because you’ll find out when it’s time for the Mile 23 spreadsheet anyway; this time I’m going for the classic target. The Big One. The one that Mr Duff, when he’s feeling particularly Aberdonian, might describe as ‘the back of four’. 

In these first few weeks of the plan I’ve been spending lots of time building the mileage back up and even more time trying to find out what I need to do to start feeling like I might be capable of achieving a marathon time that starts with a 3. Even if it ends with a 59:59, that’ll do. 

 I’ve learned that, put simply, it takes being able to maintain a pace of 9:09/mile for a really long way. And let’s face it, for London it’s probably best to err on the side of knowing damn well it’s going to be half a mile further than it should be, and aiming for flat 9’s. 

 I learned from the England Athletics marathon workshop that it takes rather more Lactate Threshold and hill sessions than I’m traditionally fond of. I have diligently added these into my plan and so far, I’ve managed to convince myself I’m enjoying them. I also discovered that running slower than race pace but faster than training pace is actually sub-threshold running, which sounds far more technical and which I put to good use to bag a new PB at the Fred Hughes 10. 

‘Kent-yan Hills!’

‘Kent-yan Hills!’

I learned from a Runner’s World Facebook post that it takes being capable of a sub-50 10k and a sub-1:50 half when training starts, so if that’s true I’m screwed before I’ve even started. I’m stubbornly choosing to go with the dismissal of this advice by a particular non-Eagle runner friend on that one; he immediately said not to worry about it because ‘you don’t run hard enough when you run shorter distances anyway’. I think I’ll refuse to let this one bother me til we see how I get on at Fleet Half. Let’s cross that bridge when we come to it. 

 More of that stubbornness. On Tuesday when I found myself running 16 laps of Osterley track on my own in the snow I had one of those brief moments when you wonder if the naysayers are right and runners are all, in fact, mad. But then I remembered a conversation I’d had with my father in law at parkrun back on Christmas Day.

Snowy selfie

Snowy selfie

We were running together and talking about different approaches to training. I’d been comparing my December can’t be arsed attitude to Mr Duff, who is quite strict when it comes to his training. If it’s in the plan it’s getting done, come hell, high water, snow or a plague of frogs. 

 ‘Well’ Dad Duff had said, ‘that’s the key isn’t it? That’s what gets you through it all. Making sure you go out and get it done, even if you really don’t want to. That keeps you going when it comes to the day’. 

 And he’s completely right. I kept that advice in my head for the whole session on Tuesday and ended up loving the run, watching my footprints form more complex patterns with each lap, enjoying the fact that I could see my stride length was consistent in the snow and vowing to sort out that weird outward turn on my right foot. It was quiet, peaceful, and gave me enough space to think clearly in all that perfect blankness. 

Footprints in the snow

Footprints in the snow

Just keep going. Keep going, and soon the thing that seemed so hard is suddenly done. 

 I missed one training run in the first week because I was completely knackered and my body was feeling the effects of coming off the medication for anxiety I’ve been on since March last year. I cut myself some slack that day, but I’ve been fairly strict about getting my sessions in for the rest of these early weeks. The fast sessions and hilly sessions and pacing technicalities will become important very soon, I know. But in this ‘build phase’ I’ve been concentrating mostly on getting out there without giving in to the dark and cold and wet. I've also learned that being part of a running club is a godsend with this (although I already knew that!). Making arrangements to meet a friend or being out anyway because you're leading at track definitely helps to combat the winter running blues. 

Marathon training. What does it take? Just keep buggering on. 

School Night 7

School Night 7

The Laziness of the Long Distance Runner

There are times when training for a marathon makes you question your life choices. Lying face down on a massage table in a small room with a stranger’s elbow rammed into places you’d usually slap someone for touching is definitely one of them.

I’ve got a confession to make. Since I lucked out and got one of the club ballot places at the Christmas party it’s possible that all my good intentions to be less lazy than in the first half of December had gone, as my mother would say, for a Burton. I didn’t think I had that much going on over Christmas but when it came to it I had a few weeks where there was a lot of stuff in the diary on usual running days, and everyone knows you can’t just run on a different day - that way madness lies. I’m sure there’s a rule.

In other words, I just stayed lazy. I was completely aware I was being lazy but was pretending it was really unavoidable with my terribly busy Christmas, until a man at Aberdeen parkrun started on at me about ‘just making sure you find the time don’t you know, it’s really not that hard’. At which point I accepted that actually I was quite happy letting myself have a lazy December and wasn’t going to take a politely worded slagging on Christmas Day stood standing on a freezing cold Aberdeen beachfront from a random parkrunner who didn’t even have the decency to be actually Scottish. The cheek of it.



So I decided I should probably get my act together before marathon training officially started in the New Year. I ran a nice little 7 miler down the Deeside Line on Boxing Day. I went to parkrun again and stuck with a pacer instead of just relaxing my way round (nothing to do with the pacer being my pal, of course) and whilst I’d known for a while I wasn’t going to be exactly racing the Serpies New Year’s Day 10k I decided to see if I could manage it in something like my hoped for marathon pace.

Most crucially, I’m sure you’ll agree, I bought new shoes and wrote my training plan out long hand in no less than 6 different coloured Frixion pens.


Actually this had seemed genuinely crucial as it turned out. On New Year’s Eve I sat down with the businesslike black Moleskine containing my plan because I thought I’d better schedule a dummy week’s training for the week before the first proper week, just to see if I could manage a full set of sessions. Alas, the tragedy of the type A brain; I was denied the special pleasure that only comes with using nice pens and paper to organise something...because I’d already done it!

I had a good laugh at myself for being such a little geek and faced the dawning of 2019 with renewed determination that I’d be fine getting going again. It’s ok to be a little bit lazy when you need to. It does you good.

Serpies went well. I was only 2 seconds off my PB and ran faster than marathon pace. In fact since my actual PB isn’t on Power of 10 (seriously Winter Run. You’re that expensive and you can’t even be bothered to be an accredited race?), this was a sort of PB reset and I was chuffed to bits.


The rest of last week also went well. I hit all of my other sessions without making them easier - a 4 mile shakeout, hills, a fast-ish parkrun and a training pace 10 miler.

Garmin tells me my total December mileage was just 39. I ran 25 miles in the last week, so its been just a teeny bit of a shock to the system.

Hence why I was in a physio office today being pummelled, stretched, and elbowed in the backside. I’ve decided to apply some lessons learned to this round of training and lesson number one is to get regular massages BEFORE anything goes wrong, just to ease out the kinks. Arek the mountain marathon man and ‘soft tissue specialist’ might just be my new favourite sadist.

Sorry, that’s lesson two. Lesson one is ‘always start a marathon plan with a rest day’.

Wish me luck!

Ministry of Silly Hats by Angela Duff

I’m a big fan of silly hats. Especially at Christmas. Earlier in the week I’d shared a gallery of several silly hats I’d bought for the work Christmas drinks (my favourite was the turkey, incidentally) and that morning I’d rooted my much cherished silly red ski hat out for it’s annual outing to the Santa Run. Love a good silly hat.

And here was another silly hat being waved about in front of our faces - four in fact; four golden crowns for the four lucky winners of the club ballot places for the London marathon.

The committee had gone all out this year to ramp up the tension of the ballot draw with a frankly terrifying X Factor style chair line up, complete with a tense heartbeat soundtrack. I felt weirdly nervous, although looking at the top drawer bunch of people I was standing up there with I thought I’d have been happy with any of them getting the places, so the outcome could only be positive whatever happened.

Hayley won the first place; excellent, super pleased for her. Then Massimo, and Chairman Carlo - that’s nice, the two people with maximum points have each got in. Good for them.

Last one. Dave Bone started dancing about in front of us waving the final silly hat.

It’s been a week of silly hats, I thought. Maybe there’s something in that. Maybe, just maybe, there’s one more silly hat coming my way…

And then my name was read out and the crown went on my head and it was happening, I got the final place!

Still slightly in shock and in the glare of the disco lights, we were asked what getting a club pace meant to us. I fluffed it a bit but I’m not sure anyone was really listening much (shame, Abi’s speech in Italian standing in for Massimo sounded pretty articulate to me!), so I’ll tell you again now I’ve had more time for it to sink in.

I joined the Eagles in 2015, after Mr. Duff and I decided we were definitely staying in Ealing and bought our house. I wanted to make some local friends and be a bit more involved in the community. And goodness me, didn’t that happen!

Something club related happens every day for me. Whether it’s just chatting to one of the many mates and genuinely close friends I’ve made in the Eagles, planning a track session, emailing with the coaching team or answering a quick committee related question about the Santa Run or something on the website (I was on the committee for two years, so apologies if getting the place means you’re a bit sick of the sight of me!).

That’s not even to mention the running; since I joined the club I have run 4 marathons and taken half an hour off my half marathon time. I’ve taken part in three editions of the multi day Green Belt Relay, raced the mile a handful of times and have a medal rack so full it’s in danger of bringing the dining room wall down. I’ve been all over the world and run races in Japan, New York, California and various places in Europe.

Quite simply this running club has changed my life, and I’m not the same person as I was before I joined.

I mean, I’ve got less hair for one thing (it’s more aerodynamic, I’m sure...).

So why, if I’ve been doing all this running and racing anyway, did I want to put my name in the hat for a club London ballot place?

Well, although I have learned and improved a lot over the last few year (and the last few marathons!) and I don’t think I’m slow by any means, I’m not exactly lightning fast either. I’m not likely to qualify for a GFA place or a championship place, or to represent the club at something like Welsh Castles, or covering us with glory at a track race. And I know the club is proud of all of us and our individual achievements, however speedy or however steady. All I’m saying is that when I was looking at whether to enter or not I knew in my heart of hearts that it would be very special to represent the club in a sort of official capacity, and that I would be thrilled to be lucky enough to get one of the ballot places because I have nothing but love for the Eagles and what the club stands for.

I am thrilled. I’m absolutely delighted. There’s a very long way to go before we get to the big day, and the old advice to not wish for something more than you work for it is very much on my mind. But the thought of racing London in club colours makes me so proud already that come race day I’m not sure what I’ll do with myself.

Whatever happens between now and then, I promise that I will do my very best to make sure I don’t let the club down!