I’m well settled into my marathon training plan now, and for the most part, I’m continuing to enjoy it. One slight downside is that I can’t run at parkrun as often as I’d like, since I don’t want to risk getting tired or injured before the long Sunday runs; however, I’ve still been attending as a volunteer, so it’s all good. As I’m still being cautious with pushing myself outside of interval sessions, it’s hard to tell how much my aerobic performance has improved – but in my last interval session, I was able to do two sets of ten one-minute sprints at around my fastest 5K pace and feel OK doing it, so that’s a good sign.
The last two Sundays saw perhaps the most challenging and exciting parts of the training plan: running 24km at easy pace, then (the following weekend) running 30km at a mix of paces. These would be longer than any runs I’d done before, and were perfect opportunities to test out my special equipment: vest, water bag, energy gels and electrolyte tablets. One of the most frequently heard tips for running a marathon is “nothing new on Marathon Day”. I’d already tried taking one energy gel on a half-marathon run and my stomach seemed fine with it; and while I probably won’t need a water bag at the actual event due to the aid stations available, I could get used to wearing the vest.
I decided to use the 24km run to do something I’d meant to try for some time: running all the way to Blackpool Tower. I opted for extra layers as it was very cold when I set out – running at easy pace meant that I didn’t become uncomfortably warm. Curiously, I felt more comfortable in the second half than the first; perhaps it was the motivational effect about halfway through of seeing the Tower off in the distance, and then of seeing on the stone road markers that I was getting closer. By the time I reached the Blackpool Promenade and could enjoy the satisfaction of having reached the sea entirely on foot, I was feeling physically better than I had expected, certainly as if I could have kept going.
For the 30km run, I chose to follow most of the Preston Guild Wheel (the whole thing is 21 miles, or nearly 34 kilometres). This proved to be more of a physical and mental challenge. The weather was warmer, but I had a strong wind blowing into my face in the sections that followed the River Ribble. Descending the hill at Brockholes Nature Reserve proved nerve-wracking, as it was very muddy and slippery. By the 20km mark, despite taking my gels and tablets and drinking from my bag, I was feeling more achy than I had during the 24km run and needed a little willpower to keep going. Eventually, I found myself in a headspace very similar to when I was first running half-marathons, where I could barely remember a time before I started running, and all that mattered was continue with the motions.
By the time I reached my stopping point, I had covered just over 31km (19.3 miles) in 3 hours and 10 minutes. Next time I run that far again, it’ll be Marathon Day – and I can’t be sure how those last seven miles will feel. I suppose I’ll have more energy due to tapering in my plan, and the crowd will provide extra motivation. But things are progressing well, and the final goal certainly feels achievable.