It seems appropriate that in the weekend the 2-hour marathon record was almost broken, there’s a space to talk about speed. While the lucky ones are naturally fast, lean, strong and make it seem effortless to whizz around 26.2miles in a sub-4 hour time, the majority of us have to put the hard work in. Or as Lizzie Armitstead in an interview on Woman’s Hour said: “Unfortunately, it’s all about suffering…”. There are no shortcuts to fitness.
When I ran my first marathon back in 2009, I remember finishing the race in around 4:03. Fast forward to now and my times can range from anything between 3:20 to 3:45 depending on the terrain and how I feel. Yes, I’m fitter, probably slighter and stronger than I was back then but experience has taught me the power of tweaks to your training plan.
Running up a hill
The first change I’ve made is to add hills to my everyday routine. Now, this has happened via circumstance. I work in Central London, I live in Hampstead Garden Suburbs. You cannot avoid hills when you #runcommute to and from work. And while I may not bound up the hill towards Hampstead after a hard day at work, I like to think the steady climb towards work helps.
For years now, I have been either running or cycling to work. I first started cycling around London years ago because I was a student and skint. And it stuck. While I’m not exactly rolling in it today, I travel by tube maybe twice a week. The rest of the time, I’m either on my bike or on my feet. This allows me to not only save a few pennies but I now know the city pretty well and also have a little time to myself before the daily grind. Sometimes I’ll add miles onto my #runcommute or double-up by running to and from work. It helps me unwind in the evening or charge up for the day ahead. Plus I’m building up endurance, strength and working my cardiovascular system instead of being stuck under someone else’s armpit in an airless tube carriage.
Hit the studio
Since my injury last year, I’ve made a concerted effort to add cross-training into my routine. Thankfully ClassPass has made it easy. Yes, it’s relatively expensive compared to the price of gym, I can, however, do a Barrecore, Studio Lagree and Bootcamp Pilates class all in one week. I may also throw in a spin class and to stretch out, I’ll hit a Yoga class. When there’s a window of opportunity at work, I’ll head to a Pure Gym nearby to workout my legs or participate in a lunchtime spin class.
It doesn’t stop there. As well as running, cycling, studio class and weights, I also try and attend three weekly training sessions with The North Face, adidas runners and my running club, the Mornington Chasers. The North Face Mountain Training is essentially that. It tends to be less focused on merely running and more about strength and conditioning your whole body through drills. Then after four days of adrenaline-filled chaotic fun at work, when all I want to do is sit in front of the telly and eat cake, I drag myself out to the track at Parliament Hill for a hard session of sprints, mile-paced training or some other tortuous speedwork. Before we start I’m like a moody teenager whose mum has dragged them out to some boring family gathering, 40 or so minutes later, I’m absolutely buzzing. So much so that I’m up at the crack of dawn the next day to join around 40 runners for an adidas runners session, which could mean Fartlek, Cruise Intervals or Hills.
At the weekends, I try and get in a long session or a race on either the Saturday or Sunday, whichever works best in terms of what we have planned. The day when I’m not racing/running long distance, I’ll do a shorter jog followed by a class. Again, this depends on our weekend pursuits.
Yes, I know. I know I train perhaps excessively. But I’ve learnt to dial it down a bit when I need to. Such as this weekend, when after two weekends of relatively hard racing (London Marathon followed by the Hackney Half), I slept well and swapped my running shoes for some walking boots in Cumbria. Listen to your body and you’ll know when to slow it down a little.
Whether running up that hill or taking on the track, there’s a feeling of achievement when you reach that finishing line. It’s not an instantaneous thing that you can place some magic filter. There are moments when you also need to take a break and sleep. By making it part of you and the every day, it becomes a smoother path to tread.