With week 8 of marathon training delivering a somewhat bumpy finish, I went into week 9 hopeful of a much more consistent and satisfactory week of training, but sadly the fates had something different in mind for me. While I know that marathon training won’t always go smoothly and certainly won’t be easy (after all, if it was easy more people would do it, right?) it’s still frustrating when things don’t work out as planned. And where week 8 went wrong in the final furlong, week 9 decided to kick me in the backside right from the start!
swim/sauna rest and massage
8 miles hilly rest
conditioning cadence drills
cadence drills coach 2 running clubs rest
Metafit 30 minute run
Saturday – Parkrun
20 miles 15 miles
I’ve said many times that flexibility in training is important, that a plan has to fit around a runner’s life and that we have to be prepared to make changes as life throws unexpected challenges in our path. This week was a prime example of how important that is. But why?
As the week began, a couple of changes had already been made. Since Steve had hurt his ribs when he fell off his bike, he asked me to coach both of his running clubs on Thursday evening. To fit that into my training, we moved my cadence drills to Wednesday and made Tuesday a rest day to avoid having too many back-to-back days of running. Fair enough, but as you can see from above, that’s still not entirely how my week panned out.
And it was all thanks to Monday.
I know, I know, it’s only one day. How bad can it be? For me, this particular Monday was bad and the effects of it plagued me for the rest of the week. Thanks to an unfortunate chain of events involving a looming deadline and a number of ill-timed hurdles to meeting that deadline, I found myself working through lunchtime. On the face of it, that doesn’t sound too bad, but this was the day after an 18 mile run. On a day when I should have been eating almost constantly to top up my energy reserves and help my body recover, I ended up not only under stress, but not getting enough to eat into the bargain. My blood sugar plummeted, my energy all but departed and even making sure I (finally) ate my lunch at 3:30pm didn’t do enough to resolve this. I felt ill and exhausted so rather than go for my swim, I headed home for a power nap then straight out for my sports massage to work on that pesky knot in my calf which had played havoc with my run the day before. The knot disappeared, but it seemed that nothing I did for the rest of the week could sort out whatever imbalance was triggered by the combined forces of stress and poorly managed recovery nutrition.
Tuesday, therefore, was the most perfectly-timed rest day ever as I knew I didn’t have the energy to go out for a run. I had eaten much more that day, but the damage had already been done by Monday (and the messed up fuelling from my tight calf adventure on Sunday) so I was playing catch-up and losing. Yet again, I came home in need of a power nap and an early night.
Things were looking up a bit on Wednesday and I got away from work early enough to fit in my cadence drills mostly in the daylight. This meant that I could use a slightly different route which made it much less of a chore. There was absolutely no sign of any problem with my calf, although the hunger pangs were still there.
But by Thursday, things were starting to unravel. The week was really beginning to take its toll and by the time I was heading home from work I felt exhausted and feverish. The last thing I wanted to do was spend 2 hours coaching runners – I wasn’t even sure I could be on my feet for 2 minutes as I felt quite light-headed and a bit woozy. Running club cancelled, some good food, a bath and an early night were in order.
I felt a bit more myself on Friday, but I still knew something wasn’t right. By 9am I was STARVING to the point of feeling shaky. I ate as much as I could through the day but it barely took the edge off. I wanted to go for a 30 minute jog when I got home and had to have a banana before I left (which actually made me feel much better). Clearly there was something wrong with my nutrition and it was high time to work out what it was. I was craving red meat for dinner, so protein looked like a likely culprit.
And after a protein-rich dinner on Friday, I felt revived on Saturday morning as I headed for Parkrun. The ground was just as muddy as the week before but I felt much more consistent in my run and despite strong winds to add to the mud, I actually shaved a couple of seconds off my time from the week before (although I came home even muddier!)
I felt good, but still with a nagging hunger pang that I just couldn’t satisfy throughout the rest of the day. I ate breakfast before I left, had a second breakfast on my return, lunch, dinner, a number of snacks and some porridge before bed. I never felt full. It was like I was a bottomless pit and I couldn’t figure out where all the energy from my food was going. Unfortunately, this followed me into Sunday. I fully intended to complete 20 miles, but despite a huge bowl of porridge and a banana (another banana – I don’t even really like bananas!) I felt hungry before I even started. I was worried and dwelling on the fact that 20 miles is a blooming long way, even when you’re feeling good. Not ideal.
I ran the first part with Steve and Graeme. They were out for a slow run (with a few walk breaks since we now knew that Steve had in fact cracked a rib when he fell off his bike – ouch!) and the prospect of company was really comforting. It was laps of the Inch which I normally don’t like, but the easy pace and conversation made it much more bearable, and by the time the guys were heading off we had covered 5 miles and I was taking a gel ready to carry on by myself. I upped the pace a bit and felt ok, but by the time I was ready to take my 10 mile gel I wasn’t feeling so good: it just felt like REALLY hard work, much harder than it should have been, and I could easily have sat at the side of the road and cried. Feeling low, I sent Steve a text and he offered to come and get me, but since I’d had a gel I wanted to see if there was any difference.
At 12.5 miles I decided to call it quits at 15, a distance that, with a little zigzagging, would see me at my front door.
At 15 miles, I walked in the front door and burst into tears.
Those last miles felt like the last miles of the toughest marathon ever. I was struggling even to hit a 10 minute mile pace (I’ve been running faster than 9 minute miles on my long runs), not because I was out of breath, not because my legs were weary, but because there was simply no fuel in the tank. I knew that carrying on like that wasn’t worth it, hence the decision to cut my run short. I’m still not sure exactly why I was crying: frustration? disappointment? hunger? In all likelihood, a combination of all three. I couldn’t remember the last time I felt full and in all honesty was fed up of eating. Everything just seemed wrong. Having given some thought to the nutritional issue, we were fairly convinced it was a lack of either protein or iron. Steve thrust an iron supplement at me and I felt an almost immediate improvement. There was my answer.
I have to say, that Sunday was probably the lowest I’ve ever felt in marathon training. My body was betraying me and I couldn’t work out why. Not only was there a nutritional imbalance, but my body had reacted badly to stress, something I normally handle well, and compounded the issue with a gnawing, debilitating hunger. Finally working out the problem meant that we could apply a solution and by the time I had my Sunday evening bath, I was feeling much better.
So the bumps continued into week 9. In marathon training we have to take the rough with the smooth and that’s exactly why flexibility is key. Religiously sticking to a plan no matter what will inevitably lead to exhaustion and injury. To get to the start line in one piece, sometimes we have to make the decision to alter a training plan, change a workout or cut one altogether. Of course consistent training is important, but listening to our bodies even more so. Mine’s telling me that I’m tired, hungry and stressed, so I’m off to have something to eat and an early night!
Have you ever faced any nutritional challenges as your training progressed?
What warning signs tell you to back off training a bit?