Berlin Marathon Training Plan- an exercise in creativity or stupidity?

  Around about six weeks ago I was in desperate need of a training plan to follow for my Berlin preparations. I looked around at several places for training plans (Hal Higdon, Pete Pfitzinger, runners world smart coach) and not one really looked a good match for me.  I fall somewhere between the beginner and intermediate levels and there is no way with work and life that I can be cramming 50+ mile weeks every week.  Other things had very long runs on the week nights, which are no good with late finishes and a whole family of pets to look after.  Then by chance I was listening to episode 17 of the Marathon Talk Podcast (iTunes link here) which had a huge feature on personalising marathon training and how to map out a schedule of running.

I know a little about running training and made it most of the way through my girlfriends marathon training with her as moral support, even getting up to 18 mile long runs. So in what may turn out to be genius, mediocrity or naivety I set out to construct my own marathon training schedule.  Realistically with life, work and my heavy body I reckon that around 5 runs per week would be the most I could realistically manage.  So with a little help from the podcast I set out to make my own schedule.

The prime piece of guidance was to set out your three key sessions and plan the rest of the week around them to make sure you get the most out of them.  The most important run for marathon training has to be the long run, as it is by far the most specific to the race being run.  I was in shape to start around 8 miles in distance and gradually make it up to 20 miles, which I would do once.  From past experience it seemed that having every fourth week as a "light" week with shorter runs really helped with my recovery. So these were mapped into the calendar and formed the backbone of my training schedule every Saturday.

The next big workout was an interval session on the track, and by random chance and good luck a brand new shiny running track had just been opened at the local leisure centre. However what intervals to do seemed to be a much more complicated matter, Tom from marathon talk gave the example of 7x2min hard effort with 2 min rest which led to a massive PB for him. Other places recommend wildly different schedules like yasso 800's or mile repeats, working on holding speed for longer. I think my major problem though is an inability to get up to any descent speed, not just a problem with speed endurance. So I went for 7x400m (which takes me around 2min+) with 400m recovery and I will think about going onto yasso 800s as the weeks pass by. To space this out for recovery time I run this on Tuesday nights.

The third hard workout was the tempo run, and I was a little confused about this, lots of different people seem to have different ideas about what a tempo run comprises. To me they all seem to be a very long interval with minimal rests. Some recommend a pyramid of speed, other two long faster intervals and others just a steady state maintainable fast speed for the duration. To ease my confusion I went for a single long effort with a mile warm up and a mile warm down, moving from one mile hard to 8-10 miles towards the end.  Again for spacing this was planned for a thursday night, which is god as it follows a particularly long day at work, there is nothing like fast running to ease a little stress!

That left 2 runs to fill in the gaps, a very easy recovery run on Sunday after the long run and another easy run Wednesday between the two faster workouts.  The recovery run is mapped out to be half the distance of the long run, to try and train my muscles to recover fast.  The Wednesday easy run will probably stick around the length of my tow local routes (4.5-6 miles).

I will have a three week taper before the event, gradually reducing distance.

So my week looks like:

Monday - Rest Day
Tuesday - 7 x 400m with 400 easy running (may change to 4-10 x 800m later in programme)
Wednesday - 4.5-6 mile easy run (possibly rising to 8 miles later in programme)
Thursday - 1 mile warm up, 1-8 miles tempo, 1 mile warm down
Friday - Rest Day
Saturday - Long Run (8-20 miles)
Sunday - Recovery run (half of long run distance)

If anybody has any ideas to help me out or correct any problems, it would me much appreciated if you would leave a comment or drop me an email (seanstansfieldatgmaildotcom).

A Preponderance of Adipose Tissue

I suppose time has come in my personal life to address the elephant in the room affecting my life and my running.  For a long time I've been a relatively big guy, and over the past year or too my weight has been drifting gradually upwards. In fact when I was psychologically brave enough to step on the scales a month ago my weight had ballooned to 107Kg (235lbs). This was the time that things had to change and I set to work on getting it down.

As far as my running goes, I'm sure there is a lot of room for improvement in my time, in fact if I got down to my ideal weight of 80.7kg I would have lost nearly 25% of my entire body weight. I reckon that there could be some dramatic improvements in my speed and my ability to tolerate more training over the next year.

In the back of my mind, I am not really too sure how this is going to impact on my training for the Berlin marathon. It could really help me out by making the running and cardiovascular effort lower, or on the other hand weaken me so much that I struggle to keep up the runs. Only time will tell, and I will keep you updated over the next few months as to my progress.

To drag myself into losing a lot of weight, there is a two pronged strategy, exercising more (the marathon training should help out here) and eating less. Now this is certainly not as easy to do as it is to write, but I have drafted in my fascination with numerical goals, log keeping and being a bit of a geek to help out. I love keeping an eye on my progress, be it weekly mileage, pace, or pretty little GPS maps of my runs, and I have found calorie counting to be very very useful. I grabbed the Tap & Track app (unsponsored itunes link here) off the iTunes store and got to work with it a few weeks ago. I will try to post a review sometime soon, but in short it allows you to track your calorie intake via a database of food or personally added items and accounts fr your exercise to produce a daily calorie allowance. You can set you ideal weight loss rate, I've gone for 1kg/week, and plug in all the data as you go. The database is all stored on the iPhone, so you don't need wireless or mobile signal for it to work, and I always have the phone with me.

I Haven't been sponsored in any way and I paid the full price on the UK app store, so I will give an unbiased review sometime over the next few weeks.  But for the moment I have already lost 3Kg (now down to 104Kg) in the last month and I'm feeling pretty good!

Running with a cold: the next best thing to evidence based medicine

Only a couple of weeks ago I face a battle with myself, not for the first time. Should I carry on running with a cold or carry on regardless and see what happens. So I thought I might have a look at people who know a little more than me and decided to spread the word here.

Ask nearly anyone on the street and they will be only too happy to tell you that running with a cold is a bad idea, and will make you ill for longer. However like so many commonly held beliefs, this does not necessarily have any foundation in fact, just like drinking lots of water to get well quicker.


A brief look at the available evidence doesn't really find any big studies with particular relevance to exercise, upper respiratory tract infection (URTI), and trained atheletes. So that leaves us to pick through the bones of smaller and slightly less relevant publications.

One study from ball state university found in a study with 23 people that moderate exercise (70% max heart rate) in sedentary individual had no impact on the duration of symptoms from URTI.  This was staistically significant, but this is a pretty small sample and as such does have some inherent lack of reliability.

Of slightly more interest is an article published in 1998 in the journal of medicine and science in sport and exercise. This took 34 young people of moderate fitness and was kind enough to deliberately innoculate them with rhinovirus (one cause of the common cold). They then made half of them exercise at 70% of maximum heart rate for 40 minutes every other day and saw how things went.  They found that exercise had no impact on symptom severity or duration at all.

In fact I wasn't able to find any studies which said that exercise did have a negative impact on recovery from the common cold.  However things aren't quite that simple, the are small studies by medical standards and not powerful enough to say there is no risk of rare but severe complication (such as pneumonia and secondary bacterial tonsilitis). They also don't cover any intense exercise or racing situation where the stresses on the body are higher.

So to summarise we really don't know for certain if it is wise to exercise with a cold, the suggestion is that for most people it should be ok, but that decision is taken at your own risk.  In my usual stubborn fashion I ran on anyway and even managed a poor quality interval session and was better with the usual 4 days and in the process I discovered that running really cleared up my nasal congestion..

Necessary Disclaimer: This article is based on my personal opinion and should not be taken as medical advice, if you have any concerns please contact you own responsible medical practitioner.

Great Manchester Run: Good, Bad or Character Building?


May 2010 saw my first race of the year in Manchester and it was certainly going to be a challenge, in fact I had only run 4 times since the Reading Half.  To add to this dirth of training the continued theme of old friends resurfaced and by complete chance we met 7 of my old university friends in the restaurant we picked for lunch. A quick bite to eat evolved into a long chat and a trip out to the sticks for dinner and chat till the small hours.

The race was brilliantly organised and given I was in on of the sloooow waves I grabbed the chance to watch Haile Gebrselassie Cruise across the line looking unflustered at 28:02, absolutely phenomenal.  It was a quick wander up towards the start zone for our mass warm up.  Maybe its my English reservations about "performing" in public, but I'm not really a fan of pre-race mass aerobics. With that impasse traversed all that was left to do was race.

Things started out pretty slow after the usual 9min/mile rush off the line, struggling to hang around the 11 min/mile pace for the first couple of miles.  I think I only have myself to blame though as I made my classic race mistake of being to proud and stupid to take my walk breaks every 10 minutes. Since the beginning I have been doing 9min run/1min walk and have done nearly every training since. So like the fool that I am it was nearly 23 minutes until I took my first walk and the pace had been fading.

My salvation was probably the mental impact of a single workout the week before the race, my first ever real tempo run.  Most of my training before the half marathons had been steady state "easy" runs, but with my newly constructed marathon plan there were a few faster workouts. After a gentle mile warm up, I pushed for a mile a hard as I could and discovered something of great significance. I can hold on at a pace that causes serious effort and pain, despite my lungs burning I had run a 8:29 mile and managed to carry on into the cool down afterwards. If this taught me anything it was that I could go a lot faster and tolerate the pain for quite a distance.

I made it to the 5K mark in 33:32, on pace for my worst ever 10K performance, but the walk break really started to kick in. I was managing to push along at well below 10min/mile pace without slowing down and the race was back on. In fact I managed a big negative split to come in at 1:01:56 (2nd 5K 28:24), my 2nd 5K was actually my PB for that distance. All of which makes me think that there could have been a much better time if I had pushed from the start and been brave enough to walk.

This was in fact my best ever 10K time despite an almost complete absence of training, I was mostly trading on the aerobic base I had built up helping Helen with her marathon training. It still left a bitter taste in my mouth though, I'm more convinced than ever that I can break the hour, and I finished 4 seconds behinds Helen's brother in his first ever 10K. Next time ..................

A Frenzied Moment Of Ambition?

Back in March, I was very happy to recieve a message from an old university friend, who I hadn't seen for years.  He'd spotted the running I had done posted up on facebook and thought I might be up for a bit of a challenge. In his own words he had signed up for the Berlin Marathon and wonderd if I might be interested in doing the same.

I'm not sure if it was the seeming last chance to hold to a little bit of my youth or the seemingly long time to train, but I jumped at the chance and booked up for the big trip to berlin.  Nearly three months down the line, the challenge seems an awful lot more real and the training is starting to ramp up ............





After a week or stagnation, frustation and lethargy we finally managed to brave the snow and get out and run.  All fears of broken ankles and careering cars began to vanish as we left town and headed out onto the trails.  The slush and brown ice disappeared and were replaced with fresh powder, where even 4x4's feared to tread and it was great.  The Medway valley can be a beautiful place at times and with the hills covered in snow and nobody in sight it was amazing.  The running was hard work with rolling hills and snow realing pounding our calves but it was well worth the pain.  We will definately be out in the snow again, if they will only give me a day off work!

Video Blog part 2 - The Great British Obsession with the Weather



A Little pictoral illustration of why our training hasn't gone too well this week!

Team Reading


New Years eve was the latest meeting of the inaugral team reading ruuning team for this years Reading half marathon.  Unfortunately for us it was not a hard training run or tactical discussions on nutrition and the most aerodynamic clothing.  No our team meetings involve copious amounts of alcohol (mulled wine in this case), meat and trying to cram 11 people onto a two bed house.  If you haven't guessed it yet, you're probably not too sharp, but this was our new years eve party and a great one at that.

All but one of our prospective team showed up and were it not for the late hour, we might have enticed the globetrotting Pinolona (of the Pinolona Blog) who may have had some more eloquent and philosophical posting for the page!

A great time was had by all (I hope) and if team spirit is the most important thing then we are doing just fine.  However given training is slightly important we will be having a proper run in january, with the possibility of  live tweetup, watch this space.

Why do I run?

I was out for a long run on Sunday in the freezing cold here and my mind began to wander a little and meandered onto the thought of why I run.  At first though this seems like a very simple question with a multitude of simple answers.  Sure there are plenty of obvious candidates to lose weight, look better, feel fitter, compete with myself, but none of these rang true.  Shallow reasons of self interest could not explain why I was trudging through the mud and the ice with the temperature below zero, I just don't have the vanity or the body to make it worth my while.  It had to be something else, something deeper that drove me.  Was it the same thing that once drove me to play basketball for two hours a day in an extremely ropey Manchester neighbourhood and brave the cold mud and pain to play rugby in the UK?

Then it came to me, it was absolute nothingness.  Four miles in with aching legs and wet toes my mind went blank, no thoughts of pleasure or pain, just calm.  The serenity of being absolutely comfortable in what you are doing, feeling like you could go for miles without a care in the world.  In a way it’s like euphoria without the awareness that you are happy. This inner peace is what I had been chasing all these years and you could almost not notice it was there.

You could call this all sorts of names, the classic runners high, meditation, a trance or all sorts of things, but if you've been there or done endurance sports you must know what I mean.  Is it just me or is this the core of what all of us get out there and sweat for? Now my task is not to name it or put it into a box, but to go out and find it again, I can't wait for my long run .............