Spartan blog

Chester Marathon 2012

Our friend and fellow spartan Nick Wishart has many pearls of wisdom. I think Nick would be the first to admit that some of his 'gems' were plucked straight from the little red guy that hovers over his right shoulder. However, one of his mainstays is Spartaan gold and possibly proves why he has become a pillar of our counter culture. I decided to put it to the test…

When running with Nick you will often hear him say "Specificity of training". Frankly you are lucky if you can say it, let alone fit it into a busy training schedule. Simply put, this is an efficient way of saying, "if you're about to run the UTLD then you'd better go and find some hills sharpish".

Chester Marathon was looming and seemed like the perfect place to give "SofT" a try. Yes a r**d race, not particularly appealing but my one and only attempt had resulted in a 3:43 result which I was very pleased with. A year on, and having never done the same run twice, it seemed the perfect opportunity to benchmark my progress.

I've never been one for training plans and always feel that there's little chance of me planning anything around a busy life. One thing I do know is that I've done a lot of exercise over the last year and a half. This has led me to feel confident enough that I can run 26.2 miles on any given day should someone ever hand me a very important note and point me in the direction of Athens. However, like anyone, I wanted to do the best I could with what I've got and hopefully snatch a PB in the process.

So, my 'training plan' would consist of the following: one run mid week, ride bike when possible, walk the dog. In addition I planned to do 3x 20mile runs on Saturdays leading up to race day. These races would involve "SofT", which was a loop I devised last year around the country lanes of Cuddington, out to Acton Bridge, around to Kingswood, Manley and back down to Norley. It's a pleasant loop with one rather unsavoury aspect – it's 100% tarmac. Scientific analysis of my three training runs and subsequent race day follows herewith:

Sesh One

I bounced out of bed, ate some breakfast and was out of the door by 7. On hitting the r**d I felt good. I'd opted to run without music. Since Stuart Mills visited us I've been of the opinion that the sounds of nature are sweet enough and I should just "enjoy the overall experience". That's what I did. I bounded along the r**d with a plan in mind – run 20 miles at 8:30min/mile.

5 miles in I was running great, took on my first gel (aka "specificity of training"). All 5 of my miles were around 8min/mi as I headed into Kingsley. It felt good, so why not. 10 miles in and it was a different story. The hill into Kingsley had activated the quad trouble I've been having since May. It hurt a lot so I stood, stretched and threw down a 9min mile. Things got better from there on in. The spring in my step was evident and I went on run all 20 in an average of 8:02mins. I was elated with that and collapsed in a heap on the grass outside my house. I had no more run left in me. I got on the spin bike and did the other 6miles there. Nice and easy but it was mental boost.

Sesh Two

Then came the darkness… I had spent Saturday sorting some woes. I'd got myself into substantial trouble and there was only one way out - a lot of hard work, digging and painting. I won't elaborate. I had postponed my run to Sunday which I hate as it's one less day to recover before work. When I woke at about 6am I felt rubbish. I forced my breakfast down and hit the roads already weary. It was a killer. The entire run felt like 20 miles in. I struggled to make a 9min/mile. It took all of my mental strength and determination just to get round. My stubbornness in fact took me to 22miles. I refused to be beaten but I now hated roads more than ever before. SofT had taken its toll. r**d running is a lonely, thankless task. I was now demoralised and wondering how on earth I could come back from this low.

Sesh Three

A week of getting my head in the right place ensued. I decided SoT could shove it, but in the back of my mind I knew there was a great deal of truth in what Nick had said. I decided to take the pressure off… no looking at GPS, music on, get out there and enjoy. To enjoy running again I knew exactly what I needed to do – no more roads! So I decided to mix it up. A bit of trail and a bit of r**d. A mile in, I met another runner, a Vale Royalist in fact. I did my bit for inter club relations and enjoyed running with someone else with no expectations of pace. I then went in search of the Sunday Spartans with no result. I ducked off onto some tarmac and found myself on unchartered territory and having fun. I timed it just right so that I would catch the Spartans at Barnesbridge and found them tucking into an array of homemade cakes! I was having a great time and picked up Matt and Emma. In my delight that my mojo had returned I forgot my manners and darted in all directions thoroughly embarrassing myself. Nevertheless I was back in the game and it was time for a taper.

Race Day

Taper had gone to pot with a good loosener consisting of 60k of 2 wheeled propulsion. Never mind, race day was here and Rob and I made our way to Chester. I could hardly believe the occurrence of another 'A race' full of cold. The plan remained the same - solid 8min/miles, although I had blatantly denied it to Rob. I'd just about done it once before and all I had to do was keep it up for an additional 6 miles.. This would theoretically mean I'd hit 3hrs 30.

From the start line I felt good. Light and floaty. I felt confident that I wasn't going to have a Sesh 2 style day. 6ish miles in I realised that I had been doing virtually 7:30min/miles. That's ok, I felt good. Just keep relaxed and stay off the muscles to avoid burning glycogen. Clive then passed me doing a good 30 seconds a mile quicker. I decided to hang back and just kept him within range until 15 miles when I passed him having some trouble with his hammies. I had gone for music as a way of masking the brain numbing r**d running. As I climbed into Farndon the most inspirational song I know started up - "I am the greatest man who ever lived" by Weezer - a classic if you ever want to feel like a god of whatever. The track has a massive cheer at the start which sounded just like it came from the Farndon supporters. It was sensational. That combined with a high fives with from Team Hackos left me buzzing and good for another 5 miles…

Round about mile 21-22 the wheels fell off. Did someone say specificity of training? Yes, I now know that means distance too. It was no coincidence that this is the exact distance I had trained to. Forget what the experts say – if you want to do a good marathon train to 26 miles. Better still train to 30! I hauled my sorry arse round the last 4 miles. I toughed it out and made it home in 3:27. To say I was pleased with that is something of a massive understatement. I knew it was never going to be easy but with a cold factored in I hadn't really been particularly confident.

I crossed the finish line and duly collapsed in a heap. Next thing I knew was a marshall checking me for signs of life. I had 10pint bed-spin and was thankfully handed several packet of Haribo which seemed to do the trick. It wasn't long until the full contingent of Spartans was back with us, each and every one having put in an exceptional performance. Well done guys.

So, is there anything in specificity? I certainly think so. There's no way I'd want to attempt a long r**d race without training on roads. Maintaining a consistent pace is wholly different to beasting the Sandstone Trail. Having said that, too much of anything and you may find yourself in the doldrums. Cheers Nick.

When I got home I looked at my first half spilt. Another PB, taking 4 seconds off my best! That was pre-Sparta and just shows what a bit of Spartan training can do.

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