Last time I was at this stage of a marathon training cycle I posted about how it paid to get creative with your long runs. For 5 years now I’ve been walking out of my front door and turning either left or right…and although every junction I came to I had a choice over the years I have followed every possibility, run every road and covered every inch of tarmac in this town. So again, when it comes to posting runs of 18 miles or more, it was important to think outside the box and find a way of spending 3 hours on my feet without going mad.
And so, prompted by a ridiculous marathon I had heard of, I decided to do the most mind numbingly boring 18 miles I could imagine…around the athletics track.
Now there were actually a number of good reasons to choose this…no seriously, there were! Try these on for size to begin with…
- 18 miles of perfect surface; no puddles, tree roots, curbs…and it’s even a little bit bouncy to give you an extra boost
- 18 miles of uninterrupted running; there would be no traffic lights, no loose dogs running in front of me, no cars pulling out of drives for me to run in to the side of…in fact my only deviation from running would be when I turned around and ran the other way around the track (which I figured was important so I didn’t end up with one leg shorter than the other!)
- 18 miles without a single hill, in fact nothing to slow me down or speed me up. Just me determining my pace and no excuses for slowing
- 18 miles without having to carry anything, I would only ever be 400 metres away from my water, energy gels, jacket etc and could pick them up and drop them anywhere I wanted. (I should point out at this point that due to fortuitous circumstance I had the track all to myself, the only other people there were the local rugby league team who were very supportive!)
- 18 miles that finished at a vending machine, toilet, shower and bar, and only a mile from my front door.
- 18 miles of monotony that would give me strong mental game for marathon day. If I can keep focused for three hours under these conditions then a race day 26 wouldn’t hold any fears.
And so it was that this morning I found myself on the start line at Prince of Wales Stadium with 3 hours of running ahead of me…
I’d done some quick maths and worked out it was 4 laps per mile, which would be a sensible time to turn around. This worked perfectly for the first few miles but I was soon losing count of what I’d done. Not to worry though because my trusty Garmin kept me informed of how I was going, and steady 10 minute miles were falling away at my feet. A parkrun friend, Si Jarvis, popped down to do a mile with me which was much appreciated. We chatted about the running challenges we had coming up which reminded me why I was there in the first place so as he turned away I had extra resolve to see out the wind and rain and get the job done. The first six miles went by in almost exactly an hour.
When it got to the middle six miles I was starting to flag. The physical side was fine but I found I needed something more to stimulate me mentally. (I was listening to the Scroobius Pip Distraction Pieces Podcasts, which are brilliant, but I was zoning out on the track and would suddenly realise I’d run an extra lap or gone straight past the water I needed so I needed to start engaging my mind!) As I had all the track to myself I decided to use it, and from that point I began doing sets of 6 laps working from the outside of the track through the lanes and finishing with the 6th lap in the inside lane where the water etc was lying. The knock on effect of this was of course that laps in the outer lanes are slightly longer and so I was also reducing the number of laps I had to do. Bonus!
As I entered the last 6 miles this plan worked really well. It was surprising how much ground I could cover in a set of laps and I breezed past a half marathon and on towards my longest run since 2013. I was actually getting faster as I edged past 16 miles, through the 17 that my plan dictated and on towards the 18 miles I’d set myself as a target. That last mile was my quickest of the day and while I’m sure my finishing sprint from 200 metres out won’t worry any of the track regulars it felt great to have something left to give, another gear to shift in to, somewhere else to explore mentally and fight for every second at the end of a long, soggy, boring track day! I crossed the line for the 68th time and stopped the watch to the cheers of the rugby club. 18 miles, not just done but done well.
I would definitely recommend getting some track in your training plan, whether it’s for a quick speed session or an uninterrupted long run. I won’t be making a habit of it, but next marathon I’ll definitely be back for another go.
(Thanks to University of Gloucestershire All Golds for allowing me access to the track on opening day of their new season. The boys went on to smash South Wales Scorpions 36-6 so it worked out well for everyone!)