8 weeks to train for a 50k

Have I lost my mind?

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I can count on my hands the number of runs I have done since the Copenhagen Marathon on 18 May, and now I have eight weeks to train for a 50k – The Royal Parks Foundation Ultra on 12 October. Follow my weekly 'progress' here… HELP!

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50K ULTRA MARATHON: COMPLETE!

I may currently be walking like a duck, but I have a huge grin like a cheshire cat. Yesterday, Sunday October 12, was the day I became an Ultra runner. 

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It was unlike any running event I have taken part in. First, only 332 runners took part (which, unbelievably, included another Debbie Morgan?!). Second, the first 6 kilometres of the race were on closed roads, but the rest of the route (the other 44k) was on standard paths, signposted frequently and marshaled by lovely volunteers. Third, it was 50 kilometres (have I mentioned that before?).

Unfortunately, Amy was unable to take part in the event due to a stomach bug, so it was just Tim and I on race day. Running with Tim was the best thing I could have asked for – I cannot imagine running that distance without a buddy. It is far, it takes a long time, and there is often no one around; just a very long, seemingly never-ending path ahead of you. Unfathomably, I didn’t listen to music once (so much for my 11+ hour playlist!); Tim and I just chatted the whole way. Granted, there wasn’t much reciprocal conversation from my side between kilometres 30 and 40… That stretch was tough. But once I saw the 40k sign, I knew the end was in sight. Plus, we made it a social run – loo stop here, picture there; we had fun! And we had fun because we took the pressure off; no running against the clock.

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I had seen a picture on Twitter the night before the run that said ‘She believed she could, so she did’ and that was the mantra that I kept replaying in my mind during the darkest moments; it’s true what they say, though, it’s all about belief. As Lorraine told me before the run ‘You can if you think you can’; I told myself I could, so I did. 50 kilometres is, I would say, a mental challenge more than a physical one. Your body can achieve incredible things, but you have to want to try.

I would like to thank Tim Weeks for being an absolute champ on race day - and in the days and weeks leading up to race day. Everyone at W10 Performance for ‘stronging me up’. James Vickers at CHHP for getting me to the start line in one piece; and each and every one of you that supported me along the way. Never has pain felt so good.

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Week #8 – This is it

After a week of eating and sleeping a stupendous amount, it is finally the night before the Royal Parks Foundation Ultra. I am nervous. I’ve been fighting off a cold all week, plus, I managed to strain my inner thigh muscles whilst trying to strengthen my glutes and hamstrings during my physio exercises in a rather enthusiastic fashion. To say my training hasn’t wholly gone to plan would be an understatement, but that’s life. Things don’t always go to plan. And I am as prepared as I can be. Really. This is my ‘night before the race’ checklist:

*Kit laid out (Nike Lunareclipse 4 trainers, Sweaty Betty running socks, Puma compression leggings, Shock Absorber sports bra and my RPFUltra running top with race number attached and emergency info completed on the back – I have once forgotten to do this! – plus an unwanted top to wear to the start line and discard)

*Fully charged phone complete with ultra playlist (compiled with suggestions from many lovely friends – I’m currently at a playlist length of over 11 hours…Almost positive this will have me covered) and earphones

*Supplies en route prepared: x6 strawberry & banana Powergels; x1 Maxifuel ViperActive gel; x1 pack Clif shot bloks; x2 white chocolate & macadamia nut Clif bars; water bottle; vaseline; spare socks; spare top; vaseline; blister plasters; immodium(!); money

*Bag for finish prepared (lucozade sport, jumper, spare clothes, towel, Clif bars, banana, paracetemol)

*Breakfast ready to go (x2 pieces wholemeal toast with banana and honey)

*Toenails trimmed (not too short, otherwise you will enter a world of pain...)

*Shave armpits the night before! (Best to minimize rubbing, where possible.)

*Clean bedding for the final sleep (this is not a necessity, but it’s excellent.)

Plus, I have checked the weather forecast every night this week and - touch wood – it looks as though good running conditions are on the horizon! Here’s the route:

Click here for a full scale version.

And, if you really want, you can track my progress by clicking here. To find me, either enter my name or my running number, which is 39 (and you will see if I go through difficulties and you can come to my rescue!)!

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Things to think about:

1.     If anyone might come and run with me, even if it’s just for a kilometre!
2.     Everyone who is supporting me.
3.     The finish line.

Here goes!

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Week #7 – Darkness strikes

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It has been a heck of a ride training for this 50k. But what I keep reminding myself is that the training is always the hardest, most lonely part. It's about setting the foundations; race day is the icing on the cake.

The penultimate week of my 50k training contained blood, sweat and tears… OK not blood but definitely sweat and tears. After my sciatic-nerve saga I was finally let loose to run for three hours, and I had a mini mental panic attack. Well, the longest run I had behind me was a 90 minute run, four weeks ago. My mind went into the darkest of dark places (like I talked about in my last post) and despite having many positives to focus on, all I could think about were the negatives. I started walking after 7k. SEVEN K?! After that it was horrendous – I wasn't tired, I wasn't out of breath, I knew I could carry on running - for a long time - but my mind just wouldn't let me. It was the strangest, most frustrating thing.

But I did stay out on my feet for the full three hours, even if I did walk a great deal of it. And at least it meant I managed to bank 27k, even if it wasn't the 33k I was anticipating. It was better than nothing. It was like a really bad dress rehearsal before the show. That's what I have to remember: it was just a practise run, and it didn't go well. So what? On the day, I will have Amy and Tim running alongside me, my friends and family at the finish line, and supporters along the route. I won't be me on my own at the bottom of a hill in Richmond Park wondering what on earth I'm doing. There will be no 'next time' – it will be the day. And I will do it.

Things to think about:

1.     The weather forecast.
2.     My playlist. I am in desperate need of new songs. And a lot of them. Suggestions welcome/greatly encouraged!
3.     Making sure I don't stay up until 1am every night watching The Killing on Netflix and get some good nights' sleep in!

James Vickers, the physio I have been seeing at CHHP, said at my last session that there was no question I was fit enough to run the 50k (great to hear!) but that I had to make sure I had enough energy, and that the last few times I had gone out I had been running on, essentially, vapours – not enough sleep, not enough food, not enough rest = not good. Here's to lots of food and lying down for the last week!

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53 Marathons in 53 Days

Amy Hughes did it! On Saturday 27 September, Amy completed her challenge of running 53 marathons in 53 cities and towns in the UK in 53 consecutive days = a new world record (the current record for the most marathons run on consecutive days is 17 for women and 52 for men). Her aim was to encourage people to have a more healthy and active lifestyle, and to raise as much money as possible for The Isabelle Lottie Foundation – a charity which aims to support children and their families following the diagnosis of a brain tumour. Amy hopes to raise £53,000 for the charity.

I spoke with her after she had completed her 40th marathon and asked for her main tips on how to cope, mentally, with an endurance challenge:

– Break it down into manageable sized chunks

– Don't think too far ahead; take each day as it comes

– Try not to put too much pressure on yourself

– Focus on your support

Everyone has 'dark' moments when running, so it's important you know what you are going to tell yourself if your mind does start to creep into one of these dark places, to get you looking ahead to the finish line, instead of focusing on the ground right in front of you.

So, x5 10k's back-to-back, here I come! (I think that sounds better than 'let's run a marathon, and then keep running for another 8k'… I think…) Either way, they both sound better than 53 marathons back-to-back!

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Week #6 – Onwards and Upwards

Less than two weeks left before the big day! Week number six went by like a flash and now I have my biggest training week ahead of me before I wind everything down for taper week. James Vickers, the physio I have been seeing at CHHP, has ramped up my twice-daily exercises as well, which are now as follows:

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Hamstring chair bridges – 25reps, 8reps single x 4

Split squat – 10reps with 10secs pause at half range x 3

Plank series – 4 positions 30secs x 2 (if the back is sore then reduced to 15secs x 4 in each position)

Swiss-ball dead-bugs – 20reps x 4

I really hate them. All of them. Which means they're working. I better have the best bottom by the end of this…

The main thing is that I am still able to go ahead with the run, and with comfort in the knowledge that I am not going to give myself any irreparable damage by doing so (James said so!).

Things to think about:

1.     Finishing a run to the tune of Antidote by Swedish House Mafia is excellent.
2.     Toilet facilities en route…
3.     Always remember which flavour gel you have taken with you… #strawberryandbananasurprise

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FABRIC – You Need to Know This

Fiona Oakes, triple marathon world record holder and the fastest woman to run a marathon on each Continent and the North Pole (in elapsed, aggregate time) shared a very useful method of thought for any runner to bear in mind:

 

Focus –­ set a goal and focus on it

Awareness ­– be aware of your body and learn to listen to what it is telling you

Believe –­ have self-belief in both your ability and your training programme

Realistic –­ set goals which are reasonable and attainable but always keep an open mind, the sky's the limit!

Interpretation –­ learn to interpret signs of fatigue and injury before they develop into something serious

Consistency –­ be consistent in your training and build it up slowly but surely

 

Fiona has been vegan for 40 years and in February 2015 will tackle '777' - seven marathons on seven continents in seven days – which would be a new world record. It really does make my 50k look like a walk in the park! Which it may well become…

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Week #5 – Laying low

As training has gone down a completely different route (ie. rehab) with my sciatic nerve issues, I just have to focus on making sure I can be as prepared as possible, given the circumstances. Tim Weeks advised the following plan for the final three weeks (last week's runs were a maximum of 30 minutes):

W/C 22/9 – x6 light 45 minute runs, W10 session, daily strength and conditioning exercises (listed in previous blog post) and 2 manual release and dry needling sessions at CHHP
W/C 29/9 – x5 60 minute runs PLUS 1 test 3 hour run, W10 session and 2 manual release and dry needling sessions at CHHP
W/C  6/10 – taper week and prep

I can't believe how quickly this 50k is coming around…

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Trying out my Inov-8 RaceUltra290 trainers on one of my 30 minute rehab runs

Things to think about:

1.     Stop applying too much pressure – I'm not aiming to break any world records! Just focus on getting to the finish line.
2.     How I'm going to carry all my energy gels on the day. (I think I'm going to need a lot.)
3.     The fact that I am very excited to be allowed to do one 3-hour test run next weekend…

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Week #4 – Houston, we have a problem

I admit it. My hamstring was hurting for quite some time before I was eventually persuaded to seek advice from a professional. Classic – continue to train because you feel you need to, that the aches and pains are really not that bad, but, inevitably, you make the problem worse and end up giving yourself a longer recovery period, and less time to train. My current situation. Tim Weeks recommended I visit James Vickers at the Centre for Health & Human Performance (CHHP) at Harley Street to be examined. 

With abject horror I realised I had put on a dress that morning…Luckily, professionals such as these have handy pairs of shorts in stock for just such an embarrassing situation. I was saved. But I also didn't think to take any trainers… Attempting to run on a treadmill without them is a very odd feeling, and made my running technique look even more bizarre than normal. Basically, I was the most unprepared person to visit a physio. But James was great, asked all the right questions and wiggled, wobbled and prodded all of the relevant bits, definitively concluding that the problem was not with my hamstring.

Interesting. It appears the problem was with my Sciatic nerve. The largest single nerve in the body. Excellent. Then, the word that no one wants to hear = needles. Turns out that ‘Intramuscular Manual Therapy’ (IMT) is an effective form of treatment for such an issue. This involves inserting a solid filament needle into the skin and muscle directly at a myofascial trigger point - otherwise known as "muscle knots", to you and me - which generate local twitch responses aimed at assisting in the reduction of the pain cycle. Can’t wait for my next session!

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But the reality was that it really did help. I had more mobility and less pain after just one session. I was also given the following exercises to do to further improve my area of weakness:

Hamstring chair bridges – 25 reps, x4 – Lie on the floor with your knees in the air, legs bent at a 90 degree angle, placing your feet on a chair, which can move along the surface if pushed (the idea behind this being that if you move the chair, you're not doing the exercise correctly), and lift your bottom up, as high as you can, squeezing your bottom all the way, to engage your glutes and hamstrings.

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McConnell wall squat – 10 secs x6, x4 – Using a wall, lift your knee up the wall so that your leg is at a right angle, pushing your knee into the wall, as you gently lower yourself into a pretend-seating position, ensuring your left leg doesn't go over your foot (push this out to the left) and keeping your back straight – hold for ten seconds. Swap and do the other leg. Repeat.

It may sound like not much, but I challenge you to do these exercises and not feel ‘the burn’… Plus, I have to do them every.single.day. Twice. At least, until the run itself.

         James putting compression tape on my lower back after IMT at CHHP

So, to summarise: I have to run 50 kilometres in four weeks time and, as it stands, I am not allowed to run for longer than 20-30 minutes at a time. Considering the longest run I have completed was 10 miles two weeks ago, I am not filled with a huge amount of confidence. Seriously, help! Amy completed the London Duathlon this weekend!!

Advice from James Vickers:

* At what point should you visit a physio?

If unsure about any musculoskeletal pain. We all get aches and pains from time to time but if one doesn’t fit, is prolonged or inhibiting you in any way, then it’s best to get it checked out.

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*Are there warning signs that it’s a bigger issue than just the need to rest?

If you’re getting pain that wakes you at night then generally you want to get that checked out. Pins and needles and numbness that is not related to you sitting/sleeping on an appendage (i.e. arm/leg etc).

*Are there any websites that you recommend for finding physios outside of London?

http://www.physiosinsport.org/ & http://www.csp.org.uk/ are both useful websites.

*Do you have any additional advice on this topic?

Generally people need to be stronger than they think for dynamic activities. For example, runners need to have strong and durable calves, which is often overlooked. Investing some time strength and conditioning that is specific to the sport that you’re going to be doing will benefit both your performance and reduce your risk of injury. Getting advice on what is most appropriate is therefore advisable.

Things to think about:

1.     Always, always remember not to wear a dress to a physio appointment. And bring trainers.
2.     Giving Max Willcocks’ quinoa salad a try.
3.     The need for a positive mental attitude. Even though I can’t train right now, I can do this.

Click here for our useful Injury Glossary

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Week #3 – Pick up the pace

                 I’m becoming a fan of running in the dark (only on lit paths…)!

I learnt this week about the power of positive mental attitude. My biggest hold back in running is literally my holding back. I used to have the biggest fear of ‘hitting the wall’, so whenever I took part in any kind of running event I would always run at a pace that I felt comfortable with for fear that I would inevitably vomit or die if I attempted to push myself.

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Turns out, pushing yourself is pretty brilliant. I set off for a 10k run one day this week and told myself ‘today I will PB’. And you know what? I got four! 

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Not only did this do wonders to my confidence, I also found the next longer run I did so much easier! If you never push yourself, how will you ever know what you can achieve?

Things to think about:

1.     You really can if you think you can. (And that goes for anything, not just running.)
2.     Doing a two-hour ‘Yoga for Fitness’ workshop after an hour’s strength and conditioning training is inadvisable.
3.     Potentially bringing protein shakes into my life.

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Week #2 – Let's be realistic

I went for a run the other day – hurrah! – and discovered midway through that half of my sports bra wasn’t even done up. (I couldn’t for the life of me work out why I was in so much pain. That’ll do it.) I was running with @Tim_Weeks – our Copenhagen Marathon trainer, and all round trainer extraordinaire – who found the whole thing highly amusing.

Tim is a great advocate of not letting training interfere with your life. I missed my long run at the weekend and had a mild panic, but he assured me that this was fine, I would just need to do more of my shorter runs to ‘bank’ the miles the following week – all is not lost. Tim’s advice is:

*Be realistic - with your planning, especially with your time and what you’re hoping to achieve in that time. Work out when you're free at the beginning of the week and plan in your training sessions (but don’t beat yourself up if you don’t make them all).

*Be consistent – don’t do 2 hours one week and 12 the next – not only will it not be beneficial, it will open you up to potential injury. The body likes routine.

*Be committed – appreciate that while you don’t want training to take over your life, you do need to commit a certain amount of time to training – it’s not about running 50k really fast (for me, in any case), it’s about finishing with a smile on your face.

*Be Smart - life is full of hurdles. That’s the reality of life. Always think about being adaptable when these hurdles appear. Try not to panic if your ‘plan’ goes temporarily out the window. Just apply the three points above.  

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…Anyone want to run with me?

Things to think about:

1.     My attempt at a press-up looks like someone attempting a solo Mexican wave from a plank position.
2.     An extension of point 1. – I need a stronger core (quote Tim: 'nipples to knees’).
3.     I need to run more.

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Week #1 – Strong me up

 

If you think about someone chasing you with a weapon, you’d probably be able to run a great deal further than you could ever imagine. Running long distances is as much a mental challenge as it is a physical one – if no one is chasing you, why are you running? Well, the answer to that varies significantly from person to person, but you know the saying, 'You can, if you think you can'? If you want to run 50k, you can, you just have to really, really want to. And, bizarrely, I do.
 
But I do need to be strong (and not just mentally), which is why, although I haven’t properly run in months, I have maintained my strength and conditioning training at W10 Performance. They have tailored a programme, specifically for me and my Ultra challenge, which focuses on building my core muscle strength (particularly my glutes – bottom – which are the most important muscles for long-distance running, don’t you know).

W10 Strength Circuit / workout

A1. Split squat x 10 each leg
A2. 45 Back Extension x 12
x3 sets (rest periods are broadly between 1-2 minutes between each set)

B1. Romanian Deadlift x 8
B2. 1/2 Turkish Get Up x 3 each arm
B3. Reverse Crunch x 15
B4. Rope Face Pulls x 15
x2-3 sets

C. 10 minutes of metabolic 'fun' (These are the words of the W10 trainers – in my words, it would be '10 minutes of metabolic hell'.)

Two of these sessions per week, plus at least one short and one long run, is the plan I'm working to, with yoga/pilates as an optional addition, depending on how much time I have.

I ran my first long run in three months – 16k – the day after my last strength session at W10. Phew. One in the bank. (I made sure my playlist had at least 10 new songs before heading out.)

Things to think about:
 
1.     Adding ‘Powersongs’ to my Nike Running App – this seems like a great idea. I think Chandelier by Sia might be up there.
2.     The need of more training kit.
3.     How much I like wine.

Check out bodybuilding.com for tutorials on how to do each exercise in the programme.

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8 weeks to train for a 50k...

WHAT? Yep. The Royal Parks Foundation Ultra on 12th October. I actually googled ‘8 weeks to train for a 50k’ and was more than a little disheartened to return the result: ‘50k in 8 weeks: an experiment in suffering.’ Oh, good. Nothing to worry about, then.

To be fair, I ran the Copenhagen Marathon with Team ELLE in May, so I have base level fitness from then (I think), but I have been basically sedentary since. (I did take up softball a few weeks ago, though – does swinging a baseball bat a few times once a week count towards training?)

Luckily, I’m not on my own. That’s the great thing about Team ELLE, no matter how scary the challenge, there’s always someone willing to support you. Super-sporty-runstreaking-duathlon-training, Amy Lawrenson, is also running it with me. And we have decided to look upon it as simply a social jog – a VERY long, social jog - no time-pressure, just fun (maybe, for a bit. You’ll probably find us at the pub somewhere between 25 and 30k, if not before).

Things to think about:
 
1.     The advice I have been given is to focus on strength-training – Hello, @W10Performance.
2.     How much food I will be able to eat…
3.     Will my playlist ever be long enough…#chargermustnotfailme

Updates to follow.

Find Debbie and Amy on Twitter:

@Deb_ELLE

@amylawrenson

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