The Jesus Christ crazy maze
This was my first training run, taken while on holiday in San Sebastian, things could be worse... Wasn’t quite sure what to do then, apart from the simple facts: it needs to be 9k and have as much hill work as possible. I didn’t know many places in the city so I ended up going up the one hill you could see in the old town. It’s not a wide hill but it has many different paths so it turned into a game of trying to get up and down it as many times as possible while never re-running the same route. It failed at some point but I managed overall to clock up 500 m elevation in 6 km around that hill (15% average, more than twice the Glencoe Marathon rate, good start).
The birthday run
This was a lovely 15 km run in the pentlands (see our downloads section for the route map) which is mentioned here as a way to share a photo of the bunch of people who played a role in our training. So here you meet Alexis who got us into this whole hill running business, Jeremie a workmate who’s planning to do the Glencoe Marathon next year, Enzo the little dog who experienced the longest run of his young life (but quickly got into the whole hill running business) and Rob who joined us there and for a few subsequent runs.
We decided to have a reconnaissance run 5 weeks ahead of the marathon. It consisted of running the 1st half of the marathon, from Glencoe to Kinlochleven. We departed from the Clagaich Inn instead of the Red Squirrel for practical reasons.
I had the route programmed on Strava on my phone but needed some network connection to load it right before starting the run. 3G is pretty patchy down this valley but I was pleased to have it all up and running at the start: strava, check; map, check; heart rate, check; custom GPS, check; let’s enjoy it now!
Or not quite yet...
The phone froze a few minutes after we’d left… I had a 2nd phone but I had to spend the next 30 min head down into both phones trying to get the various bluetooth & 3G connections working, only keeping an eye on Tell’s heels to keep me roughly on my feet.
By the time I had my head back up to enjoy the scenery, we’d already gone up most of the Glencoe pass. We then knew the course intended for us to take a “shortcut” from the road to the devil's staircase… The path wasn’t really clear so another 10-15 minutes were spent head down to the phone while ploughing through bushier and bushier heather and various sneakily hidden streams…
Struggling slowly through heather had one benefit: as soon as we joined the proper path, a cheeky caffeine gel down the throat and we felt like we were flying despite the much greater climb gradient. In very little time we had reached the top.
The downhill section was pure joy. Feeling fast though only managing 5 min/km due to terrain and probably some hidden tiredness.
We completed the 21 km in 2 hr 14 min, feeling very excited about the whole thing. Could we infer from this what the time objective could be for the full marathon? Some analysis of the 2015 results showed that on average, people took 15% longer to complete the 2nd half of the marathon. Was 2 hr 14 min a good baseline for the 1st half? It felt like it. We had started a bit earlier but still completed 21 km, we had got lost a bit but we knew we only had 21 km to cover so may have gone faster than we would in the marathon. So in balance we stuck to this reference of 2 hr 14 min for the 1st half, meaning a 15% slower 2nd half would take 2 hr 34 min, making the whole marathon 4 hr 48 min.
The killer run
The longest runs of the training plan occur around the two month mark - in the final third of the training plan. These include a 30 km run and a 36 km run, both of which are recommended to be done at the target marathon pace. Therefore, we decided, for the first run, to attempt to replicate and/or exaggerate the elevation required for the complete marathon. 1000 m elevation change over 31.2 km (6.7% gradient) with plenty of hill work built in. This would be a significant step up in terms of total distance from our previous longest run (the reccie - 21.1 km), but that went well so we were fairly optimistic.
To complicate issues a little bit further, we wanted to start the day with a quick Park Run, so we only wanted a 26km course, with the first 5km of the day being done during the Park Run, which may seem like a bit of a cheat - but this meant the 1000 m had to be climbed in 26.2 km (8.0% gradient) and so the course was set.
Without a doubt, this was the hardest run of the entire training program. I’m still not sure whether it was supposed to be, or whether it was our design of a “flat and fast” 5 km, plus a sharply “up and down” 26 km, but it was a killer. The first 5 km park run was done at PB pace, but the hill work dropped the pace massively to 7:30 min/km. It felt like endless climb after endless climb...
After each ascent, there was a sharp descent, followed by another ridiculous ascent. There was swearing, lots of gels, lots of water, and more swearing. At the beginning of the 3rd hill Pierre assured me that this was the last one, but by the time we reached the top my hopes were shattered as I saw another hill at the bottom of the descent. However, I was promised there was only one more - so raced down and then… back up again we went. At the top, I saw our next climb… “Last one, this time I promise”... down and back up again… There was another one!!! I started to think I should begin to take more interest in the route planning.
In the end, we made it back - about 40 mins slower than we had optimistically hoped for, but alive. It took a full week to recover from this run. The hammering on the joints was intense going up and down those hills and the mental shock to the system that this run provided (after the relatively enjoyable reccie run) re-motivated us to double down on the training plan for the final month. So in retrospect it was worth it, we had felt how bad it could be if you weren’t prepared and we certainly didn’t want to be in that place for nearly half the marathon. So it was time to really get prepared!