Jo was part of a group of ten Gatley Runners who decide to run a marathon after the Covid lockdowns, they approached me the previous summer to work with them to get them through the marathon and took me on an incredible journey. It was only fairly late in the process that I decide I would join them for the run on race day and stay with whoever was at the back of our group (or who ended up there later on). During the training for the marathon I provided the group with 3 ‘generic’ plans based on their running volume before the training started, but whenever illness, injury or life intervened to force a runner to lose more than a couple of runs from the program I would step in and provide a personalised plan to get them back on track. In Jo’s case she had a historic knee injury that flared up twice during training, the last time only a month before race day leaving her unable to walk comfortably on it for several days, let alone run.
Clearly this was a less than ideal situation, however, we had a number of things on our side; Jo had already done a 30km run which is longer than the long run on some programs and she had kept a thorough diary from the earlier flare up – this was critical as it gave me a good guide as to how quickly she could recover between runs and also some clues as to what factors had positive and negative impacts on the issue. Given how slowly mechanical endurance and strength are lost I wasn’t overly concerned about the physical aspects, but so much of a marathon is in the mind that not running for weeks before it, would have had a huge impact; therefore I worked with Jo to try and get her doing just enough running to give her confidence whilst allowing the injury to recover – I also stressed the importance of strength training to build up the supporting muscles around the knee. We also had a bit of luck; Jo saw an osteopath who ‘cleared’ her to run and boosted her confidence.
Jo reinforced a number of the things I’ve felt were important; the power of the mind, the importance of strength training and the value of a detailed training diary.
On the day Jo nailed it; she went out at her target pace, fuelled well and made it to the 20 mile mark in great shape at that point we switched to a 300m walk every mile which got her to the end in great spirits and with a sprint finish (1 min/km faster than the fastest pace of the rest of the run) for the last few hundred meters! What said it all to me about Jo’s run is that she was smiling on almost every single photo taken of her on the course, well done again Jo!
After the marathon I sent Jo some questions about how she found the process which she answered with great candour and has agreed that I can share her answers.
A bit about your running history; when did you start running? when did you restart running as an adult?
I briefly ran in my early 30s, but I hated running and stopped after reaching 10km. After that, I sat on the sofa for 15 years and put on weight until my GP diagnosed high-blood pressure and gave me the option of lifestyle changes or going on medication. I sorted out my diet, lost weight, and joined Gatley Runners’ 0–5km programme. I was in my late 40s when I joined the running club.
What events had you run before? What was your longest before marathon training?
After finishing the 0–5km programme with Gatley Runners, I built up distances slowly and I did a couple of 10km races and then a half-marathon before I started Alex’s marathon training plan.
What was your goal for the training program?
My goal was just to finish the marathon. I wasn’t interested in speed – I just wanted to do the distance. I was never a sporty child or adult, and I loved the idea of being a marathon runner, so Alex wrote a training plan that would get me to that goal.
What were your favourite parts of the training?
The long runs with friends from the running club were my favourite part of training. Building up the distances and being capable of running for hours was really rewarding.
What were the worst parts of the training?
I was in the late stages of perimenopause and suffering with extreme fatigue during training. I then started on HRT partway through training and, although it did help somewhat with the fatigue, I then had to deal with a new cycle of hormones. I had to be really flexible with my training plan to fit the hormone cycle and to deal with the tiredness. In addition, an old knee problem flared up the month before the marathon and I missed the last two long runs and also reduced my overall running. So the worst part of training was the worry of not keeping up with the plan and the other Gatley runners, and trying to not let that affect me mentally.
What were the most important things you learnt during the training? For each of those things; did someone tell you or did you learn it as a result of an experience?
The most important things I learnt during training were that nutrition and good fuel played a major part in how well I could run, and that rest and recovery is vital, particularly when injured. Nutrition during marathon training was something I did a lot of research on, mainly because I’m interested in nutrition anyway, but also because I was so tired from the menopause that it was the one thing I could do to make running easier. With my knee injury, Alex coached me through this and he convinced me that I had done enough long runs by that point that I could drastically reduce my running for the month before the marathon without a detrimental effect on the race itself. I was really upset about missing the 20-mile training run in particular, and for a month I did no more than three short runs a week. I struggled with this, particularly as the other Gatley runners were surpassing me with their marathon training. But Alex was spot on: I went into the marathon feeling well rested and in good condition, and I had a good race on the day: the reduced running didn’t affect my overall performance, and my knee held out for the distance.
What would you do differently next time? (aside from not even starting!)
If I were to do another marathon, I’d want to go into the training having already been doing a regular strength-training programme and then making it a big part of a running plan. I did do a bit of strength training and yoga, but in hindsight it wasn’t enough. I think long-distance running is greatly helped by being strong for anyone, but particularly for women my age. Aerobically, I was good, but it was the strength that was the main issue for my long-distance running, so I’d address that if I did it again.
What were your favourite parts of race/event day?
My favourite parts of marathon day was the nice companiable run with Alex, seeing friends and family along the way, and high-fiving the children who had come to spectate. But the best part was crossing the finish line: I couldn’t believe I’d actually run 26.2 miles! It was only two years ago that I was struggling to run for 30 seconds in the 0–5km programme, and I don’t think I’ll get over the amazement that this former overweight, lazy, non-sporty woman did a marathon.
What were your worst parts of race/event day?
The final six miles are just as difficult as everyone says. But actually, it’s a mental battle that goes on at that point more than anything: on marathon day, I reached 20 miles and was convinced I needed to walk the last six miles, but Alex was just as convinced I was capable of running them, with a two-minute walk break at the last few mile markers. Of course, he was right – I did it and it didn’t kill me!
Did you achieve your goal?
Yes – my goal was to do the distance without it feeling like a hideous slog and without hitting the wall. For most of the race, I felt strong and well fuelled. It was only the last six miles that were really hard and tiring, but it’s a marathon – if it was easy, everyone would do it. And I finished feeling like I could have done a little more (at a push!).
What has helped your recovery?
My training plan was personalised, based on my running up to that point, and it built up my distances slowly and carefully over six months. So, apart from a pre-existing injury, I was in good condition by marathon day. I also ate really good nutritious food in the weeks leading up to race day, I was well hydrated, and I was really well rested. I also fuelled pretty well during the run. So I think all of that helped with recovery afterwards.
What has hindered your recovery?
I celebrated quite hard afterwards in the pub… A more sensible approach probably would have been to go home and have some protein! I also sat down too much in the day or two after the marathon, so my legs were stiff probably for longer than they needed to be had I moved around a bit more.