17 May 2016

Marathon Training Tips - Pushing Too Hard Too Soon

So I kicked off writing a blog series (read below) about my Big Hairy Audacious Goal for training and running my first marathon. In this series I wanted to share with you the things that worked for me in terms of my training schedule, training aids, nutrition, sleep etc (i.e. a complete 360 degree view on training for my first marathon) as an intermediate level runner. I set myself a fairly huge goal for running my first marathon - a sub-3 hour time. There is context below as to why this is a particularly big goal for me at this point in my life.

Unfortunately things haven't quite turned out as first planned. In fact, a major spanner has jammed itself into my 'running machine'. I'm injured with achilles tendinopathy and have been sidelined from running for 8-10+ weeks. Instead of wallowing in self pity and abandoning this blog series and aborting my training for a marathon, I thought I'd approach things slightly differently to how I would normally react and instead press on with the training and blog series, albeit at a slower pace and possibly a half rather than than the full marathon initially planned. Over the next month or two, I'd like to share with you how I started getting injured, what my awesome physiotherapist (Belinda) and exercise physiologist (Tom) think caused the injury, what I'm working with them on along my road to recovery and more in the hope that you may avoid, or recover properly from, an achilles injury. I'll also talk about why my injury is a significant setback for my marathon/half marathon training and my running goal.

Essentially, I'm now learning the hard way about not ramping up the km's too quickly when getting back into running and how to build a holistic, total body, running plan that should make me a better, stronger, more complete runner in the long term.

More on this very soon, but for the mean time, here is my first post of the personal Marathon Training Blog Series by Andrew, Team onsport.com.au:

Running a Marathon: Marathon Training, Goals & My BHAG – Part 1

I’m kind of competitive when it comes to sport and fitness, business and most things in life. I like to think I keep a normal amount of perspective on things, despite my competitive streak. My whole life I’ve had an on again, off again relationship with running. When I get into it, I love it (I’ve run the SMH Half Marathon, a City2Surf and a couple of 10km ‘fun’ runs and can’t wait to do more!). When life (mostly work) gets in the way and I’m not running, weeks and sometimes months can go by and when the time passes, I stress about how another week/month has passed and I haven’t been running. I think one of the major reasons it’s so hard for me to get back into running is because I build it up in my mind as something that’s difficult and I really want to do well at, rather than just starting easy and enjoying running, regardless of how well I’m running to begin with. I build things up in my head so much that I then wait for the perfect moment to start my running training, like when I’m not tired, not feeling sick, not busy… this ridiculous procrastination can go on for months before I finally go for my first ‘comeback’ run. Maybe it stems from a fear of failure, I don’t know. After my first run back, I’ll typically try to get back into running more but it can be a bit stop/start and it’s easy for a busy period or important event in my life to knock me off course again. Sound familiar?

My huge personal marathon running goal

That was the past. This is now. I’ve thrown myself in the deep end with running my first marathon and set myself a marathon goal so audacious, so huge that I simply have to prioritise and jam marathon training into my life, no matter how insanely busy it gets. Period. Back when I was working at Macquarie a marathon goal as big as the one I’ve set would’ve been called a ‘BHAG’ (Big Hairy Audacious Goal). At Macquarie there were normal goals, then there were stretch goals and then there were the BHAG’s. I’ll tell you why my marathon running goal is a BHAG…

Why my running goal’s a big deal for me personally

To give you some context to the enormity of my marathon goal, we need to go back in time to November 2015. It started out an ordinary week, like most others with 15 hour+ weekdays and weekend work dealing with the craziness that is the Christmas retail period. We had our biggest Christmas sales period on record and we were under the pump. I had a total of 4 days of leave last calendar year and by the end of the year I was feeling the burn. My son had just turned one and had been attending daycare for a month or two. He and my wife and I had picked up a brand new cold every second week since he started daycare (which I hear is pretty much par for the daycare course).

The week when things turned bad I had a virus and started to feel really, really ordinary, as if I was completely hung over (not that it happens often!), fatigued and dizzy and I also had a ridiculously stiff neck. I went to bed early that night and in the middle of the night I woke with severe sweating, extreme muscle aching and incredible weakness in my arms and legs. I tried to lift my limbs and couldn’t, I felt paralyzed. All of my limbs felt the way your arm feels when you’ve been lying on it at night and you cut complete circulation off and your arm goes all floppy. Suffice to say the experience scared the living daylights out of me!

In the morning I could barely walk properly, but in a bit of pain I soldiered on to work and sat there feeling horrendous all day for a number of days, trying to be productive, simply because we were so busy. Those next few nights I went to bed exhausted and woke again with the same symptoms. I survived the week and on the weekend I knew things were bad when I couldn’t squeeze the toothpaste out of the tube, couldn’t pick up a small glass of water and when I went to fill out a form at the dentist, I couldn’t write my name properly or complete the form…

Time to see a Doctor

It was then that I thought it might be time to see a GP! I visited my GP and was prescribed steroids (the diagnosis at the time was tendonitis) and the muscle weakness improved for a week or so. I also had a blood test to screen for the usual things and this came back with a low positive result on antinuclear antibody’s (ANA’s). According to the Doc, this result suggested that my body had experienced an auto-immune response after the virus that I had prior to the muscle weakness. A few days later I had pins and needles / tingling in my hands and feet (they are still present today but occur very infrequently and I usually notice them when I’m stressed or tired). I ignored these new symptoms for about two weeks (because I’m a guy and I hate going to the doctor) and then decided that they had been hanging around too long to continue to ignore them, especially given the previous experience of muscle weakness. So I went to see another GP (my regular GP was away that day) and she referred me to a Rheumatologist. I went to the Rheumatologist just before Christmas who said that I was not weak enough to have lupus (woo hoo!) and she suggested I enjoy my Christmas break and see her again if the symptoms continued. They did, so I did (see her). She was somewhat perplexed about my symptoms and gave me a referral to see a neurologist, if the symptoms didn’t go away in a few weeks.

Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS)

With continuing symptoms, I booked into a neurologist a few weeks later. She examined me thoroughly for an hour, I did more specific blood tests, nerve conduction tests and an MRI and the neurologist concluded that my symptoms were consistent with a relatively rare auto-immune disease called Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS), specifically the AIDP (Acute Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy) variety. In a nutshell, what she thinks happened to me was a virus triggered an autoimmune response in which my body and launched an attack on the myelin sheath (fatty tissue) that assists with speedy nerve conduction. Basically I felt fatigued all the time for months after, had ongoing tingling in my hands and feet and life was a little bit more of grind than before (for example, I struggled to pick up and hold my son for more than a minute or two before I had to put him back down again and concentrating at work for long periods was a battle).

The great news is that I’m now on the mend and I only had a mild to moderate case of GBS – I was very lucky, many people experience far worse symptoms and paralysis for months, years and sometimes permanently. Hawthorn Football Club (AFL)’s coach Alastair Clarkson was unable to coach for most of the 2014 AFL season falling ill with GBS. See the Guillian-Barre Syndrome Association of NSW for more information about GBS.

Going through (albeit a mild-moderate) period of illness with GBS has provided me with a massive amount of perspective about achieving the goals in my life that I had been putting off for years. I know that is a massive cliché but it has been a rude awakening. I have been talking about running a marathon for years, dreaming of it but doing nothing about it, blaming it on being too busy, too tired, waiting for the perfect time to start, not today when I don’t feel 100% etc etc. I co-founded an eCommerce startup in 2011, so pretty much my life for the first four years was work > home, home > work, weekend work (at home) and start at the beginning and do it all again. Running a start-up and growing something from zero sounds glamorous, but it’s super hard work and it’s stressful not knowing where the next dollar will come from and when. Add a new baby to that mix a few years later and you can see how I was time-poor and a little strung out.

I’ve learnt from my experience, where at one point I was feeling and thinking that I might never walk again, that you need to grab the opportunities you have in front of you immediately (not some day soon, not tomorrow), regardless of how busy you are with other things in life, as you never know what the future holds. I read somewhere recently the saying: “Run while you still can”. It wasn’t referring to marathon running as it turns out, but it stuck in my head and I could relate to it, given my situation. I looked around me at my grandfather who could barely walk, my father in law who has a stuffed knee from a work injury and others around me who now can’t run and it hit me like a freight train – no matter how busy I was with everything going on in my life, I had to stop putting off the things I wanted to achieve in my personal life, as I may not have the opportunity in the future that I have right here and now. I had to start doing, ‘whilst I still could’.

So I did some Googling and spoke to a few mates who had run halfs and full marathons and the consensus was that a sub-3 hour marathon was a coveted prize, something very hard to achieve, something only 1-2% of people who start a marathon actually achieve. As a result, I was instantly drawn to the idea and wanted to achieve it. Why just ran a marathon when I could run one and have a crack at a sub-3 hour marathon for my first effort.

My First Marathon – A Sub-3 Hour

So here I am today, having done a little training (1-2 times a week) over the last few months to get back into running and commencing my tilt towards a sub-3 marathon. I’m still recovering from GBS and I’m still incredibly busy with work and a 16 month old, but having a crack at my first marathon at a sub-3 hour pace is something I must do. I might fall flat on my ars and not even finish, I might finish the race but miss the sub-3 time, or I might achieve my goal, first time around, who knows! Regardless of how it turns out and I’d like to share with you my marathon training story along the way, including the best and most practical training and race tips that I pick up from runners and personal trainers far more experienced and educated than me (and the odd tip from the internet) and my thoughts on nutrition, hydration, running gear and the things that I find assist my training the most.

My aim for all of this is that first and foremost you will find this journey interesting, that you might learn a few things, but most of all, that if you have been thinking about running a marathon but you think you’re not a runner or you can’t run one, or you have been putting off running one, waiting for the perfect time in your life to do it, that you are inspired to start training for a marathon (today, not tomorrow).

And so it begins…

// Andrew

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Physical status: 26/5/2016 - Rebuilding after Achilles Tendinopathy, 6-8 week walk/run interval program. Past: 17/5/2016 - Injured (Achilles Tendinopathy), 8 weeks.

Mental status: 26/5/2016 - Excited to be back into running, albeit very slowly. Past: 17/5/2016 - Itching to run (!), but trying to be patient...

View all posts from this personal Marathon Training blog series.

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