Notts AC runner Stuart Spencer will be one of the thousands setting their sights on a marathon PB in the capital.
The accountant from Leicestershire finished 2016 as the eleventh-best marathoner in the country after his stupendous personal best of 2:19.17 in Berlin. The two-minute improvement on his PB set the year before also saw him steal Aaron Scott’s recently set Notts AC club record by one second.
With only two weeks until the big day, the Andrew McNeill-coached runner has decided not to do this year’s London Marathon. Undeterred, Stuart shares his disappointment, decision-making process and plans for the future in his fifth and final blog.
In the end there was only one (sensible) choice, and unfortunately that has been to not run this year’s London Marathon.
I was always going to make my final decision after my 16 mile tempo at marathon effort last Sunday. Although the run went well and I felt reasonably comfortable picking up through the second half to finish inside 5:15 pace, I knew as I jogged home what the decision was.
I know I am fit and running well, but I simply haven’t been able to put in the consistent quality miles of previous marathon campaigns. Lacking the over-distance runs at a good pace and the specific marathon pace long tempo runs means last Sunday’s run was the first ‘key marathon workout’! Just four weeks from race day that’s not the position to be in.
I could go to London and run close to 2:20, but off the training I feel that would take me a month to recover from. Tempting as it was – especially considering the strong team Notts AC have in the race – ultimately I needed to make the right decision for my personal goals.
So a tweak to the training for a specific focus on bringing my 10K times down through the spring and early summer is the plan. Off that work I should be able to get into the 29’s. Starting my 16 week marathon build up to Berlin in September from that starting point would be a minute head start on last year!
Given the level I feel I was at for that race, and with continued improvements to the training, supplementary work and recovery then I will genuinely feel I can take another significant chunk off my current PB. I won’t be setting myself any limits on that, rather I will simply knuckle down and let the time come to me.
If I get to September in 2:16 shape then great, a good performance will see a 3 minute PB! If I am flying through August then who knows, I might be heading the Berlin looking for something even faster and taking a bit more of a risk on the race strategy. Exciting thoughts and they’ve been important to keep reminding myself through the disappointment of not racing London.
We’ll still be down in London to support with hotels booked, friends and family racing as well as the intrigue of the GB selection race for the men and women! I can’t pretend to enjoy supporting anywhere near as much as I do competing but the prospect of seeing a true race for the places in the GB team for the World Championships is some consolation.
I will be back in London, fit and ready to do myself justice. In the meantime though the spring is now all about getting the sub-30 monkey off my back – perhaps that monkey has been weighing heavy and releasing that will lead to great things for the rest of 2017!
Keep track of Stuart’s progress and follow him on Twitter.
As the brutal marathon work starts to kick in, the next couple of weeks will prove decisive for Stuart. With marathon PB prospects in the balance, find out why the smart money is on Stuart hitting a first sub-30 minute 10k in May.
BLOG #4: DECISIONS
So, it turned out a couple of easier days wasn’t enough of an ease down to put in a performance in line with my current fitness at the CPC Loop Den Haag Half Marathon.
Having flown out knowing I was getting in some reasonable shape, I decided to start at around PB pace (5 minute miles or thereabouts). But it soon became clear that I was either way off PB shape or was seriously tired and I drifted out to a disappointing finish in 69:15.
I did take slight consolation that changes to the course and weather conditions meant everybody slowed in the second half. On reflection the following day, though, I had done close to 250 miles during my 12 days in Spain, all at a decent pace.
So not the race I’d hoped for but it did finish a good month of training. An easier week followed before I got stuck into proper structured training, but time is ticking.
Given the slow start to the year, I spoke with Andy [McNeill – Stuart’s coach] and we agreed the realistic goal needs to shift to the Highgate 10,000m/Vitality London 10k double, with a view to running inside 30 minutes for the first time. We agree that’s key to kicking on and realising the sort of marathon time we feel I’m capable of later in the year.
That said, the first couple of week’s training see a mix of 10k/marathon type work. With four weeks until London, I’m sure Andy still has it in mind that I could run well off a minimal taper if training goes to plan over the next few weeks.
I learned early in my running career not to chase fitness post-injury, hence why I have shifted my focus to the May races. That isn’t to say I’m ignoring London. If everything goes well, I will still go there with a plan and fully committed. I know from previous specific blocks of training that I can expect to feel rubbish most days over the next couple of weeks. But once through the other side, I’m normally fit, recovering well and coping with the mix of high-quality and volume, so it could all yet fall together nicely.
This first week has included a quality tempo run at close to PB pace (mainly because my 5 mile PB is so poor!), a tough session in brutal wind and rain and finished with the Midland 12 Stage Road Relays yesterday (write up to follow). I followed this up with a ~22 mile quality long run today – so my staple marathon training week.
Next week looks tough again and will finish with a 16 mile tempo run at 90% max heart rate, i.e. marathon effort! By then I’ll have a good idea what current marathon pace is and if London remains a realistic target. It certainly looks like being a loaded domestic race so I’d love to be part of it, but only if I’m in shape to run close to my current PB.
I guess all will be revealed in my next blog.
A couple of races, Spanish hospitality and many miles bashed out in the sunshine, now back in the UK, Stuart reflects on his time in Spain.
At last, some quality training and some signs that fitness is not too far in the distance. I went to Spain with a loose plan of alternate ‘hard’ days, regular strength work and building on my base miles with plenty of doubles.
The trip started well as by coincidence the Torrevieja Half Marathon was held the day after we arrived!
Totally unsure of fitness I wanted to keep the effort controlled early on and also ensure I was able to train the day after. The flat nature of the course meant I did get some grief from my left glute/hamstring a little after halfway but a conscious effort to lengthen my stride put paid to that.
I was able to return to the harbour a clear winner in 69:14 which I was more than happy with given the lack of anything but steady running so far in 2017 – barely even target marathon pace but a reasonable start. You can’t beat that winning feeling, especially after a period of not racing.
The rest of the week progressed nicely with some good quality running both on the trails heading inland & on the track at Sports City – especially useful as there was only ever one other personal using it.
Late on the Friday I became aware of another local race, but with the website being in Spanish and my language skills learned from Manuel in Fawlty Towers and Oz in Auf Wiedersehen Pet, all I knew was I had entered a 7.85k race in Benijofar.
An ideal distance to properly test myself, but on closer inspection – and having driven to town to collect my number – it became apparent I had entered a very hilly mixed-terrain race. I was there for the training benefits though so went straight to the front and pushed the pace throughout. Eventually I broke clear after approximately 4k as we ran into the wind along the river path.
Back into the village and the atmosphere was electric! With my pidgin Spanish I was able to pick out that they thought I was on for the course record, so no milking the applause at this one as I had no idea what time I needed. With arms and legs flailing, I tried something akin to a sprint down the main high street.
I finished the day with a course record (fastest average time as it was previously 7.5k), another huge trophy, meat from Jaimes the local butcher and honorary membership to the organising club Club Atletismo Benijofar. But most importantly, I came away from it with an average minute mile pace of 4:57 on a tough course, half of which was rough off-road, a time faster than a couple of not too shabby Spanish athletes in Chema Martínez and Eliseo Martín and no aggravation to my glute!
The entire village came out to support this race, with the local police helping to close the roads and marshal the various children’s race – it would be great to see similar support from local councils in the UK!
The last week in Spain went well with more good, if unspectacular, training miles logged and after stumping up for some excess baggage for my return flight all that remains is to see if a couple of easy days can bring me a decent time in The Hague this coming Sunday.
Whatever the outcome of that I know I now have a few weeks of quality training behind me and can assess fitness next week to consider London possibilities. There are definitely some hard weeks to come now but after blowing away the cobwebs with a couple of races I’m looking forward to making 2017 count.
We catch up with Stuart as he kicks off marathon training in earnest in the sunnier climes of Alicante in Spain.
FOCUSSING ON specific goals means making decisions and sacrifices – some easy and some more difficult.
One decision – partly enforced due to the weakness in my glute – was to miss this year’s English National Cross Country at my club, Notts AC’s, home venue, Wollaton Park.
It was looking very unlikely a few weeks back that I was going to be able to race, so we took the decision to fly out for a couple of weeks training in Spain.
As I type, I’m just back from a steady 9 mile run along the trails by the salt lake in town. I got through a tentative first session of 3 x 8 minutes last week feeling comfortable, which gave me the green light to push on while here.
The plan is to pick up the miles generally and build on the quality sessions every couple of days. Being away will also give me more time to focus on specific strength exercises to ensure I come back with glutes of steel!
Over the years, I’ve learnt to focus on the training rather than races and to look to the races only once fit and training well. So, the current focus is very much on putting together a block of high-quality weeks, progressing fitness and then assessing the goals and targets for the spring.
We’re now just eight weeks from London and, although it’s very much a focus on training for fitness for now, it does remain a realistic target to get the seven weeks of high-quality training in and be toeing the line ready to race well in Greenwich.
The Midland 12 Stage Road Relays are a month away and provide a good short-term focus. The relays are one of my favourite events – and I always come off that block of training with two quality sessions, the Saturday race and a good Sunday long run. All of the key ingredients.
Before that, though, we’re flying out to The Hague for the half marathon on 12 March. This will be a useful marker of fitness after this training camp. I’ll squeeze the National 12 Stage Road Relays in before London just a fortnight later. Despite not intending to race much, the diary can soon fill up with races!
I know there will be some tough days where I feel awful as I adapt to the training load, but this normally comes between weeks four and six based on previous blocks of training. So my wife, Jo, can look forward to me moaning about us living in a three story house again!
Though I’m pretty sure she just blanks it out now and accepts I will be a useless lump collapsed on the sofa when not out running.
THE BERLIN marathon back in September 2016 was something of a breakthrough for me, finally cracking the 2:20 mark that had previously eluded me! Although not the 2:16-17 I and my coach had trained for and expected, it was a successful build-up and race nonetheless.
Now a couple of years into my new job at Charnwood Accountants, I’m only just starting to make the most of the increased flexibility and support the firm give me for my training and racing.
Being just three miles direct run from home it is an ideal commute, enabling me to extend the run each way as required taking in some great trails in the process.
Going from 5am starts and second runs at 7pm after commuting home I can now run commute most days including tempo runs. One big benefit of this has been freeing up time for supplemental exercises, which – other than a current glute issue – have helped keep me on the road!
The troublesome glute means 2017 has so far just been basic steady running with lots of cross training. We have a two week trip to Sports City in Torrevieja the end of the month and the plan is to really start specific training now to push on through that trip.
It’s then to The Hague for the half marathon where it will be a marker of fitness rather than the 64 something I had been aiming for. That leaves five weeks to London, so I’ll train through The Hague before an intense four weeks and a short taper (that worked well for Berlin) to see what shape I can get into off a shorter build up.
The issues through January mean I’ve been forced into a different approach but it provides Andy (McNeill, my coach for the last four years) and I with an opportunity to try something different.
The aim for 2017 was always to try something slightly different for London and to then reassess and build-up to Berlin again with a view to doing everything I can to get into 2:15 shape. Some things will remain though, including the long (15-20 miles) marathon pace/progression runs, over distance runs at a good pace and weekly mileage averaging 110-130 miles through the 14-16 week block.
The aims for 2017 are fairly simple – PB’s at all distances and get in shape to really attack Berlin. A sub 30 minute 10K remains a goal I want to achieve sooner rather than later and the Highgate Night of the 10,000m PBs looks to be a good early opportunity given the change in my London build up this year.
All being well my next blog will be typed out in the Spanish sunshine at the start of some high-quality training and recovering!
Image from Stuart Spencer