Thames Valley Harrier, Tracy Barlow, was one of those who had a new personal best in her sights – and an outside chance of making the GB team at this summer’s IAAF World Championships in London.
Last year’s mass race winner took to the elite race like a duck to water.
Now more than 80 minutes faster than her first attempt at the distance six years ago, Tracy excelled in the capital and achieved her twin ambition.
Tracy epitomises the DIY grassroots ethic and finished third Brit in a new PB of 2:30:42 – 93 seconds faster than her previous best in Frankfurt set last autumn. She also had her place on the team alongside Alyson Dixon and Charlotte Purdue confirmed earlier this week.
Tracy has been sharing her progress with us in a fortnightly blog.
From starting training at the end of January and personal bests in the sun to the inevitable illnesses and challenges along the way, it’s been quite the marathon journey over the last twelve weeks for Tracy.
Now, after finishing third Brit in the elite women’s race in a new personal best of 2:30.42 – and qualifying for this summer’s IAAF World Championships – Tracy blogs for us one last time and shares her experiences last weekend, the relief and joy of finishing third – and ambitions for London 2017.
WOW! WHAT an experience it was running in the London Marathon elite field. From staying in the hotel, being taken to the start, running the race and being taken back on the boat again, it is an experience I will never forget. A big highlight for me was the sheer amount of support I got from you guys all the way round the course.
I arrived at the race hotel on the Friday afternoon. After checking into my room and catching up with Jenny Spink, we headed up to the athlete registration to pick up my race credentials.
On the wall, there was the poster with all the athletes’ names and a drawing of what kit they would be in. Seeing my name and racing kit up there among such great athletes was such a surreal and exciting feeling.
There was such a buzz around the hotel, with so many elite athletes and para-athletes from all over the world – and the odd celebrity thrown in for good measure.
I headed over to the Expo to have a look around and to meet up with my coach [Nick Anderson]. I always find this place gets me in the mood and excited for marathon day. It was different this time as I wasn’t running just to beat my PB; I was running for a place on the GB team at the World Champs. It was hard to get my head around this and not get too worked up or nervous about what Sunday would hold for me.
As Saturday rolled around, I put my prep into motion – a 20-minute jog before breakfast to turn the legs over. I’m pretty sure I saw some of the leading male contingent out doing something similar, although their jog was more around my 3k pace!
I’d been practising all the snacks and meals I’d be having on this day over the past few months. This is something I’d gone through with Alan Murchison, who has been helping me with my nutrition. This would ensure there wouldn’t be anything that could cause any problems and upset my already churning stomach.
Saturday was about getting everything in place so that race-day would go smoothly. This included decorating my drinks bottles so I would know which was mine on drinks tables, making sure my parents knew where they were standing and what time to expect me, and trying to relax.
There was a technical meeting in the evening, which gave us all the information on the race, the times that we needed to be ready to go to the bus that would take us to the start and which side of the cone to run down on the finishing straight in accordance to which race you are in.
I had a nice quiet evening with my coach where we talked mostly about things unrelated to running. This helped hugely as it took my mind off what was going to happen the next day and enabled me to relax – though seeing the lead cars with the time clocks on top parked outside the hotel as we returned certainly got the butterflies going again!
Sunday morning arrived and I was wide awake long before I needed to get up. We needed to be in the hotel reception by 6.40 so we could be called to the buses parked on Tower Bridge. These would take us to the start.
We still had over two-and-a-half hours to the start of our race, so I hadn’t had my breakfast before we left. I decided it was best to stick with my plan of having it at the timings I had practised, so I took my tupperware bowl of cereal with me onto the bus and had it there.
There were four old-fashioned double-decker buses that took all the elite athletes, coaches and agents to the start area. We went off in convoy with a police escort – it certainly made the tourists’ day!
At the start, there were marquees where we could sit and relax, stretch and do what we needed to prepare. I needed to get the logos on my calf sleeves covered to comply with IAAF rules, hence why I had gaffer tape stuck to me in places.
We were called up ten minutes before the start. This was it.
A bit of jogging to shake off the nerves and then we were all lined up. They announced the fastest athletes and then the countdown began. Though it wasn’t a countdown, it was a heartbeat sound. Which went on FOREVER! Eventually the horn sounded and we were off.
I had decided to go off with the 2.28 pacer as I knew I was in good shape. If I needed to pull back a bit and save myself then I would. Running in the pack that included Jo, Aly, Charlotte and Susan was a brilliant experience. We had plenty of shouts from the crowds.
After around 7 miles, me, Jo and Susan eased back from the pacing group but kept them 20-30 metres ahead of us. Shortly after, I realised they had dropped back further and I was running on my own. I decided that, as it wasn’t windy, trying to drop back to stay with the group wouldn’t be of benefit to me, so I stuck with trying to keep the pacing group not too far ahead of me.
Things started to get tough around mile 16. This is where things begin to hurt and it becomes a battle of mind over matter. I was getting a lot of cheers from fellow runners from running clubs all over, who were in the crowds watching.
It made such a difference to me having that support as I felt like I had my friends all the way along the latter stages of the course. I may not have looked like I heard your shouts, but believe me I heard every single one of them, and it really kept me going.
Coming down the mall and hearing the announcers call out my name gave me the boost I needed to finish strongly. I was looking at the clock to see what time I was on for. I had stopped looking at my watch by this point as I was just giving it everything I had.
I was so relieved to cross the finish line, but more importantly achieve a 2.30 marathon. I just wanted to lie down straight afterwards but I had to keep walking (albeit very slowly) back to the marquees where all the athletes gathered.
I was interviewed on my way back. My throat was so dry and my brain wasn’t functioning particularly well, so I was relieved to see it came out ok.
I also met back up with my coach at this point. His words are something I will remember for a long time. It made me realise just what I had achieved and potentially what the future held.
To get back to the hotel, we were bussed back to the Thames clipper boat at Westminster pier. Riding back in the sunshine along the Thames was a lovely experience. We could hear the cheering crowds for the runners still going, so it was nice being able to experience that after the race.
I spent the rest of the day with friends and family and generally just enjoying myself. I still don’t think it had really sunk in.
In the following days, I was getting messages left, right and centre on all forms of social media, messages of congratulations and also many people asking if I had been selected for the Worlds.
The selection meeting wasn’t until Tuesday, so I wasn’t sure what the outcome would be. I knew the first two to cross the line were automatically selected, but the third was at the selectors’ discretion. It was an agonising wait for most of Tuesday…
Then finally I got the call from Barry Fudge. It was only at this point that things began to sink in. My goal of making the Worlds had been achieved. It still gives me goosebumps thinking of it now and I’m sure it will do so for a long time to come.
Sharing it with my friends and family was brilliant. Seeing their joy and excitement for me was fantastic. These are the people who have been through this journey with me from the start. They have shared the highs and the lows with me along the way and have kept me focused on my goal. I owe a lot to them, so they deserve to celebrate it as much as I have.
For now, I’m going to enjoy my rest period before I need to get back into marathon training. The summer is going to be exciting and I’m really looking forward to every part of it.
For so long, the London Marathon has seemed a goal way off in the distance. Now, with just three weeks to go until race day, the reality of the challenge ahead is starting to hit home for Tracy. With more miles under her belt and a race to boot, the Thames Valley Harrier is approaching top form – and ready to do herself justice in the capital.
I would usually be really excited for the London Marathon as it’s my favourite race. I love the crowds lining the streets cheering on everyone. However, this time it’s different. There is a pressure there that has never been there before. In the past, I have run for myself and to try and beat my PB. This time, it’s a qualifying race and places for the World Championships are at stake.
I’m not just running this race as part of my hobby anymore. It’s my job and my future career potentially rests on the outcome. Part of me is looking forward to seeing what I can do, the other part of me is in denial that it’s happening. No doubt those feelings are completely normal and thanks to my friends, family and coach, who have been with me each step of the way, they are helping me keep the focus and the thoughts positive.
Another aspect of my training I have been paying close attention to is my nutrition. I’ve been working with Alan Murchison aka Performance Chef to match my nutrition needs with my training. Each week, I send him my training programme and he sets meal plans for me to follow. This ensures I’m taking in enough macronutrients to recover from a session, and that I am fuelled enough for the following day.
Prior to working with Alan, I had been trying to improve on my nutrition and to include more varied meals and wholegrains. However, the volume of food wasn’t enough and I wasn’t getting enough of the right food types at the right time. Since working with Alan, it has made a massive difference to my ability to push harder in sessions and races, and also my energy levels during the day.
Last week was the turn of the Southern Road Relays in my racing programme. I really enjoy taking part in these as I get to cheer on my teammates during the race, and then be cheered on when it’s my turn. I also think I run better in the race as I don’t want to let the rest of the team down. The course was certainly a challenge, with all the up hills being into a strong head wind – though I enjoyed the down hill sections with the tailwind!
I had been given a session for after my leg: 2x5k at marathon pace. The location of the relays made this a tad problematic and my options of where to do it were limited. I did, though, manage to find a bit of a path at the side of the cyclopark.
However, after dodging pedestrians, dogs and navigating through gates designed to slow cyclists, my legs weren’t up to managing it twice. I decided it would be best to save my legs for the long run the following day and leave it at 1x5k.
It’s possibly the first time I’ve actually made a sensible decision in deciding when I would be better to ease off in a session rather than attempt it regardless of whether I can do it justice. Nice to know I’m learning…slowly.
Even though the majority of the work is done, I still have a few key long runs to get right in the next couple of weeks. It will then be time for the taper – and hopefully avoiding the taper madness.
With just five weeks to go until the London Marathon, training starts to ramp up for Tracy. Knocked back by a cold after her win at the Cambridge Half Marathon, the Thames Valley Harrier dusts herself down and gets on with the job in hand.
I’D BE lying if I didn’t say I wasn’t disappointed with my time in Cambridge [1:16:22]. The day had been forecast cold temperatures, heavy rain and strong winds for the morning – all three conditions I absolutely hate running in.
As there was nothing I could do about it, my plan was to race it as I would have normally and try and use groups to shelter from the wind like I did in Barcelona. The only trouble was, this race wasn’t as populated as the Barcelona Half, so I soon lost the group I was running with. This left me running solo and battling the head winds for the majority of the race. The race dented my confidence and made me feel like I had taken a step backwards in fitness. It’s fair to say I wasn’t a ray of sunshine traveling back with my poor parents doing their best to lift my mood.
The week after, I tried to put the race behind me and focus on my trip to Portugal for warm weather training – difficult as I felt exhausted for most of the week. The race had clearly taken more out of me than I thought. I also developed a cold and began to feel run down. By the end of the week, I was having to drag myself out of the door on my easy runs, trying to think of something that would help get me through the run.
One positive for the week though was it was my last one at work. After a lot of thought over the past few weeks, I’ve decided to train full time in the final few weeks leading up to the marathon. The benefits of getting more sleep and being more rested while out in Spain meant it was a no brainer for me. If I was to give this marathon my best shot, then the work unfortunately had to give.
Being out in Portugal has always given me confidence in the past and the belief that I’m on target for my goals. Being able to run with someone on each run makes a huge difference to my energy levels.
One of the first runs that I arrived for was the long run. Here, we run out to a loop near Vilamoura, which is around 5k away from the hotel, and the loop is around 5k long. It’s perfect for being able to break the long run up into segments so the pace work can be done. That run was the longest to date at 24 miles. It was nice to get it done while being among other runners (from the 209 training camp) and being cheered on as I went past. It’s also great to be able to recover in the sunshine too.
I’ve also slowly been getting back into the routine of resting in between my sessions while out in Portugal. It’s surprising how hard it is for me to just sit and not do much! I’m used to being on the go and actually thrive on it, though I now realise it’s to my own detriment in terms of training.
I’m making an effort to relax and switch off for a bit during the day. Lying by a pool makes it considerably easier. I’ll have to make sure I carry it on when I get home and not get tempted to go out and fill my day with things.
The final few days out in Portugal were a bit quieter as the majority of the training camp had gone home. But team work on the long runs makes such a difference both physically and mentally. It was great to have the support from the rest of the group before they left, cheering me on at the end of the last paced lap. It was just what I needed to keep the pace up and nail the end of the run.
The next five weeks at home will be key to getting the final pieces of the jigsaw puzzle in exactly the right place, and keeping my mind focused as 23 April draws closer.
After two weeks training in Spain and a huge half marathon PB, it’s back to Blighty for Tracy and the reality of 5am runs, long days at the office, sessions with her Winchester group – and the English National Cross Country Championships in Nottingham.
RETURNING TO work and having to run in the early morning and in the dark has certainly been a shock to the system over the last couple of weeks.
Setting the alarm for a time that starts with a 5 is something that I thoroughly enjoyed not having to do while I was away in Spain. Thankfully, the mornings are lighter now, so by the end of my run it feels like the day is starting.
One thing I am enjoying (or more specifically my legs) is the flat ground of West London. That first morning back, I felt like I was flying round – I had to add on an extra bit to my run as I was back home before the amount of time I was meant to be running for was up!
The past week has been more a case of settling back into things at home and training back with the group in Winchester.
There’s a mix of age and ability in the group, so there’s always someone to chase down or someone who is stronger than you during certain parts of the session. It’s something I certainly need as I know I have a tendency to go into marathon mode and hit cruise control in a session if I don’t have a focus or a target to hit.
I’m not a fan of running in circles – but it was nice coming back to do the same road rep we do and feeling noticeably stronger than I did before I went away.
Last weekend I raced at the English National Cross Country Champs. It felt incredibly tough on marathon legs. I didn’t have a specific target in mind as it’s not a key race for me. I just wanted to go out hard and try and hold on, and use it as a V02 max-type session.
The race wasn’t originally part of my plan but I’d been entered by the club and didn’t want to let the team down. Standing on the start line shivering in my vest and shorts as it began to rain (typically just for our race, thank you British weather), I began to wish I hadn’t convinced my coach to let me run.
I was a little disappointed in my finishing place but my legs weren’t interested in playing ball. I certainly didn’t allow myself to relax and ease off at any one point, but when I hit the mud (or more accurately the swamp!) it just zapped any power, speed and strength I had in my legs – and certainly reaffirmed to me why cross country is not my forte.
The following day, I was still able to put in a decent long run around Richmond Park. This time it was with no paces in, just a steady 2 hours of running. With the disappointment of the day before in me, I was pushing on a little at times, but it felt good and I felt like the legs were back doing their thing again. It gave me confidence to end the weekend on a positive note.
The next focus is the Cambridge Half Marathon. I’m looking forward to heading there for the weekend and racing in a different city. My parents are coming to watch so I know I’ll be getting the loudest cheers. [Ed. note: Tracy went on to win the race in 1:16:22].
THE TIME spent out here in Spain enabling me to focus on training for the past few weeks has been just what I needed to get my marathon preparations underway. Having the time to sleep more, recover better and switch off from things has enabled me to push harder and run further and faster in training.
The terrain out here is fantastic for strength training. Where I am staying is out of the town a little bit and up a rather steep hill. It means that most runs include a descent to the town but also a tough run back up it.
I’ve gone from barely including any hills in my run, to being unable to avoid them. My first longish pre-breakfast run here included over 1100ft of elevation. It was a shock to the legs, but it’s certainly paying off as the Barcelona half marathon showed.
This race was in addition to my training here. I’d always planned to come out to Spain, it was only when Jenny [Spink] mentioned that she was running it that I thought it would be ideal for me too.
The morning before the race we hit a snag, the car wasn’t for starting so we had to bump start the car down the hill so we could get a lift to the station. Nothing like throwing in a bit more strength training to the mix.
Thankfully the rest of the journey and number pick up was relatively a smooth process and without any hiccups. We even got upgraded at the hotel to a suite.
The morning of the race arrived and we made our way to the start. We had no idea where the elite tent was as we had been given no information at the expo. Thankfully another elite runner happened to be walking past us and clocked our ‘lost and confused’ expressions. She indicated that she was also elite and to follow her. I’m not sure we would have found where we needed to be if she hadn’t helped us.
With the warm up done and everyone lined up on the start line I tried to focus and get my head into race mode. There was the usual jostling and pushing at the very start of the race. I stood my ground and kept up with those around me until it settled down.
I knew it was going to be pretty windy round the course with gusts every now and then. Thankfully Jen’s husband had studied the wind direction and informed us of where we would face the wind and when we would have it behind us.
Knowing this was a huge help throughout the race and I was able to tuck in behind groups of runners to shelter from the worst of it. There were times when I needed to surge on to join the next group of runners or lose the pack and face the wind alone. Thankfully pushing on to keep with a group paid off.
When we turned at mile 10 back towards the finish area I knew that from here on the wind would be behind me. I felt good and ready to push on. I could certainly feel my endurance strength kicking in and I felt strong all the way home.
I hadn’t been aiming for a particular time, just to get a PB. I would have been happy with a high 73 min time. I didn’t clock what time I was on for until I was in the final KM running down the final straight. I could see four inflatable arches, one being the finish line, though which one?
I glanced at my watch to see how much longer I had left. I saw it said 1:11 and I was on 13 miles. I thought I was giving it my all at this point and throwing the kitchen sink at it, but when I realised I could actually run 72min somehow I found another gear.
I was desperately trying to reach the finish line before the clocked ticked into 73 mins. As I crossed the finish line I also managed to catch and beat another female athlete with a metre to go. Jenny came in not far behind me and she was so delightful for me to have smashed my PB, she picked me up and swung me around. Possibly one of the best post race celebrations I’ve ever had.
It just goes to show, when you think you are giving it your all in the final stages of the race, there is still something more you can give.
The final week here has been a case of building on my progress and enjoying the final days of training without having to go to work in between. Girona is such a beautiful place to be. The old town has such charm and natural beauty.
Being able to focus on my training 100% has paid dividends for me and I couldn’t have picked a better place or people to stay with to kick start the big weeks of marathon training.
A NEW YEAR with new targets and goals to achieve. The hard work and achievements of last year seem a long way off now – but so does the next goal (posted 5 February 2017).
The real marathon training has only just begun as the past few months have generally been maintenance work and keeping myself fit ready to build on again.
During this time, I ran a couple of cross country races [including a win in the Middlesex Cross Country Championships at the beginning of January]. This was mainly to get me working hard again without having to think about it (but also to see what sort of shape I was in).
I’m not going to lie, it’s pretty daunting lining up for a race and not knowing or having the confidence in yourself to know it will be ok. The first few kilometres of burning lactic acid is alway an unwelcome feeling. But, when my endurance strength kicks in, it helps remind me that it is still there and the long-term goals aren’t quite so out of reach.
The past few weeks have been pretty full-on with training and working full-time as a nurse. Trying to fit in 90 mile weeks and a full-time job has left me feeling exhausted and concerned that I wouldn’t be able to recover from the training sessions.
Thankfully, after a lot of perseverance and persuasion, I’ve been able to reduce my hours at work so I can fit in all my training at more suitable times in the day, which allows me to get the recovery I need.
Being able to give my all to each session is important for me – and it’s vital that I do so in order to achieve what I want to in marathon running. Going into a session too tired and giving it a half-hearted attempt achieves nothing and serves no purpose for my training.
With three hard sessions per week and a long run at the end, interspersed with some easy/steady running, I need to be able to recover quickly from a hard session so that I am ready to hit the next one in two days’ time.
There are a multitude of things that affect recovery, but the work situation is the largest factor by far which is why I got this resolved before the big mileage weeks start.
I’ve just flown out to Spain to get away from everything for a little while and to get some solid training in with a good friend, Jenny Spink. It’s so nice to wake up at a time that suits me (and not to my alarm at the crack of dawn) and go for a run in the daylight.
I’m looking forward to training with different people and running different routes for a while. The marathon training has definitely begun, so being able to live a bit like a full-time athlete for a few weeks couldn’t come at a better time.
I’ll let you know how I’m getting on in the next blog.
Image from Tracy Barlow