Sunday, 1 December 2013


The target to shoot at.....26.2 miles, sub 3 hours.
Each year, Runner's World magazine in association with Asics, takes five runners to compete in the Paris Marathon. Between December and race day, the chosen runners are assigned expert assistance from coaches, physiotherapists, nutritionists and even sports psychologists to give them the best chance of achieving their marathon goals. This year the promoters are looking for runners who are close to breaking particular marathon barriers, but so far have been unable to achieve their times.

Regular readers of this blog will know that my marathon dream is "sub 3". My marathon history can be found in my London Marathon 2013 preview here. Last year I ran a personal best in 3:02. It is clear that although I'm getting closer, I need something extra to take me below the hallowed three hour barrier, and with that in mind I applied with over 2500 other hopefuls, for Target Asics 26.2. Somehow, along with 50 or so other people, I was shortlisted for bootcamp. 

Bootcamp took place at Birmingham University's sports centre. The day broadly involved meeting the expert running team, the creative team and my fellow camp comrades, each of us hoping to be short listed to the penultimate 15 and then the final lucky 5 runners that will pound the streets of Paris in April 2014 . In addition to the sub 3 group there are sub 3:30, sub 4, sub 4:30 and sub 5, categories. Ultimately the promoters will select one runner to participate in each group.      

Bootcamp was fun. After a brief introduction to the day we were assigned to out groups. I was accompanied by 8 other runners in the sub three hour group. We all got on well with each other and typical runners camaraderie trumped any competitivenes. We were all in pursuit of the same, sole sub three place on the scheme but we encouraged each other through the day and when I crossed the line at the end of day 5k time trial, those who had crossed before me were applauding my return - fantastic. Before the time trial there were sessions in gait analysis, a question and answer with Mara Yamauchi, pacing, physiotherapy and injury prevention.

Happy camper
A particular highlight was meeting elite runner, Mara Yamauchi. Mara has run a 2:23 London Marathon. It was brilliant to listen to an elite athletes approach to marathon running. Such was our enthusiasm to gain knowledge, the session turned into an informal discussion rather than a formal Q&A. It was all interesting but three particular parts have stuck in my mind.

Firstly, someone asked Mara if it was ok at times during the training schedule, if we ever felt really fatigued, could we miss or rearrange a session? The answer, in summary, was no but the answer was given in a very measured and focused way. Sure, very occasionally if things get really bad and for example, you are ill, you might have to miss a tough session but Mara explained that she is just the type of person who would generally do a session even if she feels tired. I guess that's the difference between a good runner and an elite runner and I noticed that the answer was delivered with the same focus that an elite athlete must need to be able to train so hard. It reminded me that there is a fine line between missing a session because you are too fatigued and missing a session because you are convincing yourself that are too fatigued because you can't motivate yourself on that particular day. 

The second interesting part was when Mara was asked how many training runs she does at marathon pace. Looking almost surprised at the question, her reply was "none".  Mara literally cannot run at marathon pace before race day - literally can't do it. It is only the rest during taper accompanied by the intensity of race day that enables her to run that bit faster - wow that's pushing margins!

The third part I particularly remember is that Mara's pre race breakfast has a Japanese influence in a form similar to a crushed rice balls. That part reminded me to take influence from wherever you find it. Mara has lived and worked in Japan and I was able later in the day to chat to her about my experience at the Kyoto Half Marathon.  I think we all would have been happy to spend the rest of the day in that session but we had to move on.
Before the talk with Mara we had Asics gait analysis where our running style was analysed by video. I was pleased to learn that I was a neutral runner with no gait issues and we went on to learn more about the production of Asics running shoes. Apparently it takes years from the conception of a running shoe to its ultimate production.

The pacing session was led by coach Sam Murphy. I was bit apprehensive about the pacing session because maths isn't my strong point and I wasn't sure that I would be able to calculate pace per mile into pace per lap of the track. In the event, I resisted the temptation to follow a lead pack of runners in front and decided instead to run further back, at a pace that "felt right" with occasional glances at my watch. It's hard to say, but I think I did ok in that session despite running laps of the track hopelessly trying to do mental arithmetic!            

Physiotherapy and injury prevention was led by Sarah Connors and took place on a comfy, springy gymnastics floor. We learnt about injury prevention by strengthening the core and particularly the back. We looked at equipment to assist stretching and strengthening.  The session concluded with some stretches including the feared plank.

The theory to support the practice
The final session was the sting in the bootcamp tail, the 5k time trial which, like the pacing session, was done on the outdoor track. I knew the time trial session was going to be hard. 10k runs are "balls out" so I knew I was in for it, running half the distance demands an even faster pace. The revered Steve Smythe  was in charge of this session. If I was apprehensive about the pacing session, I was scared to death of the time trial. We were put at ease to some extent by being told that the session wasn't a race. The trial was about assessing realistic ability to run sub 3 and more generally to assess people's different running styles. The trial began at a frenetic pace and I was only just able to keep up with the fitter runners in front. The session was run over 5k through 12ish laps with 400m fast and 100m slow repeats. The 100m slow seemed to get faster as the run progressed. I finished in 19:17 with plenty of runners in front and not many far behind but as noted above, It was nice to appreciate the applause of the other runners as I crossed the line.
A brilliant day finished with a  debrief and a generous goody bag. The lucky 15 will be notified by Wednesday 4th December. If I make it through I hope you will come with me on the journey to Paris. If I don't, I will of course be supporting the successful candidate. I met some good "running folk" in Birmingham on Friday and I'm sure that any of the team that I was in, is capable of making the grade. Good luck to all the other participants and thanks to Runners World and Asics for Bootcamp 2013.

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