Berlin Marathon training summary week 7 (aka Operation: “Legs like fluffy pillows”) inc. Vale of York Half Marathon


I set off on the drive to Sherburn-in-Elmet in trepidation. Will this be my last run? Will the hammy tear again? Which race plan shall I go with (I had 3)? How the hell is Hatti doing over in Bulgaria?! Also playing on my mind was the fact that Andy had to scratch the race after succumbing to a glut problem which had been niggling in recent weeks. I was looking forward to us working out our pacing strategy together in this race and generally have enjoyed both marathon build-ups with him, so it was sad news.

As I parked up the car I turned to the left and next to me was no other than Jason Cherriman. We’ve got to know each other pretty well over the past year after sharing a very positive experience at Berlin 2015. He was keen for a pb at the VoYHM and was jokingly trying to coax me into racing it out with him. We had a relaxed mooch about to get numbers sorted and warmed up together. Conditions were perfect, the race was well organised and the course looked pretty darn flat.

My race options were :

  1. Run entirely to feel at “marathon effort” as I have done all along and see where the time came out at.
  2. Run with a group (if one formed in the first mile) at around marathon effort, but roll with the punches a little if required.
  3. Run to a target pace to see how it felt at half way, hopefully giving a rough indication of what might be and which group to try to target in Berlin.

People often talk about Berlin as the fastest marathon in the world and rightly so, as it is. From my experience, what made it so great was the timing of it (the conditions are often conducive to a fair reflection of form). It also lends itself well to maintaining a good rhythm due to the wide, sweeping nature of the roads; there are no convoluted sections and the road surface is second to none, you almost glide along it.

What I found to be so brilliant though (having not experienced another marathon when being under 15 stone) was the fact that there are a number of large running packs which form, covering a wide range of paces. I was fortunate to jump onto one of these last year and although sharing a lot of the work and paying in the latter stages, it really helped as we effortlessly clicked off 5.25 miles consistantly for 2/3s of the race.

So my race strategy dilemma in VoYHM was related to the best way to maximise these benefits in this year’s assault. Do I run to feel and jump on a group that suits? Do I run to feel and not bother with a group if there isn’t one going at my pace? Or, do I speculate a target time and try to find a group working at this pace…?

As the days leading up to VoYM progressed, having almost survived my biggest ever block of training (almost) and having gone into this block with a solid marathon behind me, I rationalised that I haven’t done all this to run 2.25 again. I did it as I want to improve, so it would be good to get a gauge of where I truly am, away from the flattering paces churned out at Holmebrook.

I had an idea of a pace that was making a regular appearance on my Garmin in long sessions and decided to target that pace for the whole race, so option 3 it was. Furthermore, my goal throughout this race was to try and get 13 splits which were identical, mainly to keep me interested and concentrating, but also to avoid any potential racing as the prize money here was generous. The pace I targeted was 5.23 or (gulp) 2.21.08 pace.

The race started 15mins late due to a little issue with parking, Jason set off on his own agenda and I set off in second. I could hear one or two around me but there was to be no lead pack forming today. The first 1/2 mile was looking like 5.30 pace so I upped the effort a little then found my stride.

Photo: Laughing at the failed starting horn! Credit: @alcphotosleeds
Photo: It’s Jason Cherriman!!! Credit: @alcphotosleeds

Other than churning out the miles, there was little to report as I was alone for much of the race just working to times and watching Jason’s race unfold. I was wondering if he might pop (as I had a few silly ideas of what I might do if I went past him!) He didn’t and he went on to run a fine pb. Unfortunately my little game was thwarted in mile 1 as I hit 5.22! I took gels at mile 4 and 9 just to get used to taking them at race pace.

Photo: Enjoying the great roads Credit: @alcphotosleeds

I crossed the line in 70mins 50 seconds, averaging 5.22 miling. I was pretty pleased with the consistency of my splits with the majority being there or thereabouts. I felt great in doing it, CV -wise really strong, although my legs were achey throughout (and much of the preceding week). My glut is paying for it now, I think generally my legs are as fatigued as they are going to allow and its certainly time for a taper. I do feel I could have continued on  at this pace from a CV perspective and I was pleased to see my HR was consistently in my roughly calculated “marathon training zone” (Between 149 and 164 depending on session duration).

Strava activity here

  1 5:22 148 bpm
  2 5:22 158 bpm
  3 5:23 158 bpm
  4 5:27 158 bpm
  5 5:21 158 bpm
  6 5:20 159 bpm
  7 5:20 160 bpm
  8 5:21 159 bpm
  9 5:26 160 bpm
 10 5:21 160 bpm
 11 5:22 160 bpm
 12 5:23 159 bpm
 13 5:18 162 bpm
 .1 57s 162 bpm

As lovely as that is I can’t allow myself to get over-excited. To complete a marathon at that pace would be a dream come true. But to do it for another 13 miles is a tall order, I’m not so sure I’m there yet. But it was a really encouraging session and I can’t wait for race weekend, it was SO good last year. I’ll be happy with an improvement and really I need to just get the body recovered and see what happens on the day.

Photo: That troublesome glut
Photo: “So Dave, whats your secret to running 620 miles in 6 weeks and gaining weight..?”
Photo: Two proud Yorkshiremen Shoes: Inov-8 Trail Talon 250

A word about the race.

As with Newark, no one has asked me to say anything positive, but I would like to, it was brilliant! The timing of it is perfect as an end of season half. The course is as flat as I have ever seen, the road surface has a very forgiving surface dressing (I’d hate that as a cyclist) and there are no convoluted sections. The setting is great for families with aeroplanes and a play area, whilst the water stations were perfectly placed and well manned. A really great experience.

Photo: The Force was strong in this one Credit: sizzlerfotos660

In fact, it is a race deserving of a major champs to swell participation at the front end, as with a few good guys out there times could be super fast. So anyone plotting an autumn marathon should look no further than Newark and VoYHM as training races, perfectly placed time-wise and very similar to many aspects of Berlin! I got back to the car to find out that Hatti had smashed her race in Bulgaria and would be on the plane home as the 10th best mountain runner in the world, pretty awesome. I hope it is just the start for her, she deserves some luck!

Following VoYHM I woke the next day feeling pretty good energy and leg wise but my troublesome gluts were indeed more troublesome. Although I got away with doing the race without an injury its clear I’m on the brink. The next few days of running were super easy, within the niggles. This is probably a good thing as I was feeling pretty flat from cutting back on my diet quite significantly (again, but sensibly). I then received the sad news that Andy had to withdraw from Berlin.

I’m gutted about this for a number of reasons, mainly because I know how much we have both put into this and I’m sad for him. Selfishly I’m sad as I really have enjoyed the process of our two marathon training blocks together and the feeling last year when we ran pretty much the entire race together was something I will never forget. Worse still my plan was to never do the same marathons twice, but all of our club mates were very keen to sample what we experienced last year. This led to a great Hallamshire group entering this year’s race and doing it with them was too good an opportunity to miss…sadly quite a few guys have now succumbed to injuries and it has taken a little bit of shine away from it all. But…got to stay positive.


Thursday was the first day I felt I could tackle a session and with me working the weekend (and with the structure of the taper) it was a case of do the session today or don’t do it at all. So I headed to Holmebrook with the attitude of “drop out at any point”. Things didn’t feel fantastic initially, but the warm up solved many of the problems and I felt happy to at least dip my feet into a few reps. The niggles continue to be a question of “if the marathon wasn’t next week, would you just get this done?”

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a bit disappointed when I rocked up to the car park and Andy’s car wasn’t there (I’m aware that makes us sound like a pair of doggers). The session was 3 x mile/2mins, 3 x 1k/90secs. I like this as a taper session and deliberately did it 10 days out from the big dance to begin to sharpen.

It was super warm but stunning  down at the park and I was treated to a cracking sunset over the lake (which I found to be symbolic as the final proper session drew to a close), I was gutted I didn’t have my camera for it! As for the session itself, I simply got strapped in and went comfortably hard, running below the niggle threshold and was pleasantly surprised with how that turned out!

Miles 4.49, 4.51, 4.50

Ks 2.57, 2.57, 2.57

Strava link here

So thats it! All main sessions done, just a sharpening session of 15 x 1min/1min on Sunday and 3 x 1 mile at marathon pace on Wednesday. I’m fully expecting the Wednesday session to feel lousy as it will be my last day of backing off the food and taper sessions always lead to an over-analysis of how you feel!

  Am PM
Sunday VoYHM 18.5
Monday Rest
Tuesday Rest 9
Wednesday 5 5
Thursday Rest 3 x mile, 3 x 1k (10)
Friday Rest 8
Saturday 5 5
Total 66

And finally…

I’ve really enjoyed this training block and I’ve quite enjoyed blogging about it. I don’t know what will happen in the race, but I do know that running-wise the last 12 months have been the best I’ve ever had, consistent training with some special moments. Since May I have done every session I have wanted, pretty much on my terms. Over the years I’ve had more than my share of bad luck with injury and illness, I actually though I’d never run again in 2012-2014.

I’ve never experienced a training block almost entirely on my terms and it is something I have always wanted the opportunity to say I have done; to eradicate the potential”what-ifs” when I reflect on my running “career” once it ends. So much can go wrong with marathons, but save for illness or injury I can travel to Berlin and say this is probably the best shape I will ever get myself in. Hopefully the taper will allow me to recover fully from, without a doubt, my hardest ever 6 weeks of training. There is a feeling of “was it too much?” creeping in at the moment…but I’m so glad I’ve tried.

The next blog will come post marathon weekend…until then, everything is crossed! Thanks for reading!

Thanks for reading! If you find the blog interesting, please share and like on Facebook/Twitter, it would be greatly appreciated..(or give me feedback on how I can improve-that’s just as appreciated!)

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3 thoughts on “Berlin Marathon training summary week 7 (aka Operation: “Legs like fluffy pillows”) inc. Vale of York Half Marathon

  1. Hi Dave, I read your Berlin prep with great interest. Like you I loved the course and the flattest of all I’ve ever done – in fact I did get the sense when staring ahead that the whole race was downhill! My one watchout as I was trying to PB at under 3.05 was that I cocked up the distance due to the km markers and miscalculated what I had to do in the last few miles. The roads are so, so wide in parts, if you can’t or don’t run the tangents, you can run almost 1/2 a mile too far. For example, if you are stuck at the first bend on the far left you are adding 40-50 yards to the race distance. You shouldn’t have this problem running around 2.20 ish pace but I thought I’d mention this.

    Good luck

    David H


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