What does it take to get that London marathon medal? Baking blogger extraordinaire Gill Bland takes us behind the scenes of sixteen weeks of our one-on-one Marathon coaching – the miserable winter days, the shift work, the ups and downs… and ultimately, a truly awesome day out in London!
1. How did you first get into running?
I went to run for the train to get to work one day and realised that I was out if breath. I has been to the gym a bit at uni but never stuck with it and I didn’t want to fork out for an expeinsive London membership. So I put on some scrubby old trainers, some £5 short and an old Tshirt and started pounding the streets of North West London!
2. Prior to London, what was your running career highlight?
Other than that, I’d have to say Mablethorpe Marathon in 2011 – my only other Marathon. It was scorching hot even though it was October but it was brilliantly organised and really friendly and I finished and enjoyed it too. My husband and I had decided to run a marathon to see if we could but I had no expectations that I would actually enjoy it – so that was a brilliant bonus.
3. Was it difficult juggling the marathon training with full-time work?
Yes, I work shifts so can start work as early as 6.30am, finish as late as +1am or be doing night shifts with no real pattern. This meant that my problem was not so much finding time as coping with massively variable energy and nutrition levels. Julia will vouch for the fact that this affected my timed runs and made the results somewhat unpredictable. When you’ve got to bed at 2am or had your last meal in the middle of the night it’s hard to know quite how a run is going to go! I ran to and from work as much as I could – I even ran home after night shifts sometimes. Mr B was very good at asking whether I’d been for a run that day too. It helps to have someone who will ask you because then it feels good when you can say you’ve done it. That was also one of the benefits of Up & Running – being able to tick each run off on the spreadsheet was a good motivator.
4. How did the Up & Running training differ from your previous marathon training programme?
Structure and variation. For Mablethorpe in 2011 I just got out running as much and for as long as I could. I ran 22 miles the Saturday before the race (don’t faint Julia!). At the time I think it’s what I needed – psychologically I wanted to know I could keep going for that long and I just wanted to finish. This time there was a time to beat and that’s where Up & Running’s expertise came in. I knew nothing about strides, intervals, progressive runs etc. Whilst I did have a mid-plan panic that I wouldn’t make the distance, I think that the strength I gained from the plan was the only reason I didn’t suffer from any injuries during training. The speed work, whilst my least favorite part, meant that my legs now knew how to move faster whereas before the training plan I had plateaued at a steady pace.
5. You’re an avid food blogger – did you discover any new meals, snacks or recipes to help fuel all those runs?
Yes, I love baking and I’m branching out to “real” cooking now too. My blog Tales of Pigling Bland is mainly about sweet things. One of the benefits of running is that it nicely offsets cake consumption!
I did lay off the cake and try to eat more protein and carbs though when I was seriously training. I have got more into making healthy, fuelling recipes recently, for example my 4seed energy bar, a chia seed chocolate smoothie and healthy snacks like roasted chickpeas. I’ve also discovered a monthly food box company called Nutribox that specialises in healthy sack delivered to your door – it’s like getting a Christmas present each time!
6. Were there any mental challenges during the training? Any particular high or low points?
There were two real problems:
- It was a really horrible winter here so the main downer was having to force myself to go out in the cold, the rain and the snow. Numb fingers became a frequent problem.
- Other marathon runners or people who knew marathon runners. This sounds odd, but I kept getting asked “what sort of mileage are you doing a week now” or “how long is your longest run at the moment?”. Having trained with long runs in the past, this freaked me out since my plan very rarely took me to the 2 hour mark and I knew I’d be running for well over 3 hours. At this point I panicked and did a couple of really long runs. I put off getting in touch with Coach Julia, but when I did and explained myself she was brilliant. She didn’t take offence but just explained the logic and her credentials and told me to trust her.
7. Imagine someone made a cheesy movie montage of your London race day – what stand-out moments would you include?
- Miles 1-6 would be like a pop star at a big concert – I felt like a superstar – the sun was shining, everyone was shouting my name, I was waving at TV cameras.
- Lots of shots of random people holding out every kind of sugary sweet under the sun – kind, but anything other than jelly babies isn’t that useful!
- There’d be flashbacks to me mocking Mr B for going out too fast in 2011 and then a steely look of determination on my face as I realise I can’t face the embarrassment of doing the same.
- The steel band on the roundabout under a flyover would feature, as would London Fire Brigade giving me a shout-out at mile 20something (and me reacting a little bit over enthusiastically!)
- Miles 17-24 would be filmed in grey… grim!
- Finally, there’s be the moment when I walked through the door of the HSBC office to their recovery place.
8. You smashed your personal record by a fantastic ten minutes. How did it feel to see your time?
I was using a running app on my phone so I had an idea of what my time would be. The moment before I crossed the line I knew I had given it my all so I was pleased, but they moment I stopped I couldn;’t help but think “if I’d pushed harder maybe I could have made the elite bracket and got 3.15”. Ah well! Being competitive against myself got me this far…
9. Can you sum up sixteen long and gruelling weeks of marathon training in ten words or less?
Numb fingers, sweaty feet, mental battles and ultimately, elation.
10. Do you have any wisdom for runners considering taking on the marathon?
- Just do it – get out and run. It’s just that, for a bit longer.
- Don’t let other people psych you out. In the end it comes down to you, your feet and your head.
11. What’s next on your running agenda?
Nothing planned as yet. To be honest I’m really enjoying running for the fun of it again. However, I do need targets to keep me motivated so I’m hoping to do some more half marathons. I find those more challenging so I think they would be good for me. I’m waiting until “good for age” opens for next year’s London Marathon and I’ll probably enter for that. I’d really like to do it again but I’m not sure if it will fit with life-events this year.
In the meantime I’m still running most days. I still use some of Julia’s workout plans now instead of my old standard slogs. It’s nice to know how to mix it up.