I've been hibernating since the end of Oct and Dublin catching up on good (and bad) food, cidery delights and my former sedentary lifestyle. I'll be starting to train again properly on Jan 3rd with 3 months to get ready for the next race, the Alexander The Great Marathon in Thessaloniki (Greece).
So I've been taking advantage of the big gap between marathons the last two months and giving my dodgy knee a bit of a break. As I write I'm stuffing my face in my winter training camp (yeah right!) in Playa Blanca. No races between Oct and March/April is a bit of a pain if I'm honest, it happens as most of Europe will be too cold/wet for the events to take place so they tend to prefer to put them in Spring and Autumn, presumably when the climate is more appealing to runners. When you're keen to do 28 races as quickly as possible then this can be quite frustrating!
As it doesn't really take more than 3 months to train for a marathon it made sense to train down and rest up over the pre-Christmas break. There's the inevitable parties, events and invites over this time and with Thessaloniki such a way ahead I knew it would be difficult to avoid situations where I'd be eating and drinking a fair bit. The knee is fine, probably a bit weaker for the rest in all honesty and I've enjoyed piling on the pounds happy in the knowledge that they'll soon be falling off again. With 4 races lined up next year as opposed to 3 this year, I'm aiming to get to a better weight to bring my times down and ease the pain of recovery. If I can be as prepared and fit as I was for Dublin then I will feel ready to get through all 4 without incident.
Whilst I've enjoyed the rest and chance to eat pie and drink more, I find myself now excited about getting back down to it. I've been out running 1-2 times a week (though not much more than 4-5 miles) and without much motivation and I've realised it's going to be a long hard road back to race fitness. When I started the challenge last January I had a few short runs under my belt and I can probably say that I'm in a similar state of fitness to back then. The only big difference is the running experience that I can now call upon when things get tough and painful.
2015: The year in bling
I've realised that without a training plan or end goal (marathon), I am just not someone who can go out and run for fun. It's not part of my lifestyle although for 10 months of the year it is an all-consuming quest. Having looked forward to not running at the same frequency or intensity all year, I can say that the novelty has well and truly worn off.
My advice to kids, wannabe runners and those with more experience; never take time off, keep on going!
How I pick the races
I've had lots of requests from followers around Europe to come and run in their country soon so just wanted to highlight the rather complex selection process that I have at the moment.
- Each country in the EU has 1 marathon race at some point in the year
- Some countries only have 1 recognised race (i.e. Luxembourg, Malta etc) and some have 20+ (France, Germany, Italy etc)
- I like my wife Cat to try to make it to each race, I need her support and distraction and it's also nice for her to see me race and enjoy the city/country. As she works in a school she can't simply take off a Friday or Monday and have a long weekend away with me. Races need to be on her holidays (mid Feb, early April, early May, late May, end of July until early Sept and late Oct).
- Although some destinations can be reached via Bristol Airport, the vast majority involve a trip to Gatwick (3 hr drive) so that time, plus check-in etc means that flying out on Saturday needs to be early in the morning. This is so that we can arrive the other end in enough time to register/pick up race number at the Expo the day before the race. Annoyingly very few marathons let you do this on the race day itself.
- Races need to be spread out a little. I need at least 4 weeks between races as my body needs a week post-marathon without running to recover and then 3 weeks to train again (though ideally a 2 month break is optimum).
- Of the races I do each year I ideally want to be able to meet people from the ME community at 1 or 2. In some countries where there isn't an ME association or known support group (i.e. Greece) meeting people isn't possible, though in Sweden it will be. 4 races without any support or meets at the races is a little disheartening so the countries need to be picked carefully if I'm to thrive on the boost that those meetings give me. I was lucky enough to meet at least someone at each of the 3 this year which was fantastic and gives the whole trip a purpose.
- I don't like massive races (20,000+) and I feel uneasy about foreign races below 500 participants. I like having room to run and a bit of support.
- Still with me?? The last one is that I don't want to be running anywhere in August where it could be 35C+ -I just can't run in that heat.
So there you have it, not an easy task but glad to say that 2016 and 2017 look relatively straightforward, after that things will get tricky!
PACE and retraction
So I've talked enough about me. Let's talk about ME (sorry!)
You may or may not have been following but the last couple of months have been very eventful within the ME world. There's been a widely celebrated critique of the bungled PACE trial by David Tuller with the help of ME patient and hard-working advocate Tom Kindlon. PACE was a trial funded by taxpayers (£5m) published in 2012 that ultimately recommended CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and GET (Graded Exercise Therapy) as a treatment for doctors to prescribe for ME patients. It's results were based on bad science and were manipulated by those who have made a career out of their insistence that ME is a psychological illness.
Following this a request was made by James Coyne for the data of the trial to be released. This has been denied by King's College London for a variety of ridiculous reasons (one of which is to keep patients anonymity even though they have admitted to already releasing some of this data, another that the researchers on the trial might be threatened by patients) and as a result has destroyed their reputation and credibility by scientists worldwide. The journal where the PACE trial was published (PLOS One) is now seeking legal advice as they only publish if data is openly available for review.
In short, if the data is released it is very likely to show the flaws in CBT and GET that most patients know first-hand as the treatment actually makes them much worse. Bad science practice from such a high-profile and important trial and a retraction from the Lancet amongst others can only mean that new treatments and a shift in how ME is perceived ona grand scale is inevitable. Even some of the old-guard in the psychiatrist community with connections to the Medical Research Council appear to be shifting their standpoint in preparation for this. Very interesting.
To read Invest In ME's call for the retraction of the trial in the Lancet, please click here.
I'll be back in Jan with a reminder of my plans for 2016 and more info on the races, I've printed off the training plan and not long until I'm back out there.
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Miles covered: 20(!)
Average temp: 12C
Lessons learned: Don't stop running!