Running has been a big part of my journey over the last 10 years. It was the first thing that entered my head when I wanted to 'get fit' and in those 10 years I've run several thousand miles and a fair few £££ on shoes!
I remember the first time I plotted this exact route. I'd been running for a couple of years and completed numerous organised 10k’s to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Research after all the help and support we received during Lindsey’s illness, but I knew the next challenge was to take on a half marathon. It was a scary step and, looking at the route which I knew well from driving around town, I had a sense of overwhelm.
Since that first 10 mile outing, I’ve used the route as a base for half marathon and marathon training, always using ‘Barton Hill’ as a marker for how fit I really was.
After running London and Manchester marathons last year, I took a little break from running. I’d get out for the odd 5 miles mostly with a client, but with just 2 weeks notice I was asked to take part in the Oxford Half Marathon in October 2019. I did what training I could in the few days leading up to the event - it was at this point I thought I’d experiment with fasted running.
I’ve done 5 full marathons as a keto runner but on each occasion I’d stuck to a fairly standard keto breakfast of eggs, bacon & avocado with a couple of coffee & cream thrown in, but for Oxford I wanted to try something new... something you should never ever do on race day!
Oxford had the worst rain I’ve ever run in... that was until February this year when I ran a Leicester Half Marathon in sideways rain, storm force winds and roads completely flooded (it was more ‘Tough Mudder’ than a road run). Anyway... back to Oxford. I was already in the routine of not eating until around midday and felt confident that I could tackle the 13.1 miles comfortably.
Maybe ‘comfortable’ isn’t the best word to describe it; due to the lack of training, my pace was down and my legs began to drag from 10 miles onwards. I finished in a little over 2 hours, which hurt the ego a little as I’ve been a comfortable 1hr 50min half marathon runner for a few years, but what I was happy about was that I had completed my first half marathon in a fasted state...my post-run coffee with butter tasted sweet :D
After Oxford I started playing around with bits of fasted running - nothing regular and only over short distances, but it felt like I’d broken the thought pattern that I needed to eat before going out. So when the Leicester Half Marathon came around (with one week notice) I thought: “why not?!”. This time it wasn’t about my time, I was there as support/pace runner for a client and, as much as this event now took the title as THE worst half marathon for weather and distinct lack of spectators, it once again showed me that going fasted was the way forward.
So roll around to lockdown... running with clients had to stop but we still had the opportunity to go out for exercise once a day. I haven’t concentrated on my own running for a couple of years after starting to train others to achieve their goals. With no marathons in place, I needed a different goal to focus on. I used April as a month of short distances 3 times a week to try to get my rhythm back… focus on the breathing, get the stride right and relax the shoulders.
Towards the end of April I decided on the goal for May. I looked back over data in the various running apps and found the month where I ran the most miles: February 2018. At that point, I was training for 3 marathons in the space of 8 weeks and achieved a total of 122 miles in the month. I felt as prepared as I possibly could for marathon No1: Barcelona in early March. This also happened to be my first keto marathon!
So my challenge for May was simple: run more miles than ever before and do them all in a fasted state.
It felt right to use that familiar 10 mile route rather than just going out and running around the village. I hadn’t done this full route for some time so when May 2nd came round, I was a little anxious.
It started ok... I didn’t need to crawl up Barton Hill, but there was plenty of room for improvement. Total running time was 1 hr 33 over the 10 miles, averaging 9 minutes 20 seconds per mile. The challenge I’d given myself meant running every 2 or 3 days; in the first couple of weeks, I stuck to Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. At the end of the first week my time slipped a little, my hips were sore and it felt like it was going to be a long month.
Week 2: another 3 runs planned in the diary. I started to attack the hills with a little more umph and gradually started to chip away at the overall time. I could feel the finish getting stronger.
Week 3: I decided to increase the frequency. There’s always a chance that something will happen and prevent me from getting out, so I was now planning to run every other day. This isn’t something I’ve ever planned previously, but to achieve my goal, I had to take the next step.
As I hit the final week with run 12, 13 & 14 in the diary, the compound effect kicked in. I started each run with total confidence, looking forward to facing the challenge ahead. As always, it was a steady climb out of the village and, after getting confirmation from Strava that it was a good pace, I settled in for a nice flat mile ahead of the first hill. At the top of that hill, the key is to relax, take a big breath & keep the pace going; that’s the first 3 miles in the bag. The next stage is all about consistency - 4 miles around town before I’m back at the hill, facing the biggest climb of the run which starts at mile 7.
I love and hate this hill. When I’ve neglected my running, I hate it. I hate how it can break me long before it gets steep. I get angry when it forces me to walk and you can sense the drivers watching you struggle as they drive past.
Right now I love it. I love it because I can crush it in under a minute. I can hit the top without it breaking my pace, take one big breath and attack the final 2 miles.
Run 13, Thursday 28th May: I got into a groove early and I could hear from the running app that my pace was up. 8.33 for the first mile, 8.09 for the second and 8.07 for mile 3... including the first long climb. By the time I got home, I’d smashed my best time by over 3 minutes with a total run time of 1hr 26m 47s. With this run finished, I’d topped my best ever month and achieved 130 miles.
So how do you tackle the final run of the month, when you’ve already ticked off the goal and had your best run to date? I didn’t want to take a step backwards so getting ready for run 14 there was a little apprehension - could I match Thursday? It might not have flowed as smoothly as run 13, but I worked on every mile. Once again attacking Barton Hill, swearing at it as I got to the top for chipping away at my regulation pace.
Saturday 30th May saw me not only finish my best ever month of running, a total of 142 miles, but I also secured in my mind that I’ve found the best way to achieve a long-standing goal of breaking the 4hr marathon barrier. In the month of June, I will be continuing with my fasted running routine but with a new goal of completing my first fasted 18 miles run by the end of the month.
Run 14 also turned out to be another PB taking 28 seconds off Thursdays time :D