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Marathon Training on the Move

· adventuresinrunning,running,marathon,marathon training

My Boston marathon training plan had a 30 minute tempo run in for today. Instead, I am six hours into an eleven hour bus trip across the Panama/Costa Rica border. The bulky, freakishly strong arm of a mother cradling her hungry baby lies across my chest pinning me to my seat as the child nuzzles at her breast. It appears this is the optimal feeding angle. No questions asked or offered.

And that's the point of this post really. Not a discussion on ticketing procedure or personal space violation on Central American buses. More to explore the differences with managing a training/fitness plan when you are constantly on the move.

It's something I knew from the outset would be one of the principal challenges on this journey. My intention to train at the same level I would do back in London, with similar performance targets but with any number of new variables to work around. I knew I would need to be adaptable in my approach, accept that there would be times where things were not going to plan and change accordingly.

Normally, when you have a permanent or semi-permanent base, this will provide a relatively stable & predictable daily/weekly routine which will allow you to work your training plan & diet around the 'knowns' well in advance. You can plan your running club night/s, ensure you have blocked out space at the weekends for parkrun and your long run as well as organising your work calendar to allow early morning or lunchtime tempo runs. You know your favourite and most suitable routes. You can also work out your meal plan for the week, get the necessary ingredients in and have everything prepared in advance. When you need time for your body to recover, you can (try to) ensure you get a decent nights (or afternoons) sleep in your own bed/sofa.

Whilst there may be occasional variables such as late working, your/children's illness and other unforeseen circumstances, if you're motivated and committed to achieving your goals you can pivot around these with some tweaks & sacrifices*. All this means you don't tend to veer wildly away from your plan unless you lose focus or get injured.

*To be clear, by this I meant you maybe cancel a social event, not kill a live animal. However, whatever it takes.

In terms of climate, being static you are largely able to predict this. If you're training for a spring marathon you'll be training in the winter (so extra layers, hat/gloves, waterproof jacket, grippier shoes) and if you're training for an autumn marathon you'll be training in the summer (so if you're in the UK, pretty much the same kit as winter). You'll have the necessary training and recovery kit at home, and even if you're missing something, you can have it delivered to your door by the next day.

Most of the above (which is all I know) does not apply when you are trying to train on the move. Whilst this journey is undoubtedly offering up some of the most amazing running experiences of my life, it is a completely new way of training and trying to stay healthy and is therefore providing many new challenges and learning opportunities.

Firstly, on the positive side, having less work to do and being able to work flexibly with what I do have opens up an opportunity that I wouldn't have at home - much more training time.

This means:

1) I can train more frequently - body allowing

2) If I think there's a chance I'm going to miss a specific session (remembering that every session should have a purpose - it's not jogging), particularly a long run, there is a good chance I can bring it forward into the week.

I wouldn't have this luxury at home. I can recall on several occasions trying to fit a missed long weekend run in after a tough day at work and crashing through my door at 9pm like a zombie who hasn't eaten in a year. I even ate one of my neighbours once under this very circumstance.

Not knowing where you're going to be from day to day has more of an impact then you would think. Landing in a city and knowing you need to complete a specific session that day can be difficult if you have no idea where the open space or running routes are. I have found one of Strava's recent innovations seriously useful in this respect. Using their 'heatmaps' function, I can quickly search to see where the locals are training. All I need to do then is lace up the trainers and head out without wasting time & energy wandering around aimlessly trying to find suitable spaces and getting lost*.

* I still get lost.

strava heatmap of San Jose, Costa Rica

pic: Strava Heatmap of San Jose, Costa RIca.

As far as having a predictable training climate goes, I've gone from minus temperatures in Toronto to 35°C with humidity through the roof, to several days of torrential rain and then to a cool & windy 17°C. From running along highways in smoggy Bogotá and Panama City, to intervals on beaches, slipping through water-logged jungle trails and then desperately trying to find somewhere that isn't concrete in San Jose. From sea level up to 5500ft elevation. To say my limited kit selection of free race t-shirts and two pairs of running shoes have taken an absolute beating is quite the understatement (it's a good thing you can't smell on the internet). Oh, and no space for a foam roller means a lot of work for my thumbs.

Two things I have been really struggling with due to the constant movement and not being in one place for long are maintaining a balanced diet and sleep. As these are both critical for energy levels and recovery, this has noticeably started to impact my well-being and consequently my training. Not being anywhere long enough to stock up on fresh produce to make decent, healthy meals (or being somewhere that fresh produce is not readily available) has meant needing to find a restaurant whenever the opportunity arises. A healthy option is not always available so I'm having to pick the best worst option or sometimes going without meals for hours due to travel (if you know me, that's not a good time to be in my company). A pack of crackers, a banana and 500ml of water is not really appropriate recovery fuel from a 10 mile run!

As for sleep, it's been a matter of grabbing it when I can. On buses, in the daytime, whilst I'm on a long wait for a meal that has rice, chips and potatoes as sides (you never go wanting for carbs here - that's for sure). If I haven't slept for a couple of days then I try to swap hard sessions out for easy ones so I don't do them in a state of exhaustion. As I said - flexibility!

One other thing I have noticed is that you miss the company & camaraderie of active friends and club teammates. Whilst I am admittedly quite solitary in my training, it's still energising to share progress and encouragement with others. That's something I'm missing out on unless I manage to find a local group to run with (rare) or other travellers who are doing something similar (you won't be surprised to hear that there aren't many of these).

Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off the goals.

- Sydney Smith

So, how to adjust and improve those areas that are not going so well? Ideally, the aim is to find a suitable training base that I could stay at for a couple of weeks or so and get back into good habits with regards to diet and sleep. Additionally, somewhere that will allow me to progress the social impact side of the project. The cost of living is noticeably higher in Costa Rica so not friendly to my budget. So, unfortunately, I think there is likely to be a few more bus trips ahead before I can settle for a while.

Now, where are those crackers?

Jumping over a creek on Wizard Beach, Bastimentos Island, Panama

pic: Creek jump on Wizard Beach, Bastimentos Island, Panama

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