5 weeks in a campervan - and marathon training
My Coached training program began seven weeks before the London Marathon. Ten days after that we packed our things into a campervan and went away.
It was not too difficult to find a small hill for some repeats near to where we slept for the last time in England. It was all done under street lights after the kids were asleep and husband was in bed reading. The nights were still drawing in early, so evening trail running was out of the question.
unfamiliar terrain + rough ground + darkness - headtorch = rolled ankles (or much worse)
The next morning, we got the ferry to France and started driving. We first went south east, towards Lille. We spent a few nights just outside of Valenciennes, where the Paris-Roubaix cycling race passes through the countryside on the cobbled roads. It was a beautiful place to run with muddy trails, meandering streams and gentle rolling hills. We stopped on a friend's driveway - we ate with them but slept in the campervan. Our hosts couldn't have been lovelier - they showed us the best places for walking and running, washed our clothes and fed us so well that, despite the marathon training, the weight gain may have been significant!
From Valenciennes we went south west, towards Paris. We took our time, stopped to visit the beautiful Chateaux in Pierrefonds and Chantilly, slept in some lovely places and really enjoyed ourselves. It was beautifully sunny, but the temperature dropped to near zero every night. We soon found that the baby was not sleeping well because he was not warm enough - he was the only one of us without a sleeping bag that was meant for camping through the winter. From then on, he slept with us above the cab.
Just outside of Versailles we spent a few days with friends again. We explored the countryside, visited some more castles and drank wine. My training mileage was beginning to build up, but it was still easy to fit in a run before breakfast or after the kids were in bed. I was getting plenty of sleep and rest and all was well…
Then he started to dribble, his eyes were full of gloop every morning and he had a runny nose. Red cheeks, an insatiable thirst and a desire to chew anything and everything were signs that his first teeth were going to break through the gum at any moment. He began waking three, four, five times a night to feed and so, of course, I was awake with him. Getting up to train early in the mornings became just a little harder. Having beautiful scenery just outside of the door and knowing that if I didn't run that day then we would be gone and I wouldn't have the chance again was an extremely strong factor in ensuring I laced up and got out there in the mornings before we moved on each day.
Sometimes I took one or both of the older boys with me on their bikes, and sometimes I ran with the youngest in the pushchair, but most of the time I ran alone. Often, by the time I came back at the end of my run, the children were up and half way through breakfast. I have to acknowledge that without my husband getting the kids dressed and making breakfast those mornings, things would have been a lot more complicated.
We arrived at the Loire River at Sully. We slept on the bank of the river in a quiet campsite, almost opposite the Chateau de Sully. We went for a run and bike ride along the river and found a lovely playground with a few ramps up and down the riverbank. While the older boys played, I ran laps around the park, up and down the ramps, pushing the sleeping baby in the pushchair, husband had a short relax by himself and then prepared the campervan to get back on the road again.
The Loire Valley is beautiful. There are impressive castles everywhere, gorgeous views, wildlife (including big game) and cycle paths and trails all over the place! In some places, we camped right on the riverbank, sometimes we were allowed to sleep in designated areas just a stone's throw from a chateau, but always I found beautiful, quiet, interesting routes to run my ever increasing distances. One of the longest runs was in and around the Chateau de Chambord starting at sunrise, which was a real treat!
Over the next three weeks, our baby cut 6 teeth and breastfed more and more. We were both very tired. We didn't sleep much.
We made it down to wine-country, the Charentes. We visited Cognac, we stayed on ramparts, in forests, next to streams and millponds and in vineyards. The loveliest place we stayed was on the domaine of Chateau d'Orignac. Chateau d'Orignac is a small producer of Cognac, Pineau and wines. They have an impressive forest and a collection of animals including cattle, horses and geese. One day I went for a run, 10km almost all on trails and through the forest without once stepping off of the domaine! We were very lucky with the weather which made it all the more lovely - we stopped for a few days, it was absolutely how a holiday should be: restful and calming.
When we left la Charente, we drove more each day than we had been doing on the way. We had fixed a meeting point with my parents in Normandy to spend a few days with them before we went back to London for the marathon. The meeting point was a long way away
I still had a few long runs to fit in. One I did in a beautiful port town in Brittany, part alone, part with the boys and almost half of the three hour run pushing the baby along the rugged out-of-town coastline and the pristine port de plaisance.
My husband got sick, and so did the kids. I wasn't getting enough sleep at night and with all of the driving we were doing during the day, there was no time for naps either. I thought I had managed to escape despite the volume of training and lack of sleep. I was over optimistic. First I got a cold, then a sore throat too, then I started to get other flu symptoms about 10 days before the marathon and a few days before meeting my parents. After 3 days or so I felt a little better and went for a short run with my Dad on his bike from where we were sleeping up to the Mont St Michel and back - it was beautiful but the next day I realised the recovery was just temporary. Six days before the marathon I was starting to have doubts about whether or not I would be able to finish the marathon.
I ran very short distances and very gently over the next few days - even less than a normal taper, I slept more, avoided alcohol and ate lots of fresh fruit and vegetable. It was too late though. On the Saturday morning, the day before the marathon I made the decision to not start. I was still not well enough. I formally withdrew from the marathon that afternoon and did not go to London as planned. It was a sad day…
In hindsight, it was the right decision, but it was extremely frustrating. A week after the marathon I was well again and ran a cross-country half marathon with my brother and sister. What a difference a week made!
So - the moral of this story is not just to tell you about all the lovely places we saw and the beautiful running routes I discovered on our campervan trip… it is that recovery is important, especially when you are increasing training volumes. Without sufficient sleep and rest our immune systems cannot fight off what they usually could, resulting in all of the hours invested in training going to waste. Recovery is a vital part of any training program.