Interview with Laura Cope

Laura Cope is 44 years old and started running around 12 years ago. After a few false starts and injuries she joined a running club 9 years ago and has been running consistently ever since. A physio once advised her not to run more than 10k. She has now completed nine marathons (including a multi-day ultra). She also writes a blog while training for longer races to reflect on lessons learnt.

What is your proudest running achievement, and why?

My proudest running achievement has to be completing the Pilgrim Challenge In February 2019. 66 miles in the snow is way beyond what I had ever thought I could achieve. Even now I can’t quite comprehend it. 

What has running taught you about yourself?

Running has taught me that I’m tougher than I think and that you can achieve anything with the right training. It’s also taught me that I do have a little competitive streak which is usually hidden. 

What is the most ambitious running goal you’ve ever considered?

The most ambitious goal I have considered so far is the Pilgrim Challenge. Since completing it I’ve been looking at more ultras for the future. At the moment I don’t know what the next one will be but there will be one!

How far in advance do you plan your running races?

I’m having to plan my races months in advance, mostly due to events selling out so early. I’ve got races booked up to four months in advance at the moment. Some events have become a tradition for me now, so I’ll do them every year. 

What is the most miles you’ve ever run in a week and why did you run that far?

The most miles in a week was the week of the Pilgrim Challenge. The event was 66 miles and with a couple of runs the week before I think I managed about 75 miles in a week. That’s the exception rather than the rule. 

What is the longest period you’ve ever trained for a race?

The longest period I’ve trained for a race was five months. I had to get from comfortable half marathon (my default state) to ultra in that time. I would probably have trained a bit longer had I known I was doing the event a bit sooner. 

What has been your most serious running injury and why did it happen?

My most serious injury was a tib post tendon injury on both legs. It took me a year to fully get over it. It happened because I had the wrong footwear and tried to do too much too soon. I also tried to jump back in where I’d left off. It was eventually fixed by going right back to the beginning. 

What cross-training exercises do you commit to?

I cross train twice a week. I go to bootcamp once a week, a mix of strength, cardio and HIIT. I also go to a small group PT session once a week. It’s pure strength training with big weights. The strength training is crucial to keep injuries at bay when you’re doing long distances.

What would persuade you to work with a (online) running coach?

I’d consider an online coach if I wasn’t able to access the knowledge and support I require elsewhere. 

In one sentence, what does running mean to you?

Running is an adventure and it’s taken me further than I ever imagined. 

Winter Training 2019

Goals of Winter Training

Winter training is crucial for runners of all abilities.

Generally, this period is a time to build an aerobic base, without the pressure of running hard. Thankfully (for some), the early months of the year are not packed with road races for recreational runners.

After 2018, which saw me suffer intermittently with MTSS, my priority for winter training was to return to consistent, injury-free running. My strategy was to run predominantly at an easy-pace (corresponding to an effort level of 5-6 out of 10), 5-6 days every week. My hope was to develop my cardiovascular fitness and enjoy my running again.

Statistics from My Winter Training

I’m pleased that my winter training has gone to plan. I also managed to deal with slight niggles without affecting my frequency of running.

Days: 84 (12 weeks commencing 31 December 2018 and concluding on 24 March 2019)

Runs: 70

Miles: 389

Average Miles per Week: 32.4

Longest Run: 10 miles (twice)

Time Running: 55 hours, 57 minutes and 8 seconds

Average Time Running per Week: 4 hours, 39 minutes and 46 seconds

Lessons from My Winter Training

Easy running aids recovery. But I found that it’s still demanding on the body and mind. The accumulation of miles and ‘long slow runs’ result in a lot of “time on feet”. I was able to experiment with double-run days, which are not easy to complete when running faster workouts. This strategy to increase my training miles allowed me to change shoes and routes, whilst benefiting from short periods of recovery.

Alongside my running, I’ve naturally committed to a routine of daily walking, core exercises and stretching (including some foam rolling). I’ve found that these activities encourage me to set different but complementary objectives. They also allow me to understand better my body as it deals with the training load.

My Recommendations for Winter Training

Running easy for months in a row requires discipline. It’s often tempting to speed up when you feel strong. But easy running improves the body’s ability to utilise fat as an energy source, which is crucial for endurance events. Easy running also strengthens important ligaments and tendons, which improves a resilience to injuries.

There is little pressure throughout winter training to ‘perform well’ so mileage should be gradually increased over time.* Instead, correcting any inefficiencies in running technique can be prioritised. Time-trials, strategically planned, can reveal progress in aerobic capacity. It’s crucial that they are not run at an effort level equivalent to that sustained when racing.

Winter training is a periodised approach that builds a foundation of fitness, which can ease runners into a new season of racing. If completed appropriately, runners will feel physically stronger than at the start of training, with fewer injury concerns. Runners should also have a greater desire and confidence to run hard as Spring arrives.


* Avoiding sudden increases in training loads will reduce the likelihood of running injuries, according to David Lowes, a level 4 coach, in his article ‘Wintering Well’ in Athletics Weekly, published March 21, 2019.

 

Extending Time on the Saddle

I know I need to accumulate more time on my bike to maintain my endurance fitness ready for my upcoming marathon.

So I aimed to peddle for longer than an hour a day.
My concerns were the numbness and minor pain as a result of sitting in the same position on the saddle and the mental fatigue from not giving up after boredom set in.

First, I enjoyed a rest day after the first four days of my cross-training.
Then I fully committed to sweating.

2 hours on Sunday.
45 minutes twice on Monday.
30 minutes yesterday, after cycling 7.2 miles on my mountain bike outdoors.
1 hour and 10 minutes tonight.

I used a combination of distractions to get me through the workouts as best I could.
I listened to a running audiobook.
I sang to some of my favourite albums, from music artists including Angels and Airwaves, The Kooks and The Script.
I daydreamed.

I got off the saddle a few times to take very short breaks.
I rose up on my saddle to relieve the pressure on my buttocks.
By far the most effective method of passing the time simply refraining from checking my Garmin sports watch every minute




Start of a New (Cycling) Journey

I haven’t been able to run for almost two weeks.

Although a recurring injury that I hope will heal before my next race, I became depressed.

I had to find an alternative to keep fit.
I didn’t want to spend money on temporary gym membership again.
As much as I enjoy walking it’s simply not intense enough to work my cardiovascular system.

So I purchased a bicycle.
But rather than cycling outdoors I specifically wanted a turbo trainer.

So after plenty of research I set up my indoor exercise equipment.
I had to wait a week for all the parts to be delivered.

I realised during that time how much I rely on running.
Running is an important part of my life.

More generally, exercise makes me who I am. It influences my appearance, my diet, my daily routine.
My motivation is to discover how fit I can can be.

I want to complete a sub 3-hour marathon and run the London Marathon as a good-for-age entry.
I believe I can achieve this one day.

My next attempt at running the qualifying time is Sunday 21 October.
It will be my eighth marathon.
I’m hoping my cross-training will at least maintain the performance level I demonstrated on my birthday...


Day 1
1 hour cycle at steady-pace
(average 20.7 mph and 92 rpm)



Aiming to Win a Race

For over a year I have wanted to win a road race.

I earmarked the Clacton Half Marathon, a flat coastal race, as my best chance of finishing first.
Since the first year of the race in 2014 the winning times have been 1:17:151, 1:15:492, 1:21:273 and 1:19:284.
Although all the winning times are faster than my current personal best, set in the summer of 2016, I believe I have the potential to run sub 6:00 miles for 13.1 miles.
Last year I was sidelined with a hip injury due to overtraining for my fourth Chelmsford Marathon.
But this August I aim to win.
My training will commence tomorrow after a fortnight of recovery from my first 10 mile race.

I have thirteen weeks to improve my fitness and mindset.

Although I will focus primarily on tempo intervals and continuous runs at target race pace I know I need to change my routine compared to previous training periods. I must place more intense and varied stresses on my body in order to stimulate the necessary physiological responses.

I will use many techniques to ensure I recovery adequately and prime myself as a future champion. These include:

If I am to take my race finishes from the top ten (once in 2016 and again in 2018) to the ‘podium’ I must believe I am a champion. I intend to demonstrate my best at the Clacton Half Marathon and leave nothing to chance. Previous race results are so tantalising that it may be the greatest opportunity to realise my ultimate ambition.


1 Equivalent to 5:53 per mile average pace.
2 Equivalent to 5:47 per mile average pace.
Equivalent to 6:12 per mile average pace.
Equivalent to 6:03 per mile average pace.



Walk to Assist your Running

For most people walking is a daily necessity. For most runners it is an undervalued, often forgotten, training activity.

Walking is ideal to move and stretch your legs on rest days, or as an alternative to easy training days, when you do not feel like running. There is no reason why a runner cannot also practice elements of running form during a leisurely stroll, especially foot placement, arm movement and strong posture.

This stress-free mode of travel has further benefits; walking offers runners an opportunity to multi-task. Runners can analyse past runs and races, plan future strategies and efforts, or even talk about running with a friend or family member.

Personally, I enjoy listening to audiobooks or podcasts, solving important problems or answering persistent questions about my running, whilst appreciating the natural surroundings, and exploring potential running routes.

Depending on how I feel it can also be a time to forget about running and instead think creatively about my writing.

Although walking does not have the same aerobic benefits as running, it remains an essential component of any person’s fitness. If for no other reason walking will likely be the only movement you undertake where you can forget about speed, time and distance. I advise you to take full advantage.