Mark and Diane Cassidy are regulars at Time Fitness Cupar; a small-town community gym in Fife Scotland. Following years of frequenting their local fitness facility, the couple have now developed a taste for running outside. What started out as a 6km jog at the weekend soon developed into increasingly long-distance races across the UK and Europe. They are now in training for their latest challenge bracing Alpine altitudes in an ultra-marathon.
We spoke to them about their marathon training journey, and what role their local gym plays in their new quest for endurance running.
You’ve been coming to Time Fitness Cupar for years, without ever showing an affinity for running. What caused this huge lifestyle switch?
Diane - “I wouldn't have started to run if I hadn't participated in the weight loss challenge run by Time Fitness. Mark and I used to do a 6km walk most Sundays, and after losing a lot of weight during the challenge, I said ‘maybe I should try to run it’. I hadn’t noticed how fit I had become, until I ran the entire 6km without stopping. I thought ‘if I can do that, I can maybe run even further!’.
Mark- “I think it was that initial positive experience, along with a recent mountaineering holiday we did in the Alps. Diane and I are both keen climbers, but this holiday the weather was miserable. Instead of climbing, we decided to start jogging along the trails. We both loved travelling through the beautiful scenery of this pace, and just continued running, even after we’d returned home.”
Diane- “Once we came back, someone in the gym had wanted to enter the Scottish Half Marathon Duo event, and was looking for a partner to do it with. I signed up and started training a little more regularly.”
Mark- “And as Diane trained for that, I signed up for the Scottish Half Marathon, mainly to avoid sitting around doing nothing while she was out racing. And it kind of snowballed from there.”
You’ve now both run several marathons, and an ultramarathon. Do you follow a training schedule for these events?
Mark- “In the beginning, I think we both just winged it. But as we started running farther and farther, introducing some method in to our training madness became essential. “
Diane- “I try and run three times a week, and base my distance on a training calendar I had found via My Asics’s online. I’ve also joined a running club on a Wednesday night, which helps me work on my running form and continue to practice pacing.”
Mark- “I have looked at several online training plans and developed a general trend of three short runs and two long runs a week. During the shorter runs I focus on higher intensity workouts while the longer ones are on lower heart rate endurance.”
But we still see you in the gym very regularly. How does the gym support your outdoor running efforts?
Diane- “It's so nice to come in to the gym regularly. There's a lot more people in here so it's also more sociable than a run out on the trail. But even in general, I find that cross training really helps my running performance. I love Pilates classes and feel this has allowed me to develop and improve my core strength. Training on the Speed Fit Curved Treadmill is effective in building up my general fitness and a welcome change from pounding on the pavement. I also think it feels very natural, more so than a treadmill.
Next to Pilates, I attend spinning classes allowing me to continue working on my stamina while again using different muscle groups.
Our next event will take place in the Alps, and has a 1700m altitude difference over 48km (Mark will do a longer version of the race, totalling near 80km), so training our legs is vital in the run up to that, especially lower intensity endurance over extended periods.
Mark- “I enjoy spin classes as lower impact cross training, and think the social aspects of training with friends is a really good motivator. I also use the Star Trac Embedded TRx Treadmill for training. I’ll set the incline to at least 1.5% to offset against the mechanical advantage of the treadmill. Then I'll do very specific interval training, mostly one minute on minute off. The minute off I run at 8-9 minute miles, and my minute on is trying to aim for and maintain a 6.5-minute mile. I find I can really structure my high intensity run very specifically using a treadmill.
I'll also do a progressive pace tempo run. This means I'll start running at an 8-minute mile pace (which is my marathon race pace), and then ramp it up over the course of a 5k or 10k. My last km I'm doing a sub 7-minute mile, so it's really pushing that speed.
If you then go back to running your 8 minute mile on the road, it all the sudden feels a lot easier. My "base pace" has increased by a minute or minute and a half per mile doing this training. When I compare my performance last year to my pace now, my jog pace now is what my race pace used to be.”
Apart from training your cardio and practice your running, is there anything else that you guys achieve in the gym that you feel supports you in your racing?
Mark- “I’ve had a couple of times where the amount of running I was doing has caused me little niggles here and there. I’ve suffered from patella tendonitis, and IT band syndrome. The latter played up in the weeks coming up to the Edinburgh Marathon that I was running in. I used the functional zone in Time Fitness to carry out some rehabilitating stretches concentrating on the glutes and hip mobility. Thankfully these resolved the issues in time for the race. It’s been really good having stretch bands, foam rollers and yoga blocks readily available, as well as the support from the gym staff during these recuperating sessions.”
Diane- “I also have a strength programme that’s been created for me with my running in mind, which I delve in to when I look for variety in my training. It is focused mainly around strength and functional training equipment, and is almost the opposite to any of the other training I do, so it’s a great way to mix it up.”
Mark – “I agree, I also need to introduce some strength based training into my programme, something I have not been very good at. Developing this aspect is where I will get some really useful input from the Time Fitness staff.
If you’re looking for support with your running, whether you are a starter or a seasoned pro, remember that your gym is there to help. There are lots of different ways to train for running, and each individual has their favourite way to prepare for an upcoming event. For more information on any of the products mentioned in this article, please do not hesitate to get in touch.