We’re playing for England…

Chester Marathon 2017

…I look at my watch, 11.4 miles into my first and probably only ever race wearing an England vest. I’m running on a pleasant country lane somewhere near the English/Welsh border. I can tell I’m either in or near Wales because they have just started writing “Araf / Slow” on the roads.

I pull over to the right hand side speak to a marshal, “I’m stopping, my race is over”.  It’s the first time I have ever DNF’d in a proper race. Just my luck, it happens on my international debut.

I think to myself, you should be more upset, maybe you should be in tears. But no, I’m fine with it.  I’m a runner, and like most runners I know my body pretty well. My right ankle hasn’t been good for months, if it wasn’t for the vest I wouldn’t even have started. I knew it was a long shot and the pain is now too bad to run without limping.

If it had happened at 20 miles, then I would have hobbled on to the end.  With over 15 miles to go, that seemed pointless.

The marshal advised me to walk back to the previous village where there was a water station and first aid, they will be able to sort me out.

My team mate Ian saw me and very generously stopped and gave me his mobile phone so that I could contact my supporters. Thank you Ian, that was very kind of you. He must have been stopped for well over a minute with me and I was gutted to hear later that he missed a London Good for Age qualifying time by about a minute.

I walk the half mile back against a tide of fellow runners. It feels a bit like a walk of shame.

Lots of runners express words of condolence and sympathy. Some I know are readers of this blog, so thank you for your concern, I’m genuinely grateful that you felt for me.  Runners are a kind bunch no doubt.

Quite a few ask me if I’m alright. I know they mean well, but I can’t really think of an appropriate answer. I’m obviously not OK, otherwise I’d be running in the opposite direction. I shrug or just mutter vague words of thanks.

I knew during my short warm up that I was going to struggle. My ankle felt quite stiff and uncomfortable and from trying longer runs over the last few weeks I knew that the pain would only get worse during the run. I hadn’t managed to run more than 15 miles since May, so it was a very long shot that I would be able complete a marathon.

The teeny red shorts didn’t make it to the start line…

Knowing that I was chancing my arm, I expunged all time targets from my head and copied the Steve Way method and set my Garmin display to show only heart rate, with the autolap flashing up splits every mile. I aimed to keep my heart rate at around 145, which I know to be reasonably comfortable for racing.

I happened to be miling at under 7 minutes, comfortably inside 3 hour pace.  That would be fine I thought, keep going like this, I’d take any sub three time.

At about eight miles in I was engulfed by the three hour pacing group.  I felt a little crowded for space and I edged gradually back in the group, but all of a sudden my ankle was really hurting and I was drifting back in the group. I dug in to try to stay with them, but I knew that it was a forlorn effort.

A mile later I was off the back, all alone in the vacuum behind the pacing group.  My race was run.

I was disappointed but not surprised.  On the upside, I got to spend a lovely weekend with some truly fab people, including fellow Valley Strider England vest wearers Tim, Jerry and Steve and also my mate Jock who ran a storming 3:27 (whilst definitely not wearing an England vest).

Jock Chester

Jock must have been chuffed because he even paid for a slap-up meal later that evening, quite something for a Scot.

Tim ran a fantastic PB on a course that wasn’t as flat and fast as many expected. Well done buddy, you should be very proud.

It felt good to be part of the first ever England Masters marathon team. All didn’t go smoothly with the build up, or the event itself, England Athletics admitted that. However, its a great scheme to give relatively average runners like me a chance to wear a National vest. There were lots of smiles and proud people there yesterday who had trained very hard to earn that right.

So in summary, a fantastic weekend with great people, let’s just forget about my run…

I think this blog will have a wee rest whilst I (hopefully) find a solution to this pesky injury.

Good luck to all you runners out there.  I’ll be back.

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La Dolce Vita

As Rod Stewart (sort of) sang It’s late September and I really should be back at work. Well, after  12 weeks of summer leisure time, reality has been restored and I am back at the coalface.

Smugly, I confess it was a pretty brilliant summer. I travelled to great places with some of my favourite people in the World, climbed the highest free-standing mountain in the World, ate lots of lovely food and generally had a fab time.

The final week of the Sabbatical was spent cycling around the Cilento and Amalfi regions of Italy, south of Naples.  Our party of 16 like-minded souls got on famously, guided by our fantastic leader, a simply lovely Italian gentleman named Paolo.

In stunning September weather, we enjoyed Italy at its sumptuous best. The cycling was brilliant on generally quiet roads with reasonably considerate drivers.

Then there was the coffee (divine), the gelatos (scrumptious) , oh and the food in general…mmmm yes – the food was about as good as it gets.

The only aspect of the summer that didn’t live up to my hopes was running training.  I thought that with free time galore, I would be able to run lots of miles, put in extra speed sessions and get myself into the shape of my life.

Unfortunately, I have been pestered by a niggling injury in my ankle – specifically posterior tibial tendonitis, or in English, inflammation to the tendon on the inside of the lower shin. It’s a bummer.

Last Sunday, after a week off running, my ankle felt not too bad and I joined a gang of team mates up at the reservoirs for the Sunday long run. I thought that if I could complete a solid 20 mile run, then there might still be some hope of a reasonable performance at Chester a week on Sunday.

Ressies Sept

All went fairly smoothly until the 15 mile point when the insidious pain returned.  I slowed, was dropped by the group and then shuffled and hobbled my way back to the car, completing 19 miles in total.  However, only 15 could be described as proper running.

I went back to see the physio yesterday – at the Coach House practice in Leeds. They are well regarded among elite sports people with a clientele that includes a legion of Olympic gold medallists and World Champions.  If they could patch up Kelly Holmes well enough for her to win two Olympic gold medals, then I might as well give them a try.

I half expected the Physio to say that I would be foolish to run at Chester – that I would do lasting damage and I should expunge all thoughts of running it from my mind.

Clearly, she was used to treating obsessive athletes, because the after the initial assessment, she said “You have quite severe inflammation in the tendon – your ankle and foot is really stiff and stuck, but lets just throw everything at it and let you give it a go”.  Just what I wanted to hear.

So, the plan is to take lots of Ibruprofen (against my normal principles), treat it with lots of ice and/or ice and heat, do some gentle remobilisation exercises and then go back for more physio next week. I won’t be running at all until Chester, but I can do non-impact cross-training like cycling and rowing.

I have set up my turbo trainer at home and I will be giving Zwift some real hammer over the next 10 days.

My gleaming new England kit arrived in the post this morning. The shorts are a little more ‘racing cut’ than I would usually go for, but I’d like to think that red and white quite suits me:

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I can’t lie, I’m disappointed that Chester won’t be the best  marathon of my life, I’ll just be aiming to complete it without embarrassing myself.

Then again, I’m very lucky. I can run. I am healthy and have great friends. I have nothing to moan about. Life is good.

 

 

CM- 1 week 5 days

11 stone 3.4 lbs

19 miles

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Putting my Foot in it

Only a short report this week, mainly because I’m still struggling with injury and I don’t want to sound like a moaning sod.

I wanted this to be a real big mileage week of at least 70 miles, culminating with a race on Sunday – the Vale of York half marathon. I ran for about an hour on both Monday and Tuesday and then drove up to the reservoirs on Wednesday morning hoping to run at least 20 miles, maybe even 24 if I felt up to it.

My ankle didn’t feel too bad for the first two hours of the run, but then the pain returned and quickly got worse and I was forced to stop after about 15 miles and hobble back to the car.

I rested until Sunday and went across to the Sherburn Aerodrome for the Vale of York Half Marathon.  I had a reasonably good race – finishing in just outside 82 minutes and apparently winning second prize in the MV50 age category.

Although my performance was OK, I wasn’t happy with my running. I was feeling the ankle throughout the run and I wasn’t able to run completely freely.  My gait was different – I was heel striking more than usual on my right foot, subconsciously I was trying to protect the injury. Unsurprisingly, I felt twinges in other parts of my body.

I finished quite lame and as I write this on Monday I can’t walk without pain.  Often it isn’t wise to self-diagnose using google, but this artcle:

https://runnersconnect.net/posterior-tibial-tendonitis/

describes my symptons accurately.  Worringly, it says that one should not try to run through this injury.  However, as Chester on October 8th is almost certain to be the only opportunity that I will have in my lifetime to wear a National vest then I am going to risk it.

There are four weeks remaining until Chester and I am fairly confident that I will be able to make the start line.  I am not so confident about making it to the finish, but we will worry about that on the day.

My plan from now until 8 Oct is to hardly run at all, allow my ankle to heal as much as possible and to try to keep as fit as I can by cross training.  I am going on a week-long cycling holiday in Italy next Saturday, so at least I will keep active and won’t have to think about running much.

 

CM -4 weeks

52.5 miles, longest run 18.3 miles

Parkrun – None

Weight 11 stone 3.4 lbs

Aerobic efficiency (HM 971 beats per mile)

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Cor Baby, that’s Relay free

I treated my aching bones to any easier week, so there isn’t very much to share about the last seven days of running.  Although I am trying to compress a 14 week marathon training block into about 7 weeks, even I realise that it would be foolish to completely run myself into the ground, so a bit of rest and easy running is mandatory at my age.

In Iceland, Jock told me about his training philosophy – he has read a book by an author whose name I have forgotten, but the key point was that training runs for older runners should to be easy.  The best way to measure this is by using heart rate, which should never exceed 180 minus one’s age.  Therefore, I have been running to a target heart rate of 130, which feels quite easy, it equates to something between 8:15 to 8:30 mile pace.

It also requires one to run very easily up inclines and a bit harder down them.  As mentioned on Marathon Talk a few weeks ago, for even effort, nearly every one goes much too hard uphill and nowhere near hard enough coming down.  Hard runs should only be done occasionally – ideally not more than once a week.

I like this training philosophy, it accords with the Kenyan way – i.e. you should either by running very easily, or very hard, but hardly ever with medium effort.

Saying all that, I ran hard on both days at the weekend – on Saturday at Roundhay parkrun; and on Sunday for Leg 6 of the Leeds Country Way Relay.

The Roundhay parkrun course is tough, it includes a two+ minute hill which is climbed three and a half times.  I was leading the pack at the top of the hill on the first lap, but I was soon passed by Huw and a young woman whom I didn’t recognise.  I held third place until the finish, the young woman cruised round to finish first overall quite comfortably, pursued by a string of gasping old men like me.

I was reasonably satisfied with my time of 19:11 – on the same weekend last year I ran 18:34, so I am definitely a little way behind my form of 2016. Hopefully, I still have time to sharpen up a little before I start the taper.

The Leeds Country Way is a 6 leg race around a 60 mile footpath that circumnavigates Leeds, contested by most of the local running clubs.  It’s a great event, requiring excellent logistical management and navigation and wells as good runners.  The legs are run in pairs.  I ran the final leg for the Vets team with Kevin. We enjoyed a strong run, covering the 9.5 undulating miles of rough paths and roads in just over 69 minutes.

LCW1

Valley Striders had a good day, winning the Vet’s category and finishing second in the main male and female classifications.

My aim for this week is to cover at least 60 miles, but to front-load the week so that I can be fresh(ish) or the Vale of York Half Marathon next Sunday. I will have to fit in my long run mid-week, probably on Wednesday morning.

 

CM -5 weeks

41.3 miles, longest run 10.1 miles

Parkrun – Roundhay 19:11 (3rd)

Weight 10 stone 13.4 lbs

Aerobic efficiency (LCW 1048 beats per mile)

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One Step Forward…

I got some miles in this week – 65 of them, although my 20 mile run on Sunday morning didn’t go exactly as I wished.

As I mentioned in the previous post, I wasn’t sure how fit I was after not running at all during my holiday in Tanzania.  To ease back into it, I did a few easy training runs at home followed by a steady effort at the Reyjavik half marathon last Saturday.  I ran the final three miles quite hard there and it felt good.

The Even Splits 5K race at the Brownlee cycling track on Wednesday night was a good opportunity to see exactly how I was going.  Liz and I did a nice long warm up and on the start line I tried to focus my mind to make sure that I concentrated fully, embraced the pain and ran a true hard race. 5K racing is meant to hurt!

The track is exactly a mile long, so the course is three laps plus a bit at the end. I completed the first lap in a very aggressive 5:38. Unsurprisingly it was hurting; I decided not to look at the watch much, I may have been scared by how high my heart rate was.  Instead I looked ahead and picked out some of my usual rivals and tried to reel them in. Forgetting the watch and just racing is usually the best way to achieve a good time.

The second mile was a 5:52, I was still progressing through the field as others were slowing more than me. I dug deep and completely rinsed myself on the final lap, with a 5:51 third mile, leaving 170 or so metres left to the finish line.

I could feel Aidan from Abbey Runners bearing right down on me so I stared ahead and tried to unleash my best sprint finish. I stole a couple of places in the finishing straight to record a chip time of 18:06, which I was absolutely delighted with. It was much faster than I thought I was capable of. Even better, Liz knocked a minute off her previous time with a storming run.

(photo Kath Robbins)Even Splits

Looking at the Garmin data after the race, I saw that my heart rate maxed at 172 bpm just before the finish, the highest I have ever recorded, so it’s not surprising that I collapsed in a heap on the grass after the line.

What with the high mileage and very hard race, I felt very tried and sluggish during the remainder of the week.  I dragged myself round to a respectable but heavy-legged 19:18 on the tough Bradford parkrun course on Saturday morning.

I wanted to round the week off with a minimum of a 20 mile run on Sunday morning. I fancied running it on my own, I thought I might be quite slow.  I chose a simple 10 mile out and back route along the canal towpath. Although I was tired, the first 13 miles felt reasonable at just under 8 minute miling.   However as I became more fatigued, I felt my ankle getting gradually worse and after 17 miles I had to stop running and walk-jog back to car.

Hopefully, it’s just a symptom of the volume of miles and nothing too serious.  I’ll take a couple of days off and have an easier week before stepping up again. I want to be in reasonable shape for the Leeds Country Way relay next Sunday – I’m running the final ‘glory’ Leg 6 with partner Kevin in the Vets team.

 

CM -6 weeks

65.6 miles, longest run 20.1 miles

Parkrun – Bradford 19:18 (6th)

Weight 11 stone 0.4 lbs

Aerobic efficiency (5K race 940 beats per mile)

 

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Under Pressure

There are six weeks and five days to go until I toe the line at the Chester Marathon wearing an England vest.  I am woefully under-prepared.  I haven’t been able to shake off the problem with my bothersome ankle and managed not one single step of running during my 18 day holiday in Tanzania. I need to get my arse in gear.

Tanzania

This long-planned trip was the intended jewel in my summer sabbatical. It didn’t disappoint, I had a great time.

The first part of the trip was a guided trek up the 5895m of Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa (and the highest free-standing mountain in the World), followed by a five day safari around several National Parks and conservation areas in Tanzania.

I love the wonderful haphazard craziness of Africa. The people appear infected with joyfulness and have a carefree resourcefulness that (eventually) solves most problems. They aren’t the World’s greatest timekeepers though.

There are several approved trekking routes up Kilimanjaro. Backpackers looking for the cheapest way up face a five day race up the crowded Marangu route. As well as being cheap and quick, this route also isn’t particularly picturesque and has the lowest success rate of about 65% (due to poor acclimatisation).

We chose the longest and slowest route – the Northern circuit, which takes nine days in total including the descent. It is an expensive option, but the main advantage is the high success rate (over 90%) due to plenty of opportunities to acclimatise. The route takes in the quieter more unspoilt slopes on the Kenya-facing ‘back’ of the mountain.

Our party comprised eight trekkers (mainly Australian friends with whom I walked the Inca Trail in Peru in 2012), four guides and about 32 porters.  That may sound a plethora of porters, but it’s about the average walker to porter proportion.

Kili13

The guides and porters were simply wonderful, they pampered and pandered to the softy Western tourists and never once failed to smile, laugh or sing whilst doing it.  And they had to lug dozens of 25KG packs up the mountain….

 

To be honest, the first few days of the walk were fairly easy for me. There is a phrase in Swahili that you hear all the time on the mountain: “Pole, Pole” (pronounced: “Po-lay, Pol-lay”).  It means “Slowly, slowly” and it is the absolute key to success on Kilimanjaro.

At first I was surprised just how slowly we were made to walk – to call it funereal would be to exaggerate the pace, it was much slower – something around 1 mile per hour.  As we got higher and the air got thinner, we walked even more slowly – on summit night we covered six very steep kilometres in around ten hours.

Our head guide, Davis, had summited over 250 times, so we trusted in his counsel.  My breathing and heart rate was comfortable at Pole Pole pace, but as soon as I tried to go even slightly quicker I felt my heart rate shoot up and breathing become laboured.

The ascent of Kilimanjaro is a trek, a walk. It’s a long and arduous walk and the summit night and day is very long and testing, but provided you stay healthy and can cope with the altitude the main requirement for success is patience and determination.

Here are some photos from the first few days of the trek (photo credit Andrew Miley and Mervi Minshull)

 

Summit Night

We camped at School Hut – at an altitude of 4800m.  We dined early – at 5.30pm and rose at 10.30pm for an 11.30pm start for the push for the summit.

It was a stunning place to camp, I have never been to a place that felt more other-Worldly, way above the clouds and many thousands of feet above the vegetation line:

 

We were blessed with a full moon, which washed the mountain in a pale argentine light. I turned off my head torch for most of the summit climb, I could see perfectly well by moonlight alone.

The moonlight reminded me of my favourite poem – Silver, by Walter de la Mere, which I recited to myself as we slogged up the steep slopes below the summit:

Slowly, silently, now the moon
Walks the night in her silver shoon;
This way, and that, she peers, and sees
Silver fruit upon silver trees;
One by one the casements catch
Her beams beneath the silvery thatch;
Couched in his kennel, like a log,
With paws of silver sleeps the dog;
From their shadowy cote the white breasts peep
Of doves in silver feathered sleep
A harvest mouse goes scampering by,
With silver claws, and silver eye;
And moveless fish in the water gleam,
By silver reeds in a silver stream.

The most difficult time physically was around 3 – 4 a.m., the body is used to being in a deep slumber at that time of night, not creeping up a freezing mountain in sucking in diluted oxygen. I resorted to listening to some favourite music to keep me going – The Hounds of Love by Kate Bush and Grace by Jeff Buckley.

It was very, very cold – between -10 and -15 degrees C during the night and thankfully Davis had meticulously checked our kit before we set off to ensure we would be warm enough. He made me rent an additional thick fleece jacket and leggings and I was very thankful he did – I was just about warm enough.

At around 6.30 a.m. we stopped to watch the sunrise:

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At 7:30 a.m we made the first of the three summits on the crater – Gilman’s point. Two hours later we got to the highest point in Africa – Uhuru Peak:

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The summit peak was unusually quiet and we were able to spend around 20 minutes posing for photographs and generally larking about.  After having the highest possible pee in Africa, we started a long and exhausting descent down trails of broken stones and talcum powder-like dust. At times it was almost possible to ski down.

After the exhilaration of the summit, the descent was a pain in the backside. We eventually made it to the Millenium camp (3800m) at around 4:30 pm. We had been walking for 17 hours and it had been 23 hours since we had eaten hot food. We were knackered.

Most porters don’t summit and they treated us to an extra special song and dance as we shuffled exhaustedly into the camp. We ate and collpased into a deep slumber in our tents.

Safari

I won’t bore you with lots of the details of the safari, I’ll just insert a load of pictures mostly taken by my mate Andrew who is a far more accomplished photograper than me:

 

I was absolutely transfixed watching two lionesses hunting a hartebeest, though the scene was slightly spoiled by the fact that there were around twenty five jeeps all parked up with occupants gawping and snapping away.  The lionesses didn’t seem at all bothered by the vehicles.  Quite the opposite, one walked distractedly away from the prey up the track alongside the line of cars. She then quietly turned around and then snuck around the other side of the vehicles.  She was using the jeeps as cover – how amazing.

The hartebeest spotted one of the lionesses in the grass just in time and then legged it for all he was worth.  Antelopes 1, Lions 0.

We visited a traditional Maasai village in the Serengeti. The chief greeted us warmly in beautiful English and politely requested USD 50 from each car.

He was a magnificent human being – tall, elegant and serene, he reminded me of David Rudisha (who is also Maasai). He wrapped his red shawl around my shoulders and invited me to compete in a Maasai jumping dance (used as part of the courtship to impress the Maasai ladies).

Kili20

I was impressed enough to buy his shawl off him for USD 35 (he wanted USD 50, and later I saw them for USD 10). He was a pretty savvy businessman.

 

We learned about the Maasai way of life.  They eat only three foodstuffs – blood from live cows, milk and meat. A lack of vegetables and carbohydrate doesn’t appear to do them any harm, Maasai are tall and thin and probably very good runners.

Although I enjoyed my African adventures, after 18 days away, I was happy head to home, well aware that I needed to get running again.

Iceland

Just four days after landing back in the U.K., I was off again, this time to Iceland for a long weekend primarily to run the Reykjavik half marathon with Valley Strider mates. Liz and I were staying in an Airbnb apartment with Jock, my Comrades mate. Unfortunately his partner Karen couldn’t make it.

Iceland was an absolutely brilliant place, albeit eye-wateringly expensive, especially for a Scot and a Yorkshireman. My meal in a trendy tapas bar in Saturday night was basically posh fish and chips and cost me nearly £50!

Iceland blessed us with perfect running weather for the race on Saturday morning. It was crisp and cool with a massive cloudless azure sky.

At the last moment, I decided to run with Lizzie, for the first few miles at least. I wasn’t sure how fit I was. I was unsure of my ankle, so there seemed little point in smashing myself to finish in around 90 minutes.  Liz was hoping to run about 1 hour 40 minutes.

Rey1

The first part of the course was flat and fast, but at around 10 miles Lizzie was feeling the pace after an aggressive start and told me to bugger off. I felt OK so decided to push the final 5k and test my legs. I lifted my pace to around 6:20 per mile.

I saw Jock a few hundred metres further on. He was having a storming run – well under his 1 hour 40 target pace. I was passing dozens of runners, and I expected to go sweeping past him but he latched onto me and we ran the next mile together in under 6:30.

I decided to pace him in as best I could, it seemed the least I could do after he had shepherded me home safely at Comrades last year when I was a gibbering wreck.

Rey2

We finished in just outside 1:37, a great time for Jock and testament to four 70 + mile weeks of hard training.  He is also running at Chester and I need to get my act together or he will be giving me a beating.

Liz finished just after us in  1:40 and a few seconds and nabbed a top ten age group finish to boot.

After a few days back home, I’m finally focussing on training again. Although my ankle isn’t right, I will just have to ignore it for now and try to train through. If I break down again, then so be it. I have to gamble on four big mileage weeks so that I can line up in something like decent shape and then just try to bury myself on the day.

I’m running the third Even Splits 5K race tonight at the Brownlee cycling track. I’ve run 19:05 and 18:38 in the first two races. I doubt that I’ll go quicker tonight.

Despite my lack of miles, one bit of good news is that my weight has remained quite low – I’m hovering at around 11 stones, which is about my racing weight. My aerobic fitness isn’t too bad, its my legs that are letting me down. Time to get running!

 

CM- 6 weeks 4 days

10 stone 13.2 lbs

Aerobic efficiency (half marathon 992 beats per mile)

 

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It Feels Good to be Good for Age

There are just over eleven weeks until my autumn marathon at Chester and it feels like a good time to crank up this blog again. I quite enjoy writing it and it helps me keep my eyes on the job in hand.

Recap

The last blog post was about the London marathon on April 26th.  As is the custom, the post spring marathon training hasn’t been without injuries and hindrances. I am yet to perfect the art of the recovery.

I had a great time at London, made especially memorable as I had Liz with me as a non-running supporter.  In the past, she has twice run from the Championship start at London, but hasn’t been focussing on long distances in recent months.

I knew that she would love to run London again in 2018, and with me already qualified with the GFA (Good for Age) standard, we looked at the options. Realistically, gaining a Championship standard for 2018 was not on the cards for her at the moment, so the only option was to try to bag a GFA time (sub 3:50).

The deadline for achieving a GFA standard for the 2018 race was 1 June 2017. It was already early May and a quick look at the race calendar indicated one prime opportunity – the Liverpool Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon on May 28th.

Could she do this with no specific marathon training and only a limited amount of running over the past few months?  Maybe, maybe not, I thought, but why not have a crack, it would be fun to find out.  She wasn’t so sure, but in my mind it was a classic no lose situation – at best she would run the qualifier and bag a London place; at worst, we would have a weekend away and a fun run around a pretty cool city.

I assigned myself domestique duties – I would sort logistics, fetch the drinks and worry about the pacing, all she had to was run and see what happened.

We had fortune with the weather, it was pleasant – warm, but not too bad. We needed to average 8:46 miling in order to make the standard.

I knew Liz would be fine for the first half, the only question was could she keep it going in the later miles without having any long marathon training runs in her legs.

We reached halfway bang on 1:50 (3:40 pace) – just as planned. The route was rolling rather than flat and had wended its way through the Northern part of the city. We passed both premiership football grounds at either end of Stanley Park before returning to the city centre for a second Southern loop out through Princes and Sefton parks.  The route finished with a long four mile slog back along the promenade from Aigburth back to the finish in the Albert Dock.

Unsurprisingly, by Sefton Park deep into the second half, the pace was slowing. Our ten minute halfway buffer was being gradually eroded. I tried to keep Liz positive, though I could tell that it was starting to hurt.

As we hit the promenade, I worked out that we had to run the final four miles in under 37 minutes. However, our average pace had slowed to 9:30 and we weren’t likely to speed up.  Gulp, it was going to be mighty close. We certainly couldn’t afford to stop running at any point.

Liz was flagging, but dug in brilliantly, I didn’t dare tell her just how desperately close it was until inside the last mile. With about 400m to go, we thought that we spied the finish barrier just up ahead and with relief I thought that we would be in by a good 30 seconds. Frustratingly, this was an optical illusion, the real finish was another 150 metres or so further on.

Liz knew that she had to give it everything and with a brilliant dig-deep sprint she hit the line in 3:49:56…making the standard by a massive three seconds. It was a superb effort and a great achievement to make the GFA standard off very limited training. I was very proud.

Later that week I ran in the Apperley Bridge Canter, a local multi terrain 10K race. My ankle had been feeling sore since the marathon and although I ran an OK time, by the finish I had completely gone in the fetlock.

The following morning I had a badly swollen ankle and couldn’t walk without difficulty. A month later and following a visit to the physio, I was able to run (slowly) again.

I am definitely not race-fit.  I turned up at the first Even Splits 5K race recently.  It was held on the cycling track at the new Brownlee Centre a couple of weeks ago. On what should be a potential PB course, I struggled round in a time outside 19 minutes (my PB is 17:30). Hmmm, I have a lot of work to do. I’ll have another go at the second race in the series on Wednesday next week, hopefully I’ll go a bit quicker.

I have eleven weeks to get as fit as I can and hopefully run the best marathon of my life wearing a National vest.  Somewhat conveniently, I have the summer off work (my employer generously awards a 12 week sabbatical after 10 years of service).

However, I am not going to be able to do much running in the first two weeks of August because I will be away on a trekking and safari holiday in Tanzania (primarily to climb Kilimanjaro). I’m hoping that just being at altitude for a prolonged period will be a good substitute for marathon training.

I’ll try to keep the blog going once I am back from Tanzania.

 

CM- 11 weeks 18.5 miles

Longest run 13 miles

11 stone 5 lbs

 

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The Northern Powderhouse

I have an easy way of remembering the last time I competed in the London Marathon.

It was in 1999. My nephew Samuel was just over six months old and I recall getting a little emotional running along the Embankment when I heard my sister shout out “Do it for Sam”.

Sam is starting University in September, so it has been 18 years since my last jog around the streets of London.

I have a bittersweet relationship with our Nation’s capital. I lived there for a year in the early 1990s, it was sort of fun for a single guy in his mid-twenties. I drank a lot of beer and made a few mates, yet I felt strangely anonymous and ‘otherly’  during most of my time there. It felt like I was observing everybody else living their lives whilst waiting to live mine.  I don’t miss it.

However, it’s a magnificent place to visit for a day or two. You can devour its delights without allowing the negative aspects to grind you down.

My London training has not gone to plan. I wanted to average a minimum of 50 miles per week during January, rising to 60 miles per week in February and March. I calculate that would have totaled 880 miles from January 1st until the taper.

I have actually run 680 miles – just 77% of the target and I missed my final two 20 mile+ runs because of injury niggles.

The one thing I have learned about the sport of running is that you cannot fake it. If you don’t do the training, you won’t get the results.

Knowing that I was a bit under-cooked, I wasn’t expecting a personal best time on Sunday.  I still hoped for a time comfortably below three hours and if forced to give an honest prediction of my finishing time, I would have said 2:57. That would equate to an average pace of 6:45 per mile.

My plan was to try to run 6 minutes 40 seconds per mile for as long as possible.  Hopefully, that would feel quite easy for the first half and when the inevitable heavy legs arrived in the second part of the race, the decay in my running pace wouldn’t be too catastrophic.

Back in the autumn at the Yorkshire marathon, I went out at an aggressive 6:30 pace, I held it for around 22 miles, but when the slow down came it was calamitous, with the last mile taking me 7 minutes 40 seconds. I thought I was in better shape back then.

There were over twenty of my Valley Strider teammates running in London and I met some of them along with a few other local runners at Andy Wicks’s excellent pre-marathon Pasta ‘n’ Puds party in Leeds on the preceding Thursday evening.

I broke the rule about not running hard during the final taper week.  I went for two fairly brisk training runs of around 10 miles each at something approaching marathon pace.

It was a risk that seemed to pay off.  For the first time in several weeks, running felt good – I had that gratifying feeling of ‘clipping along’ that tells me I’m in decent nick…

We were staying in Whitechapel, a reasonable multi-cultural part of East London, next to the Royal London Hospital. We had a pre-marathon dinner at a trendy Italian Café-bar amongst the hipsters of Shoreditch/Bethnal Green/Hackney.  Amongst a mass of beards and fawning PR types, I never quite worked out exactly where we were.

I was cruelly reminded that I was in trendy London when relieved of nearly twelve quid in a pub in exchange for two pints of some kind of shandy variant.  For a few seconds, I felt slightly nauseous.

 Marathon Day

I was running from the ‘Fast Good for Age’ Start. This meant I could enjoy a dedicated smaller start area with only 10 minute toilet queues.  The start corral was at the very front of the Red Start. It appeared to be a completely woman-free zone.

The hour waiting for the start passed pleasantly – I made a new friend in the toilet queue and then bumped into Andrew from Valley Striders.

Whilst meditating in the portaloo I had a little giggle to myself.  Some wag had scrawled “The Evil that Men poo…” in marker pen on the inside of the door.  They have a superior class of graffiti vandalism in London.

The race started at 10.00 a.m. Well it did for the Blue and Green Starts, but for some unexplained reason, we were held for around eighty seconds at the Red Start.  The gun was eventually fired and I was across the start line in about 15-20 seconds.  I was able to settle into something like my proper race pace within a half a mile or so.

The third and fourth miles are significantly  downhill, consequently I ran them in under 6 minute 20 seconds each.  Indeed, although I felt like I was barely going faster than jogging, by Cutty Sark at 6.5 miles, I was about a minute ahead of my 6:40 target pace.

The noise was cacophonous around the old Clipper and I appeared to be stuck in a bit of a traffic jam.  I looked ahead and saw balloons belonging to the Blue three hour pacer.  Blimey, he’s a bit quick, I thought to myself – a few of his flock are going to blow to pieces later in the race.

Once I managed to manoeuvre myself around the pacing group, there was more space to run freely. I really enjoyed the next section approaching Tower Bridge.  The sun was out, running felt comfortable and I was looking forward to seeing some friends and supporters stationed between miles 13 and 15.

I passed halfway in 1:26:41 (2:53:20 pace). Despite frequently reminding myself to run conservatively in the first half, I was still about one minute too fast.

I saw Liz in the crowds at Westferry at exactly where she said she would be. She thrust three little packets of salt into my hand as I passed – I’d been panicking that morning when I couldn’t find my salt tablets and I was paranoid about suffering cramps. Liz’s purloined little Pret salt sachets may have been a life-saver.

Back in 1999, the section after halfway through the Isle of Dogs was still a bit of a pre-gentrification wasteland, a dead spot virtually devoid of spectators.  Not anymore, there were people at the roadside virtually the whole way.

This photo was taken by John Rainsforth at around the 16 mile mark:

LM 16 miles

Just before reaching the Canary Wharf area, I was caught by mate Tim from Valley Striders. He had run from a different start to me.  Tim has been running very strongly this year, usually beating me by a few seconds at most races.  However, he said that he wasn’t  feeling great.  We ran together for a couple of miles. (Photo Kathy Robbins)

LM TS JDT

Mentally I had told myself to really hold back until 20.5 miles, where I hoped to see Liz for the second time.  I wanted to run strongly over the last six miles and hopefully pick up a lot of places.

With Tim alongside me, I made a mistake and pressed the pedal too early.  We had slowed a bit around Canary Wharf.  The course is very twisty around there with a few subtle inclines, so I should not have fretted about a 6:50 mile.

I covered the next mile, the twentieth, in 6:22. I saw Liz as planned  for the second time at Westferry; she gave me my second gel. I was still going well and passing lots of runners as we ran past the Tower Hill area.

My hubris bit back at me very quickly. On the incline out of the tunnel on Lower Thames Street my legs started to feel very heavy and all of a sudden running felt laboured. I did the old ‘its only a parkrun to go’ thing in my head.

To be honest, that’s not much use because one doesn’t normally start a parkrun feeling absolutely shattered with 23 marathon-paced miles in the legs.

I was securely on board the pain train and I tried playing other mental games, imploring myself to do it for loved ones and summoning up the mantra of Zatopek…when it hurts, go faster

This time, Zatopek didn’t help at all.  I was getting slower – not by much – but my mental affirmations could not arrest the deceleration.  Mile 25 took me 6:56.  I admonished myself : I refuse to have a 7 minute mile ruin my Strava record.

I turned towards the Corridors of Power – past Whitehall,  the Houses of Parliament,  and along Birdcage Walk towards Buckingham Palace. The last mile seemed to take an eternity.

Up to 23 miles, I thought that I was definitely on for a PB, however, with my pace slowing and the fact that I was going to run well over distance I realised that the PB was now touch and go.

I summoned up everything I had on the final long sweeping turn past Buckingham Palace into The Mall and tried to raise a heavy-legged sprint over the last 200 metres. Just as my eyes focused on the finish line clock, I saw it tick past my PB time of 2:55.08…oh bugger, I muttered to myself.

My finishing time was 2:55:21, so I missed the PB by 13 seconds.  I had run 26.4 miles according to my Garmin, and my average pace of 6:37 mile represents my best marathon performance by quite a margin.

Although I slowed a little in the last 5K and ran a 90 sec positive split, I stilled passed many more runners than passed me near the end:

LM results

I finished in 1279th place out of 38,070 finishers (excluding the Gorilla man who is still crawling the course as I write this), and 57th out of 2285 in my age category.

Given my fractured and inconsistent training, I was delighted with the time and I really enjoyed the race.

It was great fun meeting up with my Valley Strider mates after the race:

LM V Tree 2LM V Tree 1

Afterwards, we staggered up to a pub near Leicester Square and sunk a few hard earned over-priced ales.

The London Marathon did not disappoint. If you haven’t done it, then you should, its ace. Just don’t go to the Expo on the Saturday afternoon like I did, unless you like very crowded spaces and queuing a lot that is.

I still haven’t run my ultimate marathon performance…I really hope that will be in Chester on October 8th wearing a red and white England vest.

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Mind the Gap

 

After my wobbles over the last few weeks, I’ve felt better this week.

The knee and hip pain has eased off. I’m still aware of soreness after a run, but it doesn’t hurt much whilst I am actually running.

The deficit in mileage over the final month of the training period means I am not brimming with confidence about next Sunday, though I’m not too apprehensive either. I am fit enough to run well, hopefully sub three hours, but probably not to run a sub 2:55 PB time.

I ran steadily last week then ventured over to York for a blast around the flat parkrun with a few other Striders on Saturday morning. I was pleased with an even paced 18:12 for 13th place. I ran very hard, but not completely eyeballs out and I had to do an extended cool down run back to my car parked about half a mile from the finish because  I had left my barcode in it. That’ll learn me.

The Sunday one week before a marathon is a bit late for a proper long run, but I chanced a 12 mile run along the canal, with about 7 miles at 2:55 marathon pace, sandwiched between some steadier miles running with Liz.

As is the custom, the marathon paced miles felt rather hard, but not obscenely so, and in the main the heart rate stayed below 145 bpm.

My lowered expectations may work in my favour next Sunday. I am setting myself some ground rules for next Sunday. Assuming I arrive at the start healthy and fit, I want to run a conservative first 18 miles – with a target average pace of 6:40 – 6:45 per mile.

If I feel OK, I will try pick it up a little in the final 8 miles, hopefully overtaking a lot of runners and running a negative split.  However, my lack of long runs may well scupper those intentions, we’ll see.

My sore knees and hips mean that I will wear my Hoka Cliftons for the race, I’m sure they will thank me for the extra cushioning.

I haven’t run a London marathon this century, I am really looking forward to the experience. There are lots of teammates running and quite a few friends will be there in support.

Whisper it softly, but as I write, the weather forecast looks quite good:

London weather

 

 

LM-1 weeks

34.8 miles, longest run 12.1 miles

Parkrun – (York) 18:12 (13th)

Weight 11 St 0.8 lbs.

Aerobic efficiency on Sunday run 968 beats per mile

 

 

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Waltzing Matilda

I am progressing towards London a bit like a drunk trying to get off the Waltzers, i.e. I’m just about managing, but it isn’t graceful and it all might come crashing to an abrupt halt.

My sore knee and hip felt better in the early part of the week.  I knocked the mileage back and got my bike out for a first run of the season.  My white Italian carbon steed looked beautiful in the sun – clean and glinting, shod with fresh 25 mm tyres. The white carbon frame perfectly complemented my pasty Yorkshire legs, seeing the sun for the first time in seven months

On one of the lovely Spring evenings, I bombed around my standard 18.5 mile hilly circuit as hard as I could in just over an hour.  With a nice fresh tailwind on my back, I recorded my fourth best ever time on the classic Strava segment from Otley up the hill to Pool Bank, in just over 6 minutes.

Although I was due to run the Vale of York 10 on Sunday morning, I still fancied putting in a decent effort at Roundhay parkrun on Saturday.  I went for a progressive run, with the third and final circuit at max pace.  I wore my chunky new Hoka Odyssey shoes and they felt OK, a bit spongier than my beloved Cliftons, but not bad.

I ran the final mile in under 6 minutes and finished 4th in just under 19 minutes.

Perhaps it was the hard parkrun, or maybe it was an afternoon spent digging over my vegetable patch, but during the warm up jog with Tim and Liz before Sunday’s race, my left knee felt really sore.

I knew straight away that I couldn’t race. The pain was not agony, but it was bad enough to be worrying. I might have been able to get myself round 10 miles, but I would not have been quick and I am certain that I would have aggravated the problem.

So I cheered off Tim and Liz for their race and treated myself to a bacon sandwich and a cup of tea.  Tim maintained his good run of form with a new PB and a win in MV50 age category, I guess if I had been fit I would have had a fair chance of grabbing second place.

My perfect day was rounded off when a young BMW driver reversed into my car in Homebase car park. Cosmic!

I’m more frustrated than worried about London. I think with two weeks rest, my knee should be OK to run on.  I’m going to try to keep fit by riding my bike and rowing and possibly by jogging on grass, but not for a few days.

I will lose some fitness so a PB is now unlikely, but London was never going to be the number one target marathon for the year – that is Chester in October.

LM-2 weeks

20.6 miles, longest run 8 miles

Parkrun – (Roundhay) 18:58 (4th)

Weight 11 St 4.6 lbs.

Aerobic efficiency on Sunday run N/A

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