A Journey of a Thousand Miles…

…starts with a single step. So goes the celebrated Taoist proverb. This seems peculiarly apt for me at the moment. My total running mileage since I started training for Comrades in earnest on 1st January is actually 1,153 miles – an average of just under 58 miles per week.

There are only a few more miles to run before I stand in the starting pen at Durban in the pre-dawn dark next Sunday morning, nervously waiting to hear the runners sing “Shosholoza”, the Chariots of Fire theme and then the cock crowing that heralds the start of the Comrades marathon.

I feel calm and content knowing that I have trained very diligently and I have been fortunate not to suffer any serious illness or injury.  However, I am certainly not underestimating what lays ahead of me. Next week will be a huge examination of my mettle as an athlete and a person. It is simply not possible for anyone to run 55 miles without enduring a huge amount of discomfort and suffering. I wonder how I will cope.  I can’t wait to find out.

A year ago to the day I ran the Sierra Leone marathon in Makeni. It was an unforgettable day. I was lucky to be the first international finisher, but more importantly I experienced a wonderful culture and I met lots of amazing people.

Some I connected with for only a few seconds – like a village elder saying “Thank you Sir” as I ran past. Some fellow runners have become friends that I hope to remain in contact with for a long time.

If the Comrades experience is half as good, those long slow cold runs home from work in the snow and hail of January will have been well worth it.

I read this week that the organisers have extended the Comrades route by 877 metres this year. There is a practical reason for this – to avoid roadworks in Pinetown.  The distance of Comrades does vary from year to year.  ‘Up’ runs are normally slightly shorter than ‘Down’ runs – usually 87 kms for the up and about 89 kms for the down. However, there have been years when the distance has exceeded 90kms.

This year, we are facing 87.72 kms or just over 54.5 miles. Thankfully, the weather forecast is looking reasonable. I have been obsessively checking the BBC weather forecast for the past two weeks, and was frustrated to see the temperature in Durban remaining firmly in the high 20s. The current forecast for Durban next Sunday is a high of 25 degrees with a chance of showers and the high for Pietermaritzburg is 22 degrees.  I’ll take that – it’s still warm, but I can cope with it.

Tonight I will start packing for my trip – I’m flying out on Wednesday, via Dubai and I arrive in Durban on Thursday teatime.  I have treated myself and commissioned a special vest:

Comrades vest

I’m travelling with my mate Craig – a fellow marine underwriter and one of life’s massive optimists. Because of injury, including Plantar Fasciitis, Craig hasn’t been able to run as much as he wished. He is, however, a fit and determined bugger and he managed to complete the Manchester marathon in 3:35 despite hardly running further than about 7 miles in training. I’m sure he’ll complete Comrades with a huge smile on his face.

On the journey back from South Africa, we are having a two day stopover in Dubai. We have booked into a fancy hotel and it will be great to chill in obscene luxury for a few days.

I’ll also meet up with Chris, a great friend and ex-colleague who now lives and works in Dubai and will get to see Chris’s little boy, Tomas, my Godson, whom I haven’t seen for over three and a half years.  I imagine he’ll be a lot bigger than I remember!

***

As I am tapering, there wasn’t much running this week.  I ran the final race of the John Carr 5K series on Wednesday evening. I was hoping to break my personal best (17:44), but it didn’t feel like a fast night – there was a stiff breeze that would be in our face for the second half of the race.

I did manage a personal best with a time of 17:36, but I felt a little disappointed because I paced it terribly. My first mile was 5:16 – only 10 seconds slower than my mile PB and clearly way too fast.

When you run the first part of a race like that, you have to pay and the rest of the race was a case of trying to delay the slow death. Given better pacing I think I could break 17:30.

Before I sign off, I must thank all teammates who have come out on long runs with me and put up with me droning on about Comrades. Thanks also to everyone who has followed this blog and wished me well. I will of course be reporting back on what happens next Sunday – whatever that may be.

If you are interested, you can track my progress online – I’m number 24598.

CM -1 weeks
Weight 11st 5lb
36 Miles
parkrun – Woodhouse Moor 18:36 (15th)

Advertisements
Standard

Gerron’ wi’ it

…to quote the genius that is Fred Boycott (look him up on Twitter, he’s a hilarious fictitious Yorkshireman). For non-Yorkshire readers, this phrase translates as something like “I wish the Comrades marathon was commencing imminently”.

I am getting a bit tired of the Comrades training, well, more accurately, I am getting tired of having this huge physical event hanging over me.  I just want to get to the start line and let Comrades do its worst, my training can make no difference now.

I’ve been training specifically for Comrades for 19 weeks now, hell that’s nearly half a year!, that’s almost certainly too long to focus on one event…

My new Brooks shoes arrived on Friday – they are a just a tad too small, so they have gone back for an exchange. It’s probably too close to the big day to start fannying about with new kit, so I’ll have to wear my Hokas.

Highlight of the week was listening to Professor Brian Cox talking about the History of the Universe for 40 minutes whilst I attended a conference in Manchester. It was spectacularly mind-blowing.

Conclusion – space is like, really, really big, and getting bigger and has probably always existed and probably always will.  Scientists have done loads of very hard sums which completely prove this. There’s probably no need for a God or an Act of creation, so we might as well forget all these stupid religious fights and try to enjoy our lives. Carl Sagan said it best.

My scorching 5K PB of 17:23 at the John Carr race two weeks ago has been expunged from the record books.  The course was 30 metres short! Bummer.  I’ll have to have another go next Wednesday in the final race of the series.

Because I am a saddo, I worked out that 30 metres represents 6.25 seconds, so my target is sub 17:30.

I ran Roundhay parkrun for a change this week, it’s a much harder course than Woodhouse Moor, with a thrice climbed ‘hill of doom’.

I got into a full-on race with a young headphone dick for third/fourth place (his music blaring so loudly that I could hear it from several feet behind him).  He left me on the climb each lap, I then cruised past him using my superior lean-forward-and-disengage-brain downhill running technique, only for him to repeat the dose each lap.  He outkicked me on the final uphill sprint, but he did have the decency to shake my hand and say ‘good race’ at the end.

Sunday was a lovely steady longish meandering run around the Harewood Estate with Myra, Joel and Hannah from the club. We covered 16 rolling miles in just over two hours and we saw Red Kites.

CM -2 weeks
Weight 11st 3lb
57 Miles
parkrun – Roundhay 18:38 (4th)

Standard

Taper time?

In theory, I now start my taper for the Comrades marathon in three weeks.  However, I am following the silver plan from the Comrades website, and next week doesn’t look much like a taper that I am familiar with.  This is what is on the agenda:

Monday            1 hour recovery

Tuesday           15 min easy; 8x2min hills, 10 min easy

Wednesday      90 min Long run

Thursday          1 hour easy

Friday               Rest

Saturday          90 min Long Run

Sunday            2 Hour Long run

That should total around 60 miles, though I am going to struggle because of work commitments this week.  I am working at an exhibition in Manchester from Tuesday to Thursday, I’ll take my running kit with me, but it will be a case of fitting in what I can in the mornings whilst I am away.

This week, I treated myself to another sports massage with Ian. In addition to sports massage, he is a personal trainer and nutritionist and he runs an excellent website – www.ianshealth.co.uk. His podcasts on the site are well worth a listen if you are interested in nutrition and weight control. His support of the high fat/low carb diet is clear and the scientific evidence he presents is very compelling.

In light of the clear evidence that diet alone is the overwhelming factor in weight control (exercise has very little effect), it seems bizarre that the government advice still focuses on calorie counting and ‘burning’ calories by undertaking exercise. Nearly all recent studies shows that this approach is unlikely to work.

The government should tell people to stop eating refined sugar and cut down dramatically on their intake of carbohydrates. Exercise has some excellent mental and psychological effects, but it has minimal effect on weight loss.

I try to eat a diet which is lower in carbs than most people – I was more disciplined last year, somehow, I have found it harder not to sin this year.

However, I am going to really try to eat a better diet until Comrades.

Breakfasts will be poached egg and bacon (no toast), salad for lunch (my choices are limited) and main meals will include steak, poached salmon, chicken with roasted vegetables and poached egg, but no rice, potato, pasta or bread on the side.  I will eat some carbs (e.g. sweet potato) prior to longer runs, but I must resist the biscuits (I must, I must!).

***

I ran a mid-week 5K race on Wednesday evening. It was the first race of three in the John Carr series at Esholt.

If you look at the profiles of Yorkshire club runners on the power of 10 website or runbritainrankings, you will see that many have set their 5K PB on this course. It is a legal course, but I don’t know how, because it is net downhill, with the finish around 22 metres lower than the start.

Despite running 31 miles on the preceding Sunday, I decided to really go for it.

I got a bit stuck in the melee at the start, then I went too hard in the second and third kms. I struggled in the uphill fourth km and paid for the uneven effort, but when we hit the downhill final 800 metres to the finish I gave it everything and was delighted to record a 20 second 5K PB with a time of 17:23. It was a cool and breezy night and I think with better pacing and still conditions maybe I could run a 17:15. I’m missing the second race, but back for the final one of the series a week on Wednesday.

I did back to back long runs over the weekend – I ran from home to Woodhouse Moor parkrun on Saturday morning (it was the 400th event!), ran a steady 22:18 and then jogged home for a total of 18.6 miles. I was out with friends in Manchester on Saturday evening, so I had to do my Sunday 3 hour long run in the afternoon when I got home.

It was a bit of a struggle, not helped by me falling in a pile of nettles in Esholt woods and grazing my knee and elbow.  I was also covered in black muck all down my left side. I got some strange looks from passers-by as I ran back down the A65, so I diverted into a garage to clean off the muck and rinse out my wounds at the water tap. I found the last few miles tough and covered just shy of 22 miles.

The only bit of kit I am not sure about for Comrades are which shoes I will wear.  I have worn my Hoka Rapa Nuis for all my pre-Comrades long runs and although they are fine and I may well wear them in the race, I am considering wearing something a bit lighter.

I wouldn’t risk a race shoe or light trainer for Comrades. Despite my extensive stable of running shoes (I’ve recently had a clear out and am down to about 12 pairs), I don’t have any standard trainers that have fewer than 400 miles on the clock.

So I’ve gone to the well again and ordered a pair of Brooks Ghosts from Sportsshoes.com – they look a fairly light, neutral cushioned trainer good for high mileage runners. I really like the other Brooks shoes I’ve had. I should be able to get plenty of miles done in them before leaving for South Africa.  If they don’t cut the mustard, then I’ll go with the Hokas.

CM -3 weeks
Weight not measured
70 Miles
parkrun – Woodhouse Moor 22:18 (60th)

Standard

Just like Ellie…

Just twenty seven more sleeps before I line up at the Comrades marathon.   Eeeeek! I am having an attack of reality!

Also, I worry that I may be getting slightly obsessed by Comrades.

This week I watched hours of footage on YouTube of the 2014 down run when Brit Ellie Greenwood won an epic women’s race.

For more than a decade, two Russian identical twins, Elena and Olesya Nurgalieva have completely dominated Comrades. In the previous eleven races there were twenty-two first or second place positions available.  The Nurgalieva twins occupied eighteen of these, and they missed one or two races for babies and other reasons.

So, Ellie Greenwood beating them was a big deal.  She did it by running a wonderfully patient race, even walking quite a lot in the early part of a down run and then finishing incredibly strongly over the closing kilometres to mow down the Russians.

Ellie’s race report is a fantastic piece and you may wish to watch the YouTube video yourself, though I’ll doubt you will manage to watch all twelve hours of it:

http://www.irunfar.com/2014/06/never-ever-give-up-ellie-greenwoods-2014-comrades-report.html

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8a2_A_UGJ28

(Go to 6:09:00 to see the crucial bit)

In my dreams, I will finish this year as strongly as Ellie, but somehow I think I will be grovelling!

I continued following the Comrades training plan this week. It stipulated mainly steady runs throughout the week with a rest day Friday and then a one hour run on Saturday and a 50-55 km run on Sunday – the longest training run of all.

I deviated a bit from the plan on Saturday because I fancied trying a fast parkrun.  Running lots of slow miles and galactic distances is all well and good, but it gets a bit boring and certainly blunts the speed. I feel like I am constantly running on tired legs but never getting out of breath.

Woodhouse Moor parkrun in Leeds is a perfect fitness gauge for me. I know every millimetre of the course, I have run the event 204 times – 612 laps of the park. My best time ever is 17:44 and the best time in 2015 so far was 18:06. Given my high mileage and heavy legs, I hoped to run around 18:10 – 18:20 on Saturday.

I was surprised and very pleased to run my second fastest ever time – 17:48.  Surprised because it didn’t feel like a fast run – my legs still felt a little heavy, but clearly I have good aerobic fitness and I was able to sustain the effort better than I normally would.  I felt strong, but not particularly fast.

For the Sunday long run I hatched a plan to park in Leeds city centre and then take the train out to Skipton and run back on the Leeds-Liverpool canal – around 30 miles. I put a post on Facebook to see if any of my Valley Strider teammates fancied joining me for the latter part of the run as I thought I would be in desperate need of company by that stage.

One of the ultra-runners in the club, Ian S, said he would join me for the whole run and Hannah said she would run the last few miles with us.

Pulling back the curtains on Sunday morning revealed absolutely horrid weather – it was hammering it down with rain. A thought flickered through my head about postponing the run. However, I had agreed to pick Ian up on the way into Leeds, so I just had to get on with it.

We caught the first Sunday morning train out of Leeds to Skipton. The passengers in our carriage were a motley bunch – two 40 something men in running shorts and waterproof tops joining several gangs of teenagers making their way home after a heavy Saturday night out.  Many were much the worse for wear and several were still swigging from bottles of wine and cans of strong lager.

By the time we disembarked at Skipton, the rain had moderated from a biblical downpour to merely torrential. We chugged off down the towpath, steadily knocking out the early miles between 8:30 and 9:00.

Mercifully, the rain relented after an hour or so. We jogged on, working out which towns or villages we would reach next and taking the occasional 1 minute walk break.

At the Bingley five rise locks, at about half distance, we took a longer 5 minute break to eat some food. To be honest, the miles passed fairly painlessly and after three hours we were well over twenty miles in when Ian confessed that he was struggling. That wasn’t surprising considering that he ran the London marathon only seven days earlier. He said his foot was giving him problems so he wanted to slow down.

We were due to meet Hannah at Horsforth, so we agreed that I would go ahead and then we’d run back to meet Ian.

A couple of miles down the path I saw the unmistakeable bounding gait and smiling face of fellow Strider John Shanks, he had come out to meet me and run the last few miles. After meeting up with Hannah, we jogged back and soon found Ian again.  Unfortunately, he’d had enough and said he would make his way home.

The last few miles were tough for me, my tank was pretty much on empty, but we managed to keep the pace around about 8:30 per mile. It certainly helped my spirits having my mates with me.

Although I’d originally hoped to run about 35 miles, we stopped after 31 – annoyingly this converts to 49.88 kms, so not quite the 50kms that the plan called for. Failed again!

The main thing I learned from this run is that I didn’t eat enough and I didn’t eat early enough to prevent the hunger knock.  I must remember to start the food intake early, not after 10 or 15 miles.

Next weekend, the plan stipulates a final long run double header – 2 hours on Saturday followed by three hours on Sunday. I should probably try to run a hilly route for Sunday. I’ve entered a fast 5K race on Wednesday – the John Carr 5K at Esholt. I’ll be having a wee crack at my PB.

CM -4 weeks
Weight 11st 3.2lb
62.3 Miles
parkrun – Woodhouse Moor  17:48 (12th)

Standard