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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Dem Bones

My old bones have not been feeling good over the last couple of weeks, something has been amiss.  I have suffered from knee and hip soreness which has precipitated a premature and involuntary taper.

In the ideal World, the training diary entry for the Sunday three weeks before a target marathon would read thus:

last long run – 24 miles, steady start then felt strong and pushed the last six miles at marathon pace. Finished tired but quietly satisfied. Bring it on.”

An honest training diary for my last long Sunday run is:

  • Got to the reservoirs at 8.00 a.m. ready to tackle a 22 mile long run with teammate John. At 8.05 a.m. John hadn’t arrived so checked my phone.  Saw that he sent me a text last night explaining he couldn’t make it, but I hadn’t had the gumption to look at my phone until now…. Will have to do this run on my own with no iPod.

    Set off running at shuffling pace, don’t feel great. Felt dull soreness in my left knee and right hip. Told myself to man up and get it done. It felt chilly and I wished I’d brought some gloves.

    First mile took nearly nine minutes, but it was  uphill and I wasn’t warmed up yet, told myself to dig in, it will get easier.

    Slogged around first lap of 7.5 miles in just under an hour. 8 minute miling felt hard. What was going on?  Set off on second lap without stopping. Tried to raise my speed a little.  It started to rain, the kind of rain that really wets you. Thought ‘Hmm, I’m not enjoying this, I’m wet, cold, slow and lonely….zip it up!’.

    Path blocked up with hundred of long distance walkers doing the Blubberhouses 25, spent my second lap dodging around them…

    Finished second lap in two hours feeling effing dreadful. Thought, there’s no way I can do another 7 miles…Decided to do a short lap of 3.5 miles instead…

    Set off for final short lap. After two minutes stopped abruptly feeling sore and incredibly fatigued. Muttered ‘Sod this for a game of soldiers’.

    Walked back to the car and drove home.

 

I can trace these problems back to the Trimpell 20 two weeks ago. I think I went too hard and I haven’t recovered from that race very well. I’ve obviously picked up niggles in my knee and hip and on top of that I’m short on sleep.

However, I’ve had an easier few days since Sunday and I feel a little better now (Tuesday afternoon).  I went for a 2.4 mile spin around the block last night and it was pain free.

So I’ve missed out the last proper long run and I’ve lost a bit of sharpness and top-end fitness because I’ve had a very easy couple of weeks. However, I still think I can run OK in London and I’m still hopeful of a PB, but its no longer the slam dunk certainty that it was a month ago.

I have a race on Sunday – the Vale of York 10, hopefully a decent run there might boost my flagging confidence a little.

 

 

LM-3 weeks

39.4 miles, longest run 15.0 miles

Weight 11 St 2.8 lbs.

Aerobic efficiency on Sunday run 985 beats per mile

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