Race Day

Anyone who actually follows this blog will notice a big jump in time to this post. Essentially this is because I’m deep in the run-up to London in April, so since Seville it’s just been a case of piling on the miles; running to work, running home, running to the gym. Mile upon mile.

One thing that I do love in the run up to a big race is a number of smaller races… Basically I run to race.

Lots of people run to get fit, or run to get outdoors, or enjoy the feeling of running itself. Myself, I want a number on my chest, and a finish line to aim for. It’s purely the feeling of doing something to 100%, knowing there was nothing left in the tank at the end. The endless training miles are all about feeling good in the race. It’s a cliche, but the race is the easy bit. It might go well, or terribly, but you need zero motivation to push yourself on race day.

In the last three weeks it’s been back to back half marathons. I never expected anything hugely fast out of any of them, and I deliberately built up the miles so I was constantly running on tired legs (this is marathon training let’s not forget). I won’t lie though, I always want a PB. A little local half was first, with a 3.5mile run either side to make up the 20miles. Hilly course, so no PB, but I powered up the hills and felt strong all the way to the finish, which came round 45” off my best. A great result and a fun race… picking off people in the distance to work towards and pass.

Two weeks ago, and it was the infinitely more glamourous Paris Half, with almost a perfect build-up , save for a really bad fall the day before, leaving my hands cut to shreds, but thankfully all my limbs intact. On the day itself my superfast mate Paul came round with me as a pacer, forcing my speed all the way round. Much less enjoyable run this time, mainly as I was working so hard all the time, but we hooked up with a Londoner early on and spent most of the time with him, trying to get past the lead (European) woman. We didn’t, but were kept highly entertained by Paul’s en route photography and cheerleading. 4miles off the back, a free massage, and a new PB (77:30) made for a great day out

Last weekend was the MiltonKeynes half, mainly run as I messed up the dates to Silverstone, and had to find a race at short notice. Cheap and flat, MK was it. A great day. Off the back of 60ish miles in the week, it was a full-on, eyeballs-out, race. It hurt like hell, but I worked up to people, surged and dropped others on hills, and spent three miles at the end hiding in a pack of four and trying to burn them off, which I managed with three of them in the last half mile. As we crossed the line it was all mutual congratualtions, and that cosy runner’s chat that’s only possible as people dribble over the line, before the mass pack make it neccesary to move through the finish shoot. Oh, and a new PB. 76:50.

Three intense weeks have left me with a bad case of shin splints, and forced a lower mileage week, but next week it’s three shorter races back-to-back before I hit the London marathon T minus 3weeks point and the taper starts again, the trickiest point of the whole business.  Next to that, racing is simple.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Glorious Seville

So yesterday was very definitely a good day. I nailed a Marathon time of 2:57:18.

The plan was always to do that at London last year, and whilst I maintain I had the speed, it always was unlikely at my first attempt. What actually happened at London was months of training began to unravel at mile 12, as my calf cramped, soon followed by my other calf, both quads, both hamstrings, and both adductors. I didn’t know what adductors even were up until that point. Now cramps can be eased with a stretch or two, unless of course the opposite muscle is so close to cramping, the act of stretching one, fires off the other. Basically what followed was maybe  10 miles of hell. So when I got in for London this year, I decided I didn’t want that again, in front of people I know.  I hatched a plan to find an early marathon, train over the winter, and nail the sub-3 without making a big deal of it to take the pressure off. When my friend Paul mentioned he was running Seville, due to it’s great conditions, I took a look. A fast, flat city marathon, for €16, that cost £75 return to get to. I’m in.

Come Christmas I was running 50mile weeks, I’d managed five twenty mile runs, and it was all looking good. Then I got sent to Cairo. For a month. I couldn’t say no, but equally, that’s a bad way to prepare for a marathon. Fast forward to Friday just gone and I’m flying out with no runs over 16miles done for seven weeks. This, dear reader, was not exactly a walk in the park, but what ya gonna do. City marathons are fun. The build up, getting the number, the pasta parties, being part of something big. People talk to you about it in the street. I got to wander round Seville the day before the race. Another big reason why I run. It forces your hand. I’d never have come here without a good reason, and that would’ve been a shame, as it’s lovely.

The day of the race and I’m trying to be cool. Just a long training run. A long training run. It’s a stadium start, so we do half a lap, and as we exit there’s a roar of runners, officials, supporters, all mixed in. I feel quite emotional. The marathon does that sometimes. 3hrs is 6:52 per mile, but you’ve got to assume the Garmin will be out a bit, and chances are, I’ll slow up, so I’ll run a bit under that. 3hrs should be well within my limits. The first mile is 7:30 thanks to some narrow bits, but I resolve to pull it back in the next 20km or so. Gently does it. The entire race pack you get is in Spanish (obviously), so I don’t know what markers there are, what drinks are on the course… I’m flying blind. Im running 6:35s to pull back the time and it feels easy so I resolve to run 6:45s as long as possible once I’m on track.

Miles 2-22 are like clockwork. Ticking them off; no pain. After London, this is a relief, I can tell you. I take some water, a tiny bit of whatever the orange stuff is in the cups, just to keep up the pace. I try not to look at the lap number on the watch, just the time, but by mile 23 I know it’s high. This hurts, and I’m back to 6:50s. The whole run has been without incident… hazy sunshine, 9degrees; perfect running weather; bu this is the point I have to test myself. I’m well within my projected time, but the pain in my quads is pretty bad now. We’d met a guy on the way over who’s run 3:01. Twice. I keep telling myself, “Not 3:01… You could still run 3:01, don’t f**k this up”.

I realise I only have 30minutes running to do. It feels like a cruel joke. Any other time 30mins would be an easy ride, now it feels like the longest session ever. Kilometres feel like miles, miles go on for ever. Just as I round the bend to the stadium, near the 42km marker, my adductor (hello old friend!) fires hard and I have to stop. The Spanish guys near me go mental. I have no idea what they said but I’m guessing it’s along the lines of, “keep running you moron, there’s only 400m to go”. A quick hard punch to the leg stops the cramp, and I take their advice. My calf threatens the same thing, but after seeing what happened maybe it decides to keep going.

I’d been looking forward to the downhill ramp into the stadium, and the final half a lap. As I came up to it, it suddenly dawned on me how much a downhill was going to hurt right now. I was right about the ramp, but I’m all good for the final half a lap and I ‘fly’ round at 6:45 pace. It makes no difference at this point, but it’s a moral victory over my aching legs. Clock says 2:57:37, but my final time is 2:57:18 on the chip. Sounds easy when you say it fast.

Let me tell you, if you fancy sticking in a fast marathon time, or just a decent 26.2miles you could do worse than Seville. For the princely sum of €16, you get a vest, shorts, badge, keyring, towel, two (big) meals, and a marathon with indoor warmup, no hills and good weather (probably). The whole weekend, including flights and accommodation is a little less than the international entry fee for New York. And I bet they don’t give me a towel. The marathon is a little dull, but avoids all the lovely cobbles and twists of the old town, which you can go see before or after. Believe me, Seville rocks.

As does running a sub-3hr marathon

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Getting Ready for No.1 (of 3)

Today I’ve decided to officially start my taper.

It’s possibly one of the hardest things to get right when training hard… how not to train. I’m 6 days away from a 26.2 mile run, and I want to be on the start line fresh and ready for it. How to do that is another matter.

You’d think it would be easy. But all I really know is how to push myself; pushing until just before (and sometimes just after) the point at which I do some damage. I know exactly how long it takes to recover, and when I can go out and run again.  I spend my life on that thin line of hurting, but not damaging myself. Taking a day, let alone a week off, is a bizarre feeling.

To clarify the complexity, let me lay it on the line: I need to keep everything ticking over, so I don’t so much stop, as drastically reduce how much training I do. The response from my body is twofold. Firstly, weird things start to hurt, and muscles get instantly heavy and lethargic. Some of this is pyschological, some of it is muscles repairing themselves. Still. I walked to the tube today, and it felt like a long uphill (it wasn’t), and my inner thigh stabbed with pain with each step. This is not confidence inspiring in any way. The second, and more subtley dangerous problem, is that when you actually get a bit of training in, no matter how much you tell yourself to back off, everything suddenly feels blissfully easy, and you find yourself flying along, and in doing so, not tapering properly. So unused to the feeling of rest, everything feels either slow or fast. To make things a little more complex, my appetite remains high, but my calorie burn drops off a cliff. Not a great combo

Because of life getting in the way, I haven’t had a really long run in weeks. My weekly mileage has gone from 50ish three weeks ago, to 45, to 30;  so on the face of it, I’m doing well, and should be nice and rested by Sunday. This week I’m going to hit the pool hard, the bike less hard, and maybe a bit of token running to get used to the race trainers.

I’m going to be a pain to be around though. Wanting (but trying to avoid) sugar, coffee, exercise. I can’t possibly get fitter, but I have plenty of time to screw up weeks of training. I’ve bought a pile of fruit, and I plan to sleep a helluva lot when not eating it.

Wish me luck, ehy?

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Laps of London Fields

I had to take a day off today to sit in and wait for a guy to tell me how much it would cost to fix the recent damage on my car.  Actually, I had to take an afternoon off, but my job doesn’t work like that so a day it was. Seeing as how I’m not really supposed to be running much, what with a marathon 12 days away now, I thought I’d finally get back in the pool.

I haven’t been swimming in a long time. I’ve been telling my other half (an aspiring triathlete) how important it is to keep up the swimming; any sod can cycle and run, but if you really want to call yourself a triathlete, the swim’s where it’s at.  I’ve ben saying this whilst doing precisely no swimming at all. Anyway. I digress. I resolved, on my unexpected morning off to throw myself back in (figuratively and literally) to swimming, with a 1500m swim, a “swimmer’s mile”, and the Olympic distance for triathlon.

My pool of choice is always London Fields Lido. One of the places that makes you glad to live in East London, as for the princely price of £4 you can swim in a heated outdoor, Olympic size pool. With very few exceptions I work-out outdoors. I hate gyms, I hate most pools. I’m sure I won’t be able to convince most (if any) people that the best place to swim in London is the Serpentine, but if you want to dip your toe into open water swimming, then get yourself across to London Fields, with it’s wide, long lanes, year round warmth and friendly cafe owner. On any given day there are pregnant ladies aqua jogging, old chaps doing leisurely back-strokes, and triathletes banging out the reps.

Basically, the best place to swim in London, most likely the UK.

I would say the world, but if you’ve ever been to Sea Point, Cape Town, you’d know I was lying.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Horrible Hills

So it’s been a strange weekend. I had a long standing commitment to my club to run the Southern XC champs race at Parliament Hill. Nine miles of mud and hills. Great training, and it ticks the box of getting me running with some serious competition. Other than that, nothing.

Then I get a text asking me if I can come to a birthday lunch with a really good mate, and all his mates, who have become, over the years, really good mates too. It’s one of those times I hate running. I’ve literally just told the club I can’t do another champ race, and thay’ve paid my entry for this one. And they got there first. Logically, it’s an easy choice, but I really would rather the meal and good company. I resolve to miss the meal, hate myself for a few days and re-double my efforts to see good friends.

Now, all of a sudden, the bikes myself and the OH have on order are also ready, so we decide to get them the same day. Cue a day of running here and there, looking at, paying for and building bikes, seeing friends, rushing to North London, running a XC course that leaves me feeling physically sick, and my dear wife freezing, and then rushing back to pick up said bikes. A stressful and not entirely fufilling day, with the residual sense I’ve pissed a lot of good people off.

Fast forward a few hours though, and I’m sitting on my sofa eating a great big portion of east London’s finest fish and chips, and crammed in the room next to me are two of the most gorgeous bikes I’ve ever seen. Bikes I’ve literally been dreaming about for months. My legs ache in a way that they haven’t for a long time, and it makes me feel like a novice runner again. Dear reader please note, I like this feeling. The house is warm, and there’s nothing left to do but watch TV.

It’s a feeling of total satisfaction. Tomorrow is another day, another run. It might feel great, or terrible. But today is a good day.

I think.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

So It Begins.

A blog you say? Even more self-involved and narcissistic than Twitter you say?

Probably.

A while ago, I very much enjoyed a mate’s musing on running. More recently, I was having a chat with another friend who has also just started a blog. And it seemed like a good idea… I do things that most people just don’t get. No-one’s offended by it, but I know people feel distanced from me by the very oddness of some of my activities.

And if truth be told, sometimes I don’t get it really.

Why I am trying to figure out when I can get a 20mile run in this week? Why am I weighing up if I should do that run and rest, or do it and hit the gym the same day for the added benefit? The simple answer is that I know it’ll improve my marathon time. Beyond that, I hit a wall, explanation-wise. I won’t win that marathon. At best I’ll prove to myself I’m as good as quite a lot of other people. In doing so I’ll deny myself all sorts of good stuff; stuff like getting wasted and not thinking about it. Spending a day on the sofa watching bad TV. The simple pleasure of getting on a train, reading the paper and not having to put in any physical effort to get somewhere.

So I’m going to try and explain, to myself, and to anyone in the ether who cares, why someone like me swims, cycles, and runs every spare moment I can. Because secretly, I think there’s more to it than meets the eye. Since I started running, and swimming, and cycling, I’ve travelled more than I ever used to. I’ve met people, and I’ve learnt things about myself. I’ve gone from an averagely healthy bloke to someone who feels strong all the time. And I’ve experienced more moments of pure pleasure than I have any right to.

Because once in a while, you’ll be running through snow, and it feels like a John Woo film. Once in a while, you’ll outsprint someone to the line and all you can hear are people shouting your name. Once in a while life drops away and leaves you feeling truely alive.

Now where are my trainers…

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment