Thursday, 9 January 2014

2013: Still in the Running

Happy New Year! I think end of year reviews are supposed to be published before the bells but it always takes me a wee bit longer to get organised and put fingers to keyboard. In fact 2013 was certainly a very poor year for my blog with no update since April! I will try to make up for it here with a summary of my running activities. I would say it was a year of three thirds. A year that contained hard training, racing, injury, a lengthy lay-off, PBs and club running.

The first third was certainly a positive one. I began the year still on a high from success in the Pisa Marathon just before Christmas. This race sealed my qualification for the 2013 London Marathon, leading to a packed spring schedule. After Pisa I had a few weeks of sensible low mileage easy running before diving back into another marathon training cycle. Having sat out the previous two London marathons and worked so hard to qualify again, all focus was on getting to the start line in April in the shape of my life.

Cheating by including a 2012 photo

After much research, I decided to follow the Pete Pfitzinger ‘Advanced Marathoning’ training plan running 70-85 miles running per week over 12 weeks. One of the hallmarks of the Pfitzinger plan is a ‘medium long run’ in addition to the weekend long run and with the relatively high mileage I’d have to do some ‘doubles’ which is running twice on the one day. I managed to follow the plan fairly consistently despite a couple of niggles and the inevitable cold/flu! This was no mean feat as anyone who trained for a spring marathon in 2013 will tell you; there were some pretty challenging conditions to deal with. Wind and rain were mainstays and my Skins compression tights almost became part of my body.

Winning in Eton Dorney but 

As the training progressed I started to get fitter and this manifested itself in race results. In February I hit 35 mins exactly for 10K at Eton Dorney, not quite managing to break that elusive 10K PB from way back in 2010. The PBs did come though in 5K and half marathon, at Mile End parkrun and Fleet Half Marathon. Fleet in particular was a good indication that I was “on course” for improvement in the marathon. I also competed in a very competitive 5 mile race in Victoria Park. I almost didn’t run as I was still feeling a bit ill after a prolonged cold which worsened. But with 2 weeks before London this was a great tune up opportunity. My taper went well and I got to the start line feeling ok and raring to go.  

London Marathon itself went to plan and I managed to take another couple of minutes off my Pisa time, finishing in 2:38:57, in 168th place. It was a fantastic experience, thanks primarily to the amazing crowds lining the entire route creating one long wall of noise. Thanks to friends and family I also managed to raise over £1000 for my chosen charity, Crisis, along the way. It was great to see friends doing so well in the race. Maj earned a UK Championship place with an amazing 2:44, David Palmer ran a speedy 2:33, Darren Tanner recorded a very respectable 2:49 despite so many injury problems during his training and Lynsey completed a remarkable 10th marathon at the tender age of 26. 

Post-London celebrations

The middle third of the year wasn't so great. In retrospect this was probably my own doing. Having PB’d in London, I was keen to start concentrating on getting my speed up at shorter distances. Brimming with enthusiasm I didn't afford myself much of a break for rest and recovery. I did have a week of almost no running and a second week of low mileage but after that I was straight back into 50+ miles and only 5 weeks after the big race I was logging 75 mile weeks. I was keen to hold onto the fitness I'd gained from marathon training and to use to hit some PBs. At the start of June I entered a very hilly 10 mile road race where I got performed well. However my legs didn't feel quite right and I was beginning to experience quite a bit of pain and tightness in my calf. In my experience this usually leads to the shin splints which have blighted my running for so long. After the Dorking 10 Mile I had another big week of running and it got to the stage that I was feeling the localised pain and tenderness in my shin. I kept training until one day I went out for a run and I couldn't even go a step without wincing with pain. Things didn't improve quickly and in the 4 months from June to September I didn't even log 200 miles in total – in fact there were weeks when I did no running at all. To put that in perspective, in the month of March alone, I logged over 300 miles. The summer was therefore spent in “rehab”, trying everything I’ve tried before and more, and more. Hours were spent on the internet searching for that magic cure. Ultimately more than anything I just needed to rest my poor abused limb! What was most frustrating was that having finished my job at the Olympics at the end of June, I had planned on spending the summer training full time. Unfortunately my eagerness to make the most of this time was my downfall.

Joining the Clapham Chasers was a highlight

There was a positive during the summer however – I finally made the decision to join the Clapham Chasers. In late 2012 I had joined the Road Runners Club, whose membership is spread throughout the UK. This has served me very well and I have continued my membership. My main motivation to join the Road Runners had been to qualify for the UK Championship at London but I have also gained a lot of knowledge and advice since joining through other members and their magazine, 'Roadrunner'. However, I decided to join up with the Chasers as well to get involved in the team aspects of the sport and see if I could benefit in other ways. Darren Tanner and Maj had also been trying to persuade me to join for quite a while! I only managed two races before my injury struck but my aim was to be fit again in time for the cross country season which was a great motivator. It is a welcoming, competitive and growing club club with a busy social scene to boot and I look forward to getting increasingly involved despite the distance from Greenwich to Clapham!

The final third of the year and things were really looking up again. Once the shin pain had dissipated I decided to attempt something I’d never really tried properly before: building up my mileage gradually. It’s something that requires a lot of discipline as I always feel ready to run more miles. The theory goes (roughly) that you shouldn't add more than 10% to your total weekly mileage, and should only add mileage every 3 weeks. The only problem with this is that it can take forever to build up your mileage to the level you want. The idea is that it gives your body a chance to adapt to the increased load. I have also been a bit kinder to my legs by trying to do the majority of my training on softer surfaces like grass and have added in a bit of treadmill work. I believe the shin splints must be at least partly related to tightness in my calves so regular massage from Timo Dahlstedt has helped greatly, especially during heavy training weeks. Timo also always knows how to deal with any niggles I pick up. 

Since September/October I have been building up my mileage. It’s now the first week in January and I am up to 80 miles a week, with the aim to reach 90 before properly starting marathon training during which I will peak at around 100 a week. This should give me a great base for my specific marathon training and hopefully some injury resistance.

Mud, mud and more mud

The other exciting part of the final third was my foray into cross country. Having joined the Clapham Chasers in June, this was one of the great opportunities that had come up. The Chasers compete in the Surrey XC League and I was keen to get involved. I bought myself a pair of cross country spikes and ran in the 2nd fixture at Mitcham Common. I thoroughly enjoyed this different type of running and getting very muddy in the process. We now have the final two fixtures to look forward to as well as the regional and national championships in January and February. I also hope to run in the national road relays in February. Looking further ahead my main aim is a spring marathon. I have entered London and Edinburgh but I am erring towards Edinburgh because of the extra weeks it will give me to train.

A return to Edinburgh on the cards, hopefully in cooler times!

All in all 2013 has to go down as a very positive year despite missing an entire summer of training and racing. I finally ran London, joined the Clapham Chasers and got involved in cross country. Looking forward to 2014 I am hoping to hit some short distance PBs and get fast enough to take as big a dent as possible out of my marathon PB in the spring.  

Finally, it wouldn't be a review if I didn't take the opportunity to thank everyone who supported me throughout the year and took an interest. Especially family, friends and girlfriend Sarah who put up with me disappearing on runs, leaving around wet/smelly kit (sorry Sarah, mum and dad) and talking nonsense. Thanks also go to the Road Runners Club and my new club Clapham Chasers who have opened up a whole new world of running! Last but not least the Stirling Uni Murray Hall Support Crew - some of them pictured below after London.

Aw the best!

Below are the stats from my Garmin GPS watch for 2013:

1,907.25 mi
268 Activities
220:47:54 h:m:s
Avg Speed:
8.6 mph
162,732 C
Avg Distance:
7.12 mi
Avg Time:
49:26 h:m:s

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Geein it Laldy in London!

(Posted 19/06/13)

The blue skies, blazing sun and purring of helicopters all heightened the sense of anticipation. As I walked up Vanbrugh Hill, the blimps came into view along with thousands of men and women descending on the grassy surrounds of Blackheath and Greenwich Park for the 2013 London Marathon. If ever I have had a date with destiny, this was it. I can remember watching ‘the marathon’ on TV when I was younger but I must admit at that point taking part didn't ever cross my mind – I just I enjoyed watching any sport. Years later when I first moved to London I remember hearing the crowds from my flat near Tower Bridge and I walked down to see what all the fuss was about. I had recently started doing a bit of running and it was at this point that I thought to myself why I am not running in this amazing event right on my doorstep. I couldn't even watch much more as I wanted to be involved so much. How fitting that when I did finally get to take part in my first London Marathon  I was living in Greenwich,  only a short walk to the start in Blackheath, where I did most of my training runs.

Lucky 918

In the weeks building up to the race it seemed like I was trying to worry about as many things as possible, most of which were out of my control. After recovering from a cold/virus I started to focus my anxiety on the weather. Quite irrationally I had been concerned for weeks about what mother nature would throw at us. My fear being that after months of training in the cold, wind, rain and snow we were going to be subjected to a badly timed heat wave. With a couple of weeks to go this was certainly what weather forecasters were predicting. Never again will I look at a weather forecast more than a few days in advance! When the day came there was sun and blue skies but the temperature was about 10 degrees cooler than I had been expecting!

On judgement day I got out of bed at 6am and forced my breakfast down me. While I am fairly used to getting up early and eating for races, it doesn't get any more pleasant with experience. I had my usual high calorie, high carb combination including cereal, a bagel and an energy bar. At about 8.30am I said goodbye to Sarah and made my way to Blackheath. Although I was conveniently close to the start and could walk all the way, it did involve a big hill which wasn't ideal. The sun was shining brightly but it was feeling nice and cool. When I got to the top of that hill the place was buzzing just as I expected.

I negotiated my way to the ‘Championship Start’ which I had earned from my sub 2:45 marathon time in Pisa in December. The main benefit of our fenced off area seemed to be the surplus of portaloos. I bumped into Darren Tanner and his pal David Palmer, and later Clapham Chaser James Ellis. Having the guys to talk to made me a bit more relaxed. However, I still felt like I had the weight of the world on my shoulders and just wanted to get started.  After handing in our bags we were able to have a quick warm up along Shooter’s Hill Road but I didn't want to expend too much energy with 26.2 miles still to negotiate. We got into our starting pen at about 9.45 and eagerly awaited instructions. Being as short as I am I could only really see the people directly in front of me so didn't get a glimpse of Mo sadly! Of course before the race start there was a poignant 30 second silence to remember the tragic events in Boston only a few days before. The tension was becoming unbearable.

And we're off!

The gun went at 10:00 and we were finally on our way to Buckingham Palace (via Cutty Sark, One Canada Square, Tower Bridge, St. Pauls Cathedral, the London Eye and Big Ben!). Fortunately for me, it only took a few seconds to cross the start line but it was very congested for the first mile or so. I had to do a bit of weaving and it was frustrating when it seemed like there was just nowhere to go at times. Eventually I managed to make a bit of space for myself and tried to start getting into a rhythm. I was trying my best to stick to around 6 minute miles. Later in the race I would be surprised at how long I was able to maintain this. I’d only run at this pace for the last 10 miles of a couple of training runs so anything after that was to some extent an unknown quantity.

The first few miles of the race took us through Woolwich and Charlton, not exactly cultural and scenic highlights but what they did offer was incredible support. I settled into a good rhythm and my Garmin confirmed this with fairly even mile splits of around 6 minutes as planned. I tried to hold back going any faster than this to avoid the disaster of blowing up later in the race. I began to recognise the familiar streets of East Greenwich so knew I would likely soon see Sarah, Leanne, Christa and Adam who were staked on the road opposite my house along with my house-mates on the other side. Leanne had amazingly made a surprise trip down from Scotland which was much appreciated. I actually picked them out from some distance as I spotted the big Saltire on the railings – always a welcome sight. The girls were also wearing some comedy Scottish hats so I really couldn't miss them! It was a great moment which really raised the adrenalin; in fact I had to slow myself down afterwards! The following photos of courtesy of the support team.

Running down Trafalgar Road where some of our supporters based themselves initially

Lynsey enjoying her 10th Marathon!

Maj storms down Trafalgar Road, making marathons look easy!

Darren Tanner spots his fan club!

Not long after this excitement and on the same road I had a shout from my friend John who lives in Greenwich. Then I got a shout from London 2012 colleague Mark so it was a great run of support! Not only that, I was approaching the famous Cutty Sark where runners can always rely on a rousing reception. It didn't disappoint and it felt like we were running through one big party! Greenwich was also a psychological milestone having past the 10K mark. One of the moments that I’d really been looking forward to was crossing Tower Bridge, arguably the most iconic part of the course. As we approached it felt like we were entering a tunnel of noise with thousands of spectators on both sides. I was surprised to see both Ben and Lynsey’s dad John on the right side and Ben shouted my name while John took a photo. The volume was deafening and you really felt like you were part of something special. Halfway was shortly after Tower Bridge which I went through in 1:18:40, which was almost perfect pacing for 6 minute miles. It was feeling difficult but the miles seem to be going quickly – well relatively quickly! There was just so much to see and listen to that it took my mind of the magnitude of the job remaining.

In the build up to the race it was suggested to me a couple of times that there were some quiet sections on the course including Docklands. I waited for a quiet part but it never came. I am not surprised at all that they reckon it was a record year for volume of supporters as the noise was just completely constant. 

We were then greeted by the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf where I do a lot of short runs at lunchtime. This was another busy part of the course and there was plenty of noise and encouragement. Not only that, I saw the support team of Sarah, Leanne, Christa and Adam again here as well as Mark from work branding a saltire. There were also a couple of former colleagues who gave me a shout but such was the noise I didn't know until they told me after the race. At points the noise was unbearable!

At about mile 22 I started to get worried. I was slowing a little which I expected to happen but then alarmingly I started feeling slight twinges of cramp in my legs. This wasn't good news with 4 miles to go. I was still managing to keep up a decent pace but was consciously reigning myself in a little in order to keep the cramp in tow. This strategy seemed to work as the cramp stayed at the twinge level and didn't become debilitating. It did prey on my mind for the rest of the race though. 

Another highlight of the route was Blackfriars underpass. Normally this would be a dark, cold and lonely part of the course with no spectators but Lucozade and the organisers had filled the tunnel with large balloons with motivational slogans plastered on them such as “dig deep” and “you can do it” along with big amps blasting out the noise of cheering spectators. And then on exit of the tunnel there was an eruption of noise as we entered the famous Embankment. The noise was similar to that of Tower Bridge but as this point of the race your senses are altered and it can be quite disconcerting. I wasn't expecting to see anyone along the embankment but to my surprise and joy my friends Stewart and Amanda were furiously waving and shouting at me. This was a fantastic boost in the closing stages when I really needed it.

Then I saw Big Ben and knew I’d entered the “death zone”.

In the "death zone"

When I saw the 800m to go sign I knew this would be the most painful 800m of my life. It was only twice round an athletics track but my legs were beaten up and my body was telling me it had had enough. Then again when you only have 800m to go you know you’re going to finish and you just have to keep putting one leg in front of another. 400m to go came slowly but I knew I just has to give it everything I had left. Finally crossing the line was simply relief, as was the time I saw on the clock. There wasn't the same celebration as in Pisa as I just didn't have the energy. I was physically and emotionally drained and had left everything on the streets of London.

I staggered along a few steps and was ushered into a photo booth area to have my finish photo taken. Then I made up my recovery drink, phoned my my mum and Sarah and started walking towards the Crisis post race event. I was greeted by friendly faces and treated to a massage and some reflexology. A donation on the day took me past the £1000 mark which was very special. I was taken aback by the number of donations I received for such a great cause and I am sure I will join the Crisis team again.

Celebrations continued the pub where I was delighted to hear how the rest of the team got on. For me the performance of the day was by Maj who finished in a remarkable 2:44:47 , earning himself a Championship place for next year. Dave, was fastest with an unbelievable 2:33. Darren Tanner did admirably to finish in 2:47 despite his injury issues. And Lynsey completed her 10th, yes 10th marathon in under 4 hours (3:58)! I still have a lot of work to do to get as fast as Dave and Darren whose PB is 2:35.

The photos below are from the pub where the Prosecco and beer flowed and a slap up meal was enjoyed by all. 

The question I've been asked most since the marathon is what I'm going to do next. It’s still a bit early to make any decisions but I am pretty sure I won’t be doing another marathon this year and may not even do London again next year. I am keen to take a break from the marathon distance and focus on increasing my speed in shorter distances such as 5K and 10K. Once I feel I've got my speed up enough I’ll have another crack at the marathon. After all, I have now done 2 in the space of 4 months so an autumn marathon and London next year would take me to 4 in 12 months which I think is just too much for my body to be running consistently good performances. So it looks like an exciting summer of racing is ahead. The thing I like about that most is that I can run multiple races in a short space of time so feel under less pressure than the marathon where everything is down to one day. The marathon is a cruel mistress and so much can go wrong in the week before or on the day.  So far my marathon times have improved each time and I don’t want that to change. 

That leaves me to thank everyone who supported me once again, from following my training progress on facebook and the blog, to sponsoring me and supporting me on the day. I know a lot of people were also using the marathon tracker on the website which made me keen to keep my split times up! 

Until the next time.....

Time: 2:38:57 (PB)

Position: 154th/34,274

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Tuning up for London

(Posted 11/04/13)

The Fleet Half Marathon was to be my main “tune-up” race in preparation for London. Most marathon coaches and experts suggest you should do at least one half marathon race to test yourself and get used to racing conditions. It can also give you an idea of what kind of time you can expect to run in the marathon itself. The Fleet Half is marketed as a pre-London event and has been running since 1981 so it seemed an ideal choice. Reading Half Marathon was also on the same day but this seemed more difficult to get to and would be busier.

My main concern about this event was the weather. I’d been checking the forecast all week and was convinced the race was going to be a windy washout and scupper my chances of getting a good half marathon time in the build-up to London. It has not been a great few months of weather for any kind of outdoor activity. As predicted the heavens erupted on Sunday morning. I could hear the rain in bed at about 5am on the morning of the race. Fortunately it had eased by the time I got out of bed went for a ‘shakeout’ run at 6am. This is a elite-endorsed ritual I've started doing the morning of important races. It’s nothing complicated or strenuous and simply consists of a short jog to loosen up and prepare the body for later exertions. I need to get up early for breakfast anyway so it doesn't affect my alarm clock too much. On my return I showered and had breakfast before Sarah and I started the journey to Fleet, in Hampshire. One of the nice things about racing is that you get to visit places that you otherwise wouldn't come across.  It was only an hour on the train from Waterloo and then a 20 minute walk to the start from the station. The inclement weather made the build up to the race pretty miserable and served to make me even more stressed out than usual. Lots of rain always makes things more difficult – especially when the HQ is in a big grassy park, which predictably descended into a mud bath. It has to be said, the organisers did a great job in the conditions.

The race started on time on the main road. I was a little frustrated at the start as got stuck behind some runners going at a slower pace which meant I had to compensate for this once I’d got past them. The field was of a pretty high standard so we were a bit bunched up for the first mile or so. I clocked a couple of fast miles and then tried to steady myself into a rhythm. 

Acknowledging the great support on the course

The course was a difficult one to pace because of a lot of undulations. Fortunately there seemed to be a lot more uphill than downhill, however declines do take a lot out of your legs. The support from the public was exceptional for a race of this type and the frequency of support was helped by the route taking in the town centre twice. Even in the more rural areas we came across fantastic support. There were also a lot of families supporting their loved ones with homemade signs.

I struggled with a couple of miles and posted longer split times due to both tiredness and a couple of inclines. It’s always harder to push on with wind and rain in your face as well. I couldn't have paced the race too badly as I started to take over more and more runners and and was advised by marshals that I was around the top 20 mark. By 9 miles I was starting to feel the pain but knowing I had only had a few miles to go I just kept pushing on. I was very relieved to see the sign for ‘Fleet’. The best thing about the last mile was the amount of downhill sections – a decline is always a very welcome sight as far as I'm concerned and it meant I was able to put in a couple of very fast miles to finish. What isn't a welcome sight is a massive puddle of mud in closing stages! I was honestly worried about losing a shoe as I sprinted through – it was like something from ‘Tough Mudder’. The reward for tackling this obstacle was my first sight of the finish clock. It was still on 1:15 and at this point I thought I had a chance of making sub 1:16 but I hadn't realised there was another bend before the finish line so there wasn't a chance of making it. I did however still manage a sprint finish taking over another runner in the process which is always a good end to a race. My official finish time was 1:16:14, a massive PB.

Gaining a position with a sprint finish

It was a strange feeling breaking a PB from 2 and half years ago. I felt on a better day I could have gone under 1:16 but that will come. It was a good day’s work but I still need to force myself to concentrate harder on the pacing aspect of races. One of the most important pieces of advice I have read on the marathon is that the distance has to be respected and what you bank in faster miles early on you will pay back with interest later.

Time: 1:16:14 (PB)
Position: 20th/2286

Click here for results.

5 weeks to go.....

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Testing Thameside 20 Miles

(Posted 11/04/13)

I signed up for the Thameside 20 mile race at the last minute after my friend Majell made me aware of it. The event is put on by Clapham Chasers running club, so you can count on good organisation. Its distance and placing in the calendar makes it ideal preparation for a spring marathon such as London and it certainly fitted well into my schedule.

In the days building up to the race I thought a lot about how best to approach the event. In the end I decided to use it as a training run, completing the first 10 miles at an easy pace (around 6:30/mile at fastest) and the last 10 miles at goal marathon pace (around 6 minute miles). I also hoped to finish strongly and do the last couple of miles at 10K pace and progressively faster. The last aim was to prove a little too ambitious!

It was a real mission to get to the race start in Bishops Park next to Putney Bridge. With the race started at 8am on a Sunday morning, the tubes weren't running early enough. In the end I had to get 3 buses - in fact 2 of them were night buses! This meant getting up before 5am which is never pleasant.

The out and back route from Putney bridge to Richmond

The event helpfully provided “pacer” runners so that you could choose a pace to run the race in and use your pacer as a guide. Darren Tanner, Majell and I ran in the sub 7 min mile pace group led by James, another Clapham Chaser. We set off at a decent pace and started averaging about 6:30 minute miles. A few guys went off at a faster pace and disappeared into the horizon. It was a lovely route to be going along at a fairly relaxed pace. We started at Putney Bridge and went along the Thames all the way to Richmond and towards Twickenham - think the Oxford Cambridge Boat race. The course was 10 miles out and back. I managed to do the first 10 miles fairly comfortably with Darren, Maj and the boys and then at the turnaround I hit the gas as planned to achieve my aim of completing the 2nd half of the race at 6 minute miling pace. I certainly managed to change the gears quickly didn’t keep it steady enough and during some of the early miles I was doing much faster laps! This resulted in a real struggle when it came to the later miles. After picking up the pace in the second half I eventually took over another couple of runners taking me into 2nd place.

Running friends

I must admit although I had not been treating the race as a race as such, I thought I had 2nd place sown up and was quite happy with this! And then with a couple of miles to go  out of nowhere I heard the Australian accent of Maj who came absolutely steaming past me. I just didn't have the legs to keep up with him watched him go on ahead into the horizon. Maj ran a great race and the way he progressed throughout the race and finished so strongly will put him in great shape for London. Darren also ran a solid race considering he is coming back from a calf injury that has plagued him during 2013. It was great to be able to run together again and I am being persuaded to join the Clapham Chasers!

I was disappointed that I hadn't been able to stick to my pacing as strictly as I’d intended and therefore wasn't able to finish very strongly but it was still a run that would have done me a great deal of good training wise. It was a really nice event and I am definitely going to the use the route again for a long run.

Time: 2:05:16 (PB)
Position: 3rd/269

Click here for results.

7 weeks to go....

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Gold in Eton Dorney

(Posted 11/04/13)

With Pisa a distant memory, Christmas over for another year and my London Marathon schedule drawn up, I decided to pencil in a 10K race so I could get an idea of my progress and have a crack at my 34:59 PB. I was curious as to whether my long bout of marathon training had speeded me up at 10K distance. I chose the Eton Dorney race as the route is as flat as a pancake so I’d get an accurate indication of my progress. I wasn't counting on the weather though – and in fact this was my 2nd attempt at the race as it was cancelled a couple of weeks previously because of snow.

The ‘gold’ reference is to the events of last summer as Dorney Lake was home to the Olympic rowing events.  It wasn't the easiest place to get to as we needed to get a taxi from the train station to Dorney Lake. The taxi journey took us through Eton which is somewhere neither of us had been before. We arrived quite early and there was still a ‘duathlon’ taking place when we arrived. It was extremely cold, and standing next to a lake was certainly not the ideal activity for this particular Saturday morning. Finally we were herded to the start line. Having looked at results from previous races here I was confident that I would likely be at the sharp end of the race unless there were any surprise entrants so I made sure I was at the front of the pack.

A cold start next to Dorney Lake

There were no surprise packages and I ended up leading the race almost from gun to tape, with the exception of the first couple of hundred metres. I set of at a pace of around 5:33 minutes a mile in the hope that I’d finish in around 34:30 but really I should probably have adjusted this pace for the conditions. After a couple of miles it felt like a lot more effort than it should have been. Being out on my own I also found it very difficult to keep up the pace with no one around me to challenge – although at one point I was chased by a wee dog that had strayed onto the course. A couple of miles were significantly slower but I won the race comfortably with almost 3 minutes to spare but frustratingly was a couple of seconds short of a PB. The conditions were a little debilitating though and on a better day it could have been a PB. I could have also paced it’d better though so I can’t just blame the weather.

It was nice to win my first 10K although in some ways it felt like a bit of an anti-climax being in the middle of nowhere on such a miserable day and feeling like I hadn't had to compete to win. We weren't able to hang around for the prize-giving due to a commitment in the evening but it was probably just as well as it meant we could escape the relentless cold!

Time: 35:00 (SB)
Position: 1st/131

Click here for results

8 weeks to go.....

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Pisa Cake!

(Posted 03/02/13)

I have finally pressed 'Publish' on 3rd February, well over a month after the Pisa Marathon on 16th December. Evidently it's taking me progressively longer to complete my event write-ups. At one point growing up I wanted to be a journalist but I don't think I'd have gotten very far missing deadlines by weeks instead of hours or minutes. Maybe I waffle too much as well. So I need to ask you to rewind back a couple of months. For me the weeks leading up to a marathon are very nerve-racking. I get into race preparation mode the minute I enter an event. Furiously creating a training schedule that is destined to be disrupted by injury, illness and other unplanned factors. You start thinking about your body a lot more. Giving more consideration to what you eat and drink (or don't drink!) and giving more TLC to your muscles and joints. With a few weeks to go there is still intense training to be done and with a couple of weeks to go it’s all about trying to get the taper right and ensuring you make it to the start line without injury or illness. I was especially apprehensive about Pisa because of the short time I’d had to train and the extra logistics and considerations involved in running a foreign marathon. I was beginning to wonder if running Pisa was perhaps one of my poorer life decisions. Everyone kept telling me that I had done all the work and would be fine. But I wasn't convinced that I’d put enough miles in and it felt I was trying to "wing it" a bit. Don’t get me wrong the training was constant and tough but I didn't think I’d there'd been a long enough period of it. The training aside, there also seemed to be so many uncertainties with it being a foreign race. Would our flight be cancelled? What would the hotel be like? Would I be able to eat the right food on the morning of the race? Would I make it to the start line? Did I need to learn the Italian for "start"? Fortunately I wasn't going to be experiencing it on my own as Sarah was joining me to support and try and make a weekend of it.


After a pretty hairy Ryanair flight complete with an aborted landing we were just glad to be on terra firma again and without too much delay. Conveniently the race expo where runners pick up their race numbers and timing chips was at the airport! I picked up my envelope and a goody bag which included the official race t shirt and a fetching bandana! Yes bandana, not banana. Soon after we checked into the lovely Hotel Bolgna I went for a 20 min jog up and down the river a few times. There were a few other runners out there with the same idea as me.  After clarifying the breakfast arrangements at the hotel we ambled up towards the famous leaning tower to have a quick look and find restaurant for dinner. It was surprisingly difficult to find somewhere suitable but we settled for an ‘Italian’ a few minutes’ walk from the tower. We had a plate of pasta and then headed back to the hotel for an early night. I was glad to have Sarah’s company to help the usual nerves the night before a big race. I was so nervous that I just wanted to get it over with and was working out in my head what times I would settle for. At that point I’d certainly have settled for a PB; qualification for London didn't seem to matter any more, despite being the whole reason I had entered this race. After a couple of pep talks from Sarah it was time to put head to pillow and I managed to get to sleep surprisingly early.  

Official Supporters t-shirt (Robert Burns and Irn-Bru on the sleeves)

Unfortunately we were woken by revellers coming back into the hotel at 4.30am. It could have been worse, at least that was only half an hour left before my breakfast! For breakfast I was inspired by an article I’d read in a recent edition of Runners World which suggested runners should be eating an 1000 calorie breakfast 3 or 4 (ideally 4) hours before a marathon. This should including a certain percentage of carbs. An 1000 calorie breakfast was a daunting prospect before 6am and significantly more than I've consumed before a race before. Fortunately the hotel allowed me to attack the buffet at 5.30am instead of the usual 7am. I opted for 2 boxes of cornflakes, a banana, a bag of raisins, a roll and a pot of yoghurt with some granola I’d brought from London and some orange juice. I was bursting at the seams, it was very uncomfortable. For the next couple of hours I supped on my PowerAde and gave my body a chance to digest all of that and then tackled one of my special energy carb bars which is an unpleasant experience at the best of times. But I would be glad for it after 20 miles of running and depleting energy stores. Between eating I tried to relax and stay awake. With the race start position being so close to the hotel and it being a fairly small race there was no rush for us to leave the hotel.

The start of the race was quite bizarre. Sarah and I made the short walk to the race start next to the Tower. There were a few people already running around the streets but I thought I’d be best conserving all my energy for the 26.2 miles to come. There were runners everywhere, some entering the marathon, some the half and some a Christmas fun run. There was a guy with a microphone making various announcements and we managed to work out where the start line was and the direction of the race! With about half an hour to go I gulped down my first energy gel and we snapped some pre-race photos as is now customary. I left Sarah and got into position close to the start line. I recognised a Serpentine club running vest and got talking the wearer who I was impressed to hear was aiming for around 2 and a half hours. I certainly wasn't going to be following him! The start was quite confusing, mainly because of the Italian announcements although in fairness some of it was being translated into English. However there was also a group of people with balloons right at the start line towards the left. There was then an announcement which sounded like they were telling us not to start just yet – and then the people with the balloons started running. Anyway, not much longer after that the starting pistol was fired and the race was off for real. Fortunately as I always try to get myself as close to the start as possible I don’t have the issues that many people have with taking a while to get across the start line. In the London Marathon if you’re in one of starting pens towards the back it can take as long as 20 minutes after the race start to reach the start line!  

Where's Irn-Bru?

I headed off a bit faster than my goal pace but not as stupidly fast as I normally do. The advice is generally to aim for your goal pace or slightly slower in your first mile and then try and get yourself into a rhythm in the next few miles. It was great to see Sarah waving the Saltire and shouting my name on the first mile and at that point I realised that the job had started. The first 10K pretty much passed without incident although there were a few annoying moments. There seemed to be a lot of ‘support cyclists’ cycling alongside their athlete, even passing them a drink when required. Not really sure how much good it did them judging by the number of them I passed with ease while they seemed to be panting with exhaustion after only a few miles. At one point I also had to sprint in front of a woman who seemed to be blowing here nose in my direction. Lovely stuff. Other than than it was turning out to be a very pleasant run in the Italian sun.

Through the city

After a few miles we came out of the city and into the Tuscan fields. It was nice to see some Italian countryside for the first time. It's not quite the Highlands but I'm sure it's lovely in the heat of Italian summer. My first real challenge was to come in a Tuscan field. At about 10 miles, I realised the race was splitting up into 2 for the half marathon and marathon - I hadn't really thought about this eventuality for some reason. Unfortunately for me I couldn't see any signs and the directions were shouted out only in Italian! The race flashed before my eyes. I frantically looked up and couldn't work out from any signage. I panicked big time but eventually I shouted out in my clearest voice, "which way for marathon", which translates into "which way should I ran for the marathon?". I was told to go left but I wasn't really convinced I’d gone the right way until I passed the 13.1 mile mark.

Thumbs up along the coast

Coming towards the halfway work we went along the Marina di Pisa. This provided for a pretty windy section of the race. I tried my best to run behind other runners or on the side of support cyclists in the hope that the wind resistance would affect me less. I overtook quite a few guys who seemed to be struggling at this point. After this the 2nd half of the race became very lonely as there was no one in sight behind me or in front of me. There were also very few Pisa residents around and most of those who were only showed indifference. I got a lot of stares and photographers snapping but not many shouts of encouragement. There was even a sign on a café Window which read “Marathon no grazie”. Clearly the Pisans don’t hold their marathon in the same regard as the likes of London and New York. It wasn't all bad though and one of my highlights was a brass band on the street who I assume were playing for us. I also experienced some more bizarre behaviour but this time from a couple of water station attendants. The guys giving out the bottles and cups of water hold the bottle out for you and as I went for one the guy pulled it back! This happened not once, but twice! I couldn't understand it but I just got on with it and picked something up at the next station.

With every mile I was amazed that I was maintaining my pace so well. I was just expecting at some point my legs would go and it’d be a gradual decline like previous marathons. But I even managed to pick up my pace at one point after 20 miles. I'm convinced that my carb loading, especially on the morning and during the race contributed to my endurance. I had another bizarre experience at water station at 20+ miles. A guy was holding out a cup of what I assumed was juice. I grabbed it was a little surprise to find that it was a hot brown coloured drink.  I'm not sure whether it was a really sugary cup of tea, a special energy drink, or something more sinister! Anyway, I had a sip and then chucked it. The third water station that I'd failed to get a drink!

Lapping it up

It was massive relief to see the Pisa sign with a few miles to. The closer to the finish I got the narrower and windier the streets seemed to become, back in the city. I knew by the 3 mile to go mark that I was actually going to do finish in under 2:45 never mind get a PB. But for some reason I had no idea of how much I was going to smash it. As I approached the last corner I saw Sarah who shouted “You’ve got 5 minutes!”. Then I saw the clock and it was still on 2:40! I did a sprint finish with my arms in the air and crossed the finish line with great emotion. I ripped my vest off and took the plaudits from the crowd. I cried with joy. I stumbled off the course and then tried to find Sarah on the grass next to the tower and we celebrated my PB and qualifying for London with joy and relief. Later that evening we learned my chip time was 2:40:45 and I’d finished 14th overall. I'd proved to myself that I still had it in me and I felt a massive sense of relief after 2 years of injury, effort, time and money.

Unbridled joy and relief

During the race I was thinking about what I was going to write in my blog. I was going to write what I’d learned from the race and the training I had completed. I suspected I’d be writing negative things such as "don’t sign up for a marathon only 2 months in advance" and make sure you do more training. Instead I've learnt that you should follow your instincts and take risks (at least sometimes). I ran Pisa to qualify for London and I did. To quote Darren Tanner, it’s belief and commitment that you need. It was brave decision to sign up for Pisa and I certainly applied myself in the weeks leading up to it, leaving as little to chance as possible.

I also improved as a marathon runner. I felt so much more comfortable during the race. I imagine this was at least partly down to Pisa lacking the heat of Edinburgh 2010 and the hills of Loch Ness. Nonetheless I was pretty consistent with my splits and it's given me the confidence to trust in my body I now have the confidence to run even splits and feel I've grown as a marathon runner. It’s also satisfying that my marathon times have improved each time. Let’s hope this continues in 2013, London here we come!

Happy days

Thanks again to all those who supported me and followed my updates on the blog and on facebook. It genuinely helps when you're in the middle of a marathon that seems like it's never going to end to be able to remember all the people you have rooting for you. Special thanks to Sarah for helping me so much in the weeks leading up to the race in practical and mental sense, putting up with my dirty running kit and for making the trip to Pisa to support me, and of course to my family who without their encouragement and support I wouldn't be running in the first place. I am also lucky to have a lot of running friends (they know who they are) whose advice is always invaluable and I hope it keeps coming.

Next stop London......

Time: 2:40:45 (PB)
Position: 14th/877

Click here for results

Monday, 3 December 2012

A marathon? In December? In Pisa? Why not?

Finally a blog update! Yes I am still here and I am still running and running and running and running. Shamefully my last post appears to be 31stJuly 2011! Sorry about that! Not that much of note has happened running wise between then and August 2012. This has been the result of my persistent shin splints, a couple of failed comebacks and the small matter of my ‘real work’ at London 2012 which among other commitments involved 12 hour night shifts. Saying that at no point did I give up on the running despite so many setbacks. During that period of a year I tried more solutions to my injury and always kept pounding the pavements to some extent. More physio, more podiatry, more stretches, more gadgets, more miracle cures….I thought I’d tried everything but there always seems to be something else to spend my money on in the hope that all my problems will be solved!  I might blog about some of these when time allows - I can't describe how frustrating it is to spend so much time trying to get to the bottom of it when it just keeps reoccurring. It's a long walk home when you feel that injury come back during a run after weeks of thinking you'd sorted it out once and for all.

A MASSIVE thank you to everyone who has supported me during my injury journey and put up with my moaning and running-related moodswings!

Anyway........POSITIVE THINKING as for now I seem to have kept the shin splints at bay and have managed over 3 months of relatively pain free training including some races which you can read about below! It has taken me a while to write these up and they are horribly out of date  but hopefully they'll still be of some interest.

A 3D gait analysis to try and figure out the cause of my shin splints

If you're reading this looking for a solution to shin splints I'm afraid I still don't have the answer. I have been consistently stretching my calves and getting regular deep tissue massages though which I'm sure has contributed to my recovery. 

So what's up next? Well I didn't announce it on the blog at the time so for those who don’t know, I took the plunge and signed up for the Pisa City Marathon which takes place on 16th December. WHY you ask? A marathon in December in a random European city? Well my main motivation for this one is the chance of a qualifying time for London Marathon 2013. I have had to pull out the last two years because of the injury so I'm desperate to get on the starting line in 2013. My original plan had been to qualify with a half marathon time, but I started to realise that this wasn't realistic and in the end decided I’d have a better chance of cracking the marathon qualification time which requires a sub 2 hours 45 mins marathon. This compares to the sub 1 hour 15 mins half marathon I'd have needed. I need to apply before the end of the year so in terms of timing Pisa fitted the bill. It's also flat and won't be hot so there's good PB potential. I shouldn't have to worry about getting some pasta the night before either. Fortunately Sarah is joining me and we're making a weekend of it so I won’t be making the trip to Italy on my own.

The race starts close to the leaning tower

On the day I post this update, I have less than 2 weeks to go and have already started my ‘taper’, gradually reducing my mileage. My main aim is to avoid getting a cold within the next 2 weeks so I'm in peak condition on the start line. If I'm honest I really don’t know whether I’ll be able to make the time or not. My PB is 2:47:51 so I'm only 3 minutes off but it's a lot more than it sounds and that was over 2 years ago. I should get close to it but a marathon time is hard to predict and the distance has to be respected. I didn't really give myself many weeks to train either so wasn't able to reach the mileage I wanted to. On the upside, Pisa won't have the hills of Loch Ness and the heat of Edinburgh so as long the snow stays away I could have a chance. If nothing else it'll be good to get another marathon under my belt as it's over 2 years since Loch Ness and it'll be an experience to race in a foreign land.

13 more sleeps.....