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.....