EMF2017: Race report -Another marathon mess

1 June 2017

A warm Sunday 28th May began at 05:30 and after 16 weeks of training it was time to get ready for the Edinburgh marathon, my second attempt at a marathon and the first I’ve really worked at. With some nerves I made it to the start line. I barely made it to the finish line.

The build up to the day itself went smoothly enough. We travelled north on the Friday, the hottest day of the year so far, in a car sorely lacking air-conditioning. A Saturday spent catching up with friends and family was a welcome distraction, and a timely break in the weather was a welcome relief. A strict Saturday evening involved plenty of water, a decent but not over facing meal with no frills, and an early night.

To the day itself. As my wife was helping with a charity cheer squad we had a very early start to make sure she could get out to the cheer point in advance of the half-marathon which went at an obscene 8am. Breakfast (overnight porridge oats in almond milk) was eaten about 6:15 to set me up for the race, a tried and tested breakfast that had worked well during training. By 6:45 we were out of the house and heading to Edinburgh.

As I headed to the start point I was nervous. When I’m running a 10k or half-marathon I know I can run the distance reasonably well so I don’t tend to get nervous, or doubt if I can do it. Here I was riddled with doubt. Unfortunately, to some extent, that doubt was justified.

I set off at a steady pace. My target for the race was to finish in around 3:30 so I kept my pace just under 8min/miles. I was feeling pretty strong through the first few miles and resisted the urge to up my pace in search of a quicker time. Plus, although it had cooled down from the temperatures hit in the previous few days it was still pretty warm. As the miles ticked by my pace was holding without feeling like I was putting in too much effort and at mile 15 I was feeling confident.

By mile 17 I noticed a slight drop in my pace, but not to any significant extent. I was down to about 8.5min/miles so I was dropping outside my 3:30 finish but still on for a time I’d be happy with. This continued up until mile 21 when things started to unravel. I was feeling warm, and concerned my pace was dropping further I decided to come to a stop at the next water station to take on water and another gel to try and get myself fuelled up and hydrated for the last stretch. Oh what a mistake this was. It may have just been the gel, it may have been the gel and too much water, but I never really got going again after this stop. A few minutes later my stomach was cramping and I was in pain. I tried to carry on, setting myself imaginary targets of getting to the next bus stop before I walked again, but it was useless. My stomach was seriously unhappy and I had to stop again. For the next mile or so I just about managed to maintain a reasonable split of run/walk but things were getting worse.

By mile 23 I was mostly walking and it was frustrating. In my previous marathon effort I struggled because my legs couldn’t handle the distance, my calves were cramping up from about mile 20 onwards. This time my legs were fine (well not fine, they were managing) but I’d overdone it on the energy gels and my stomach couldn’t cope. I took my first gel around 80 minutes in and one followed roughly every 30 minutes after that. In hindsight the signs were there that I was starting to react to them the more I took more, but I was so determined not to burn out like last time I ignored this and carried on taking them.

By miles 24 and 25 I was in agony when I attempted to run so these miles were in effect full walking miles. I considered a tactical roadside sick but the crowds were too big and I didn’t honestly know if I had the energy to get back up again if I went for this. I knew I had no chance of getting round under 4 hours, and for a little while I doubted if I would even finish. It was only two miles to the end but I just wanted to sit down and wait for this pain to pass.

About half a mile from the finish my legs eventually started to protest and were ceasing up, perhaps from the fact that they were cooling down after two miles without running. I knew I didn’t want to walk across the finish line so tried to run again. My stomach was a little better, a spell of wind (apologies to those around me) had helped and running was an option again, albeit on reluctant legs by this point. I was running at 10min/miles but the important thing was I was running and managed to keep it going to the finish.

And so the disappointment of another 4 hour plus marathon. It was just about a PB but well short of what I wanted. I was gutted, and in my tired state I couldn’t help but shed a few tears. Consoling words fell on deaf ears, yes I’d managed to finish a marathon but I only ran around 21 miles of it. And worst of all, what if I’d let E down. After all this was all for her. With a little food and recovery I started to come round, I was (and still am) gutted but less emotional.

During those walking miles I vowed never to run a marathon again. Truthfully, if I wasn’t already signed up for another one in October I probably wouldn’t. I love running but I don’t love marathons. The thought of putting in all that effort across 16 weeks of training, to then blow up again at 21 miles just seems like a waste. But I have signed up for it, so October’s Yorkshire marathon will be my last attempt to get a marathon time I’m pleased with.

I have learnt something from Edinburgh, I can’t handle energy gels. Or at least I can’t handle more than a couple during a run. Despite the fact we now have a cupboard full once again I’m going to ditch these and try something new. In my post-race frustration I took to Google to see what other options were out there and I seem to be down to two:

  • Try to train my body to run a marathon without any in race fuelling or;
  • Try out a non-sugar based option (a recipe for homemade bacon rice cakes has caught my eye).

I’d love to get to the point where I didn’t have to take on anything except water during a marathon, but that feels unachievable. The savoury option appeals, although the thought of trying to eat bacon at mile 21 seems equally unachievable at this point. That is a problem for another day, the next training plan kicks off on 19th June so until them I’m going to keep things light and enjoy a couple of weeks where marathon running isn’t taking over my life.

 

 

Taper Tantrum

22 May 2017

How on earth did I get myself in to this position? In less than one week Edinburgh marathon will be starting and I’ll be running it. I forget the point at which I signed up for the race, but I assume it felt like a good idea at the time. Now I’m not so sure. Sure it was exciting at first, getting the training plan sorted and working out how to fit in the extra runs to my usual weekly routine. However as the weekly mileage ramped up the excitement levels dropped away. I was getting tired, I was getting slower, and I was starting to hurt.

A little over half way through the training plan a dodgy knee stopped me in my tracks, I couldn’t run on it. To help get me back on track I dropped the best part of two weeks from my training plan entirely and stopped running with running club for around 6 weeks whilst I eased myself back in with some steady runs. It helped. My legs improved and eventually I was running without pain. More importantly I was starting to enjoy it again.

I’ve been back at running club for two weeks now and last week marked my first proper speed-work session in what’s felt like an eternity. It was hard going and I’m definitely slower than when I started this godforsaken marathon plan, but it felt good to be back. I’ve missed running at full pelt, too many runs recently have been ambling along for mile after mile to try and get some mileage in without risking injury. These runs were the best I could manage, and have helped, but by crickey they were boring. At the end of last week I finally felt like I’d got my mojo back, I was itching to run again.

In timely fashion this revitalisation has coincided with my marathon tapering. With the marathon due on Sunday this week is potted with rest days and minor efforts to keep my legs fresh. I want to run, I’m physically able to run, but I’m not running this week. Not really.  I know it’s important not to overdo it, and tapering is just as important to a training plan as getting those long runs in, but on the back of a prolonged period of recovery runs I’m desperate to make the most of my return to fitness. Plus with the injury and the missed training sessions I feel like I have to make up for lost time. I’ve missed a 19 mile and 20 mile run to injury, and although I managed to claw some back I still feel like I’ve under trained. I know there’s nothing I can do now, and I know how ridiculous it sounds, but I’m struggling to shake that feeling that one more Tuesday training session at running club will undo a lot of damage from the missed training.

20170518_171304
The race number arrives, its actually happening.

Despite my wittering I am grateful I’m fit to run the marathon as I know plenty of folk that are having to miss out entirely.  I will be good this week, I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I won’t be going to running club, even if the handicap 10k on Thursday does sound good (it’s not often the whole club joins in the same activity). It’s fair to say my mood this week is going to be a flit between frustration and worry. Frustrated I can’t run, and worried I haven’t run enough. If only I could find an activity that always helps to clear my head…

Above all else this marathon, however much I may have complained to my wife and anyone who’d listen, is being run for a good cause. I may not have raised as much money for charity as I’d have liked, but the bit I have raised will make a difference.


 

Beyond the marathon itself my other concern, worry, maybe even fear, is focussed on the few days after the race. Post-race blues. When all that training has been spent, all the build up to the day is over, the crowds have cheered you home, you’ve got your finishers medal and cuddle from loved ones, then you retire back home with achy legs and the endorphins slowly drop away. That’s the bit I’m dreading (I guess that’s the word I was looking for). Last year it was obvious I was dropping after each race, my mood dipped and I started to struggle with my grief again. In hindsight it only lasted a week or so, but they were long weeks. And that was only after a half marathon, my other worry is that twice the distance run equals twice the recovery period, both physically and mentally. I hope that’s not the case. Thankfully I have two days off work immediately after the run, two days to spend with cheeky, smiley A who can elicit laughter from anyone at any time (well, except one chap on the train recently who flatly refused to even acknowledge her despite her best efforts). It’s reassuring to know that despite everything that’s happened since A was born she’s still growing in to a happy little girl just like her sister. Just one who’s been to so many races she’s now conditioned to clap and cheer anyone she sees wearing running gear, whether they’re running or not. Pavlov would be proud.

Roads? Where we’re going we don’t need roads.

15 May 2017

A break from the marathon blogging this week to pick up on a blog I started before my leg started playing up. An unexpected embrace of the world of off-road running.

Spring has settled and the nights are lighter, the weather is warmer (no, really!), and running club turns its back on road running to blaze a trail off-road. This is new to me, I am very much a road runner with limited experience running off-road. I’ll stop short of saying no experience, I accidentally ran a half marathon last year that was half off-road, half on-road (by accidentally I mean I didn’t read the race description properly). That half marathon was an experience. Not a wholly unpleasant one, but in my mind I wanted to be running as fast as possible so that means stick to the roads. And I did.

This will be my first spring/summer with running club, and I hadn’t quite grasped just how much they’re going to focus on off-road running during this time. It was something of a rude awakening, turning up at club one Thursday to hear the list of runs going out and ruling each one out as they went by:

“9 minute mile group – 6 miles off-road” Hmmmm, not for me;
“8.5 minute mile group – 7 miles mostly trail” Oh-o…..;
“8 minute mile group – 6 miles off-road…. Enjoy your runs everyone” Erm…. ah.

I quickly looked around to see who else was expecting a road run tonight, thankfully there were plenty of relatively clean road shoes dotted about a room filled with battered and muddied trail shoes. A nervous group formed and asked about the footwear requirements. “Look, I can’t promise there won’t be any mud but you should be ok in those shoes”. This didn’t fill us with confidence. Talk of a splinter road running group briefly gained momentum but quickly died away, we were going off-road.

A group of around 10 of us set off on the 8 minute mile run, the experienced (and suitably equipped) off-roaders clearly enjoying the palpable nerves coming from the back of the group. “Make the most of this bit of road lads, it won’t last long”. He was right, it didn’t as we quickly diverted towards a footpath. This first bit seemed a bit of a waste, the footpaths were short and bookended by stiles that bunched everyone together. We could’ve quite easily got from A-B on the roads without all the stop-starting. “If it’s like this all the way round this’ll be a right ball-ache”. Thankfully it wasn’t. Eventually we got out of the town and in to the countryside, everything opened up and we were off.

First up was a fairly steep descent on a footpath. This was tricky, I was conscious I didn’t have the right footwear and had no confidence in my ability to stay on my feet. I took it steady, really steady. The gap between the road runners and off-roaders was clear. The off-roaders flew down, we did not. At the bottom, following some ankle testing, stone covered footpaths we regrouped and set off up the other side of the valley. This was better, the slower pace made it easier to watch footing and the group stayed much closer together. I never thought I’d find myself saying this but I was enjoying running uphill. Watching where my feet were going helped, to some extent, distract me from the fact that we were running up quite a sizeable hill.

All in all that first proper taste of off-road running was a nice change. For much of the run it felt like an injury waiting to happen. There was one ankle turned whilst we were out, and one minor impaling on a fence. But I enjoyed it and I’ve been trying to include a bit of off-road running on my runs since.

It turns out there are some beautiful woods around by us that I’d have never known about if I hadn’t gone off-road. The runs have been far more interesting, and although I’m still a bit unsure on the descents I am getting slightly more confident. Perhaps a little too confident in parts. I decided to take myself up a notorious hill nearby to see what all the fuss was about. 20170510_194048The photo doesn’t do it justice, but believe me that is one steep climb! I made it about 2/3 of the way up before the gradient pitched still steeper, the surface became more unstable and I ground to a halt. My thighs were burning at this point, it wasn’t a long climb but the gradient was a killer. Helpfully a couple of walkers heading along the ridge of the hill had stopped to watch my feeble effort (think more mountain manatee than mountain goat). Not wanting to look a bigger fool I decided turning round and going back to the bottom was not an option. Besides, it looked bloody steep. Rather than shouting out to ask that they move on I decided simply to say “Ha, this was an error” and clambered my way up the last 1/3. That hill was indeed an error. But I don’t doubt be back once I have some better footwear. I do need to invest in some more suitable footwear. And the other big thing is going to be learning routes. I just about get by on roads but there was no point in that first off-road run with the club where I knew where I was or where we were going. There’s an excellent chance I’m gonna get lost this summer.

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I’ll keep on trying out off-road running through the summer, perhaps exercising some caution. In the public sector world health and safety is king and recently at work we were given a presentation which highlighted some of the dangers of working on site in the countryside. It’s a bloody danger zone, nature does not want us there! Thankfully on my limited off-road runs I haven’t seen any adders, or noticed any ticks, but now everything looks like giant hogsweed. I’d never heard of that before, horrid stuff.

 

 

 

Making the best of a bad job.

08 May 2017

“Plus my training still has 3 lots of 20 mile runs to come to help bump up my endurance. I’m starting to think I could actually become a marathon runner” The Return of the Long Run – 27th March 2017

At the risk of boarding on the philosophical, I’ve learnt in life that plans are all well and good but something can quickly come along and pick everything apart to the point where you begin to question the use of plans in the first place (other than getting to make a spreadsheet of course). My marathon training plan is the latest plan to suffer, and how. My blog post on 27th March boasted at how a 17 mile run had gone well and confidence was high ahead of the marathon. Hey, I’d even get to run three lots of 20 miles too to help things along. Well, my first blog of May would like to revisit that blog and give it a well-deserved slap across the chops.

Things started to go downhill almost immediately after that 17 mile run. Little did I know it, but an introduction to off road running at running club the following Thursday (which I enjoyed so much I planned to write about until things went tits up) was the last time I’d be able to run comfortably. My IT band was flaring up and I was in pain.

After some prolonged rest and a steady reintroduction to running I started to improve. It was important to get back out, I could feel myself slipping in to non-running mode and if I wasn’t careful I could end up undoing a lot of the hard work I’d put in to this point. A few controlled 4 and 5 mile mid-week runs had been relatively pain free, so with some trepidation I gave myself the green light to do the first of my 20 mile runs.

I decided that if my knee was going to give in it would do so fairly early on, so I planned my route to do a 4 mile circuit close to home, then if all was well I’d head further out on a new route. I figured a new route would help to distract me from fretting about my knee the whole time, and make sure I couldn’t cut the run short if the distance was proving too much.

My run started slowly, very slowly. This was in part to make sure I was pacing myself over 20 miles, and in part down to a fear of tweaking my knee. As my 4 mile point of no return marker approached my knee was tight, a little painful at times, but I could run on it. I decided to carry on.

Up until about mile 13 I was feeling good, my knee was holding up and I’d been able to keep pushing my pace to see what I could get away with before things started to hurt. My mistake however was stopping to take a gel, my leg ceased up in no time at all and as soon as I went to set off again I was in pain. It was a struggle to keep going on the canal but luckily I hit a canal lock after a mile or so and the short climb it brought with it seemed to help free up my leg again.

The rest of the run was slow, but comfortable until around 18/19 miles. By then my pace was down to 9.5min/miles and I could do nothing about it. Even along the final downhill stretch towards home my pace stayed the same. I was struggling. 20 miles ticked over on my watch and I immediately stopped, no extra half mile run to home for me today. That was getting walked.

I hated that run. The final few miles were horrendous and I very nearly gave up and walked it. It took me an age to recover as well, I was completely drained for the rest of the afternoon and struggled to achieve much with the rest of my day. Although I was pleased to have hit 20 miles I was terrified at the prospect of having to find another 6 miles on race day.

What that run did do was convince me I was ok to slowly up my  weekly mileage again, if not my pace. The second 20 miler has just passed and followed a much better week of training. I ran the same route to let me compare efforts and all in all it felt a lot better. A few twinges in my upper thigh (I assume still IT band related) slowed me down momentarily but I felt far more comfortable at the finish than I did a couple of weeks earlier. Disappointingly this was a slightly slower run than the first effort, but given how awful I felt after the first effort there I think that’s more down to better pacing on my part. Although the thought of another 6 miles to run was still daunting, it felt far more achievable after this second run.

After that my “long” long runs are done. My next two Sundays will bring with them a 12 miler and an 8 miler before marathon day. That’s a relief. The earlier blog post which enthused at the prospect of the upcoming three lots of 20 milers has been let down, only two were run, but that post was an idiot anyway. I can just about see myself finishing the marathon, but any hope of getting close to a 3 hour 30 minute finish time feels to have slipped by. It’s disappointing but as my previous marathon PB is 04:15 I should still be on track to beat this. As for thinking “I could actually become a marathon runner”; jog on!