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.

 

 

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!

 

 

 

 

A week away. Now hurry back.

As things were flowing nicely in preparation for Edinburgh marathon my body, specifically my right knee, mounted a minor protest at all the early starts and extra miles and demanded a rest. My IT band was flaring up and causing quite a bit of aggro whilst I was running. A quick Google check presented some stretching exercises that should help and recommended a period of rest until things settle down. Not wanting to cause any serious damage before the marathon I dutifully changed my training plan for the week, I gave myself a week away from running.

This has been a long week. At first it was quite novel not having to worry about whether it was better to do 8 miles before or after work, whether I could run home in time to collect A from nursery, or whether running club were going off road again (they were). However this relief didn’t last. I read at the start of the week that you can take a week off running and not see any real impact on your fitness. That’s as maybe but I found day five to be the point where I started to lose a little of my mental strength. 

It’s difficult to pin it exactly to my mini break from running, but Friday night was a low point. It’s the first time in a long time where I couldn’t sleep and my mind took me right back to that week in 2015, that room in Edinburgh, and sitting with E. All those numb, distant days that followed. Life didn’t really feel as if it was “just going on” it was quite the opposite, I couldn’t understand how life did just go on after this. Friday felt like this again.

A restless Friday gave way to a miserable Saturday. I can’t have been much fun. To compound matters A fell ill on Saturday. Nothing major, but her temperature spiked and immediately led to a tail spin. “What if she has a convulsion like E?” “What if it’s something worse?“. Both my wife and I struggled that night and I struggled to offer much support to her. In reality the dose of Calpol was enough to sort A out, but we checked on her constantly that night. I worry sometimes that we’re going to turn A in to some anxiety ridden germophobe when shes older, picking up on our over-the-top responses to her temperature. Hopefully she isn’t picking up any habits just yet, and maybe one day we can settle down with her. 

Sunday rolled round and enough was enough. I went for a run. My knee is still sore, but not enough to worry about. And after the few days that preceded a little bit of knee pain is nothing. I think it helped.

These few days have reaffirmed what I already knew, running is keeping me going. In one sense that’s positive, I can go about daily life without much fuss. But on the counter to that I may just be running away from grief rather than facing it and dealing with it properly. Am I setting myself up for a fall in the future when my legs can’t hack it anymore? I am aware this may not be the ultimate solution. I associated with the things Rio Ferdinand described in his moving documentary, I keep busy to get by but I don’t process my grief. And today Prince Harry spoke of his 20 year struggle to face up to grief, instead finding himself avoiding thinking about his mum instead. Thankfully I haven’t gone too far down that path this time, although I did when my mum died. I love to think about E. I love to talk about E. I love the many photos and videos we have of E and telling A about her big sister.

For the time being running is here to stay. There’s no magic solution that’s going to help me through definitively so I’ll stick with what’s working, sort of. Anything that helps keep me upright can’t be a bad thing, plus it gives me that headspace for a short time each day to refocus. Although, for the sake of my knees, this training plan may be downgraded ahead of the next marathon.

Joining the injured runners club.

It had to happen sooner or later. Training was going well and optimism was high. Just 4 miles in to my 19 mile run last weekend I pulled up. My right knee wasn’t having it. At first it felt like my knee just needed a good stretch to get things moving so I dutifully tried my best to loosen it off and set off again. A few sore steps followed, for a moment I contemplated pushing on and trying to run it off, but common sense made a surprise appearance and I stopped. The sensible part of my brain winning the argument with a reasoned “you’ve got 15 miles to go on this run and you’re already in pain, stop now or you’ll only make it worse”. So I did. Luckily this struck at a point where I was only half a mile or so from home so I didn’t need rescuing (good, as my wife doesn’t drive). I made my way towards home, occasionally grimacing and clutching my knee as cars passed so they knew I was injured and not just taking a break. Yeah…. I know. (On the plus side I resisted conjuring up a run name on Strava to justify my poor showing; “Aborted Long Run” perhaps, or “Long run – knee gave up at 4mi”. It remained as “Morning Run”, an unprecedented double victory for the sensible side that morning).

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So much for the long run – not quite the 19 miles it was meant to be.

Deflated I made it home, still battling the idiotic side of me which was determined to just run it off. I explained to my wife why I was back early and received some much welcomed reassurance that there was still plenty of time to the marathon and just to rest for a few days. I sat down to sulk and quickly turned to Dr Google to figure out what was going on. Symptoms entered in to the search bar returned a monumental list of articles and forum posts, all along the same theme – Iliotibial band syndrome.

“ITB syndrome can result from any activity that causes the leg to turn inward repeatedly. This can include wearing worn-out shoes (nope, they’re still ok), running downhill (yep, that’s when it kicked in) or on banked surfaces (I’ve been trying out off-road running recently, that might not have helped), running too many track workouts in the same direction (nope), or simply running too many miles (we have a winner).”
http://www.runnersworld.com/tag/it-band-syndrome

I’ve never heard of the iliotibial band before, it seems as though this is the runners equivalent of the metatarsal bone which David Beckham helped to popularise in 2002. Now I know what it is, it looks like there are iliotibial bands flaring up everywhere.

I did worry that I was pushing it too far with this training plan. Running six times a week, clocking up some pretty hefty weekly miles would push me towards a decent marathon time, but did carry a risk. It looks like that risk has been realised. Following the diagnosis, Dr Google has subsequently prescribed a break from running and stretching exercises. The exact length of this break wasn’t clear, so I initially took this to mean a day and set off for a nice and steady run on Monday evening to test things out. I managed around 1km before realising this was a mistake and turned back to home.

By listening to that sensible side again I’ve rejigged my training plan to give me an entire week off running. That was hard, and in all honesty sticking to it will be a battle with the idiotic side still chirping away telling me I need to go for a run. It’s disappointing, not least of all because training has been going well so far and I was finally starting to feel like running a marathon was an achievable goal. The main thing now is making sure I’m fit enough to actually run on the day, because above all else this run is about raising money for charity. If I can‘t run at my best on the day, I’ll be disappointed but I’ll cope. If I can’t run at all on the day then I’m letting down a charity and missing out on running with E on my chest again. Hopefully, by telling myself that this rest week is part of my training plan to get me to the start line then I can be disciplined enough to stick to it.

 


 

This setback has come at the end of a trickier week all round. Another birthday rolled by recently and once again, as with any milestones, brought out all those emotions that are kept sealed away on a “normal” day. A thoughtful birthday card from my wife on behalf of E was a little too much and while emotions were just about kept in check in the house, the subsequent car ride was soundtracked by one of E’s favourite albums. I’d gotten better at listening to this album in the past few months, but with the heightened emotions it was a little too much and tears flowed for the first time in a while. Thankfully this was before my introduction to the iliotibial band so this was one thing I could run off.

The Return of the Long Run

27 Mar 2017

The Sunday long run. A recurring marker in the diary that makes sure your Sunday starts early, and your Saturday stays honest. As the training weeks tick by and the Edinburgh Marathon draws nearer those Sunday long runs are starting to get longer. This weekend gone brought with it a 17 miler, officially the furthest I’d run since my 2013 marathon attempt (I think I was still running at 17 miles, but only just). I was a little apprehensive on setting off, and still so around 5 miles in. However by the end of it I was a changed man. This marathon was going to be mine.

Ok that’s maybe going a bit too far. Putting this in to context this was a 17 mile training run benefitting from fresher legs after a week lost to illness. But it did feel good. It was a challenging route, more so than the EMF2017 route looks, but I got round without wanting to stop. This run felt like a turning point, like I can finally let go of that miserable marathon effort from 2013. The marathon that effectively ended my interest in running for two years and has dogged me ever since.

I left the 2013 Yorkshire Marathon wondering how anyone can run a marathon at anything resembling pace. Throughout this training plan to date that thought has remained. I’m genuinely nervous, and that never happens before a race. I know the day itself will still have another 9 miles to add on top of this latst run, but I won’t be running 8 miles the day before EMF. 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.

One big thing that went right on Sunday was the fuelling, another mental hurdle I’ve had to overcome. Although I’ve been merrily getting through my stash of SiS gels for a while now I have doubted whether or not I could make these work over and above the half marathons I was running last year. I’ve been worried that a) they wouldn’t be enough to stop me hitting the wall again, or b) I’d overcompensate, take too many and get stomach cramps (tip: extra gels can’t rescue a half marathon you’re running two days after getting back from an all-inclusive holiday you’ve definitely got your money out of).

My plan was to keep it light and go for two gels over 17 miles, one after an hour and one more 40 minutes later. This seemed to work for me. I felt ok at the point I took the first gel, but knew I’d be needing it soon so took it whilst the going was good. The second was perhaps a little delayed as I started to struggle around 13 miles, however shortly after taking it I picked up again and managed to up my pace for the next 3 miles or so. This gel is the one that’s boosted me. The difference it made was certainly noticeable, something I have questioned in the past. Just before I took the gel those doubts were starting to creep in as I plodded along “You’re over 13 miles now. You don’t like running further than this. Stick to what you know, you’re no marathon runner”. The gel silenced these. My legs got going again, my form returned and my breathing settled (or more accurately I remembered to breath). As I upped the tempo along a familiar and dull stretch of road I was growing in confidence and started to see how I could keep a decent pace for 26.2 miles.

By jove I think I’ve cracked it – finally putting to use the free SiS gels (good marketing folks, you’ve roped me in now).

As I got closer to home I could tell my energy was dropping again. 17 miles is probably the time for gel number three, one to try out on this weekend’s 19 miler. At this rate I’m expecting to be on four gels for the marathon itself, maybe with one spare for emergencies.

Next week’s  19 miler, the three lots of 20 miles, and the marathon itself are no longer daunting (well, maybe the marathon still is a little). I know if I keep going with the training I’ll be able to run 26.2 miles. Yes it feels like a lot of running at the moment (partly because it IS a lot of running), but it’s going to be worth it.

 


 

One of the main challenges in these long runs is going to be making sure it doesn’t take over our weekend. Because of our work patterns Sunday’s are often the only day we get to spend all together. I want to train properly for this marathon, I want to run a good time, both for me and to do E proud. She’ll be pinned to my vest after all. But I also want my family time. Running for 2 hours plus every Sunday, with the added time back home to recover and refresh could become a bind. So far I’ve been able to drag myself out of bed early enough to get out, run and be back in time for family breakfast (A has at least two “beckfasts” these days so even when I miss the first I can catch the second). Hopefully that continues. The warmer weather should help. And it’s not like I’m bothered by having to keep my Saturday’s alcohol free, we rarely drink anyway so that’s no challenge. In fact with my hangover record, I’d lose more of my Sunday after a Saturday on the beer than I would from a Sunday long run. This is just another reminder to myself to keep things in perspective and keep one of the promises we made ourselves after we lost E – whatever happens we won’t let losing her affect the way we bring up A. I probably wouldn’t be running if E was still here, as much as I enjoy it now I didn’t have the motivation to get up and run before. This marathon is for E, but it won’t be at the expense of our family time.

 

To donate or not to donate? What about the training….

20 Mar 2017

A slightly longer blog this time, not to make up for not posting last week, but to sneak in a bit about my blood donation. Fear not, this isn’t a blog talking through the donation itself. That was as straightforward and uneventful as always. However this time I went in to my donation from the mind-set of someone training for a marathon and trying not to let the training plan slip.

Before I get in to it, I’ll start with a confession. In the days leading up to the donation I had considered cancelling. Not because of work, or childcare commitments, or because I was unwell and unable to donate. Nope, my sole reason for wanting to cancel was to ensure my marathon training was unaffected. Now I’ll add to this confession, I have moved donations by a week or two to fit around imminent races. Donating does slow me down and, although I’m only racing myself at these things, I do go in to a race wanting the best time I can get. I can just about excuse this by booking in to donate straight after the race, coping with the heavier legs and heaving lungs on some easier runs until I get back to normal. However moving a donation to keep training going, when training still has another 11 weeks to run? That’s harder to justify. A donation cycle is 12 weeks so in effect I’ll be skipping a donation, not postponing.

I didn’t cancel. This was only donation four for me, after 15-plus years of not taking the opportunity to donate I still have a lot of catching up to do. To my shame I’d never even considered donating until E was in hospital. But seeing everything that was thrown at her to try and save her you see just how important these things are. It shouldn’t take something like that to make you donate, but for me it did. Thankfully there are plenty of people out there who haven’t needed that prompt and do their bit regularly.

Back to the start of the week. The donation is booked for Wednesday so Monday and Tuesday’s training can go ahead as normal. Wednesday is down for four miles, and knowing that you’re not really meant to do much exercise immediately after donating I opted to run to work to get the run in before donating. In hindsight this may not have been best idea, particularly after a pretty tough Club session the night before. The day after donating was a struggle, much more so than previous donations. I woke up with a banging headache and zero energy. I’d already mentally rejigged my training plan to make Thursday my rest day if I needed. I did. I rested my arse off.

The rejig left me facing three decent sized runs in three days. 8 miles Friday, a pacey 8 miles Saturday, and 15 miles on Sunday. Although I felt better by Friday I knew this was going to be an effort. My past experiences of running after donating told me that I’d be slower. The hills would feel steeper, the recovery would take longer, the breathing would be heavier. I decided to just take my Friday evening as it came, set off slow and see how the run goes. If I need to stop, stop. Just get some miles in and get the legs working. The run was hard, harder than normal, but I got round and I was pleased I had.

Saturday would need to be an early start to fit a run in before my wife went to work. This was a struggle. My legs hadn’t recovered fully from the evening before (truthfully they hadn’t recovered from Tuesday’s hill session at Club). The first two miles or so felt like a monumental effort, the next two still being a sizeable effort. This was supposed to be a run at pace, it most definitely was not. Thoughts turned to my Strava postings for the last two days, “my average pace is gonna look slow”. As I turned back for the final four miles I tried to figure out a run title that would light heartedly justify my loss of pace without coming across as an excuse. For someone who doesn’t really “do” social media I was inordinately worried about my appearance on Strava. A swift and well-deserved telling off followed “grow up and get on with it!”.

Sunday was another early start. I knew I didn’t fancy anything too hilly, which isn’t easy around here, so I decided to run to the canal towpath and do as much as I could on there. 15 miles roughly broke down in to thirds; 5 miles to the canal, 5 miles of gradient free bliss, then 5 miles back. Surprisingly I felt good on the way out. It was windy, it was wet, those hills were still there, but my legs were working. I got to the canal in reasonable shape and set out for my first towpath run. After five pleasant miles filled with many “good mornings” to the countless runners, cyclists, dog walkers et al. that were all out braving the conditions, it was back to the pavement and the return leg to home. The gradient returned almost immediately and with it came the petulant protest from my legs. They liked the flat, why couldn’t they stay on the flat? Sadly the canal doesn’t run near my house, so I had no option but to head up hill. It quickly became clear I hadn’t thought this through properly as this particular hill was approximately 3km with some pretty drastic climbs (you dont notice the length when you’re running down it). The headwind didn’t help, there were parts where it felt like I was just jogging on the spot, unable to make progress up this never ending “hill” (see also: mountain). My legs had nothing more to offer, the pace wasn’t going to improve but I couldnt stop, just get yourself home. Eventually as I hit the brow of the hill (not the fake brow that appears about 2/3 of the way up just to break your spirits as the remaining 1/3 reveals itself around the corner) I let out the last of what had become a slew of grunts and obscenities (it’s a quiet road, no-one was about) and began my recovery down the hill back towards home. 15 miles done, training plan hit for the week even with the donation. What was I worried about?

I’ll end this week with an appeal to anyone with the same doubts I had about donating this week. I did plenty of reading in the days leading up to the donation, looking at articles and forum posts from runners talking about blood donation whilst training. A lot of the advice was not too, which for a while was fuelling my desire to cancel. However, what’s that going to achieve? What’s the harm in me struggling a bit more than normal for a week or two when a blood donation could potentially be a life saver?

BDM

Although I’d like to think otherwise, I’m not an elite athlete. My performance isn’t the be all and end all. If I can’t run at full pelt for a bit then who’s going to notice except me? Yes, training for the last few days has been harder than it would have been otherwise, and will be for a good few days to come. But I’ll recover. I’ll get back to normal and by the time Edinburgh marathon comes around my body will be virtually ready to donate again. More importantly, in the next few days I’ll receive a text message from the NHS to say where my donation has been used and that means more than any race time. Those text messages alone make donating real and I implore any runners having the same doubts I had this week to donate. Training can be adapted, donating is far more important. Speaking as someone who saw blood brought in to an intensive care ward regularly to try and save the lives of child after child, it’s important not to take for granted that blood is available when it’s needed. It’s a life saver, and it’s only available if people donate. If you’re worried about donating whilst training for a marathon, don’t be. It can be done and when you get that text message you’ll know you’ve done the right thing. I’ll be back in the donation centre again in June, just as the training for the Yorkshire marathon gets going. I might just plan in a couple of extra rest days this time.