Tuesday 29 March 2011

Countdown: M minus 19 days

After months of thinking, training, and planning for it...it's now just 19 days away...the London Marathon.

One of the biggest marathons in the world - and my third time there.  I did finish on my other two attempts, and have the medals to prove it - I'm very proud to have achieved that, but with times of 5:00:12 and 5:41:46, I don't count either run as a particular success.  The first time, I wanted to finish - that was it, just get around the course, which I did and I had an absolute blast, but it doesn't take a lot of guts to just keep plodding round as slowly as you need to, to cross the line.  The second time, I wanted to improve on the first but obviously I didn't achieve that, really as a result of barely putting in any training, and being woefully unprepared for the enormous effort involved in running 26.2miles - the whole thing was a painful car crash of a run - an horrific experience that I am still trying to forget!  This time I'm determined it will be different.  

Although I haven't trained nearly as much as I had planned to, because, truth be told, I'm just pretty damn lazy sometimes, I have trained more than for either of my previous marathons, I've run many more races than I've ever done before, and I feel more confident about completing the distance, and doing well.  Although, when I say "doing well" that's relative - for me, doing well in my third marathon will mean getting round in under 4hrs 30mins.  That is my plan.  It's going to be tough but that's what I'm aiming for, what I'm ready for and it's what I'm determined to do.

I know though that there are some in the running community who would think why bother with aiming for completing it in 4hrs 30mins?

"...surely you should be aiming for at least under 4hrs to make it a worthwhile achievement...if you're really a runner..."

For many people, I'm sure that achieving a run of under 4hrs or faster is the only thing that motivates then and makes then feel like a proper runner, and then I know that for some people it's even under 3hrs...or for those select few it's whether they can make it under 2hrs 05mins that makes finishing the marathon an achievement for them.  But for me, obviously, it's very different. 

Completing the marathon the first time around, regardless of my time, made me a bone fide runner in my opinion and showed me I was a stronger, more committed and determined person than I had ever realised, and going faster doesn't change that knowledge that I will always have about myself.  But achieving this target of running in under 4hrs 30mins means that I've achieved something extra - it's a step up for me, and it doesn't matter that my target is lower than many other people's.  Sub 4hrs 30mins it's what I've had in my mind for all these months of training, and whereas in my last two marathons I really just needed to finish, this time, I want to fulfil this specific goal, for which I will have to work really hard throughout the run.  I'll have to keep on going, I can't walk when I get tired, I can't pull over to stretch when I fancy it, and I'm going to have to keep pushing myself like never before, and win the psychological battle that I know I will undergo.  If I manage all of these things, the 17th April 2011 will see me complete one of my biggest achievements.

Monday 21 March 2011

Brentwood Half Marathon report

***I've had to come back and edit this post...scroll down the page for the race report. I had to comment on an awful tragedy that I've found out occurred at yesterday's half marathon.***

A runner who I saw at the finish line who had collapsed and was being helped by paramedics, actually died of a heart attack after completing the race.  I don't know who he was, other than he was in his 40s, and has left a wife and children, but it's a truly terrible thing to have happened, and my heart goes out to his family.  I can only assume he had some kind of existing but undiagnosed heart condition - I ran my first marathon for the charity Cardiac Risk in the Young and know that this does happen to fit athletes, but it's just so sad.

As cheesy and as clich├ęd as it sounds, we must all do what we can to live every day to the full, to make the most of every opportunity, and to make sure we make time in our busy schedules for the people we love, and sometimes take for granted - you never know when the worst will happen, as it did to my dad just over 9 years ago, when he died of a massive heart attack while at his desk at work.  When I hear about such tragic news, it always brings back vivid memories of that horrific time.

My dad was an obsessive sportsman when he was younger and I know that part of the reason I run is because I know he would have been so proud of me, it's just a desperate shame that he can't share it with me.  I really do feel for that poor family, and what they'll be going through now.
The first race I took part in was the Brentwood Half Marathon, back in March 2008.  I had another go at it yesterday, and was determined to finally get a sub-2hr time over 13.1 miles.

About a mile in, trying to keep to a 9 minute mile, I felt awful, and doubted myself, my ability to run the distance, hated myself for the days when I didn't make it on my scheduled training runs, and was convinced I'd never run a marathon in under 5 hours, never mind under 4:30!  However, as often happens, by about mile 6 I was feeling much more positive, and although still pushing, and finding it tough, I was going well and still on target :)

The Brentwood route is great and goes through some lovely villages, where the support is fantastic from the locals.  So many people...and sweets - I always love it when the children give out sweets :) If I had one gripe though it was why were so few roads closed?!  Both lanes of traffic were generally open despite the fact that there were over two thousand people running on the road and often it was terrifying, particularly for the first half of the race when we were all still pretty bunched up, as cars dived into the group of runners so they could get past a car coming the other way.  Also, I've not run a race before where so many runners had cyclists riding with them..and none of the marshals said anything to them.  All in all, traffic management really wasn't great and I'd assume that maybe there was a lack of police support for the event which is a real shame as it definitely spoiled it a bit for me.

I understand know though why the organisers were so adamant about not wearing headphones during the race - they threatened disqualification for anyone who was clocked wearing them, which was upheld when the official results were released - it was just too dangerous if you couldn't hear the cars coming up behind you.

Anyway, I kept pounding the roads, but definitely started flagging towards the end, not helped by a final hill from 12 miles and eventually finished the 13th mile (my slowest) with a 9.55 pace.  However, I managed to drag my lead-weight legs to the end and although I must have been passed by 20 people in the last 300 yards as I couldn't find it in myself to make a sprint finish, I did complete the run in 2hrs, 2mins, 39secs.  It's not a sub-2hrs but it was the fastest I've run the distance, another PB, although I'm still disappointed that I didn't feel stronger throughout the run.

But there we go, that was my last half before the big one - the LONDON MARATHON is in just 28 days!! I can't wait.

P.S - I just remembered...why do I have the same medal I got in 2008, just with a different ribbon?! Very disappointing, it wasn't a very good one first time round....

Monday 14 March 2011

Excellent tow path 20 miler

I had a really great 20 mile run yesterday, and to be honest, i feel relieved more than anything.  My 17 mile run last Sunday was awful - I found it hard, and to be honest, boring.  I lost interest, and couldn't for the life of me remember why I wanted to run a marathon.  So, I was not looking forward to this weekend's 20 miler and didn't know if it was something I was going to be able to do.

To try and make it as positive an experience as I could, I decided to break a habit of a (running) lifetime, and not run from the house.  Instead, I drove half an hour to our nearest canal, and ran along the towpath - different scenery and a flat course...instead of the usual hilly courses I run.

As I arrived and parked up, it immediately started to absolutely tip down with rain - and I'm talking those big, heavy raindrops that really get you wet quickly.  I couldn't believe it - I hadn't brought any waterproofs, and just sat in the car for 20 minutes looking dejectedly through the windscreen hoping that it might stop, and wondering whether I'd actually be able to make myself get out of the car and get started.  And then the rain stopped..and it brightened up...and I got out of the car...

I ended up having a really enjoyable run.

The towpath is a great place to go - lots of things to look at, interesting wildlife, plenty of other runners to share a nod of the head and a knowing grimace with...I can't believe I've not run along one before.

I think the best bit was having toilets along the route (which I of course took advantage of, for the novelty factor if nothing else) and one of the barge owners who was moored along a quiet stretch at about 9 miles had set up a mini-cafe and was selling drinks from his door.  This made a massive difference as I'd got through a lot more of my water than I'd expected by 9 miles, and was starting to worry...after turning around at 10 miles I ran back past the cafe barge, and bought a couple of bottles of water from him and was able to sit down for 5 minutes and fill up my belt bottles, have decent drink, and then run on.  Perfect :)

I do have some pain in my knees this morning, and definitely feeling a bit of an ache all over, but generally feeling so positive about how it went...and if I'd been running the marathon yesterday, I think I could have done it!

Friday 4 March 2011

Have you tried a sports massage?

Obviously, this isn't actually me....
I'm an absolute convert.

After weeks of pain and hardship trying to deal with incredible tightness and cramping in my lower legs, last week I admitted defeat and headed to the physio; I didn't have a full blown diagnostic appointment though - they were doing an offer for an hour's sports massage for just £45, so I decided that might be what I needed.

I hadn't ever had a sports massage before, and was a bit nervous, but everything I read online said it was a good thing to do - apparently having a sports massage doesn't just ease tightness in your muscles, it stimulates circulation of blood and lymph fluids (which is why you're meant to drink lots of water afterwards), it helps to break down adhesions in your muscles and can help to reduce scar tissue from previous injuries, as well as increasing the range of motion in your joints.

This all sounds like just the job, so I donned my most conservative underwear, and went to West End Physios.  I had a brief consultation with the physio before he started, and he was obviously very knowledgable, and I didn't feel uncomfortable lying there is my underwear as he kept me well covered under a towel!  He spent an hour on my legs, and said that my muscles were unbelievably tight (each leg was like a solid plank apparently!) and that I absolutely had to start stretching properly...in the right way, holding the stretches for long enough each time, and spending enough total time on it.  I've been told this many times before, and I know I've never spent enough time doing my stretching after a run, but this is the first time I've developed problems as a result.

Now I wont lie to you - the massage was painful.  Really very painful, at times, but in a way that I knew it was doing me good, so I could breathe through it.  It was very thorough, and I felt like ever part of my legs had had a a workout, even though I'd just been lying there, and the physio had done all the work.  I left with instructions for stretching for the rest of the week...including on days when I didn't run, to drink lots of water, and with another appointment booked for the following week.

Here comes the good bit - the next day I woke up and walked down the stairs...with no pain in my calves!  It was truly miraculous!  Well, maybe not miraculous, but I was very impressed :)

I spent the following week stretching much more than I have done before, and headed back for a second massage last night.  The physio said my legs were much better, the massage was much less painful, and he also said that I should find running easier now...and best of all, the pain is still gone.  So, although I can't afford to go that often, I think I might try and add in a monthly session to make the most of my training, and I suppose, what I should really concentrate on, is rather than collapsing on the sofa when I get in from a run, is spending a decent amount of time, properly stretching! 

Thursday 3 March 2011

Tunbridge Wells Half Marathon

On Sunday, I ran the Tunbridge Wells Half Marathon, organised by the Tunbridge Wells Harriers.  It's a great race which takes a hilly (yes, hilly..not undulating!) course through some of, what must be, the most stunning countryside and picturesque villages you'll find in Kent.

I was determined to finally get my half marathon time under 2hrs, but unfortunately it wasn't to be...I ended up on 2hrs 3 mins and 23 secs, which I'm actually pretty pleased with as it was still a PB, and the hills on the course definitely made it a challenging run for a runner with my level of fitness.

The Lifestyle Renault Tunbridge Wells Half Marathon
I would definitely recommend the race to everyone who can get to that part of the world though - as pretty much every review I've read says, the race is incredibly well organised, it's a lovely route, and there's an astonishing level of support from the local community.  I think pretty much every section of the course had people lining it, clapping us along and calling out encouragement...and the number of people with jelly babies was impressive too!  The race really did tick all the boxes including having Olympic athletes taking part which was really special - Liz Yelling won the women's race with a course record and Dame Kelly Holmes started the race and amazingly hung the medals round our necks at the end!  And what medals - they're huge, and every runner also got a great technical shirt, which I actually ran the race in, an absolutely packed goody bag at the end. There was a mini-expo in the sports centre at the start, lockers or a well run baggage centre, an indoor area to warm up...the list of positives for this race goes on and on...

There were also some awesome downhill sections where I got to run very fast and easily, and get that exhilarating rush you feel as your legs run away from you.  I really love that feeling!  To counter those sections though there was THAT hill.  Between 6.5 and 7.5 miles, the never ending hill was hard...really hard.  Many, many people around me gave up and walked it, but I fought through the pain and the burning desire to stop too, and I ran all the way up that bloody hill, and I'm very proud to say I did.  I had to take my headphones out, concentrate totally on my breathing, and really focus - it was the hardest mile I've ever run, but getting to the top, (having a gel at the next refreshment station) and then starting to feel the strength return to my legs as I ran on, was incredibly satisfying.  

What I was also really pleased with, was that my last mile was my fastest mile of the whole thing...this bodes well for my marathon efforts and all in all, it was a thoroughly lovely way to spend a Sunday morning! :D