London marathon 3:16:00

I’ve finally made it, walking up the hill to the Green start at Blackheath amongst thousands of other runners. Preparation wasn’t ideal, with a bit of a problem with my quads from the beginning of March onwards. I’ve had it before and normally it seems to cure itself in a few weeks with wearing a neoprene support but this time it took a bit longer. In the meantime I’d done a bit more cycling and indoor rowing to keep my fitness up and paid fairly close attention to what I was eating to make sure I wasn’t carrying any unnecessary weight on the big day. I managed to get down to something close to my “summer ironman” race weight, which I was pretty happy with given it was still early April.

The campaign started back in October with a steady 125 km of running, and ramped up through November and December. I had a bit of an easier week starting in the New Year, mainly down to my achilles and knee tendons getting a bit sore and demanding a rest, and then February was also pretty good where I managed a 92½ km week somewhere along the way. I was starting to feel really quite efficient on my longer runs, ticking along at 7:40-7:45 mile pace, but in March was hit by my quad problem:

November 175 km
December 248 km
January 330 km
February 278 km
March 211 km

The week before the race was taken pretty easily, an hour’s run on Monday (where a calf muscle tightened up a little - cue frantic foam rollering and stretching on Tuesday and Wednesday!) and some cycling and rowing, plus a couple of rest days. I took advantage of a massage on my visit to the marathon expo on Thursday and was feeling pretty good. A bit of carbo-loading over the last couple of days saw me put on just over a kg in weight, but that’s to be expected. On Saturday I went out for an easy hour’s bike ride, just to keep things ticking over. I had a reasonable night’s sleep and was up and out the door for a bike ride to catch the 6:40am London bus from Headington.

Once at the start area, it took me most of the next hour to get changed, check-in my bag and queue for the loo. I had a few sips of tea from a flask along the way and from a bottle of water, just to keep me hydrated on what was clearly going to be a nice sunny day. It’s so crowded there’s no chance of even a gentle warm-up. Inside the start pen I chatted to Ian Wright, “TheInspector” from Fetcheveryone.com, and then we watched the elites get introduced on the big screen. A few seconds later, we were off.

Start
It took me 24 seconds to shuffle across the start line, and I was keen to get into a decent stride although the green start didn’t really sort itself out until we’d just about merged with the blue start runners after 1200 m. As we merged there was a bit of elbowing and then after another steady half-mile or so things thinned out a bit and I was running more at my own pace, checking my Garmin as I did so.

Around mile 3 you descend quite a bit, but I was hold back and feeling quite good, careful not to overcook it. From here on in, the crowds lining the streets were huge and deafening in their support – it makes the race very special. The sunny day and the presence of Mo Farah in the elite field had brought everyone out, even more so than usual. The race merges red and blue starts not long after this and it was pretty crowded although we were moving along at a fair lick – not far short of 7 minute mile pace. Both the 2h59 and 3h15 Runner’s World pacers were in sight here – I didn’t expect to see either of them so close-by after this time. I planned on starting drinking after 30 minutes, but missed the water station and resorted to picking up an abandoned half-empty bottle at the next roundabout. After that, when I was ready for a drink I always made sure I was at the side of the road ready to pluck a bottle from a helper.

I had a couple of gels tucked into the key pocket of my shorts (planning on picking up a few more along the way) and had my first one after 45 minutes. I kept downing them every 40 minutes or so, a regime I’d tested in long training runs which seemed to keep my energy levels up OK. There was Lucozade on offer but not having had it before in training, I skipped those stations. 5 miles passed in 35:21. I was on my target to run the first half at 3h10-pace and then slow a little bit over the second half to bring it home in 3h15.

At the 12-mile point just before the right turn to Tower Bridge, I’m in orange on the left

Around 6 miles PaulTheBuilder from Fetch caught me. We were both going comfortably enough that we were able to chat for a bit – a good sign. He was planning a bit of a faster paced run than me and so I said I’d better let him go after another mile or so, although I still had him sight 25 minutes later as we crossed Tower Bridge, oops. Running across that bridge was awesome, I couldn’t quite believe it and had a huge grin on my face. I was starting to feel a few hot spots coming on my toes despite running in my old race shoes and some decent socks, but apart from that everything was going OK.

Waving to Fetchpoint at 13 miles

Halfway
Past halfway in around 1:34:30, on schedule, and the Fetchpoint cheers from the opposite side of the road were great! We saw the leaders come by on the other side of the road. Mo Farah was off the pace though – he hadn’t come into sight by the time we turned down to the Isle of Dogs. My feet were getting rather sore so I dropped back off my toes a bit and got some instant relief there. The twists and turns here seemed to take forever past those massive buildings. Looking back at my splits I think my concentration went a bit too (and my Garmin was struggling with the high buildings all around), my pace slipped. My quads were starting to tie-up despite the quad guards I was wearing, although I’m sure they helped a bit. As we came out of the Isle of Dogs and turned for home along Poplar High Street after passing the loudest crowd of all outside an evangelical church – there was a sound system and confetti - I stopped for a few yards walk – it felt like I’d been running a long time and there were still 50 minutes or so to run. Typically, someone in the crowd recognised me as soon as I slowed and shouted out “c’mon Oranj!”, so I waved acknowledgement and got back on with the job in hand.

Home run
Ian passed me as we turned under the railway bridge just before The Highway and gave me a shout of encouragement. He was looking smooth. And then we were back past Fetchpoint where I briefly stopped to shake a few hands. The next bit past the Tower and through the City of London was familiar to me from years of following my mum around the course – you’d have the roads to yourself as the race used to follow the river more closely in those days. It was still a little bit quiet along here but I was starting to find a better rhythm again, now that I could hear myself think.

Coming out the tunnel on the other side (note to self – wear a footpod next time, the Garmin doesn’t like the tunnels and high buildings) I could see the London Eye and Big Ben in the distance – a real target. Somewhere around 24 miles I stopped for another short walk to swallow my last gel and saw Ian just ahead. That was my new target and I was determined to catch him up and keep running on. I caught him just before the right turn past Big Ben, said hi, and then tried to raise my pace as much as my sore legs would allow. The last mile-and-a-bit seemed to take forever, but eventually we were round past Buckingham Palace and the finish was in sight. I had visions of getting up on to my toes for a final sprint to the line but the reality was less energetic.

Finish
I remembered to raise my arms as I crossed the line for my finisher’s photo and then had to have a bit of a rest, no surprise there. I’d finished in 3:16:00 exactly, a little bit slower than I’d been aiming for, but hopefully enough to get me another good-for-age place in 2015 (when I’ll be 50 and the good-for-age qualifying time limit relaxes to sub-3h20). After collecting my medal, goody bag and kit bag I had a chat to Ian. I think he might’ve been a bit deflated that he’d just missed the 3h15 GFA qualifying time.

I finished off most of the drink in the goody bag and ate the free apple. The free T-shirt, although one-size-fits-all, was cotton which is great, a nice change from all the nylon “technical” shirts you get at races these days. It took me quite a while to find the changing area (up some stairs – how cruel), but eventually I was on my way back to the tube and the bus home ready to watch the TV highlights and then for a few beers with Jules in the evening. Very happy, job done, what an amazing race experience!

Official results HERE (and more official photos). Click image below for stats from my Garmin:

LM2014_connect

Gloucester 20 – 2:26:28

I had a few days off running after the Teddy Hall Relays to give my stiff right quad a bit of a rest and done some cycling and swimming instead, so when I came to warm up for this last pre-London tester it was feeling pretty good.

It was going to be a warm morning, so my new London Marathon-branded vest and shorts got an outing, but I found it difficult to decide what shoes to wear and plumped for an old pair of Asics racing flats which I’d run a marathon in at the Roth ironman. The Gloucester 20 is a fairly old-school event – only about 500 runners, no chip timing, and a race briefing in a car park beforehand, while we all stood about nervously sipping water and wondering how hot it was going to get. I still saw a few runners toe the line in tights though!

After a 5-minute delay we were off with a shout of “3, 2, 1, Go!”, no fancy whistles or horns here. I quickly got into an easy stride, following a group led by some purple-vested “Almost Athletes” and a couple of hangers-on. 7-minute-ish miles felt comfortable, so I stuck with them for the first 3 or 4 miles, out on to the first of three 5.5-mile rural road laps, until I decided that I really ought to back off to my planned 7:05-7:10 pace. I wanted a good run here, but I was also acutely aware that I still had 4 weeks to London and didn’t need to compromise that preparation by running too hard.

It was getting warm, so I was stopping to walk at every drinks station for a cup of water (I’m useless at drinking on the move) and at 8 miles a guy from Stroud & Dist. caught me. We ran together for most of the next lap-and-a-half, him getting away from me at the drinks stations and me slowly reeling him in again. He started to falter at about 15 miles and I was thinking that perhaps I was doing OK by leading him there but by 16 miles we were stride-for-stride and thoughts of “just finishing” were creeping up on me.

I walked up the next railway bridge and let him go. My feet were getting very hot in my skinny racing flats and I’d started running on my heels rather than forefoot to take the pressure off some hotspots. I was also starting to get a bit of cramp in my right foot, which needed a few steps of walking and a stretch every so often. The next three miles were rather slower, more at my usual training pace; I was content just to make it to the finish and very relieved to do so in 2:26:28 (7:19 minute-miling). A couple of minutes off my target, but the heat had really got to me and my feet at the end. For comparison, I went through 20 miles at Luton in 2:23:51. The Stroud runner finished 40 seconds in front of me, and it turned out he was a 3:08 finisher at London last year, so I can’t be too unhappy with my race.

I had a few blisters and my right quad stiffened up quite a bit soon after the finish, but I was OK for a slow drive home after I’d drunk about 2 litres of water. That’s five 20-milers in the bag since the New Year. Just a few more weeks of steady training and I’ll be ready for the start line in London.

Teddy Hall Relays

Back to the Teddy Hall Relays for the first time since 1998 (and when it was just a 5k route I set my road PB of 17:38 here in 1991). I was running the third leg for an Oxford City V50 team (although we were all only just “on the cusp” of 50!). Cycling down to the Iffley Road track at lunchtime it was cold and misty but within half an hour that’d burned off and it turned into a sunny afternoon. I was trying out some new Adidas racing flats, yet more shoes in a vibrant orange colour, and wearing my own OCAC vest for the first time. After picking up my number from Rob, team captain, and a bit of banter with a few other runners I went for a decent jog to try to loosen up the tight right quad that’s been troubling me for the last few weeks. That seemed reasonably successful, but I might rest it a bit more before Sunday’s Gloucester 20. It’s an odd sort of injury which leaves me feeling like I’ve got a “dead leg” until it’s properly warmed up.

Once I’d picked up the baton from my team mate, I was quickly off and out of the stadium, careful not to get carried away with racing too hard too early on although I still managed a steady decline in pace coming back along miles 2  and 3. It was great to be racing in vest and shorts for the first time this year, and after a short sprint around the track I passed the baton on to Rob for his final leg. I’d run 3.6 miles in 23:25 (6:32 minute miles), a bit slower than I’d hoped for – I was the slowest runner for my team by about 40 seconds, something I’m not used to from my good cycling background!

On the Isis towpath, about 1.5 miles. Photo thanks to Barry Cornelius (see image link and http://www.oxonraces.com)

I had a bit of a warm-down and watched the last leg runners coming in and then a chat to Rob about what he’d been up to lately (training in Kenya!) and about the OCAC Vets Tuesday night track sessions. I ought to be getting down to these if I want to see any increase in speed this summer, although I’m having fun just being in the middle of the pack. A thoroughly good afternoon. Results Link.

Oxford Mail League XC – Harwell

Another “guest” appearance for Oxford City AC, although this was more planned than the last one. I’ve even been trying to join the club and buy a club vest, but that has proved more difficult than I’d have thought – I’ve been down to the Horspath track a couple of times but the chap who deals with membership and so on is either busy coaching juniors or not there. No problem, I’m sure I’ll get there eventually!

The race was three laps over some fields and waste ground around the back of the Harwell research area, and I’d been advised to wear studded shoes as the ground was a bit rough in places. The course turned out to have some gravel and even a few yards of tarmac path and nowhere near as much mud as Milton Keynes, so they proved the best choice. I borrowed a club vest off John Exley, and did a bit of a warm up. I’ve not had the best week’s training – after last Saturday’s 20-miler I had a sore tendon under a big toe and a bit of a “dead leg” in my quads. So I’ve only done a bit of jogging and quite a lot of intense cross-training to keep things ticking along for London.

After the last cross-country, where I started much too quickly and paid the price later on, I was much more cautious off the start this time. Apart from a few narrow bits around the back of a man-made hill, there were plenty of places to make up time if I got stuck behind people. The charge off the start (photos by John Harvey, Abingdon AC):

2014_Harwell_1

After the end of the first lap of three I was feeling pretty OK and running well, only losing places on the downhills, not so confident in the grip from my studs. I had a bit of a battle with a couple of other OCAC runners around the next two laps, and ended up tracking Roy Treadwell, who always seems to be just in front of me in the summer Mota-vation races. I was beating him up the hills but he was a bit quicker down the other side. Leading a group on lap one:

2014_Harwell_3

I was cruising along OK, despite the strong wind across the top of the big hill on this course, and tried to sprint at the end to reel Roy in, but was caught on the line myself by a runner from Alcester AC. A much better result than last time, but still more work to be done before my next races. Once the results were up I was happy to find I’d finished just a bit more than halfway down the field.

11 million metres

This morning’s steady 10km erg took me past 11 million lifetime metres on the Concept2. It’s only 15 months since I passed the 10 million mark, at this rate I’ll pass the 20 million mark when I’m 60. I seem to be doing more metres on the machine these days – I think I’m getting tired of heading out the door to train and I’m not so worried about the specificity of what I do. It’s all aerobic conditioning, eh?

I’ve had a good couple of months of steady running culminating in 92½km last week, but this week it seems to have caught up with me a bit. A sore tendon in under my left big toe, and a dead leg sensation in my right quad (which I often get in the left leg at this time of year). Just some easy jogging for a few days I think, keeping my Jantastic score rolling along.

Chiltern League XC Milton Keynes

Today’s cross-country was interesting, I’d had a bit of a spur-of-the-moment decision to run in this Chiltern League event. It’s been 22 years since I last ran one. I “guested” for Oxford City AC, and ran in a vest I borrowed from the vets team captain, John Exley who I’d been in touch with in the week. It was three laps/5 miles around some parkland in Milton Keynes and mud, more mud, and hills (I had to walk a few steps of the steepest one on the second and third laps). I was quite glad I’d dug out my old spikes for some grip, although they seemed quite a tight fit and I had sore toes afterwards. Do your feet spread with age?

John finished just in front of me, so we had a chat on the walk back to the club tent. He suggested that perhaps I was a little short of fitness  and maybe I ought to be doing more miles. I told him I’d been doing 40-50 a week through December and January and he thought for a moment and then replied “maybe you ought to make it 60 to 70″!! Er, I don’t think so, at least, not right now. Anyway, I finished about 2/3rds of the way down the pack, my first time in a results sheet with “M50″ next to my name, and it was quite an eye-opener about how fast some of the quicker vets are.

Data from Strava. Results sheet here. And, although I didn’t have much to do with it “Chiltern League Oxford City AC XC squad win promotion back to Division One.” (that’s my old friend Ali in the picture – he was racing with OCAC when I last did a XC with them).

Watford half-marathon 1:31:26

I had hopes of a reasonably quick run today. Although it’s a lumpy course (and there are more hills in the first half, so you can expect to run a negative split), my previous best from 2009 was a decent 1:27:52. I’ve run 330km in January, admittedly quite steady mileage, but I thought it likely I’d get close to 1:28 today. My plan was to set out with 13 minutes for the first two miles and then settle at about 6:45 minute-miles.

It was a nice sunny morning for chatting and I caught up with Matt Molloy (@AhoySavaloy) on the womens/veterans red start. Despite recent tendonitis he was likely to be quite a bit quicker than me so I left him to mosey up to the front ranks while I found a place just in front of the 1:30 pacer.

Straight off the start and in the charge down the park I could feel I was struggling with the fast early pace. I went through 2 miles in 13:04, slightly off target, and it really felt like I was pushing it to stay at that pace so I throttled back – another 11 miles at that speed seemed daunting. I never really seemed to get going and on the hills I just didn’t have that extra gear that my cycling strength usually gives me – I was going backwards on them. On the flatter sections 7 minute miles felt OK, so I stuck with that. Halfway passed in 45:26 and just after this point the 1:30 pacer and his groupetto overtook me. That was a bit of a downer, I was expecting to be a minute ahead of them at this point. My heart-rate graph shows a bit of a dip after this point. Probably because there are more downhills but also mentally I was taking it easier from here on in.

There were some impressive floods on the run back through 9 and 10 miles. My feet were getting a bit hot in my racing flats so it was actually a nice cool relief even if it took half a mile for them to dry out after the last and deepest flood. There was a photographer or two there, so hopefully some impressive photos!

Soon we were on to the drags back up into Cassiobury Park and I managed to get up on my toes for the run to the line, in 1:31:26 (average 6:58 min/mi). Looking at my WAVA score now, this is actually about the same age-performance as my previous 1:27 so although I was initially disappointed not to run as fast as I’d hoped, it’s not too bad at all really. Across the finish I saw Colin Taylor from Watford Joggers handing out drinks (he’s been a club member since my mum was running with them, 20 or 30 years ago) and I went over for a quick chat.

It seems that lots of long, steady, running has turned me into a long, steady, distance runner. No bad thing with London Marathon coming up. Hopefully I can turn some of this endurance into speed in April. I’ve got another 6 weeks of distance work coming up and then the Gloucester 20.

Link to Strava data. Results from SportsSystems