Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Update of the last 8 months and Marathon #6 - VLM 2016 Race Report

Ah.  My last blog post here was Tuesday 24 February.

Almost 8 months later, the very last paragraph of that post in February is telling...

"The one downside at the moment is the slight discomfort in the hips.  As its at the front, I've self-diagnosed as hip flexors.  Its reacting ok with rest and it settles down but any kind of LSR and it flares again for 24 hrs.  I will keep an eye on it and if it doesn't settle down then I'll book a visit with my physio."

I read that back with a resigned, wry smile, half grimace.  I'll explain why in a moment.

Let me rewind 8 months.  In that last post, I touched on some 'bad news' too which I was going to come on to but never did get as far as writing about.  While Alison and I were in Paris, my dear Nan Lydia passed away at the grand old age of 97.  As I write now, its still hard to believe she's gone.  It still hasn't sunk in.  Her passing and her funeral went by in a blur.  I take solace that Nan is reunited now with Grandad and they're both looking down proudly.  Maybe some artistic licence there using 'proud' but you know what I mean.

2016 really has been a huge blur

In the space of 3 weeks in March, we buried Nan, I turned the big 40 and then I married Alison.

My birthday was bloody fantastic.  Saw the immediate family on the Friday as I told Alison I didn't feel it was appropriate to have a party a week before the wedding... then Saturday we popped in to see my Mum and Dad for dinner, well what I thought was dinner... which turned into a surprise party and everyone was there.  I had absolutely no idea and it was the bestest evening.

A week later, I married my best friend, my rock, my everything, Alison.  (She'll like that when she reads it!)  Without doubt the best day of my life, excluding the birth of Izzy.  It was amazing to share our day with so many of our friends and family.  The day went perfectly (although the hired double decker routemaster got lost several times on the way to the ceremony venue!)  It was great for us to be able to have the reception in the place where we met, The Bull's Head Hotel at Chislehurst.  It was a bloody brilliant day and one that will live with me until the day I die.




Meanwhile, I was still running.  The build up to the marathon had been almost perfect, apart from not running anywhere near as far on my LSRs as I had done previously.  That was mainly down to the discomfort I had which I thought was the hips.  I ran through the pain, thinking I only had a few weeks more to get through then I could have a good rest afterwards and it would all settle down again.  My form was good.  The LSRs were bang on for my sub 4 target.  I had done the hard work but my immune system was shot to pieces and I'd spend most of February and March battling off colds and dosing myself up of flu meds.  However, the pain in what I thought was my hip flexors was getting worse.  Within the first 200 yards of any run, it was sore but then it wore off, until I'd finished.  It was usually the next day getting out of bed when I'd feel the most discomfort.

Anyway, I abandoned the plan of running any 20 milers and ran 4 x 18 milers.  I knew about 'the wall', I'd previously coped so I had no worries with scrapping the 20s.

The hard work was done.  I was on the start line in Greenwich Park, all raring to go.  Raring to go with a nagging soreness.  The main battle with marathon training is getting to the start line in one piece.  Had I done that?  Hmmm.

Now the VLM was my 6th marathon.  I can honestly tell you right now that the VLM stands alone as the best supported marathon on the planet.  Paris doesn't compared.  Amsterdam was tiny in comparison.  Don't even go there with Brighton.  Just wow.  The hairs stand up on the back of my neck just thinking about the support on route.  

The first 3 miles was comfortable.  Pretty much bang on 9 min/mile pace and the early crush was just subsiding.  Turning out of Wellington Street and onto the downhill stretch of the South Circular to the Woolwich Ferry roundabout was incredible.  As I came bounding down the hill, there, on the left hand-side was a huge banner which had my name on, being held aloft the crowd on two sticks.  That was for me.  My friends Taj's wife, Annabelle, had made the banner with their kids and it was a privilege to have that 
support on the route.  I quickly stopped to give them all a quick peck then off I went again.  Woolwich and into Greenwich down Trafalgar Road.  The next thing to look out for was the Plums at Cutty Sark.  Jeez, the sound of the crowd at Cutty Sark is deafening.  Running around Cutty Sark hi-fiving all the Plums wearing my Plums vest was a proud moment.


The Bhambra's Banner for me...


Greenwich was brilliant.  I still felt good, sore but comfortable.  I'd run home that way from work so I was used to the road and local surroundings and was enjoying running the road in reverse.  Then the route sort of loops around the back of Deptford, off the main road.  I knew it did as I'd carefully studied the map beforehand but I could feel my pace just dropping slightly.  As the loop came back out on to the main road, I'd noticed I was just over 4hr average pace so I tried to pick up the pace but it just didn't seem to be there.  The soreness in my left hip was close to unbearable at that point.  Thinking through the options in my head, I'd decided it was damage limitation then and just to baton down the hatches, get through some more miles and then see how I was feeling at Tower Bridge before trying the gas again.  Along with a gel, I was popping a 400mg Ibuprofen tablet.  Looking back, the Ibuprofen wasn't even touching the sides then.

Just before Tower Bridge, I caught up with my club mate Dave Tyler.  I love Dave.  He really is one of the nicest guys you could wish to meet.  Dave had been struggling with injury on and off for well over a year but he's not one to complain.  He'll usually run through the pain barrier and just get on with it.  He's of the 'old school' breed despite being six months younger than me.  Dave was surprised to see me.  He was doing the calculations in his head and he reckoned I was a good 3-4 minutes up on him purely down to the position of the start lines.  I was on the red start and he was blue so he was fairly sure of that.

Now dear old Dave is a real bubbly sort (no, not sort like that!) and he's always brimming with positivity...but he looked down.  He looked in pain.  Ah, join the club.  If I can recall, it was both his foot and calf which was giving him serious issues.  I said I'd run with him up to Tower Bridge and see how I was feeling.  Tower Bridge was an amazing feeling.  The support was just as loud as at Cutty Sark and its always one of those things I'd always dreamt of.  Ever since a young kid, I'd always watched in awe at the marathon runners on the tv running over the bridge and here I was, I was joining the club.

I'd pretty much made my mind up then.  Why flog myself for the second half of the marathon when I can just try and enjoy it instead?  I was having a great time with Dave and it was just like being on a club run with the Plums.  So I told Dave I'd run with him to the very end.  I'd stop with him, he'd stop with me and we'd see each other through it.  That proved to be one of the best decisions I've ever made as I thoroughly enjoyed every last past of the VLM despite the immense pain I was suffering.  The dream of sub 4:00 had gone for another year, so lets have some fun.

The next 13 miles or so was the most enjoyable last half of a marathon I've had of the six.  To be fair, on three of them, I had fairly serious stomach cramps so it wouldn't have taken a lot to top them but this was so different in every way.

Wapping and the Isle of Dogs came and went.  Into Canary Wharf.  I have never seen crowds like that at the Wharf, like ever!  Before the race, Alison had told me she was taking Izzy and the parents up to the Wharf and they'd be pretty near to her offices at KPMG.  Thankfully, they saw me before I saw them.  Dave and I ran across through the crowd and I got mobbed pretty much.  The look on my Dad's face was one I've never seen him show before.  He looked proud.  Ha, I know he is proud but he never usually shows it...but this time, he really did.

Miles 18-20 went by, out of the Wharf and back into Shadwell and back towards the Bridge.  The Plums Marathon Queen Gina Little, 70-odd years young, over 500 marathons to her name caught up with us as Shadwell.  'Hello Boys, how are you doing?  enjoying it?'.  She looked as fresh as a daisy.  We had a chat for about 200 yards and then she sped off into the distance.

There's no denying that we both felt the pain in the last 10k.  I'd taken more Ibuprofen along the way but it wasn't helping in the slightest by that stage.

I crossed the line with Dave in 4:24:09.  A PB by 23 seconds in the end.  Had I not bumped into Dave, who knows what would have happened.  I likely would have run slightly faster, albeit the downside I would have flogged myself harder and ended up in even more trouble.




I can't tell you how good the beer was when I met back with the family at Horseguards Parade afterwards.

Home.  Ice bath for 30 mins.  More Ibuprofen.  Straight to the Plums post-marathon party and got considerably drunk and it was all good.

The next morning was a wake up call.  My left hip was in all kinds of bother.  I was pretty sure it was the hip flexor as thats what various internet searches had thrown up.  More Ibuprofen, a little stiffness, a lot of soreness.  I had already promised myself two weeks off before attempting to run again just to give myself a rest.

So two weeks later.  My first run day post-marathon.  I'd been looking forward to it for almost the whole two weeks.  I pulled up in the first 200 yards.  I was proper sore still.  This wasn't just sore, it was painful.  I needed to go get this checked out properly.

As time would have it, time almost disappeared on us.  We stayed overnight at Bray as we had been to the Fat Duck, Alison's friend Gemma got married and then we went to the US on honeymoon.  3 and a bit weeks in LA, Santa Barbara, Monterrey, San Francisco and then driving a RV to Sacremento, Lake Tahoe, Yosemite National Park, Death Valley and ending up in Las Vegas.  I'd taken my kit with my to the US and I tried to run 3 times.  Each time I pretty much felt a lot of pain.

Within a week of being back, I'd booked a long overdue appointment to see my physio, Anthony.  The main I was describing was about right.  It was my hip and hip flexors.  He gave me some exercises to do.  Came back two weeks later and there had been no improvement.  Another examination made him think it was the hip joint itself which put the absolute fear of god into me.  He decided that we'd continue doing the exercises for another two weeks and reassess.  On that third appointment, I was complaining of discomfort further round the front of my abs.  It was at that point, he made me follow him into the adjoining gym and he got me on the treadmill and he told me to tell him where it hurt.  I put both hands in the same place.  He was convinced I had a hernia.

Great.  The good news is it isn't my hip but the bad news, they're going to have to cut meopen and sort out my hernia.  Deepest joy.  For a man as squeamish as me, the alarm bells were already ringing.  How the hell am I going to cope with this?  If I'm honest, I didn't.  It took me another two weeks to book the ultrasound scan and when I had the scan done, I nearly passed out twice when I was prodded by the doctor, deep in my groin.  I was advised by the doc that the only solution was to have an op.  Fabulous.  I wanted to be sick.  I just couldn't cope with the thought of being cut open.

Because of this, I didn't chase up referral letter from the ultrasound straight away.  I was in shock and just didn't know what to do with myself.  I ended up seeing a hypnotherapist for a couple of sessions.  It may have helped a little bit but there was no way I was going to spend any more money on the very expensive appointments.

Finally got the referral letter and eventually made the appointment to see the surgeon and I saw him last week.  So its just over 5 months since I last ran properly.  The pain and soreness has subsided but I'm still aware of some soreness at times.

After the surgeon examined me last week, he told me he isn't convinced the problem is hernia related.  The ultrasound was inconclusive and I'm to have a MRI scan (tonight) before next steps are decided.  His opinion is either I'm experiencing a variety of 'Gilmore's Groin' or a tear in the Transversalis Fascia.  I've googled, I felt queasy.

So that's where I'm currently at.

Next steps.  Get the MRI done, then let's see whats in store.  Surgery is possible, not guaranteed.  One thing is for sure, the surgeon has told me I've definitely run my last marathon.

I really do hope I can get back to running at some point but what will be will be.

So you can see it has been an action-packed 8 months or so since the last post.  Special mentions elsewhere to Alison (for gaining yet another well deserved promotion and gaining an awesome husband!), belated congratulations to my brother and sister-in-law Steve & Sammy on tying the knot and finally, congratulations to my brother Steve and his Fiancee Lindsay on getting engaged.  I'm bloody overjoyed :) 

Oh and fingers crossed for Izzy who gets her 11+ results tomorrow.  Eeeeek.


Tuesday, 23 February 2016

New Year...new marathon training schedule

Happy New Year.

Its been almost three months since my last post.  Life is a little too hectic these days to be updating the blog regularly and I really must make a conscious effort to do so.

I've had some sad news too which I'll share in a separate post but I'll concentrate this most on what has been going on in terms of my running.

Despite two minor blips, losing a whole week of training just before Christmas to man flu and a quick trip to the GP and cutting my mileage down last week because I was suffering from an infection of the 'upper respiratory track' (below my neck but not down as far as my chest to be a chest infection), training for the VLM has been pretty much spot on.

I intended to do a bit more cross-training this time around but it hasn't quite worked out like that so far...



Distribution of Training - Stats correct to 22/02/2016

I've upped my mileage for VLM training, compared to my previous training for Paris 2014 and Brighton 2015, as you'll see below for the period 1st Jan to 22nd Feb for each year.


VLM 2016 Training Mileage - Stats correct to 22/02/2016

Brighton 2015 Training Mileage (01/01/2015 - 22/02/2015)

Paris 2014 Training Mileage (01/01/2014 - 22/02/2014)

I have already got another 12 hours and 80 miles in the legs and my performances are beginning to benefit from the increased workload.  Unfortunately, in 2015, I was recovery from a very bad December in terms of a three week chest infection with severe asthma symptoms and despite trying to play catch up, the lack of mileage in the legs showed on race day when I cramped up on 14 miles.

I've made a conscious effort to run my LSRs slowly.  In years previous, I've run them far too quickly and my legs probably haven't benefitted as much as they should have done.  The theory is that in the early days, the LSRs build up the blood vessels in the legs and increase the circulation.  This, added with some fast tempo running and some intervals gives the legs and cardiovascular system the ideal support and training for the punishment of the marathon.

As of today, I've ran LSRs of 10, 13.1, 10, 10, 17, 18, 14, 17, 12 and 12.  Now I have done the base work, I can begin to try and increase the pace now.  I'm also trying to make sure I run cumulative mileage on consecutive days to try to replicate the feeling of running on tired legs.  Nothing can ever really prepare you for the punishing nature of the marathon but cumulative mileage in the legs goes some way to trying to address that.

In my three and a bit years of running, I've hardly done any dedicated speed work in the form of intervals.  I haven't been a fan of the pain and I've avoided them at all costs.  However, to get better, fitter, stronger and faster, intervals are required.  So I have been forcing myself to go and do them.  No more avoidance.

My last set of intervals looked as follows:



Interval set (5 x 1km hard, 400m recovery):  Lap data from Strava

Looking back at my data on Garmin Connect and Strava, this set was the most consistent set I've ever performed.  Min/mile paces of 8:02, 7:58, 7:57, 8:00, 7:55.  Given my Fenix 3 calculates my Lactate Threshold at around 8:15 min/mile pace, these were pretty much spot on.  I really do need to buckle down and do these religiously as they will benefit me more than anything else now.

Nutrition-wise, I'm still only taking gels on the LSRs.  Nothing on lesser runs of 10 miles unless I'm running tempo pace straight through the front door from work and I haven't fueled beforehand.

Obviously we'll have to see how it goes over the next two months on the way to the VLM but so far so good.  The legs are feeling reasonably good.  A good sign was the 11.25 mile tempo run I had last night.  I ran it with a reasonable amount of effort and although the legs were buzzing a little on finishing, within an hour the legs felt as though I'd just been out for a stroll.  All positive signs.





The one downside at the moment is the slight discomfort in the hips.  As its at the front, I've self-diagnosed as hip flexors.  Its reacting ok with rest and it settles down but any kind of LSR and it flares again for 24 hrs.  I will keep an eye on it and if it doesnt settle down then I'll book a visit with my physio.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Good news...bad news...good news...

Since my last update, a hell of a lot has been going on.  Time just seems to be disappearing into the ether as we approach Christmas at a rate of knots.

Firstly, spring marathon.

As you know, I didn't get in the VLM by the ballot... so I'd booked the Rotterdam marathon instead.

Unfortunately, I didn't get in the VLM by the Plumstead Runners club ballot either.  Richard, Paul and Dawn were all worthy winners, given they had spent the previous year marshaling in the cold damp conditions at Cutty Sark.  Trust me, as much as it is a brilliant experience cheering on the runners, it does get a tad tedious when the 'walkers' start coming through.  I'm going to sound like a b*tch saying that but if you're going to sign up to run a marathon, please actually do the training and try to run as much of it as you can.

Anyhow, following the club ballot, I went home with the proper sulks and it lasted a good few days.  I went off to run my first cross-country race of the season at Swanley Park and it was as close to a disaster as it could get, so I went home even more grumpy.  With Alison abroad at the time, I had plenty of time to mull things over in my head once I'd taken Izzy home to her Mum.  Once the beer started to flow, the thoughts became irrational.  'Why do I bother running?  I need to find something else to do!'  Thoughts of restarting cycling, taking up something else were flooding my mind.

I woke up on the Monday morning with the feeling that I had a proper spell of depression coming down on me.  Panic.  Tried to get on with things as best as I could.  An out-of-the-blue Facebook status update told everyone I had the hump and the Plums rallied around to cheer me up.  I was persuaded to come along on the Monday night.

I turned up Monday night and the first person I bumped into was Richard, the club chairman.

"Hi John.  I may have some good news for you!"..

The ears constantly pricked up.  Richard began to explain that when he started the cross country race, he felt his Achilles tendon 'pop' just 50 yards over the start line.  Not good.  Not good at all.  Then it dawned on me...

"You came out of the Plums draw as first substitute didn't you?"

Ah yes, yes I did.  Hold on a minute, that doesn't really help.  Richard can just defer the place to next year.

But no.  Richard didn't want to do that.  He was happy to transfer his place to me.

This can't be happening, can it?  Well it was.

Richard had done the most selfless thing any runner could possibly do.  VLM places are rarer than gold dust.  Richard emailed Graham that night and the day after it was officially confirmed.  I would be running the VLM in a Plums shirt.

Another event ticked off the bucket list.  I finally get to run my hometown marathon.  I finally get to run the marathon where I know all the roads, I know exactly where I am on the route and where I can feed off the best support in the world.  Bring it on.

I'd like to officially thank Richard for his selfless gesture.  It doesn't get better than that in my eyes.  It's on a par with giving away a winning lottery ticket.

I've finally got a Bumblebee Mag...


While this was all going on, my road running has been getting back to around my best for about 12 months.  All the injuries seemed to have cleared up and I was beginning to feel strong again.  I'd run a couple of good 10ks and a very good Monday night club run, putting in my fastest 8 miler in ages.  Around my 10 mile PB pace but this run included several hills and my average pace included the very slow loop backs where we pick up the slower runners.  That has given me a lot of confidence.

However, during that run, I aggravated my left calf.  If I'm honest, I know I've been carrying a niggle in the calf for the best part of 6 weeks or so now but it doesn't seem to be getting any better.  It doesn't hurt at all, it feels stiff more than anything and can be sore after a run.  More like a bruise than anything else.  The time I feel it the most is when I get out of bed in the morning for a few minutes before the blood starts flowing properly.

I made the decision to take 7 days off running to see if it would clear up.  Yesterday was the end of that 7 days and even before I ran I could still feel it.  I managed to do just short of 10k but I could feel it before, after and during.  I can't describe it as pain, more of an annoyance.

Next job is to do the old 400mg Ibuprofen 3 times a day for 7 days to see if it is tendonitis.  Having spoken to Dave and Paul at the Plums, I've got a couple of other things I can try.  If it doesn't react positively, the only other option I've really got left it to see a physio.

The last injury lay off as made up my mind that I need to start cross training again.  I hugely benefited from cycling when I was doing both disciplines back in 2013.  Last year my running started to tail off again so I'm hoping that some cross training gives me another lease of life.

I've spoken before about our little home gym project.  After a few delays, we've finally got the base laid now.  Once it is totally dry, the builder can start erecting the building.  We've been promised it will be ready for Christmas which is exciting.  With this in mind, I've just invested in a new Concept 2 model D rower.  The best in the business in terms of a full body workout.  It's scheduled to arrive tomorrow so can't wait to get it set up and have a play on it.

The plan is to run 3 days a week, row 3 days a week and have a rest day.  This will fit into the 3 days a week marathon training programme I've been researching.

Concept 2 model D rower.  Bring it on.