Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Marathon #5 - Brighton Marathon 2015 Race Report

'Time is a healer' is a common phrase which I've heard over the years.

Its a good job I didn't come on here on Sunday evening otherwise I think I would have poured my heart out to anyone that would listen.  I've given it just about 3 days now but I'm still smarting.  No, smarting isn't the right word.  Hurting would be more appropriate.  I hurt like I never knew I could.

Quite simply, Sunday did not go to plan.  So much for thinking I was capable of around  a 4:03-4:08 finish time.

The first half did go to plan, within reason...

First 13.1 mile splits from Strava via Garmin Connect

...through halfway in 2:03:41.  Not bad.  A tiny little bit slower than I'd planned but near enough perfect for the planned negative split.  Then it all went wrong.  Very wrong.

Let me take a step back here.  Saturday was straightforward.  Fellow Plum Lee Edwards drove over to us and Alison gave us a lift to Petts Wood station.  Train to Brighton was a reasonable £22 for 2 singles with the Gold Card discount applied.  Straight to the expo to pick our numbers up, bumping into another Plum, Lynne with her partner on the walk from the station.  Collected our numbers, had a quick walk about the expo and saw European 10,000m champion Jo Pavey being interviewed and then we walked down to our 'Guest House' via the Wetherspoons to catch the end of the Grand National, the first disappointment of the weekend.

Checked in.  Now this Guest House was basic.  It certainly wasn't a hotel.  A small room each with a tiny shower and shared toilet facilities.  Good job it wasn't any more than the basic £45 per night, which for the record did include a full English Breakfast which we didnt eat because that would have been suicidal before a marathon.

A quick bite to eat in Harry Ramsden's (hmm, maybe Fish & Chips wasn't the best preparation carb-wise in retrospect?), a very slowly drank pint in one of the local pubs, where we saw Colin Calderwood, ex-Spurs Centre Back, now Assistant Manager at Brighton & Hove Albion FC and then it was back to our rooms for an early night. 

I'd eaten well on Saturday.  Porridge for breakfast, pasta for lunch, grazing on a tub of flapjack mini bites, Fish & Chips for dinner, a sandwich about 10pm.  I really can't say I didn't carb-load because I did.  Had I drank enough though?  Thinking back, possibly not!

As Saturday went on, I appeared to be carrying a niggle in my calf.  I'm not sure what it was but it wasn't there first thing on Sunday morning.

Now customary pre-race Plums vest and bib number shot...

I felt good Sunday morning.  Really good.  The legs felt good, I felt good in myself.  I'd had my porridge and was good to go.  I met Lee in reception and we started the slow walk down to the start.  Along the way, I realised I hadn't had anything to drink that morning and I grabbed a bottle of water from one of the water stations.  I was absolutely gasping.  My stomach felt a little tense so I slowly sipped from the bottle but I could have downed the lot.  Thinking back now, I felt very dry.

We bumped into more Plums on the way down to the start, as Dawn and Colin caught up with us.  Just as we met them, Lynne had just shot past in the 10k pack.

Dumped the bags in the left luggage trucks, we said our farewells, wished each other good luck and headed for the start pens.  15 minutes or so later, we were off.  Lee and Colin were in the first red wave, I was in the second blue wave.

Colin, Lee and Me just before the start...

The first mile was hectic to say the least.  Very crowded and on the residential roads outside Preston Park.  It thinned out after that.  I felt my calf in the first mile or so but it settled down after that and it went to the back of my mind.  Somewhere just after 5k, I heard "Daddddddddddddddddy".  Quickly looking left, I saw Izzy jumping up and down with Alison and my brother Steve.  I quickly changed direction, planted a kiss on Izzy's lips, quickly remembered to kiss Alison too then I was off again.  The first 10k went by in a flash.  58:10.  9:23 min/mile pace.  Spot on.  Miles 7-13 went reasonably well too.  At halfway, 02:03:41 was at 9:26 min/mile pace.  Bang on the pace window I needed and felt reasonably good.  The left hamstring was feeling a little tight but nothing that couldn't be managed.  I'd spotted Izzy, Alison and Steve at halfway just as the winner was coming back into the finishing straight and Alison said to me afterwards that she'd checked my time, said I was on target pace and I was looking reasonably comfortable.

To describe the second half, I can use one word.  Hell.  I have never felt anything quite like it before.  Just after halfway, the pain kicked in.  My legs felt heavy, I felt drained.  Just after 14 miles, the course turns into this little out and back detour, with a 1.5 mile upward drag.  Its not really a hill as such, its just a long drawn out drag with becomes taxing.  On 99/100 runs, it really wouldn't have bothered me but this was my nemesis.

Just as I turned in, I looked up and into the distance.  I could see it was going upwards, I could see thousands in front of me, I could feel the pain and I could feel the heat all around me.  That was the mental wobble.  I knew it.  I had to keep going, I fault against it for the best part of half a mile but I was done for.  Then the cramp set in.  Left hamstring first, right soon after in the space of 100 yards.  That was it.  I was walking.


I did not train for 3-4 months to be walking.  What would the Plums ever thing of me?  I could imagine Robin screaming at me "Come on JohnBoy, we're a running club, not a bloody walking club!"

I tried to run again.  The pain was horrific.  I could feel a blister forming on my right foot.  I could feel my left calf niggle again then the cramp kicked in properly.  I think I'd managed about 300 yards before having to walk again.  There was no coming back from that.  No matter how much liquid I took in from that point onwards, the cramp had done me.

A mile or so later, still climbing that drag, my stomach went into "OMG, I'm going to be unloading in the next 30 seconds so you need to stop....and stop NOW!" mode.  By pure coincidence, thankfully, there was a church to my right with a sign saying the toilets were open to runner.

In I went.  Get that vision from Dumb & Dumber back in your heads.  Thats exactly what it was like.  Bloody hell, this was horrific.  Now, imagine trying to haul yourself off that porcelain throne after running the best part of 16-17 miles by that point with cramp in both quads, cramp in the groin, I even had cramp in my arms.  I was done for.

As I told Alison and Izzy afterwards, if they hadnt been there watching, I would have pulled out at that point as I was in pieces.  The next 9 miles or so was quite possible the most uncomfortable 9 miles I have ever run.  I dont think I ran a complete mile without stopping for the rest of the marathon.

Second 13.1 mile splits from Strava via Garmin Connect
The splits from the second half of the marathon tell a story.  I completed the second half in 2:39:48 for a finish of 4:43:29.

I crossed the line a broken and very dejected man.  No matter how much you plan, there's always a possibility something can go wrong for whatever reason.

So what did go wrong?

To be honest, I really don't know for sure.  I can only pin point one thing and that was the cramp.  Cramp can only be down to dehydration mostly.  In future, I need to ensure I drink more, both before and during the marathon.  Thinking back, I needed a wee for the first part of the race.  Pretty much from the start line to mile 12ish when I could no longer hold it anymore.  Had I not needed a wee, I probably would have drank a lot more.

I'd definitely eaten the right things beforehand.  I'd taken my gels religiously every 4 miles as per what I'd been training with but that wasn't even enough on this occasion.

I just have to put it down as one of those days unfortunately.

Two special mentions.  One, for Melanie Roberts, who gave me the biggest hug at around 22-23 miles as I passed her and she made me feel like a superhero for about 30 seconds, and second, the lady Sittingbourne Strider who's banter distracted me from the pain in the last couple of miles.

A huge thank you to Alison who has put up with me being 'MMP' (Mr Moany Pants) in the last couple of days since the Marathon.  I've had a bad case of DOMS (for the record, I still ache all over now almost 72 hours later) and I've been like a bear with a sore head about the time I clocked.  It was brilliant to have Izzy down in Brighton watching me.  If it wasn't for them two being there I probably wouldn't have finished.

I'm definitely not posting my race photos up this time around. I don't look pretty and the pain is clear for all to see and I dont want to be reminded by what I went through in this run but I can share with you a nice photo of me and Izzy when I got home after a much needed long hot soak in the bath...

Hopefully, I can recover in time to get some miles behind me before I attempt to crack my PB again at the Kent Road Runner marathon on Saturday 30th May.  

For the record, the other Plums finished in:

Richard Vero 3:32:21 (Mr Chairman is just a machine!)
Colin Hyde 3:34:51
Lee Edwards 4:05:09 (despite a stop at an Ambulance suffering from pins & needles!)
Andy Vero 4:16:41 (a massive 15 mins PB from 2014 so well done that man!)

[Edit:  A special mention for Lee Edwards too, or should be wall you Lee Edmunds from now on?  A top bloke and bloody good company throughout the weekend. Apologies if I was a bit of a grumpy sod on the way home!]

Monday, 23 March 2015

The LSR when it all 'clicks'

Well one day it was going to click.

I've heard this many times.  Yesterday's long slow run, my last properly long run before the Brighton Marathon, possibly was the moment that it all clicked.

We'd had this day planned in the diary for a few weeks.  I was to meet the Plums at Bexleyheath Sports Club to leave promptly at 8:30am where we would run two loops, one of approx 9.7 miles and one just over 11 miles, giving us somewhere between 20-21 miles taking into account loop backs.  The marathoners would run the two loops, those that wanted to run for fun could do the first loop.

The preparation started the day before.  If I was to treat this as marathon 'practice', then I had to try and eat properly the day before.  I'm aware I've never really got the carb-loading right in the run up to my four previous marathons but I've read that you need to almost constantly graze during days before.  So with that in mind, I ate as follows:

  • 8:00 am - bowl of porridge
  • 10:45 am - a small cheese sandwich make from the knobbler off the loaf
  • 12:30 am - a round and a half of ham sandwiches followed by three pancakes
  • 4:30pm - a 400g pasta ready meal (approx 450 calories)
  • 8:00am - a 400g pasta ready meal with stir fry vegetables
  • Almost 9/10ths of a tub of flapjack mini bites
Spent the rest of the evening on the sofa, went to bed at 11:30pm.  Alarm set for 6:30am.

I was awake a couple of minutes before the alarm.  I turned it off before it would wake Alison and I tried to creep out of bed but she was already awake.  I told her to go back to sleep and went to get ready.

Breakfast consisted of:
  • 6:45am - bowl of porridge and a cup of tea
  • 7:30am - pint of water
I then had just over an hour for nature to take its course then popped the now obligatory dose of pre-LSR Immodium.

Quickly popped in to say goodbye to Alison and she told me to take care which I thought was a little strange, given I was running with others unlike all my other LSR but something was clearly lost in translation as you'll discover later.

Jumped in the car and was at the club in 10 minutes.  Shame all traffic cant be like 8am on a Sunday morning.

I wasn't the first there.  Club Chairman Richard was getting changed out of the back of his car and Lee Walker was sitting in his car.  The car park began to fill up.  Quite a turn out for a Sunday morning.

Back L-R:  Paul, Andy, Peter, Lee, Richard, Russell, Steph, Jim, Madeline, Dawn.  Front: Gina, Me & Colin

Bang on 8:30am, Richard explained the route, which would take us into Welling, up Welling Way, down to Well Hall, up to Eltham and down to Mottingham then back through Avery Hill and Blackfen and past Danson Park to the club.  We'd arrived back at the club, have 2 mins to decide whether to carry on then we'd be off again and he'd explain the route on the way...and off we went.

Colin & Peter disappeared into the distance, followed by Paul, Dawn and Russell and the rest of us marathoners stuck together.  Apart from a couple of Plums that disappeared into the bushes at Oxleas Woods to answer calls of nature, the group stuck together for the first loop.  I was pretty much bang on my required 9:30 min/mile pace window so I was happy.  I was feeling good.

Back at the club, only a few of us carried on to do the second loop.  Richard led myself, Andy, Gina and Richard John back past Danson Park down to Blendon, through Bexley Village, out down the North Cray Road then back to the club via Sidcup Hill, Rectory Lane, Hurst Lane and Willersley Avenue at Blackfen.

As in my last LSR, I ensured I took my gels at regular intervals.  Again, every 4 miles at 4, 8, 12, 16 then I'd decide whether to have a 5th nearer the time.

I cannot begin to stress how strong I felt throughout this run.

Overall, 21 miles on the nose at 9:27 min/mile pace. 26.2 miles at that pace equates to 4:07:35. If I can do that on Marathon Day then I'm going to be on top of the world.

As you can see from my splits, my pace was pretty steady throughout and I managed to pick it up a bit in the last couple of miles.  I even managed a 8:56.1 in mile 21.  First time I'd got to mile 20 still feeling like I had something left in the tank.  I couldnt get over how strong I felt throughout the run.  It appears I may have just found my correct carb-loading routine through much trial and error.

I could feel the smile on my face when I'd got back to the club.  I was grinning like a cheshire cat in all honesty.

I went back to the car to quickly get changed into some dry clothes and grabbed my phone to text Alison that I'd be on my way back shortly.  However, she'd beaten me to it...

Ooops.  I'd just assumed that I'd mentioned that I was running from the club on Sunday morning.  Surely that would have been obvious I would have needed the car?  As it turns out, I hadnt told Alison I needed the car.  She'd got out of bed later and just as she was about to leave to run some errands, she'd discovered no car on the driveway. A quick run around the neighbours to see if anyone had seen the car earlier in the day proved fruitless, Alison couldnt get through to me as my phone was well and truly switched off, she felt she had no choice but to call the police.  Tbh, I dont blame her either.

Anyhow, she let me off lightly when I sheepishly phoned to tell her that I had the car.  After one embarrassing phone call later to the Police to tell them that the car was no longer 'stolen', I was on my way home.

Stolen Car drama aside, this is exactly what I needed with Brighton only less than three weeks away now.  My confidence is at an all time high.  I really didnt foresee this when I started running again after my enforced break at Christmas and my very slow and poor January.

On paper, it appears I'm on for a PB but of course, race day could be very different indeed.  I just need to keep my fingers crossed now and ensure I get my pre and mid-race nutrition right beforehand and on the day.  Speaking to Richard and Andy mid-run yesterday, both of them told me that Brighton is quite a flat marathon, apart from a little small incline for about 400-500ft around mile 4-5 so everything is pointing in the direction of them two magic letters.

I'm now into my taper.  I plan to run 13 miles maximum next Saturday with my usual two-to-three shorter runs in midweek then will wind down my mileage in time for Marathon weekend. Then hopefully I can get to the start line in one piece and smash my PB.

Friday, 20 March 2015

The LSR from hell...after work!

With Alison's Mum's surprise 70th birthday party planned for the weekend, there was only one way I was going to be able to get a LSR (thats 'long slow run' for the non-marathoners reading) in and that was after work.

I work at Queen Mary, University of London in a Financial Reporting role.  Please dont use the 'A' word... and I dont mean a-hole either!  My job involves sitting for long periods in front of gigantic excel spreadsheets and losing the will to live.  The thought of running after work drives me on to get through the day.  That thought of pulling on the Brooks Glycerin just literally drags you along and then all the stresses just disappear in seconds as the cadence increases along with the heart rate.

I'd run from Welling to Whitechapel a couple of times in the past but as most will know, I've recently moved to Petts Wood so this would be a different animal altogether.  As the crow flies, you're looking at 13-14 miles with the bare minimum of fuss but that would mean coming past Canary Wharf, using the Greenwich foot tunnel and all them steps up and down and then getting through Greenwich whether it be navigating the hill in Greenwich Park or taking a slight detour.  Whatever direction I choose from Greenwich means going up.  The other option is into the City and over Tower Bridge, run back through Surrey Quays and Deptford and onto Greenwich, where I'd manage a flattish 6 miles before taking into account any hills, which would allow me to get into some kind of rhythm.

Bearing that in mind, I'd navigated a 16 miler from Whitechapel to Petts Wood and attempted it at the beginning of March...

I ran reasonably well but the last 4 miles seemed to be a struggle.  As planned I headed into Aldgate, over Tower Bridge and down towards Deptford and Greenwich but pretty much from the Greenwich one way system, it goes up.  Up and over the hill to Lewisham then the long drag to and from Lee Green to Eltham Hill all the way up to Eltham High Street.  There's a little relief running down to Avery Hill but pretty much from the start of New Eltham station, the road ramps up again through Five Ways, up Green Lane then into Chislehurst.  Despite the hills, I know I ran well.  I was pretty much bang on my target 9:30 min/mile pace but I felt ridiculously tired when I got home and spent the next 90 minutes soaking in the bath.  It was a good job that Alison had gone off to Yoga otherwise I dont think I would have stayed in that long!

So I needed to follow that 16 mile up with something a little more substantial.  Not as far as 20 miles but somewhere in the region of 18 - 18.5.  Just to get into the zone of the wall to see how I felt.

I was keen to actually practice my nutrition for this run too.  In all my previous LSRs, I tend to take it easy and have gels when I think I need them.  This time around, I was to take a gel at every 4 miles whether I needed it or not.

So on to the Thursday night run.  1 x 500ml bottle of High 5 4:1 energy drink and 1 x 500ml bottle of water and 4 gels.  Gels were to be taken at 4, 8, 12 and 16 miles.  No pre-run porridge.  2 bacon rolls for breakfast and a double helping of Tesco's Spicy Chicken Pasta for lunch.  4 hours to digest and would pop two immodium tabs before leaving the office.

Off I went at 4:35pm...

It was warmer than any of my previous LSRs. The sun was out and Tower Bridge looked resplendent up against a pale blue sky.  I was determined not to go out so quick and keep to my 9:30 min/mile pacing but yet again miles 1 and 2 was far too quick, both 9:12.  I made a conscious effort to slow down but when mile 3 completed in 9:46 I'm beginning to think I dont want to get into that slow rhythm so made myself speed up again.  Miles 4-10 were much more like it and I started to settle.

My stomach just doesnt react well to taking gels.  Had the first one bang on mile 4 and my belly was gurgling away for a good couple of minutes.  Same at mile 8.  By mile 12, within minutes I was feeling queasy.  It is becoming an issue and I really do need to look for an alternative but this close to the marathon, I cant begin tampering now.  I'll get through Brighton and start experimenting.  I'll just have to make sure I'll immodium myself up before the start!

Unlike the previous LSR home from work, this one felt pretty good.  The only time I stopped the watch was when I was crossing major roads.  Once I'd settled into my rhythm, the run was enjoyable although a tad on the lonely side.

Whitechapel to Greenwich was good.  On the way out of Lewisham and into Lee Green, the pavements got less crowded and it was properly me on my own, apart from the crowded 500 odd yards of Eltham High Street and the late Thursday night shoppers.  By the time I had dropped into Avery Hill and on to Blendon, I was bang on rhythm and it felt like I was eating the miles up.  My pace had gotten quicker and I was flying.  i knew I could go quicker but I kept it back and stuck to my planned average pace.

After the Sidcup Hill descent and successfully navigated my way under the Ruxler Corner roundabout subway onto Sevenoaks Way, the mindset changed.  Bang on 16 miles, do I take another gel.  No, lets see what happens.  The next 2.25 miles dragged like no other.  Its definitely a head thing.  Being so close to home yet it felt so far away.  The pace dropped a little, the quads started to burn, every step just felt more tender underfoot.  I had a little discomfort in my IT band, one of my socks had started to rub, you know the kind of thing.  The little things starting to add up.  I was approaching the wall.  It had been a long day and had become even longer with the LSR home.  Sevenoaks Way towards Orpington is an uphill drag albeit a gentle one but it was draining more out of me than I could imagine.

The Garmin bleeped at 18 miles but I just wanted to do a bit more.  Not much, just to get myself to a wall I could see in the distance for a quick sit down and I could phone Alison to say I was done and could she start running the bath.  As it turns out, she was out shopping!  After the slow half a mile walk back home, I'd just beaten her back to the house.  I was working through my stretching routine when she pulled up in the car.  Straight indoors to an ice cold pint of milk and a hot bath.  The legs felt reasonably ok when I came back downstairs 30 minutes later.

All in all, the two LSRs home from work have been good but they're more mentally draining than being overly physically taxing.

I'm happy with my pacing, I'm reasonably happy how things are going so can look forward to Brighton with some confidence hopefully.   I'm really looking forward to my last LSR which will be with the Plums on Sunday 22nd March.  They'll be quite a few of us going out so will be really good for morale and will boost everyone's confidence.