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.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Kent AC - Sidcup 10 Road Race

Ah, race day.  It had been a while since I'd been involved in one of these.  It cannot be said I'm a serial racer.  With only two official half marathons, four marathons and three KFL cross-country races behind me, this was probably the first race I'd entered since the Bexley Grammar senior cross country competition in the '93/'94 academic year!

I was wide awake by 7am.  I left Alison in bed and crept downstairs to the kitchen.  It was all about the customary pre-run porridge, a cup of tea and catch up with MOTD.  Due to the fixture scheduling, Spurs had MOTD all to themselves last night which was nice.

What the hell was that out of the kitchen window?  Was it really sunlight?  Well this was a surprise.  After what feels like months of training in sub-zero temperatures, there's always a day early in the year which catches everyone by surprise and this potentially could be it.

Hmm, tights or shorts?  The tights won.  So did the sleeveless base layer and running vest.  May as well treat this race as a proper marathon warm up in marathon conditions.

Jumped in the car and drove the 15 mins from Petts Wood to Chislehurst & Sidcup Grammar School.  I remember vividly my last visit to 'Chis & Sid', way back twenty years ago as a naive teenager, with a tendency to flail outside off stump in the 'corridor of uncertainty' to any bowler able to bowl a decent line and length.

'Chis & Sid' smashed us to all parts, totting up 250+ in 40 overs.  The gulf in class was clear when we were sent packing with a dismal 19 all out.  Hopeless just about summed us up.  We were back at school before the lower school had even seen the afternoon's lessons out.  The highlight of the day was our stand-in PE teacher sharing out the B&H Gold cigarettes to console us after a heavy defeat.

Anyhow, back to present time...

I arrived at the car park and quickly dashed into the building to grab some safety pins to attach my number to my running vest and I was all ready to go.  I was surrounded by proper athletes here.  There were running vests on show from all around.  They were all doing their warm ups in the car park and there was I, reading the paper and listening to Kistsory on the car DAB.

Plums vest all set for the Sidcup 10

With 15 mins to go, I thought I really should go and do some sort of warm up and actually go and find out where we were starting from.  Luckily, as soon as I walked back into the building, I bumped into fellow Plum Lee Walker who said it was just him, Richard John and Dawn Saunders running today.

After a quick comfort stop and a chat and photo with my fellow Plums, we walked down to the start on the other side of the car park.  It was a reasonably small turn out, around 400 runners but thats more than enough given the route involved.

Plums on tour.  From left to right:  Richard, Dawn, myself and Lee W

I had absolutely nothing to fear with the Sidcup 10.  I'd run all parts of the route with the Plums at one time or another, so knew exactly what I was faced with.

Nice and straight forward. A 3 lap race, the 1st lap being a little longer with a slight deviation around a block but that was about it. Out of the school and turning left onto Hurst Road and then following the circuit anti-clockwise via Harcourt Avenue, Sherwood Park Avenue, Willersley Avenue and Halfway Street.

When I signed up to the race, my goal target was completing the 10 miles in around 8:30 min/mile pace.  Anywhere between 1:25 and 1:26 I would have been very happy.  My Half Marathon PB pace is 8:53 min/mile pace set back in April 2013 so I was keen to lay down a marker.

As you can see from the table below, I havent ran 10 miles very often and never at 'race pace'...

I have to admit that I didnt really enjoy the next 1hr 25 mins as much as I probably should have done.  I went off far far too quick in the first mile and paid for it later in the race.

The 4 Plums started together.  Dawn was already into the distance as we approached the end of Hurst Road.  Lee Walker was with me up until we left Sherwood Park Avenue for the first climb up Willersley Avenue and Richard had already dropped behind.

A first mile of 8:10 was suicidal really.  I knew my goal pace was 8:30 min/mile pace so why on earth I allowed myself to get sucked into the race I'll never know but this happens time and time again.  Miles 2-4 was comfortable, 5 was labouring and 6-8 were hard but not quite a real struggle.  By the 8 mile marker, I knew I was almost home and comfortable again despite an almost labouring pace of just under 9 min/mile.

The marshalls done a sterling job, stopping the traffic, encouraging the athletes and providing us with water at the water station.  I was well in the zone as I approached the water station for the first time with my head down and only looked up when I heard a cry of "Come on you Plum" to see Les Pullen smiling at me.

Les has had a tough old time recently following a heart attack at the Portsmouth Marathon just before Christmas yet he still turns up religiously at events like this, unable to run but supporting everyone else around.  What a top bloke!  He really should be up for some sort of inspirational award for his efforts.

On the end of the second lap, Brian Page asked me if I'd seen any 'cockwombles' on my travels while he was happily snapping away at the runners.  Thanks to Brian for the picture below.

1:25:24 on the Garmin as I crossed the line.  Official time of 1:25:28 but no chip timings so going with the Garmin as more accurate. Second Plum home behind Dawn who was flying, followed in shortly after by Richard and Lee came home in just over 1:30.

Hit my target window of 1:25-1:26 so was happy, setting a new PB for 10 miles of 2 mins and 8 seconds was the icing on the cake.  Hmmm cake, did someone mention cake?  Running 8:32 min/mile pace, I really should now be looking to get my Half Marathon PB down to 1:50ish if I properly concentrate on my pacing and dont go out too fast.

10 miles is a marmite distance.  You either love it or hate it.  Its stuck between a rock and a hard place.  I'm most definitely a fan.

Despite the race route being local and running these roads numerous times with the Plums over the last couple of years, I'll definitely be back to run the Sidcup 10 again.  Its a real good race and one I would recommend.  If you get bored easily by running the pavements then this isnt the race for you.

On my way to another PB in the Sidcup 10 (Photo courtesy of Brian Page of SLGR)

The Plums post-race