Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Marathon #3 - Kent Coastal Marathon (and celebrating Gina's 500th marathon with the Plums)

Whoever thought it would be a good idea to run marathons first thing in the morning, eh?  Surely a nice afternoon start would be a better idea?

Alarm set for 5am.  I was out of bed before the iPhone had bleeped for the second time.

Pack ruck sack.
Cup of tea.
Toilet again...

Maybe the nerves had set in already?  I've blogged in the past about my issues with long distance running and the effects it has on my stomach.  I need to feel comfortable otherwise I could be in trouble.  I didnt feel comfortable in the slightest.  As usual for any long distance run, I opted to take Imodium to avoid any Paula Radcliffe-esque moments later in the day.  However, given this was my first ever marathon which involved a long journey to get to the start line, I made the mistake of taking the Imodium before I left the house.  In reflection, 5 mins before the start would have been a much better idea...

Thanks to the TFL webpage bookmarked on my iPhone, I got to the end of my driveway and I could already see the 486 bus about 400 yards down the road, so knew I'd be on time at the club.  Already sitting down on the bus was Ian, Felicity and Carl.  So strange bumping into people you know at 6:40am on a Sunday morning.

Got to Bexleyheath Sports Club and the Plums were already gathering.  Considering it was so early, everyone was in a cheerful mood.

Now let me take a moment to set the scene as to why 50 odd hardy souls were climbing aboard a coach to get to the Kent Coast so early on a Sunday morning.  The Plums were heading to the Thanet Roadrunners-hosted Kent Coastal Marathon (and Half Marathon for those not wanting to run the full distance) to celebrate the amazing feat of our fellow club mate, Gina Little, who would run her 500th marathon on the day, becoming the first UK woman to do so.  Pretty amazing, I'm sure you'll agree.

The coach turned up a little late but we all climbed aboard and after a chat with the two Lee's and Chris, we arrived at Palm Bay, in Cliftonville, on the NE Kent Coast between Margate and Broadstairs.

Off the coach, into the Race HQ, quickly picked up our race numbers and then it was into the queue for the portaloos.  I knew I was in trouble but the dose of Imodium had put paid to any chance I had of feeling comfortable before the race started.

Once everyone was ready, we took a stroll over to the start, where we lined up on the start line for some photos, to mark Gina's milestone.

Gina, the Plums and Friends...

As you can see, we were all wearing rather fetching yellow t-shirts and vests, where as Gina was resplendent in pink.

Following loads more photos, some stretching and the official announcer telling us that Gina would be first over the line with her entourage, we were off.

Now, beforehand, we had been warned several times that this course was hilly.  Some how, that didnt really register beforehand but the first half of the marathon was brutal.  Hilly and hot.  I dont think you could wish for a worse combination.

However, today was not going to be a race for most of us.  For me, the plan was to run along with Gina and the guys, not run for a particular time and just treat it as an enjoyable long and slow training run, with a view to trying to run a decent time in Amsterdam in mid-October.

Now I learnt a valuable lesson.  You can never underestimate a marathon.  It is a huge physical undertaking and you just cant wing it.  Its not possible.  I certainly underestimated the effects this marathon would have on my body.

For any endurance athlete, you need to keep fully fueled throughout the event.  That means sipping a drink every mile and taking supplements where necessary...the one last thing you want to do when you feel you need the nearest bathroom, so this was going to be a challenge of a different kind.  I had to try and drink enough to stay hydrated but not so much as it upset my stomach.  I can tell you now, I was in all sorts of trouble by mile 10.  I'd had cramps from mile 2 but by 10 I felt like I'd been kicked in the stomach and I had no choice but to walk for a bit.  Christ, when I ran Paris back in April, I ran the whole way and didnt even have to break into a walk but I was walking.  This wasnt good.  I managed to walk/run for a bit and caught up with the group again but my legs were pretty much gone by then.

From mile 10 thru to half marathon distance, I contemplated stopping and pulling out.  I was seriously considering it.  I didnt really know what to do.  Had I not told anyone I was running a marathon, I likely would have stopped but being the stubborn git I am and without wanting to lose face, I battled on.

I managed to keep with Gina's group up until mile 14 but then it became too much.  I carried on plodding away but my pace was dropping.  I was force-feeding myself gels by then and trying to drink as much water as I could but I felt sick as a dog.  I wanted to curl up and die pretty much by then.  Although the second half of the marathon was flatter than the first half, running along the sea wall became monotonous and the miles seem to drag longer and longer.  My pace was continually dropping but I dug deep and found some energy from somewhere.

Struggling big time at half way and about 200 yards behind Gina's group...

By mile 21, I managed to catch Graham and Keith who had dropped off Gina's group.  Graham was struggling with tight hamstrings...and Keith, the poor sod, was more in need of finding the Gents than I was and didnt dare run any further.  See, its not only me it happens to!

Graham and I ran (for ran read shuffled as its probably the best description of our style given our discomfort) together for the last 5 miles and kept each others spirits up, pretty much talking about anything but running, just to keep our minds away from the pain.

Crossing the finishing line with Graham

Although I seem to be smiling in the photo where I'm crossing the line, my legs were screaming.  Of the three marathons I've done, this was most definitely the hardest!

After picking up my medal, finishers t-shirt and goody bag, I collected my bag and headed straight for the massage tent.  Knowing I still had at least an hours coach journey to look forward to back down the A2, I thought I'd give myself the best chance of a decent recovery.  The smiles in the selfie didnt last long.  The masseur inflicted serious pain on my legs.

Massage selfie...

Twenty minutes later, I had some feeling back in my legs and I headed back to the throng of the Plums, who had made camp under a marquee where we were treated to a fabulous spread and lashings of alcohol, the perfect post-marathon recovery aid ;)

Gina was the centre of attention as the Plums presented her with a lovely gift and we listened intently to Graham and then Richard, followed by Gina being presented with a lovely trophy by the 100 marathon club for her achievement.  All that was left to do was for Gina to cut her celebratory cake.

Gina cutting her celebratory cake...

Given how well my preparation for Amsterdam has been going (an 18.5 miler at sub 4 pace only 2 weeks ago, see here for the evidence!), I'm surprised that I found the marathon such a struggle but I'm fairly certain that was down to my pre-race preparation this time around.

When in Amsterdam, my hotel is only a 10 min walk from the start/finish line so I'm sure I'll be lining up on the start line much more relaxed, comfortable and focused on the job in hand.  I wont be rushing about to catch a bus to catch a coach etc.

However, there are four things I can take from this:
  • Never underestimate a marathon...
  • I've now chalked up marathon #3...
  • Gina Little is one of the most inspirational women I've ever met...
  • The Plums are an awesome bunch of people...
What a fabulous day.

Last word for Gina though.  Awesome.  It was an honour to run with you on your special day :)

Back of my running vest and marathon medal #3
Official race photographs are here

Saturday, 2 August 2014

The "Wife Zone"

I really wish I'd seen this years ago. Absolutely brilliant...

Monday, 14 July 2014

Marathon #2 - The Ranscombe Challenge

Trust me, I'm still just as surprised as you are when your brain has just computed that yes, I did indeed complete my second ever marathon last weekend.

Where the hell did that come from you ask?  I've got no idea.

When I signed up for the Ranscombe Challenge about three months ago, just before Paris, I was intending to run it as a marathon.  However, what with how my fitness had totally dropped off the scale over the last couple of months, the race arrived and I was in no fit state to even comtemplate running the full 26.2 miles.  Or so I thought.

A double helping of dinner on Friday night and I was carb-loaded.  Earlyish night followed by a 5:45am alarm call, I was up and out the door by 6:50am to arrive at Ranscombe Farm nature reserve at just after 7:10am.

Fueled on a bowl of porridge and a cup of tea, I was all immodiumed up for a minimum of 13.1 miles and anything else was going to be a huge bonus.  In my running belt I had 4-5 gels and a pack of jelly babies and I was carrying 2 x 500ml bottles of High 5 4:1, my drink of choice on events like this.

Other than running, the main reason for signing up to the Ranscombe Challenge was that I knew my old mate Kelsey was running with her nutty mates from Ashford's Run England club.  I had only seen Kelsey once in the last 8 years since she left Kings College London and we both went our separate ways (she was my boss at the time!)

I'd parked in the car park, walked up the slope to the start area and I could hear her booming northern Hartlepoole accent over everybody's.  Somethings never change...

Kelsey and I before the start of the Ranscombe Challenge...
Open arms, bear hugs, it was like the good old days at King's all over again.  Had a quick chat, had our photo taken together, got in the queue for the cleanest portaloo in history (and I'm not joking either!) and then we were off.

The Ranscombe Challenge is a multiple lap race with an 8hr time limit.  The rules were simple.  Do as many as the 3.8 mile laps as you fancied, making sure you can in to basecamp to refuel etc.  I sort of misheard that part as I didnt come back until I'd completed 5 laps and about 17.5 miles which had organisers Traviss and Rachel pulling their hair out with worry (sorry guys!)

From the elevation profile, I knew I was in for a reasonably tough time but I was determined to take it all in my stride.  Take it easy, run a nice easy pace, take some photos and try to enjoy the day as much as I can.  It certainly wasnt going to be the day or terrain to set any PBs so it was all about the experience.  Now that elevation profile.  Hmmm, mostly up for 2 miles then down for 1.5 miles before a little kick up again.  Brutal doesnt even cover it.

The Ranscombe Challenge elevation profile - approx 850 (2,800ft) of climbing in total for 26.2 miles

So off we went.  Within the first 500 yards, I'd rerranged my ears buds and hung the loose cable around the back of my neck.  I'd just settled into a rhythmn and silence.  The wire had got caught in the branches of an overhanging bush and the ear buds had been ripped frm my ears.  One of the ear moulds had gone so that was pretty much the end of the music for the duration, so I screwed them up and dropped them in my waist pouch.

That first lap was brutal.  It suddenly dawned on my how much climbing was involved...

Stunning scenery with the poppies out in bloom...

Brain set, I got down to concentrating on my running.  The hills were out of my comfort zone but as I could see, everyone around me was pretty much walking the hills then running the flat and downhill parts.  That made a lot of sense.  It kept the HR down to a manageable level and maximised the energy stores.  After all, a lot of the guys were not here to run a marathon, they were here to run ultra marathons and beyond.

The first lap was good.  Some challenging parts but I got it down.  Traviss stood at the top of the first climb and directed us back to base camp but I didnt get the hint that was what I was supposed to do and carried onwards.

At the end of lap 3, I'd pretty much made up my mind that lap 4 would be my last.  I was feeling ok but I thought it would be diabolically mad to attempt further.


Now halfway around the 4th lap, I caught up with a group that was going a little bit slower than me but not by too much but they were keen for me to pass them ASAP.  When I said it was ok and I was glad of a rest, they realised I was Kelsey's mate and started giving me some stick when I said I was only aiming for 4 laps.  "Oh, Kelsey would be ashamed of you, you know that dont you?"  Ha.  That was like a red rag to a bull.  So off I went on lap 5.  500 yards into lap 5 I could see a blue running top in the distance and I knew it was my old running mate Mel.  Perhaps I could catch her.  I did at the top of the the big climb and ran with her back to base camp.

It was only down to Mel that I learnt that I had to go back to base camp at the end of each lap.  What a donut.  We had a nice catch up about everything possible and thanks to Mel's encouragement and knowing I only had another 2 laps to do to complete the marathon, I went and did it.

26.2 miles in 5:20:18.  No where near my Paris time but I couldnt care less.  This had 25 times more climbing involved (minimum), it was off road and I wasnt as fit as I was then but I still bloody did it, only on the back of two 10 mile runs since Paris.  Remarkable considering.

Traviss giving me my well earned marathon bling...

Shattered doesnt even cover it.  Marathon #2 = done

So.  To start the race with only completing 3 laps to get my first half marathon distance race done since Paris to turn it into my second ever marathon with faltering fitness, no long runs behind me or any dedicated training, was nothing short of a miracle for me.

A huge thanks for Kelsey's friends for egging me on to do one more lap...which then turned into another two laps when I finally caught up with Mel who was bloody brilliant completing her 60th marathon.  I can only look on at her with complete envy and admiration.  A top lass, a bundle of laughs and a huge dollop of the grit and determination every marathon runner needs.  Mel, thanks for getting me to the end honey as without you, there's no way I would have managed laps 6 and 7 :)