Friday, 3 July 2015

Was Brighton only 2.5 months ago?

Was it really only 2.5 months ago?  It feels like a bloody lifetime away now...

Apologies for not updating the blog sooner.  There's been an awful lot going on at home, so the blog has very much taken a back seat for the time being.  Let me fill you in on what has been going on.

After Brighton, the plan was always going to be that I was going to take a few weeks off, recharge the batteries and come back fresh, ready to take on the Berlin Marathon in September.

Two weeks off, then back into it all be it slowly and struggling.

Alison and I went on our long planned holiday to Mexico (see the pics here) at the beginning of May.  Keeping things ticking over in Mexico from a running perspective was virtually impossible.  I've never felt humidity quite like it.  Its fine just sitting by the pool or on the beach but as soon as your heart rate goes above 130 bpm, I'd liken it to running in a shower.  Uncomfortable didn't even cover it.

Then there was the food.  Despite only being away for 10 days, I made the most of it.  I don't think there was a day in the ten where I only had 1 course for breakfast.  You name it, I'd eaten it.  I haven't eaten as unhealthily as that in a good 4-5 years and it resulted in me ballooning.

The first morning back in England and getting on the scales was a massive shock.  I've lost 12lbs since but I need to lose another 6-8lbs sharpish so I can get back to enjoying my running again.

Since we've been back, the last two months have been very stop-start and I seem to be getting no where.  My Asthma has played up and I lost a week of training then I tweaked my back bending down to get my running kit out of the washing machine.  I've lost a good 12-14 days of training on and off due to the Sciatica flare up, treated primarily with Naproxen (an anti-inflammatory), Diazepam (a muscle relaxant to stop the muscles spasming) and the pain managed by Co-codomol.

With the lack of activity over the last 2.5 months, it's been a huge shock how quickly my pre-marathon form and fitness has dropped off at an alarming rate.  3 months ago, I was running 22 miles in training at a comfortable sub 4 marathon pace.  All of a sudden, running 5k at 9:30 min/mile pace two days in a row is a massive achievement.

Sciatica has been dogging me for the best part of 4-5 weeks now, so I've asked my GP to 'refer' me to a specialist, using our private healthcare.  Hopefully, the specialist will get to the bottom of the problem quickly.  At the moment, any long spell sitting is playing havoc with my back.  It stiffens quickly (come on people, clean thoughts here!) and going from a sitting to standing position takes time and it takes me a good while to get properly upright.

Marathon recovery, holiday and injury = bye bye 100 miles per month minimum target :( 

Along with an almost constant niggle in my left Achilles Tendon and right Hamstring after Brighton, I made the decision to withdraw from Berlin and all future races until I'm ready to race again.  I'm not willing to run the worlds quickest marathon course in the worst shape possible.  I want to be firing on all cylinders again before I even contemplate it.

The way I feel at the moment, I may well have run my last marathon.  Yet again, my marathon recovery has been nothing worse than shocking.  Ok, I've had a long holiday, put a bit of weight on and been struggling with a few niggles but in myself, I feel worse than ever.  Given how great I felt in March and at the beginning of April, I find this a massive surprise but I can relax in the knowledge that it'll hopefully only take me 2-3 months to get back into shape again but obviously out of contention for Berlin but just in time for the London Marathon ballot where a decision can be made if needs be.

Right, let me move away from running for a moment.  There's been a couple of other big changes in my life...

I met Alison just over a year ago now.  Our first date was in the Bull's Head at Chislehurst and got on like a house on fire.  Second date, she fell into my arms (literally - she claims she wasn't drunk but knowing how she does like a glass of red wine, she's got no defence!) and the rest is history...

The last year and a bit has been out of this world.  We've been to Amsterdam, Venice and Mexico already and we head out to Spain in August to take Izzy on her first sunshine holiday and I just cant wait to see her face when we tell her we're finally taking her on a plane when we see her this weekend.  

Al and I in Mexico

Al has opened up my eyes to a world that I didn't really believe existed.  One full of happiness and laughter.  Thinking back to May 2008 and the conversation with my parents about would they mind me sleeping on their sofa for a couple of days until I got myself sorted (which then turned into two years lol), I'm a million miles away from that now.

Al has also opened my eyes up to a whole host of different things.  Geordie Shore, Love Island (yeah, you 'crack on' love, I've just been 'pied' WTF?!?!)...Masterchef Australia, haha what other crap TV has she inflicted on me?  I remember the look on Al's face when I took her for dinner in the We Anchor In Hope in Welling.  It was one of 'this man needs some educating'.  Well she's done a pretty good job of that thus far.  Jeez, I've even developed a taste for red wine!  I never expected that.  It has been a year of many firsts for me and Al is the main reason behind them all.  Likewise, Alison has been getting to grips with words not so familiar in her football, running, cycling.  She's so supportive in all I do.  She understands why I feel the need to get up early on a Sunday and run 18 miles for 'fun'  (although she still thinks I'm mental!) She pretty well knows me better than I know myself.  She's just bloody awesome. 

The best thing of all, I've had the pleasure of Alison meeting Izzy and seeing their relationship develop.  Lets not forget here, we (Izzy and I) came as a package.  Not many women would take a man and his daughter on but Al has welcomed us both with open arms.  Izzy and Al gang up on me terribly and we have so much laughter together.  It's so good to see them get on so well together.  Izzy thinks the absolute world of Al and that makes me bloody happy, I can tell you!

Part of me feels like I'm living a dream of a kind.  This time last year I was living in a two-bed flat in Welling.  All of a sudden, I'm living with an awesome woman in a big house in in Petts Wood.  I couldn't imagine my life without Al now.  

So as it happens, I asked Al to marry me.  Thankfully, she said yes.  Something I learned a long time ago, you have to live for the moment and live each day like its your last.  We could have dated for another year and come to the same conclusion.  So there you go.  The man that vowed never to marry again is getting married again.

So yes honey, I do love you and now you've got it in writing too so you can always go back and refer to this.  I remember a while ago you said I dont ever write about you.  Now I have lol.

Right, enough of me being a total wuss.

There's one other big change going on at the moment.  My brother and best-mate, Steve, has/is moved to Liverpool.  Well Birkenhead actually.  He has found love too.  Many of you will know what Steve has been through so I cant begin to tell you how happy I am for him.  That really has been the cherry on the top of the icing as far as I'm concerned.  Of course, from a selfish view, I wish he was still down south but hopefully this move will be the making of the new Steve.

I've met Steve's girlfriend Lindsay a few times now and I like her a lot.  Al and Izzy like her and the old dears seem keen too.  She's Steve's dream woman by the looks of it and I'm just so pleased for him that he's found some happiness in his life too.  He is well overdue some luck and happiness.  We're looking forward to spending some good times with them in the future, up in the North West and back in London and the South-East.  (So when did you say the Liverpool Marathon was, Lee & Dave?)

Steve's in the process of shifting his stuff up North and trying to find a job but given his skill set, it really shouldn't take him long, fingers crossed.

Best of luck matey :)

Oh...and no more borrowing cars.  I've got my own again.  After 5 years of pleading with the old man to borrow his Honda Civic and spending the last year using Alison's 4x4, I've finally got my own motor again.  A nice little Ford Focus (little compared to the 4x4!)  Sensible choice I think.  Cheap to run, fun to drive.  Oh the joys of having my freedom back again, so I'll be able to drive myself to races and long training runs with the Plums, then Alison won't think her car has been stolen and calls the Police!

Home Sweet Home by dusk in Petts Wood

So all in all, live is pretty damn good right now.  You can't ask for any more than that.  Unusually, I don't have an awful lot to moan about at the moment.  Alison may tell you otherwise ;)

[Update:  I've now seen the Spinal consultant.  He has ordered a MRI scan and depending on the results, he'll advise on best course of treatment afterwards.  To be continued!]

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.