Sunday, 16 December 2012

Last Race of The Year 2012

5:30a.m. My alarm goes off. I jumped out of bed, dressed up, checked my travel plans online, had a coffee and did some stretches.
6:30a.m. I left my house. Ten minutes later I'm at the train station awaiting the 6:47. Then I remembered something: I've left behind my belt - the one I use to carry my phone, keys & stuff during races. I've got to go get it. No way I'm going to entrust my stuff to baggage drop. So I dashed home again, got the belt and dashed back to the train station. I missed the 6:47 but I got on the 7:02. And the journey began.
This race was at the opposite end of London across the river. I knew I had a wee bit of traveling to do. No worries: I love traveling and trains. Part of the attraction for some of these races that I do is having to jump on and off trains to get there.
8:58a.m. I finally got to Sheen Gate, Richmond Park. I must confess, for a minute or two there I got lost in Richmond. I missed my connection in Central London but thanks to my iPhone apps I still made my way to the park on time.
Registration was quick and well-organised. I got my race number (118), bib and timing chip. I found my corner and changed into my racing gear. A couple of minutes later and after a quick trip to the loo I was ready!
9:55. I am at the start line with all the other runners. I'm standing tall. I can feel the excitement coursing through me. Inside my head I'm screaming: come on people - let's do this.
10:00. I take a deep breath and when the horn goes off I'm off in a flash of adrenaline and pounding feet...
Easy now - I tell myself - easy now. There'll be no PB chasing here: I'm not even going to run this one fast. I just want to feel the sheer joy of running, of being able to put one foot in front of the other, celebrate 2012 and be thankful for life, family, love, friendship, career, the ability to run.
The first mile flashes past in nine minutes. By mile three I realise I'm going too fast. I rein it in and slow down.
As I run I think about all those who can't run, I think about the sick, the terminally ill and every victim of the wickedness and callousness of this world. I say a prayer for the devastated families of that Newtown, Connecticut tragedy.
By mile five a weird thing happens. I get this overwhelming urge to stop. It caught me unawares. Where did that come from? I was not out of breath or tired or injured or anything yet the feeling persisted. What is going on I ask myself. I struggled for a bit but I held on and kept going. After a while I was cruising again.
Mile 6 - there's joy in my heart. As I hit the home straight I was glad to be alive. I say it over and over again to myself - "I'm alive....I'm alive....I'm alive!" And I am grateful.
It was a good run. I loved every minute of it.
Distance: 10k
Time: 51:46

Monday, 30 April 2012

Milton Keynes Marathon 2012 Race Report.
"I am made of Belief not Barriers."
Official Time: 04:12:24
3:53am. - Woke up seven minutes before my alarm went off and got out of bed.  Showered, dressed up and finished packing my bag, checking to make sure I had not forgotten anything.
4:45am. – Had breakfast – Cereal (Oats) and 2 slices of toast with a cup of coffee.
5:15am. – Got out my door. It’s raining – it’s pouring is a better description. That rain would dog my steps all the way to Milton Keynes. There were no problems with public transportation. I took the bus to London Euston station.
6:53am. - I got on the  train to Milton Keynes. I was glad the trains were running. With National Rail you can’t be too sure. I did have a backup plan just in case there were any problems with the trains.
On the train I passed the time reading Rudyard Kipling’s poem – “If” and excerpts from Chrissie Wellington’s book “A Life Without Limits”.
8:20am. – The train rolled into Bletchley station and I got off. It was better to get off here rather go on to Milton Keynes Central Station. From Bletchley Station it was a 15-minute walk to the MK Dons stadium where the marathon was taking place. I pulled my hood up, popped the umbrella and walked down. The umbrella wasn't very helpful because of the wind. By the time I get to the stadium I am a bit wet.
8:40am. – The stadium is like a marketplace – busy and bustling with 4000 runners with friends and family. I quickly find a quiet spot and change into my running gear. Then I dropped up off my bag at the baggage truck and settled down to wait. I prefer to be quiet, go through my game plan and mull over the inspirational stuff I’ve read. The goal is to finish in 4 hours or under and to run the entire distance – no walk breaks! I consider all that could possibly go wrong and my responses to each of them.
I like this part too for the opportunity to watch other people do their pre-race routines, from the very serious to the very funny (nobody is laughing though) but you notice each runner means business.
9;45am. – All the runners head for the start line. The rain is pouring down heavily, the wind is blowing hard and temperature has dropped – it is cold. Within a couple of minutes my fingers are frozen. I can’t operate my iphone so I can’t use the Runmeter app.
10:00am. – The gun goes off and 4000 runners are away. I get my stopwatch going and I am off too. I hold back and hold back – stick to the plan I tell myself – Miles 1-5 slow. As hundreds of runners stream past me I am sorely tempted to join them but I hold back. I hit the first mile in 9:58. Good! Good! I tell myself. I’m relaxed.
The rain continues and the wind howls and I’m doing my thing. This marathon is taking place on the footpaths that criss-cross the whole of Milton Keynes. There are huge puddles on the path and folks are running on the grass to avoid them. Within minutes the grass has turned to mud. At first I avoid the puddles but I notice the mud is slowing me down so I just hit the puddle causing a splash and all. No-one is complaining. We are all drenched anyway and you wouldn’t be able to tell what colour of shoes we were wearing.
I hit the fifth mile marker in 46:37, a bit faster than I planned but it’s ok because by now I’m cruising. I’m going steady but most importantly I am calm. I start drinking; I break out the first gel at 60 minutes. By now I notice a small group of runners with me. I remember thinking – this is just fine – these folks will keep me on target pace. A couple of minutes later after a short conservation I find out I’m not running with them – they are running with me. I’m their pacer. What?? How did that happen?
Mile 6 flashes by, so does 7, 8,…..I hit the halfway mark by 2hrs 7 minutes. I’ve picked up the pace and left my little group behind.  I do a quick systems check – everything is fine. I’m feeling strong. I’m drinking steadily and having a gel every thirty minutes. There is this quotation replaying itself over and over in my head. I read it from Corey Q.’s entries,   – “Run the mile You’re in”.
Mile 15 is coming up and I am thinking this is where it all started falling apart in my last marathon. I shake the thought and keep going. Words of Chrissie Wellington are jumping in my head – “trust in your preparation…. Focus on that fact….” At mile 16 I feel like jumping in the air with a whoop! It’s all going according to plan.
I have got to hand it to the crowd – they were amazing. That they were out there in that weather was amazing in itself. They would not just stop cheering – that wall of sound followed us round the course. The marshals did a great job too. I will not forget the marshal at mile 17 – she was one excited girl, dancing, jumping up and down and screaming at the top of her voice. Wow!
I got to Mile 20 at 3hrs 7 minutes. Sub 4hrs is looking very possible. I do another body check and except for a twinge in my left knee I’m still feeling strong – there is no wall.  So I pick up the pace.  I go through this underpass at mile 21: when I emerge in the open again there is this crowd cheering loudly. This gentleman in the crowd says to me “you’re enjoying yourself”. Without thinking I ask, “am 1?” The gentleman answers, “you’ve got a smile on your face”.  So I did, I was enjoying myself.
Problems started at mile 22. My body began to betray me. After the 22nd mile marker there was this short incline. I just went for it but when I got to the top I got hit with severe cramps just above my knees on both legs. It was so sudden I was completely thrown. I came to a stop, willing myself to calm down – “remember the plan, deal with this” -. Once I got my thoughts together I did some stretches, walked a bit and started running again. The cramps did not go away completely but I didn’t stop again. But I had to really slow down to keep going and from here till mile 25 it was all uphill.
I found it difficult to keep it together at this stage; my thoughts were all over the place. With hindsight I realise all I needed to do was dig deep, keep my mind on the things that inspire me and focus. This is where I needed to force myself to think right and manage the pain.
At Mile 25 I’m holding on. By mile 26 I’m picking up the pace again. I’m inside the stadium and the cheering of the crowd keeps me going. I see the finish chute. I pass one or two runners. Then I’m over the finish line.
Time: 4:12:24. I am not disappointed. In fact I am so excited. If you had seen me then no-one would blame you for thinking I had won the race! I did not make the time I wanted but I had just shaved 18 minutes off my marathon time. I had run the whole marathon from beginning to the end except for the cramps stop. The hydration strategy went like a dream and there was no wall. I even helped some runners along the way. The whole race went according to plan.
And for my next marathon I know I need a mind as honed and as powerful as my legs. I’ve got train my mind to manage pain better. I have learnt that in this marathon business pain is always there and things will go wrong. The earlier I train myself to deal with it the easier it will be to get the PB.
For this race the best part is that I enjoyed myself – I ran with a smile!

Sunday, 11 March 2012

The Journey So Far.......

The decision to run another marathon was easily made. It was while running my first marathon in Dublin that I made up my mind: I was going to do this again. I remember vividly when that happened. It was when that particular marathon began to go inevitably wrong.  I had ran myself to a stop and at that point it did not look like I was going to finish the race. I did go on to finish in fits and stops and through much pain. I understand it is at this point that some runners tell themselves - never again! Surprisingly it had the opposite effect on me. I was viscerally determined to do another one and do it well.

Once the decisions was made to run another marathon the next step was to pick a particular race, set goals and have a plan.  I wanted a marathon in spring, close to home and one I could train for with minimal disruptions to the rest of my life. I finally settled for Milton Keynes Marathon billed for the 29th of April 2012. I would have loved to do London Marathon but I could not get a place.

The goals for this race are:
1. Finish in about 4hrs.
2. Run the entire marathon
3. Get the pacing right.

It was finding the right plan that was the problem. I scoured the Internet, I spoke to people who should know and I read a book or two. One of the books I read was Hal Higdon's "Ultimate Training Guide To The Marathon". I loved the book so much I picked one of Higdon's plans - the advanced training plan. At the time it seemed like an overly ambitious plan because of the mileage and there's only one rest day per week (I love my rest days). This was going to be quite a leap for me but I settled for this plan because firstly, I wanted to train hard for this marathon. Secondly, I have set myself the goal of running 2000 miles in 2012 so I needed a plan that would help me build up the miles.

To be on the safe side I picked a second plan - an easier one just in case I could not cope with the first one.

Eleven weeks have flown by and it has been a steep learning curve. There have been days when the workouts have been daunting. I have put in the miles and time and have grown to love this plan. I am committed to it now. There's no way I am going to abandon it now. I am going to see this through to the end.

Staying with the plan is one thing but has there been any positive result? In the last two weeks I have taken part in two races to see how much I have improved with all the training I have been doing. The first one was a half marathon and the second one was a ten mile race.

The half marathon was the Roding Valley half marathon held on the 26th of February 2012. This was a tough course – hilly and undulating. My goals for this race were simple – get the pacing right and finish between 1 hour fifty-two minutes and one hour fifty-five minutes. No PB chasing here. The plan was to do the first mile in about ten minutes, do the next six miles in fifty four minutes and finish the remaining six miles in about fifty minutes.

I started out slowly and did the first mile just under ten minutes. The first seven miles was completed in sixty-two minutes. The remaining six miles was done in fifty-four minutes to finish the race in one hour fifty-six minutes, twenty-seven seconds. It was tough going with all those hills. I was surprised at my pace later because it did not feel like I was going that fast.

The second race I did was the Self-Transcendence 10Mile race at Battersea Park, London held on the 3rd of March six days after the half marathon. Now this was not a planned race. The Marathon Training plan called for 10-mile run at marathon pace on that day. I did not feel like doing that run on my own which was rather surprising because I am something of a lone runner. So while browsing the Runnersworld UK website I found this race and decided to give it a go. I needed the company of other runners. And there is something about running in a group that brings out the best in you.

It turned out to be a race that I enjoyed a lot. This was a well-organized race with just two hundred and thirty-four runners on a course that was flat, scenic and well marshalled. This one had PB potential written all over it but just like with the Roding Half Marathon I just wanted to get the pacing right under pressure. I finished the race in one hour, thirty minutes, fifteen seconds. This was a good run and the pacing was very good. The first mile was done in ten minutes. I was able to keep it around nine minutes per mile for the next eight miles. I picked up the pace in the last mile to finish strong. 

I told the story of the two races to answer the question – has there been any positive result with all the training I have been doing? I am satisfied with the results from both races. There has been massive improvement in stamina and pacing. I am not starting out too fast anymore and I am getting to a point where I can hold a pace no matter what. I had a plan for both races and I stuck with it. Also, I have been doing 40-50 miles per week lately and according to the training plan will go up to just under 60 over the next four weeks. That I am able to handle that kind of load is an indication that I have grown stronger.

So far it is going according to plan. That wraps up Phase one of my marathon training. Phase Two is already under way. I will keep you posted.