Posts Tagged With: marathon training

Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. London Marathon 2018 done and dusted. #SpiritOfLondon

Digested read:  did it.

done it

Brace yourself.  It’s a long one.  Then again, if running a marathon is considered a test of endurance, I see no reason why reading about it shouldn’t also be a test of resolve.  You can always scroll down to be fair, whereas it’s a lot harder to fast forward on the roads of London, so be gracious before your judge me too harshly!  All the same maybe fuel yourself before settling down to read this, and make sure you stay hydrated, or you’ll be wobbly and light headed before you even reach the half way marker.  You have been warned.  If you choose to read on and then get bored or annoyed, then you are at the very least guilty of contributory negligence.  Much as if you go for a recovery run when your toenails are black, blistered and bruised and then find they all fall off.  You will get no sympathy or truck from me.  So we are clear about all that then?  Good.  I thank you.

So here I am, out the other side. Stormed it!  Sort of, I maybe wasn’t quite the storm the warrior claimed, but was tenacious enough to make it round.  Somewhat shell-shocked.  It’s so hard to process all that has happened over the last 48 hours, or whatever it is.  It feels unreal.  I think that must be why they give you a medal at the end, so you can remind yourself it all really happened. Unfortunately in my official photo you can’t see my medal as I was too disoriented to hold it up, don’t panic though, there are plenty of other photos so you can relive the experience with me whether you want to or not!

There are already a plethora of London Marathon accounts out there, it’s a cliché but it’s true nevertheless that each of the 40,000 or so of us at the start would have had our own unique experiences.  Don’t worry, if you meet any of the other runners they’ll tell you about their marathon run in their own words too.  Aren’t you lucky?  This is the thing about running marathons.  Apparently 1% of the population have run a marathon now, no idea where that figure comes from, but I daresay it’s no more made up than the Lehman Brothers accounts and considerably less likely to lead to catastrophic collapse in the global economy, so let’s just go with that.  1% of the population is actually quite a lot of people, and all but one of them will tell you about it at length whether or not you have the slightest interest in their, sorry ‘our‘ endeavour.  There is only one person in history who has run a marathon without telling anyone and even then her friends felt compelled to remark on this so you’d still have got to hear about it.  Arguably, in the future, one of the most compelling reasons to run a marathon – apart from to prove your womb won’t fall out on the way round – is to enable yourself to get a word in edge ways when you encounter other people who have.   I think the belief your womb will fall out if you run too far mainly applies to men, but whatever.  It’s a thought, can’t beat ’em, join em. That’s the way it goes.

ran and didnt tell

If for whatever reason you don’t want to run a marathon, but would like to get those who have to shut up about it, here follows in microscopic detail my memory of my marathon adventure such as it was.  Truthfully it’s all a bit of a blur, some of the details are foggy, the chronology will be all over the place, but that will only add authenticity if you choose to tell my story as your own.

First things first.  I’d set my alarm for 5.00 a.m..  In fact I got a text from Virgin London Marathon at 5.02 anyway, so clearly early starts are the order of the day.  I was sweating already in the humid hotel room. It reminded me of when I was working in Cambodia, you know it’s going to be hot, hot, hot.  No question. The text said:

Today’s forecast is for hot weather with possible wet conditions early on. Temperatures may rise to 23C.  Adapt your goal, slow down& listen to your body.  Drink when thirsty. Take only one bottle at water stations & remember to Drink, Douse, Drain, Drop.  Good luck & enjoy the #SpiritOfLondon

Two things.  The temperature actually got to 24.1C (75.3F) –  recorded in St James’s Park, the Met Office said.  Also, why oh why did they tell runners to drain their bottles?  That’s rhetorical by the way, I know it was to assist with recycling, but when I was scrabbling around in the gutter trying to find any water left anywhere I was inwardly cursing that directive.  More of that later.

I was up, had a shower. Not going to lie, pretty gutted at the temperatures in prospect, but also feeling fatalistic in a positive way (is that a contradiction in terms). I suppose I mean it was like waking up on exam day.   You are at the point it’s now or never, you can either rail against the world screaming futilely into the wind at the injustice of the extreme heat of the event after training in the extreme cold, snow and ice, or accept it is what it is, and you have to get on with it.  In a way, it was a relief. I  wasn’t really believing it, but I told myself this heat would remove all expectations on me running wise, at least if it was a ‘record-breaking marathon’ because of this I’d get to be a record breaking marathoner by association, and anyway que sera sera.

I had a shower, and my first big triumph of the morning was – and I make no apologies for too much information because any fellow runner will know how much this can soothe both body and soul – a successful and significant poo!  Don’t be shy people, there are whole articles dedicated to perfecting this art of ;how to poop before a race’. Please note, I do however apologise for the use of the word ‘poop’ in the headline for the article, but that’s American journalism for you.  Hurrah, that was my first pre race angst vanquished.  They say don’t make any sudden changes to your diet in the run up to event days, but a big pasta meal recommended for carb loading the night before was to me exactly that. I knew I’d need the energy stores, but I’d been worried it would just sit there, like I’d swallowed a rock, weighing me down.  Instead, result! This was a good omen.

I put on my running kit straight away.  I went for vest only – on the top I mean, obvs I wore leggings and trainers and socks and runderwear knickers and an industrial sports bra as well – but before donning any garment, I squelched almost a whole tube of factor 50, once only application, water-resistant sunscreen everywhere that might be exposed. Arms, neck, arm pits, face, nose, ears, everywhere.  My skin hasn’t seen the sun all year, and is so white it might even reflect sunlight back to the sky and reverse global warming, but I wasn’t taking the risk.   I also put body glide on my inner arms, and legs – though I’ve never previously rubbed there but I thought I may as well.  I’ve also got another anti-chafing product, lanacane which I think is amazing, but it is expensive and I seem to get through loads of it, but I used that under my boobs because I know from bitter experience that needs special attention. I filled my two water bottles on my ultimate direction running belt with water and dissolved electrolytes in them.  THANK GOODNESS!  Other runners were going to rely just on the water on course, but I’d decided I’d drink the water en route, and then in the later stages drink my electrolyte laden water to stop me cramping or getting dehydration related salt imbalance.  I put in far more naked bars than I could possibly consume, and added in as an after thought some straight glucose tablets – again these turned out to be a life safer.

Down to breakfast.  The hotel was serving from 5.30, I’d imagined it would be a reduced offering for runners, but in fact a full buffet was out. That was hard.  Normally the opportunist in me would have made merry and cavorted with abandon amongst the hash browns, scrambled eggs and croissants.  However, I was disciplined, I stuck to my game plan of just a cup of horrible coffee – it wasn’t my plan that the coffee would be horrible, it just was – and some porridge. The porridge was not good.  It was nothing like the porridge I make myself.  It was mostly milk, with the odd porridge oat floating in it as a possible choking hazard.  I would have had it much thicker and packed with seeds and things.  I was worried I wouldn’t have had quite enough fuel, so I broke with my plan and had a banana as well.  I figured it would be a good 5 hours before I even crossed the start line, so probably not too high risk, though I have suffered before eating bananas too close to or mid event at the Round Sheffield Run.  On a more positive note, I was quickly joined by other runners.  One was from Denmark I think, and a veteran marathoner.  Another first time marathoner who has been a poster girl for the British Heart Foundation as she has a pace maker and spent many, many months in hospital having multiple surgeries, so the BBC are following her round.  Then there was another runner, more of my ilk. Got a ballot place and knew she had to do it, so here she was.  We were a mixed bunch, but excitedly chatting together about the day ahead. Another runner joined us…. with two tags on her shoes!  Immediate panic, why had she got two tags? Were we supposed to have two tags too? Turns out she was an elite runner taking part in some championship or other, she even had a striped back to her number.  I was too relieved that I was properly equipped to notice her name or number, but her physique suggested a professional, or near enough, athlete was walking amongst us.

We scampered to our respective hotel rooms for final teeth cleaning and trainer donning, and more poo stops, poo two from me, could things get any better in terms of pre race protocols?  I drank loads of water and put a litre or so in one to take with me to the start.  I do drink loads anyway, especially when I was sweating this much at 7.00 a.m..

A coach was going from the hotel to the start.  Some preferred to go planned routes via tube, but I wanted to make as few decisions as possible and stay off my feet so opted for that.   I waited outside with my other new best friends in our marathon gear, feeling somewhat self-conscious about both my upper arms and Geronimo, but also sort of enjoying the unlikely continuum of runners we collectively represented.  The sun was bright, and there was a breeze, it felt almost tropical.  It was a gorgeous morning, just not one you’d want before say having to run a marathon.  We got someone to take a photo. The first photo was into direct sunlight, so we got another facing the other way, just because.  Aren’t we lovely?

The coach pulled up just after 7.00 a.m. and set off promptly at 7.15.  Our elite runner was asking earlier whether we trusted the coach to come. Apparently a friend of hers at the Boston marathon got a package coach and it got lost en route to the start, for hours.  Not sure if the runner even made the off.  I had complete confidence in the organisation of the London marathon though, because this was before Watergate, and anyway, there was so long before start I figured even if it broke down there’s still be time to clamber on a tube and get to Blackheath.

The coach trip was quite exciting. Coach trips, whilst they always make me feel a bit queasy also have that sense of anticipation as you are being transported to a new destination.  Even more so when you are surrounded by other awesome runners.  I was feeling a bit nervy, but mainly just wanted to get there. It was amazing being driven through the streets of London, extraordinary landmarks all around.  At one point someone pointed out the start and parts of the route – oh my, it looked a long, long way.  The charity runners were comparing details of post race arrangements.  Both of the two I was near said their hospitality finished at 5.00 p.m, when realistically, particularly considering they might not even cross the start until 11.00 they would probably still be out on course. One had queried the wisdom of this, being a new runner and recognising her goal was to get round before cut off and was told that the hospitality was for friends and family too. ‘But I expect my friends and family to be out on course supporting me not quaffing free coffee at the charity’s expense‘ was her point.  I thought it was interesting that they did finish so early, particularly with charity places where you might expect people who were/are not natural runners, but passionately wish to support a cause for personal reasons to be well represented amongst their marathoners.  Some runners had also had to raise huge sums, those in ear shot had achieved this, but I’d have found that hugely pressurised.  I only found out recently that apparently charities pay a significant premium for their race places, and risk losing a lot of money if they misjudge who their share their places with – it is hard not to see an element of cynicism in how that plays out…  that discussion though is for another time.

We were deposited at Blackheath about an hour or so later.  Just as we got to the common I espied a whole load of the rhino fancy dress costumes all laid out on the side of the road. They are HUGE.  We disgorged from the coach, and immediately were amongst throngs of runners, streaming across wet grass towards the respective starts. If you are thinking of doing London and worried about the logistics of finding your way around don’t be. There were huge signs up everywhere indicating the respective start areas for red, blue and elite.

this is real

The grass was soaking wet with dew, and I remembered belatedly vaguely that Martin Yelling had advised having plastic bags to put over your trainers at the start so you don’t get wet feet from the off. To be honest, the sun was so strong it was pretty clear we’d dry up soon anyway.  There was also quite a breeze.  Perfect for eating ice creams in the shade sort of weather! I joined the migration pack of runners to the blue start, my eyes popping out on stalks at the spectacle all around.

Finally, I made it under the blue inflatable arch into the collecting ring. It reminded me very much of a festival, albeit a rather healthy lifestyle one.  There was lots of space, and music playing.  A huge screen relayed messages of support to runners, and some coverage of the marathon from different areas of the course.  There were loads of toilet cubicles, the famous female urinals, that didn’t have queues but I didn’t fancy using for the first time pre event.  There were instructions in our goody bags from the expo but frankly they’d left me none the wiser, and I didn’t fancy embarking on my marathon adventure with both me and Geronimo doused in my own pee.  Also, I wasn’t entirely trusting my digestive tract at this point in time either, and let’s not entertain the idea of that calamity before set off.

It was HOT. There was no shade. I have never been more grateful for an impulse buy of my cap, and the addition of my tomtom sunglasses.  I got them as a freebie at a Vitality 10k at Chatsworth earlier in the year.  They might not be flattering, but they are effective, they sit proud of your face so you don’t get rubbing and sweat on your cheeks and air can circulate.  Plus they are slightly turned down at the ends so wont fall off.  I’d never run in either before, but both were completely brilliant on the day – apart from not being especially photogenic, but then neither was I, so who cares.  I scanned my kit bag and decided I didn’t really need any of it other than sunblock and water so deposited it at the baggage drop so as not to have to worry about that again.  The baggage drop people were great, asking me to check I’d not left critical things and posing indulgently for photos.  The guy on the lorry was attached by a hook and wire to the vehicle, it wasn’t clear if this was to stop him escaping for the purpose of my health and safety and for the protection of the general public, or to stop him falling for the purpose of his own health and safety. He didn’t look like a wild axe murder, but I understand most wild axe murderers never do. Good bye kit bag.

I went for a wander around.  It was so tempting to just go exploring, and I did for a bit, then thought that was probably unwise as it was so hot and it was all time on my legs and it would be 2 hours before I crossed the start.  Even so, it was extraordinary soaking it all up.  A few people asked for selfies with Geronimo which was cool.  There were hardly any people in fancy dress that I saw at that stage, though chilled groups hung out on reflective sheets.  Any scrap of shade be it by a toilet or bin was crowded with runners desperately trying to avoid the sun.

I was a bit worried that I’d not quite reached all my bits that were susceptible to sunburn.  I didn’t really want to ask another runner, I don’t know quite why, people were friendly, but it was all overwhelming. Instead I drank my water and headed to the first aid station.  They were functional rather than welcoming, but the woman I asked did help.  To be fair she was distracted by her walkie-talkie.  Gist of the conversation as that a runner had fallen somewhere outside the elite start pen and was asking for first aid assistance.  However the person concerned was saying they still intended to run.  The senior first aider was insisting that if they wanted to run, then they needed to present in person at the first aid tent which was only 200 or so metres away if that. I  could sort of see her point.  If the person concerned couldn’t manage that, they clearly weren’t going to manage 26.2 miles were they?

I found a patch of shade and got chatting to loads of people really.  Experienced marathoners shared top tips, with others we just traded nervous energy.  I was hoping I’d see a familiar face, or at least a running club top that I recognised from Sheffield.  In fact, the only close encounter I had, was whilst I was in the loo queue.  A welcome shout and embrace from a friendly Dark Peak Runner – I can’t tell you how heartening that was.  Plus he is a seriously awesome runner, the London marathon is amazing like that, that people like me who try hard but are never going to set the world alight with our athletic prowess can participate alongside hardcore runners like he.  So thank you my friend, best hug of the day.  Actually, maybe second best, the hug at the end just after the finish line from a kindred from way back was better, but that’s a high standard to have to meet!

dark peak hero

In the waiting area there were heaps of official photographers taking snaps.  They were less in evidence on the course, but I had a fair few shots taken at this point, in all of which I look flabby and rather posed, which is probably an accurate representation of my outward manifestation unfortunately.

801492_273868355_Medium

Then the big screen started showing the various starts.  In the pre event information we’d been warned that it could take up to 45 minutes to cross the start, but even so the loo queues were now absolutely monumental.  I decided to join one.  10 o’clock came and went, but I was in pen 8, the final one.  The good news was that this gave me the confidence to hang on in the queue whilst others abandoned it wrestling with twin worries of full bladders and blind panic.  The less good news was by the time I’d relieved myself I was literally at the very back of the starters.  This did cause me some problems as although I’d be the first to acknowledge I’m slow, I was behind people who weren’t planning on running at all, and that did hamper me increasingly round the route, although I suppose you get the morale boost of over-taking many, it is hard work to do so.  I did an extra half mile at least just weaving around en route.

loo queue

It was clear nothing was moving anywhere, so I sat about a bit, then went to see what the fuss was and discovered the lung costumes.  These were extraordinary creations, light weight they ought to have been perfect for running in, except that unfortunately there was quite a strong breeze which would be a nightmare.  There was one man and the other turned out to be being worn by Katie Price, so there was a little media flurry around her.  I looked on with another runner who was hilarious and who I subsequently ran with for part of the course, if by ‘running with’ you mean ‘we took it in turns to over take each other’.  She gave a running commentary on the shenanigans, as Katie Price was crawling about on the ground apparently trying to put on her timing tag which was a not insignificant challenge wearing a fancy dress lung.  Earlier in the day, one of the people on the coach said that when they went to pick up their number Katie Price was next to them at the same cubicle.  She was at the wrong stand but couldn’t seem to grasp this and in the end the steward gave up trying to redirect her to the correct desk and instead went off to retrieve her pack for her. I’m torn, because I do rather enjoy that anecdote as reinforcing a certain stereotype and I do believe it to be true – it’s not something you’d make up.  On the other hand I can identify with the runners fog that descends at the expo and sometimes the dismissal of Katie Price’s achievements has a smack of misogyny.  Fair play to her, trying to run a marathon in a lung, I’m not a fan of hers especially, but that’s stepping up to a challenge, and she has completed marathons before, so it wouldn’t be fair to assume it is just a vanity project for her – though is suspect some of her endeavours may be.

Finally, about 10.45, it looked like our pen was about to be moved forwards.  I was so far at the back of the line up I wasn’t even in the pen.  The plus side of this was that I avoided the claustrophobia of being rammed up against other runners for a motionless 45 minutes, and instead had been able to amble about gawping at lung costumes and fraternising with other runners.  The down side was that this was a great many runners I’d need to pass later on.  Oh well, que sera.

The start line is weird.  We were sort of marched through the seven, now empty, pens ahead of us.  It was then I began to feel quite emotional, this was suddenly actually about to happen.  The various red-jacketed marshals who’d been staffing baggage lorries and directing runners were now free of their duties so lined the railings clapping us towards the start.  So much good will, it’s bizarre objectively, I mean on one level it is just a run which is ultimately futile, after all, we now know for sure that whilst a 5km run might add 30 minutes to your life it remains a net loss given that it can take 40 minutes to achieve by the time you’ve faffed about.  However, on another level it is this incredible coming together for a shared purpose, and people willing each other to achieve.  You know what, the London Marathon is basically one enormous parkrun on acid.  Maybe a parkrun celebrating its birthday, but essentially that.   We passed pens where you could discard clothing – thin pickings this year, nobody was wearing extra layers to keep warm at the start this year.  Worth knowing if you are running another year though. The clothing gets picked through by charities who wash and reuse where possible.

The anticipation was really building.  I struck up conversations with other runners, including a marathon veteran fancy dresser. His advice, pick a side and stay close to the crowd, smile and engage with them and you’ll get their support.  If you see someone in more spectacular fancy dress or with a more emotive back story, put space between you.  Again, and again the advice was ‘just enjoy it, soak it all up’.

Finally the start was in sight you could hear the commentary.  Oh.  My.  Gawd!

nearly across the start (2)

Oh, and those balloons I saw earlier – they were marking the start! Who knew?

hot air balloons at start

You my dear reader will know I make it a rule never to commence running until I have a foot on the starting mat, but the excitement was tangible. When the arch of the start came into view many around me broke into a full on sprint.  You can really see why the repeated advice is ‘don’t go off too fast!’ it’s oh so tempting.  Finally my foot was on the timing mat.  It was unreal.  ‘I’ve done it, I’ve done it, I’ve crossed the start of the London marathon!’ up until the heat wave, I was always quietly confident that if I made it to this point of the marathon, I’d make it to the end.  I was so excited, but also a bit apprehensive ‘please don’t let me blow it, please don’t let me blow it‘, I was thinking to myself.  On the right was the grandstand, probably packed with the great and the good but I didn’t really care about that, on my left was the band of the horse guards!  Stupidly, even though I’d seen them on the large screen TV I had absolutely no idea they were playing at the start. Astonishingly, as I’m not particularly into pomp and ceremony, I found that really moving.  There is a sense of being part of a significant national occasion, yeah, yeah as a bit part, but even so, it was a remarkable wave of emotion.  Then there was a bank of photographers, snapping us marathon runners (get me, marathon runner now) as we passed.  I wanted to freeze frame the moment on the back of my eye, I’ve never experienced anything quite like it, and after all that waiting around, despite the heat, it was fantastic to actually be running the streets of London.   I can’t find a single shot with the horse guards playing, all the photos are facing towards the grandstand, still, here are the wheelchairs screaming out the starting hatch.  Impressive.

start line

Edit – found one picture in an article ‘running on empty’ which includes lots of dispiriting shots of collapsed runners, but also one of the bank behind the mass start lead runners.  It gives you the gist…

start band

There was support right from the start, so many images, so much enthusiasm. It’s hard as I sort of wanted to take each and every moment in, but also wanted to keep moving, get properly underway and put some miles behind me.  I was very aware it was already nearly 11.00 o’clock, the heat was going to get increasingly oppressive and I didn’t know how I was going to cope with that.  I was however thinking of friends of mine who didn’t make the start, or had missed out on the ballot, and sort of locked down a promise to myself that I would do my darndest to get around this, and be sensible about listening to my body to give myself the best chance of doing so.

The first mile went past quickly, I decided I’d try to take a photo at each mile marker, to help me recall the event.  It honestly is such a blur.  This is an official photo of the mass starters at the one mile mark – it was a little less crowded when I went through!  Even now, looking back at these photos, I find it really hard to believe I was actually there.  It’s so bizarre.  At the risk of increasing the levels of irritation at my account you are probably already suffering, I can honestly confirm taking part in London seems to me to be a unique experience.  It makes it hard to process and recall, the memories are there, but elusive, trying to shape them is like trying to pick up mercury with a fork, although possibly less hazardous.  Mercury is dangerous stuff.  Stay safe people, stay safe.

first mile mark

Even though I’d consciously been slow, my first mile was a lot faster than I intended.  I felt tickety boo, yep, swept up in the occasion no doubt, but strong, hydrated, my sun hat was doing its job, my sunglasses remaining in situ, I just decided to slow a bit and try to find the trot, trot, plod, plod rhythm that I finally discovered on my last few long runs and stick to it as long as I could.  What I laughingly refer to as my training plan was, well, let’s say ‘idiosyncratic’, but oh my, I’m glad that I prioritized my long runs over everything else, if I hadn’t I would never have worked out spontaneously what that steady pace was and been able to recognise it.  The heat was building, but I knew my legs and lungs could do the distance, everything else was going to be race day management.  Not easy in unknown conditions, but not impossible either.  I tried to remember all the advice I’ve been given about coping with the first few miles of the marathon.  Pacing, all about pacing.

Mile two.

Trot, trot, feeling fine.  This was through the residential outskirts of London.  There was little shade, and it was quite quiet compared with the crowds later on, but there was still support and encouragement from marshals.  One called out when there was a little trio of portaloos for any desperate for a pit stop.  I was still a bit shell-shocked, I was aware of other runners, but it wasn’t especially chatty at this point, people were sort of trying to slot into their pace I suppose.

One particular highlight though were the humping volunteers.  I think they were a scout troop, equipped with warning signs they worked in pairs standing either side of the road at every speed hump just shouting out ‘hump’ constantly, to warn oncoming runners of the hazard. This struck me at the time as quite comical, honestly, road runners are delicate flowers!  Many miles later on though I stomped down too hard after an unseen bump and really felt it, I wished the designated humping marshals were present then!

humping marshals

Mile three.

Mile three stood out because another runner took my camera off me to take some action shots of me running.  He threatened offered to do a video but I talked him down from that rash move.  Not only because I suspect had I actually watched any footage subsequently, that would definitely have brought me face to face with an unedited version of my aesthetic awfulness whilst in running motion that would mean I’d never run again, but also because it would have drained my camera battery. I’d need some power for the finishing flourish!  The photos aren’t great, but they are authentic. At the end of mile three was the first water station.  This delivered early promise, lots of water, and volunteers holding it out.  I had drunk a good litre just in the waiting area at the start (bottles were available there and I’d taken extra with me) so I felt OK, but drank anyway.  The bottles being given out were quite dinky 250 ml ones I think.

Mile 4

I was excited going into the fourth mile.  It was at this stage in the course the blue start and red start merged, so you get a sense again of how enormous the event is.  Also, I knew at the end of this mile, all being well, I had a reasonable chance of seeing my first familiar faces en route.  And, I hadn’t yet keeled over and died, and that was one parkrun down already!  Things were looking good.  The supporting crowds were more in evidence and I was enjoying the different signs spectators were displaying.  I hijacked one ‘go Lucy’ as my own, I think that was fair game, and loved the creativity on show.

Not the most salubrious of surroundings, and quite exposed to the ever hotter sun, but still a good atmosphere.  My watch was bleeping slightly ahead of each mile marker, which was great, because it meant I knew to look out for my personal cheer squad.  My Erstwhile Flatmate and her dearly beloved daughter and sign maker extraordinaire, who had so handily relocated to London just last week, to find their new house right on the London route.  I looked about and THEY WERE THERE!  What’s more, they had a personal sign just for me!  It even had a likeness of Geronimo on it.  This was completely brilliant.  If ever you support a runner at a marathon, or indeed any race, I can promise you, you will bestow a joy you can’t imagine on your runner of choice.  It was fantastic to see familiar cheering faces.  It also made the experience seem real for the first time. Like and external validation that I was really doing this.  Plus, once hugs were exchanged and photos taken, it meant the tracking app was doing its stuff and so there was a reasonable chance I might even see others amongst the crowd as I went round  – though I did set my expectations pretty low about that, I thought better to be pleasantly surprised if I did see people rather than carry the burden of crushing disappointment if I didn’t.  It’s harder than you might think to sport people when running and no doubt for spectators to espy their runners too.

MIle 4 vision of loveliness

Buoyed up by the sight of my personal cheer team, I rushed on through the mile four arch with a new spring in my step, feeling hot, but positive.

DSCF2148

Into mile 5.

This is the point where things settled down.  I was amongst similarly paced runners.  There was a bit of gentle leap-frogging of other participants as we passed and repassed each other.  I had a bit of a chat with a guy in an old British military uniform who was running the whole thing with a back pack containing loud speakers blasting out various uplifting military tunes like the dam busters theme.  He was friendly.  Asked if I’d practised in my fancy dress – I had – he hadn’t. His view was it was going to chafe on the day whatever, so why put yourself through that discomfort twice.  One guy was holding a structure with an old-fashioned honky horn attached,  offering ‘free honks’ which I took advantage of.  We had another water station – the amount of discarded bottles was a bit terrifying.  I wasn’t desperate, but was a bit perplexed that there didn’t seem to be any water available.  Some volunteers seemed to be picking through the debris looking for bottles with some water left in.  I had a momentary wave of anxiety.  It seemed a bit off that a water station would have been drunk dry already, but I pushed that to the back of my mind. This is the London marathon, they’ll be on it. I’m not even thirsty yet and anyway there’s water every mile they said, so just rock on. It was somewhere around the mile 5 arch I took advantage of some portaloos with no queue for a quick pee, that was my only pit stop and a good call.

Mile 6

For me, this was one of the best miles of the day.  It wasn’t yet too hot, support was building and I felt strong and was actively enjoying myself.  I started to soak it all up a bit more, there was Dave the Samaritan’s phone box, one of my new buddies from the hotel breezed by looking strong.  Point of information, she’d nipped into Toni & Guy the day before somewhere in London to get her hair plaited up so it was out of the way for the marathon. They’d done it for free as she was a charity runner AND she got an upgrade on the train from Manchester.  She must have a particularly winning way about her, I got no such privileges, but I did still soak up a lot of spirit of London good will.

Best bit of this section FREE ICE LOLLIES.  Obviously when you are drilled with the warning ‘don’t do anything new on race day’ that can’t possibly apply to taking sweets from strangers or mean you would run on by a line of women waving cooling ice lollies in your eye line.  I took full advantage of that and walked for a bit. Some people high up in flats alongside the route started screaming at ‘giraffe woman’ and I waved back, we went under some sort of flyover and there was a full steel band playing in the shade, it noisy beats echoing round the concrete cavern.  I found a woman with a giraffe and requested a selfie – she looked bemused.  Maybe she doesn’t quite buy into the giraffe kindred thing?  I was feeling the heat now, well it was moving into hottest part of the day, noon ish or so if I’d hit the 10k mark, it takes me a bit over an hour to run 10k and I’d crossed the start about 10.50 a.m. I thought.  There was a rhino-suited runner keeping on putting one foot in front of another though, no idea how he was coping.  Everywhere there were high-fiving crowds, people shouting your name and punching the air screaming how amazing and awesome we all were.  Imagine the most enthusiastic junior parkrun marshals ever, cloned, multiplied and ten deep on either side of the road the whole way round.  Well the enthusiasm levels and joyfulness were akin to that.  Others in the crowds picnicked by the road side, toasting your efforts as you passed or just simply soaking up the sun and the spectacle from outside their houses.

mile 6 done.

Into mile 7.

This was a corker!  Lots of highlights.  Unexpectedly I saw – or more accurately was seen by – a full on Smiley Support team.  Complete with massively enthusiastic(ish) off spring and bespoke Smiley Paces support signage.  Again, completely brilliant, more so for being unexpected. I’d known they were down supporting another speedier runner from Steel City Striders, but because I was going to be so far behind them I honestly had zero expectation they’d still be hanging around to cheer me on afterwards.  It was just great, a real lift.  Then I unexpectedly arrived at the Cutty Sark.  I was trying to remember what this meant in terms of breaking down the distance.  Martin Yelling in one of his pep talks, described using the London landmarks to break down the run.  It is a truly amazing sight, the glorious sunshine that was making running hard, did create a spectacular backdrop to the shape of the ship.  This wasn’t a  massively congested area for spectators either, I think it would be a good place to spot runners from the comfort of a balcony bar.

A little later on another fabulous treat in the form of one of my London Marathon Superstars support-group. Armed with an encouraging smile and lots of haribos she gave me a hug and a shove, and soon I was off again.  ‘This is brilliant!’

Mile 8

At this point, things started to unravel a bit, I reached another water station that had no water.  I’ve really tried to ‘park’ my fury at this, because my experience of London was at least half the water stations had nothing left by the time I reached them.  I can cope with the idea that this was because of unprecedented heat, and that the logistics meant it wasn’t possible to restock quickly enough to cater for all runners. What does enrage me though it the official statement that declared they were aware of water running out at stations 8 – 10 as if they were the only one’s affected.  NOT SO!  I struggled to get water almost the whole way round.  I found only one snuck in reference on the telegraph news page that stated ‘They later said: “We have supplied additional water from our contingency stocks to water stations 16, 17, 18, 19, 20 and 23.”  My recollection is water was missing before mile 8 as well.  Not good.  Some comments on twitter in response to the London Marathon tweet on the day support my contention I was not alone in finding the route a desert at times.  Soooooo disappointing.  No idea how karaoke man – at the risk of stating the obvious, a guy who sang enthusiastic karaoke all the way round – survived with his vocal chords in tact!

I sort of did a mental calculation, I wasn’t dehydrated yet, I was carrying some water albeit with electrolytes in it that I’d intended to have later on in the course, but it meant it wasn’t game over.  I asked at the water stations if there was water ahead, but the response was vague.  To be fair, these stations were staffed by volunteers who didn’t have any overview of what was happening. I actually felt a bit sorry for them, there must have been thousands of thirsty runners behind me, and it was getting even hotter, particularly with glare back up from the road.

There were more sights and sounds to distract me from the water issue. The Wolverhampton bobsleigh team, two minnie mouse women from Sheffield who later got 15 minutes of fame helping a fellow runner across the finish who’d fractured her leg.

Then there was the first of the walk through showers.  These are actually quite discretely located by the side of the road, so you can choose whether or not to avail yourself of them.  I did.

A bit further on, the fire station had set up much more impressive cooling showers.  If you are really shallow, you might have imagined these cooling heroes would look like this:

fire fighter

The reality is way hotter people.  It was fantastic to see them out in force, soaking it all up, and giving runners and spectators alike a welcome soaking.  Rainbows and everything,  Fantastic.  It was joyful too, like when you see kids running through fountains in public spaces.  We don’t always get a chance to do that once over the age of 10!  I might have swallowed a bit of London Thames water though, I wasn’t quite so enamoured of that!

So, some definite highs.  However, then I got to a third water station with no water.  I could feel myself panicking.

Mile 9

I was starting to think that might be it now for the rest of the course.  Also, the more consecutive water stations there were without water, the more the following one was likely to be fallen on. These blooming water stations were less oases in a desert and more mirages.  A guy in a van had 6 water bottles wrapped up, I joined the queue in time to get one – only for another runner to snatch it away!  I was quite shocked.   What followed though was a moment of clarity.  I was determined to this thing.  I did have some agency here, I still had the water I was carrying, and I didn’t want to be one of those people who blamed others or circumstance for not getting round. This was not game over, but I did need to think.  I also needed to eat, but I couldn’t because I was getting too thirsty and dry mouthed to cope with any naked bars.  I sort of mentally went through my options and decided to work my way out of this. I’d done the Sheffield half marathon dehydrated, that was horrible too, but I did it.  I’d also done that awful 17 miler feeling sick and hungry early on in training.  This was where the mental challenge came in.  My legs and lungs could do this, I just had to work out how.  I stopped, decided to walk and drink my electrolyte laden water.  I couldn’t manage my naked bars, but I had some of my glucose tablets instead, and that revived me.  I made a very conscious decision that I was going to finish this, or at the very least, wasn’t going to give up with anticipatory defeat before I really could no longer put one foot in front of another.

It was galling to see so many emptied bottles.  There was not a drop left in any of them. Some children had cottoned on to what was happening and were scrabbling about trying to find traces and pour them all together to create sips of water to hand out.  however, I think the advice early on to drink, douse, drain and drop meant very few bottles had any liquid left in them.  I saw the official record attempt for armour power walking.  I told myself I was OK, it wasn’t game over yet, I’d just need to be resourceful.  Spirit of London and all that.  See what happens.

Mile 10 and 11

Still no water.  Four consecutive stations.  I began to despair if there was ever going to be water again.  I begged a sip from a first aid station, but they literally just gave me enough to wet my mouth.  Outside a pub a guy was standing with a circular tray of cups of water so I had that, and then a little later on a woman beside the road had brought a jug out.  Her children I think, had scavenged some discarded cups from somewhere and was filling them up as best she could, I tried not to think about how dirty they were I was just grateful for the liquid. Then another runner ahead of me was holding a bottle out.  ‘Are you seriously offering that?’ I asked. He was, he’d been into a shop to buy some, this was sparkling water but I didn’t care, I drank about half and then passed it on to another desperate runner.  It’s a tough one, I am sorry I wasted time and energy on this marathon of all marathons searching for water.  However, the fact it wasn’t there did bring out the best in people, it gave me more interactions with spectators and runners, and added perhaps to making this a very memorable event.  I think had I ended up as a DNF because of it I’d be taking a different line, and I was actually quite scared at points.  Maybe it’s good to be reminded that we should value clean water as a scarce and precious resource, it’s so easy to take it for granted, even though I have witnessed first hand how hard it is for communities who don’t have this ‘luxury’ in Cambodia and elsewhere.  At the end of the day this run is/was an indulgence, and lack of water is exceptional not a daily struggle in the UK.

Mile 12

 

Mile 12- 13 including tower bridge

I can’t quite remember when we finally got water again, I think it was somewhere along mile 13.  I do know I was so desperate for it I just gulped it down, but stocks didn’t look that plentiful.  It was galling that the massive Buxton water cheer point didn’t even have supplies!  Even so, at some point, I must have got water because I remember being relieved, and able to enjoy the next bit which coming towards the half way point was a highlight.  Tower Bridge!

This was an emotional moment, realising I’d made the half way near as dammit.  Plus, it’s so iconic.  You channel across the bridge and try to take it all in. It is architecturally stunning ,and it’s such a privilege to cross it as a pedestrian.  I wasn’t alone in stopping to take photos I’m sure!

I went over, and then remembered it isn’t quite the half way point after all.  Also, if you look to your left, you can see on the other side of the road, the faster runners streaming along towards the homeward stretch as you pass then going out, as they are heading back.  That is psychologically tough I suppose.  However, the plus side is that it’s quite fun watching other runners.  Alarmingly though, many of them looked absolutely terrible, stumbling about and collapsing by the wayside.  I’d seen a few fallen runners going round, but not with the density as was apparent now. It does seem that the ‘stronger’ runners who push themselves more, collapse more suddenly and more heavily, and it is quite distressing to observe.

However, the course lay out meant that spectators had two opportunities to spot any runners they were looking out for. This led to a highlight of the day for me.  No offence to my own supporters, but the prize for the loudest roar of support I hear all day goes to the East End Road Runners, who went into an ecstatic frenzy of shouting and purple pompom waving at the sight of one of their compatriots even though he was on the opposite side of the road at the time.  It was epic!  I couldn’t not stop to take a shot of them all in action, it might not be the best of photos, but it was an inspirational moment along the course.  That’s why I had to stop and snap it…

Go yogi go east end road runners

and you know what?  They snapped right back!  Go them.  Go us!  Mutual awesomeness all around!

east end runner celebrity sighting

Then through the 13 mile archway and on to mile 14, taking in the half way mark at last.  I have a strange logic when running.  Once I get to the half way point of any run, I feel like well, with every step I’ve got less far to go than I’ve already run, so I know I’ll be fine. This is illogical of course, you still have another half marathon to go, but it gave me a lift to get to this point.

Mile 14 and beyond.

It gets a bit vague here, which you are probably quite relieved about.  Things that do stand out in my mind though were NO BLOODY WATER.  Again, empty water stations for mile after mile.  Some had given up any pretence of having ever had water and were completely abandoned.  It was demoralising.  I was pretty sure I’d make it now, but it was going to be really tough, and again I consciously slowed.

One thing though, I don’t know if it was because it was hot, or because of the lack of water, or because it always happens at marathons, but from about the half way point, I found because I started so far back, almost everyone around me was walking for the last third of the marathon or so.  This mean that I had to constantly over take people, and as I was in a minority in wanting to keep trotting on, albeit slowly, it was hard to stay motivated and physically tiring to weave through the crowd.  It hadn’t been such an issue in the early stages, but it became an issue later on.  Next time (laughs and coughs to self) I’d try and start in a pen a bit further forward so I was alongside others aiming to keep on running.  Easier said than done though…

Sights worthy of note included:  well lubricated-latex gloved St John’s Ambulance staff all along the route.  They weren’t offering impromptu manual prostate tests to runners as part of a public health campaign despite appearances to the contrary. Rather, they were  proffering Vaseline to any runner in need.  They were everywhere.  It ceased to be remarkable after the first few miles!

DSCF2338

Mile 15 – into the tunnels

I am on record as someone who lurves running in tunnels.  So these were fab.  There were two subterranean sections on the course.  It was such a relief to enter the cool of being underground.  The next day a runner a bit faster than me said that when she went into this underground world it was like entering a post-apocalyptic world.  People taking advantage of the shade suddenly were collapsing with exhaustion against the cool concrete walls.  Like the battered survivors from a zombie attack of victims of an air raid who’d struggled to the tunnels for shelter, but had no notion of whether or not they would survive the night, or indeed, what horrors might be unfolding above them unseen.  One of the unexpected bonuses of being a slower runner, was that by the time I got to this point, most of the carcasses had been removed, so it was less disquieting to pass through.  Normally I like to run through tunnels as fast as I can, but on this occasion I thought discretion was the better part of valour, and walked through to try to cool off.

 

Mile 16 – emerging the tunnels

Mile 17 – Grenfell Tower firefighters

I found myself alongside the Grenfell Tower Fire Fighters running pretty much in full kit I was with them for quite a while.  That was moving. Whilst at many other points on the route fancy dress wearers were rewarded with whoops, and shouts and encouraging name calling, for large stretches these firefighters  were flanked by a standing ovation as the crowds applauded them every step of the way.  It was an extraordinary spectacle. They were really nice guys actually, constantly asking other runners if they were all right. With hindsight, I wish I’d engaged with them a bit more. What they have seen and had to deal with is beyond imagining.  From a selfish perspective though, it was hard running alongside them, because whatever effort I put in seemed insignificant by comparison, you are always going to come off worst if you compare yourself to a superhero.  I enjoyed watching how the crowd engaged with them for a while, and then when they paused at one of the fire stations I peeled ahead of them.

It must have been beyond extraordinary to watch them cross the line together at the end though.

grenfell finish

End of mile 17 – supporters en route

I was tiring again by the end of mile 17.  I must have had water again by now, but I felt exhausted by the heat, and erratic hydration had really messed up my fuelling as well as my drinking.  I started to walk.  To be fair, I ran considerably more of the marathon than I expected.  Very slowly it’s true, but it gave me some confidence that I can indeed run a lot further than my innate tendency to stop would have you believe.  Even during the event I found myself questioning how different a run it might have been if the water had been available when promised and the temperatures even fractionally more benign.  I don’t think though that I’m entirely sold on road marathons, but I do have a curiosity about what else might be achievable for me, if I committed to the correct preparation…  At breakfast one of my hotel buddies was instantly my friend when she ‘fessed up to putting on weight during marathon training – I honestly thought it was just me!  And no, it isn’t muscle, my waist bands say otherwise.  The irony of having to wait until after the marathon to get fit is not lost on me, I just didn’t see how dieting for weight loss would fit with trying to carb up in the final few weeks of marathon training.  First world problems I know….  However, I do think if I lost a bit of weight, now I know I can do the distance, I could probably improve my times a bit, I’ll never be exactly speedy, but I do think I’m capable of a faster finish time for a marathon that the one that was achieveable at London on this day.

walking onwards

and then, just as I was thinking how nice it would be to see some smiley support right now, look what appeared as a vision of loveliness in front of me.   To be fair, the photos make it look as if Geronimo saw then first.  It was great!

I gabbled on to them about lack of water and just generic nonsense.  They offered some, but actually I was rehydrated by now and although clearly in possession of runner’s fog, was doing OK.  Their hugs and sporting display of Sheffield running tops from Dark Peak and Smiley Paces running clubs gave me the necessary boost to power on.  My it was hot though.  Nearly there.  I told them I thought water situation was OK now…. it wasn’t.

Mile 18 – nope, can’t remember any salient details,  but into mile 19 and another bonus sighting of a London Marathon superstar, which was fantastic.  She was still brandishing haribos, and possibly snacking on them if the photo is anything to go by.  Well, there are plenty of terrible photos of me from today, it is in the interests of balance if I include unflattering snaps of other people too!

Very soon water stations were dry all over again.  I couldn’t believe it.  Not even staffed any more!  That was better than the false promises earlier on, also, the weather was beginning to cool, there was a breeze coming and it clouded over a bit.

Mile 20 – nearly home,  the highlight of this mile was most definitely getting a cheese sandwich.  That was somehow just what I wanted.  I was sick of my glucose tablets and sweet stuff.  Thanks to this woman for her foresight and generosity!  There were egg mayonnaise sandwiches too, but they were a much less appealing prospect.

Mile 21

Mile 22 – 23 -24

I do like it when spectators make an effort!  The crowds were thinning, but the air was cooling.  Those still watching roared appreciation at any acknowledgement.  I think I wasn’t alone in feeling my increasingly half-hearted loping didn’t really merit such appreciative adulation, but I was taking all on offer all the same.

I kept a watchful eye for the realbuzz team of virtual supporters who were near a garage after the 22.5 mark or thereabouts.  Didn’t see them, I was late though, unthinkable though it may seem, possibly the spectators got bored of standing around cheering before I was done with running.  I know.  Bizarre!

Under the bowels of canary wharf there was music being channelled through speakers and a moving light show with #spiritofLondon displayed on the walls.

Amazingly, my London marathon buddy was here too.  I feel I may have miscounted somehow, but anyway, she took a photo of me so she must have been here, I think it is framed deliberately as an act of vengeance for the photo I took of her earlier.  I think that’s fair!  We can have an understanding about it.

canary wharf

It was great to see her, but it was not all good news.  I was asking her about how she was getting on with tracking our other London Marathon superstars.   Turns out two of the four of us were safely back, I had the end in sight, but one of our number, my fellow smiley pacer, who had been really, really strong suddenly collapsed with a suspected hip stress fracture around the 40km mark, she was morphined and blue lit off to hospital.  I was stunned.  If you’d had to say in advance which of us would have the most realistic chance of getting round you’d have laughed at being asked to state the blindingly obvious in advance and pointed to her – possibly with a slightly apologetic glance in my direction which I’d return with a look of acceptance and understanding.  It was really a no-brainer.  This news shook me a bit, it just shows, even with the best of preparation, training and fitness you need to have luck on your side.  It seemed unfair if I got round when she hadn’t. I also had a moment of thinking hang on, I’ve not finished yet, and had to compose myself a bit to remind myself I was most unlikely to do a face plant into the river at this stage, and even if I did, surely at this stage only an alien abduction should stop me crawling home.  Smiley supporters at home though watched the tracker with horror as I crept up on the other Smiley and eventually over took her.  What was going on?

Mile 25 on

Pleasingly, I did know I had one more supporter to look out for.  Last year I volunteered on a Shelter cheerstation on the embankment and made a new buddy who would be there again this year and had promised to look out for me even though I’d be a long time coming round.

I romped on.  I’d slightly forgotten where the cheerstation was, and vanity meant I really wanted to be actually running when spotted, so I did run, slowly, but consistently, until eventually to my absolute delight she was there!  Hurrah!  So exciting.  It might not have been much of a run, but it was my run, and forward motion at least.

When I’d been imagining running this thing, I’d visualised this moment.  I knew, well, thought I knew, that once I was here, nothing was going to stop me finishing.  It really wasn’t far.  I couldn’t believe it.  I actually felt fine.  It hadn’t been brilliant with Watergate and all, but the #spiritoflondon part, that was cool.  The next stand out moment was int he final stages, the crowd was pretty thin now, but there was a family leaning against a low wall, and the woman shouted across ‘giraffe lady!  We’ve been tracking you!’  How bizarre, I went across and gave high fives and romped on.

Finally, the endgame. The bit you imagine from the telly.  Oh my gawd.  It felt surreal.  Because I was slow, it wasn’t crowded, and the way it’s set up it suddenly quietens. Although it isn’t very far in distance this is a contemplative moment.  I was thinking of the people who hadn’t made the start, my fellow smiley who didn’t make the finish.  I was also wondering what would happen at the end.  I wasn’t completely confident there’d be anyone to meet me because London is chaotic and it’s a big ask for friends to wait in that heat and crowds for hours and hours because you will be wrecked and over-emotional from completely self-inflicted causes.  You could forgive non-running friends for querying ‘well if it’s going to upset you so much and make you ill with fatigue why don’t you just not do it them?‘  Fortunately, my friends are better than that, running or otherwise.

There had been hardly any official photographers along the route – well not that I saw anyway, but there were lots scattered in the end stages.  It remains to be seen what their photos are like.  I did some high-five sweeps on the way in and tried to enjoy the moment whilst simultaneously knowing the euphoria of completion would all too soon become bemused anti-climax.  Blooming endorphins, they wear off fast!  The great advantage of being a slower runner, is that by the time I’d got to this part of the course the crowds had been well trained to proffer up high fives almost instinctively as you come through. Consequently it looks like I have an adoring fan base – and it felt a bit like that too – even though it is just yet another example of the #spiritoflondon and perhaps the kindness of strangers.  Go all of us!

I finally crossed the line.  It was weird, beyond the finish arch I couldn’t see anyone doing finish photos so I sort of shuffled over.  Top Tip if you run.  Charge across arms outstretched you will be caught the other side and your photo will be so much the better for it than my shambling effort.  I think I peaked too soon.

801492_274447950_Medium

You have to keep walking before you get your medal.  That’s nice, the marshals giving medals out also dispense hugs and take photos.  Multi-tasking!

got the medal

I then posed for an official finish photo – which I might add in later depending on how mortifying I find it to be once seen.

801492_273923237_Medium

and then made a dazed trek towards the baggage area and had snippets of chat with others, I’d run with.   One guy said he’d been trying to catch me for miles as he didn’t want to be beaten by the giraffe ‘but fair play to you, couldn’t catch you‘.  This pleased me.  I also coincided with the East End Road Runner with his personal purple cheer squad and told him I’d try to get him the photos I’d taken en route over to him somehow.  he was most gracious.  Everyone I meet running is fantastic, it must bring out the best in people, or maybe only lovely people do it, hard to know which is cause and which is effect.

One of the baggage marshals wanted a photo with Geronimo and me because her daughter loves giraffes, that was nice.  You can’t get lost, signs direct you towards the meet and greet area.  It’s like airports.  You think it’s going to be daunting to navigate because the area is so huge, but ultimately you just traipse along behind everyone else, and if in doubt there were huge signs telling you were to go, and loads of helpful staff to point you the right way and offer reassurance and tell you how awesome you are.  That last bit is nothing like my experience of air travel by the way. Staff at airports routinely subject you to ridicule, discomfort and humiliation, and I’ve never once been given a medal let alone an upgrade, just so you know.

I headed down to the meet and greet.  The advice for main pack runners is to agree to meet at a less popular letter x or z or something, but I just went for L as I thought, rightly, by the time I made it to the rendezvous point most people would have dispersed.  As I was investigating my goody bag and digging liquids out of my kit pack another runner appeared alongside.  Her daughter also loves giraffes, though her daughter was a grown up. So we paused and nattered and I gave her top tips about how to source a giraffe just like Geronimo and we took photos together and then, I heard a scream from the sidelines.  Oh my gawd.  My kindred.  A former work colleague from years back with whom I bonded in adversity was at the side.  She’d come all the way from Leicester to cheer me round.  We’d not seen each other en route, but she found me at the end.  We had an emotional and shell-shocked reunion. It was a bit bizarre, because 18 years ago when we worked together she was the athlete and gym bunny, I did cycle as transport and that was about it.  Again, of the two of us, she was the one who was most likely to do the marathon.  A massive fan of athletics she has a real interest in the sport and the elite women runners in particular.  It was just the hug I needed.  Also, because she is very sporty, she was one of the very few people who wouldn’t recoil at my sweaty, salty and increasingly stinky state. That’s true friendship for you people, right there!

It worked out well, because it also meant we got to spend some time catching up before we got to the rendezvous where other friends joined us.  I say ‘catching up’ but obviously what I really mean is I gabbled some sort of narcissistic self-serving gibberish all about me, and my marathon, and what I’d done in a high-speed monologue, and showed an alarming disregard for her experiences of the day.  Oh well, hopefully forgivable in the circumstances.  She also brought me exactly what I’d requested, a huge family pack of McCoy crinkle cut salt and vinegar crisps, which I pretty much inhaled, in between talking at her.

Whilst we waited at the letter L the woman and family who had earlier shouted ‘giraffe lady’ joined us.  By coincidence the person they were there to support was meeting them at the same letter.  She explained I was approximately the same speed as their runner, and the children were enjoying looking out for my giraffe – they’d actually seen me four times on the way round using the tracker.  That was so strange, it never occurred to me that random people would track me, it was nice though.  More photos.   I was even asked if I would like some prosecco, which I would have, very much, but decided against as it would have been a really terrible idea to follow through with!

After a bit, we were joined by my cheer squad from mile 4.  They were brilliant, bringing sign and logistical certainty with them.  More photos, obviously, but they decided after all not to be photographed wearing medals as ‘it just doesn’t feel right‘ OK then. Check out the graphics on that sign though people, quality work.  On closer inspection, I can’t help noticing it looks as if Geronimo dumped me before the finish arch.  Then again, to be fair, she did strictly speaking cross the line before me, though I obviously prefer to see our achievement as a team effort…

house moving cheer squad london marathon 2018

and then, just when I thought it was impossible to feel any more supported, my London marathon superstar buddy turned up exactly as promised for post race debrief.

and finally with BFF marathon running buddy

I felt truly blessed.  I think what made it special was feeling like the whole city wanted you to succeed in this endeavour and would do whatever it took to help to get you round.  Then, at the end, my friends turned out for me, just when I needed them most, and that’s awesome too.  We are not as alone in the world as sometimes it seems.  Eventually my kindred and my marathon superstar buddies went off to catch their respective trains whilst my erstwhile flatmate and daughter escorted me back to the hotel which was much appreciated and much needed. I just couldn’t think straight, and it was so nice not to have to try to work out where the nearest tube was, or worry about rummaging in my bag to find my room key.   They even whipped out a spare oyster card for me, anticipating I’d not have thought of that.  Reader, I didn’t need one!  One of the coolest things about marathon day as a participant, is that on the sight of your number the barriers at tube stations part for you as if by magic.  Smiling underground staff give you the thumbs up and wave you through as if you are a goddarn celebrity!  It’s pretty awesome. This system worked fine.  One runner who no longer had his number on was a bit worried about being turned away, but was able to blag it with his finish medal.  On arrival at Gloucester Street I had a momentary panic it wouldn’t work as I didn’t immediately spot a staff member around.  I had visions of being made to walk right back to the embankment and being made to start all over again – but it was fine, a laughing official waved me through. Phew.

Once at the hotel, in the highest act of friendship of all, they left me so I could collapse under a shower and go to bed which is all I was fit for.  The hotel had left this in my room though:

Bravo

It was very tempting, but again I resisted, indulging instead in electrolyte laden water, whilst gazing at my medal (which was rather heavy to be honest) in stunned disbelief.  I also browsed through the results to check out which of my fellow runners had made it to the end. Shout out to Cathy Bishop – we didn’t meet, but yay, saw you did it!  We rock.

What the hell happened today?  Nope, can’t really make sense that at all.  Strava tells me this happened:

London marathon strava route

and if you want more detail, there are loads of course maps in sections and as a whole picture on the spectator info section of the London Marathon website here.

Some final thoughts:

Hot runners?  I certainly was, I am a bit disappointed my hot running photo didn’t quite turn out like Sophie Raworth’s at the marathon des sables. I tell myself that even though begrudgingly I concede she ran a tad further than me, she did have the advantage of knowing in advance that she’d have to battle with the heat on the way round.  If I’d been able to do some training somewhere hot so I could acclimatised I’m sure I’d have romped round looking similarly effortless.  (Cough), can you tell which is me?

Oh, in case you care, here is the link to the 2018 results so you can endlessly search random people and see how they fared at the Virgin Money London Marathon 2018 . To save time the Radio Times has helpfully put together a guide to celebrity finishers.  Though in my world, all of us who put in the training – whether or not we made the start line let alone the end, are London Marathon Superstars!

There were loads of marriage proposals en route too, so that’s getting old hat now – no wonder one had to propose wearing a dinosaur suit to up the ante a bit again!  I saw him en route, brave man, as if running a marathon and running a marathon in a dinosaur suit weren’t quite stressful enough eh?  Oh she said yes by the way.

Oh, and there were a shed load of people who still made their Guinness World Record attempts, for the fastest marathon in whatever get up – which is extra impressive in the heat – though, alas I fear even more wouldn’t have done what they set out to achieve.  The stilts one is particularly hard to imagine – how did they get any water at water stations I wonder. Did they have a winch system?  The BBC article about the world record breakers had some fab pics of the Guinness ones, but remember dear reader, all of us who ran on Sunday are record-breaking marathoners, because we took part in the hottest London Marathon on record. Thus, I stake my claim to being not just a marathoner (go me) but a record-breaking one at that.  Yay!

_100991540_michellefrostfastestmarathononstilts

I can truthfully report that running the London Marathon is indeed an amazing experience, the crowds do carry you round. The other runners are extraordinary, and it is all emotional. Everything you have heard about the event is true.  You should wear your name on your vest, you will come to rely on the kindness of strangers, and you will see and hear things you never dreamt of.  The problem is it is so outside ‘normality’ it feels surreal. I swear, now I’m back home were it not for the comforting presence of the medal to stare at I’d think I’d imagined the whole thing.  It’s so unlikely a thing for me to have done, and so outside my other running experiences. I feel very lucky to have had the chance to do it, and slightly shell-shocked that I actually did.

So today, two days later, I can report that I feel surprisingly ‘fine’.  Zero chafing, one minor blister on my little toe, which I always get on a run longer than a half marathon for some reason, and isn’t that bad anyway. I’m a bit stiff, but by no means crippled, though I’m not planning on running for a while and venturing downstairs is not done with the graceful seamless progress and lightness of foot I might wish.  I just really hope my bannisters are pretty securely fixed.   My main aftermath was the next day feeling really wobbly and faint, in fact I did have an anxious moment on the train ride home when I thought I might pass out. I’m sure that’s to do with getting so dehydrated yesterday.  I had electrolytes and just went to bed when I got in and now I feel tired, rather than wiped out.  Also, just for the record, my womb didn’t fall out, not even once, or not that I noticed anyway, so that’s good.

Accepted wisdom about when to run again after a marathon suggests I’m in the clear for doing nothing for about a week, so that’s my plan.  Bit of walking and I’d like to get to parkrun on Saturday, though if I’m being completely honest, that’s partly so I can accidentally on purpose wear my marathon finishers t-shirt  in a ‘oh this old thing, no idea I’d put that on‘ sort of way.   Of course my parkrunning buddies will see straight through me, but you know what.  I don’t care!  I’ll never have just completed my first marathon again though will I? So that will have to be my moment.  I’d wear the medal too if I thought I’d get away with it… maybe at junior parkrun, I might need it as proof if I’m trying to blag a marathon wristband from the RD!  Besides, ultimately, what is the point of running a marathon, if not to bestow temporary bragging rights at least.  I will feel sheepish in the presence of those who ran in half the time it took me to get round, and mindful in the company of those who either did not start or did not finish, but I’m proud of my achievement all the same. Yes, I had some luck on the day, but I did put the training in too, so I like to think I gave that luck the best chance it could to deliver on the day.

So there you go, I ran a marathon and wrote all about it so you don’t have to. But you know what, I really think you should.

Go on. I’m the most unlikley marathon runner in the world, it might be more achieveable than you think, but you do have to watch out for those curve balls.  Luck plays a part for sure, but it’s true what they say if you put in the miles in training it is apparently not impossible, but the mental challenge is very real.

Ballot opens next week.  Just saying….

For all my London Marathon related posts see here

Flor all my marathon training related posts see here

I bought a photo bundle in advance.  I did get loads of photos, most of which are excruciating, but they are still good to have.  You get a load of gallery images too, which is fun, or not, depending on whether or not you have participated in the event yourself, or just been made to endure it by someone you previously thought to be your loved one, but have now gone off quite a lot because actually, them talking about shoe choices, long run challenges and nutrition angst is really boring unless  you are either planning on running a marathon yourself, or have already done so.  Sorry about that*.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

*not really though

Post script:

So now we know there was one fatality at the London marathon 2018.  A young man, it seems so desperately sad.  Matt Campbell collapsed at the 22.6 mile mark, and now there is a movement to finish his missing 3.7 miles as a sort of tribute to him, and to donate to his charity of choice as well.  He was only 29 for pities sake.  You have to respect the marathon distance.  Fatalities are actually pretty rare, though I suppose as the first one was Pheidippides himself, the original marathon runner, the warning is there.  News like this brings you up short (pun unintended).  Why him?  Why anyone? What a waste.  #finishformatt

Matt Campbell finish for matt

Whilst not suggesting the two situations are equivalent, we Smiley Paces people are going to run to finish our fellow Smiley’s marathon as well, by turning out in force at Sheffield parkruns, and likewise donating to the charity she was supporting by getting sponsorship for her run.  These are small gestures, but a way to offer some solidarity to those who DNF.

It seems that whatever your level of prior fitness or preparation, you can’t really take a challenge of this distance for granted.  You need to train, you need to prepare, you need to listen to your body and you need to be lucky too.  Or failing that, at the very least not unlucky on the day.  Events can certainly unfold in  unexpected and unwanted ways, that’s what makes the challenge worth taking on…  His death is truly sad, all those who DNF I’m gutted for them, would it put me off tackling another one, honestly, not really.  I can think of worse ways to go…

 

Categories: marathon, motivation, race, road, running, running clubs, teamwork | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

London Marathon 2018 – the final countdown.

Digested read: Hottest marathon on record?  Kill me now, I’ve moved beyond maranoia now into complete panic.  Trouble is, only one cure, getting to the end of the route on Sunday.  Aaaaargh.

This is getting serious now.

It’s no longer maranoia that we can chuckle about conspiratorially, sort of masochistically relishing the range of symptoms that are common amongst runners facing their first (maybe even any) marathon, that are part of whole marathon experience and help make it real.  What I’m now is experiencing full on panic!  In addition to the standard marathon angst of being fearful that I’ve not trained enough; conjuring up random niggles; and the growing realisation that I have no innate athleticism gifted to me by my genetic inheritance I have added, super sized angst from the addition to the mix of the likely DLR strike over the marathon weekend and a forecast of a sudden heat wave on the Sunday which I’m completely unprepared for.

It looks likely that the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) planned strike action by the RMT union will affect services over a four-day period from 04:00 on Friday 20 April until 03:59 on Tuesday 24 April.   As this line services the ExCel centre where the London Marathon expo is held, and every runner needs to visit, this is going to impact plenty of people.  Even so, regarding the DLR strike, I’m actually (at the moment, could all change when I get there) reasonably philosophical about this.  Workers do have the right to strike, and I’ve been on strike myself, so it would be inconsistent of me to object to others doing the same.  Of course they have more leverage over the London marathon weekend, so who can blame them for upping the ante then.  Funny how it’s always workers who get the blame for going ahead with a disruptive strike rather than employers for not addressing issues that have led to any dispute in a timely fashion.   The DLR strike I can’t do anything about.  It matters, because it will make getting to the Expo centre to register for the marathon a complete pain.  However, in this instance there are tens of thousands of other runners in the same situation.  Logically therefore, there must be some contingency plans in place.   Indeed there is some talk of extra buses and some limited information on alternative routes.  I wasn’t too impressed though with the advice:

We advise runners to register for the race at ExCeL before strike action takes effect where possible. The Expo is open from 11:00-20:00 on Wednesday 18 April and 10:00-20:00 on Thursday 19 April.

Not all that helpful if you don’t live in London and/ or have any kind of occupation or daily responsibilities.  I get their point, but really?  Bottom line, I can’t do anything about this beyond allowing time to find an alternative route and trusting the London public transport system to provide a solution.  I’m glad though, that I’d already planned to go up Friday afternoon, as that does give me some extra lee way.  So I’m conflicted.  I say I’m philosophical about all of this… but actually, worrying about the logistics has left me crapping myself, which is not helpful for maintaining either electrolyte balance or dignity pre the event.

Not to worry, I am distracted from focusing exclusively on the transport challenges, by self-defeating trauma over the weather forecast for next Sunday.  Pretty much all my training has been dogged by ice, snow and blooming freezing conditions.  I’ve been in a constant battle to avoid hypothermia, and only in the last couple of weeks have I been able to run even without a jacket.  Now, it seems likely that on Sunday, the weather forecast is not just in double figures, which I’ve not seen all year, but could even hit 25 degrees (depending on which weather forecast your believe). That’s crazy!  It’s actually dipped down a little just now to a ‘mere’ 21 degrees on the BBC website, but even that is going to feel really, really tough. I’m rubbish in the heat at the best of times, but with zero opportunity to acclimatize, it’s not going to be pretty.

weather forecast

The problem is, that mantra ‘don’t do anything different on marathon day‘ is really, really important, and yet… if it’s really going to be 15 degrees hotter than I’m used to, and with sunshine, maybe I do need to think about electrolytes? Gels and sports drinks might be the ‘obvious’ answer, but I can’t tolerate those and haven’t used them in training.  Obviously I’ve sweated a bit, but I think the highest temperature run I’ve done to date would be significantly under 10 degrees.  Plus, running in the heat will slow me down, so I could well be out there for even longer than anticipated based on my training to date?  What about a hat and sunglasses?  I hate running with a hat, but that could be my best defence against the sun’s rays, similarly sun glasses, I can’t imagine running in them.  Aaaargh.  Whilst it is beyond my control to order the elements to deliver up better meteorological options, at least along the route, there are some precautionary measures I could take, but they all represent changes to kit, nutrition, hydration and pace, all things you really shouldn’t do pre a marathon and definitely not as a hat trick of variables to mess with all at once.  Also, if it was within my power to control the elements and conjure up rain or clouds at will, then it is arguable I ought to harness those powers for the greater good.  Some people, granted maybe non-runners on the whole – might argue that controlling the elements to reverse climate change or relieve drought might be a higher purpose.  Tough call though, faced with the forecast for London.  I like to think I’d do the right thing, but, having to choose between perfect weather for my first and only marathon or reverse climate change and save the world in perpetuity, well, let’s just agree it’s lucky I don’t have to choose!

Not to worry, there is plenty of advice on-line Runners’ World issued an article ‘what hot temperatures do to your running and how to cope‘.  I’m sure it was a well-intentioned article, but it did nothing to reassure me.  The key points seem to be to give yourself a week to ten days to acclimatize, and you will cope best if you weigh about 7 stone (spoiler alert, not applicable to me dear reader) and/or have high surface area to body mass ratio.  Don’t be solidly built basically, bit late to do owt about that either.  It also provided grades of awfulness of conditions, starting with anything about 10 degrees C as impacting negatively on performance, over 20 degrees, might as well lie down and die on the spot is the general gist I think.  I am not feeling confident at all.

820-02248140

This post by Ben Parkes has a few more practical suggestions relating to running London in a heat wave.  There are some showers en route.  Note to self, find a place to stash dove shower lotion to make the most of these on the day.

I’ve done a few things in anticipation to try to help me to cope.  I’m going to put electrolytes in my water bottles that I carry, so if desperate I can use that. I  can’t tolerate gels or sports drinks, so daren’t risk suddenly switching to them. I’m also going to try to identify and carry some sort of salty snack – nuts maybe, as I think that would be OK. I’ve got a sun reflecting cap I bought to wear when I was working in Cambodia.  Honestly, I never really got on with it, plus it’s deeply unflattering, but it is a running cap, and it’s light so could be a practical option.  I’ve also bought sun block, as that’s an easy thing to sort, though of course I have to worry about sweat causing it to run into my eyes and blinding me en route.  Oooh the angst, it’s unbelievable what I can find to stress about.

However, shallow as it is to take comfort in such things, I do console myself with the thought that at least I’m not running in a rhino costume.  Or a the back-end of a camel.  Or giant ostrich costume, or carrying the angel of the north.  All of which just goes to show that a) I don’t know what the green dinosaur/gruffalo thing is and b) there is always someone worse off than yourself.

Geronimo is officially my running buddy, we are in it together, at least as a giraffe she, unlike me, should have some genetic adaptations to cope with the heat.  Also, if I do fall to the pavement, she will cushion my fall.  Also, it may yet be that the salty tears streaking down my face at the pain and horror of the heat might actually help, providing a cooling effect as they evaporate, and allowing me to lick them off my face in order to re-ingest the salt.  Thinking about it, I wonder if that’s an acceptable alternative to carrying electrolytes? Just gathering up the tears of fellow runners in a vial under the pretext of offering them comfort, and using them to replenish my lost salts instead?  I’m feeling more hopeful now.   Perhaps there are some proactive steps I can take after all!  We’ll fly round, just like at the Sheffield half, only for twice as long and with worse race photos at the end of it.  That’s not so bad.  As long as I make it round in time for the bling, that’s doable…

I’m also not feeling well.  Sore throat, which has properly transitioned to shivers and sleepless nights.  The only comfort I take is that I’ve still got a couple of days to go.  Lovely Martin Yelling, who has been doing fortnightly marathon training pep talks has kept saying that this last week wont make too much – indeed any – difference in terms of fitness, so I probably gain more from rest and allowing my body to recover than from forcing myself out to try to ‘keep things ticking over’.  I’ve lost hope that any part of my body will tick over properly ever again anyway.  Right now, as of this moment, I couldn’t spring up to answer the front door, let alone spring round a marathon route.   Even so, I tell myself that once I’m at the start, I’ll have to get to the end to pick up my stuff so might as well just put one foot in front of the other and get on with it.  To be on the safe side I’ve googled ‘running marathon feeling ill’ and basically got loads of people saying they got round and it was horrible but that way no regrets.

Personally, given that I can’t defer again anyway, whatever the weather, however rough I feel, I can not, and will not let this opportunity pass me by.  I am so grateful for this chance, and mindful of other talented runners who either missed out on the ballot, or, arguably worse, got knocked out in training by injury or illness.   It’s hard to say why, ultimately it is only a run, and an inherently pointless activity.  The thing is though I’ve watched this event on the telly for years and years thinking how amazing it would be to run London but with the sub-text ‘but I could never do that.’  Contrary to popular belief, I am not completely delusional, I know I am an unlikely candidate to get round a marathon.  Nevertheless, I’ve trained, I’ll try, and if I can do this, it matters not whether the result is pretty, what matters is that it will be a minor victory for the underdog.  If I can do this, then maybe it shows me and others too, that we can all do more than we think.  We wont know what unless we plunge out of our comfort zone and give it our best shot, you only know your limits when you’ve tested them. There is no getting away from the symbolism of completing a marathon, it’s supposed to be testing, that’s sort of the whole point…. I  suppose  I was just kind of hoping the test would not involve running in heat like an ant trying to flee from the focused rays of a magnifying glass. That seems a little harsh.  But hey, there’d be no point if it was easy would there?  And think of the anecdotes?  All will be well, or not.  But we get to find out really soon now.  Aaargh.

I need to keep it in perspective.  To help me rationalise this, I made a little list to try to see my situation objectively.  You should try it, it really helps, basically, I reckon the only things I really need to stress about are the following:

Angst (all variants); Boiling hot weather; Chafing (everywhere); Dehydration; Electrolytes (take/dont take; Fancy dress fails; General malaise; Hydration (over/under); Injury (pre/ during and post even); Just everything really; Knee niggles – why is it doing that wobbly thing NOW also KIT what to wear; Looking stupid if I don’t make it round (or looking stupid anyway) and/or Leaving Geronimo behind somewhere; Missing my supporters (if any) en route; Niggles; Over emotional (becoming); Precautionary pee opportunities; Queues (for loos/ start/ registration); Running; Sunburn, Strike, Socks choice, Shoe lace tightness and Sore throat; Temperature; Trainers, Timing device and Tomtom malfunctioning, Travel plans; Underwear (see chafing); Virgin London Marathon (being required to run it); Water stations – Where are they? Watch – will battery last; Xcel arena – how to get there; Yes, basically everything – Zikes, not quite what I was looking for in putting things in perspective!

The only real comfort is that this day is coming round ready or not.  It will be what it will be, and being part of the adventure is going to be amazing.  That part, I’m confident about.

I’ve been trying to distract myself by checking out other marathon stories.  Mercifully this has been a feel good week marathon wise – unless you are talking about the Callum Hawkins at the commonwealth games which we wont.  Apart from to say they were running in 30 degrees and it was a lot more humid but even so, seven out of the 24 runners did not complete the marathon.  We need to treat the heat with respect at least!  We wont look at this picture either, bad for morale:

Callum Hawkins commonwealth games

Instead, let’s talk about the Boston marathon.  There is much to celebrate there.  First off, let’s have a whoop whoop for the runner-up.  Sarah Sellers, who, despite working full-time as a nurse romped in to second place in only her second ever marathon.  Now, I’m not saying that I’ll definitely do another marathon after London, but food for thought people, food for thought.

whoop whoop for sarah sellers

In a possibly even more pleasing result (I know, hard to imagine) the first place man was none other than Yuki Kawauchi, known to some from marathon talks, but shamefully not to me.

Yuki kawauchi

The important thing here, is that this man who will henceforth become a living legend in his own time because, get this

Yuki warmed up for the Boston Marathon by running in his home race, the Kuki half marathon, dressed as a panda. He had previously set an unofficial world record in the same race for 13.1miles in a three piece suit. In his panda costume, he ran 1hr 10min 03sec, finishing second, and beating his brother Yoshiki

70 minutes for a half marathon.  In a panda suit.  Genius.  Faster than front runners at Sheffield half, just goes to show, fancy dress really helps you put a wiggle on, just saying.

panda suit yuki kawauchi

I think race organisers are cottoning on to the fancy dress speed premium. That’s why one marathon at least has made it compulsory.  Dear reader, I bring you the marathon du medocFancy dress, and 23 wine and food stops along the way, according to this Guardian article so it must be true.  The theme for 2018 is amusement park apparently, so ferris wheels and carousels at the ready everyone.  Still time to enter, it’s September each year.  It may no longer be a well-kept secret, but it does sound a hoot!  There;s a little video about it here.  Ooh, you know you want to people…

And you know what?  Reading these accounts puts the joyousness of it all back centre stage.  It’s going to be a great adventure.  Everyone taking part, in whatever capacity, running, supporting, spectating, working will have their own micro adventure on the day. There is still something joyful and optimistic about 40,000 people, or thereabouts, launching themselves onto the streets of London, to stream past so many iconic landmarks and find out first hand what a marathon means to them.  I still can’t quite believe I’ll be one amongst the masses too!

My biggest challenge is no longer will my legs and lungs hold out, but how will I manage with the heat.  And the sun, I can’t bear being out in the sun, I think I’m part vampire somewhere along the genealogical line.  I suppose that’s where the mental preparation comes in – or not.  I’ll have to remember what I did to keep going on the long runs when it was cold and horrible, or I felt faint and queasy but dug deep and did it anyway.  To be fair, often it was because there just wasn’t another option.  I can find that mindset on Sunday too.    Also, a fellow London marathoner, who sounds like she’s in the know, tells me that nice London people will give out ice pops en route!  Maybe things are looking up…  Plus, if it’s hot, then it’s going to be a slow one for everyone, at least I’m used to running slowly.  I came across a blog from someone who collapsed at London in heat at mile 17, he shares his lessons from that experience, the main one being, just finish safely.  That’s a good point well made!

So now, I just need to check and lay out my kit, again.  And keep on fretting, because despite all advice to the contrary, I’m increasingly thinking that this is an unavoidable part of the marathon preparation process.

Oh, and two more things. There is an app available now, so people can track your lamentable progress on the day from the comfort of under a sun hat in their own gardens, and also an automatic Facebook page alert.  I’ve signed up for this.  It sends ‘real time’ messages, posting automatically on my Facebook page when I cross the start, half way point and the finish line.  This seemed like a good idea at the time, but now I’m fearful my facebook friends will assume the technology has broken as the sloth like nature of my progress is flashed up for all to see.  Oh well.  I can only do what I can do.  We shall see…

Probably be harder being Mo to be fair, he really has got some pressure on his shoulders.  Setting out to break the British Record on Sunday, in all that heat, that’s real pressure.

lovely farah

Mind you, he doesn’t have to do it carrying a giraffe does he?  Not comparing like with like are we.  Just saying…  I’ll still be too star struck to speak if I see him.  Not that that’s very likely at the start to be fair, but maybe at the expo….

The course map is here by the way.  Eek.  And if you want to know the route from the ground, check out this video time-lapse of the London Marathon Course from the lead car.  I’ve just watched it.  Gulp. Seems an awfully long way, but on the plus side, you get to run through some tunnels!  I’d forgotten about them, and I love running through tunnels.

You know what, with them predicting the hottest London marathon on record I’m truly scared, but I’m also pretty determined to do this.  I’m afraid of course, but you know how it goes

But what if I fall?

Oh, but my darling, what if you fly?

Might be hope over experience, but I want to see if I can fly.  Even if I’m a bit earth-bound, I’m relying on the gusts of good will from the London crowds to give me a bit of an uplift!  I’ve heard it often enough that this will carry you round, I was just hoping for being carried a little bit more literally than I now understand is on offer.  Oh well.

Ready or not.

Bring it on!

At least I’m not wearing the rhino suit.  With apologies to those who are!

 

 

Categories: marathon | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Go Geronimo go! Rocking our sixties chic for Graves parkrun’s Sixth birthday bash. Don’t they grow up fast?

Digested read: parkrun day, Graves parkrun had a birthday, yay!  Six today, party, and a sixties party at that.  Geronimo and I used it as our last joint run pre London (aaaaaaaargh) ’twas wondrous.  Great to catch up with folk over coffee and cake and as for the celebrity sightings – well you should have been there dear reader.  Miss parkrun, miss out.  FACT.

Elvis may well be working in a chip shop, I think that’s old news now, but what is perhaps rather more breaking news, hot off the press in fact, is that Bowie is back performing again – leaving his darkstar to materialise at Graves park in Sheffield.  Fact.  More of this later.

I’m mid taper now pre London Marathon now.  Which is now eight days away.  EIGHT DAYS!  Can’t imagine what it’ll be like to get to the other side of this deadline.  To be fair,    I think I may have gone a bit overboard on the resting part of the taper.  Problem is, I did genuinely pick up a bit of knee niggle at the Sheffield half  last Sunday, and I am terrified of making it worse, so basically I did nothing at all for a few days afterwards.  Tempting though it is to test it, I felt rest it was the better option.  The accepted mantra is you can’t increase fitness at this point, but you can exacerbate injuries.  Then again, lard-arse tendencies take over pretty quickly and by Thursday I was thinking I’d never be able to walk again, let alone run.  I had reached that point of decrepitude when you involuntarily make noises as you shift from e.g. sitting to standing, and this does not bode well.  I’m so stiff!  It’s ridiculous, can’t imagine doing a parkrun, let alone a marathon.   I should be joyfully cavorting round my abode with sprite-like lightness of foot and bouncing off the walls with excess energy at this point, surely?  Not fantasising about being reunited with my duvet all day…  On Thursday I decided I had to do something and so went for a walk into town, about 7 miles in total.  Not exactly arduous, and I’m pleased to report, knee felt better not worse afterwards.  However, not to worry, I have plenty of other things to fret about.  Specifically, I’m now really worried about the weather forecast. It’s predicted to be 21 degrees on Sunday!  That’s crazy, all my training has been in single digits.  Now I’m worried about heat intrinsically, but also how that will impact on hydration and maybe even electrolytes.  Also, fun as the Sheffield half was, and fine as a companion animal Geronimo turned out to be, we did have a couple of fancy dress fails, ideally I could do with another practise run with Geronimo, but I wasn’t over keen on undertaking this as a solitary endeavour, and laps of the garden wouldn’t really replicate the road running experience. What to do dear reader? What to do?

Panic?

Don’t panic!

As always, the running community of Sheffield delivered, just for me!  Specifically, Graves parkrun announced that it was having a fancy dress themed parkrun to celebrate it’s sixth birthday!  Hurrah!  Perfect.  It was as if it was a gift just for me.  Good parkrunners of Graves, I thank you!

60 theme parkrun

Geronimo loves fancy dress and this way we could have another nice chilled run together, and practice getting our stride in rhythm together so we can yomp round more comfortably when we get to London.  Apart from the heat.  No idea what we are going to do about that.  Whatever approach we take though, we are going to be in this together!

Astonishingly, there was no sleet, snow, ice or even rain today.  I did wonder if I might be hallucinating, but reassured myself that even if I was this unfamiliar, nigh on trippy sensation brought about by the unfamiliar sight of sunshine would be entirely appropriate for the theme at today’s parkrun, so no need for alarm.

As usual, I got to Graves park ridiculously early, parked up, got a ticket for the carpark, and then sat in the car listening to the news about bombs being dropped in Syria, recoiling at the seemingly unending vortex of horror that is the state of the world today and contemplating my throwback pink CND symbol necklace and wondering whether anyone, anytime, anywhere has ever given peace a chance…  Eventually, having espied a couple of Monday mobsters decamping from their vehicle, I plucked up the courage to emerge from my own car, and kitted myself and Geronimo out ready for action.  We can so rock this sixties chick look don’t you agree:

GP6 Geronimo super star

I think the daisy headband rather suits her, I might see if she wants to keep that for London.  The colour suits her.

As is always the case, despite it not being my home parkrun, I quickly saw a fair few familiar faces which was great, and reassuring.  One person said she recognised me from the half, I have no idea how that could be, obviously.  Mobsters were out in force – hurrah, been a while since I could tick off quite so many in one go in my I-spy book of Monday Mobsters,  so that was a win.  A few were in magnificent fancy dress – at least I think they were in fancy dress, to be honest, they looked so at home in their gear I don’t know why the don’t wear it all the time… maybe they do?

 

 

Definitely an option, now we seem to have the warmer weather.

Precautionary pee was a challenge due to firstly the queue for the loo, and secondly the lack of a lock on the door and the distance to the door from the throne.  My arm just didn’t stretch that far.  Oh well, a little adrenaline surge pre parkrun can only be a good thing.

As always at Grave, there was soon a good humoured gathering.  Even though it’s a busy parkrun, it has stayed small enough that it’s always really friendly, and you get a sense that most parkrunners know, or at the very least recognise one another, so it’s basically always one big hug-in, only on this occasion with added sixties flare, or more accurately flares.  As if there wasn’t already more than enough vitality and glamour – pizzazz if you will – turns out, the RD had only managed to channel a mahoosive celebrity for the morning. They kept this quiet in advance, I can understand why, conspiracy theories abound, and this one-off appearance was a reward for the loyal parkrun regulars and locals, whilst tourists and visitors will always be made welcome, it would have cheapened the occasion if people only came to gaze in wonder at the star turn and didn’t embrace the whole parkrun participation ethos.  Just IMHO.  I was still massively star struck though.  Obvs.

Oh is it not clear to you yet?  We only had Bowie in his Ziggy Stardust incarnation to do the run briefing.  No way?  YES WAY!  Not only that, just like Elton John rewrote ‘Candle in the wind‘ for Diana’s funeral, in a way cooler exercise in creative genius, Bowie repurposed ‘Space Oddity‘ to cover all Graves parkrun eventualities.  I was in complete awe.  Although he was being channeled by the RD, it was like Bowie was actually there.  Uncanny!

graves control to parkrun

The Graves run report Happy 6th birthday Graves parkrun! (part one)  Event 304, reproduced the lyrics for posterity.  I hope I wont be in breach of copyright by reproducing them again here.  There is also a Graves run report Happy 6th Birthday (part two), because so much fun was had, it couldn’t all be adequately communicated in just the one link!

Space Oddity (Graves parkrun special edition):
Graves Control to graves parkrun
Graves Control to graves parkrun
Tie you shoes laces and set your running watches on
Graves Control to Graves parkrun (ten, nine, weight, seven, six)
Commencing countdown, trainers on (five, four, three)
Remember barcode and may parkrun love be with you (3 2 1 go)

This is Graves Control to graves parkrun
You’ve really made the age grade
And the barcode scanners want to know your position today
Now it’s time to leave the start line without a care
This is Graves Control to graves parkrun
And you’re all running in a most brilliant way
And the cows look very different today
For here
You’re running through the animal farm
Far from the start
The finish line is due
But there’s another lap to do

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, miss parkrun, miss out.  FACT.  Harsh, but true, definitely true.

This wasn’t the only novel happening of the morning.  As has become something of a tradition, it is laid down somewhere in parkrun law, that when events celebrate their birthdays, they shalt run their courses backwards.  Hurrah!  Thus, race briefing over, milestones, tourists and volunteers all duly clapped and cheered, we were led off on a trek to the new for the day start location.  The pretext for this was to avoid congestion at the start of the reverse route as you go into the narrow lanes of the animal park, however, I think we all know it was to give the hi-viz heroes a good laugh as they launched all us runners straight up a near vertical hill start, and yes dear reader, that meant we’d have to finish on an uphill sprint too.  Oh the joy!

As we wandered down, I was pleased to see more familiar faces I’ve not seen in a while, and took the opportunity for some post Sheffield half debriefing.  I got some top tips from others about London.  I still am struggling to say out loud to people I’m actually doing this, which is crazy when it’s barely a week away now.  I have trained, as best I can – admittedly, this might not be immediately obvious to the untrained eye, but I am going to give it my best go.  People were encouraging though, I take heart from that.  I want to come back from London, if not exactly glorious, at least with a feel good tale of how the underdog pulled through.

Hello parkrun, woodrun and miscellaneous other running friends I’ve not seen in ages:

 

 

After more communal clapping, for unclear celebratory/ congratulatory purposes, the shout went up and we were off.  Not terribly fast in my case.  I was telling myself this was legitimate,  I just need to get my legs moving, not fall over the extra legs I had with me for the ride, and remind myself that you can always push out a parkrun, because you can.  That hill was steep though.  Phew.

in reverse theyre off graves parkrun

There is something disproportionately joyful about running a familiar route in an unfamiliar way.  It is weirdly disorienting, and you do see things anew.  The steep start also slowed everyone down, and so it wasn’t such a mad dash as starts usually are.  Cheery marshals laughed and clapped us round, animals completely ignored us as we ran through.  I was particularly taken by a trio of large pigs, slumbering deeply in their straw beds, they weren’t venturing out for hours yet I imagine!

The route feels longer in reverse, and I found it quite challenging, as you get both short sharp hill sections and long more gentle upward inclines.  On the other hand, really who cares, loads to gaze at, cheery marshals and other runners to interact with, what’s not to like?  There was even an official parkrun photographer on hand who did a grand job of capturing many of us in action, and I can only presume edited out all the deeply unflattering ones as they are all crackers as opposed to corkers.  … unless of course she just didn’t need to, because Graves parkrun!ners are exceptionally well turned out and photogenic?  Now I come to think of it that is the more likely explanation.  All the same, thank you Gail Moss for taking some fantastic photos to capture the glorious occasion of Graves parkrun Sixth Birthday.  If you look carefully, you’ll spot the other celebrity sighting of the day in the form of Lily the whippet and wonder dog. Always a treat to see her in action!  Also, one of the runners has a shirt in exactly the brown and orange of a carpet I once had.  I feel it is important I share this with you.  Not entirely sure why.  I am of an age where I can’t quite claim to be a child of the sixties really, well actually I was, but not a teenager in the sixties, which I think is the accepted meaning for a ‘sixties child’ and would make the claim valid – however, I did live with its legacy all around me in soft furnishings in rented properties over the years.  Lava lamps, string art ‘paintings‘, swirly purple carpets and avocado bath suites, experienced them all.    I’m practically a walking oral history project.  Ask me about the firework display when the GLC was abolished or the London Poll tax riots, you’ll ace that history project!

 

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I was my usual slow and steady self, but at least I did keep on running, which was the point of the exercise.  There was some tiny cheer leaders en route, one in a buggy who obliged with a high-five, and another with a very fine elephant covered romper suit. It’s always good to see other African mammals when I’m out and about with Geronimo.

At one point, I heard a booming voice of encouragement from Monday Mobsters on my tail ‘go Geronimo!’ that was great.  Normally I have the runderwear ambassador shouting encouragement at me if she spots me slowing round the Endcliffe park route of Sheffield Hallam parkrun, clearly, for one day only, she had outsourced this responsibility!  Spies are everywhere.

It was a little weird running quite literally with rose-tinted spectacles, and I got really, really hot.  Partly from not having my hair tied back I think, but I have no idea how I’m going to cope if it’s as hot as threatened next Sunday.  As I romped round, someone alerted me to the fact they’d seen another giraffe out on the route.  Another giraffe?  Awesome!  Needed to track them down before the end of play.

GP6 which way again

At one point, on the new homeward straight, I had the slightly unsettling experience of seeing a familiar woodrunner charging towards me, I was pretty confident one of us was going the wrong way.  Panic not, of course dear reader, it’s just that she’d finished and was homeward bound against the traffic, whilst I was still heading to the hill sprint finish.  For quite a bit of the course I did a sort of leap-frog with another runner, she seemed to be faster than me going down hill, but I managed to over take her on the ups. It was quite motivating, and I found it companionable, although it was an unspoken pact between us I think, to get around the end stages in this way.

Finally, the finish funnel came into view, cheering parkrunners clapping us end of throng parkrunners home.  Tokens were handed out, barcodes scanned, and celebratory roses chocolates circulated. Have I said recently what particularly fine and hospitable hosts are on hand at Graves parkrun?  Really, they are!

 

 

Again, the shout went up for ‘first giraffe’ we are nothing if not consistent.  Of course it’s a run not a race however, so this wasn’t particularly important. What was VERY important was to track down this giraffe comrade, stalk her, and get a shot together.  Happily, I was able to spot her at the finish, cheer her in, nab her, and enlist the official photographer to document our meeting.  We are a relatively small giraffe community in these parts for some reason, personally I feel even-toed ungulates are somewhat under-represented at parkrun, so it’s great when we do encounter one another to meet up properly and support one another.n  Uncanny though isn’t it, we are so alike you can hardly tell us apart. For clarity, I’m the one on the right and on the left, depending on which photo you are looking at.  We are both awesome, that’s the main thing.

 

 

I cheered a few more runners home

 

 

Whilst mingling, another runner appeared alongside me and told me she’d found chasing down Geronimo’s tail quite motivational.  I find such comments pleasing and hilariously unlikely in even measures.  Having said that, I too often try to espy a conspicuous looking runner ahead and keep them in sight, and as Geronimo certainly has a most splendid and eye-catching arse, it’s not so surprising as all that.  I then headed off with selfie queen for obligatory post race selfie shots.  She really has a key skill in this line, handy to have on board and at my disposal.  Selfie Queen I thank you.

 

 

Then she went off to do more exercise at British Military Bootcamp because she’s hardcore, and I went off to get coffee and cake, because I’m not  having to carb up which is such a great hardship.

It was really nice in the cafe afterwards.  As good fortune would have it, not only were the run director team doing a little awards spiel to mark the day, but one of the Monday Mobsters was sharing belated birthday celebrations and, more importantly, excellent home-made cake! You might think I’d feel a bit guilty for gate crashing their party, but you know what, I got over that quite quickly, and it was fabulous to catch up actually. Plus I had many pep talks with each, downloading their marathon tips, running tales and being sold the merits of the thunder run, which I’d previously dismissed as paying a huge amount of money just to spend 24 hours running round in circles in the cold and dark all on your own.  I now understand this to be a team event where you get to face plant into a buffet and a complete festival going on around you at all times.  I need to re-calibrate my understanding of that one – not until September, well, we’ll see.

Meanwhile, here are photos of the Rose Cafe celebrations, many were rewarded for year round efforts as tail walker, run report writers – and the cafe staff too were included, looking somewhat overwhelmed as they were thanked for their Stella work!

 

 

Also, there was more cake:

cake there was cake

How lovely is that?

And then, as is always the way at parkrun, a couple of hours after we’d assembled, parkrunners magically dispersed.  Leaving nothing but footprints, and taking nothing but happy memories and newly acquired centres of gravity, depending on each individual’s extent of cake and coffee consumption.  Another glorious shared parkrun morning though, of that you can be sure.

Home, and found to my astonishment the sun was still shining, and there was a fox cub head on my lawn.  Really there was.  This was disconcerting, but I guess part of the circle of  life as first a magpie and then a crow tucked in.  Could have been worse, horses head in the bed would have spooked me more.

So a day of extremes, but overall good.

Thank you parkrun in general for another awesome offering and Graves parkrun in particular for laying on, once again, a fabulous parkrun party.  All is well with the world.  We have parkrun to punctuate our weeks.  What ever did we do on a Saturday before?

So, for me and Geronimo together, that was probably our last joint excursion pre London. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaargh.  I’ll still do another couple of trots out, but Geronimo is going to properly rest up now.  Good plan.  Meantime, I need to focus on my spectator high fiving technique before tomorrow, when it’s back to Graves for junior parkrun.  Instant joy.  Can’t wait!

 

For all my Graves parkrun related posts see here scroll down for older entries

For all my parkrun related posts see here – scroll down for older entries.

 

Categories: 5km, motivation, parkrun, running | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Maranoia mended? Running fun rediscovered, but it took a while to come into view…

Digested read:  wasn’t feeling the running lurve today, too cold, too lethargic.  Then I went to Graves junior parkrun and bathed in the parkrun love and then I went for a run which started badly and ended well, and I made a new friend, and I found a running pace and you know what?  Running is fun again!  Yay.  My maranoia might not quite be mended, but it is most definitely in remission, for today…  No doubt normal service will be resumed shortly.

What a difference a day makes eh?  First thing today I was staring into a void of disillusion and despair. If I thought running a marathon seemed an impossible dream 16 weeks ago, roll forward to today and I felt a pang of nostalgia for those dizzy days of rose tinted positivity that induced me to commence training in the first place. Honestly, what was I thinking?  This marathon malarkey is never going to happen.  I have no idea what I’m doing.  The regime I laughingly refer to as my ‘training plan’ appears to have a) led to zero improvement to my running  – in face I’ve got progressively slower, and b) I lost my long run last week due to the aftermath of an ill advised sports massage.  It’s all going horribly wrong!  Woe is me.  I am a failure as a runner, as a human being, in life – the only thing I’m really good at is personalised pity parties.  Bring on the bulk buy hot cross buns and find me a sofa on which to lie and weep the hot, not-very-healing tears of self-indulgent self-pity.  At that at least I may excel…

 

and then …   lots of running related fun came my way, and now I’m fine and tickety-boo.  No physically  fitter than I was this morning, but a lot more mentally positive.   And they do say a lot of running is in the mind, albeit not all of it unfortunately.   I’m thinking now that I’m just experiencing ‘maranoia‘ the paranoia that I’ll ruin everything in these last few weeks, and probably not even make it to the start of the London Marathon, let alone the finish.  I reckon my maranoia is reasonably severe when it flares up, but I have the kind that goes into occasional spontaneous remission, for this I am thankful.  It is still unpleasant and debilitating though, but hopefully survivable…  Personally, I find what lifts my mood is basically being in complete denial about having to run a marathon, and just doing running related fun things.  One of the saddest Facebook posts I ever read was on some discussion forum somewhere where someone posted that training for London had ‘killed the joy of running’ for them.  I don’t want that to happen to me.  I reckon I’m pretty safe on that score though, I can but dream of being over-trained!

So up early, Easter Sunday and April Fool’s day.  Hurrah.  Grapes disguised as mini creme eggs anyone?

_100652416_easteraprilfool's

My roof is leaking again.  That’s not funny.  Seventh leak now since I moved in.  Not a happy bunny.  In fact, not a bunny at all, and not for lack of trying.  It being Sunday, it is of course, junior parkrun day, and it being Easter Sunday I was hoping to rock some bunny ears whilst on marshalling duties.  I tried moderately hard to source some, but to no avail.  The closest I got was in one shop where they said in response to my request ‘no, but we stocked loads of those last year‘.  Not helpful  Really not.  I thought about repurposing my dragonfly wings, but in the end made do with sticking some undersized Easter chicks onto my hat.  It was a start.  Not quite a full on Easter bonnet, but a nod to fancy dress all the same.

Off to Graves park, oh my, how cold was it up there.  I mean, I know it’s a micro-climate of apocalyptic ice-age proportions, but it’s not funny any more.  The return of the Beast from the East isn’t supposed to be until tomorrow.  Fortunately, despite cold weather there were warm hearts.  I trotted off round with a fellow volunteer to set out the course, and that is my favourite job.  It feels purposeful, plus you get a bit of stomp about to get warm, and you can check in on the animals.  I couldn’t help noticing that most of these weren’t game for venturing out, they aren’t stupid, but I still find it calming being in the vicinity of them all.  I mean obviously it would be better if there were goats and warthogs, but the donkey is vocal and entertaining and on dry days the porcines are always up for a companionable scratch.  Not today though.  Having a duvet day.  Those animals that did make it outside weren’t looking overly impressed.  I take their point.

En route with the flags I came across another marshal who was quick enough to not only notice, but also appreciate my Easter chick efforts.  I feel such observational skills should be rewarded, so reached into my pocket to supply her with one of her own, on the understanding it should be sported throughout the run. Dear reader, I’m happy to report she carried out this promise with considerable aplomb.  She is clearly a natural at having a plastic bird sit on her head.  An important life skill I’m sure.  Well, to be fair, it served me well at parkrun today for starters, so you never know when such capabilities may be drawn on.

Once I made it back to the start, which is also the finish

finish funnel

oh joy.  International parkrun celebrities in evidence, all the way from the legend that is Tralee parkrun, and sporting a most excellent array of bunny ears.  My hat chicks were a gesture I suppose, but definitely more minimalist than was appropriate for the occasion.

Tralee parkrun incidentally is quite possibly the most friendly parkrun in the entire world, pathologically so. They have also taken parkrun to tourism to new heights as they head out across the globe, not as little ambassador / special envoys to other parkruns, but en masse.  They quite literally took a plane load of 80 parkrunners to go on pilgrimage to Bushy parkrun back in January – that’s an impressive percentage of their parkrun regulars – their stats as of today say the average number of parkrunners each week is 169 – so that’s half of them.  More really, as numbers fluctuate.  What’s more this wasn’t even a one – off more a trial run.  Next stop Germany.  Plus, they did a Copacabana song and dance tribute to one of their runners / hi-viz heroes on the occasion of his 100th parkrun.  That’s a service not all parkruns are able to offer.  Impressed?  I am.  Let’s hear it for the World’s Best parkrun ambassador indeedy!  They don’t skimp on balloons there either.  Respect.

Anyway, was grand to meet up with the Tralee contingent once again, and swap a few parkrun tales before I headed off to my marshal point.  I was in a different spot to usual, but it was just as much fun.    I got to see the warm up and the start funnel of volunteers all lined up like a human pin ball machine from afar, and watch the runners stream off like ball bearings pouring out of a jar as they scattered down the first hill.

High fiving the runners storming by as they passed by the ponds on the way to the rear entrance to the animal park. There was a respectable turn out of bunny ears, and familiar faces.  Hail fell at one point, but these juniors are made of stern stuff, they stormed round for the most part.

Only glove less accompanying adults looked close to tears…  The official photographer had most definitely lost the use of his  hands by the time he made it back to base, but I consider that to be a sacrifice well worth him making for capturing such glorious shots of our worthy juniors and esteemed visitors alike.  His hands were always at risk of dropping off with frostbite eventually, so it’s just basically grand he got his shots off first.  (Not a euphemism).  There were some fine portraits available for download after today.

As the tail walker traipsed on by, all a-grin, I wandered back to the start in reverse, picking up another bunny eared volunteer en route.   Turns out, a lot of us volunteers were rocking matching looks today, with blue under our hi-viz.  A lack of consistency in head gear perhaps, but individual expression is important too.

We were in time to see the final finishers bombing down the mudslide into which the finish funnel had morphed.  There was a lot of mud.  Soft landings I suppose.  There was some dissent about how many face plants there’d been at the finish, but most estimates were around the five mark, though no tears apparently, so that’s impressive.  My favourite interaction of many this morning though, was when a young runner finished and the scanner asked for her barcode but her parent explained she didn’t have one as she’s currently too young to register being only three!  We were all a bit surprised as she was tall for her age and physically had made easy work of the run.  ‘When will you be four?’ enquired one of our hi-viz number, figuring it couldn’t be that many more weeks away.  Well,  without missing a beat she responded ‘at my next birthday‘  which is quite clearly a genius response with all its unintentionally withering accuracy.  That told him. What a stupid question.  Much hilarity ensued. Grown ups can be so dumb sometimes.  She was very polite to give a civil response at all in the circumstances! Ha-de-ha indeed.

The course was dismantled as if by magic, and soon there was nothing but memories and muddy footprints where once the parkrun had been.  I was lured to the cafe by the promise of latte and a final chance to debrief with our lovely Irish visitors.  I was supposed to be heading out for a long run later – the forecast for tomorrow being heavy snow I really did have to get out today, but I figured there was time.  But the cafe was cosy, the company fine. The tales varied.  The Tralee junior tourists really made me laugh by telling me that their mum was so passionate about parkrun that any potential partners would have to pass the ‘but do they have a barcode’ test.  If they did, a criminal record or similar misdemeanours would be no barrier, but no barcode, well, no result.  We regular parkrunners all know that!  Sounds a fair enough criteria to me!  We had to talk about Lily the wonder dog, we had to pose for every possible variant of selfie and group photos.  Those pictures won’t take themselves.

tralee parkrun team

Then there was other chat about Bob Graham plans.  There is a reason why this should be run in a clockwise direction I now know.   Not that I’m likely to have to try this out for myself, but it’s nice to keep informed on such matters.

Upshot was, I didn’t get back until almost 12.

Now what.  I needed to get out, but it was arctic blast cold.  I wanted to do 10 miles at least, I thought maybe I should eat something first as a latte might not be enough.  Channelling my inner wannabee millennial hipster chick vibe I had avocado and tofu on toast.  I thought that would be healthy and delicious.  It probably was, well definitely delicious, but also a bit much to eat just before a run, and now it was midday and I didn’t want to leave it two hours before I went out. The skies were darkening, the elements promised inclement times ahead.  What to do?  I did briefly consider abandoning run altogether, but in an uncharacteristic display of mental fortitude I rationalised I’d really regret that.  Plus I was doing a virtual Easter Sunday run to nab some bling like this:

As a friend of mine had the genius idea of sending these out to people who do an Easter Sunday run in return for a £10 donation to the charity she is/was running the London Marathon for.  Great idea.  You make your donation, do your run, send proof, get sent medal.  Nice.  I like to think I’m not shallow, but basically I clearly am.  Who doesn’t appreciate running bling, even if they claim otherwise, and I want to support my running buddy/ new running best friend acquired on a January trip to London.

is there a medal

I decided to be brave, strap on my shoes with my motivational bling:

motivational bling

and head out.  I did head out.  Oh.  My.  Gawd!  That’s so cold.  I actually (shhhush, don’t tell) put on my fleece and contemplated going out in that, but then the hail started, and although my fleece would have been roasty toasty, it isn’t waterproof, and to be fair, even I recognise I can’t run London in a fleece.  Running coat it was, and multiple buffs, and pissed off expression. The chickens were coming too.  Here is the unimpressed before shot for ease of reference:

before

I set off.  Aaaargh, it was hard.  My legs feel strong, my lungs are fine, but eating that close to a run. Terrible idea. What was really annoying, is that I knew that, before I even ate.  What was I thinking.  I mean if I was mid run I wouldn’t have bolted all that down.  I was kicking myself for not just having had a naked bar and heading out earlier.  Plus I was thirsty, because I hadn’t drunk enough, and cold, because I had to walk a fair stretch and wasn’t moving fast enough.  I started to panic.  This is NOT WORKING.  Self doubt started screaming at me.  So stupid, is there any point?  I honestly didn’t know.

I am struggling a bit with what I’m supposed to be doing at this stage.  Really I think I need one more long run – but then I’ve got the Sheffield half next weekend, so when can I fit it in?  Plus, I’ve heard recently, and no, annoyingly I can’t remember where, that if you go out for longer than three hours at a stretch at this stage, you aren’t giving your body enough time to recover. This directly contradicts other advice about just reducing your mileage gradually down.  Truth is, if I did the latter, I’d still be going out for 5 hour runs, and that is a long time on the feet, and it does take its toll.  I just decided that some time on my feet was better than no time on my feet.  I’d not beat myself up, just do what I could.  Heading off on the ‘nice bit’ of the Sheffield  half there was an element of verisimilitude in the experience as there were so many other runners out doing the same recce.  I was constantly either being over-taken, or spotting runners on the return leg sprinting down the hill towards me.  Oh joy.

At one point a driver stopped and asked me for directions, which I gave, at length, having forgotten all about the chickens on my head.  She passed no comment.  It reminded me of an interaction years ago when I was out riding with a friend.  We’d taken horses down a track to a beach, and found perfectly grown wild garlic in abundance.  We had no means to carry it but wanted it for cooking – I was working for her at a veggie B&B.  We gathered up huge armfuls of it, and then basically stuffed it in our every pocket, tied around our waists with scarves, shoved it into the top of our boots, tucked it under the front and back of our saddles and stuck into the elastic bands around our hard hats. We must have looked like we were carrying out our own Green Man homage, plus we smelt to high heaven.  As we did it, we were of course mindful of the comedic value of how stupid we must look, but after a bit, gently walking our horses home some hours later we’d forgotten.  An American tourist drew up alongside us in his hire car to ask for directions.  As my friend gave them, I watched his expression change as his eyes widened in disbelief.  We were practically encased in this wild garlic, and he had no idea what to make of it. Was it some strange Welsh ritual?  Was it a festival that he knew not of.  My friend was completely oblivious to his increasing discomfort, as he was clearly beginning to fear what closed community he may have happened upon like in The Wicker Man for example.  I wasn’t, but was enjoying observing his incredulity at what he was witnessing. I could imagine him once safely back at home trying to relate this story of the wild women he’d encountered on his trip with the wild-eyed passion of those who insist they have been abducted by aliens.  Few if any would believe him, over time, he might not even believe this had happened himself.  He’s probably still researching this phenomenon to this day.  Maybe he thought we were just really scared of vampires.  This is the destiny of those who bear witness alone.  I found it hilarious though, so that was the main thing.  My  chicks were more understated and more easily explained, but I like to think they played their part in this mid-run interaction too.

wild garlic

It was something of a labour trudging up hill, feeling bloated.  On the plus side, there were some cute spring lambs in abundance

I kept finding excuses to grind to a halt.  It was very, very muddy going up along Ringinglow road and my road shoes were slipping all over the place.  I really don’t want to be injured at this point so picked my way through gingerly, blaming the mud for my lack of speed, whilst inwardly thanking it for being their and legitimising my lard-arsed tardiness.

Crossing the road opposite the Norfolk Arms, there were so many cyclists and walkers around I couldn’t run either on the road or pavement.  But my walking meant I did get to see this adorable little bird’s nest from last year, exposed in a hedge that had shed its leaves over winter.  How completely perfect is this?  I briefly considered putting one of my chicks in it as a sort of visual gag, but then thought the better of it as it could equally be perceived as littering.  Took a photo though.  You can’t see the scale here really, but it was tiny, the size of half a tennis ball maybe.  Just adorable

DSCF1899

At long last, I was on Sheephill road.  I genuinely love this bit of the route.  Finally, I started a bit of a trot, and found my rhythm and just loped along admiring the city-scape views.  For a city marathon it’s pretty spectacular.  It was cold, but the wintry showers had abated, and after a bit of undulation it started to slope downwards towards Dore. The route is increasingly familiar and I hit my stride, belatedly perhaps, nearly 4 miles in, but I felt strong and like I could have kept that up indefinitely.  I know I wasn’t doing a long run, but it helped my confidence rally a little to feel that yep, my legs have remembered what to do. The secret really is to slow down, and not to worry that ‘proper runners’ might guffaw at me for imagining my sloth like movements constituted sufficient action to create forward motion, let alone merit the descriptor ‘running’.  Mental strength people remember, mental strength.

My feeling of being strong was marred slightly by being constantly overtaken by speedy other runners, but hey ho, that is inevitable in my universe.  Some of them were in shorts for goodness sake!  Little wonder they were in such a hurry to get home.

Plod plod, trot trot.  I felt good.  Maybe I should have added on more miles, but I decided instead to just keep up a constant run for as long as I could.   The miles ticked by, I’m starting to think it does take me about 4 miles to find my pace, which might be partly why my parkrun times are so increasingly lamentable these days.  I suppose if I seriously wanted to improve them I could warm up before hand say, but that seems somewhat extreme.  For today, I decided to just make myself keep on running, for as long as I could, and it was a lot longer than I expected.  I am not sure I entirely welcome the findings of my increasing self awareness running wise, it seems that if I desist from pausing to take photos, and remind myself to keep on running up that hill as Kate Bush would have it, then I can go on and on like the Duracell bunny.  I don’t tire, I just give up.  It’s like my body cottons on to what i’m doing and draws my attention to the fact that all this exertion is entirely avoidable and unnecessary, and it would be so much more pleasing to just stop and gaze about. If I don’t give into that urge, it will reluctantly press on, until it becomes a  habit.  Cue sound of penny dropping – maybe this is what my marathon pace is supposed to feel like?  I mean don’t get me wrong, it’s slow, very slow, some people can power walk faster, but it’s still faster than me walking and if i could maintain it for many more miles I’ll definitely be getting round London a lot more quickly than if I stop start with the frequency of an over-sensitive car alarm.  Knowledge is complicated, with it comes responsibility.  I genuinely have absolutely no idea how I’ll fare in London, but this slow pace running might actually be an option if the course is as flat as I’m led to believe.

I had to stop to cross roads though, and you no what, that got to be quite annoying.  Though the spring flowers were nice.  Shame about the dead badger(s) though. I  suppose it shows there must be a population out there which is good, but sad to see not one, but two, taken out by cars.

Trot trot, plod plod.  Through Dore, off down whatever road it is that takes you off Hathersage road, off on an almighty diversion and then rejoining the road couple of hundred yards later – one downside of becoming increasingly familiar with the route, is I’ve started to notice all the potential short cuts available, that call out to you on the way round.  I want to run the distance, but presented with a way shorter route home it does seem pretty dim to deliberately add miles to an outing when that time could be reclaimed and channelled into sofa sitting time for example…  I mean just look at it, definitely not the most direct route out and back is it?

strava route

It defies reason – no wonder even Strava gives the strava art thumbs down to that unnecessary triangle into Dore!

Eventually I was on the homeward straight, Ecclesall Road South and downward towards the city.  A couple of miles from home another runner appeared alongside me.  Oh my, that was fantastic.  I normally hate running with other people, but it was a running miracle.  She was quite genuinely running at my pace, having seen me a good mile or so back and really cracked on to catch up with me (that’s a first, me being the target for a faster runner) now she was tiring and nearing the end of an 18 mile run asked if we could run together for a bit to help the miles pass and – you won’t believe this – it actually worked.  I have randomly found someone who runs at exactly my pace.  It was great, no huffing to keep up and resenting being dragged round whilst my sense of personal inadequacy grows to the point it overwhelms me and I not only decide to give up running, but to never leave the house in daylight hours again, EVER.

We chatted, we swapped running stories. She’s preparing for Brighton but has previously done London, albeit a decade ago. She was still buzzing with memories and positivity though.  Top tips from her, don’t worry about being slow and steady, it pays off.  Apart from finding herself running between a pepperoni and a rhino at one point, she also noted that she ended up passing ‘faster runners’ who’d basically set off too fast at the start and blown up.  I don’t think she meant literally as in spontaneously combusted, I think we’d have heard about that, but as in just burning out way too soon.  There is something to be said for slow and steady where marathons are concerned.  Other helpful comments included a warning that it is a stop start frustrating first 4 miles or so before people spread out enough you can actually run. Weirdly, that might favour me, as it takes me an age to get started anyway.   It was really heartening.  I started to believe again that I might actually do this, my maranoia seemed to lift.  She also described the final stretch down the mall really vividly.  Even though it was a decade ago the memory was still strong.   There are no crowds on the Mall – I hadn’t twigged that point, anyway, it means it’s suddenly relatively quiet and contemplative, and she found herself reflecting back on all the things that had brought her to that point.  Oh my god. It was so what I needed to hear.  I can’t wait to experience that for myself.  I think finally, it’s going to be such an amazing experience it shouldn’t matter how fast or slow I am, I’m just so very lucky to be able to go there at all.  If I get to the start, I should get to the finish.  Lucky me!  Best marathon advice ever?  Just enjoy it.

I left my new best friend heading off to Hunters Bar as I swung up towards Brincliffe Edge, but we have promised to meet up post our respective marathons to show off bling and share running tales.  What a turn around from the start of my run, when I could hardly imagine setting foot out of the door, and now I’m all skippy and happy and Bring.  It. On.

Don’t worry, the feeling will wear off pretty soon I reckon.  My lobster red legs were not a pretty sight as they incubated chilblains, and my running chick buddy passed out on completion.  Still, a run’s a run.  10 miles is better than no miles, and once again, my legs and lungs are feeling fine.  There are worse ways to prepare for a marathon. The snow may come tomorrow, I would like to get one longer run in if I can, but then again I’ve already banked a 21 miler, and although that was two weeks ago now, I do believe I can do the distance actually, I just need to hold my nerve and not allow myself to turn to lard too quickly.  Some people apparently climb the walls during the taper, all that pent up energy needing an outlet.  I fear I rather embrace the resting and carbing up. Show me a sofa, I can lie on it eating donuts no worries. Trouble is, annoyingly, I’m coming to understand tapering is a tad more sophisticated than that. Shame.

Still, I’ve lived to run another day.  Unlike chick buddy here.  At least s/he saw something of the world before turning toes up.

after

Love running.  Love running related fun.  Love parkrun, Love my running buddies old and new and not yet met.  Hoping I’ll love London too, at the very least it will be an adventure, and adventures are what make life interesting, so I’ll have a few of those please, if I can. So the final words of wisdom in terms of the best advice I’ve had so far with respect to tackling a first time marathon remain:

Just enjoy it.

I finally think I will!  🙂

 

 

 

Categories: marathon, motivation, running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

In it for the long run? The parallel worlds you encounter whilst running.

Digested read: back on the Monsal trail for a 21 mile long run.  Oh my, you should have seen the ice formations in those tunnels, it was a spectacle of wonders indeed.  Still not sure how best to train for this London marathon business though.  It’s a mystery.  Glad to have that run done, hoping for one more long one before the Big Event.  Aaargh.

If you asked me to provide any kind of rationale for my London marathon training plan, I’m not altogether sure I could do so.  From the outset I had the idea that it would be important to crack the 20 mile boundary, but I’m not sure now quite why.  There is accepted wisdom that you should be increasing the length of your long run week by week, and that if you can get to 20 miles in training then on the day the crowds and atmosphere will carry you through. Then again, I’ve heard repeatedly that it’s after the 20 mile mark you might encounter ‘The Wall’ – balanced against this is the very sensible observation that really, if you train and fuel your body properly this should by no means be seen as an inevitable part of the marathon event.

More recently, I’m reading articles that question the wisdom of doing really long runs unless you are a sub three-hour runner.  Spoiler alert.  I’m not. I don’t know if this is because now I’m in the final stages, and I’ve had to miss out one of my long runs I’m seeking retrospective justification that this won’t be ruinous to my London sojourn.  Runners’ World put together an article ‘in the long run‘ back in 2002, that says, amongst other things:

2. What is the best long-run training distance for marathoners?

In short, there is no perfect distance. We have seen marathon-training schedules which never take you further than 13 miles and ones that suggest you run the complete distance or further in training.

In our marathon training schedules the longest distance we ever suggest is 22 miles for the sub-3:00 group, other groups don’t go quite as far because they’re running more slowly and consequently will be on their feet longer.

What you find is that many marathon schedules don’t go further than 20 miles, although that’s probably more because 20 is a nice, round number than anything more concrete. In countries that use the metric system, 30K (18.6 miles) is equally round and frequently used.

Most coaches feel that once you reach 16 miles, you’re in long-run territory. That’s the point where the psychological and physiological changes start to take place. Some coaches prefer to keep track of the long run by time rather than distance, which is the approach we generally recommend for the slower groups in our marathon schedules.

Your time goal for your longest run should approximate the total length of time you expect to run in the marathon itself, without worrying about the distance or the speed. For example, if your marathon time goal is three hours, you should probably do at least one long run of close to three hours. The exception: If you’re a first timer with a goal of four hours or slower, you shouldn’t do a long run of that length. It’s too risky. Instead, do one long run of at least three hours, but no more than 3:30.

I don’t know what to make of this.  I have found from experience that I’m out for so long on my long runs (I’ll be ecstatic if I get round in 6 hours) that it does take me a couple of days to recover from these.  But if I only ever went out for three hours max in training then I think I’d just die of shock when out for twice as long on event day.  Another article in a different source suggests slow runners do two three hour runs on the same day, to cover the distance but minimise the risk of injury. Well that’s never going to happen in my world. I do enjoy going out for lengthy yomps for the most part, but once I’m home and dry I’m done.  It would take a great deal to have me had out again on the same day.  Anyway, for my part I decided early on,  almost unilaterally, to go with the mantra of ‘time on my feet’.  I don’t care if it’s running or walking, I will just cover the distance.  I’m hoping I will have built sufficient stamina and gained sufficient confidence if I’ve come close to the full distance, but it is a balancing act.  Oh lawks a lordy I hate my cumulative ineptitude.  I suppose nobody has a perfectly executed preparation for a marathon, and few are blessed with a genetic inheritance that enables them to blag it on the day.  I’ll just have to join the start and take my chances along with everyone else.  I have tried to prepare as far as my own limitations and the weather has allowed.  … even so, I am pleased to report that I did achieve one 21 mile run in my training.  Strictly speaking 20.85 miles, but I stopped my Strava before wandering around in car park and general post run faffing, so I’m happy to call it 21.  I fully appreciate that logic won’t help me if I bow out of London at the 26.05 mile mark, but I’m hoping that situation won’t arise.

As usual, I’m playing catch up with my blog, so writing this post on 3 April with less that three weeks to go and in the grip of major maranoia.  However, the run in question was actually on 20th March.  It turned out to be my last long run, and a bit earlier in my training plan than I’d have liked, but then again, at least I’ve done it. I met another runner recently who is training for Brighton. She’d been wiped out with a flu type virus and missed 4 weeks training and only managed to get in two 18 mile runs, albeit closer to the event.  She had banked some 20 milers earlier on though.  Aargh, I don’t know whether to stick with my taper, or get one more long one in.  Hard to know.  Thankfully though, my last long run went really well. Unexpectedly so.

It was cold, I’d wanted to go out the day before but snow and ice had made it impossible.  Blooming beast from the east.  I’m not impressed.  My regular reader will know however that I’m conscientious if not keen.  I’d committed to doing this longer run, so I headed out anyway.  Back to the Monsal Trail. The novelty of this route is definitely wearing off, but, on the plus side it is flat, with even terrain and good facilities.  The predictability of the terrain has massively helped me get into a rhythm with my running.  When London is finally over, I might try to make an effort to get over there every six weeks or so to do a long flat run, I think it would significantly help me run more consistently.

So headed out.  Brrrrr.  I wasn’t feeling the lurve, but I was feeling committed to doing this thing.  My last long run, 19 miles, at Monsal had been OK, more than OK, it went well, and I reckoned by just adding a tad of distance at either end I’d be able to ramp this route up to 20+ miles easily enough without any navigational challenges.  I was a bit on edge.  I wanted to bank another positive experience of a long run, but each time the distance extends, I’m inching into unknown territory.  The Strava of the route is hilarious.  Nothing to see people, nothing to see, I guess you had to be there:

strava route 21 miles monsal trail

I’m going to try to exercise restraint in logging a post about this run. After all, I’ve banged on about the Monsal trail quite a bit of late, I don’t want to alienate my only reader.  However, there were some sightings I want to document for posterity. Also, I like to think if I ever do look back on my marathon preparation it might be helpful to be reminded of how I felt and what I did at the various stages of my training.  Hindsight is after all a wonderful thing, and I am not immune to re-writing history once I get to the other side of this challenge, better to nail down a more honest account here and now.

First things first.  Turned left from the cafe and trotted down to the trail end.  This time though I paused to photograph the llama – only it was too far away.  I had to make do with a snapshot of an alpaca.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m very fond of alpaca, but it’s not the same.

alpaca

If you are ever in doubt about how to differentiate between the two, the secret is all in the ears.  Llamas have much more banana shaped ears, alpaca ears are shorter and more spear-shaped.  Granted, there are loads of other differences too, but the ears are easy if you only have one of them in view. Here is a handy summary of other distinguishing characteristics in case of need.  I don’t agree with the negative comments about Llamas by the way, they are unkind and unnecessary.  In fact, I may try to find an alternative more respectful guide.  Llama and alpaca identification is quite an art. There are two different types of alpaca as well you know, huacaya and suri – that’ll come in handy at a pub quiz some time some place somewhere.  You’re welcome.

 

 

 

I also took a photo of the old Bakewell railway station, just because.  Still haven’t ventured as far as Bakewell itself, another destination for another time.

bakewell station

And ventured down the muddy path beyond the trail end.  Lots of inviting paths headed off in all directions.  From this lower level you can look up and appreciate the amazing bridge construction.  I was going to explore a bit further, but thought the better of it.  I didn’t want to get too side-tracked off my route, and also who knows what was going on inside the parked cars in this remote spot.  Probably nothing, but I’ve developed a wariness based on experience.  Once years ago I was with a friend and we got lost on some country roads in Warwickshire.  We pulled up into a layby thinking to ask directions from the occupants of a car parked up ahead.  I clocked the steamed up windows and rocking before my companion, who was initially a bit nonplussed at my insistence we fend for ourselves and pass on by!

 

 

 

Back on the literal track, it was cold so I pressed on.  I’d made an inward resolution to try to focus on this run, and capitalise on the lessons learned last time out by trying to run consistently and slowly and minimise the stop start faffiness.  I kept to this reasonably well, running purposefully (by my standards) from the start.  The only problem with this is that I was somewhat paranoid that this might constitute starting off too fast in my world, and I wouldn’t make the distance.  Then again, I reasoned best to try this out in training than save it for the actual day.

It was freezing, so not many people out and about at all.  The run has a meditative quality when it is so deserted.  I never listen to music when I run, actually, I never listen to music at all anyway, another on the long list of my many peculiarities eccentricities.  Usually I find my surroundings are more than enough to occupy me when I’m on the trails, other times I like to just use the time for thinking things through, but I do concede on these long runs, it can be a bit dull potentially.  It just feels like a slog.   Doubling back to the cafe, I just had some water and made the call the hat was staying on, and off I trotted.

The tunnels were as ever a high point. Which is ironic, as really strictly speaking they are low points, burrowing through the base of the hills through which the original railway passed.  I love running through the tunnels, the other-worldliness of it, but today they offered up something even more impressive and spectacular.  It truly was like entering a parallel universe.  The recent icy blast had obviously swept down the tunnels, significantly lowering their temperature within.  The corresponding micro-climate created arctic like conditions, and the tunnels were full of ice.  Not just little bits here and there, but great structural crystals in shards like fallen masonry on the ground or clinging like icy stalagmites from the ceiling.  It was absolutely amazing.  I reckon this is the nearest you can come to recreating experiencing the geology of superman’s birth planet Krypton, with all its huge crystals and weirdly compelling crystalline structures within the boundaries of Derbyshire.

Compare and contrast:

Planet Krypton – or possibly fortress of solitude but the comparison stands:

 

 

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Monsal trail ice and tunnels:

 

 

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I know!  Uncanny.  Practically indistinguishable.   It was completely brilliant.  Yet another reminder that there is always something to see on a run. I’d expected to be bored rigid by this route, trotting down it all over again in its entirety so soon after my other long run, but it was amazing.  Unexpected and surreal.  You should have been there.  No really, you should.

I didn’t actually see superman, but I think he died a while back anyway didn’t he?  Also he is a fictitious character, so that would have been a stretch.  I did see other things though.  Particularly notable was a group of primary school children heading out on bikes and each wearing giant-sized cape like cagoules, accompanied by two teachers.  This added a certain frisson to proceedings as periodically the children would stop and regroup, I’d lope past and then they’d be released behind me in a torrent of spinning wheels and billowing coats excitedly pedalling furiously along somewhat random directional lines. Fortunately, volunteering at Graves junior parkrun has equipped with the skill of taking evasive action when a small child comes bowling towards you at speed.  It isn’t a question of who has right of way, it is a question of survival.  I shared a greeting with the teachers and pressed on.  Pausing to satisfy myself that the instructional signs are indeed as gendered as I suspected.  Yes they are.

 

 

 

I carried onwards, through the tunnels, and to the far Buxton end of the trail.  This time I carried on as far as I could.  I had to remind myself to eat a naked bar, I wasn’t really hungry, but I’m trying to eat before I feel my energy levels are depleted.  I picked my way  gingerly down some snow-covered steps, past the pretty stream which was crisscrossed by amazing arching bridges, and then beyond through a car park until I was spat out at the end onto quite a busy road overlooked by a weird stone structure on top of a hillock.  What is that?  A question to be answered another time.

 

 

 

I felt I’d reached a natural turning point, so started to head back.  Trot, trot, plod, plod.  I’ve definitely turned a corner in my running.  If I can hit the right pace it seems I am able to maintain it, as long as I manage not to draw attention to the fact that I’m doing so.  I think it’s like riding a bike maybe, if you consciously tried to think about how you balance it would be impossible, but if you just trust the muscle memory of your body away you go.  I mean, I’m slow obviously, and I wouldn’t say it was easy exactly, but it is achievable.  If it weren’t so cold I’d be tempted to one day just run as far as I could just to see how far that is.  I guess I may find out at London, fingers crossed it extends as far as 26.2 miles – and a bit, to account for having to walk a way to get to the start line!

There were a few more out now it was a bit later.  I’d been ages of course, so hilariously, I came across the teachers and their primary school charges all over again – only this time it was another group. This meant in the time it had taken me to do this distance, the teachers had been able to finish off one group, return them to Sheffield for lunch and come back out with their second lot of young riders.  It made me feel a bit pathetic truth to tell.  However, then the teacher back marking stopped on her bike, recognising me from earlier in the day and asked ‘What on earth are you doing?  How far have you run‘ I blurted out apologetically and a bit embarrassed that I knew I was really slow but I was trying to get to 21 miles.  I thought she’d be nonplussed and unimpressed, but in fact she was so encouraging.  Even though she’d seen me walking sections earlier, she was really positive.  Turns out she runs too, though only on her own  – I tried to recruit her to join me and my fellow Smilies at Smiley Paces, as she’d come across from Sheffield Primary School, but I don’t know if she will.  It helped rally me though, I yomped onward and homewards.

I took a few minutes to explore the weird lime-kiln (I think) construction.  It seems this was my day for exploring parallel worlds.  It is an extraordinary feat of construction.  It does remind me of wandering through temples of Angkor Wat, no really, the doorways you pass through, the way each opening frames and then reveals unexpected structures. There was one flooded subterranean section, I took photos just so my flash would allow me to see what was there.  This would be an amazing film set for something, or a pop video (do they even do them any more) but you’d have to wear wellington boots or at the very least sensible shoes, and other than The Wurzels, I’m not sure many youth bands rock that look these days.  See reference above, I’m not big on listening to music, so not my area of expertise.  At least I don’t try to pretend otherwise.

 

 

 

Impressive isn’t it.  Why they haven’t put out a series of Lego models based on these Lime Kilns – or Angkor Wat for that matter I can’t imagine!  Or maybe they have.  I can’t be bothered to look.  Oh hang on – I can, someone has –  made a lego model of Angkor Wat (and Stonehenge and the Niagara falls) apparently, but strangely enough not of the Monsal trail lime kilns.  Project for the next snowed out bank holiday people.  Go on, you know you want to..

angkor wat lego

 

Now you might think that I’d crammed in quite enough excitement and parallel worlds for one run, but not so. The finale of my run was feeling like an extra in Apocalypse Now.  I was plodding along in silence, minding my own business, when suddenly there was unmistakable ear-splitting roar of military helicopter blades closing in.  I was just approaching one of the bridges, and this monstrous metal mosquito swooped upwards, out of the valley and over the bridge, hovering for a bit and then disappearing from view.  I presume it was practising some low flying technique, exploiting the bridges, valleys and geography of the place to take on technical challenges.  They are intimidating things.  I can’t imagine the fear they must induce in war zones and the horrors they unleash.  Makes me shudder.

 

 

I ran on, and found myself back at Hassop cafe at almost exactly 21 miles.  I did feel a slight drop in sugar levels about half a mile before the end, but basically all good.  I think I might carry glucose tablets with me just in case at London.  I was fundamentally fine, but with still 5 miles to go, probably wise to have a contingency plan.

I treated myself to chips and a sandwich, with ridiculous amounts of added salt.

DSCF1775

I felt relieved as much as pleased.  I’m happy that the run went well, I still felt like I could have carried on at the end of it.  Also, and this is weird, when I uploaded my run on Strava, I found that my average minutes per mile for this 21 mile run was within 2 seconds of my average minutes per mile for my shorter 17 miler.  I don’t run even splits, but it seems I’m really right when I insist I seem to have just one pace.  Maybe, as long as I’m sensible and hold my nerve, I really can sustain that for longer.  Plus, I significantly picked up speed after mile 5, so again, it seems it takes me a while to hit my stride.  I kept that up for about 5 miles and then relapsed to be fair, but it’s still a noticeable pattern I can maybe play to.

And that was that dear reader.  21 miles done.  Yay.  I’d never say I was feeling confident, but I did feel hugely better for having achieved this distance however slowly.  Plus, I was delighted by the mini-adventures and glorious sights this potentially unprepossessing route offered up.  Also, next day, felt fine, legs feeling good.  Tired yes, bit of stiffness, but nothing felt sinister which can only be good.  Never regret a run. So true.  Just need to step outside and make it so.

Go on, you know you want to!

Here’s hoping your next run takes you to unexpected wonderlands of your own. It will.  Even if only in the mind.  Unless you are running on a dreadmill. Then you are on your own.

The real challenge for me now though, is what and when and how far to run in the last few weeks.  I think I spent so much time agonising over how on earth I’d ever get to the distances required for the long runs, or to this stage in the build up without injury, I never consider how to approach the taper.  Turns out, that last push, the taper, could be the biggest challenge yet.  Make or break.  Aaaargh.

🙂

 

Categories: off road, running | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments

Panic over, long run done and dusted! All good, not just movement, but, at last, progress!

Digested read:  I did manage to get out and do my long run, it was supposed to be 18 miles, but I banked 19.63, and I feel fine.  A psychological breakthrough at last.  Not just movement, but progress.  Maybe I have got this after all.  Monsal trail tunnels are still fun, but I wouldn’t want this as my only available running option, it is basically an open air treadmill running in a long straight out and back, but punctuated with views of loveliness along the way. Even so, the novelty is wearing off a bit now.  I’m temporarily happy now, well maybe not completley happy, but I am most definitely releived.  Hurrah!

I am astonished to be quite honest.  It’s the morning after the day before and I feel absolutely fine.  Tickety-boo (now there’s a word that doesn’t get nearly enough air time) in fact.  I actually feel like going for a run again today because I’m feeling really strong, the only side effects from yesterday’s outing being slight chafing in the undercarriage area due, presumably, to failure to re-align knickers properly following an early on pit stop, and swollen feet.   Maybe I have been ill and am not any more, maybe the iron supplement has kicked in, or – though this seems maybe a stretch too far – maybe finally the benefits of what I laughingly refer to as my training plan are finally kicking in.  Who knows.  What I do know, is that I did 19.6 miles yesterday – more than I’d planned due to calculation rather than navigation error, and I’m not even stiff.  Result!  I feel absolutely fine.  I’m however going to resist the temptation to run today so I can recover properly.  I’m not worried too much about my lungs or legs, the weakest link in my running chain – leaving aside the ill-fitting bra issues – is most definitely my feet.  Crumbling and arthritic, they don’t like this running thing at all.  They are making their feelings known.

So, what happened was this.  I’d had to postpone my long run earlier in the week, due to flooding/ roof leaks/ life/ all sorts and so felt like it was uber important that I bagsied a good one yesterday.  My last long run down by the Thames just a week ago was not a triumph.  Much as I know in my head everyone has bad runs, I really felt I needed my next one to go better in order to shore up my collapsing confidence before it slid, irretrievably, into the swamp of despond.

Yesterday morning, everything went according to plan.  Liquid iron early on; porridge for breakfast, running belt packed, running shoes on, the day was dry (this innovation was nigh on miraculous to be fair given recent inclement months) and I made it over to Hassop Station Cafe for just after nine.  I was feeling apprehensive. Is it just me?  Whenever I am about to embark on a run I have this moment of absolute clarity where it dawns on me that this endeavour is ultimately optional.  I question whether it is desirable, let alone possible to undertake the activity of ‘running’.   Especially at the lamentable pace at which I cover the ground.  My little legs are quite happy as they are, my body is not a temple to athleticism, it would be just fine with remaining sedentary. If I head out to hit the trails with any pretence at so much as a little jog it will just lead to unpleasantness.  My nose will run, my wobbly bits will wobble, if it’s cold, I’ll get a perfect outline of frost on my upper lip where my moustache rests, fetchingly drawing the attention of anyone I meet to it in all it’s unaesthetic glory.  Other ‘proper’ runners will see me, but I’ll be leaning against a tree heaving, or walking, or just standing still gazing about whilst they spring by gazelle like, thus I will be forced to face up to the ludicrousness of ever thinking I could do this.  Why oh why?

Oh well, I’m here now.  Much of life is filled with petty humiliations, embarrassment and an over-powering sense of impostor syndrome why should running be any different.  So off I went.

I say ‘off I went’ but more accurately I did quite a lot of faffing about.  To hat or not to hat?  Quite nippy, but then I might warm up. I also had to nip into the cafe to use their amenities and mess about with my watch.  It’s become very iffy about uploading my runs, and prone to going blank.  If I had unlimited means I’d replace it, but it limps onward, and anyway, I don’t want new technology pre London.  Eventually, I decided I’d head out from the cafe towards Bakewell, I reckoned that would add about 3 miles to my distance from last time, also, by doing the shorter section of the trail out and back first I wouldn’t have the mental challenge of doing it at the end of the run when I would be tired, and, in a rather splendid manifestation of genius, I reckoned I could use this distance as a warm up and then jettison unwanted clothing, have a pit stop and carry on with renewed vigour for the proper part of the run still remaining. The plan was to do 18 miles.  Last time at Monsal I did just under 15 miles, so I thought adding on the extra bit would probably work.  Not sure what to make of the conspicuously located defibrillator I passed en route.  It is good it is there of course, but important not to take it as a personal omen methinks.

I trotted out really slowly, just finding my legs.  I was here just a few days ago for Bakewell parkrun, then it was really busy with people, it was strange seeing it empty today.  The parkrun goes in the opposite direction, so it was quite fun exploring new territory.  To be fair, the novelty of running the Monsal Trail could wear off, but for now, it was good.  Heading towards Bakewell the scenery is a bit different from the path to Wyedale.  There were more buildings, a camper van graveyard; some sheep. There were even some llamas, but I didn’t take a photo of them.  An omission I now regret.

I was particularly struck by a hillside densely covered with grassy domes – ant hills maybe?  Sort of like a grassy version of the Bungle Bungles*, though possibly on a rather more micro scale.  Bonsai even. Weird. This is what is good about going out and about you see some really remarkable things. Then again, it has been noted that I’m rather too easily entertained, so you may not think so.  I’m going with thinking the likeness was uncanny, you can think what you like!  If those grassy domes are ancient ant hills, those Australian ants must have been ginormous.

After a mile or so, maybe less, you arrive at the old Bakewell Station, it’s another beautiful building, well-preserved, and it looks like there’s a car park there as well, though I didn’t go and investigate particularly, maybe once this marathon training is finished, I’ll use my runs for more exploratory, rather than functional purposes and go check it out.  After the station was another bridge, where the path was completely flooded, not even with standing water, a veritable river ran across the track.  Oh well, splish, splosh and ever onward.

The track narrowed after the station, and it felt a bit more ‘proper’ off roady.  One of the reasons I’ve opted for the Monsal Trail for marathon training purposes is that the terrain is fairly road like, a hard surface and even terrain.  I fear my feet will actually disintegrate and shatter if I do too much road running in training, so the compromise is to find compacted trails where I can run in my road shoes, without entirely surrendering to the asphalt.  I’m resigned to the fact my feet my be annihilated round London, but I see little to be gained by knackering them in training first.  You can’t habituate your feet to being damaged, alas, hence I take the literal path of damage limitation.

I continued on, trot trot, taking in the scenery…

until I got to the end of the trail.  There is a helpful sign that alerts you to this. It’s always good to know when you’ve really and truly reached the end of the road.  I wish such signage was available in other contexts to be honest.

DSCF1495

I turned around and trotted back to Hassop Cafe.  I didn’t really see very many people out and about.  Only one other runner, who acknowledged my presence with a friendly, conspiratorial smile and uttering the words ‘couch to five k‘ as we passed one another.  I couldn’t help noticing she looked a lot stronger than me, bounding along with a winning smile and good form.  I chose not to ‘fess up with a response  ‘marathon training‘ as it would have sounded absurd.  Absurd and/or potentially undermining.  I mean, I thought she looked a strong runner, but if she’s just starting out who knows where her confidence is?  If I’d shared my run schemata for the day it might have come across as patronising rather than a cry for help – I went with a reciprocal encouraging smile and a merry ‘have fun!’ rather than making her stop so I could explain all about my running insecurities and tendency to over-share.  Good call I think!  Isn’t C25K amazing though?  That and parkrun together seem to have engaged so many new runners.  Anyway, slow and steady may yet prove to be the way to go, my marathon isn’t a DNF just yet….  Besides, I’ve just read an article that explained all about why sprint runners are inefficient, and distance runners are way more efficient at running a long way.  To quote:

distance runners are more efficient running slow. It should be noted that this occurs even with distance runners who violate every known mechanical prophecy known to man (i.e. horrible heel strike, etc.).

Yes, the gangly looking distance runner slamming his heel into the ground is more efficient running slow than Usain Bolt.

Thus, leaving aside the, in my view, unhelpful and unnecessary reference to being ‘gangly’, I’m basically more efficient at running slow than Usain Bolt.  If I ever catch him up running I’ll let him know.  I expect he’ll be gutted.   Once you know what you are looking for you can see the difference can’t you?  No point in stating the obvious about who’s running most efficiently here.  We are both having fun, and checking out what’s going on around us, so it’s a completely fair comparison in my view.

The point is, as ever, I need to stop comparing myself with other runners, focus on my personal goal (please just let me get round in time for a medal) and everything will be so much easier.

I ended up back at the cafe, and this was a good move.  I was really thirsty, so drank loads of their water, used their loo (I didn’t drink water from the loo, they leave a glass water jar and some glasses out in the cafe area for that) and then dumped my woolly hat in the back of the car as the sun was coming out and after this faffing, headed out for my run proper, having first paused to admire a very fine tricycle waiting outside.  Now that would be a grand way to progress down the Monsal Trail.  Almost as appealing as a sedan chair.

‘Proper’ runners will be appalled, but I didn’t really have a strategy for this run.  I planned just to see how I felt, try to push on a bit maybe, but my priority was to do the distance, not burn out trying.  I wonder sometimes if I do hold back too much on my running.  I’m so afraid of falling over or running out of steam altogether it is extremely rare for me to do an all out sprint.  I only ever sprint at the finish of parkrun and memorably at the Lakeland Trails Ullswater 10k event where I went in for a most enjoyable elbow shoving sprint finish with a fellow Smiley.  This would suggest I can if I want to enough.  What’s that about?  Oh I know, that point about running being a mental challenge, if we want to do things enough, then oftentimes we can.  Well, we’ll see about that, won’t we?

Off I went.  A few things I noticed about today, the main thing was I just felt physically so much better than I have in ages.  There weren’t many people about at all, so I had the route very much to myself for the first couple of hours. Because I’ve done the trail before, I wasn’t so distracted by the scenery, and didn’t keep stopping for photos.  I mean, obviously, progress was still slow, still walk/run, but I was conscious I was definitely covering the ground more purposefully than ever before.

The tunnels are still fabulous though. What killjoy requires you to enter these slowly, the only way to tackle them is as fast as you can.  I wonder if this is what gets some dogs excited in dog agility.  There is something joyful about being encased in the dark, pounding along, and then exploding out the other side into daylight.

I could maybe have done without the odd significant splosh of cold wet water landing on my now bare head now and again, but a small price to pay for the on-trail entertainment of tunnel running.  Try it sometime.

One thing though, there are lots of rules about what you can and can’t do in the tunnel.  But judging from the pictures, only white men have to abide by them, as only they are featured in the instructional signage.  So that’s good.

DSCF1504

Women can run free and run amok should they wish to do so.  Hurrah!  Running amok is always fun, that’s why we have events like The Trunce.  I believe there are some road races along these lines as well, but clearly fell races are the best for wildly heading out en masse and scattering in all directions over the horizon and over the hills.

run amok

I have been toying with having a ‘proper’ run walk strategy for the marathon, but I don’t really like obsessing about my watch.  At the moment, it’s set with one mile for one lap, so it vibrates on every mile, and that seems a good marker for me.  I vaguely had in mind that I should keep running until the watch vibrated and then I could walk for a bit, take a drink or whatever, but in fact I just ran as I felt, and honestly, I think that might yet be my best bet.  I just kept seeing a landmark, like a bridge ahead, or a tree, and I’d think ‘I’ll just run to that such-and-such a point’ and then when I got there if I felt like I could keep on going I did.  Sometimes I told myself I wasn’t ‘allowed’ to stop until I’d finished a mile. Occasionally my inner pride would kick in and I’d think ‘I won’t stop running until I’m out of sight of whatever walker I’d just passed’.  I think I was just a lot more ‘on task’ than I have been for a while.  I exchanged pleasantries with people I passed, and I didn’t stress if I felt like walking, but I did a lot less stopping for photos and general faffing than is usual for me.  Having said that, some views you just have to pause and take in, rude not to.  That’s quite some flood plain is it not?

DSCF1516

My favourite interaction of the morning was with a woman who had one of those arm extender things that you can use to launch tennis balls for your dog to chase.  Her companion canine was beside himself with excitement, scampering back and forth ecstatic every time the ball flew through the air, he fair flew after it.  ‘I wish I had that much energy and enthusiasm when I’m out running‘ I remarked as I approached.  ‘I could always throw the ball for you if that would help at all?‘ she replied without missing a beat. Just goes to show, support and encouragement comes from the most unexpected places!  I was quite tempted to take her up on her offer, just to see, but it wouldn’t have been fair on the dog so I trundled on.

Although the Monsal Trail has it’s limitations as a run route – I wouldn’t want it to be my only running option, at times along the way there are the most spectacular views, and helpful signs give a bit of the local history and geography too.  Abseilers were out in force, dangling from the designated bridge.  In other spots bridge swingers were warned away by threat of steel wires across the arches.  Decapitation by taught wire seems a little extreme as a sanction for rule breakers, but then again, frustration will build.   Actually, on closer inspection, I see it is not wire but ‘bars’ so more a question of getting splattered on impact I’m guessing….  Personally though,  I am getting increasingly annoyed and outraged by poo bags not just hanging from trees, but hurled into the undergrowth. What is that about. As the daily mash inform us ‘man picks up warm dog shit, seals it in a bag then leaves it in the hedge‘.  Just why?   If I thought stringing taut wires across the Monsal Trail and elsewhere would put a stop to that I’d be tempted.

DSCF1515

Fortunately, other views were more scenic. I spoiled one such view with a gratuitous selfie. Well why not.  I need to practise doing those ahead of London too. You don’t honestly expect me to resist the temptation of snapping a few of those en route on the big day do you?

I did a little detour at one point, because a bridleway looked especially inviting.  It will be good to come back when I don’t have to focus on just bagging a certain mileage, and try some of these routes that crisscross the Monsal Trail and discover paths less travelled across Derbyshire.

Eventually, I once again reached the end of the trail.  This is where I had a maths fail.  I really, really, didn’t want to have to run past the cafe again to make up miles on the way back, but I wasn’t 100% sure if I’d done enough.  I decided to be on the safe side, I’d do a mini extension, and so headed past the trail end

DSCF1529

It was fun heading down some steps, you end up by a quite impressive river, fast flowing under a series of bridges, giving stunning views. This is an area seriously worthy of future exploration, which is just as well, as I need to up my mileage again over the next couple of weeks.  Nice to know there is an easy and inviting way to do this.  I think that circular mirror makes me look more rotund than I actually am by the way, just saying…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I didn’t venture too far, as I thought I’d probably done enough, and so i turned around and after a restorative naked bar, headed homeward.  It was much colder running back. The sun had vanished, and I seemed to be going into a headwind.  I don’t know if the naked bars are quite doing it for me.  For the first time ever, towards the end of my run I did feel a bit of an energy dip that made me actually crave sugar.  I was fine, as I was within a mile of my end point, but it made me think perhaps I should carry some fudge or something in case I get that feeling again.  More people were out and about, but no runners, groups of walkers, and a gang of women all purposefully pushing buggies at one point, some cyclists but it remained fairly quiet.

DSCF1520

Then, because it was cold perhaps, and because my legs felt fine, and my lungs felt fine, but I was just getting a teeny bit bored of the grey flatness of it all, I found I just started running spontaneously, without forcing myself to start up again after a walking section I mean, and for possibly the first time ever I hit a bit of a rhythm. It took my about 12 miles to get to that point which is a downer, but I finally hit The Zone.  Where running felt, if not exactly easy, automatic, like walking is for me, where I never, ever think I can’t take another step, my legs just move because that is what they are programmed to do.  It seems rather late in the day of my marathon training to have discovered this pace, but  do feel it may yet turn out to be something of a breakthrough.  If I can find that comfortable place and pace where my legs can propel me forward without me having to  constantly consciously berate them to do so, this whole running malarkey will be so much easier.  The next few miles seemed to pass quickly.  I started fretting a little because I didn’t know how far I’d got still to go, 16, then 17, then 18 miles came and went.  I was trying to spot the Bakewell parkrun turnaround point, as that would tell me I had just under 2.5 km to go, but I couldn’t recognise it, which I admit is somewhat observationally inept.  I clearly have a ‘follow the herd’ mentality.  I can cope just fine on my own, but if others are around who clearly know what they are doing, I’m inclined to just tag along and defer all responsibility for decision-making – including bothering to independently notice the route just travelled apparently.  Oh dear.

What I did notice though, was some brightly coloured broken red plastic things by the side of the path.  What on earth?  I went to investigate, and found it wasn’t brittle, broken plastic at all, but a bright red fungi.  No idea what it was, I’ve never seen anything like it before, remarkable.  Fergus the forager has found these too, because he has them on his website, he may even eat them, as they were in a basket.  Eventually, through googling I found a UK fungi identification website, and dear reader, let me introduce to you the other worldly looking Scarlet Elfcup.  Brilliant name.  Well worth taking the time to find out.  My world feels the richer for it, I hope yours will too!  It might be a ruby elfcup to be fair, but unless you are an elf, AND CAN PROVE IT, I’m not processing your complaint.  Just to be extra clear, the identification website states apropos of this that ‘to be anywhere near certain which of the two red elfcup species you have found, microscopic study (unless you are equipped to carry out DNA analysis!) is probably the only option.’ so think before your issue your grievance.

weird red fungi

19 miles came and went, I had started walking again by this point, but that was fine.  I’d exceeded my 18 mile target and was feeling pretty good.  A bit cold, a bit peckish, and my feet were a bit aaaargh, but able to continue.  Definitely energy in the tank.  What a relief.

Finally the cafe came into view.  My watch proclaimed I’d covered 19.63 miles, which is teasingly close to breaking the 20 mile mark, but also  pleasingly within Smiletastic long run tolerance limits.  For the Smiley Paces, running club winter challenge we have to pledge a distance for our long runs, but are penalised if we deviate from that more than 10%.  I mean, marathon training is all very well, but I wouldn’t want it to mess up my Dragonfly team mates points due to my run route calculation errors!  I’d only pledged 18 miles, my upper safe distance was but 19.79 miles.  Did you know you can make dragonflies out of origami by the way?  I found a YouTube link explaining how.  One of our group has even done this.  Amazing commitment. Gotta be worth a Smiletastic bonus point.  I mean she should get one for implementing the idea so brilliantly, obviously, but as the brains behind the endeavour I ought to be a shoo-in for a bonus point too, for inspiring such a creative tour de force?

origami dragonfly because.jpg

I dumped my running paraphernalia in the boot of the car, donned my fleece and stumbled into the cafe.  I had a latte, some really good mushroom soup and a not very exciting egg mayonnaise roll.  It was expensive, but the sustenance was much-needed and most welcome.  Good to warm up a bit before heading back home.  I took a picture of lunch.  It looks terrible, but honestly, don’t be put off by the grey and beige presentation, the soup was delicious.  It had truffle oil drizzled on it, which I didn’t know was a thing, but was jolly nice.

DSCF1550

In case you care, here is the route.  Not much to look at in Strava terms to be fair, just a line out and back, but also a big tick, in terms of my marathon training run.  26.2 miles seems a lot more manageable now.  I’m not underestimating it, and I know many would find my pace aspirations laughable, but hey ho, it’s my own goal.  In every sense.