Week 9 – Not again!

Well, week 9 ended with a bit of an incident, much like last week’s did, but not as such running related! So if you happen to have read my blog last week ( see here https://aquavista.me/2019/09/09/well-you-couldnt-make-this-up/ ) as regards ‘keygate’ then you won’t (or maybe you will!) believe what happened to me this weekend!!! More further down……..:O.

Meantime, back to the running…..

When I looked originally at the 16 week training programme for the New York Marathon – see post here https://aquavista.me/2019/07/15/and-so-it-begins/ I remember immediately thinking “shit, September is going to be horrible”. Specifically focussing on weeks 9 – 13, there was looming five consecutive weeks of around 45 miles per week, with long runs at the weekend of 20 miles plus. Well here we are, it has arrived!

This week was 44 miles, and had a 20 miler at the end of it too. But it isn’t just the big runs, the midweek ones are getting longer and harder too. Earlier in the schedule the three consecutive midweek runs were all four or five miles each, and now this week they were 6, 8 and 6. Next week it is 7, 9 and 7, so just from a time commitment alone point of view this is getting very serious indeed.

I started this week on tired legs too, and with a very tired mind and body full stop, after last week’s exertions at the Great North Run, which culminated in a 1,300 mile drive due to the above mentioned ‘keygate’ where I lost my car and house keys, presumably (as I suppose I will never actually know) somewhere in the North Sea.

Tuesday’s run was a fartlek of 6 miles, and after a 5:30 wake up call (I have to do these things before getting ready for work, just compounding the tiredness) it became my first long sleeves outing of the campaign. The weather this week has certainly seen autumn begin to land (and then disappear again!), and me actually consider putting the heating on in my house too! The fartlek was fairly uneventful in the end, and by its very nature fairly unstructured, so that enabled me to ease back in gently. I did however have a bit of a twinge in my right calf, which was a bit worrying. It had niggled me at about mile 4 of the GNR on Sunday, but had gone away again. I managed to run it off, but it reminded me of at least the need to stretch diligently before and after every run.

On Wednesday there was a progression run. I love progression runs! Maybe that makes me weird, I don’t know! It was 8 miles, and for me that meant starting at around 9:55 pace, and upping the pace each mile by 15 seconds or so, I ended up finishing my last mile at around 7:45 or so, and felt really good, helped admittedly by a bit of a tailwind at the end :).

Thursday was a 6 miler including 10 x 400m fast (7:30 pace or so, or that was what the programme said!), and it was definitely hard, particularly in the middle section. Friday’s rest day was a very welcome part of the week, and I rewarded myself with a beer or three on Thursday night – well you have to try to live a little in the midst of all of this don’t you :).

At the weekend (home for the first weekend in a month, and very grateful therefore that Melanie came to mine this weekend), Saturday’s prelude to Sunday was a nice gentle four mile run in glorious sunshine. It was so easy and relaxed, and it went so well that it made me think that all runs should be this way. We also chatted on the way round about possibly getting into trail running at some point when this marathon is done and dusted, but that’s all for another day……

So onto Sunday’s 20 miler. Melanie was sporting a new knee support after some (bad) chafing issues with her old set, and that seemed to work fine overall. The day was hot, and we got in a lovely route in and around the River Thames in Abingdon. Everything was fine overall, although I struggled for the second half (and the last few miles in particular). We had a (ahem..) toilet break courtesy of a timely/well placed Waitrose store at about the 10 mile point, and after that my legs felt heavy and breathing was harder, and I could feel my pulse rising commensurately. By mile 20 I was pretty much just surviving and couldn’t wait to get to the finish, and then it happened……

Abingdon affords some lovely riverfront to run by (like Cambridge does too), although running past the pubs is always hard!!

Upon getting back home I went straight to my secret place in the garden to retrieve my house key. I always leave it in the same place when I’m out for a run in case it falls out of my pocket when retrieving a gel or the like. And it wasn’t there! After some scrabbling around and pulling said flowerpot apart it still couldn’t be found, and so Melanie (assuming naturally that I was having a ‘man look’) took over to try to retrieve it too. Sure enough, it wasn’t there! I looked then everywhere wondering if I’d put it somewhere else, but to no avail. I also realised that I had no spare key available to me in my other secret place, as I hadn’t returned it after losing my other set of keys the week before!!

Not the way I wanted to end my run it has to be said…….

After considering bricks and sledgehammers for a while (neither of which I had to hand either it has to be said, or otherwise they may have got a look in) I realised that the bedroom window upstairs was open. I didn’t have any ladders, but after a visit to my kindly neighbours and borrowing a set, I managed to climb up into the window and get inside and unlock the door from within. Where on earth I left the key is and will perhaps remain a mystery for all time. I made the statement to Melanie (because it is true) that I have never lost a set of keys before in my life, and here I am having lost a set in consecutive weeks. So as the headline above reads, you couldn’t make this up!! I really felt so stupid, and still can’t even fathom what I did with the key. Maybe it will turn up one day in the unlikeliest of places when I am doing the garden – who knows.

So, onto Week 10! Week 10 is a mere 42 miles, with just a 15 miler this weekend (although 5 of those at race pace), but we have 23 miles to do over the next three days which is going to be a real test. I have a bit of an achy foot too to boot, but hopefully that will ease. The next 3 weeks after this are harder still, but am not getting ahead of myself yet – one week, or one day, at a time! The exciting reality though is that at the end of the next four weeks we start to taper, and the marathon is less than 7 weeks away now. The time will no doubt fly by, and if it wasn’t very real already, then it gets even more real by the minute.

Hopefully I will have no more lost keys to report next week, but as Melanie reminded me afterwards, things often happen in threes! Until then………..:)

Well you couldn’t make this up….

Well here we are at the end of Week 8. So this week is massively notable for two things – actually it’s only really one thing, the Great North Run, but just ‘notable’ for the other (the half way point of our training) 😊.

So, the half way point to New York has arrived. We’ve done 288 miles in eight weeks. That’s an average of nearly 37 miles a week, or 5.3 miles a day. It doesn’t sound that much when you put it like that, but it feels like it is! There hasn’t yet been a time when I didn’t think I was going to reach the half way point too, and that’s a mighty good thing as well.

I’m (help me for saying this, please!!) so far injury free, and feel like I can do the other 307 training miles that the next 7 and a half weeks too. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, and let’s enjoy the present, as this week has been pretty much all about the world’s biggest half marathon, The Great North Run. The GNR ended up being very notable for reasons other than the run, but see further below for that……

Yes there were other runs during week 8 too: A six mile easy run on Tuesday to loosen the legs after last Sunday’s epic 20 miler; A seven mile tempo run (9 minute miles for me) on Wednesday; and a six mile fartlek session (with a four mile pyramid in the middle), but they were all just a prelude for me. Melanie didn’t do the Thursday run as she had a great reason (we don’t do ‘excuses’!), in that it was her birthday. We went out for a lovely meal in a village pub in the evening with her mum and her daughters. It was quite special :).

On Friday we travelled up to my homeland, a 260 mile from Cambridge. South Shields is where I grew up, and was the home of my parents (both sadly no longer with us) for just shy of 50 years. It’s also the finishing point of the Great North Run, and so as I may have said before along the way (!) it is rather special and nostalgic for me.

The Saturday schedule called for a 4 mile easy run. The Sunday run called for a half marathon race on the programme, and it fell exactly on the day of the GNR – so it was meant to be! But then, the real fun started……….

Upon getting up on the Saturday, and with one of us slightly the worse than the other after a few glasses of wine when we got to South Shields (I won’t say which one of us it was, but it wasn’t me!!!), we firstly decided not to do the Saturday run. SHOCK HORROR!! I was ok with this, on the basis that as we were doing the GNR the next day, as it would leave us both fresh for the run, and also we were going to go for a few walks, to the pier, and along the beach, and in Newcastle, so I figured we were getting plenty of exercise anyway.

And after a first lovely walk along the pier and the North Foreshore in South Shields in sunny if windy weather, we headed in the car to Marsden Beach and had a really nice walk along one of my favourite parts of our beautiful coastline. And then ‘it’ happened. We got back to the car and I couldn’t find my car keys! Now I’m sometimes a bit hopeless with keys, and can’t remember the number of times I’ve exclaimed “I’ve lost my keys”, but this time I think I knew I’d meant it. I had no idea, even though we’d only been out about 40 minutes or so, what I could have done with them.

South Shields is known for amongst other things for the ‘Weebles’
The Groyne in the foreground at the mouth of the River Tyne

Melanie down on South Pier – it was quite a bracing day with the wind on the Saturday.

And now on Marsden Beach, pretty close to where I believe my keys disappeared!

We thus (and Melanie had the patience and understanding of a saint it is very fair to say) retraced our steps, and walked along the grass, the steps and along the beach for another (more than) 40 minutes to see if we could hopefully see them. Talk about a needle in a haystack though on a beach with lots of pebbles! After at least three searches, and asking a local pub, and a couple of ice cream kiosks (the only places within physical proximity to the beach we were on), I knew they were lost, as in properly lost! We’d been down there now for over three hours all told.

Then the real fun started, as we had not only no access to the car, but also the keys for the house we were staying in were in the car too, and also all of Melanie’s running stuff and handbag were all locked in the car! Then after a lot of phone calls to either people I knew locally, or to the AA, to auto locksmiths, it became obvious that you cannot get access to a Mercedes Cabriolet for love nor money. Not without the official key anyway (or possibly a very large sledgehammer, but that I decided wouldn’t be very sensible as it wouldn’t help me to drive the car anywhere).

To cut what is a very long story short, the ultimate outcome was that I ended up hiring a car from Newcastle Airport (itself 45 minutes away, via a taxi journey) and making the decision to drive to my house to retrieve my spare car key. The only thing is, my house is 300 miles (each way) away, and I didn’t have my house key either (as it on the keyring that I’ve just lost somewhere on the beach!!). I did thankfully think that I had a spare key hidden in my garage, but wasn’t really sure, and so spent the whole of the five hour journey worried that I was going to have to break into my own house, to hopefully find my spare car key that I wasn’t sure where I’d put either! Nightmare!!

Thankfully when we got there I found both keys, which just proves how reliable I am with looking after things!!! Then of course we had to drive back straight away (when I say we, I mean me, as the hire firm wouldn’t put Melanie on the insurance) and also I drove back hoping that the lost keys hadn’t been picked up by someone who fancied nicking themselves a shiny new car – gulp!

The drive was over 10 hours in total, and we got back eventually (the car was still there, thankfully, along with all of the contents) at after 3am to Kate’s house where we were staying. So then after about three hours sleep it was up and out of the house to get a Metro train to Newcastle for the Great North Run. It’s safe to say that we were both a tad tired! And to show how tired Melanie was, when we got to the Metro station and I bought us a one way ticket up to Newcastle she asked me “how are we getting back here?”. The penny soon dropped that it might involve a half marathon 🙂 At least I think that was because she was tired……!

The run itself was hard work on three hours sleep and no proper nourishment (a grabbed sandwich and a bag of crisps from a motorway service station is not exactly ideal prep we discovered). It was however an absolutely spectacular day as far as weather is concerned. Cool at the start at around 11 degrees, but warming to 15 under totally cloudless skies, with little wind. It felt much warmer though, and we were feeling it.

After a bit of a long wait (15 minutes or so) to get over the starting line, we set out a bit too fast at about 8:25 pace (having intended to run it at about 9 minute pace as it was only a training run after all), and after about three or four miles we were feeling the effects. Melanie started to suffer a bit, and almost every mile from there to mile 12 got progressively slower. By mile 12 we were at about 9:30 pace, and I was trying to help her by getting water and gels and the like, and was a bit worried about her, as she said her breathing was suffering too. Thankfully she got her second wind for the last mile, and that was at around 8:25 pace again.

We finished in 1:56:02, and hand in hand, which was really nice. She’d told me at one point along the way to run ahead and go for my own time, but I said no. She’d been very patient with me losing my keys the day before, and we are a team irrespective. We are in this together, all the way to New York, and even if I had been interested in a time yesterday (I wasn’t) then I would have still stayed with her regardless of time or pace. As it is, 1:56 is still quicker than we had probably intended to run, and was her best time at the GNR, her third time there like me.

Getting ready to start the world’s biggest (and best!!) half marathon. Pity about someone’s finger in the photo, and don’t ask why Melanie is called Louise on her bib – long story too!!!
Just about to begin – this was our only chance of seeing Sir Mo!!
And all finished, complete with medals and the South Shields seafront behind us.

Regardless of outcome, we both definitely learned (as if we didn’t know already!) the huge importance of pacing/not going out too quickly on race day, and won’t be making that mistake in New York. I also realised that doing 9 min miles x 26.2, very much untried territory for me, is going to be a very tough gig indeed.

The GNR was otherwise as wonderful an occasion as it always is. It has more nostalgia and memory lane trips than I can possibly talk about here. It is true to say that as tired as I was then I wasn’t taking all of them in as much as I normally would, and certainly Melanie was so tired that I thought her eyes were actually going to close altogether at one point! The main thing is that we got through it all unscathed, did it together every step of the way, and chalked it off to ‘definitely one for the scrapbook’ after the adventure we’d had with the car. I also counted afterwards that I’d driven over 1,300 miles this weekend, and that might just be a bit too much for me!!

I can’t finish this week’s post without saying a huge and massive thank you to John Brown, without whom this run with Melanie wouldn’t have been possible, as he’s responsible for her being called Louise in the picture above! John and his wife Janine also came to try to help find my keys on the Saturday, without me asking them to. That’s wonderful in my book, and thank you both so very much from us both. Thanks also hugely to Kate and her husband Mark who put us up for two nights at their house in South Shields, even though they were away for the weekend. Very lovely to see you both, and will look forward to the next time very much indeed.

So that’s us half way then. Week 9 looks absolutely horrible by the way – 44 miles culminating with a 20 miler on Sunday. I’m already thinking that the two pairs of trainers I bought for training are not enough, and am realising that I have a long way to go in so many ways. My other lesson learned this week is that at £342 for a lost key repacement from Mercedes, that I’d better not be such an idiot and ever do that again!!

End of Week 7 – 43 miles!!

After last week’s somewhat epic blog (sorry about that :)) I promised to do a shorter one this week. So let’s stick to the running, mainly………

This week’s running was very notable for two reasons. Firstly it was the longest week’s running ever, at 43 miles in total, culminating in the longest run of my life at 20 miles. Secondly, and much more enjoyably, as it was the last week of the summer holidays for Melanie, she said she’d come over in the week and join me for the midweek runs too. So that was great!

The midweek runs this week weren’t too bad overall. The first one was 6 miles incorporating 11 lots of 30 second hill sprints. Melanie hadn’t got over to Abingdon for this one, and she didn’t fancy the hills (I think there may have been a longer, better, more justifiable excuse but in any case she didn’t do them :O) so I was actually on my own for those. They felt fine, and actually were helped by the fact that the temperature this week was considerably cooler than the previous week’s heatwave, which saw the hottest ever August Bank Holiday weekend in the UK (33 degrees C).

Wednesday saw an easy run of 6 miles. Again the air was a bit cooler, and the first signs of Autumn are in the air. The 9:45 pace is relaxing I find (mainly), even at 6am in the morning (!), and we both did the run just fine, although it was slightly harder than it might have been as we maybe had one or two (or was it three or four!) glasses of wine the night before. On the Thursday I thought it was going to be really tough. It called for four miles at 7:30 pace with two minute rests in between, as part of a 7 mile run.

I hadn’t actually thought I could run four lots of 7:30 miles (8 is normally round about my sustainable top speed), but it felt good and so I stayed with it. I got the first one done in about 7:45, and the others at similar pace, bar the last one, which was bang on 7:30. Melanie struggled a little bit, just not feeling at the top of her game, and did around 8:15 for the first three, but then had a great last mile at about 7:45.

It’s funny how some days you are on it, and some days you aren’t, and that’s all part of training and taking the good with the not so good.

At the weekend we both went back over to Cambridge for the weekend’s main event, the 20 miler!! Well we actually went to Cambridge just be in Cambridge really, but anyway, my mind was definitely occupied with whether I could get to do 20 miles or not! On Saturday, the prelude was just a gentle four miler, and then it was time for pasta and a restful night before Sunday morning.

20 miles is a definite barrier, physically and psychologically, and so many running tales I’ve seen talk about ‘the wall’ at 20 miles. As I’d never faced the wall (my longest run being up until three weeks ago a half marathon) this was very much untried territory for me. Not so for Melanie – she’s done four marathons before, and with all of the training for those is a (relatively speaking, before she kicks me under the table!) veteran at these things – certainly compared to me. It was thus interesting that the day before she was suggesting to me that maybe we should just do 16 and not 20! That told me that not only was I not looking forward to 20, she was dreading it!!

On Sunday morning the weather was simply stunning, not a cloud in the sky, a nice cooling breeze, and the temperature at about 17 degrees C. We ran into and out of Cambridge via Stapleford and Grantchester, a lovely route much like last Sundays (just longer of course). Also the run was at a slow (9:55) pace. It went great, and whilst I couldn’t say that I could have run much further by the time we finished (and despite nearly twisting my ankle on a kerb due to not paying attention towards the end), it was actually better than I expected. I felt the distance of the week’s running in my legs at about mile 10, but they got no worse.

Melanie was fine too, and although 20 miles (especially when it takes you 3 hours and 18 minutes to complete) is undoubtedly a monster distance, we’ve both trained hard and followed the programme so far pretty diligently (ok – to the absolute letter for me :)) and so there’s no reason why we couldn’t or shouldn’t have got through it.

So after 7 weeks of the programme (16 weeks in all), we’ve done 255 miles out of 599 training miles in total. I’m really pleased with how it is all going at this point, and although you can never rest on your laurels or take things for granted, I now believe that this thing is at least doable. On the flipside of that, I know that September is going to be really hard – we will get though 190 miles this month alone!

The very best thing about September though comes this coming weekend. It is The Great North Run. The GNR is the biggest (at 57,000 runners) half marathon in the world, but of course (to anyone who knows me) is massively special to me for much more significant reasons than that. Finishing in my home town (although I haven’t lived there in more than thirty five years) of South Shields, the GNR is a homecoming for me, and is uniquely special. It has everything – it starts near where I finished my schooling, runs past the place of my birth, where my grandparents and parents grew up, and has so many amazing sights, like the Tyne Bridge, and running along the Coast Road with wonderful views of the beaches and the sea, and the Red Arrows performing during and after the event. It gives me a headrush just thinking about it, and being there and taking part is almost totally overwhelming. The event is also really about memories of my Dad.

Every year, wherever I was (it has been held since 1981) my Dad used to ring me on the day of the run and tell me to look out for him on the TV – as the run went past more or less the street where I grew up, and he used to go and stand on the corner to watch everyone come past. He was always a big fan of the event; of Brendan Foster (who founded it all those years ago); and of the passion and pride that it brings to the people of the North East. I share every one of his sentiments and feelings, and more so now since he passed on five years ago. It will be incredibly emotional to run past the bottom of my street and look out into the crowd and see him not standing there. And perhaps he will be – as I pass the junction of the Temple Park Road I’ll have a tear in my eye as I look over in the direction of where he would be.

Next Sunday I’m so pleased that Melanie is coming up to do the GNR with me too. It is all part of the training programme really, and so we aren’t trying for times, but just to enjoy everything that it brings. She’s done the run twice like me, but is our first time together. More nostalgia then this time next week……Dad, here’s to you :).

The Red Arrows over the Tyne Bridge during the GNR.