Week 15 – The day of reckoning approaches

On or around May 9th 2019 I decided that I wanted, very badly, to do the New York Marathon: https://aquavista.me/2019/05/09/marathon/ This having never done a marathon before was definitely a case of ‘go big or go home’, and it is not big but completely massive! And now, almost incredibly, some 5 and a half months later, the day is nearly here. In fact, in exactly 6 days time we will be on the starting line on Staten Island, and I’m having to pinch myself that it can all be real.

It’s been a very long journey. There have been tears and tantrums along the way, near misses with potentially marathon-ending injury, and some incredible adventures and stories to tell. There has been a lot of money spent, a lot of miles driven, and soon a lot of miles to fly over to New York. I can honestly tell you that I’ve never been so tired or exhausted in anything I’ve ever done, save for one night trying to summit Kilimanjaro which I will never ever forget. But this has been months of constant hard work. It’s true also to say that I underestimated just how difficult it would be. Sacrifice is a big word, but you really do give up a lot to throw yourself into this. And throw ourselves in we have.

It’s funny also (and I shouldn’t be surprised anymore but I never fail to be!) just how much my Facebook feed has filled up with running merchandise, running articles, suggestions for other races and events, and of course a huge amount on the New York marathon itself. It’s a clever (or annoying, depending on which way you look at it!) thing this social media!! I’m a follower too of a very helpful Facebook Group called (very helpfully :)) The New York City Marathon 2019 Help Group, administered by a pretty fanatical Norwegian guy called Runar Gundersen, who has run the race 40 times.

The page is bursting (literally) with tips, anecdotes and experiences on everything from which restaurants to get the best pasta in to where to get a post race massage, and absolutely everything in between. These vary from useful advice such as which ferry to get to the start line (a seemingly logistical nightmare with 60,000+ people all trying to get boats at the same time) to what to take in to the start area while you are waiting, and an overview of the contours of every mile of the course and what to look out for, to the somewhat more esoteric “How many gels should I take with me” and “Which mile is best to go to the potty?” to “Which colour should I paint my fingernails?”. The logistics do seem to be over-complicated and over-officious just to get to the starting line, but then again it is the biggest (by number of participants and spectators) marathon in the world and the security arrangements are all understandable given what happened in Boston a few years ago too. This flow chart below amused (and also worried me!) which shows just how many things you have to think about on the day itself:

I’ve no idea what the Onion or the Rhinoceros are about…..!

In all of this journey, there have more than quite a few ups and downs, but there has been one constant, to which I need to pay tribute here, and that is Melanie. She is the reason I chose to do this run in the first place, and has been (and remains more so this day than ever) my inspiration throughout. Not only has she been side by side with me for over 30 (out of 74 in total, yes I’ve counted them!) of our training runs, but throughout she has encouraged me, helped me in so many ways, and just been there for me whenever I have needed her. Marathon training is stupidly hard I now know, but Melanie has made it both fun and pushed me to be where I am, which is on the brink of what I know will be the most momentous thing I have ever taken part in. So thank you Melanie for not just being there, but for all of the adventures we have had along the way, far too many of course to mention here! I simply wouldn’t have been here without you :).

From Week 2 in the French Alps in the venerable shadow of Mont Blanc…
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…..to the beaches of my home town before The Great North Run in September…
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….to just a few weeks ago. Thank you for being there 🙂

So this last week was the second week of tapering, and the final week of training. A straightforward 30 miles. No sprinting, nothing too strenous, and a nice 10 mile run at the end of it at race pace to get us into the mood. And also a final visit to the physiotherapists to get strapped up and a massage on the gastroc injury that still pains me with every step I take, and that I hope just doesn’t get worse next Sunday. I treated the weekend’s long run as a dress rehearsal, and wore exactly what I plan to wear next Sunday, including my shiny new Nike Next% Vaporfly shoes too, even if I didn’t really want to wear them out or get them dirty before the day!!! I even at the weekend upgraded my phone to the latest fancy new three-camera-lens model so I can get the best possible pictures of New York on the day. Well, this may be the only time I do this after all, so it might as well look good even if I don’t!!

I said in that first post back in May (before I really knew what I was letting myself in for), and way before I knew I’d be doing an almost unfathomable 625 miles of training in just 15 and a half weeks, that success would be determined by the extent of my determination. Well, I’ve been determined all right! I also knew I’d need to control my emotions, and that is something to still keep in check, as like so many other things it is crucial for me. When that cannon blasts on Staten Island and they start playing “New York, New York” on the starting line, all of this will be worth it, and so much more, but it is a case of concentrating and not getting carried away.

I’ve done all bar 1 (spent driving for 11 hours having lost my car keys the day before the Great North Run, so that’s a good excuse!) of the training runs, and Melanie has missed just 4. Life does get in the way sometimes after all! Overall though, we’ve been lucky, had fun in between bouts of running ‘maranoia’, and stayed relatively healthy and looked after ourselves as best as we can without being over-anal about it. I’ve done lots of things this 16 weeks that are alien to me, like choosing to get up at 5:30 in the week to go on training runs. I’ve also never drunk pomegranate juice before (and maybe never will again!) or eaten as many eggs, or almonds, or avocados, or had as many protein recovery drinks, or drunk glasses of water while sitting in the hot tub!. There was a very amusing, if self-revealing, questionnaire on one of the Facebook marathon groups which Melanie showed me this weekend, entitled “are you a running wanker?”. Of the 20 questions, if you answered more than 10 of them positively then the answer was yes – I think we said yes to about 16 out of 20 – case closed!!

Normal life the other side will be most enjoyable 🙂

So this week it is packing, faffing, hopefully not forgetting to take anything important (although there are shops in New York I’m told!) and generally hoping that Brexit or anything else doesn’t cock up our flights on Thursday. There may be a couple of very gentle runs where I try not to trip up or do myself any more damage. It’s now about getting to the starting line. Nothing (barring probably an awful lot of pasta this week!) can change our state of readiness as we’ve done it all and given ourselves the best chance we can of running this thing in 3 hours 59 minutes and 59 seconds. It’s not all about that, but it would be great, and let’s face it, it’s what we’ve trained for. Melanie has done four marathons in just over four hours, and this could be the one that gets her under that mythical barrier for us mere mortals.

Most of all though, and putting everything into perspective, we want to be there, finish injury free, and just enjoy the sights and sounds of the greatest marathon in probably the world’s greatest and most famous city. It doesn’t get bigger and more exciting than this.

See you on the other side…….

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Week 14 – We’ll be on the plane in ten days time, eeeek!…..

This week was the first week of tapering, and consisted of 5 runs totalling a mere 38 miles – bliss! and being on the bridge below now is getting very very close indeed – scary and ridiculously exciting!

The Verrazzano Narrows Bridge – Mile One of the New York Marathon is all on this bridge, which was at one point the longest suspension bridge in the world.

Tuesday’s run was supposed to be a fartlek session, but I somehow managed to do hill repeats instead. I am sure this was caused by my being a complete zombie through tiredness, and in fact during that same morning of the run I did something that I’ve never done before….

I woke up, went downstairs, got some orange juice, and made myself a coffee. Then I let Jake (my cat) in (he sleeps in the utility room as if he’s in the rest of the house he’ll typically jump on my head at some random hour and that doesn’t fill me with loving feelings towards him whilst I’m fast alseep!!). I then put on my running stuff, and opened the front door to see how cold it was. It seemed even more ‘dark’ than it usually was, and so I stepped back in and thought I’d have one more sip of coffee before I went out. It was then (and only then!) that I looked at my watch – it was 1am!! I have no idea how that happened, but clearly next time I wake up in the middle of the night I should definitely do some of these things in a different order :).

On Wednesday there was a nice easy run of 7 miles at ‘easy’ pace, and then on Thursday a set (5) of 800m runs at a fast (7:45mm) pace as part of a 6 mile run. Both went well overall, even if I did get completely soaked on both runs. I think that 8 out of my last 10 runs have been drenchings now, and I’m sort of used to it already.

My Thursday was also interrupted by the news of the sad and premature death of someone who was a close friend to me for several years. Cancer has taken two people I knew closely in the last three weeks now in fact, and the phrase ‘life is too short’ was never so true in my mind as it is now. I was also then out on Thursday night for another good friend’s 50th birthday, and it would have been too easy to get carried away with the ‘life is too short’ ticket in my hand, but thankfully I managed to stop myself just as the tequilas started. I do after all have a marathon to run in about 14 days time!!

I also had my fourth session of physiotherapy on Thursday. My gastroc injury isn’t getting worse, thankfully, but the rest of my muscles and tendons around it are suffering as they try to support it. My adductors are the things that are suffering this week, and are tight and sore. I’ve a whole new set of tape strapping me up, and it is still a case of pain management, rolling, stretching and the like every day. I’ll get through this….I keep promising myself!

The weekend, or half of it, was spent in Cambridge with Melanie. She was off to take her youngest daughter to a University Open Day on the Sunday, and so we switched the Sunday long run to Saturday instead. Melanie had had a busy and tiring week however and didn’t get in her Thursday run until Friday night, and so found the 15 miles at marathon pace harder work than she’d have liked. We ran together for about 10 miles, but then as she slowed she told me to carry on home without her. I deliberated whether to do so or not, on the basis that we are in this together every step, but on checking with her she was certain that she wanted me to go on, so I did. I got to the end of the 15 miles and felt overall pretty good. I’m not telling you that I could have carried on for another 9.2 miles at that pace, as that would be a long way from the truth, but hopefully by the time we are properly tapered I can do so. Melanie stopped at mile 13 (“all I could manage” she said), and actually after the 6 miles at quick pace the night before I’m very much not surprised.

Back home for me on Sunday for what would have been Saturdays’ 4 mile run, I thought I need to get out the new shoes and try them out, as I will after all (barring unforeseen circumstances) be wearing them for New York in two week’s time. The new shoes in question are my shiny new Nike Vaporfly ZoomX Next%, as featured in last week’s blog https://aquavista.me/2019/10/14/week-13-holy-moly-its-getting-exciting/ . I reasoned that a four mile run is plenty to run in any new shoes in case of blisters or other alignment/wearing in issues. I was a bit apprehensive stepping out in £240 trainers it has to be said, but I need not have worried it seems.

They are amazing!!!! I tried hard to stick to what was my schedule of 4 miles @ 9:45 pace (knowing full well that I wouldn’t, as these shoes are not meant to be plodded around in), but it was stupidly difficult to do so. It is like having springs under your feet, and you feel like you are being catapulted forward with every stride. What is more, they are amazingly comfortable, which was even more surprising. My first three miles were at about 9:00 pace, but what was even more noticeable was that my heart rate was hovering well (like 10 bpm) below where it would normally for that pace. On mile 4 I therefore had to just run, not like my life depended upon it, as I was very conscious that trying to do so with a calf injury would be akin to playing Russian roulette, but just ‘opening up’. It was ridiculously easy to do so, and I actually had to hold back in running a 7:13 mile, crazy fast for me!

So here we are, 14 weeks of 16 done. Sometimes it feels like we’ve been doing it for 14 months not 14 weeks! I’ve got to say that this has been far far harder than I expected, and far far harder and more tiring and all-consuming than any training programme I’ve ever done, and then some. It’s like a treadmill that you can’t get off sometimes, brutal in intensity and just always full on both physically and mentally, whether you are running, getting ready to run, or recovering from the last one. But not much longer now!

Next week is only 30 miles, proper tapering territory, with just a 10 mile run at the end of it. I’m going to do my weekday runs at lunchtime at work so I don’t have to get up to do them at 5:30am any more. I also need to rest and sleep as well as I can in between, and generally and metaphorically try to wrap myself in cotton wool. In 10 days time we will be on a plane to New York to take part in the world’s biggest marathon. I’m still pinching myself at the moment, but next week it will be very real indeed.

What an incredible journey this is……

Week 13 – Holy Moly it’s getting exciting!!

Soooooooooo much has happened this week, and yet in some ways it’s been fairly uneventful. Does that make sense? I’m not sure it does, so let’s stick with the “so much has happened” statement!

So, this week was first of all the last week of big big miles. 47 of them in fact, with a 21 mile run at the end of it, the longest yet, and longest we do before New York, which of course (as I go to press with this) is actually less than 3 weeks away now! That means we are officially tapering! Yaaaaaaaahhhhhhhooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!

In terms of runs, the midweek has started to tail off already. This week was just 6 miles, 8 miles and 6 miles, which actually just seems (at least psychologically anyway, but see below) easy now, despite the tired legs. Much better than the 7, 10 and 7 of two weeks ago anyway!

Tuesday was a hill sprint run. I actually wasn’t even sure if I was going to do it or not, as on Monday my leg ( a pulled medial head of the gastroc muscle injury – see last week’s post for details…..https://aquavista.me/2019/10/06/week-12-the-fine-margins-on-which-we-sometimes-hang/ was giving me more pain than it ever has. I put it down to stiffness from last Sunday’s run, and basically hoped for the best. On Tuesday morning it tanked it down, and although my leg pain felt actually not too bad, the rest of me just didn’t have it at all. I felt spent, devoid of energy altogether, and not into it. Partly at least this was a result of a really poor night’s sleep.

I honestly wanted to give up. That hasn’t happened to me for the most fleeting of moments throughout this whole programme, and in fact I can’t remember the last time (for years) that I just wanted to stop and go home. I felt that way at least four times. What the hell was happening!

I did go through the motions and eventually get home without stopping, but when I got back home I felt down, deflated, and really not like carrying on. Is this thing beating me I wondered, and am I to get to week 13 and not be able to continue? I’m averaging 45 miles a week, and in previous years I sometimes haven’t run 45 miles in six months or more, so the cumulative effect of this must be absolutely grinding me down. I also realised that Tuesday was the day when the London Marathon results were announced. Having entered the ballot very excitedly some months ago, the only thing I could now think was “please don’t get a place, so I don’t have to go through this agony again!”. No email came, so the thought left my mind and I put the thoughts aside. Melanie did however massively pick me up when she rang me and reminded me that everyone gets down days. I really appreciated that a lot and it made me feel better.

On Wednesday it rained again. Cats and dogs style. I’m a bit fed up of getting wet (I think that 5 out of my last 6 midweek runs have been wet ones), but then again you get used to it, and ‘it’s only water’. I had however slept much better, and I was in the mood for the run, even it was 6am and pitch black. The 8 mile tempo run (at marathon race pace) went great, and I felt like I could run forever. It is so strange how 24 hours can change your outlook altogether!

On Thursday it was a six mile interval run, including 12 lots of 400m at ‘fast’ pace, followed by 12 x 200m slow recoveries. It thankfully again went great, and I felt like I could go on harder and faster. Funny thing this running malarkey! Oh and I (and Melanie too) got the news that we hadn’t been accepted into next year’s London Marathon. I was so happy, I punched the air with delight :).

I also had (my now weekly) visit to the physiotherapist on Thursday afternoon. She reiterated that my leg pain is containable, and even said “you’ll be able to do this marathon I think” (which I actually asked her to repeat to make me feel better!!). I’ve been given some more strengthening exercises for my glutes, calves and ankles, and my foot is now taped up more firmly to allow for hopefully less lateral movement.

So now to the exciting news! In a phone call during the week with my son Dan, he’s said that he and his partner Sadi are going to come out to see us do the marathon in New York! How exciting is that! He has a short break from work at the same time and fancied a weekend away, and it has amazingly coincided with our trip. If I wasn’t already the most excitable person on the planet about New York then this has just put the cherry on top!!

On Saturday something else exciting happened. In fact two things! Firstly Melanie and I were transfixed, as so many people were, watching Eliot Kipchoge make history and become the first human being to break 2 hours for the marathon. It was completely engrossing watching it unfold. The man is both incredible and inspirational in every way. And the way he conducts himself and his messages of hope for a beautiful world are both touching and incredibly uplifting. Who couldn’t fail to be inspired by this? We loved it so much: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/athletics/50025543

Then not long after Kipchoge finished his run I got a delivery of some new trainers. Not just any trainers either, but the same ones that Kipchoge was wearing! The same ones in fact that many of the professional marathon runners have been sporting this season, the Nike Vaporfly ZoomX Next% to give them their full name. They are both (very) expensive, and not very pretty, it has to be said. They are also a very lurid pink colour (they’d sold out of lime green, the only other option), but what the hell, I’m not here to look good :). I simply figure that if they can (which they are supposed to) help mere mortals to run more efficiently, or easily, or shave just one second off my time in New York even, then they might just be worth it.

Nike Vaporfly Next% – so expensive I just don’t want to wear them out or get them wet!!

Our Saturday run was a nice gentle four mile one as per usual, and went without incident. I didn’t try the new shoes out, they will have to wait – they are only supposed to last about 100 miles, and so I figure a couple of runs to see how they feel and then they can come with me to New York! They feel incredibly comfortable walking around the house in though!!

On Sunday our long run was the wettest yet, as well as the longest. It rained for approximately 19 of the 21 miles, and pretty hard at times too. I wasn’t really concentrating on that too much though, it was mostly my leg. The pain from the top of my calf was radiating around my knee the whole way. I do wonder if I’m doing it more damage by carrying on running, and it certainly is getting more painful each week, but it hasn’t actually stopped me running yet, and until it does, I’m not stopping, simple as that. I’ve come too far, and I’m too determined to do it, and the physio says I can manage it, so manage it I will. We were both absolutely exhausted by the end, but a good old Sunday lunch of roast beef and all the trimmings (and a glass of wine or two) at my local pub certainly perked us both up!

So the training continues very much, but a now reduced level. We have done around 520 miles in 13 weeks, and it has been way harder and more intense than I every imagined. We start now to taper, to hopefully be fresher and as ready as possible for that enormously big day which looms ever closer. We’ve been watching lots of YouTube videos of last year’s event and getting even more excited about things. I forgot to say, we also got our bib numbers and staring waves/times for the day itself! More about those next time round as preparations start in earnest.

It really truly is getting stupidly exciting – time to take all that in, contain it, and convert it to positive energy. I’ve got this, I think……but time to keep my (insanely pink!) feet on the ground for a little while longer yet!

Week 12 – the fine margins on which we sometimes hang….and some more adventures ahead!

Two things have occupied my thoughts as much as anything this week (except one other quite big thing, more of that at the end….), and both relate to just how fine margins are in running. The first relates to timings of runs, and the second to injuries, of which I am now suffering a bit…

This weeks programme called for 43 miles of running. The second last week of really big mileage before we start tapering in Week 14. The midweek runs were 6, 9 and 7 miles, and the weekend was 4 and 17, so a reduction from last week, which is good! It’s funny how all of a sudden 17 miles doesn’t seem too far any more!

The Tuesday run was a random Fartlek job of four miles, with a mile warm up and warm down. I got almost as wet as I did the Tuesday before and it simply lashed down the whole way. I didn’t really mind too much though, as it was almost a distraction from my leg pain, which is almost constant now, if still manageable.

On the Wednesday it was a tempo run of 9 miles. Despite the cold (3 or 4 degrees at 6am) I was really looking forward to it. It’s more or less the longest tempo run yet, and there will be quite a few more of these to come in the next few weeks. So the idea is to run at the pace we will run at in New York for the whole of the 26.2 miles. The run went well, and was followed on Thursday by more quicker paced running. This time it was 18 lots of 200m sprints (well, all things are relative as they say!) followed by 18 x 200m slow, as part of a 7 mile run. The weather was this time down to just 1 degree, and it felt colder still. I don’t think I’ve ever been as cold on a run, and was glad to get finished.

I also had more physiotherapy on Thursday. The physiotherapist is really good (from a local firm called Progressive Physiotherapy) and I have been now officially diagnosed as having a strain of the medial head of the gastrocnemius muscle, or gastroc. And in case you want to know more about the calf and muscles in it here you go, you’re welcome…….https://www.physio-pedia.com/Calf_Strain . I hadn’t even heard of the gastroc muscle until this week, but now thanks to the internet I’m an expert of the worst kind 🙂 The injury I have is also referred to as ‘tennis leg’ apparently. It’s manageable and that’s the main thing right now, so whilst it hurts when I’m running, it’s not terrible pain, and with lots of rollering, stretching and tlc, I believe I can (with help) nurse it all the way to New York. Time will tell! I’ve also been told that it has been caused by my anterior glute on my right side being weaker than the left (who knew?) and so I have to strengthen it. That I’ll do too.

The Saturday and Sunday runs were in Cambridge with Melanie. Saturday’s was the usual gentle affair of just four miles. It is funny how four miles now feels like it is not even worth breaking a sweat for. Yet when I started this programme I was averaging 14 miles a week – in September I ran 188 miles, averaging 43 a week – no wonder I feel crocked!

Sunday was a bit of a wet and windy affair, but I’m glad to say that our 17 miles passed without incident. No lost keys, no other injuries, no dramas of any kind in fact. Just the way we like it! The leg was achy and sore, but no worse than it has been, so I just keep ticking these runs off now. There are a mere 19 runs to go until New York, and four of them are just gentle jogs in the week of the run itself. One more big week this week (21 miles next Sunday, gulp!) and then we start to taper….but no taking anything for granted yet. I’m still giving this everything and more. I’m even going to start eating avocados and almonds this week – what has this turned me into!!!

And so, I alluded at the top to the things that occupied my mind. The running is (still) fun, despite my protestations and my injury niggles, and the finishing line IF I make it in just four weeks time, will be simply one of the absolute highlights of my life. It is wonderful though to also have adventures (other than the one you are on!) to look forward to.

I thus asked Melanie this week if she’d like to share a little adventure to Nepal with me next year. She said she’d love to, and so that is amazing and wonderful at the same time. I’ve been to Nepal and the Himalayas/Everest Base Camp three times now, and anyone who knows me knows how much I love it there. It just gets into your soul, your whole being. Each time though I’ve travelled on my own, and this will be the first time I get to share it with someone special. Roll on next April therefore! Meantime, we have a bit more running to do……:)

Room for more than one person in this photo next year…….:)