Final Blog Post before the big day….. :)

And so the VERY big day is rapidly approaching now. Indeed in just two days time I will be in Berlin (or I hope I will anyway :O) getting nervously ready for the big day on Sunday. It has been a long road for sure…..

It feels a bit incredible now that I started my training plan for this event in May. Especially as we sit here now with much cooler days, the nights drawing in, and yes, I saw Christmas decorations and mince pies in the supermarket yesterday – ridiculous but true!! Since then I’ve covered approximately 700 miles, gone through two pairs of trainers (they tell you they last 350 miles and I’m a stickler for the rules!) and countless energy drinks, tabs, gels and the like.

I’ve also bought several new running vests (it is going to be about 17 degrees in Berlin and that demands being as cool as I can get), new shorts, some fancy Alphafly shoes that I may well not even wear (more on that below), and had the flight cancelled that I was supposed to be going on. But no matter, I’ll get there, by hook or by crook, and give it my best shot.

Speaking of best shots, I’ll put it down here now – I will as things stand be (only a little bit) disappointed if I don’t/can’t break (but just!) 3hrs 40 mins. That’s the target, and I’m going to everything I can to get to it. 3 hrs 39 mins and 59.9 seconds will do – that’ll have me cheering/doing metaphorical cartwheels. When I started my training, using Hanson’s Marathon Method (great book, but VERY detailed :O), I wanted to get to 3 hrs 45mins, and so that’s what I’ve trained for. That is 8m 35s miles. To put that into perspective for me, my only marathon was in New York, 3 years ago, and I did 3hrs 54mins, and I was delighted with that.

I’ve found though that as the training has gone on, despite the odd hiccup (like having to go for a colonoscopy in week 15 for example!) I’ve got generally stronger in terms of how relaxed it has all been. That doesn’t mean faster, but in terms of heartbeat. I ran today for example, for 5 miles, at an overall average of 9mins 2 secs, and my heartbeat averaged 133bpm. I think at the start of this programme that would have been about 20 beats higher. So that doesn’t necessarily mean I can do much better in terms of outcome of course, it just hopefully means I have a greater aerobic capacity to get through it. According to my Garmin watch too, my VO2 max predictor has gone up from 48 to 52 over the programme. Again, it doesn’t mean diddly squat when it comes to the day necessarily, but hopefully it at least brings confidence. After all, a lot of running is in the head too.

But what it has translated to is a faster pace per mile in training on tempo runs without getting over-exerted. My tempo (marathon pace) has gradually slightly been lowered (by me, based only on ‘feel’) to around 8 mins 20 seconds a mile, and that would equate to 3hrs 38mins and 20 seconds (precisely!). So let’s see if I can sustain 8:20 pace for 26.2 miles, and see what happens!

So the schedule is to get to Berlin (early) on Friday morning, go to the Expo (which is mandatory as you have to collect your bib etc there) in the afternoon, and then just chill as much as I can. There is a ‘shakeout’ run scheduled on the Saturday morning which I may do too though. In fact there are a couple of those – one with Sports Tours International (the company with whom I’ve booked the trip), and one with Ben Parkes and his followers. Ben is a 2:25 marathoner and esteemed YouTuber, who I follow too – he’s a bit geeky but also entertaining and informative. He unsuccessfully attempted the UTMB a few weeks ago, and I found myself absolutely crying with him even on the starting line he was that emotional.

Interestingly, in Ben’s very latest post he was deliberating on choice of shoes. He can’t decide between three different pairs, and you’d think that someone who is a 2:25 marathoner would have it nailed down with three days to go, but apparently not! That makes me feel slightly better as I can’t decide between two pairs. I have loved Nike Vaporfly since I bought them before New York, but I bought some Nike Alphafly this year, intending them for this very race. However, the Alphafly are a bit heavier and clunkier (I wore them for the Great North Run two weeks ago), as opposed to lighter and more nimble for the Vaporfly. But, most of the serious athletes (including none other than the GOAT Eliud Kipchoge who I noticed arrived in Berlin today (not that I’m stalking him or anything :O)) choose the Alphafly, and quite honestly I’ll take all of the artificial advantages I can possibly get my hands on!

I’ll take both pairs to Berlin and it might be a toss up in the morning of the run as two which go on my feet, but the Vaporfly are favourites at this point in time, probably :D. First world problems indeed!

So the run itself begins at 9:15 on Sunday morning. I will have to try very very hard to contain emotions of just being by the Brandenburg Gate, where it also finishes. The Brandenburg Gate is just such an iconic monument in history. When I saw it last time (I’ve only been to Berlin once and was fortunate enough to have a little run through it too) it was almost overwhelming then, so what it will be like with the excitement of the event I can only imagine.

When I did New York I was very lucky to have Dan and Sadi come and cheer me on and meet up at the end. And the picture below was during the post race beer (or two) we all had in some bar afterwards. I love this photo so have put it here for at least my own posterity! Unfortunately they can’t be with me this time, but they’ll be tracking me (or watching Eliud Kipchoge on TV anyway, hopefully breaking the world record, as is rumoured….). I am so thankful for all the support and cheers that I’ve got along the journey from various other people too.

Wish me luck, as I badly need it, and see you on the other side……….

In some basement bar in Manhattan, post race of course (!) 3rd November 2019.

The one and only Great North Run 2022

The masses gather for as far as the eye can see at the start of the 41st Great North Run…

This is the DAY. This morning is THE Great North Run. As I write this I’m (literally) sat on the starting line, having arrived very early with over an hour to go, and am beyond excitement, anticipation, joy, appreciation, and also remembrance. 

Excitement that I am taking part in the 41st Great North Run in the first place. The journey home from Newcastle to South Shields, the place of my upbringing and all of my formative years. And I’ll tell you how excited this gets me. On my way up here first thing this morning from South Shields (an approximately 13.1 mile journey by Metro train, as it is a ‘point to point’ course) I stood in the queue for a ticket along with many other runners, and when I got to press the buttons on the machine I just clicked ‘return journey’ – it had somehow bypassed my befuddled braincells that I would be heading back under my own steam!!

Anticipation for the unbridled rush of emotions that this event always brings. It is a run through the places of my life, and all of my family’s lives. Every year that I have taken part (I think this is my 8th one now, but it might be 7, as I said, I’m excited 🙂 ) it doesn’t take long for me to get a total head rush. I have to bring myself out of it every time or I would literally have to stop and be properly overcome. It is generally about mile 1 when it happens, and you go though the tunnels before Tyne Bridge. There will be choruses of “oggy oggy oggy…..” and it overwhelms me every time. It actually contributes to my heart rate going through the roof, and me running too fast at the start. Happens every time and will probably happen today too. Just can’t help myself!

Joy and happiness to be together as part of the weekend with old friends, some who put me up last night (thanks Kate and Mark!) and others whom I met yesterday (fab to see you as always JB and Janine – it’s becoming a ritual 🙂 ). Joy also to be able to see the places and things that did indeed shape who I am. The beach at South Shields, the streets where I spent time with my grandparents when I was a kid, the baths where I learnt to swim, the technical college where my Dad used to teach pottery classes, my school, and the shops and sights and smells of the place of my birth are all, simply amazing. I am so grateful to be able to be in the midst of them once again. Yesterday I went down to the beach, as I always do when I am here, to just drink it all in. The word ‘sentimental’ doesn’t even begin to get close.

And my appreciation to all of those things and people extends very far and wide. To the founder of this race, the iconic and humble Sir Brendan Foster. He almost single handedly created an institution, from which so many people benefit. The charities and their beneficiaries who today alone will be some £25m better off because of it, the local communities and hospitality trade in the North East who have struggled over the last few years due to the pandemic.

And also to and on behalf of all the people of the area to whom this event alone brings in a lot of money in terms of hospitality revenues, they are all I know very grateful. There are 60,000 runners, mostly from out of the immediate area, and their families and friends, who are all spending money, on top of the half a million or so people who will be lining the route to cheer us on. Yes ‘us’, I’m one of the 60,000!

And so to remembrance. This weekend of course is very poignant for the whole country due to the death of the Queen. The event nearly didn’t take place because of it, and I’m just so glad that it is on. Many millions of people will be paying their respects over the next week or so, and this event will play its part in that. But remembrance for me, in the main, as it is every year, is for my Mam and Dad. The course will run past the street I grew up in, and where my Dad used to stand on the corner every year to cheer on the runners. He used to enthuse so much about it, and as I run past the corner of The Nook (about mile 10 1/2 on the course) it will bring every ounce of love and emotion out of my body. It’s probably even more special a place for me than the crematorium where their ashes are scattered, which incidentally we also run right past about a mile before that.

And so this week will end week 16 of the 18 weeks of the training schedule for Berlin. Another 50 or so miles – 57 I think including today. I won’t run hard, it wouldn’t be good. I am supposed (according to my religiously observed training schedule) to be doing a 10 mile run at a slow pace today. I won’t be able to run slow either, but hopefully I can just pace it well and come out at the end without injury. That’s really the most important thing. Actually writing that, I’m wrong, 100% wrong. The most important thing is all of the above things – to enjoy the very reasons why I am here, and why I will ALWAYS be here.

Come what may, this is the event of my life. The time, the weather, how quick or slow I run, anything and everything else in fact, don’t matter. This is more than special, and what I look forward to all year. This, is THE Great North Run 🙂

And it’s all done! This was shortly after the finish, and a 1:43 run, so not too fast, and not too slow either 🙂

If this helps just one person then it is worth it….

This is an almost impossible post to write, and one I probably shouldn’t even attempt. As I start it now, I am envisaging that by the time (or possibly well before) I finish it, it will be consigned to the delete bin. But I’m writing it not for me, but maybe for just one other person reading this, almost certainly that I will never know about. Here’s why:

Yesterday I went for a colonoscopy. To detect for bowel cancer. It was horrible, and frankly traumatic, but thankfully they didn’t detect any cancer. Now I might well get knocked down by a bus on my way home this evening, or die later this month from something else unknown at this point in time. After all, we are all going to die at some point. But, for this week or this month and hopefully a few years still, bowel cancer can fuck right off. I make no apologies at all for the language.

Cancer killed both my parents before their time was (or should have been) up. And it was bowel cancer that got my Mam. She was in her 50s at the time (when she got the bowel cancer, although she died a few years later from secondary cancer), and that is why it is so hard, and painful, and still (she died 22 years ago now) so very raw.

Bowel cancer is the 3rd most prevalent cancer in men, 4th in women, and about 1 person in 20 will get it in their lifetime. Caught early, you have an 84% chance of living for 10 years. Caught late, then 47% of people will die within a year or so. Shocking, appalling, and very sad. But bowel cancer is treatable, and you can if you are lucky carry on a normal life.

So why the story? Well, about a month or so ago, I started having some (actually quite a bit) rectal bleeding (I told you this was a hard post to write, but there’s no way of dressing this up really). Also I had a bit of bloating and some uncomfortable feelings ‘down there’. Now haemorrhoids cause blood, but this to me didn’t feel like that (as I’ve had piles before).

Now I’m a typical bloke I guess, and I said to myself that I should get checked out. But I was busy at work, and trying to sort my house out, and maybe the cat needed feeding too. There’s always an easy excuse for not ‘bothering’ your GP. There has after all been a big strain on the NHS for way too long now, and other people are (definitely) more important than me. Bollocks.

But eventually, a few weeks later, I picked up the phone to my GP, and the process of getting checked out started.

The NHS were absolutely magnificent from start to finish. No judgement, no fuss, no stress. Just efficiency, brilliance, compassion. They were focussed on me from start to finish. I was I should say fortunate in being fast tracked, due to family history, and also due to this having also happened to me (rectal bleeding and a resultant anal fissure) about 7 years ago. 

The week of the procedure isn’t pleasant, I can tell you. You have five days of a (very) low fibre diet, which is harder than it sounds (for me anyway), as the list of prohibited substances is massive (fruit, vegetables, red meat, brown bread, cereal, nuts, crisps, chips….the list goes on). Then you have a day of fasting, whilst you drink two lots of bowel emptying laxative. You can’t even leave the house, as you will go to the loo about 47 times in this 24 hour period, and probably almost run out of toilet rolls like I did.

Then there’s the anxiety. I did ask when they phoned me to make the final preparations for the colonoscopy, as to how soon they would give me the results. They told me that they would know there and then if there was ‘an issue’, and then at that time they would take a biopsy which would need to be evaluated. Any nasty looking polyps would be removed at the time if possible.

So you basically go into this knowing it is very binary. You’re either clear, or you’re not. No pressure! When they took my blood pressure in the ante room before the procedure the top reading was above 140, and whilst this isn’t exactly life threatening, mine is never above 120, other than after/during exercise. I test it regularly at home, an old habit from mountain/high altitude training. I was a bit of a basket case really. 

You also are given the choice for the procedure of sedation, in which case you need someone to look after you for 24 hours, or gas & air (Entonox). As I live on my own and have no family anywhere near I didn’t have a choice but to go for the gas and air. I say this as a bit of a wimp when it comes to pain! 

During the procedure they basically inflate the bowel with air all the way around to where your appendix is/was, and the combined camera/polyp removing tube does the rest. It’s a bit painful at times, and I was sucking on the gas and air like some gasping smoker who’d been given their last ever cigarette to make the most of. You’re in the theatre for about an hour all told, so let’s call it ‘thorough’.

I’ll dwell no more on the gory bits. Suffice to say that as they finished and the consultant told me that I was ‘clear’, I got very emotional. Then when I was taken into the ‘recovery’ room and given a cup of tea and a biscuit (I had sugar in my tea, which normally would be anathema to me, but I just needed anything I could get at that point) I got very emotional too. It was a release, a relief. I spoke with two of the most wonderful nurses on this planet, one called Vickie, and the other Sheree. They looked after me like I was the most important and precariously poised patient on the planet. I spoke with Sheree about how her Mum had died from cancer too. Relating to other people’s sad experiences really brings home just how prevalent this disease really is.

It makes it all so incredibly real too when you are sitting there imagining if the result had gone the other way. But with bowel cancer you don’t know unless you get tested. The call it ‘the silent killer’, as there are generally no symptoms at all.

After I got home I was on the phone to a very good friend of mine. I told him about my procedure. He mentioned that he’d had a test through the post a little while ago, but hadn’t done it. A ‘stool test’ they call them, and I think that now everyone over the age of 55 should get them. I told him to do it, straight away, and I hope he has done so. I’m making a note now to call him again and nag him to do so.

So, I am one of the lucky ones, so far. I feel very grateful to have all that I have in life. Cancer can hit you at any time, and so of course can many other illnesses and diseases. Listen to your body, and if you feel there is something wrong, then call your GP, please! I’m not preaching, I’m just talking as someone who feels grateful and lucky. You get one life. Live it, but also look after it.

Love to all.

So will I be there or not???

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt in all of my 58 years that is not to take anything for granted. Or anyone for that matter, probably even more importantly. And so also liking to be prepared (whenever I can be) I took the opportunity many months back when booking for Berlin to also book the travel over there. 

The starting line for Berlin

The package I bought to Berlin (through an International Tour Operator, practically the only way to get in and guarantee doing so) covers the hotel and the event only, so I had to make sure I got flights to coincide. So not wanting to end up being frazzled with the stress, hassle and seemingly-impossible-to-fathom baggage allowances of the budget airlines, I went for British Airways. They are ‘reassuringly expensive’, especially when you treat yourself to Business Class for the return journey!

And so fast forward to the here and now, which is week 15 of the 18 week programme, and I am in the final throes (hopefully!) of my preparations for the event on the 25th of this month. And then I get an email from British Airways, which I very nearly didn’t open as I thought it was just a general mailer. It said that due to the capacity problems at Heathrow that a number of flights had had to be cancelled, and that mine was one. They gave me a refund, thankfully, but that isn’t the issue. The issue quickly became how to find another flight!

After an extensive search, it quickly became clear that two things were true. Firstly I wasn’t going to be able to get a BA flight out of practically anywhere to Berlin. Boo boo I hear you say. But worse, every budget airline seemed to be booked too, or just not to coincide with the trip as they had multiple connections and took about 20 hours to get there, via strange and far flung places. Berlin is no doubt a popular destination (anyway) and with the marathon and also Oktoberfest in Munich seemingly taking most of the airlines’ capacity for late September, I was almost fearing I would have to drive, which from the Lake District would no doubt take two days! 

Cut a long story short I did eventually find a flight with EasyJet. It have to go to Scotland to get it, but at least it gets me there. Cost me more than BA too in the end, but by that time I didn’t care, I was glad to get a flight at all. Hopefully they don’t cancel on me too, as we are now a matter of 22 days away!!

So onto the running then. Well this week should be the highest weekly mileage of them all (58), before tapering starts. Tomorrow should be a 16 miler following a number of long runs (two 12s at pace so far for example). However my running hasn’t been good, or my heart rate hasn’t. The last two runs have seen a significantly elevated heart rate of over 13bpm more than equivalent runs the week before. Runs which should be easy have been at threshold, and that is counterproductive. A friend noticed and put onto my Strava feed “maybe you should take a rest”. Resting is however the last thing the training programme demands at this critical stage. 

So we will see. I’ll see how the day goes (more of that for another reason in another post…..) and then see what I can do tomorrow. 

My various social media feeds meanwhile fill with lots of tantalising things about the Berlin Marathon. Everyone is in the same boat as far as final running and travel preparations, getting ready for the expo, making plans for final kit. I went and bought myself a new running vest (temperatures look warm for the day as it stands), new shorts, a flipbelt and a bunch of fancy (read expensive!) gels this week – why not!!

Amongst other things this last week or so I also watched with significant and excited interest the live stream of the UTMB, the world’s most prestigious ultramarathon. It is over 170km long and has over 33,000 feet of climbing. And no, I’ll never ever be worthy of even dreaming about taking part! The race was won in a staggering 19 hours and 49 minutes, by the greatest endurance athlete of all time, Kilian Jornet. One of the athletes that I follow very closely on You Tube, Ben Parkes, himself a 2:25 marathoner and very experienced ultramarathoner too, was hoping with great excitement to finish his very first UTMB in around 40 hours, but had a bad fall and hurt his knee in the first 20 miles and had to withdraw. He was so upset after literally years of preparation and no doubt vast expense. Bummer!

The UTMB in Chamonix – one of my favourite places on the planet to!

I think I ran over 200 miles in August alone. If I can just get through the last few weeks and also have no more travel or other disruptions, then fingers crossed I’ll be at least on the starting line. 

But take nothing, anything, for granted. Just ask Ben Parkes! More next week, including hopefully of course, the Great North Run! 8 exciting days to go…….