New York – concrete jungle where dreams are made of…..

Sunday 3rd November 2019 will go down in my life as an incredibly momentous occasion. It was the day I became a marathoner! It is said that less than 1% of the population of the UK will run a marathon in their lifetimes, and I think I can only now truly understand why. So hereafter follows the story of the final week, and the ultimate accolade of the medal to prove it all wasn’t a dream…

After 15 weeks of training, I’m not sure either of us could believe that the day had finally arrived. It was certainly a week of countdowns! The trip to New York was on the Thursday, allowing two days for post-flight acclimatisation and hopefully not catching sniffles or worse along the way! I’d done my Tuesday and Wednesday runs of 4 miles and 3 miles respectively, and they were fine, if a bit unlike how I’d expected. I thought perhaps that at this point in tapering I’d feel ready to fly, but almost the reverse was true. My Tuesday run felt a bit like I was running for the first time!

Flying and travelling all day on Thursday (a total trip door to door of around 15 hours from Cambridge to our hotel in Manhattan, The Warwick) meant I skipped my scheduled Thursday run, but of course by then it didn’t really matter. It was by then all about just being rested and ready for the big day on the Sunday. Melanie chose to not run all week in fact, deciding that she needed the rest a lot more than what any training plan said, and also she went very much non-caffeine (inducing some initial headaches for her, unfortunately), non-alcohol, and carb loading to the tune of eat-pasta-for-every-meal. Good discipline!

I wasn’t quite so rigorous it has to be said, and just restricted myself to one glass of wine a day throughout (aren’t I good!), and I did eat a lot of pasta as well. A good thing too, as I love it, and we found a great restaurant in Manhattan called Pazza Note, which is highly recommended if you’re ever out that way (it’s on 6th and between 55th/56th for reference).

On the Friday we hit the expo at the Javits Center, a 3/4 million square foot convention centre in the Hell’s Kitchen area of Manhattan. All of the runners are required to go there to collect their bib/timing chip etc. We went early in the day to try to beat the crowds, but it was an absolute zoo! All together it took about 30 minutes of queuing (never my favourite pastime!) just to get into the doors of the event, and then it was like being in a rugby scrum to get close to any of the merchandise on display.

Bib numbers collected and it’s all getting very real!

The crowds were a real shame as we’d looked forward to the expo with some excitement (and some impatience for me, I can’t help myself!!), but it was just too busy to really stop and take a meaningful look at anything. I still managed to spend $300 on ‘stuff’ though, some of I will wear, and also a mock cowbell (which can only be described as tat at best) which will only gather dust on a shelf somewhere, so they saw me (and many others like me, the queues at the tills were extreme too) coming!

The expo was massive, and definitely inspiring 🙂

Massive wallboards had all 55,000 runners names written on there!

There was one highlight at the expo however, and that was bumping into Paula Ratcliffe (as you do!) whom we both got a photo with. She was there to promote something or other, and seemed very obliging with the selfies for anyone who asked. Oh and I meant to say we also met David Weir, the multiple Paralympic champion, on the flight over, so it was a week of celebrities for us! Melanie also got his autograph in our New York Marathon book (he came third too in New York), so that’s a nice keepsake.

Spot the runner, and guess what, it’s not me!!!

On the Saturday morning, before a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon sat relaxing watching the stage show of The Jersey Boys on Broadway ( a ‘must do’ in my book if you are ever in those parts!) we went for a little jog around Central Park to have a look at the last two miles or so of the course. We were both surprised just how undulating (I hesitate to use the word hilly, which it isn’t, but it certainly isn’t flat by a long stretch) it was, and made a mental note to be fearful of that factor when arriving at mile 26. The actual finish is uphill too – oh no! Being at the finish line though was great, with the rows of photos of past winners, and the finish line gantry and grandstands certainly all served to build up the excitement and magnitude of just how big this event is, the biggest marathon in the world. All of a sudden this thing seemed very real indeed!

Melanie having found ‘the blue line’ in Central Park, so we thought we should try it out…

And this is the Mile 26 marker – I wondered if I would actually get to see this the next day!

And the finish line itself – this was definitely the calm before the storm!

After what can only be described as a fitful night’s sleep (in fact I was awake at 2am and never got back to sleep) it was time for the final leg of the journey to begin, and a pretty convoluted one it is too! The start of the marathon is on Staten Island, some 15 miles or so from Manhattan, and also reachable only by ferry for all 55,000 or so runners.

To do this involved a minibus ride to the ferry terminal, then the 30 minute ferry crossing, and then another coach on the Staten Island side to reach Fort Wadsworth, and the start of the enormous (two mile long) Verrazano-Narrows Bridge which forms the very first two miles of the course. The ferry ride was really cold, caused entirely by the fact that we chose to spend it on the open upper deck of the ferry to take in all of the sights of Manhattan and the Statue Of Liberty. Well you have to make the most of these things don’t you?

Down at the midtown ferry at about 7:30am – our water taxi awaits!

And out onto The East River between Brooklyn and Manhattan.
And now out into Lower New York Bay, Manhattan disappearing in the background – it would be about 6 hours until we got back there again!

Passing the good old Statue of Liberty en route to Staten Island, the furthest away of New York City’s five boroughs.

The journey to the start took probably two hours altogether, and then we waited until our ‘corral’ opened. In New York they start you in 4 Waves over a period of about two hours. I’d been put in Wave 2 and Melanie Wave 3, so I waited and went into Wave 3 as anyone can move back but not forwards as is often the way with these things. The whole area of the ‘start village’ looked like a scene from a refugee camp, as we were bedecked in charity shop clothing and multiple bin bags, all ready to throw away. We had hand warmers and gloves too, and needed them – it was bitingly cold in the wind, although it was to warm up to around 8 or 9 degrees C by the time we set out to actually run.

In the start village and trying to keep warm while waiting for the loo!

And Melanie keeping warm too, with our very patriotic mats that she made for us to rest on 🙂

By the time the starting gun (actually a massive cannon) went off, there was almost a surreal hiatus when it didn’t even seem real at all. I’m sure tiredness and some not inconsiderable trepidation sunk in on my part, as I was about to after all step out into very much unchartered territory for me. No such first night nerves for Melanie of course as she’d been in this very position four times before.

But then, all of a sudden, the dulcet tones of Frank Sinatra singing New York New York came over the PA system, and it is definitely real now! We were shuffling (for not too long) to the start of a solid one mile long uphill on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, and this thing is happening! It really is time to focus as there is no going back now in every sense!!

At the start – and very exciting it was too – Albert (whoever he is!) certainly thought so as well!!

I had to record Frank Sinatra playing somehow – hope this plays, it gave us goosebumps at the time!

Without describing every detail of the route of the marathon, which I could, as I literally feel like I can recount every turn, the whole thing was sensational. Amongst the standout features are not just the crowds (estimated at over 1 million people lining the route alone), but the diversity of the crowds. Passing through 5 boroughs, you see so much, and that’s even when like me you are trying desperately to only look in front of you and concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other.

After Staten Island, there was then Brooklyn with its now hipster communities (but loud!!) and also the gospel churches spilling out onto the roadside, all happy clappy and emotional. Into Williamsburg with its Hasidic Jewish community and a much more reverential feel. Then into once very gritty Queens, now ‘the new Brooklyn’, and affording probably the best views of all of Manhattan over the East River. Into Manhattan itself for a few miles over the fabled (and pretty tough) Queensboro Bridge on 59th Street, about which Simon & Garfunkel’s song (‘Feeling Groovy”) is named.

I stole this picture from someone else’s Facebook page – definitely Queens all over!

This photo was taken by Sadi, my son’s girlfriend, as I was about to turn on to First Avenue – priceless!!

As I came down off the Queensboro Bridge I was fortunate enough to see my son Dan, who was standing with Sadi in a position they’d let me know about beforehand. I was so happy and emotional to see them, and they managed to capture the moment above. I had to regain my composure afterwards as I got such an incredible headrush from it, and had to remind myself that I had still 10 miles to run. This was such a fabulous moment though and was the highlight of the run :).

Then up First Avenue in Manhattan proper with a wall of tourists, before you get to The Bronx over another bridge, and you realise that you aren’t in Kansas anymore. The Bronx is nothing but full on, and gritty, and I consciously quickened my pace as I didn’t want to stop there for any reason whatsoever! Then the steel bands and music really started crossing from The Bronx into East Harlem, which was almost downright scary even if everyone was having a ball! There was also on one corner the biggest stage band you’ve ever seen, also playing New York New York, which made me very emotional indeed. Concentrate now, you’ve only got 5 miles to go! Then back over what is called ‘The last damn bridge’ after which followed a long long drag up a steady incline at the top of Fifth Avenue before heading into Central Park, and an absolute wall of people lining (a bit too close at times) the whole (damn!) park.

Central Park houses the last three miles of the run, and by now I was pretty sure I’d make it to the end at least! I definitely owed a lot of that to my shiny pink Vaporfly Next% shoes, which I have to say were an absolute revelation. They are so cushioned and gave my legs the ability to still have some gumption in them at the end. When the last mile came I was lucky enough to be able to just go for it, and ran my fastest mile of the whole day. When the finish line came I was totally exhilarated and emotional. It had been a long day, and long journey, and a bloody amazing four or five months of such intense effort all building up to it.

And this is what a red in the face, somewhat exhilarated marathon runner looks like, 26.2 miles later!
And celebrating together just after the finish line 🙂
And with medals awarded, we could begin the trek back into central Manhattan.
Medal on and recovery drink in hand, we could finally relax and make our way back to central Manhattan…….
Where Dan and Sadi, and some much more exciting recovery drinks were in store!

Proudly displaying our medals, this was such a wonderful moment too, amongst so many 🙂
And the next day we both got our names……….
in The New York Times! How about that?

After the run the time it takes to get your medal and goody bag and post-race poncho (lovely and warm by the way, even if it never sees light of day again!) are seemingly interminable, and getting back into uptown Manhattan to meet Dan and Sadi took forever too. The beer afterwards was so enjoyable though!

I could go on forever about highlights and memories of the day, but one thing matters more than anything else, and that is that we did it! Being a marathoner is something that no-one can ever take away from me, and Melanie has now become a five time marathoner, and that is nothing short of incredible!

I owe everything about this run and this whole wonderful experience to Melanie, and it is completely dedicated to her. I would not have been there in the first place without her, and the inspiration (and a heck of a lot of perspiration!) along the way is all down to her too. We have run collectively around 1,200 miles over the last four months, put a huge amount of effort in, and had most importantly some amazing adventures and fun along the way. Marathons take dedication, willpower, sacrifices, and a huge amount of physical and mental fortitude in equal measure. Oh yes, and pasta, and digestive issues, and money, and lots of pairs of trainers, and vaseline!!

It’s now as I write this 10 days post-race, and the question I think I’ve been asked most following the marathon (other than “how was New York” and “did you enjoy it?”) is “have you signed up for the next one yet?”. Well Melanie reminded me just yesterday that in the immediate aftermath of the run (when she asked me the same question) I apparently said “never again” or words to that effect. I’ll say now though that I have the right to change my mind…..:)

I’ve loved doing my blog again during this adventure, and it’s been now nearly 10 years since I started it. There are lots more adventures to come, they are what life is about and what makes me me. The subtitle of my blog is “to travel, to experience and learn – that is to live”, the mantra of Sherpa Tenzing following his becoming the first human to stand on the summit of Mount Everest in 1953. Well I, and we, have lots more travel and experiences and learning to do. Watch this space…..

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 11 – tough for running, and feeling very philosophical.

It’s been a hard week in more ways than one. I started it on Monday by visiting a very good friend who is in a hospice. I then got news on Thursday about an ex-work colleague and friend who passed away on Wednesday after a long battle with cancer. He will be very sadly missed by all of those around him and who knew him.

Paul Kenny was one of those rare people in life. He was incredibly funny and unbelievably intelligent almost simultaneously. He could completely let his hair down (the expression ‘live life to the full’ could have been written for him) and also be the most professional and dedicated scientist at the same time. He worked in the field of gene technology and biomarkers, and had a past history in (almost ironically) oncology. I count myself very fortunate to have known him, and anyone who did would have been touched by his genuine humility, passionate and caring approach, and his brilliant wit and storytelling. And I totally looked up to him and admired him in so many ways. He was infectious and inspirational, and my thoughts and deepest condolences go to his wife Patricia and his children. The many eulogies that have appeared on LinkedIn already following a touching message from Patricia speak volumes for how much everyone who ever knew him were touched by his presence.

So the running this week pales into insignificance really, despite how tough and important it was, being the longest week of the entire programme. I got very wet (and that’s the understatement of the century) on Tuesday ( see https://aquavista.me/2019/09/24/week-11-tuesday-only-wet-wet-wet/ ), and I also got wet on Wednesday and Thursday too. The runs were 7, 10 and 7 miles respectively. The Wednesday 10 mile run was a progression run, where you go faster every mile by about 15 seconds per mile, it tests how well you can go through the gears and push towards the end of a run when you are more tired, which is great marathon training! Thursday’s run was 5 lots of 0.8m intervals at about 7:45 pace, and I have to say I enjoyed it, although it was hard on tired legs.

Each of my midweek runs were at about 6am in the morning, which takes its toll in the tiredness stakes. Melanie’s runs (in Cambridge) were all at the other end of the day after her work day. She did all of hers really well too.

My main problem this week (as far as running is concerned) has been a niggling leg injury. It started hurting when I did the Great North Run a few weeks ago and has really started getting a bit worse since then, but very gradually. It’s just a background pain (gentle) when running, but stiffens up significantly when I’m not. It’s been a week of ice, foam rollers, a bit too much moaning, and also a trip to the physiotherapists too.

The Saturday (with Melanie by now as she came to mine for the weekend) was a gentle four miler, and passed thankfully without any incident. I had my leg trussed up like a chicken with Direct Tape (a bit like kinesiology tape but slightly more rigid, done by the physiotherapist) and so running with it was a bit weird, but it felt ok. I was more worried about the Sunday run really, as this was a 20 miler.

Stretching after Saturday’s run – leg all taped up with ‘Direct’ tape.

So on the Sunday the weather was forecast to be terrible, with thunderstorms and strong winds. And indeed five minutes before we were due to be heading out (you have to plan 3 and half hour runs into your day, so they need a ‘time’) it was lashing down, and I thought ‘here we go again’. In the end the weather was actually fine. My leg was feeling quite sore by about mile four or five, and I wondered whether I would even make it to the end, but it was fine. Melanie had some blister issues along the way, and had to stop twice and take care of them (and also then change her trainers altogether), but was lovely and said to me to carry on so my leg didn’t seize up while I waited. I ran back and forth so I could recommence with her again, and ended up doing almost another mile in the meantime. By the time we finished the run I had thus done 21 miles, a new record for me!

It was a really hard run overall, and so glad to get through it at the end of a tough week. 47 miles have been done by us both this week alone, certainly a record for me. Melanie found the 20 mile Sunday run really tough for the last few miles, and I was lucky enough to feel like I could have gone on further (fuelled up by a few extra gels!), this a total role reversal to a few weeks ago when I was totally beat and she the opposite.

It is now only just over four weeks until we get on the plane for New York. We have two more tough weeks only, and then we taper. I can almost not believe that we are that close already, but am resting on no laurels and taking nothing for granted. The sad news about Paul this week puts almost anything else in life into perspective.

This week made me reflect very much. I want to enjoy life (who doesn’t, I know, but indulge me for a moment if you will). Work is a means to an end. I see like other people do messages on social media sites to the effect of “on your deathbed no-one wishes they’d spent more time in the office”, and those words are so profoundly true.

I thus finished the week not just thinking of the next four weeks and of completing my first ever marathon, but also of further adventures (watch this space as they say). It is so good to have things to look forward to, and also someone special in your life to be able to share them with. I feel thus very happy at the moment to have both :).

Just after Saturday’s run – there may just be a clue to next year in those flags behind us………:)

I’ll finish this post in reflective mood, having had so many thoughts about “life is too short”, and the like.

I thus had a look round the internet for something that might go some way to describe Paul Kenny. I found two things, the first being a definition of success by someone called Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Success:

To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.

Paul was all of these things and more.

The second came from one of the tributes on LinkedIn, which was as follows:

Sending my heartfelt condolences to Paul’s family. I have worked with Paul for the last 7 months at OGT. What a man. He has left behind a massive hole, but a real legacy in the RA/MA department that he had been instrumental in creating. We will do him proud. He was a mentor for all of us. He had a story or experience or anecdote for everything. Genuinely one of a kind and the most inspiring person I’ve ever met. We miss him massively already. He truly was an inspiration to so many. Not that he would let us say that without following it with a funny quip! Sorely missed.

There are about 100 such tributes, and I could have picked any of them, as they all describe Paul perfectly. Paul was also a very keen runner for many years. When and if I do get that finishing line in Central Park, he will be one of the many people I will be thinking about very emotionally. Rest in peace my friend.

Paul Kenny RIP – a true inspiration in so many ways.

Week 11 (Tuesday only) – Wet wet wet!

It is very true to say that training for the marathon this summer has been one of weather extremes. Extremes that is of dryness and heat. We’ve seen the highest temperature only a month or so ago ever recorded in this country, and I’ve lost count of the number of runs where I/we have adjusted schedules so that runs could take place out of the heat of the day. Unusual for the UK yes, but it has been that kind of summer. I was only saying to Melanie the other day that I can only recall one run to date where I’ve really got wet at all, and that’s great, and unusual too, given that we’ve covered around 450 miles so far.

I thus have to describe to you this morning’s scene. It’s a Tuesday morning at the end of September, and it is 5:50am. It is dark, and the sun (if it is ever seen at all today, which is profoundly unlikely) isn’t due up for another hour at least. The rain is coming down so hard outside that even inside the house the noise is so loud that I can hardly hear myself speak, or think. And I’m standing in shorts and a thin running top about to go out for a six mile run.

Image result for heavy rain
I think I may have needed one of these……

I thought hard for a moment about not going out at all. I could go out later I reasoned to myself, as this is really torrential. But then I knew I had a busy day at work ahead of me, and that later might not come. And then I thought of the New York Marathon, and of the 3 or so months of hard work that I’ve put in so far, and decided that a little rain wasn’t going to bother me, right? Wrong.

Having then put on a rain jacket to at least soften some of the blows from the stair rods coming down at me, I soon realised that literally by the time I got to the bottom of my drive (which isn’t very long) that the jacket was futile, as I was already completely soaked to the skin. By the time I got to the bottom of the street, I stopped trying to dodge the bigger puddles, as my feet were already as wet as they would be if they were standing in buckets of water. By the time I got half a mile down the road, I stopped caring about the bow waves of water that were coming at times over my head from passing cars and lorries hitting the larger pools of standing water on the road. Once you’re wet, you’re wet, and that’s just that. Grin and bear it, I said to myself from somewhere.

But this was no ordinary rainstorm, and yes I’ve seen a few and ran in a few too. I thought to myself “what the hell are you doing?” on more than about 10 occasions, even having reasoned with myself about why I was out there. I actually couldn’t even see more than about 10 feet at one point, and the pavement in front of me wasn’t even a pavement any more, it was just all either standing water or running water, and I had no idea how deep or what I was putting my feet into at times, my headtorch not bright enough to help with the definition. I’m thus prancing around like I’m dancing on a bed of hot coals in my bare feet. My only consolation in this ridiculous spectacle and performance is that I know with 100% certainty that no-one was watching – as no-one can have been stupid enough to be out in this weather but me. Fun!

By the time I’d eventually done 12 lots of hill sprints (for this is what my programme this morning called for) up a hill which would have more accurately been described as a cross between a set of fast-flowing rapids and a waterfall, I don’t mind saying that I was as miserable as sin. Even my Garmin gave up at one point, presumably in protest at being dragged out into this mess too.

My sprints duly completed, I began the even wetter than wet two mile run back home, and when I got about half a mile from my house I actually saw another person! They were walking a dog! (At least I think it was a dog, as the rain was if anything heavier by then, and it is still pretty dark, but he had something on a lead which was probably his pet.) He half stopped on the pavement to let me by, and as I slowed to pass I couldn’t resist saying to him “you must bloody love that dog!”. Maybe he hated it, I don’t know, but some strange forces indeed must have possessed him to lead it out into the storm. People are strange I figured, and I have absolutely no doubt whatsoever that he thought precisely the same thing about me!

Hopefully tomorrow’s 10 mile run will be slightly dryer – the forecast however doesn’t look good. Anyone got a canoe?

Week 10 – It’s time to get inspired!

So after last week’s ‘keygate 2’ https://aquavista.me/2019/09/16/week-9-you-couldnt-make-this-up/ , which followed ‘keygate 1’ https://aquavista.me/2019/09/09/well-you-couldnt-make-this-up/ (which reminds me I need to change the name of one of these posts to something different!!) I am glad to say that I didn’t lose any keys this week!!

This is just so me…..!

I did however buy a host of spare keys and new keyrings to put in places that I can hopefully get to if I ever have a repeat performance, but with my luck (or carelessness, I hear you say) you never know! I also got a ‘Tile’ thing, which serves mostly as a glorified whistling keyring brought into the modern age. It thus has an app for your phone which means if you lose your keys the app can tell you where they last were located (unless you drop them in the North Sea of course :)).

Amongst the things that I also thought of this week (apart from spending £342 (yes really!) on a replacement key for my car :O) were the other ‘hidden’ costs of doing a marathon. Since I decided to embark upon this little venture for example I’ve bought (and nearly now worn out) two new pairs of trainers, insoles, two water carriers, new shorts (two pairs just aren’t enough when you are washing them all the time), about six pairs of socks (at £13 a pop they saw me coming!), and countless gels, recovery drinks, protein bars, electrolyte drinks, arm warmers, and a new Garmin running watch. I’m not claiming all of these are exactly essential, but they certainly all add up.

So this week’s programme of events contained a mere 43 miles of running, a nice little step down from last week’s 44!!

Tuesday was a 7 miler, of part easy, part tempo, done in glorious sunshine when it eventually came up. That’s because I started in the dark just after 6am, complete with the aforementioned arm warmers (and also gloves) as it was a mere 6 degrees when I stepped out of the door. Thankfully my legs were ok after the 20 miles on Sunday, but I was more worried about my foot, as I suffered some pain in the side of my foot the weekend before caused by poorly fitting insoles (don’t ask!!). Thankfully that was ok too.

Wednesday saw a 9 mile effort (the time for these things alone really eats into your day, and necessitates a 5:30am start, which isn’t my favourite time of day I have to say). This was at marathon pace (9 mins a mile), and started when the temperature was just 3 degrees! It was uneventful in the end, save for the fact that I needed by mile 7 what they term in the USA a “bathroom break”, and I had nowhere to go (and no toilet paper), so had to almost sprint the last mile home and nearly break the door down when I got back to relieve myself (and thankfully I hadn’t lost my key this time or it could have been worse!!).

Thursday morning saw a relatively balmy 7 degrees for the start of a 7 mile interval session, including 7 x 0.5 mile @ 7:30 pace. The first few reps I definitely struggled to get close to the right pace, but after that I got into my stride and felt pretty good overall. The only incident of note (and there always seems to be one!) was that on my way back the local road to Drayton where I live had (literally just) been closed due to an emergency gas leak. When I got to thus got to about mile 6 I had to come to a total stop as there were barriers across the road blocking my way. There was then also a bit of a frustrated exchange between me and a road worker in a high viz jacket, which started when I realised that I wouldn’t be able to get past him and the road closure back to my house. The exchange basically went as follows:

Me: Can I get through to use the pavement?

High viz man: No.

Me: It doesn’t say the pavement is closed!

High viz man: There’s a sign back down there (pointing over my shoulder)

Me: It says the road is closed, not the pavement!

High viz man: (looking at me strangely, shrugging shoulders, and rolling his eyes) I can’t help that.

Me: (now slightly exasperated and probably in a slightly raised voice) How am I going to get home?

High viz man: (Looking now that he’s had enough of this conversation altogether) That’s really not my f***ing problem!

At this point I realised that further conversation (or any conversation in the first place in fact) was futile, so I turned tail and sprinted furiously in the other (and actually the wrong!) direction. Why, I’m not sure, but it let off some steam anyway! I ended up then running back through fields and only adding about half a mile to the overall distance.

The weekend was in Cambridge, and started with a nice gentle 4 mile run on the Saturday. The weather was (a little too) glorious, and passed without incident. An evening at the theatre in Cambridge was preceded by some rather delicious steak and wine, not exactly the best preparation for a 15 miler the next day, but this is still training after all right? 🙂

On the Sunday, despite a slightly later than intended start, the 15 miler was actually not too bad. It was muggy (and rained for about two miles on the way back which led to a bit of nipple chafing for me) and warm, and we did 5 miles at a sort of steady pace (9:30), then 5 miles at marathon pace (9:05), then 5 miles @ 9:30 again. This was followed by a fab Sunday roast at Melanie’s, where I could have eaten four Sunday roasts I was that hungry!

So here we are already at Week 11 (of 16). It is flying by now, and I know that the next four weeks (when tapering starts) will go by with even more gusto. I’m praying now that I can get through this period injury free, and without mishap of any kind in fact. Everything I’ve read suggests also that this is the most important part of the training period, and the next three weeks are 47, 43 and 46 miles respectively, with two runs of over 20 miles thrown in for good measure. I need to get the game face on it seems, and bring the things I’ve learned into focus and practice, and really mean it.

The balance of everything I’ve had and done so far in this programme is really important. You have to be fit, certainly, and I’m fitter now than I’ve ever been in my life (my VO2 has increased by around 4 during this programme so far, my resting and exercising pulse rate has fallen, my weight has dropped, and my waist is smaller for example). I’m also eating better, drinking less, and more focussed on time and priorities too.

And you just have to be focussed, otherwise you’d end up being half-hearted about it, and that doesn’t wash in my book. If you’re going to succeed (and succeeding for me is getting round to the finish line in Central Park, and hopefully in time approximating to four hours) then you need to be ruthless and relentless. I’m taking inspiration this week from Greta Thunberg, the girl who is teaching the world a lesson about climate change. Many may challenge her ways, but no-one can fail to see the dedication and single-minded relentlessness of her actions and her drive, commitment and passion. I absolutely love what she is doing, and her words and the messages behind them are just so perfect. She’s been doing this for two years or so now, and has finally got a platform, and wow is she using it well.

Please save your praise. We don’t want it,” she said to US Congress this week when being praised by senators for her wisdom. “Don’t invite us here to just tell us how inspiring we are without actually doing anything about it because it doesn’t lead to anything. If you want advice for what you should do, invite scientists, ask scientists for their expertise. We don’t want to be heard. We want the science to be heard.”

Go Greta, and may those congressmen and women take notice of the scientists too.