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……:)
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.
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 :).
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Well, week 9 ended with a bit of an incident, much like last week’s did, but not as such running related! So if you happen to have read my blog last week ( see here https://aquavista.me/2019/09/09/well-you-couldnt-make-this-up/ ) as regards ‘keygate’ then you won’t (or maybe you will!) believe what happened to me this weekend!!! More further down……..:O.
Meantime, back to the running…..
When I looked originally at the 16 week training programme for the New York Marathon – see post here https://aquavista.me/2019/07/15/and-so-it-begins/ I remember immediately thinking “shit, September is going to be horrible”. Specifically focussing on weeks 9 – 13, there was looming five consecutive weeks of around 45 miles per week, with long runs at the weekend of 20 miles plus. Well here we are, it has arrived!
This week was 44 miles, and had a 20 miler at the end of it too. But it isn’t just the big runs, the midweek ones are getting longer and harder too. Earlier in the schedule the three consecutive midweek runs were all four or five miles each, and now this week they were 6, 8 and 6. Next week it is 7, 9 and 7, so just from a time commitment alone point of view this is getting very serious indeed.
I started this week on tired legs too, and with a very tired mind and body full stop, after last week’s exertions at the Great North Run, which culminated in a 1,300 mile drive due to the above mentioned ‘keygate’ where I lost my car and house keys, presumably (as I suppose I will never actually know) somewhere in the North Sea.
Tuesday’s run was a fartlek of 6 miles, and after a 5:30 wake up call (I have to do these things before getting ready for work, just compounding the tiredness) it became my first long sleeves outing of the campaign. The weather this week has certainly seen autumn begin to land (and then disappear again!), and me actually consider putting the heating on in my house too! The fartlek was fairly uneventful in the end, and by its very nature fairly unstructured, so that enabled me to ease back in gently. I did however have a bit of a twinge in my right calf, which was a bit worrying. It had niggled me at about mile 4 of the GNR on Sunday, but had gone away again. I managed to run it off, but it reminded me of at least the need to stretch diligently before and after every run.
On Wednesday there was a progression run. I love progression runs! Maybe that makes me weird, I don’t know! It was 8 miles, and for me that meant starting at around 9:55 pace, and upping the pace each mile by 15 seconds or so, I ended up finishing my last mile at around 7:45 or so, and felt really good, helped admittedly by a bit of a tailwind at the end :).
Thursday was a 6 miler including 10 x 400m fast (7:30 pace or so, or that was what the programme said!), and it was definitely hard, particularly in the middle section. Friday’s rest day was a very welcome part of the week, and I rewarded myself with a beer or three on Thursday night – well you have to try to live a little in the midst of all of this don’t you :).
At the weekend (home for the first weekend in a month, and very grateful therefore that Melanie came to mine this weekend), Saturday’s prelude to Sunday was a nice gentle four mile run in glorious sunshine. It was so easy and relaxed, and it went so well that it made me think that all runs should be this way. We also chatted on the way round about possibly getting into trail running at some point when this marathon is done and dusted, but that’s all for another day……
So onto Sunday’s 20 miler. Melanie was sporting a new knee support after some (bad) chafing issues with her old set, and that seemed to work fine overall. The day was hot, and we got in a lovely route in and around the River Thames in Abingdon. Everything was fine overall, although I struggled for the second half (and the last few miles in particular). We had a (ahem..) toilet break courtesy of a timely/well placed Waitrose store at about the 10 mile point, and after that my legs felt heavy and breathing was harder, and I could feel my pulse rising commensurately. By mile 20 I was pretty much just surviving and couldn’t wait to get to the finish, and then it happened……
Upon getting back home I went straight to my secret place in the garden to retrieve my house key. I always leave it in the same place when I’m out for a run in case it falls out of my pocket when retrieving a gel or the like. And it wasn’t there! After some scrabbling around and pulling said flowerpot apart it still couldn’t be found, and so Melanie (assuming naturally that I was having a ‘man look’) took over to try to retrieve it too. Sure enough, it wasn’t there! I looked then everywhere wondering if I’d put it somewhere else, but to no avail. I also realised that I had no spare key available to me in my other secret place, as I hadn’t returned it after losing my other set of keys the week before!!
After considering bricks and sledgehammers for a while (neither of which I had to hand either it has to be said, or otherwise they may have got a look in) I realised that the bedroom window upstairs was open. I didn’t have any ladders, but after a visit to my kindly neighbours and borrowing a set, I managed to climb up into the window and get inside and unlock the door from within. Where on earth I left the key is and will perhaps remain a mystery for all time. I made the statement to Melanie (because it is true) that I have never lost a set of keys before in my life, and here I am having lost a set in consecutive weeks. So as the headline above reads, you couldn’t make this up!! I really felt so stupid, and still can’t even fathom what I did with the key. Maybe it will turn up one day in the unlikeliest of places when I am doing the garden – who knows.
So, onto Week 10! Week 10 is a mere 42 miles, with just a 15 miler this weekend (although 5 of those at race pace), but we have 23 miles to do over the next three days which is going to be a real test. I have a bit of an achy foot too to boot, but hopefully that will ease. The next 3 weeks after this are harder still, but am not getting ahead of myself yet – one week, or one day, at a time! The exciting reality though is that at the end of the next four weeks we start to taper, and the marathon is less than 7 weeks away now. The time will no doubt fly by, and if it wasn’t very real already, then it gets even more real by the minute.
Hopefully I will have no more lost keys to report next week, but as Melanie reminded me afterwards, things often happen in threes! Until then………..:)
Well here we are at the end of Week 8. So this week is massively notable for two things – actually it’s only really one thing, the Great North Run, but just ‘notable’ for the other (the half way point of our training) 😊.
So, the half way point to New York has arrived. We’ve done 288 miles in eight weeks. That’s an average of nearly 37 miles a week, or 5.3 miles a day. It doesn’t sound that much when you put it like that, but it feels like it is! There hasn’t yet been a time when I didn’t think I was going to reach the half way point too, and that’s a mighty good thing as well.
I’m (help me for saying this, please!!) so far injury free, and feel like I can do the other 307 training miles that the next 7 and a half weeks too. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, and let’s enjoy the present, as this week has been pretty much all about the world’s biggest half marathon, The Great North Run. The GNR ended up being very notable for reasons other than the run, but see further below for that……
Yes there were other runs during week 8 too: A six mile easy run on Tuesday to loosen the legs after last Sunday’s epic 20 miler; A seven mile tempo run (9 minute miles for me) on Wednesday; and a six mile fartlek session (with a four mile pyramid in the middle), but they were all just a prelude for me. Melanie didn’t do the Thursday run as she had a great reason (we don’t do ‘excuses’!), in that it was her birthday. We went out for a lovely meal in a village pub in the evening with her mum and her daughters. It was quite special :).
On Friday we travelled up to my homeland, a 260 mile from Cambridge. South Shields is where I grew up, and was the home of my parents (both sadly no longer with us) for just shy of 50 years. It’s also the finishing point of the Great North Run, and so as I may have said before along the way (!) it is rather special and nostalgic for me.
The Saturday schedule called for a 4 mile easy run. The Sunday run called for a half marathon race on the programme, and it fell exactly on the day of the GNR – so it was meant to be! But then, the real fun started……….
Upon getting up on the Saturday, and with one of us slightly the worse than the other after a few glasses of wine when we got to South Shields (I won’t say which one of us it was, but it wasn’t me!!!), we firstly decided not to do the Saturday run. SHOCK HORROR!! I was ok with this, on the basis that as we were doing the GNR the next day, as it would leave us both fresh for the run, and also we were going to go for a few walks, to the pier, and along the beach, and in Newcastle, so I figured we were getting plenty of exercise anyway.
And after a first lovely walk along the pier and the North Foreshore in South Shields in sunny if windy weather, we headed in the car to Marsden Beach and had a really nice walk along one of my favourite parts of our beautiful coastline. And then ‘it’ happened. We got back to the car and I couldn’t find my car keys! Now I’m sometimes a bit hopeless with keys, and can’t remember the number of times I’ve exclaimed “I’ve lost my keys”, but this time I think I knew I’d meant it. I had no idea, even though we’d only been out about 40 minutes or so, what I could have done with them.
We thus (and Melanie had the patience and understanding of a saint it is very fair to say) retraced our steps, and walked along the grass, the steps and along the beach for another (more than) 40 minutes to see if we could hopefully see them. Talk about a needle in a haystack though on a beach with lots of pebbles! After at least three searches, and asking a local pub, and a couple of ice cream kiosks (the only places within physical proximity to the beach we were on), I knew they were lost, as in properly lost! We’d been down there now for over three hours all told.
Then the real fun started, as we had not only no access to the car, but also the keys for the house we were staying in were in the car too, and also all of Melanie’s running stuff and handbag were all locked in the car! Then after a lot of phone calls to either people I knew locally, or to the AA, to auto locksmiths, it became obvious that you cannot get access to a Mercedes Cabriolet for love nor money. Not without the official key anyway (or possibly a very large sledgehammer, but that I decided wouldn’t be very sensible as it wouldn’t help me to drive the car anywhere).
To cut what is a very long story short, the ultimate outcome was that I ended up hiring a car from Newcastle Airport (itself 45 minutes away, via a taxi journey) and making the decision to drive to my house to retrieve my spare car key. The only thing is, my house is 300 miles (each way) away, and I didn’t have my house key either (as it on the keyring that I’ve just lost somewhere on the beach!!). I did thankfully think that I had a spare key hidden in my garage, but wasn’t really sure, and so spent the whole of the five hour journey worried that I was going to have to break into my own house, to hopefully find my spare car key that I wasn’t sure where I’d put either! Nightmare!!
Thankfully when we got there I found both keys, which just proves how reliable I am with looking after things!!! Then of course we had to drive back straight away (when I say we, I mean me, as the hire firm wouldn’t put Melanie on the insurance) and also I drove back hoping that the lost keys hadn’t been picked up by someone who fancied nicking themselves a shiny new car – gulp!
The drive was over 10 hours in total, and we got back eventually (the car was still there, thankfully, along with all of the contents) at after 3am to Kate’s house where we were staying. So then after about three hours sleep it was up and out of the house to get a Metro train to Newcastle for the Great North Run. It’s safe to say that we were both a tad tired! And to show how tired Melanie was, when we got to the Metro station and I bought us a one way ticket up to Newcastle she asked me “how are we getting back here?”. The penny soon dropped that it might involve a half marathon 🙂 At least I think that was because she was tired……!
The run itself was hard work on three hours sleep and no proper nourishment (a grabbed sandwich and a bag of crisps from a motorway service station is not exactly ideal prep we discovered). It was however an absolutely spectacular day as far as weather is concerned. Cool at the start at around 11 degrees, but warming to 15 under totally cloudless skies, with little wind. It felt much warmer though, and we were feeling it.
After a bit of a long wait (15 minutes or so) to get over the starting line, we set out a bit too fast at about 8:25 pace (having intended to run it at about 9 minute pace as it was only a training run after all), and after about three or four miles we were feeling the effects. Melanie started to suffer a bit, and almost every mile from there to mile 12 got progressively slower. By mile 12 we were at about 9:30 pace, and I was trying to help her by getting water and gels and the like, and was a bit worried about her, as she said her breathing was suffering too. Thankfully she got her second wind for the last mile, and that was at around 8:25 pace again.
We finished in 1:56:02, and hand in hand, which was really nice. She’d told me at one point along the way to run ahead and go for my own time, but I said no. She’d been very patient with me losing my keys the day before, and we are a team irrespective. We are in this together, all the way to New York, and even if I had been interested in a time yesterday (I wasn’t) then I would have still stayed with her regardless of time or pace. As it is, 1:56 is still quicker than we had probably intended to run, and was her best time at the GNR, her third time there like me.
Regardless of outcome, we both definitely learned (as if we didn’t know already!) the huge importance of pacing/not going out too quickly on race day, and won’t be making that mistake in New York. I also realised that doing 9 min miles x 26.2, very much untried territory for me, is going to be a very tough gig indeed.
The GNR was otherwise as wonderful an occasion as it always is. It has more nostalgia and memory lane trips than I can possibly talk about here. It is true to say that as tired as I was then I wasn’t taking all of them in as much as I normally would, and certainly Melanie was so tired that I thought her eyes were actually going to close altogether at one point! The main thing is that we got through it all unscathed, did it together every step of the way, and chalked it off to ‘definitely one for the scrapbook’ after the adventure we’d had with the car. I also counted afterwards that I’d driven over 1,300 miles this weekend, and that might just be a bit too much for me!!
I can’t finish this week’s post without saying a huge and massive thank you to John Brown, without whom this run with Melanie wouldn’t have been possible, as he’s responsible for her being called Louise in the picture above! John and his wife Janine also came to try to help find my keys on the Saturday, without me asking them to. That’s wonderful in my book, and thank you both so very much from us both. Thanks also hugely to Kate and her husband Mark who put us up for two nights at their house in South Shields, even though they were away for the weekend. Very lovely to see you both, and will look forward to the next time very much indeed.
So that’s us half way then. Week 9 looks absolutely horrible by the way – 44 miles culminating with a 20 miler on Sunday. I’m already thinking that the two pairs of trainers I bought for training are not enough, and am realising that I have a long way to go in so many ways. My other lesson learned this week is that at £342 for a lost key repacement from Mercedes, that I’d better not be such an idiot and ever do that again!!
After last week’s somewhat epic blog (sorry about that :)) I promised to do a shorter one this week. So let’s stick to the running, mainly………
This week’s running was very notable for two reasons. Firstly it was the longest week’s running ever, at 43 miles in total, culminating in the longest run of my life at 20 miles. Secondly, and much more enjoyably, as it was the last week of the summer holidays for Melanie, she said she’d come over in the week and join me for the midweek runs too. So that was great!
The midweek runs this week weren’t too bad overall. The first one was 6 miles incorporating 11 lots of 30 second hill sprints. Melanie hadn’t got over to Abingdon for this one, and she didn’t fancy the hills (I think there may have been a longer, better, more justifiable excuse but in any case she didn’t do them :O) so I was actually on my own for those. They felt fine, and actually were helped by the fact that the temperature this week was considerably cooler than the previous week’s heatwave, which saw the hottest ever August Bank Holiday weekend in the UK (33 degrees C).
Wednesday saw an easy run of 6 miles. Again the air was a bit cooler, and the first signs of Autumn are in the air. The 9:45 pace is relaxing I find (mainly), even at 6am in the morning (!), and we both did the run just fine, although it was slightly harder than it might have been as we maybe had one or two (or was it three or four!) glasses of wine the night before. On the Thursday I thought it was going to be really tough. It called for four miles at 7:30 pace with two minute rests in between, as part of a 7 mile run.
I hadn’t actually thought I could run four lots of 7:30 miles (8 is normally round about my sustainable top speed), but it felt good and so I stayed with it. I got the first one done in about 7:45, and the others at similar pace, bar the last one, which was bang on 7:30. Melanie struggled a little bit, just not feeling at the top of her game, and did around 8:15 for the first three, but then had a great last mile at about 7:45.
It’s funny how some days you are on it, and some days you aren’t, and that’s all part of training and taking the good with the not so good.
At the weekend we both went back over to Cambridge for the weekend’s main event, the 20 miler!! Well we actually went to Cambridge just be in Cambridge really, but anyway, my mind was definitely occupied with whether I could get to do 20 miles or not! On Saturday, the prelude was just a gentle four miler, and then it was time for pasta and a restful night before Sunday morning.
20 miles is a definite barrier, physically and psychologically, and so many running tales I’ve seen talk about ‘the wall’ at 20 miles. As I’d never faced the wall (my longest run being up until three weeks ago a half marathon) this was very much untried territory for me. Not so for Melanie – she’s done four marathons before, and with all of the training for those is a (relatively speaking, before she kicks me under the table!) veteran at these things – certainly compared to me. It was thus interesting that the day before she was suggesting to me that maybe we should just do 16 and not 20! That told me that not only was I not looking forward to 20, she was dreading it!!
On Sunday morning the weather was simply stunning, not a cloud in the sky, a nice cooling breeze, and the temperature at about 17 degrees C. We ran into and out of Cambridge via Stapleford and Grantchester, a lovely route much like last Sundays (just longer of course). Also the run was at a slow (9:55) pace. It went great, and whilst I couldn’t say that I could have run much further by the time we finished (and despite nearly twisting my ankle on a kerb due to not paying attention towards the end), it was actually better than I expected. I felt the distance of the week’s running in my legs at about mile 10, but they got no worse.
Melanie was fine too, and although 20 miles (especially when it takes you 3 hours and 18 minutes to complete) is undoubtedly a monster distance, we’ve both trained hard and followed the programme so far pretty diligently (ok – to the absolute letter for me :)) and so there’s no reason why we couldn’t or shouldn’t have got through it.
So after 7 weeks of the programme (16 weeks in all), we’ve done 255 miles out of 599 training miles in total. I’m really pleased with how it is all going at this point, and although you can never rest on your laurels or take things for granted, I now believe that this thing is at least doable. On the flipside of that, I know that September is going to be really hard – we will get though 190 miles this month alone!
The very best thing about September though comes this coming weekend. It is The Great North Run. The GNR is the biggest (at 57,000 runners) half marathon in the world, but of course (to anyone who knows me) is massively special to me for much more significant reasons than that. Finishing in my home town (although I haven’t lived there in more than thirty five years) of South Shields, the GNR is a homecoming for me, and is uniquely special. It has everything – it starts near where I finished my schooling, runs past the place of my birth, where my grandparents and parents grew up, and has so many amazing sights, like the Tyne Bridge, and running along the Coast Road with wonderful views of the beaches and the sea, and the Red Arrows performing during and after the event. It gives me a headrush just thinking about it, and being there and taking part is almost totally overwhelming. The event is also really about memories of my Dad.
Every year, wherever I was (it has been held since 1981) my Dad used to ring me on the day of the run and tell me to look out for him on the TV – as the run went past more or less the street where I grew up, and he used to go and stand on the corner to watch everyone come past. He was always a big fan of the event; of Brendan Foster (who founded it all those years ago); and of the passion and pride that it brings to the people of the North East. I share every one of his sentiments and feelings, and more so now since he passed on five years ago. It will be incredibly emotional to run past the bottom of my street and look out into the crowd and see him not standing there. And perhaps he will be – as I pass the junction of the Temple Park Road I’ll have a tear in my eye as I look over in the direction of where he would be.
Next Sunday I’m so pleased that Melanie is coming up to do the GNR with me too. It is all part of the training programme really, and so we aren’t trying for times, but just to enjoy everything that it brings. She’s done the run twice like me, but is our first time together. More nostalgia then this time next week……Dad, here’s to you :).