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 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.

Fantastic, or what!

I ended last week’s blog post with the line “it’s getting serious now” (probably, and if not I meant it) and it has definitely come home to roost this week. The simple figures alone show that to be true, in that until a week or so ago, I had never ran 25 miles in a week before. This week I ran 39. I’d also never run more than a half marathon before (ever), and the final run of the week called for 15 miles, 5 of it at race pace. I thought I was ready for it, and it ended up being a lot tougher than I thought….

The week was also made more difficult by two other factors. One, I’m back home, and running on my ‘same old same old’ well trodden paths was always going to be a comedown after last week’s wonderful holiday in Chamonix (see last week’s blog here…….https://aquavista.me/2019/08/09/week-3-bye-bye-chamonix-its-been-a-blast/ . Secondly I’m back to work, and the midweek runs are now a minimum of six miles long (they get longer from here too).

I used to be able to do the four mile midweek runs in my lunchbreak, especially helped by the fact there are quite a few other keen runners at my place of work, but not any more – I just don’t have the time to justify it. A seven mile run takes over an hour, and by the time I’ve dressed, showered, stretched and eaten, that would be just taking the mickey to do it on anyone’s time but my own.

So therefore, three times this week I’ve been out pounding the pavements of Abingdon on Thames at 6am in the morning to get those midweek interval runs in. This just takes its toll, as I find myself needing to go to bed earlier (but actually not!), and also needing to lay off the alcohol midweek (but actually not!), so this all has both an instant and also cumulative effect upon you. I absolutely know that I will have to make some proper and serious adjustments to my lifestyle soon, including eating more healthily, or something will give, and it’ll be me, and that is not something I obviously want to happen.

The midweek runs themselves however went well, with 8 minute mile runs dispatched with less effort than I thought they’d take, and a tempo run in between was ok too. With the weekend approaching though, and the 15 mile run on the Sunday, one other thing hit me that was going to be something I’d never actually dealt with before on training runs, and that is hydration. With my previously longest ever run being a half marathon, and that an organised event, the drinks are laid on at feed stations. This time it’s just me (or actually me and Melanie, as I was over in Cambridge with her for this weekend’s runs), so somehow I figured with the weather being warm I need to somehow provide for myself.

I have tried a few times before to carry a water bottle on runs, but I just don’t like it. Worse, I find it actually expends energy, something that is quite precious to me!! I thus (after asking a few running friends’ advice) took the plunge and bought one of those trail running vests with squidgy drinks bottles, like they wear on ultra marathons. I got it from Decathlon, for what I thought was the pretty reasonable price of £20 (some online I saw were well over £100, a price I thought very steep for something I wasn’t sure how often I would use).

Decathlon’s finest water carrier thingymajig, modelled to an amused office by yours truly.

The weekend in Cambridge (and pretty much everywhere in the UK) turned out to be very windy, and I was also concerned about how that would affect things. In fact 65mph per hour winds were forecast, and that could have been just downright horrible at best.

Saturday’s five mile run (no vest needed for that) actually went well, despite the winds. Although it was gusty, we stayed out of the worst of it, and it felt good. Sunday however was a different kettle of fish. The 15 mile run was not a success overall, although I suppose not a failure either…

So firstly (this is a bit TMI here, but am recording this for posterity and my own benefit as much as anything so bear with me, or skip this bit!) I had toilet issues! I always manage to ‘go’ before a run of almost any kind, but this time I just couldn’t. Blame it on the wrong coffee, or whatever, but nothing was happening! Knowing that we had about two and a half hours of running ahead of us didn’t augur well, but when you can’t go, you can’t go!! Thus unfortunately about an hour into the run, things had worked their way through (as it were!) and so a hastily arranged visit to a public convenience in a park in Cambridge took place. This might have worked, were it not for someone to come banging on the cubicle door (trying to get in!!) within 10 seconds of me sitting down, which put me off somewhat! I thus spent most of the run waddling like a duck, not a good look! I have resolved to take my favourite coffee with me wherever I am from now on, and so far it hasn’t let me down. There’s also a good book I have called ‘How to Make Yourself Poop’, which I clearly need to read more carefully…….:) https://www.amazon.co.uk/Runners-World-Make-Yourself-Poop/dp/1635651832

The title says it all……………..compulsive reading 🙂

Secondly the aforementioned water carrier device did not exactly get the outcome I desired! Firstly it wasn’t comfortable, by which I probably mean that I had it on too tight, as I was worried about it all sloshing around (I was carrying a litre of water). Secondly it basically restricted my breathing (due I suppose to me having it on too tight!) to the extent that I got a bad stitch at about mile nine which I just couldn’t shift. Whenever I ever get a stitch I can normally get rid of it pretty quickly by deep breathing and extending my arms to open my diaphragm, but this just didn’t work this time. The stitch was painful and didn’t shift for about five miles,even after taking the vest off altogether. And thirdly I didn’t even drink the vast majority of the water I carried! I threw most of it away in the toilet I visited, and probably squirted the rest over myself without ingesting it.

When I took it off at mile 10 I actually wanted to throw it in the river, but I am so grateful to Melanie for carrying it the rest of the way for me. My takeaway from the whole vest experience is (at the very least) that I was pretty stupid to attempt the longest run of my life wearing a litre of water sloshing around on my chest without trying it out first on a shorter run. Lessons learned and all that….but either way I need to find a solution for longer training runs, as when it gets to 20 miles I can’t not have access to some sort of fluids at some point. I may try it again of course, but don’t want that restrictive/tight chest feeling when I run – I said afterwards that it felt like I was being hugged by a demented gibbon! All alternative suggestions welcome………..:)

By the end of the 15 mile run (5 at easy pace, then 5 at tempo/race pace, then 5 at easy pace again) I was definitely finished. I don’t think I could have run another 20 paces. It was interesting (and not a little daunting) to reflect that earlier in the week I thought everything was going so well. The positives (some of them…..) are of course that so far I’m injury free (oh dear, should I have said that?!!!!) and that also I’ve completed every run on the programme so far. But, I’m/we’re only 25% of the way through, and the runs get longer and harder from here again, even if Week 5 itself doesn’t look as bad as Week 4.

The main positive for me though is my partner in crime Melanie. She’s the reason I’m doing this programme (culminating of course in the New York Marathon in November) in the first place, but most importantly we’ve committed to doing all of the long runs (and more where we can) together. There is however a massive difference from just doing runs together, to getting help, encouragement, motivation, inspiration and a voice of calm, which was shown yesterday. If I’d been out on my own yesterday I’m not at all sure I’d have got to complete 15 miles, or even half of it. So thank you Melanie, for getting me to this point, and of course for so much more than that. It’s an incredible feeling to have such encouragement and inspiration, something I’ve never had before. We are in this together, and it’s a really wonderful and amazing journey so far.

So, at the end of the week, 39 miles have been run. That’s now 131 miles in four weeks, of the total 599 training miles in the 16 week programme. There are a mere 38 miles this week, which sounds like almost respite at this point, but then next week it will be 43! Help!

I can’t leave this post without also mentioning/recording an incredible and otherwise unrelated thing, which happened literally a half mile into Sunday’s run. Melanie and I had just started out on our way into Cambridge, running along a pavement in a suburb called Trumpington, which I’d never even heard of let alone been to before, when a car pulls past us and stops about 50 yards away. A youngish man gets out of the passenger seat and looks towards us, and I exclaim immediately “oh my God” (or words to that effect). Can you believe it was my son? I couldn’t!! For context, my son lives in Nottingham (about 80 miles away) and I see him much less these days than I would love to, but it turns out that he and his girlfriend were on their way to touch rugby training, also in Cambridge! I had no idea of that fact, and neither did he know that I was there doing my run. And even if we had both known of each other’s whereabouts, the chances of us being on the same street in Trumpington at 8am on a Sunday morning, and then bumping into each other, are more than ridiculous!! It was as happy as it was unexpected too, and after a quick hello (sorry Dan and Sadi for the sweaty hug :)) we both had to get on to where we were headed. Fantastic or what!