…..until the Great North Run! I’m dedicating this post to that very occasion therefore. It’s after all the occasion in terms of any event I have ever done, or ever will do, that means the most to me. It is the first time since 2019 (and because of the pandemic) that arguably the North East’s very greatest asset and occasion will be winding its way on its full route to the seaside.
So I’ll explain here as to why it is so very special….
Well firstly (although I should say that this is in no particular order) it is the World’s biggest half marathon. Each year (and this one certainly no exception) some 60,000 eager runners take on the 13.1 miles from Newcastle to South Shields. And that’s good for me because I love the buzz. Moreover, although it is impossible to count, spectator numbers that line the route are estimated between 1/4 to 1/2 a million people, which is simply incredible. There is nothing to beat the excitement from start to finish, and it is something that I absolutely love.
Secondly it is a veritable homecoming for me. I grew up and went to school in South Shields, and although I left home now some 40 years ago now (that’s a very scary thought in itself!) – it is a true pilgrimage of the purest order. My parents still lived there until they died (My Dad the last, 8 years ago, more of that below) and so I went to see family and good friends several times a year and have done my whole life.
Then the route of the GNR itself almost follows a storyboard of my early life. It begins very close (within about 400m in fact) to where I finished my schooling, in Jesmond, Newcastle. Then goes through Gateshead and Felling, where my Dad took me to learn to swim. Then it is on to Hebburn, formerly home of one set of my grandparents, and where my Mam and Dad met. Then it is Jarrow, where I was born, and home to my other set of grandparents. And then onto South Shields itself, which was my home and where my heart still beats the most vibrantly. It literally finishes just off the beach where I would spend as much time as I could as a kid.
The most emotional thing about the Great North Run though is that it literally passes the top of the road where I was brought up, Mitford Road. The Great North Run has been on TV since its inception (over 40 years now), and every year wherever I happened to be, my Dad would phone me up on the day of the race. He’d tell me he was going to stand on the corner of the road by the roundabout, and ‘wave at the camera’. I’d never see him of course, but did always have a look. It excited him a lot, and like so many people (and also being a former sportsman and runner himself) loved everything that it brought to the North East.
After my Dad died, and in subsequent Great North Runs which I have taken part in, I can’t help my eyes wandering to the crowds at the roundabout at the corner when I run past. I know that my Dad is there somewhere, waving at me and cheering me on.
And finally, The Great North Run is just massive for the North East. It is a weekend long party, bringing money to the hoteliers, pubs and restaurants. It also brings the Red Arrows, and a massive amount of money in donations to charities (second annually only to the London marathon I believe in terms of sponsorship monies raised). I could go on (and should, so I will) to say that this year alone we have none other than Kenenisa Bekele, Joseph Cheptegai, Selemon Barega and Jacob Kiplimo taking part. Kiplimo is the world record holder and the other three have run four of the fastest half marathons in history. That’s all a tribute to Sir Brendan Foster, champion and founder of the event, and my boyhood (and indeed adulthood) hero.
And so onto the running then, well last week I did 55.1 miles. And all thankfully passed without incident. I have to say though that it is all really hard work both mentally and physically, and I wish I hadn’t taken on such an intensive training programme now. But I’m at week 14 of 18, and am not going to stop or slow down now – plus if things like the Great North Run don’t inspire me, or indeed the thought of being in Berlin (despite BA this week cancelling my flight, more of that next time), then nothing will.
And so finally, to end where I started (and if you thought I’d finished waxing on about the Great North Run then you’ll be disappointed, because I never will!) – my final thoughts on the GNR are this: It brings people like me home, and families together, and hope, excitement and entertainment to so many. I’ll be there every year as long as my legs will carry me. Long may that last!
So I said in my last blog post that I’d talk about running shoes and also heart rate next time around, and here we are. The reason for raising both is that I really hadn’t realised that they are related – oh yes! Let me explain….
Well firstly I’ve always suffered from a pretty high heart rate, under anything less than resting conditions. Tachycardia I think is the medical name. It doesn’t take even the slightest bit of angst and my heart can pound almost out of control. It gets bad when running too – if I look at any of my previous half marathon attempts, or a hard run of any significant distance (in fact even a Park Run) and my heart can average 180bpm.
That’s not good really. And especially when the formula of ‘don’t let your heart rate go above ‘210-your age’ would have my max heart rate at 152! I have had alerts before when doing a run to say my heart rate is up at nearly 190, which is actually pretty terrifying. So the very interesting thing when doing a prolonged bout of training for a run like a marathon is the effect on your heart rate, and also shoes matter here too, and here’s what I understand of it, scientifically, as it were:
So basically our bodies have a ‘fight or flight’ reaction in many situations – it is what is called the sympathetic nervous system, something I find fascinating. An(y) increase in intensity basically produces an adrenaline surge, which means blood pressure, heart rate and breathing rate all increase.
Over time however, like a period of sustained training (which I am very much in, obviously), your body adapts to it, which decreases the burden on your cardiovascular system. As your muscles, and your heart, get stronger, they do a better job of extracting oxygen from your blood, so your heart itself doesn’t need to pump as fast to drive blood around the system. It’s all about the oxygen in the blood, which is why the key measure of fitness for example is called Vo2 max. This is the maximum amount of oxygen your body can use during exercise, and the higher the measure the fitter you are basically.
So this all manifests itself in various ways – your heart rate gets lower for the same amount of strain (or length of run at the same pace), and also the spikes get lower too, as your heart doesn’t react so badly to that fight or flight thing. There is a key to the running too though – in that the majority of it needs to be done aerobically, at a slow and easy pace. If you did lots of running but just thrashed yourself every time then you wouldn’t improve, in short. That’s how I understand it anyway – and if anyone realises that I’ve got this all wrong then please let me know!!
And the tie in with shoes is very interesting too. So again as I understand it, the more your shoes have the likes of ‘rebound foam’, or as is the case with some shoes a carbon plate, then the less energy you need to expend for a given pace or intensity. The shoes are basically helping return some of the energy expended as downforce and basically not letting you waste it by letting you have it back. It’s a bit like being on a trampoline. This also means that for a longer distance you get less tired, and your heart has to work less. Now the differences aren’t staggering – maybe about 3 or 4bpm according to the advertising materials for the Nike Vaporfly Next% or the Alphafly, but every little helps as far as I’m concerned.
For me (and I have both of the above pairs) I think I do actually notice the difference, particularly over longer distances. In my only marathon, where I wore the Vaporfly Next%, I did my fastest mile in the last mile for example. Now adrenaline and excitement I am sure played most of the part in that, but the fact that I had enough left in my legs to do it was the main thing for me. I’ve bought a pair of Alphafly for Berlin – after all if they work for Eliud Kipchoge then who am I to say otherwise? So far I’ve taken them out on just two (slowish) runs, and the jury is still out overall as to how I like them compared to the Vaporfly (they feel a bit heavier and ‘flappier/noisier’ to me so far). I’ll keep going with them on the faster training runs and decide nearer the time whether they get the vote.
And so here we are then at the end of week 12 (of 18). This week was 47 miles, a slight reduction on last week thankfully, but it was still very hard work as it has been brutally hot here – not a phrase normally heard in the Lake District! At the end of week 12 I’ve done just over 400 miles on the programme so far, and it feels every inch of it. I have four weeks of hard training to go, harder than I’ve done yet, and then two weeks of tapering towards Berlin. Having said that, both of the last two weeks are around 50 miles too, albeit at less intensity. One of those weeks includes the Great North Run, which I will be itching to run ‘properly’, but I know I can’t/shouldn’t, as it’ll take too much out of me. I’ll enjoy it nonetheless (and that’s an understatement of all time) – and I’ll talk more about the anticipation of that next time.
Oh and I’m also dreaming a bit of being in the Himalayas in the autumn (in fact I’m just dreaming of not having to run anywhere at all!). Everest Base Camp of course. That needs a lot more thought and planning too, but where there’s a will there’s a way…..
Countdown to Berlin – 42 days. Countdown to the Great North (training) Run – 28 days. Come on!!!!
A long time ago, I went skiing to Andorra. I remember it quite vividly. It was all cheap bars and cheap food, lively music, and short but fairly decent ski runs. It had the sort of ski runs that if it is your first ever ski holiday they would be almost overwhelming, but if you’ve been on two or three you would avoid as being not worth the effort of getting back on the ski lift so quickly again. The reason I mention all of this is that there was a guy on the holiday who I used to work with, and let’s call him Simon (because that was actually his name).
It was Simon’s first ever ski holiday (first time on skis full stop in fact), and despite suggestions and indeed firm instruction from those around him to book into ski school, he refused. “I’ll be alright” he said, and took the gondola up with the rest of us and decided to just ‘wing it’ back down somehow. Being of a nervous disposition, and frankly not wanting to see him hurt himself or worse, I stayed well out of the way. His closest friend Steve, who could ski well, chaperoned him to the point where he was stood, somewhat Bambi-like at first, with skis pointed vaguely at the direction of the slopes.
“Which way do I go” was all Simon wanted to know. With a bit of a directional steer from Steve, all of a sudden Simon was off, hurtling downhill, all arms and legs, and the biggest grin on his face I’d ever seen. He crashed of course, albeit into a bit of a bank of soft snow, but got up, dusted himself down, and off he hurtled again. He hadn’t a care in the world. By the end of the week he was skiing runs that I was unsure about even for myself, and I think this was my tenth time skiing. I think that it has been said before that skiing is about 20% ability and 80% confidence – well in Simon’s case it was more like 5% of one and 95% of the other. Go Simon!
And onto the running then. Last week was the biggest week so far – 54 miles on the schedule in six runs, culminating in a 16 miler on the Sunday. That would be the longest run I had done since running the TCS New York Marathon in 2019. It’s fair to say there was a degree of trepidation on my part, not just because my last two long runs had ended slightly short. The first, a 10 miler, I stopped after 9. It was too hot. The second, a 15 miler, I stopped after 14 – I had some fairly uncomfortable chafing. With the second one, if I’m very truthful (and why shouldn’t I be, I am after all really just talking to myself here :D) I could have stopped anywhere between about 10 and 12. There’s always a reason to stop, right?
So this week I was just determined to get to the end and see it through. All of my midweek runs have so far been going pretty much ok. The easy runs are of course, well, easy (thankfully :O) , and the intervals have been ok, if much harder work (7:30 pace in the main which is basically my top speed). It is the tempo runs which are now the test. The tempo runs are at race pace (8:30 for the marathon) and should be the real benchmark. They started in week 3 at about 4 miles and are now up to 8, plus a mile each side of warming up and cooling down. This week I did this in Nottingham as I was privileged to be asked to look after my gorgeous granddaughter Jessie, whilst my son and his partner played in the European Touch Rugby Championships.
So the Thursday tempo run also followed a Tuesday interval run at my lowest heart rate so far (I’ll talk about heart rate and also shoes in a subsequent blog post). I was therefore confident, and set off with gusto along the banks of the Trent, a route I know well. After about two miles I knew it wasn’t good. My heart rate was pounding, up at over 160. Now 160 is ok if I’m flat out (and so is 170), but not for the start of a ten mile tempo run – it is only going to get worse from there.
And get worse it did – after mile three and four my breathing was more laboured, the effort too high. After 5 miles I stopped, drained. I did sort of jog another mile to see if I could get to a six mile total out of the intended 10. All that did was add another mile to my Strava count – it did me no good whatsoever. I was very deflated. I’m still 7 weeks from Berlin, with all of the big and toughest weeks ahead of me. Take nothing for granted, I told myself, amongst other things.
On Friday I had a shortish 6 mile easy run when I got home from Nottingham. On the Saturday it was 8 miles, again easy. Thankfully both passed without incident, and I braced myself for Sunday’s big one. A moderate (for me!!) alcohol intake on the Saturday evening gave me a decent sleep, even if I did wake early on the Sunday. I drove for my long run to Ambleside (to get some flattish ground as there is literally none by me bar a running track), my favourite place, some four miles away from where I now live, and set off with a determined air. I am very happy, and also relieved, to say that the 16 miles got ticked off without heat exhaustion, chafing, or other (reasonable or unreasonable) excuse. The week thus finished with around 50 miles completed, which I have to be pleased with. There are probably only two or three weeks in my life when I have run that far, and this programme is a test of both physical and mental resolve.
Another week over then. I don’t know how many miles I’ve run so far – it’s just been a lot. This week is 50 again, next week 56, then 54, then 57 I think – it’s a long August that’s for sure. But after that it is September – and on the 11th is the first proper Great North Run since this horrible pandemic took over (and so much worse for so many) so many lives. I can’t wait until the Great North Run – the phrase “it’ll be emotional” is the understatement of the century. More of that anticipation and excitement next time. I’m going to be blogging weekly again now.
And so for now I will continue to believe, that Berlin will happen, and that I can do it. I’ll never have Simon’s gusto or confidence, but I am nothing if not lacking in determination. I also found out recently that none other than Eliud Kipchoge, undoubtedly the greatest distance runner of all time, and world record holder for the marathon (set in Berlin four years ago) will be running too. If I said that he’s a hero of mine that would be significantly understating my admiration for all that he has achieved in running and in life. And if that doesn’t get me motivated to ‘go like Simon’ then nothing ever will.
Oh and as more than a little footnote to all of the above, both my Son and his partner’s teams won their respective finals of the European Chamionships, and I am so very proud of them both – happy days 🙂
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:
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 :).
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.
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 :).
After last week’s somewhat fraught experience with water carrying running vests, I was definitely not up to experimenting with anything new this week. I also resolved to make sure I always (ahem) ‘cleared the system’ before I set out for a run, and also bought some extra jars of my favourite coffee such that when I am away from home I can take them with me, to make sure that I do the job properly (it’s very effective coffee!!).
I was also somewhat heartened to discover, on checking my very efficient, if rudimentary, wallchart, that there were a mere 38 miles to run this week. A step back from last week’s 39! And if even only one mile, it is a relief compared to the fact that every week so far has increased by about four from the previous week. It’s the little things!
Better still, this week there was no tempo/race pace running at all. That’s good for me, as I find that the most tiring and challenging overall. I don’t mind faster intervals, and (usually) enjoy the slower long runs, but the tempo ones mean I have to think harder, or be ‘in the zone’. It’s psychological of course, but that is often what running (or most sports for that matter) are all about – believe you can do something, and you are (almost always) at least half way there already.
Marathon training, I am discovering, is so psychological! Particularly when like me, you have never done one before. I still have no idea if I can even run 26.2 miles for example, but I set off on this programme thinking, no, believing (subtle but important difference there) that I could. And that’s where I still am. I have simple, but strong, faith that by following the Runner’s World programme that I have (to the letter, naturally :)) and meantime looking after myself in terms of nutrition, hydration, rest, alcohol intake, and trying to stay injury free (to name but five things!) then I have a good chance. It’s a huge undertaking though, and when you hear people saying that ‘it takes over your life’, they are right.
In fact, thinking about it more, marathon training already affects almost everything I do. It affects the time I get up, what I have for breakfast, the time I go to work, what I do (and eat) at lunchtime, what I do in the evenings after work, what I cook for my dinner, what I drink with my dinner and after it, and what time and for how long I go to sleep. And that’s not the end of it, far from it. It dictates what I do, and where I am every weekend, and affects any thoughts or plans of holidays I have. It affects conversations at work, my social media posts and things I look at online. I may in fact be living in a running bubble – and this is after just four weeks of the 16 week programme! I even bought a mug to reflect just what this has done to me in fact………..:
So onto this weeks running:
It consisted of six miles Tuesday, including 10 x hill sprint repeats, 8 miles Wednesday at easy pace, and six miles Thursday including 9 x 400m sprints. Then Saturday was a leisurely 4 miles @ slow pace, followed by a half marathon on Sunday. I did each of the midweek runs at 6am or thereabouts, such a nice time to run in the summer if you can force yourself out of bed (not always easy for me!).
The Tuesday run went well, the Wednesday run was fine too, but so wet that I wouldn’t have been wetter had I run the whole thing underwater. I also got ‘puddle-splashed’ by some white van man who thought it presumably funny to do, but I was already so wet i didn’t care. On Thursday the 400m sprints were hard, and I really felt the pace (7min mile pace or thereabouts). I also got very distracted along the way by somewhat randomly singing (out loud at times) the words to “Making Your Mind Up” by Bucks Fizz. I have no idea why. It popped into my head, and wouldn’t go, earworm style. I haven’t altogether shaken it yet in fact some four days later!
Thankfully the Saturday run called for just the gentle four miles at a jogging pace, and that was a big relief for more than one reason, the principal one being that on Friday night I had friends round for dinner, and let’s just say that a lot of drinking was done! In fact after gin and tonics, white wine, red wine, and vodka shots (to name a few) it was a miracle I surfaced into the daylight at all the next day!
For the Sunday we (Melanie and I) took things considerably more sedately on the Saturday night, as we had a half marathon to get through. And after being woken up early by a colossal ground shaking as the nearby Didcot Power Station cooling towers were brought down in a controlled explosion, we also managed to avoid a massive downpour (and a power cut which nearly put paid to my ability to make coffee!!) and get it all done without incident, in what was pretty much perfect running conditions.
So the week ended with 38.2 miles having been run, and me actually feeling pretty good at the end of it. I felt like I could have gone on further on further on Sunday in fact, which was a completely different outcome to the week before!
It’s now getting close to Great North Run time (in just under three weeks from now), and I can’t wait for that. As anyone who knows me will tell you, it’s the most emotional and exciting occasion of my year, or any year in fact, and currently I’m even looking forward to it more than the New York Marathon. I’m so happy also that Melanie will be joining me for it this time too, it is so wonderful to be able to do these long runs together, and it will be great to be in my homeland with her too.
Meantime the next two weeks gets much harder. There are 43 miles to run this week, with a 17 mile run at the end of it. It might be August Bank Holiday weekend, but there is running to do, and it will be done. We’ll fit in some fun around it too though, as we have managed to always do so far. Keep it coming………..:)
Having been a bit on the quiet side for a month or more on my blog now, here’s an update as to why:
On the 16th September I competed in a half-marathon, the Great North Run. It’s the world’s largest half marathon, and I was running for a number of reasons, not least of which was the need to keep up fitness levels for my forthcoming trip to the Southern Hemisphere’s largest mountain, Aconcagua, in December.
I had ramped up my training to where I completed over 100 miles in the three weeks prior to the run itself. Excessive maybe (or it is for me), but I took the advice from various running forums and websites which said that that was the sort of distance I should be covering that close to the run. Sadly with one week to go, I developed a fairly intense pain below my left ankle. I self diagnosed this, after much frantic googling, to be tendonitis, and a subsequent visit to the doctors suggested the same. Armed therefore with a bunch of painkillers and some anti-inflammatory drugs, I decided still to do the run, and told my self that I could/would quit if the pain got worse during the event.
Myself, Dan and my good friend Mel, immediately prior to the Great North Run.
Not long after the start of the run however, something strange happened. My left foot, where the pain had been coming from, was basically sore, a dullish pain without being too bad. I thought to myself that I could live with this if this was the worst that it was going to get. My right foot however, after about three miles, began to scream at me. It was agony, and I could hardly place my foot on the ground at all. Now limping on both feet, I thought to myself how ridiculous, that it looked like I was getting tendonitis in my right foot as well.
By mile six, the pain was horrible, and I should have stopped, but just didn’t want to. Plenty of people had sponsored me to do this event, and I was running for Bowel Cancer, which means so much to me. I just didn’t want to let anyone down, didn’t want to quit, it just seemed like the easy way out. I told myself to grin and bear it. The second half of the run is all a bit of a blur, but to cut a long story short, I made it to the finishing line, and in a time of two hours and two minutes. The last mile felt like someone was hitting me on the bottom of my heels with a chisel, and I half limped and half walked in.
To cut then an even longer story short, I discovered afterwards, following first X-rays and then an MRI scan, that I had what in the medical field is termed bilateral calcaneus fractures. To the layman (which includes me) that means “two broken heels”. To boot I have a torn tendon just below my right ankle, and the right foot is considerably more sore than the left, as perhaps is illustrated more clearly by the pictures below, which are from the MRI scan:
MRI scan of my left foot
In the centre of the above picture you can see a dark serrated line jutting down from the middle of my heel bone. That is a fracture. Bummer, as they say.
MRI scan of my right foot.
Towards the right of the above picture you will see that the heel bone has basically split – the back part is apparently separated from the remainder. That might explain why it hurt so much! As if to add insult to injury, I also have post-traumatic arthritis in my left heel, and the torn tendon in my right.
So anyway, the upshot of all this is that I was unable to even put any pressure on either foot for about three weeks. It was just too painful, and I got around in a wheelchair, even in the house. The bigger upshot is that I have since been told that I need to wait a further six weeks before I can load bear at all, and then three months before I do any repetitive strain type activities on either foot. If I told you that I was gutted by all this then it would be a ridiculous understatement.
So the biggest setback of the above, apart from the immobility and the waiting around for what seems like a lifetime to be able to walk around unaided again, is that my trip to Aconcagua is off. There was no way I could have gone, as the trip starts in less than six weeks from now. There’s also no cycling, no nothing in fact, until probably January until I can dare doing something strenuous again, and that’s if I get the all clear on my next hospital visit, when they MRI scan me again in November.
Aconcagua will therefore have to wait. It’s not going anywhere of course, but the frustration is then that I have to wait another year for it to happen. The ‘window’ to climb is only open in December and January, which won’t now happen this season obviously.
It’s all too easy to feel a bit down when you are essentially housebound, cannot walk unaided, and have had to cancel the thing that has driven you all year, i.e. the biggest mountain, at 7,000m, that I will probably ever get to attempt. My overriding emotion through it all so far though, is that in overall terms I am lucky. I have my health in overall terms, and there are millions upon millions of people out there a lot worse off than I am.
I have been helped by quite a few people in my recovery period so far, and my thanks to all of them, but very special mentions to Anna and in particular to Mel for all that you have done. I’m extremely grateful, I really am.
It’s difficult to use time productively when you can’t really go very far or indeed stand and bear your own weight, but I am doing what I can, and trying to not let daytime television get the better of me. I have bought myself a home gym, and am trying to use it as diligently as I can to at least stop too much muscle wastage on the rest of my body, not that I was overblessed with muscles in the first place. I think I’ve come to the conclusion overall though that running is just not my sport!
I haven’t updated my blog for some time now about Aconcagua itself, so it’s about time that I did. Firstly, in case anyone is wondering whether I am still doing it, I can report that I most certainly am. I had a feeling a short while ago that I might not be though, and will explain more below.
Firstly though I can say that Aconcagua will happen this December. I am probably in terms of overall training more or less where I need to be. There are issues though. I have for example, done a lot less gym work this year than last, so my core strength and upper body strength are way behind where they need to be. This is a problem, because on Aconcagua the climb is not supported past the half way mark, and I therefore will have to carry around 20kg (or more, but basically everything that I need for the trip). Looking then at the picture above of the west face of the mountain fills me with a bit of dread, as it does not exactly look like a walk in the park (who am I kidding, it looks ridiculously hard). On the other hand, my legs are in pretty good shape, at least as far as performace on the flat is concerned, and that is essentially due to running.
Now running is not something that I thought I would ever be talking about on my blog. The simple reason for that is that (until this year) I have never run at all, and never in fact been able to. There were three reasons for this. Firstly, I could never, as far back as I can remember, run distances at all. Even as a kid at school, I was the one who hid behind a building somewhere when they did the cross country. I was just hopeless. Secondly I had asthma for most of my adult life, and when I tried to run I smply got out of breath and had to stop. Thirdly, I just never really tried. I had a sedentary lifestyle, and smoked too, and that’ll put the lid on most activities you ever try. Stopping smoking (about four years ago now) was the best thing I ever did for me. It simply changed my life for the better.
I now in fact find myself in serious training for the Great North Run, a half marathon (the world’s biggest I believe, with 56,000 participants), which takes place later this month. I’ll blog more about that in a later post, but am glad to report that I am now up to running about 50km a week (or should I more aptly say I ran, or jogged, a total of 50km last week for the first time).
Anyway, the reason for me talking about even the possibility of not going to Aconcagua, and indeed the title of this post, is blood pressure, and specifically, high blood pressure. I should explain quickly that I don’t suffer from it, or haven’t in the past, but was recently slightly alarmed by a letter that I received from Jagged Globe, with whom I am making the Aconcagua trip. The letter was titled “Medical Screening on Aconcagua, and went on to say that the Argentinian Park authorities have recently introduced a ‘superficial’ screening programme based upon blood pressure measurements at two of the camps on the mountain. It further explained that if you ‘fail’ the test on the mountain, then you will be refused permission to proceed.
This was a shock it has to be said. It seems it was to Jagged Globe too. The reason the test has been introduced is that the park authorities have ‘decided’ that high blood pressure is a precursor to potential altitude sickness. There seems to be some medical debate on this matter, and indeed a divergence of opinion altogether as to whether hypertension can be linked to altitude sickness at all. Jagged Globe even sent a medical paper along to support what they describe as an over zealous policy. However, regardless of whether they agree with it or not, they rightly point out that it would be rather a good idea to get your blood pressure checked out beforehand. Obviously if you have high blood pressure at sea level and not under the strain of either exercise or high altitude, then you are likely to have the trip end in severe disappointment without even a chance of attempting a summit of the mountain. More is explained in the link to the medical journal below:
I therefore searched online to find someone who could do a full medical exam for me. Going to your GP is hardly going to give you piece of mind either way as far as I am concerned, and Bupa came up trumps. They offer a full fitness assessment, where they test blood pressure, VO2 max, and all manner of other oxygen intake/uptake levels under duress. The tests were pretty rigorous, and involved being on an exercise bike with various tubes in my mouth and electric diodes around my body for an ECG test at the same time.
I’m very happy to say that I passed the tests with flying colours, that my blood pressure was ‘normal’, and that my VO2 max (predicted, not a full test as it turns out) was 46.9. Furthermore, the ECG revealed ‘no irregularities’, even under duress at an anaerobic state. I was pleased with the results, and therefore it means that there are no reasons now why I shouldn’t go to Aconcagua, not that I was looking for one in the first place of course.
So meanwhile my training needs to step up a gear or three. I fly to Argentina in less than 13 weeks from now. It’s going to be the biggest, and hardest by far, adventure of my life. I need to get very seriously into the right zone……