So will I be there or not???

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

The starting line for Berlin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week 3 – bye bye Chamonix, it’s been a blast!

And so week 3 of marathon training came to an end with a mixture of unbridled joy and also some potential despair and trepidation. The joy came not from the running per se (there’s definitely another word other than joy to describe it at times!!) but from the time that Melanie and I had in our nine days in Chamonix, culminating in a paragliding adventure. The despair and trepidation came from a twisted ankle for Melanie, which happened on the penultimate day…..

Week 3 was all spent (on holiday 🙂 ) in Chamonix in the French Alps. To those who don’t know it, Chamonix is a small town/commune in the Haute-Savoie region of the Rhone-Alps. It has an incredible history in terms of mountaineering and skiing, and was the host of the very first Winter Olympics in 1924. Home to around 9,000 residents, it is a ‘proper’ French town (as opposed to a purpose built resort) and has a history of agriculture as well as tourism. It is situated in a glacial valley at 1,035m (3,400 feet), and is dominated by the incredibly majestic mountains which surround it, the highest in Western Europe, and they themselves topped by the highest of them all, the mighty Mont Blanc.

Very much visible from the town itself, Mont Blanc sits like a slumbering giant directly above it, and rises 4,808m (15,774 feet) above sea level. Straddling the border of France and Italy, it was first climbed in 1786 by local doctors and alpinists Michel Paccard and Jacques Balmat, following the offering of a prize by the local mayor, and this is acknowledged as the date of the beginning of modern mountaineering. A statue of the two gentlemen sits in the town square and is a very popular ‘Kodak moment’ spot, the finger of one of them pointing towards the mountain, it’s elusive summit often shrouded in clouds rolling in to top up the permanent snow and ice which sit on top.

One of the statues in Chamonix looking up to the dominant features of the Mont Blanc massif

I’ve visited Chamonix on five previous occasions, twice to attempt (unsuccessfully, due to weather each time) to climb Mont Blanc, and the others just to enjoy the surrounding mountains and countryside (the latter word does it such an injustice). It is the ideal, and in my view best, base for mountain adventure, with around 200 miles or so of mountain paths and walks, many used in the Tour du Mont Blanc and the notorious Ultra Tour du Mont Blanc, widely regarded (perhaps ranking just behind the Marathon Des Sables) as the most prestigious ultra marathon on the planet. The race itself is over 171km of arduous mountain trails spanning three countries (Italy and Switzerland as well as France), and has over 10,000m (33,000 feet) of climbing involved!

On one of our walks up to the Albert 1er Refuge by the Glacier du Tour, Mont Blanc and Chamonix itself in the valley far below in the distance.
Enjoying ourselves up on the Aiguille du Midi at 3,842m, views into Switzerland behind us.
Enjoying some of the local beer from a mountain restaurant at Brevent on the Balcony du Sud – it would be rude not to!
At the stunning Mer de Glace glacier, also known as Le Vallee Blanche, one of four main glaciers which flow into the Chamonix valley, this one 14 kilometres long……
…..which we got to go inside! Yes you can go into an ice grotto, tunnelled into a 14km long glacier – fabulous!
Melanie on the stunning Balcony du Sud, heading towards Lac Blanc above Argentiere, probably the prettiest walk I’ve ever done.
And part of Lac Blanc itself, a truly beautiful and amazing place of great tranquility and majestic views.
Life can’t get much better than moments like this – I cannot even describe to you how good this all tasted 🙂

Anyway – onto the week itself, it was all going so well! The mornings in Chamonix, even when the weather is a lovely 21/22C during the day, falls to around 7 or 8 degrees overnight. We thus did almost all of our runs early in the day, so that firstly they were bearable (especially after last week’s 37 degrees in the Uk we were looking for something much cooler, and it was wonderful), and also so that we had the rest of our days free to explore, or chill (although little chilling was actually done, as we didn’t want to waste a moment here).

We had four runs of 5 miles each before the final day, two at tempo pace (roughly 9m/mile for us) and two of intervals, one hills, one 90 second sprints. All were great, until the last tempo run on the Saturday, post paragliding. Early in the run, Melanie rolled over on her ankle trying to circumnavigate a lot of market stalls to get to our usual and beautiful route along the River Arve, which flows its glacial and glassy meltwater at sometimes alarming rates down the valley. She said it was ok at the time, and carried on the run just fine, but later that day she was limping and had to put ice on it to stop swelling and bruising. Not good with a half marathon scheduled for the next morning….

Flying high above Chamonix, having jumped from Plan Praz at 2,000m…..
And yes, those knuckles are quite white!!

And so to the Sunday morning, which as it was also the day we were due to fly home, and we wanted to have a nice indulgent lunch before we went, we’d aimed to get the run done at 7am. Upon getting up however (or actually as it turned out not getting up at all), Melanie was clearly not fit to run. She urged me to go, although I was in several minds as to whether I should or shouldn’t. In the end I did, and the run was cool, with stunning cloudless skies, and despite the fact that (due to Chamonix’s position in the valley that runs up and down) there was rather more uphill than I would ever have liked over such a distance (almost six miles continually uphill for example) it went great, and I felt good, even if I did spend almost the whole run worrying about whether her injury would have significant consequences for New York.

So with that 13 miles (I had to do the .1 too of course to make it a proper half marathon!) that made 34 miles for the week, another personal record for me. So far though (and Melanie within a day or so had recovered too which was the main worry for us both) all is good and on track, but it is only week 3 of 16, and it shows you how easily you can all of a sudden find yourself with an injury problem and out of action.

So this week I can only say has been an incredible adventure. A beautiful holiday, with fabulous weather, and full of fabulous memories in the most idyllic location. If I lived in Chamonix I’d be out running every morning just to experience the air, and the stupendous beauty of the finest playground that nature has to offer. Melanie loved it, her first time here, and it has also given her (and me) an appetite for trail running too. Maybe that’s for another time though………:)

Next week it is 39 miles, with a 15 mile run on the Sunday – and with no Chamonix to run in, that’s going to be hard. It is getting serious now…