Archive | October, 2016

Back In The Groove

30 Oct

As the Post Marathon Month Of Sloth entered its third week, it was time to begin (gently) the (re)transition from sloth to athlete:

Monday and Tuesday were nice steady 5 mile runs.  Although it’s never nice leaving in the dark to go training, the great thing about morning runs is that you are sometimes treated to amazing sunrises, and the start of the week was no exception.  Wednesday was an uncharacteristic but very pleasant lie-in.  Normal service resumed on Thursday with a 7 mile run in the morning.  Because at this stage I’m still only training 5 days a week, Friday was a rest day (no bad thing, as I needed to be in Swindon first thing).  I had a sports massage in the afternoon, which was lucky, as I was starting to feel a bit tight in my back, neck and shoulders.  Clearly all this rest and relaxation has been bad for me 😉

On Saturday I’d arranged to go to Tate Modern to see the Georgia O’Keeffe exhibition, and so that meant an early start for my run to be in London for lunch: out of the door to train at 7.20am, when it was still dark!  Still, it was a pretty pleasant 8 miles once I got going, and of course the darkness didn’t linger for long.  And O’Keeffe was definitely worth the effort (plus pottering around a couple of the other general exhibitions).

This morning I made the most of my extra hour by dozing and faffing.  It was unseasonably warm (I was in shorts and t-shirt and still felt pretty hot at times), but a delight to be out and about as the leaves are absolutely beautiful this autumn: I went through the Blaise estate and then along the Portway.  It’s pretty rare for the Portway to feel scenic, but the trees on the roadside and the trees along the Gorge on the other side of the river created a stunning view of light browns, golds, yellows, reds and oranges.

The rest of today was spent rehearsing: our next concert is a real mixture, and so we covered everything from Darth Vader in Star Wars to Somewhere from Westside Story.  A workout for the arms as well as the legs today!

So, 4 lots of core and glute work done and 35 miles covered.  Not much by peak training standards, but it’s good to be back.


Rest and Relaxation!

23 Oct

There wasn’t much point blogging last week, because amongst rehearsals, post-marathon fatigue and jetlag I ran all of 5 miles.  This week was only a little more exciting: 3 x 5 mile runs, 1 x 7 mile run and, today, a massive 8 miles for my ‘long’ run to bring up 30 miles for the week.  My legs felt a lot better by the end of this week, and today’s run was really rather lovely: a trot out to the plateau in Ashton Court is gorgeous on a sunny day, and the sun obligingly came out just as I began my run after a lazy morning.

Aren’t blog posts short when I’m not really training?

Chicago Marathon Race Week and Race Report

11 Oct

Race week was a little less hectic than the preceding week, which was lucky.  I had to work on Monday and Tuesday but was able to do the prescribed shorter runs each day (7M and 5M respectively).  Wednesday was my traditional pre-event session of 7M with 2 a planned marathon pace.  I’d mistakenly left my Garmin (GPS device which tells me how far and fast I’ve run/am running) in work, and so at first thought I was going to struggle to fit the session in by the time the mistake came to light, but then remembered there is a marked 1,600m stretch on the Portway which I could jog to and back.  I covered the 1,600m twice as an out and back and then guesstimated 18m to bring up 2 miles.  It came out as 6.23m/m, working a little bit into the headwind on the way back.  This would bring 2.47.15, or at the fast end of my planned ‘bracket’ of 2.47-2.52.  Thursday I just did a light 5M, a radio interview for an orchestra I play in and then headed over to Mum and Dad’s, as they live within a short enough travelling distance of Heathrow that I wouldn’t have to get up stupidly early.  Friday was a rest day by design (and default: I was on a flight at 9am so didn’t have time to run before), and we arrived in Chicago early afternoon (local time).

I was travelling with a tour company and so a group of us decided to go over to the Expo to get our numbers that day rather than leave it until Saturday.  Expos are a form of torture which occur at most big city marathons.  You have to collect your race number in person with photo ID to prevent people selling places on at a profit (which is just about fair enough, although still a bit more faff than is ideal).  To make it worth your while/try and get a bit of money out you, it’s also a sort of trade fair/enormous running shop.  To ensure there is no chance of a ‘drive by’, you usually have to go to several different parts of the building to get your number and other gubbins (t-shirts/goody bag, etc.).  Chicago’s was surprisingly low key compared to London’s slick and very corporate affair (and I was able to pick up a thick running top for $40 to wear after the race, as I’d only packed racing/training gear in a moment of stupidity).  However, the real fun was getting there.  This was Travel Disaster #1.

The race organisers very kindly lay on buses to take you from the city centre to the Expo, which is about 5 miles south.  It is a journey which should take about 20-30 minutes, so we left at about 3pm, expecting to be back in time to chill and then grab a bite to eat before having an early night. We were pretty excited about it all, because the buses were American yellow school buses, just like in every coming of age film ever.  Awesome!  Things then began to gently unravel.  The bridge which our driver wanted to use was closed, so he began to invent a route of his own.  His route did not work.  The locals on the bus became more and more angry about this and eventually started demanding to be let off the bus so they could use public transport to go the Expo.  The driver refused, saying it wasn’t safe to let them off in traffic.  There was quite a lot of shouting, and someone tried to use the emergency exit, which all seemed pretty exciting to the British contingent: in London this outrage would have amounted to a bit of tutting, probably some huffing and puffing and perhaps – in extremis – a shared raised eyebrow or roll of an eye with a stranger.  About half the passengers left at this point.  We opted to stay on, because none of us had sussed out public transport options.  About 45 minutes later most of the other passengers demanded to be let out.  This left 5  nervous Brits and 2 nervous Spaniards.  We then travelled about 200m in the next 20 minutes, because Chicago was gridlocked due to (a) all of the people streaming into the city to do the race/go to the Expo and (b) the fact road closures had already started.  Eventually, thanks to a well-known internet search engine which provides maps, I discovered we were now just over 2 miles away.  So we walked, arriving at the Expo at 6pm.  It had taken 3 hours to cover 5 miles.

The Expo itself was pretty painless, and the return journey was remarkably swift.  Still, by this point it was something like 7.30pm, and I’d been up since 5.30am BST, so about 20 hours.  We found somewhere to eat as quickly as possible, and ordered “appetizer” pizzas on the basis this was meal #4 of the day (preceded by breakfast at home; lunch on the plane; dinner on the plane).  They were HUGE: 14″, not the thinnest crust and with generous toppings.  In an effort to assimilate American traditions, we got doggy bags of the leftovers, and bestowed vast quantities of pizza on a homeless man.  He may have regretted saying “yes” when we asked if he liked pizza!

Saturday morning was lovely: having slept/dozed my way to about 7am local time, I went for a 4 mile jog along the Lake Michigan shoreline, doing a few strides. My legs felt a little bit stiff, but I wasn’t that surprised after being sat on a plane for 8 hours the previous day (and then buses for another 3 or 4, including the airport transfer!).  I had a good fill at breakfast in the hotel and then went on a boat tour to see some of the sights without doing too much.  I then came back and had a quiet afternoon/evening, getting room service pasta for dinner rather than brave busy restaurants.

I did my best to sleep, but woke up at 2am local time (in my defence, that is 8am BST), and then only really dozed until about 4.20am, when I simply gave up, and got up and had my breakfast (liberated from the restaurant the day before on the basis they weren’t providing an early breakfast on the day: a banana and a muffin).  I left at about 5.40am and walked to the race start, arriving at about 6.15.  They look after the runners on the American Development start very nicely, even if not all of them are American: we had chairs, tables, Gatorade (sports drink), water, and more portaloos than you could shake a stick about.  Not having to spend long queueing is an enormous bonus on race day!  At about 7am we were walked to our start corral, but not actually let in for a while.  A soprano warbled the Star Spangled Banner, and then the wheelchairs and visually impaired athletes went.  Then it was us!

I had decided to have a go at running 2.48.  I knew I’d need fairly good conditions (and for jet lag to not affect me), but it was worth a try, as my last 2 races (10k and 5M) pointed towards a reasonable result, especially as they were untapered.  Mile 1 was 6.31, but I wasn’t bothered that 6.30 is about 2.50 pace, not 2.48 pace, because ideally your first few miles are slower than the rest as you warm up.  Things then ticked along fairly well to half way: 6.21, 6.23, 6.23, 6.26, 6.26, 6.27, 6.23, 6.27, 6.30, 6.25, 6.24, 6.30 (halfway in about 1.24.20), and even for a short while after: 6.22, 6.23.  Then things just started to really hurt: 6.35, 6.36, 6.34, 6.39 – although I was still just about on 2.49/2.50 pace overall here.  And then, despite me trying really hard to get the legs turning over and stop my stride shortening, my legs just weren’t having it: 6.47, 6.53, 6.57, 7.02, 7.08, 7.03, 7.06 and 97 painful seconds for the final 0.2M.  I finished in 2.53.30.  I lost most of the 5 minutes in those last 7 painful miles.  It wasn’t hitting the wall, it was just muscles refusing to co-operate.  My breathing wasn’t too bad and I was never disorientated or shaky when racing.

I tried to keep walking, but was in a great deal of pain, as my hamstrings and glutes in particular were close to cramping.  I don’t know if it was the hard surface (the roads are mostly concrete, which is tougher on the legs than the tarmac I usually race on), the fact I wore loved but slightly old trainers, jetlag, the flight still being in my legs, the fact I had had that 4 week block in June/July when I didn’t train as much as I should have done, for various (pretty acceptable) reasons (missing out on quality and quantity), the fact it was a bit windy and gradually got warmer, or – realistically – a combination of all of those factors.  I knew I had given it my all, and I felt tears of frustration fill my eyes.  I’d travelled all this way, and spent all this money, to do a race in circumstances which were so very different from the happy plans I’d originally made, and not even come away with a pb.  I just about kept things together as I collected my medal and foil blanket, walking through a guard of honour of cheering, clapping volunteers.  I hobbled over to the tent to collect my bag and sat outside, feeling a bit shaky, dizzy and sick (which I have had after marathons before).  I nibbled at the pretzels in my goody bag and drank the freebie chocolate milkshake, and gradually started to feel ok.  I turned on my phone and found a raft of Facebook messages from friends back home, and a text from my mum letting me know they had panicked a bit when the race tracker seemed to freeze.  She also let me know I was 4th in my age group, which cheered me up a bit, because apparently the top 5 in each age group get a personally engraved medal posted out to them.  I will keep you posted!  I chatted briefly to a girl I’d met when we were finding the tent earlier that morning and then headed back to the hotel.

I was pretty emotional for the rest of the afternoon, and so bar a trip up to an observation deck near the hotel, opted to stay in, having a warm bath and gently stretching.  I then headed off to meet my fellow runners, and so began Travel Disaster #2.  We were supposed to be going on a dinner cruise on Lake Michigan.  Our tour guide had had an email saying to board the boat at 6.30pm for a 7.30pm departure.  The tour company wanted us to board at 5.30pm, as the boat left at 6.30pm.  We arrived to watch the boat – with our dinner on it! – pulling away from the dockside.  Instead of a 3 course dinner, we had a thoroughly non-descript burger and chips!

On Monday I had time in the morning to go the Chicago Bean:


and then the Art Institute (which is amazing: I love Georgia O’Keefe and they have a great collection of her pictures).  We then all headed off for the airport, although appropriately enough I passed this on the way back to the hotel to catch the bus:


So, what are my final thoughts?  Chicago is a great city.  The organisation is amazing and the crowds are brilliant.  It may not have been the result I wanted, but from how my legs felt on Monday and today (Tuesday), I know I gave it my all.  It just wasn’t my day.  Time for a month of easy running and racing for fun, before knuckling down for a traditional 18 week build up for London.  I have unfinished business with my marathon pb!


It’s The Final Countdown (Chicago Marathon: 1 Week To Go)

2 Oct

So, suddenly the race is just around the corner.  It really shouldn’t be a surprise, because the neatly planned out training schedule is there on the pinboard, and I’ve been blogging each week, but somehow it all feels very, very near, and exciting and scary in equal measure.

I guess the fact this has been a very busy week at work has been a help (in terms of filling those hours I now no longer need for training) and a hindrance (I haven’t had much time to think, hence Sunday afternoon, finally have a bit of time to think, and the nerves are kicking in!).  Monday I just about squeezed in 4 miles after work, finishing well after 8pm (thank goodness this was the week with a 4 mile run in it – 8 minutes saved on a standard 5 mile recovery run!).  Tuesday I left work around 11.30pm, so absolutely no running got done.  Wednesday was a case of squeezing 5 miles with some strides in after I’d finished work but before heading off to a rehearsal.  When I got home I discovered that the organisers of the Chippenham Half Marathon had been kind enough to post my prizes (!) to me: 2 engraved glasses and £100 cash.


By Thursday things began to ease off a fraction, and I was able to go to my club session.  Pfitzinger & Douglas wanted me to do 3 x 1 mile, but the club session of 3 x 2.2km was close enough, to my mind.  Our 2.2km is a little undulating, so 8.20-8.23 per loop was reasonable, especially as I was still pretty tired from the week so far.  We did a few strides afterwards, too, but I just used them to focus on form/technique rather than pushing the pace.  I’d already done an extra mile of fast work, and at this stage it’s about doing enough faster running that you aren’t sluggish on race day, but not so much that you’re fatigued and race below par.  Friday was a civilized 6 miles at lunchtime ahead of my massage.  The usual mild taper niggles are starting to arrive, so I’ve got a couple of extra stretches to add in.  Nothing to worry about, but given the last minute injury ahead of London I do need to be careful.

I’ve got half an eye on the medium-range forecasts, and they’re currently predicting something around 17-18 degrees on race day, which is a few degrees warmer than most marathon runners would prefer, so on Saturday and Sunday I did my runs wearing a bit more than I normally would, just to do a little bit of heat acclimatisation.  Nothing radical: a thick long-sleeved top on Saturday for 8 miles including some strides (a lovely run) and tights and a thinner long-sleeved top for today’s 13 miles.  I trained fairly early for me, leaving not that long after sunrise, and it was pretty magical running along the bottom of the Gorge, as it was cool enough that there was a plume of mist rising from the Avon.  I did an out and back route, and on the way back I could definitely feel the sun’s warmth, and the mist had burnt off by then.  The final uphill was hard work in the warmer clothing, but hopefully it’ll have reminded my body how to cope with heat!

I think I’m on top of most of the admin: currency and travel adaptors ordered/purchased.  Chicago is 6 hours behind the UK, so as it’s about 3pm here, that means it’s about 9am there.  In a week’s time I should be into the second half of the race (sparrowfart start time of 7.30am), feeling strong, feeling in control, and looking forward to running the good time my training points towards.  The mind is a powerful thing, and now is the time to start believing.  I might blog a bit more between now and the Big Day, or I might be a bit taper-tastic and distracted, so if this is the final post before the Big Day, feel free to cyber-stalk on the Chicago website.  Whether there’s a blog ahead of my return to the UK will depend on the quality of the hotel wifi!