Boston Marathon (UK) 2020

Well, sort of. The title of this page is what was shown on my bib, after the race was postponed three times, eventually taking place on Monday 31 May 2021 rather than the originally planned Sunday 19 April 2020. I think most of us in the race would probably regard it as the Boston Marathon 2021.

My 16-week marathon training plan for 2021 was stretched to 22 weeks when the third postponement took place, but I felt ready. Training had gone well: I’d run at least a marathon distance over the course of every week since November, many weeks totalling over 60km, including several individual runs over 30km; I’d run slow and I’d run fast. I wasn’t going to be challenging the elites, but I’d done my preparation.

On the Monday morning I got up at 5.05am for breakfast and we left the house just before 6 o’clock, Lucy driving me the 1.75 hours to Boston. She dropped me off outside Central Park and then drove off to Butterwick, location of our first meeting point, and also her morning run beforehand.

I walked around the perimeter of the park and in to join the rest of the runners in my Wave D area, putting on my mask on the way in – it was a requirement to wear the mask in the assembly area, and rules had required it to be worn for the first 300 metres of the race, though the latter requirement was dropped a few days beforehand. Having said that, a cursory glance around while I was waiting for the toilet suggested that maybe 50% of people were ignoring the amended rule.

In the assembly area

When I eventually emerged from the toilet, I found that my wave had already moved to the exit of the park, though it wasn’t yet the published time of 8.20. The six start waves for the marathon were scheduled to start at 10-minute intervals from 8.00 onwards, with the half-marathon waves following. Each was limited to a maximum of 200 runners under the Covid-19 protocols.

Heading for the start

Wave D were soon were under way to the Market Place for the start, and as I arrived there, the runners at the start of my wave began their runs. I removed my mask, tucked it away, and slowly made my way to the start line. I was conscious that I was in Wave D rather than Wave E because, last July, I’d given my estimated finish time as 4h20. Today I was aiming at 4h26 (or at least better than 4:27:21, last year’s unofficial time), so I deliberately tried to start near the back of my wave.

The Market Place and the race start

Although it was a wave start, there was still atmosphere from being among over 100 other runners, and some crowd support – the official line from the race organisers being a statement that they had been advised to discourage supporters and spectators, without actively doing any discouraging.

We made our way through the town centre roads and across the ring-road where the traffic was being held for each wave, before heading along an arterial road towards Freiston. With the exception of the first few hundred metres, none of the roads for today’s race were closed, and though there were signs and marshals, one had to be aware of traffic, particularly in these early stages on the way out of Boston.

I banked a small amount of time in the first kilometre or two, then settled into a good rhythm and stuck to my target pace. I successfully met Lucy at Butterwick and was passed fresh supplies.

Me approaching Lucy at Butterwick, wearing my distinctive blue legionnaire’s hat

With the exception of the start and finish, only Freiston, Butterwick (twice) and Fishtoft constituted real villages, and the rest of the route was very rural with an occasional hamlet. After mile 6 I was startled to find runners coming the other way, more than 9 miles ahead of me, but the shared route didn’t last long and we north-east-bound runners were soon alone again.

Those near the front, running towards me

A few runners from Waves E and probably particularly Wave F (people who didn’t submit an expected time) gradually started to overtake me, but mostly it was fairly quiet – I very slowly overhauled a few people, but for the most part we were well sorted by finish times and running at our own consistent paces.

Lucy’s spot at the crossroads for miles 9 and 12.

At water point D, just short of mile 9, Lucy met me again, passing me more supplies. She was able to stay there because just over three miles later, the course had looped around and started back towards Boston, passing the same point again.

When I got to 20km I felt really quite strong, and now with the wind tending to be behind me (albeit very inconsistently as the route twists and turns greatly), and where the situation allowed, I gained a few seconds on my target pace on some kilometres.

As I approached Butterwick for the second time, just short of 29km, I looked out for Lucy at the road junction, but couldn’t see her. I assumed she must be just around the corner for some reason, but I didn’t see her there either. By the time I was certain I hadn’t see her, I glanced over my shoulder and in the distance saw a red car that looked familiar. A quick phone call as I jogged along confirmed it was her, and somehow I was there sooner than she’d expected. Analysis later showed I’d supplied Lucy with incorrect information and so she’d been expecting me a few minutes later.

Although spectators are generally asked not to drive on the marathon route, in practice the roads are open and at this stage the field of runners is very thin. Lucy in the car overtook me and pulled in, to pass me my final batch of supplies. I’d been 90 seconds ahead of schedule at Butterwick, so there was scope for this tiny delay which flustered Lucy more than it did me.

By now the early cloud and chilly breeze had turned to almost clear blue skies and the warmest day of the year. I still felt good, but not as good as before, but pressed on at my target pace, feeling increasingly queasy and slightly nervous about whether I was going to need a toilet.

With less than 5km to go, I began to find it really tough, but with almost two minutes in hand, I knew I could ease off the pace a little and still meet my time objective. However, my energy rapidly began to fade – whether that psychological acknowledgement that I could ease off was actually counterproductive, I’m not sure, but it became harder to push my body.

However, as I reached the edge of Boston, my legs became less and less cooperative, and the running intervals got shorter and the walking intervals got longer. My arms and hands were now tingling from poor blood flow, and my feet were starting to cramp a little, or at least to complain and to hint that they were soon going to cramp fully. I rapidly moved to being totally zonked, and started to wander around a little as I progressed. Quite a few people cheered me on, though no-one asked if I was ok. My target time now unachievable, I was now almost continually walking with only the briefest of attempts at a jog. I walked around the last two corners and then jogged over the line, my official chip time being 4:34:18.

Jogging across the finish line.

The mild cramping signs in my feet for the last couple of kilometres now got much worse and I got Lucy to remove my shoes and socks. But the cramping in my feet and particularly toes got worse and worse, and spread to my calf muscles.

The next two hours were spent around the finish area, with me trying to walk and stretch away the cramps as I would normally do, but they just kept getting worse, despite taking on lots of recovery and rehydration drinks and ordinary water. A series of physiotherapists tried to help with massage, ice, and deep heat – at times I had four of them working on me at once. They were very keen for me to sit down but that was extremely difficult as my lifelong experience is that removing the weight off my legs makes my calf and foot cramps ten times worse, and such was the case today. They managed to get me sitting by the tightest of grips on my calf muscles as I sat down, and with Lucy standing on my toes to keep them straighter and make the pain there bearable.

I had ibuprofen and paracetamol an hour after the finish, and twenty minutes later the ambulance crew took the decision to put me on gas and air. That helped with the pain but not the underlying problem, though it did allow me to sit for more muscle massage, but eventually I exhausted two full bottles of gas, which was their entire supply, and they decided to take me to hospital. Getting me onto the trolley was very painful as there was now no gas, no weight on the legs, and no massage going on. They radioed ahead that they were bringing in a patient with a 10/10 pain score.

The ride to the hospital with the blue lights and sirens on was an experience, I suppose, but rather uncomfortable. I managed to jam my left leg against the ambulance to keep some pressure and relieve pain in that leg, but the right leg kept cramping very intensely and I could rely only on breathing techniques to see me through. There was talk of possibly being prescribed diazepam when we arrived but in the end that didn’t happen.

We parked up outside the hospital A&E entrance, and from there, things started to improve. It was a long wait, first to be triaged – by that time the worst of the pain had gone (albeit not the anxiety that it could return at any second with any movement), but my feet and toes were locked upwards at the maximum angle they could produce, but now only the mild pain that you’d get if someone was pushing your foot and toes a bit further than they wanted to go. The reduction in pain was a good thing, but may have contributed to the delay in eventually being admitted. I gave a variety of bits of medical history to a variety of people, and various blood samples, testing of my heart and lungs, and eventually urine, but it was the litre of saline that made the difference, coupled with rest and the drinks at the finish, in the ambulance, and in hospital.

When I needed to go to the toilet, I was given some non-slip hospital socks (as my socks and shoes were with Lucy), and very tentatively got to my feet. Though I felt unsteady and my calf muscles were bruised, I found I could walk slowly without much difficulty. On the second visit to the toilet, the consultant said he would now discharge me, but it took about 40 minutes for that to happen, and it did feel like I’d been forgotten – not unlike that time in a restaurant after dessert when all you want is to pay the bill and depart, yet the previously very attentive waiting staff have lost interest (oddly as this is the time when you might be deciding on a tip). By now I needed to go to the toilet for the third time, but after that I was outside, wandering in my slightly dishevelled state in socks, rather uncertainly around hospital car parks looking for Lucy, but we quickly found each other and were underway once Lucy had sorted out payment for the parking.

Hospital socks – XL

So, a very good race for almost all of it, a very poor end to it, and a very traumatic afternoon. I achieved a marathon race PB, though not my best time over the distance, though I did gain my best 30km time along the way.

Lucy’s afternoon view

Lucy had a tough afternoon, being bossed around while I was in so much pain, and then having to linger in the hospital car park for almost four hours. The physios who worked hard to care for me had a tough time and I suspect may have perceived me as a rather uncooperative patient, but I’m grateful to them, and the two guys who took me to hospital. One of the marathon organisers commented that it had been some endurance by me, and a Strava running friend commented it had been scary seeing how much pain I was in – I was almost totally unaware of the impact I might have been having on other runners who finished after me, but it could have been a bit of a spectacle – there was a lot of screaming!

The Boston medal and t-shirt after a slow 2.7km run 36 hours after leaving hospital – it was all worth it!

So, what can I learn? Pay more attention to hydration, I suppose. I took on 500ml of electrolyte drink just before the start, and regular electrolyte gels during the race, plus plenty of water, but presumably not enough. I am a copious sweater, and while it will never be possible to replace everything lost during the course of a long run, maybe I could get a better balance.

As for Milton Keynes Marathon on 27 June – I think I’m likely to pull out, but will make a firm decision shortly.

More delays

The day after my last blog post, and this from MK Marathon:

We have been working so hard with our partners, including Milton Keynes Council to stage the Rightmove MK Marathon Weekend on 1-3 May 2021. However, unfortunately, due to late Government clarification on the COVID-19 roadmap, including the recent and unexpected ban on spectator attendance, it has been agreed with the council that it is best to postpone the event for a short period.

We have secured an alternative race weekend with the Stadium MK, of 25, 26 & 27 June. Exact individual event dates and times will be confirmed by 14 April once we have had time to consider how the new weekend should be structured.

Stuart Proffitt, Milton Keynes Council Director for Environment and Property said “we have been working hard with the MK Marathon Team to ensure our long-standing marathon is as successful and inclusive as ever. We will continue to work with the MK Marathon Team to ensure a successful rescheduled event during the last weekend of June and we are confident that we will receive statutory approval to proceed with these dates.”

If you are unable to run in the rescheduled event, you will be able to defer your place to the 2022 event at no extra cost. Alternatively, you can transfer your entry to the virtual event at no extra cost.

This has been a real shock this evening as we were expecting to be able to proceed and we were not expecting to be in this position.

It’s not clear to me how one can “ban” spectators from being on the public highway – there is no longer any restriction on leaving the home, only on gathering, so provided households are well spaced, I would have thought there is no legal restriction on spectating. However, what’s done is done.

The status of the thrice-rescheduled Boston Marathon on 31 May hasn’t yet been changed, so that’s now my first target date. It’s still worth keeping the MK option in case Boston is postponed for a fourth time, but whether I should plan for a subsequent (and mid-summer) marathon on my slightly less favoured route, I’m not sure, and maybe I should go back to just the one run if Boston looks certain to go ahead – either by deferring MK to 2022 or getting my refund.

More to ponder, and the marathon training plan is now stretched out even further – my Garmin says my performance is “peaking” which would have been ideal for the original date of 18 April, but I’ll now ease off for a short while to avoid overdoing the training since the current Boston date is six weeks later than originally planned.

Looking brighter

My last post, entitled “What’s next?” (which I struggle to write without hearing Martin Sheen in my head) was as long ago as August.

It’s hard to decide whether a lot has happened since then, or not very much. Whatever one’s perspective on that, things are looking much brighter on quite a number of fronts. Big picture: Covid situation vastly better in the UK. Littler picture: my injuries largely under control, races returning, parkrun returning, weight back heading in the right direction.

Looking back to that August post, I talked a lot about my plantar fasciitis: that has almost completely subsided. I’m continuing with exercises to keep it in check, and it’s not causing me any pain, just a minor occasional grumble that is no bad thing in reminding me to keep up the exercises.

I gently aggravated my right hamstring (again) in February and so eased off the pace and distance a little while it recovered, but it hasn’t really stopped the distance work: regular stretching largely keeps the hamstring complaints at bay but the muscles clearly are a little vulnerable, and it may be sensible to get some further advice about them. My knees continue to tolerate the workload, so that’s encouraging.

Running duration has been at a relatively high level for me since early November (I ran at least 5km for 50 consecutive days up to Christmas Eve) without significant problems.

The Boston Marathon UK that I entered for April 2020, that was postponed to September 2020, was later postponed to April 2021, and now to 31 May 2021, and that’s still a key target for me.

Having some doubts about whether the English government Covid restrictions would be sufficiently relaxed by April, or even if they were, whether the public mood would be supportive of hundreds of people running through the town of Boston, I took out an “insurance policy” and entered the Milton Keynes Marathon for 3 May 2021 as I thought that was perhaps more likely to get the go-ahead. Boston was subsequently postponed for the third but now probably final time.

Yesterday, 29 March, we were allowed for the first time to meet in groups of up to 6 outdoors, and organised outdoor sport is allowed again: Lucy returned to her running club last night. With the vaccination rollout going well (I had my first shot last week) and hospitalisations and deaths plummeting (excess deaths are now negative), it seems likely that the roadmap isn’t going to be dislodged (in the short term, anyway) and so for the moment I have two marathons booked, four weeks apart.

I could cancel MK and get most of my money back (I paid a few pounds extra to give myself that option) but the idea of doing both, and potentially treating MK as a trial-run for Boston, has started to grow on me. MK’s organisers seem very definite in their public communications; Boston perhaps less so, making keeping both up my sleeve still a sensible thing to do in planning.

The 2021 MK route is completely different from that I ran in 2019, being two laps almost completely on footpaths and cycle-paths rather than the roads of the first few kilometres last time. There will be phased starts to avoid crowds, so it will not have quite the atmosphere of the mass start, but perhaps 80% of the race was well spread out anyway so it should be just as fun, albeit presumably with a lot more overtaking going on, and there may even be more spectators as a result of the adapted format.

Meanwhile in other good news, parkrun will return for under-10s in England from Sunday 11 April, with 5k parkruns for England from Saturday 5 June. I’ve been logging my (not)parkruns and have over 150 recorded now, which has been a small useful focus during some of the monotony of the low months, but being back with friends and other real people will be wonderful.

June still seems a long way off, though, and one thing the last 12 months have emphasised to avoid disappointment is to focus on what you can control now, and while with half an eye on the future, make the most of now, and not look too far ahead. I’m optimistic in general, but not pinning all my hopes on anything in particular happening at any particular time.

In my August “What’s next?” post, I also commented on my weight control – sadly that was unsuccessful up to the end of February with a further gradual increase, but it’s been under control for four weeks now and moving very nicely in the right direction at a sustainable pace. I wish there was more time for more of that success before the marathons (which is a small argument in favour of dropping MK), but all improvements will be welcome.

There’s a good deal of advice around about the challenge of seeking to lose weight while training for a marathon, and long runs (more than three hours) can be very tough with a calorie-restricted diet and presumably a partially glycogen-depleted body, but I’m hopeful that my current moderately high-protein, lowish-fat diet (which is still averaging 2350 calories a day) should avoid muscle loss, and that with rest and good feeding in the few days before the big day my energy levels will be topped up when they need to be and I’ll cope much better with a bit less of me to haul around.

After the marathons, I will look to shift the remainder of the excess weight and, if my ever-tight hamstrings will let me, refocus a bit more in training on speed and that 2350 plan for a sub-23-minute 5k and a sub-50-minute 10k, both of which I’ve come close to (23:12 in 2017 and 50:20 in 2018, respectively) and could beat, hopefully with some real parkruns as an additional focus as well as an additional joy. And, as of yesterday, being allowed to leave the house and travel without the need for a reasonable excuse means that I can reintroduce more variety into the locations of some of my runs.

Not the Boston Marathon

Sunday 19 April should have dawned with me in a Travelodge near Boston, Lincolnshire, ready to drive the final distance to the town to arrive about 8am ready for the marathon later in the morning.

Instead, I rose at 6am at home, had a banana for breakfast, and Lucy and I left home at about 6.40am to travel the short distance to the less than half-built Suffolk Business Park on the edge of Bury St Edmunds, for the ultimate in long training runs – a Sunday morning jaunt of 42,195 metres – better known as a marathon.

Continue reading “Not the Boston Marathon”

Marathon preparations

So, in 2018, I stuck to my beginner’s training plan, but I was probably too ambitious about my target pace, and more problematically I had knee niggles going into my first marathon, and they duly manifested themselves a little over half-way through the London Marathon, and I had to walk a good deal and go a lot slower than planned.

In 2019, I had months of injuries with various pulled muscles starting from the previous autumn, none of which I let fully recover before I injured them again. Despite adopting a run/walk strategy with walking for 45 seconds after 135 seconds of running, and a conservative pace target for the Milton Keynes Marathon, I hit the wall around 20 miles due to inadequate training, and was even slower than London.

In 2020, my Boston Marathon UK plans started well but encountered AOC (Age of Coronavirus) – the race was postponed until the autumn, then lockdown rules and guidance imposed constraints on being out of the house. Plan B for a run on the seafront at Felixstowe had to be dropped as it was too far from home, likely to be too busy, and Lucy as my crowd support and water station would be too conspicuous, and I developed a Plan C closer to home, less interesting, but still practical and sticking to the spirit and science of the new way of life.

Continue reading “Marathon preparations”

Keep on running

It was a week where the UK started to shut down properly as the coronavirus epidemic intensified (though with much more to come), and we staggered from one extraordinary government announcement to the next with barely time to take breath, and virtually no challenge or scrutiny.

But, returning to running for the moment, I opted to accept the default option for my postponed Boston Marathon of running it on 13 September 2020, and continued to hope that I would also be able to run a marathon distance on the original date of 19 April 2020, though as the week wore on that went from a confident expectation of a second-best option, to growing doubt that even that would be possible.

Continue reading “Keep on running”

Boston Marathon (UK) postponed

So the almost inevitable has happened, and the Boston UK marathon has been postponed, until 13 September (maintaining the link with Boston USA).

I will be contacted in due course, and offered one of three options:

1. Do nothing and thus transfer my entry to 13 September.
2. Request deferment to the 2021 Boston Marathon, on Sunday 18th April 2021.
3. Request withdrawal of my entry, with a refund of 90%.

Continue reading “Boston Marathon (UK) postponed”

Coronovirus dominating thoughts

At the end of last week’s blog, I reported on my plans for my personal marathon on 19 April in the event that the Boston UK marathon is cancelled. By Tuesday morning, as the evolving situation worsened, I was suffering from a lack of motivation but I managed to get myself out of the door anyway and did my 10km run including three brisk 2km sessions within in.

Wednesday was difficult too, but I did my slow 10km. Thursday I did 13km to Hessett and back at target marathon pace, but not feeling the joy.

Continue reading “Coronovirus dominating thoughts”

Victoria Park half-marathon

I started the running week on Tuesday with 10km comprising a 1.5km warm-up, then 3 lots of 2km brisk with 500 metres recoveries, concluding with a 1.5km jog.

Wednesday saw me setting out before dawn from Whittlesford station for a 13km slow run along the cycle paths that head in all four directions from the A505/A1301 roundabout, before heading into London for some work meetings.

Dawn from the A505 on Wednesday
Continue reading “Victoria Park half-marathon”

A week of running and Covid-19

So, what’s been in the news this week? Very little reporting of my running in week 9 of the 16-week training plan, but a fair bit on Covid-19. Let’s start with my running.

Tuesday saw me travelling to Bury for my favoured hill. I park so that I have a 1.5km warm-up run to the bottom of the hill, and today I ran at top speed for 90 seconds up the hill, jogged back down, and repeated nine times, for ten in all. “Top speed” should mean the maximum I can run consistently for the 10 ascents, making the first one a bit of a challenge to get right, but I think it was broadly correct, each being just under 5:15/km which is good going for me uphill. Then the 1.5km jog back to the car.

Continue reading “A week of running and Covid-19”

Dorney Lake Half-Marathon

Week 8 of my 16-week marathon training plan had a half-marathon race, and I’d chosen Dorney Lake. This is only a small race, but is simple, almost flat, and I hoped would give me what I needed – a little bit of atmosphere, something different from an ordinary training run to test myself a bit, after only short runs at speed, and long runs all being slow or at most “easy”.

Two Sundays ago we had Storm Ciara, and I lurked on the treadmill; one Sunday ago we had Storm Dennis, and I lurked on the treadmill. So I had watched the weather forecast with some trepidation for several days. The wind, which has barely dropped below 20mph (gusting to 40mph) for more than two weeks, with yet more rain, looked likely to put a damper on things, though by Saturday the forecast was hinting that the worst of the rain would be out of the way by the time we got underway.

Continue reading “Dorney Lake Half-Marathon”

Distances build

Week five saw another 11km slow run before work on Tuesday which at the moment still requires a fair bit of running in the dark. Wednesday was what I suppose you could call fartlek, being 3km of my normal slow pace (6:59/km), then 3km jog with Lucy and Brindley, and then 3km at marathon pace. Thursday was a full 8km at marathon pace.

On Saturday I paid my fourth visit to Harwich parkrun. I planned to get a course PB, but that only required beating 26m08 which I was pretty confident I could manage. I had new running shoes, my 8th pair of Brooks Adrenaline GTS, my first of the 20th edition. New shoes always give an extra little boost – fresh grip, fresh foam, and no doubt a small psychological extra too. Harwich starts off with a little loop and then downhill onto the prom, so the result was I found I’d started with a good pace.

Continue reading “Distances build”

A quarter of the way there

So, I’m four weeks into the 16 week marathon training plan. The long Sunday runs still aren’t all that long, but the weekly mileage is consistently above what it typically is, and my legs are hopefully getting more used to running when tired without too much objection.

Week two: three midweek runs from home, a gentle parkrun at Ellenbrook Fields with Alex, and then 13km in the King’s Forest. The long run was ideal conditions, sunny and dry underfoot, cool but not cold, and no wind, and though the terrain was very familar to me, I really enjoyed it. As a long(ish) run, once again was really easy – at the end I felt I could have gone on for much longer, and it was nice to be on (easy) trails for a change.

Continue reading “A quarter of the way there”

Marathon training plan one week in

The first week of 16 in the marathon training plan is complete. As I said in my previous post, this was an odd week, with the original plan mauled about a good deal. Let’s see how the remaining 15 weeks stand up to encounters with real life: this week’s deviations were planned from the start, but I’ve managed to fit the remainder of the plan around my current non-running intentions.

Monday was supposed to be short, a gentle introduction. Why do most training plans seem to have us starting almost from scratch? It can’t be at all unusual for someone aiming at a marathon to have run a half-marathon the previous week, as I did.

Continue reading “Marathon training plan one week in”

Third time lucky?

London Marathon 2018 was a great experience, but somewhat unsatisfying as a run since I injured my knee around mile 14 and thus went much slower for the remaining 12 miles and was very focused on that pain and whether I was going to finish, in addition to the challenge of a very congested course.

Milton Keynes Marathon 2019 was a great experience, but somewhat unsatisfying as a run since I’d had a series of muscle strains which had constrained my training, and some concerning knee niggles, and so I went even slower than London, running out of energy towards the end.

Continue reading “Third time lucky?”