Cyprus half marathon

Seven weeks to go till the London Marathon, and my training plan had suggested a half-marathon race, and somehow that got turned into a short holiday to Cyprus. It was an early start on Sunday morning to get to the Cyprus half in Paphos by 7.40. I was able to use a loo in the car park, which was a good move as there were long queues down near the start. I had my second banana of the morning, topped up water, and then headed down to the harbour.

The start and finish were by the castle at the harbour, and though very familiar to me, still a great spot. The marathon runners had started at Aphrodite’s Rock at 7.30, but the start area for the rest of us was a little busy with HM, 10k and 5k runners all milling about together, but absent any instructions I headed as close as I could get to the start line, which proved a sensible move.

The temperature was unseasonably warm, being 19 when we set off – I’m not sure what it was later in the race but it reached 26 later in the day.

I wasn’t sure how fast I should run in the warmth and took it a little easy to start, and chose to adopt my run/walk strategy once again – run for a mile, then walk for about 40 seconds. I used this to set my personal bests at 10 miles and half-marathon, though on long training runs where the pace is lower, I stick to pure running. Not only does the short walk break, if adopted right from the very beginning, allow the legs to recover before they get too tired, and thus achieve a faster average pace than continuous running, it also makes drinking and eating gels or other foods much easier (even more so in races where the drink is in a cup rather than a bottle), but by being fairly regimented about the structure, it stops the temptation to walk for too long or too often.

Lucy and my parents had driven out to a roundabout on the course, which thanks to the doubling back of the route, meant that with virtually no movement they were at the 5km, 9km and 16km points, which meant for good support and also the opportunity to be refuelled twice: I deliberately timed my walk breaks to be as I passed them at 5 and 16 kilometres.

After reaching the high point, 60 metres above sea level, after 12.5km, I realised I wasn’t far off PB pace and was feeling good, so pushed myself quite hard, skipping the walk break at mile 8 as it was downhill, and having one at about mile 11½ instead of 11 and 12, and really trying to push the pace. It is amazing how a trivial upwards slope of less than 1% still feels vertiginous towards the end of a race – I’d never noticed that the coastal road past the hotels is fractionally uphill, but now I did as I fought to gain a few extra seconds.

I found I couldn’t quite make up the missing time, though, despite finishing with a 4:24/km sprint which passed a few people, with shouts of support from friends coming as I neared the line. I finished 13 seconds off my target, in 1:56:19. However, I subsequently realised that my PB was 1:56:26, not :06, and so it was a new PB by 7 seconds which is fabulous, and makes that sprint finish doubly worthwhile.

My last three halfs have all been within 7 seconds of each other, so good consistency too. A really satisfying result in the heat. I stopped to recover for a few minutes, and admired the astonishing array of trophies for the various age categories.

A great morning, and more marathon nutrition practice too. As a practice run for London, as an event in its own right, and as something to experience with family and friends, a success on all counts.

Then back to our villa with friends and family for well earned drinks, food, and a very bracing swim.

8 weeks to go

So, just 8 weeks to go till the London Marathon. So, how are things going? A good week, I think.

During the week, some hill intervals on the treadmill, a good paced 10km, some speed intervals, a swim and a good cycle. Then on Saturday I took the car to Melton and then the train into Ipswich, followed by a slightly looping 25km back to Melton, my longest run yet. It was a cold morning so I was kitted out in tracksuit bottoms, my warm winter top, a fluorescent top over that, my warmest gel gloves, and a fleecy hat, plus my Camelbak for water and to carry fuel. Possibly the most I’ve ever worn for a run.

There was a good deal of suburbia but I enjoyed the docks/marina at Ipswich, several parks, the minor thrill of finding a pavement added to a road since the Google Streetview car had been along, exploring some of the heathland at Martlesham Heath (most of it now being housing estate), running through woods, views of Martlesham Creek, a visit to bits of Woodbridge familiar from over 26 years ago, into Melton, round the back along some rural footpaths, a train leaping out at me from behind a tree, and finishing by the River Deben.

I also practised fuelling strategy, taking on Lucozade Sport drink that’ll be at the marathon (note: do not get this in your eye, it stings like hell) and for the first time a Lucozade Sport gel (much sweeter than the Sport in Science ones I usually use, but acceptable). I also had my planned pre-marathon breakfast at about the right time, and no problems experienced. I even added to the reality of the occasion by waking up before 5am and being unable to get back to sleep.

Sunday I went out to the headwaters of the River Gipping for a relatively gentle 11.5km recovery run, which went very well – no effects from the previous day’s long run.

I’ve run personal record distances for each of the last three weeks, running over 59 km this week just gone, as well as nudging the longest run up a smidgen. However, 42.2km still seems like an awfully long way! Work still to do.

London Marathon Meet the Experts, February 2018

at the Methodist Central Hall, Westminster, 3rd February

The organisers of the Virgin Money London Marathon put on an event called “Meet the Experts”, an opportunity to hear from a range of experts to help those attending (almost exclusively first timers such as myself) to be better prepared by the time we get to 22nd April, as well as entertaining and inspiring us with some noteworthy previous runners. I got a free ticket through my charity, Guide Dogs. I wasn’t sure it was going to be worth trekking into London, but it proved to be very worthwhile.

Before the main session in the lecture hall, I had my feet measured for the first time in many, many years, and possibly the first time with such precision. My right foot is a 9.6 and my left a 10.4; my right is slightly wider than normal and my left about normal; my right is more arched than my left. I had my gait analysed, though with such a short runway, rather than a treadmill, I’m not sure how representative it was: the sponsors New Balance then tried to sell me new shoes based on their analysis, but nothing seemed quite right, and this close to the marathon it’s probably best to stick to what I know anyway. I already have four pairs of running shoes in action at the moment, which should be enough.

So, in addition to the entertainment and inspiration from some of the speakers, what did I learn today? Lots of little bits and pieces, some relevant to the next 11 weeks, others to the day itself. Quite a few things weren’t new to me, but hearing them afresh should stimulate me to do something about them. Though I may have mentally absorbed a few other things too, here’s what I noted down, together with some actions or notes to myself:

  • Lucozade Sport is available at five points on the route (miles 7, 11, 15, 19 and 23) – start drinking it during my longer runs, to make sure my stomach can take it and that I have a clear nutrition strategy for the race. [First test on 4th February showed no problem drinking it in principle, but I really don’t want to down 500ml in one go. I did one bottle in four quarters, spread over 3km. Probably want a running belt that can carry the Lucozade Sport? Do I still have my old blue one? If so, try it out as not used for a while now. Is it big enough to hold my new phone – probably not.]
  • Lucozade Sport gels are at 14 and 21 miles – try Lucozade gels, as the combination of the Lucozade drink and gels would mean I would need hardly any gels of my own. In some ways I’d like to avoid having a running belt at all, but it is handy for phone, gels and handkerchief – and see point above about Lucozade Sport.
  • Toilets are available every 2 miles from mile 1 – I hope not to need them, but it’s reassuring to know the option is there (regularly)
  • Baggage lorries close at 0925. Only the official kitbag will be accepted, but I don’t know how big that is. Get to the start in lots of time – allow time for baggage lorry and multiple visits to the loo!
  • Discarded clothing at the start goes to charities – look out for something warm that we don’t mind losing, plus bin bag if any chance of rain or excessive wind.
  • Wheelchair start is 0855, with para-athletes at 0900 and women’s elite race at 0915, so things for spectators to see before the men’s elite and mass race reaches them.
  • Mobile phones may not work near the finish (and perhaps the start) due to the volume of people – don’t rely on them for meeting friends/family
  • The meeting points are very busy to get to – it may be better to arrange to meet elsewhere, most obviously at the Guide Dogs place
  • Three critical things to remember: bag, tag, number
  • The routes around the west side of Docklands which look as though they pass each other are actually on different levels, though still potentially provide opportunity for very short walk between viewing spots.
  • Good spectator option is to start spectating near Canada Water (or Bermondsey), and then after I’ve passed, get Jubilee Line train to Canary Wharf, from where walk to where can see again (possibly even twice more). Trains will be very busy – be mentally prepared for queues and waiting. Then either to meeting area or to the Embankment – if the latter, don’t go too near Westminster as very busy.
  • There are Runners World pacers – in 2017 at any rate, the relevant options for me would be 3h56, 4h15 and 4h30. At the moment I don’t have a target finish time (I have a range: 3h59 to 4h26). Unless I can get near one at the start, there’s little point, and there is a danger that I run too fast (or even too slow). Also, I don’t know which starting pen I will be in (I’ve no recollection of what I put as my estimated finish time) but I’d need to be in the same pen as the relevant pacer otherwise we’d be too widely separated. In next 76 days, get clearer idea of target pace – think in terms of target pace, not target finish time for now.
  • #SpiritOfLondon is this year’s official hashtag
  • Get my name printed on my t-shirt – find out how!
  • Think about what I will eat in the morning of the race (particularly as most of my long runs are done first thing in the morning, without significant food). Early breakfast (but what?). Pre-run snack: banana? (Yoghurt, toast with cheese, etc. may be ok before training, but less practical before the race.)
  • Suggested to drink 400-800ml per hour. Five full Lucozade Sports is within that for four hours, so may not need much else if I get them all down me. When I tested myself, I found I lost 2.5l in a two hour half-marathon, so 5l in a marathon which suggests I should be drinking at the upper end of that range.
  • The most common reason for people dropping out is drinking too much water.
  • Only 500 people drop out – nearly 99% of people who start, finish.
  • Around 500 people who collect their number etc. in the four days before the race, fail to start. I wonder why?
  • I will be going from the Red Start. If I come in from Kent, as I’m currently planning to do, I will be able to walk from Blackheath if that looks the best train option, though Maze Hill and Greenwich are the official stations for the Red start – but there will be no barriers to prevent me walking through from Blackheath.
  • Recovery food after long runs: fluid (milk, greek yoghurt, recovery drinks); carbs; high protein (for each meal during the day after the long run).
  • Avoid hitting the Wall – it’s not inevitable. Have a race day nutrition plan, carb load for the 2 days prior to the race, taper properly, run at a consistent sensible pace
  • Don’t start too fast. Don’t start too fast. Don’t start too fast. Don’t start too fast.
  • Runners knee exercises – investigate exercises to strengthen appropriate muscles. Look at other strengthening exercises though experience to date suggests knee is most vulnerable and other common problems haven’t bothered me so far.
  • Investigate books by Paul Hoborough [bought one], Vassos Alexander [put on wish list for now], Ben Smith (in April) [put on wish list for now]
  • Investigate Marathon Talk website/podcasts (Martin Yelling) [most recent two now downloaded ready to listen to]
  • Give more consideration to psychology of running – a good proportion of success is mental. [I’ve bought two books.]
  • Identify a mantra for me, e.g. “That medal is mine”, “I will succeed”; and when necessary say it to myself over and over
  • Work on visualisation – for example, imagine myself crossing the finish line (and possibly a time?)
  • Work on distraction – think about afterwards, about Facebook messages I’ll post, identify the best banners seen, the best costume, attractive runners
  • Smile while running – it reduces perceived effort and increases running efficiency
  • Plan in advance my tactics for dealing with the mental challenges of the day
  • Be as prepared as possible with all the details of the day, so that all the focus is purely on running
  • My race preparation is well ahead of many people – keep positive.

Mo runs London

Great news that Mo Farrah has decided to join me in running the London Marathon 2018.

I can talk for years to come about running with Mo. Great news. And I’m confident that such will be my speed that Mo will be nowhere in sight when I cross the line.

His win today of the Great North Run for the fourth consecutive year was a mere 59 minutes faster than my time at Great Yarmouth – but the latter did involve some grass at the start, which makes all the difference.

Public ballot

A record total number of 386,050 applicants registered for a ballot place in the 2018 Virgin Money London Marathon. This is the highest number of applicants for any marathon in the world.

327,516 of those applicants were from the UK. This is 73,586 up from the previous UK applicant record of 253,930 for the 2017 event – an increase of nearly 29 per cent.

Just over 58% of the UK applications for 2018 were from people who have never run a marathon.

I feel even more privileged to have gained a charity place. Wouldn’t it be ironic if I got a ballot place too? With about 16000 places available, the odds of success are about 1 in 24, or 4%.

A bit too far

With the excitement of Friday’s news of the 2018 London Marathon place still simmering away (indeed, perhaps on a more active boil), and with the previous weekend’s 10-mile PB at the Lee Valley Velopark also not gone away, I perhaps got a bit carried away with this morning’s run.

When a route from Norton through Pakenham and Stowlangtoft was first considered, it was about 15km, but in planning last night, I looked at an extension to the north to make it up to half-marathon distance.

I set off knowing that I could have the choice, but really wanting to do the HM distance. Added to that danger was that I had to make the choice around 8km, at which point I was still feeling fresh. I turned left rather than going straight on, committing myself to the longer distance.

This did give me the opportunity to discover the hamlet of Langham which I’d never visited before, but as I approached 16km I started to struggle, and by 17.5km was finding it very hard indeed, and there was a fair bit of walking towards the end. I did find the strength to turn off my shortest route to visit another map square, and then to run past the car for another 300 metres to get to the full 21.1km.

It was really too big an increase in distance for me to expect to be comfortable, and then I tried to do it too fast in the circumstances, but nevertheless it was a good feeling to have succeeded.

I was passed by 12 cars and a motorbike, and passed a deer, a pheasant, two rabbits, three dog-walkers (with seven dogs), and two dog-free walkers.

Post-run thoughts:

  • I need to find a way to take on board water and potentially fuel during long runs. I’m going to look at running backpacks with hydration pouches, but do I still then need a belt for easy access to other items while running?
  • From Christmas onwards I will be doing a run of 13 miles or more almost every week as I head towards VMLM on 22 April. What was the pinnacle of my running distance-wise, and is still the longest I’ve ever run, will need to become routine.
  • I need to find a way not to get rubbed on my lower back/upper bottom by my sweaty shorts
  • With the exception of those sore spots on my back, post-run impact was pretty modest. This is good, and is encouraging me to consider more long runs this year before I get to the more intense 16-week lead-in to the VMLM.
  • I mustn’t get carried away too quickly. My body is still better geared to shorter running at the moment. My training focus should be the London 10-mile in Richmond Park in June.

Stephen afoot

I started running indoors in late 2007, and after reaching 5km indoors in March 2008, started outdoor running, and entered the first Royal Parks Half Marathon in October 2008. I did two more half-marathons in Reading in 2009 and 2010, after which my running rather lost objective and focus.

In 2014, I discovered parkrun, which gave a fresh objective, and I rediscovered my enthusiasm for running. Successful weight loss in 2016, together with several running friends (mostly online so far) and a growing love of parkrun tourism further increased my love of running.

A chance visit to the London Marathon in April 2017 (in the interval of Harry Potter and Cursed Child) generated a lot of emotion, and I found myself, having vowed not even to do another half-marathon because of the strain the training had put me under, seeking a place for the 2018 London Marathon.

To my delight and surprise, I quickly gained a place running in aid of Guide Dogs. With almost 12 months to go, my enthusiasm for longer distance running started to bubble over, and I thought it might be a good time to experiment with a blog, mixing run reports, thoughts and plans. I don’t expect a wide audience, but it may be interesting to experiment with the format.