How not to finish a race

Last weekend I completed my ninth half-marathon on what was probably the hottest day of the year so far. Usually after big organised races there is the long wait for the race photos. There’s the secret hope that instead of the disappointing sight of someone looking very much like yourself, gurning and coated in salty deposits, the photographer will have finally have caught you looking as awesome as you felt for at least 5% of the race.

Well last Sunday was different – my race photo was quickly uploaded onto the official race Facebook page and I was immediately receiving tip-offs from friends, both real and virtual: “Have you seen that photo – is it you?”.

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It was simultaneously a great and awful photo.

Great, because it captured the selfless things that runners sometimes do for each other when suffering towards the end of a race on a sweltering morning. It showed two strangers who had spotted a fellow runner on the last 200 metres of the finishing strait, staggering about as if he was not long for this world. They had grabbed him, held him up and made sure that he crossed the finishing line, dashing any thoughts of a sprint finish or super-fast time for them.

Awful, because that staggering runner was me. Despite the heat, I’d felt as per usual for the first 10 miles before we we marshalled into the vast unsheltered spaces of London’s recently opened Olympic Park. Then I think bad water planning on the part of both myself and the race organisers combined with June sunshine started to take its toll. If I had a fuel gauge then it probably would have started flashing wildly and a red alert siren would have started to wail.

“Just a parkrun, just a parkrun left”, I kept reassuring myself with three miles to go, but it felt increasingly like a parkrun in a desert, with mile markers that seemed to go up and down in value and constant switchbacks adding to my disorientation. I kept on running, or rather not walking, until what might have been a finishing line mirage loomed in the distance.

I’m not exactly sure what I was doing, but this was when I must have really started drawing attention to myself and was suddenly adopted by my two running Good Samaritans. I’m not sure what would have happened if they hadn’t come to the rescue – I might well have ended up face down, out cold (and very hot) yards away from the big pink mirage of the finishing arch. The photo makes me look as though I have a huge speech bubble coming out of my mouth saying “Vitality” which couldn’t have been further from the truth.

At long last I (or we) “finished”.

So it was time to say goodbye and give heartfelt thanks to my two unsung heroes for their intervention (at least I very much hope I thanked them, everything was very hazy at that point). I then paid my second ever visit to the mysterious world of the medical tent, full of similar casualties who’d made it to the end but were unable to walk any further, as opposed to the many others we’d seen slumped on the roadside at various points along the route. The only treatment I needed was a twenty minute sit-down, a pep-talk from a fellow sufferer and a bottle of water and I was on my way, hoping I could slip away quietly.

That final 200 metres seemed to go on forever but I suspect that photo will ensure I’ll never forget it.

Run Don’t Run Race Report #2 – Virgin Money London Marathon 2014

It’s grey and cold in London today and it’s making me look fondly back to last Sunday when it was warm and sunny and I was out and about enjoying myself. And running 27 and a bit miles from Blackheath to the Mall (yes, I know marathons are 26.2 miles, read on).

It felt like a much longer journey to get to the start line of the 2014 Virgin Money London Marathon. This included:

  • a decision never to do another marathon again after an unpleasant debut 26.2 (forgetting I’d already entered the London 2013 ballot)
  • “failing” to get a ballot place but then being swept up by peer group pressure and gaining a 2013 place through a running club ballot
  • overdoing it in the January 2013 snow, developing a stress fracture and pulling out of that year’s marathon
  • the dubious honour of being able to defer my place to 2014 as a “sick and injured” runner
  • the ups and downs of a 16 week training programme including a couple of pbs, a 10 week parkrun streak (including a shameful 5k after a very big Friday night out involving several cold drinks and throwing of shapes) and relentless niggles and injuries
  • the expense (but also indulgence) of 5 sessions of sports massage and osteopathy (to think, 5 years ago I refused to let anybody I didn’t know do anything resembling massage because I’m ticklish and thought I would collapse into hysterics)

There was a great sense of camaraderie when we lined up in the huge start pens up on Blackheath with hot-air balloons nodding at us in the breeze but once we set off it was the people of London who got us through the mile after mile after mile. There were crowds lining the whole route, initially stood outside their houses, some in pyjamas, but from Greenwich onwards we were treated to the same volume of crowds and tunnels of noise that Mo and co had run through earlier. There were bands and DJs too and I think it was Deptford where I heard Pharrell’s “Happy”. It sounded so authentic, I thought it was a DJ but I did literally “laugh out loud” when I discovered it was a live band with a singer, probably twice the age of Pharrell who looked like he’d spent the last 30 years in the pub.

My paranoia about my stroppy left hip ruining my big day proved unfounded although I could have done without the sudden jabbing pain in my right knee after a mere three miles (I ignored it and it went away). There were other niggles that built up and faded away over the course (note to self: if there is a next time, do those strengthening exercises and stretch more religiously, so boring but you know it makes sense). The heat was another potential spoiler but although I remember it being sunny, I don’t ever remember feeling too hot. However it might be a factor to bear in mind if I want to one day go faster (and I think one day I probably can).

I thought I could possibly do this race in under four hours but had six targets to spur me on:

1. To get to the start line (believe me, there were times as close as 3 weeks before that I thought I might not make it).
2. To finish.
3. To run the whole thing (I used to have a golden rule never to walk during a race, which I’m ashamed to admit I broke towards the end of my 2012 marathon).
4. To beat my debut marathon time (4:28.57).
5. To beat my wife’s marathon time (set in 2004).
6. To go below 4 hours.

It was good to tick one target off as early as 10 o’clock in the morning and I felt on course to achieve all six after three miles, slowing down or speeding up to make sure that I reached every mile marker in 9:09 minutes. However, at the Cutty Sark, the road narrowed, the volume of runners increased and my legs started to slack off. From then onwards I started to watch the likelihood of achieving targets 5. and 6. slip away, trying to balance up the need to go faster with the impact this might have on targets 2. to 4. Eventually I stopped paying too much attention to my Garmin and just soaked up the occasion.

Delirious at Mile 20

Delirious at Mile 20

One of the bonuses of London 2014 was that I think this time I avoided The Wall. Seeing those familiar faces at my running club’s water station at mile 20 at gave me a boost but this also marked the point at which walls typically start to appear. Although the option of lying down for a couple of hours would have been very welcome, the legs kept going, especially after the wild scenes at Run Dem Crew’s 21 mile spot which is just like midnight in a night club on New Year’s Eve which goes on for hours.

The Embankment is often described as the “home straits” for marathon runners but I know it doesn’t end until you get to Big Ben. Running along it last Sunday, Big Ben was temporarily Small Ben or the Embankment is way longer than I’d previously imagined. It went on forever, and I wanted to argue back “No I’m not!” to all the people screaming “Keep going! You’re almost there!”. In fact the Embankment was so long, my Garmin told me I’d actually done 26.2 miles when I finally reached Parliament Square and I still had two thirds of St James Park to run around.

And then, after what I hoped looked like a sprint finish, but was probably more like a drunk man stumbling after a night bus, it was all over. And I couldn’t stand up. I kept trying to but my head started swirling around and I had to grab on to the nearest fence. 10 minutes later I still couldn’t stand up without feeling like I was going to faint. Eventually I had to be escorted to the medical tent where I had my pulse and blood pressure checked along with lots of questions about how much water I’d drunk and my medical history (thank you so much St John’s Ambulance, you are now my heroes). Finally I got my act together and was discharged to find my family (including the reigning house marathon record holder) and go for a long anticipated pint of beer.

15 minutes after being unable to stand up....

15 minutes after being unable to stand up….


Although I couldn’t fault the London Marathon, for now, I could barely walk and had no desire to do another. Ever again. By the next day I was double checking on the deadlines for the 2015 ballot. The whole occasion had fully rewarded all the time, emotion and effort I’d invested. I had achieved the first four of my targets and think I know what to do if I want to reach the remaining two. I think one day I will be back!

Run Don’t Run 2014 London Marathon Freebie Guide

If you thought the only reward you got after all those early morning starts, Sunday long runs, visits to physiotherapists/sports masseuses/osteopaths/podiatrists and generally wearing out your shoes was the chance to slog around London with 35000 other people then think again. For this week and probably this week only, a Virgin Money London Marathon race number or finisher’s medal pretty much gives you the keys to the city (well, access to lots of free stuff). Most of these offers were harvested off Twitter so it might be wise to double check terms and conditions beforehand.

Free Travel

Transport for London are offering free travel on the Tube, bus, London Overground, tram and Docklands Light Railway for all runners in the big day, from early morning until 5pm. To qualify, show your race number.

Those coming from further afield are entitled to free travel on any Chiltern Railways services on Sunday, 13 April. To get the free travel runners just have to present their official Marathon tabard or race number to ticket inspectors.

Free Services for Runners

If you need a bit of last minute intervention to get you to the start and finish line, Runners Need are offering free Kinesiology Taping for marathon runners courtesy of @SixPhysio @TheOnlyWayIs_UP on Friday 11th April between 11am and 2pm at their Strype Street store (E1 7LQ) near Liverpool Street station. Holborn and Southwark Street branches are also offering this service (contact stores for details).

Over 70s running the marathon qualify for up to 3 months free membership at the Jubilee Hall gym in Covent Garden. The gym has the latest Life Fitness Engage series treadmills as well as almost 100 other pieces of cardiovascular and strength training equipment to keep runners in the groove.

Free Food

MEAT liquor are offering a free burger to medal holders on race day plus 50% off for official volunteers. MEAT liquor is at 74 Wellbeck Street, London W1G 0BA

Meanwhile Gourmet Burger Kitchen in Jubilee Place, Canary Wharf are offering a free burger to all London Marathon 2014 medal wearers, valid April 13-15th. They’re also throwing a mini bottle of Prosecco. Supporters eating with you will also get a complimentary bottle of Prosecco when they order a main from the menu.

From 7th April runners with a Marathon number can have a free meal at the Mayfair Pizza Company The offer runs until Friday 12th April and Mayfair Pizza Company is at 4 Lancashire Court, New Bond Street.

For other marathon free food fests, the Daily Telegraph has these and a few other places for the likes of Peruvian style breakfasts, macaroni cheese, grills and post-race cocktails.

Free Sightseeing

The Shard are offering the first 100 medal holders turning up from 13th to 17th April free entry to London’s highest viewing platform. They’re also offering a 20% discount for friends, family, and supporters who accompany a medal holder. Offer details and terms and conditions are here.

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The Run Don’t Run Guide to Pedestrians

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In which I try to deal with my increasing levels of pre-marathon anxiety by being unreasonably harsh on my fellow pavement sharers

It was during my last longish long run that I spent maybe a bit too much time thinking about pedestrians and how much they upset me after three minor incidents in the space of three miles. So many seemed to want to insist on grabbing my attention in so many different ways:

1. The “we’re joined at the hip, three abreast” pedestrian

These are probably the ones I meet most often and bug me the most. They travel in groups of three and like to take up the full width of the pavement. If a fellow pedestrian is walking towards them, one will drop behind leaving a handy gap for him or her to get by. If the pedestrian is wearing running shoes, they will suddenly become a single, unbreakable unit, oblivious to the world around them, forcing the runner into the road, at the mercy of juggernauts.

2. The “right lads, watch me bring this runner down a peg or two” pedestrian

The we’re joined at the hip pedestrian blocks my way in a passive aggressive way. This type of pedestrian is a bit more “in your face” and wants to interact. My last confrontation of this type was on the same longish run when I thought I was going to have to deal with three teenage boys who were joined at the hip. Instead, one of them put his hand up ready to make contact with my face, a bit like how a police officer would get oncoming traffic to stop. This caused a very sudden change of pace on my part, jarring my up-til-then perfectly conditioned body, and much hilarity for my new pedestrian “friend”. If I have any pains during next week’s marathon, my use of Cockney rhyming slang for “banker” in response to the hand in my face will have been entirely justified.

3.The “pssst, I’m actually an undercover runner” pedestrian

I shouldn’t really complain about these because they mean well, and, if I’m honest, I often fall into this bracket. At the slightest sign of someone breaking into a trot, maybe if they see someone quickening their pace to catch a bus, your undercover runner will adopt a knowing smile, nod and cross to the other side of the road to make sure the runner has ample space to continue his or her noble art without obstruction. More extreme proponents will run into the nearest shop to buy a bottle of water, shout “good running” and offer the water to their newly acquired hero. It’s also handy to carry a large placard with the words “You’re Awesome” scribbled on it to guarantee any passing runner will be reassured you’re not a category 1 or 2 pedestrian.

4.The over-tolerant pedestrian

These pedestrians wrack me with guilt as I run away from them. If they were dogs, on a spying a runner they would drop down onto their bellies and wag their tails sheepishly as the runner passes by. They are not worthy (or so they think). I once slammed into one of these as both of us appeared for different directions on the same corner at about 6 o’clock one morning. He looked like he was on his way to one of those early-start, relentless, on your feet all day kind of jobs. I, meanwhile I was feeling smug for simply having got up early and wasn’t watching where I was going. And of course he apologised. I think I did too, but was wearing headphones so who knows how the words came out.

The “pesky kid” pedestrian

Actually, it’s not so much the pesky kid pedestrians that irritate, it’s the parents of pesky kids who stand by, oblivious to the chaos they leave in their wake, who need to up their game. These are the kind of parents who, when not letting their children ride their scooters or even bikes around supermarkets, let them run riot on canal-side footpaths amongst walkers, cyclists, dogs….and runners. The result is not unlike the opening scenes from a particularly uninspired episode of Casualty. During my almost fateful run there were occasions when I nearly ended up face-down in duck poo or even in the canal as small children, being children, suddenly changed direction by ninety degrees, did pirouettes or hurled themselves onto the place I’d next planned to place my foot. Meanwhile their parents looked the other way, missing the chaos unfolding behind them.

So that’s pedestrians neatly categorised (or is it?). If you’re a pedestrian (and we’ve all been there, even me), maybe sometimes you could try to be a bit more pedestrian*?

* pe-des-tri-an (adjective): not imaginative or unusual;

Runner Paranoia

20140308-114102.jpgI tend to worry too much about a lot of things that don’t really matter. Whenever I’m planning for some work related event at which I will either get the credit or the blame, I usually prepare myself to get the blame when in actual fact things tend to work out well. This then clears the decks for me to start worrying about something else!

I like to think that running provides me with lots of time to forget about the things That are bothering me and have to admit that when I’m out on a long run with my mind wandering, I can generate all I kinds of new solutions to the things I worry about. However, just recently I’ve found myself worrying about things that wouldn’t be an issue if I’d stuck to my guns and remained the non-runner I’d been for most of my life:

1. Injury worries

I’m currently training for the London Marathon, having deferred my place from last year because I had a stress fracture. And now I worry I’m injured again. It’s not a stress fracture, it’s an ache at the top of my leg. I’ve tried stretching, ibuprofen and sports massage. I finally went to see the chiropractor who suggested I should pull out of last year’s marathon. She felt that this year’s injury was not terminal and with a few tweaks I could carry on getting marathon-ready. I did carry on, have done two half marathons at good times including a personal best but I still expect my left leg to drop off at any moment (it still hurts). I think about this more frequently than your average man thinks about sex. I need to deal with it!

2. Fundraising worries

These result from 1. I decided to raise money from my marathon efforts for a charity called CALM. Ironically, one of the reasons this charity exists is because a lot of men don’t deal very well with things they worry about. What I’m worried about here is that I will need to pull out of the marathon because of 1. And then I will need to explain this to the people who have already handed money over. This is stopping me from plugging my fundraising efforts and raising as much as I could. I need to deal with it!

3. Beetroot worries

I have learnt tolove tolerate the earthy taste of beetroot juice, the runner’s ambrosia. If you haven’t read the research then Google it now. But I sometimes forget about my beetroot addiction until I notice its unfortunate side effects. After the Reading Half Marathon last weekend, I think I traumatised a number of men I was sharing the urinal with as the Ribena coloured urine streamed past them in the Madejski Stadium toilets. When this was still happening later that evening I still had the words “internal bleeding” popping into my head until I’d managed to perform a reality check. I need to deal with it!

4. Parkrun volunteering worries

This is a new one. Today I volunteered at parkrun because I didn’t want to aggravate 1. and further jeopardise 2. It also meant I could avoid 3. for once and have a huge coffee before going out instead. I ended up scanning the barcodes as the runners finished, which allowed me to have flashbacks to my time as a checkout operator in Sainsbury’s all those years ago. That was until I realised they didn’t have scanners in Sainsbury’s when I worked there. It was that long ago. There were all kinds of glitches in today’s new role: a dodgy finishing token I had to watch out for and in no circumstances scan, people with barcodes which wouldn’t scan, people without barcodes, a moment when I scanned the finishing token before the runner’s barcode (a serious no-no). I am now worrying that some inadvertent error will mean I have ruined what felt like a really good start to the Saturdays of over 50 people. I will therefore not publish this blog until I see the results have been published. Once this has happened I will have dealt with it (until the next time)!

Tomorrow I aim run 19 miles and hope I make it home with two functioning legs. Beetroot juice will be involved and I wonder if the run will give me enough confidence to go all out to recruit more sponsors. I’m also hoping no disgruntled parkrunners spot me, jumping out of their cars to harangue me about their result or lack of it from today. Whatever happens, I definitely expect to generate more things to worry about, to fuel my Runner Paranoia.

Are you a Run-Faffer?

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Cap/image from zazzle.co.uk

I lay in bed early this morning, trying to sleep through Mrs Run Don’t Run making heavy weather about whether to go on her usual Sunday morning bike ride or not. It involved a lot of text messages, peaking outside to check on the iciness of the roads, and then, once the decision had been made to get the bike out, a lot of careful weighing up and mind changing about food, drink and the most ideal kit selection. As soon as she returns, I’m planning on immediately heading out on my long run, but you can be fairly certain that it won’t be the smooth handover of a carefully drilled triathlon relay team. For I am a run faffer. To faff is “to muck about, wasting time doing something not necessary.” It’s a real word and a genuine affliction- it must be because it’s in the Urban Dictionary!

The thing is, you might be one too, especially at this time of year. Check out the tell-tale signs:

1. Over-careful route planning – you want a route with no hills, which you’re not bored of, which needs to be familiar enough to avoid getting lost, with no likely puddles to mess up your box fresh new trainers, and it has to end outside your house after exactly 9.5 miles because that’s what your programme says. Cue consulting of maps, cutting bits of thread to measure distances.
Potential Faff-Factor: 60 minutes

2. Deciding the kit you wear has to match, or at the very least, doesn’t clash. This informs the perfect choice of socks. However, you can only find one.
Potential Faff-Factor: 20 minutes

3. Taking extra care over your hydration needs, especially before a 3 mile recovery run. Insisting on filtered water, from the fridge, in your favourite “lucky” bottle which is nowhere to be found, although other vessels are available.
Potential Faff-Factor: 10 minutes

4. Killing the time waiting for your breakfast to go down by snacking.
Potential Faff-Factor: 180 minutes

5. Easily locating your iPod, but then having a last minute wish for a new playlist (cue switching on of creaky old computer, loading up of massive music library, hand-picking of new tunes, sorting into gradually increasing BPMs with a nice bit of slowing down towards the end for your warm-down)
Potential Faff-Factor: 60 minutes

6. Announcing every run, no matter how trivial, on a range of social media.
Potential Faff-Factor: 10 minutes

7. Last minute clothing shuffle when the promised “mild conditions” turn out to be permafrost.
Potential Faff-Factor: 15 minutes

8. Watch-fiddling – entering a new work-out, switching from imperial to metric “for a bit of variety” then spending 10 minutes stood outside, losing the benefits of tell-tale sign 9.
Potential Faff-Factor: 20 minutes

9. Doing a thorough warm-up (the most beneficial faff, and naturally the one I’m least guilty of).
Potential Faff-Factor: 15 minutes

10. Reading running blogs about faffing, thinking “Yes, I do some of those, but he’s missed out the most important faff which is…..” then not being able to remember your log on name or password to add it as a comment under said blog.
Potential Faff-Factor: 10 minutes

So are you a run-faffer? Can you suggest even more ways I can take even longer to get out of the house?

5Ks vs Me – An Update

I droned on about running 5Ks over the summer, how much I hated the distance, how little improvement I made, how I’d just run a personal worst, because it was “too hot”. So I resolved to learn to love them, using aversion therapy, otherwise known as doing more of them, more often. And as a bit of a motivator, anyone who’s read this blog before might remember the bottle of beer I was presented with, which I managed to restrain myself from drinking and promised to leave it unopened until I got a new 5k PB.

Two weeks after my personal worst, the new regime kicked in, with a visit to my local Parkrun, a couple of miles downhill bike ride away from home. Since then I’ve done 11 local Parkruns and it’s been a bit of a “journey” (well a 65 km journey if you include the other 2 races I’ve done for a bit of variety). As is the way with Parkrun, I’ve made friends of all ages and abilities and developed a few secret animosities, as people I thought I was on a par with got better and better, while I plateaued and then actually got worse.

Yes, for a period from September to November, my times got slower. The course was mildly challenging and got a bit tougher with the Autumn weather but I think it was reasonable to have assumed that I would slowly get stronger and faster over time.

When I used to get the bus to school, we often used to pass a physics teacher who was an early adopter, a trendsetter, one of the first ever “run-commuters”. At the time we thought he was deeply uncool and the fact he wore a rucksack on his back, with bricks in it, made us conclude he was probably bordering on insanity. I thought of this teacher from time to time as I toiled up the muddy Parkrun hill for the third and final time each Saturday morning. His logic was that if he learnt to cope while carrying a heavy weight, imagine how fleet footed he’d be when he got to run brick-free. My logic was that if I could gradually learn to cope with this course, then imagine how awesome I’d be when I tackled a flat, paved version.

And yesterday (spurred on by the fact that my unopened beer was “best before 31/12/13) was when I finally put my theory to the test. Putting aside the guilt I felt about “playing away” behind the back of my regular Parkrun, I strayed over to a different park, famous for its flatness. I’d been visualising this run regularly on the days leading up to it. I saw myself unhampered by hills or mud, running with ease, almost flying, with my feet barely touching the ground. In reality it was the usual slog, although a different kind of slog, probably because I assumed I could go just a little bit faster. I set my “virtual partner” on my Garmin to do 5K in the time it would take to equal my PB and although I felt I was giving it my all, it kept showing me tailing the bastard little digital stickman. The last mile was really heavy going, not only was I panting, I was audibly groaning with every breath. Fortunately I wasn’t drafting behind any real runners because they could justifiably have turned around to either check I wasn’t about to keel over and die or simply tell me to shut up.

I have to say that the finish line came into view a little earlier than I was used to but I wasn’t confident I’d made up for the deficit as I stumbled over it. As the faster runners stood around chatting casually as though they’d spectated rather than participated in a timed run, I vaguely remember stopping my watch, then grabbing a bollard to hold me up while I slowly returned to normality. When I thought to check my time, my watch showed 24:37, probably my fastest 5K this year but not the PB I craved. A few minutes later I checked my watch again and the time was now even worse – I clearly hadn’t stopped it properly.

When I got home, the official results were already on the website, and I’ll leave it to you to work out whether or not I’d finally smashed that PB……

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