Thursday, 24 October 2013

Back to basics

2012 was my best year for running achievements. I ran my second marathon in under 4 hours (just..3:58) and was probably as fit as I'd ever been. Fast forward to the end of October 2013 and I feel way off my best. Ok so what do I expect after 5 months out of action with a serious ankle injury, I came straight back after that to try and run a marathon within 7 weeks. 4 weeks on from that and I'm desperately trying to run as fast as I could 18 months ago. Reality check needed!

I was off work ill for a day this week, I went out with a couple of friends on Tuesday night for a trail run and had never been so sick on a run before. The trouble is we were half way round in the middle of nowhere so I had no choice but to run/walk my way around. With a couple of miles to go I let my friends carry on as I walked the rest of the way. As well as feeling awful we were running in an electric storm on the trails under trees, not a place you want to be at a time like this! Then an almighty downpour erupted. I was soaked through, alone,feeling sick, out of condition and fed up.

But it was an enlightening moment, down and out with my running and only one way to go...back to basics.

Time to dust myself down, forget about the poor marathon performance in Loch Ness and forget about trying to run as fast as Usain Bolt!

I'm a self taught runner so I'm sure all my techniques are totally wrong, while in my sick bed I stumbled on a great series of videos by Everyman Tri on You Tube.

There are some great breathing exercises for runners, stretches and some good running drills that are easy to follow and understand. 

One point that particularly interested me was running cadence, and how this improves your speed and efficiency. To work out your cadence you need to time how many times your right foot hits the ground in a minute. The way this was done in one of the videos was to count the foot strike in 15 seconds and then multiply by 4. The guy being analysed had a score of 80 when it should be around 90. It's all interesting stuff, and even if you're a seasoned runner I'm sure there's plenty to be gained from these excellent videos. Running seems such a simple process but you never stop learning.

This is exactly what I need a good makeover on my running form. So for the time being I'm starting from the bottom and working my way back up with my training and learning how to run again; the end result being that I'm a better/faster runner then I was in 2012.

Sunday, 13 October 2013


In the latter stages of a marathon, you question your sanity, well at least I do. Why am I putting my body through this? What am I really getting out of this? Why,why,why?

2 weeks ago, as you know I ran the Loch Ness marathon and towards the end I was asking these questions. The day after, when I was struggling to walk on any surface that had a downward gradient, I was asking these same questions. Am I really a marathon runner?

In some ways I'm not built to run long distances, I'm small and quick in short bursts. My fast twitch muscles work better than my slow twitch ones. So why after 8 years of running did I end up here on my third marathon?

The "Why I run" question is a tricky one, and one I always search to find the ultimate answer. It certainly keeps anxiety in order but ultimately it gives me a purpose. I'm a runner it's what I do, when I'm serious about it, it changes the way I eat and sleep for the better and changes my life.

I've got a family I love, I work for my family, my boys are my pride and joy, but I run for me! 

Running takes me away from the stresses and strains of life, I have to focus 100% on me and that's where the challenge of the marathon comes in. 26.2 miles is a long way to keep your body running, you have to intently focus on yourself, physically and phycologically you have to keep going beyond your limits and work with yourself to get to the end.

26.2 miles to me is the ultimate distance to accomplish, I couldn't go further, phycologically it would ruin me, the marathon distance is my boundary. I've learnt that, and I'm happy with that. Beyond that I have no intentions. Ultra running is definitely the latest running fad. Once an underground sport that only few endured is now becoming as mainstream as marathon running. But I've experienced running to my limits, and I know where they are.

I loved my weekend in Inverness, but I hated the training for this marathon. That's because I tried to cram it into 7 weeks after 5 months of nothing due to injury.

So after 2 weeks of reflection, I've now concluded:

I'm going to run one marathon every year, other races will consist of half marathons, a distance I enjoy to run. Did you know my run to work, which I run once a week is exactly 13.1 miles; the half marathon distance. Perfect!

I'm going to concentrate on getting some speed back into my running which seems to have deserted me since the injury, so that means getting back to Parkruns on a Saturday morning and using my lunchtime runs as well for this.

Some hilly miles over the ranges once a week will also make me a better runner.

I'm also really liking running with my new heart rate monitor. This tells me exactly how and when I should be training. We're all individual, what one persons doing is not necessary the blueprint for you to follow, but using your own heart rate as the guide is definitely what I'm going to be doing.

I'll stick to my long runs to be around the 13 - 16 mile mark for now because this keeps my base training perfect to ramp up to marathon training at any given time.

The last thing I need to master is my eating habits, I'm usually really keen on my nutrition within reason but lately the bad food temptations have been hard to resist.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Loch Ness Marathon 2013 race report

Well I done it. It wasn't pretty but somehow I managed to get myself around the 26.2mile course of the Loch Ness Marathon on 7 weeks training.
Along with friend Brian we made our way up to Inverness from Gatwick airport on Saturday night. We were staying at the Inverness tourist hostel and didn't arrive until 9pm, which meant we missed race registration that day and would have to be at the race village at 6:30am the next morning to collect our numbers. We ventured out on the streets of Inverness briefly to grab a Subway sandwich before turning in for the night.

Now in my 42 years I've never stayed in a hostel before. It was different but exactly how I imagined a backpackers hostel to be. A student feel about it and a place to rest your head, nothing flash but for £11 a night, you couldn't complain. We were in a small dormitory with 2 sets of bunk beds which we shared with two others. We were fortunate to have two other runners with us, Josephine, an Australian girl from New York, the other from Hong Kong (very international!) both very pleasant and we were lucky as you could end up with anyone. Knowing we weren't sharing with 2 physco killers meant for a peaceful couple of nights.

Race day and after the early start and collecting the numbers we headed straight to one of the awaiting buses for the 26 mile drive out of Inverness to the start line in the middle of nowhere. We drove past the Loch which looked great with the mist across it. It wasn't long before we were dropped off in the Wilderness and had a very cold hour long wait for the start. The surroundings were stunning, mountains as far as you could see but we were up high and exposed to a cold wind which was biting. We sheltered behind the baggage lorries and sat in ditches filled with heather which kept us reasonably warm.

Trying to get a pre race photo caused a problem....first shot ruined by man walking through.....

Second attempt, his running partner walks through and decides to have a photo!

...third time lucky I get my photo!

Apart from the cold start the weather for the 2 days we were in Scotland was beautiful and warm, it could easily have been so much worse at this time of the year.

Finally the race got underway as we ran through the start line and the band of bagpipe players. 

With lack of training I certainly wanted to run within myself and run high 9 min/mile laps. If you look at the elevation profile of the race online it appears that the first miles are downhill, then flat then one big hill, then a nice downhill to the finish....don't be deceived, the first half the race is very undulating, the up hills slowly drain the legs and the downhill's are just as bad, and it's quite difficult to find your rhythm with the elevation changes.

Around mile 5 at Foyers, it's the first significant hill on the course and then a big down hill as you head towards the banks of the famous Loch. Make the most of looking at the Loch on the bus trip to the start, because although a good 10 miles of the race takes you along the Loch, there are few places where you get a clear open view because a margin of trees line the road for the most the route.

By halfway I was feeling positive, Brian and myself had been chatting away and running steady 9:40 min/mile laps but another couple of miles and the early undulations would start taking their toll.

I tried not to think about the miles until halfway, then I would start playing the mind games and breaking the miles down. I began to slow and Brian began to pull away at mile 15. I was OK but knew I just needed to get my head down and get to mile 17, Once I'm at 17 then 20 and then worry about the rest.

17 miles and I was now beginning to feel it, and I knew somewhere around this point the big hill was approaching. I'd been fuelling on the water handed out along the course of which there were many stops, and the Clif shots which we're being given out at certain fuel stations. I'd not used these before but the small sweet cube of jelly was heaven to an ailing runners body!

I also carried a couple of 9 bars with me, for some real food fuelling, and the plan was to get to the hill and walk for a moment and reward myself with my last bar. I got just short of mile 18 and just had to walk. The moment I stopped so did my brain and it was going to be a tough finish to the race.

The hill arrived and I walked to the top, in fact I struggled to run for the next 2 miles, when I did try to run, I'd been reduced to the 'marathon shuffle!'

I was low, so had to give myself a good talking to in my head. "You've had your rest, now you've just got to run a 10K and then we're done". Surprisingly it worked and I managed to run the next couple of miles at a reasonable pace.

4 miles to go and that's just a lunchtime run that I do at work...but I don't go out to do a 4 mile run after running 22 miles! I kept going and to my surprise had even caught up Brian whom himself was now doing the 'marathon shuffle' it was good timing because between us we pulled each other within the last 2 miles of the race.

No pain, no gain
Those last 2 miles were hell, if we kept going we were in for a chance of getting inside a 4:30 time, but our bodies were shutting down fast. It was run/walk time again as the crowds got bigger and louder and tried to help us through. The final couple of miles in Inverness takes you along the River Ness, left over the main road bridge then back along the river for about half a mile to the finish. We ran(shuffled) to the bridge, and decided to walk the bridge then run to the finish line, just a short half mile away.

That short half mile seemed longer than the previous 25 miles! I was really struggling and had nothing left, the pins and needles in both hands was worrying but somehow and with the help of Brian urging me on I crossed the line in 4:39:20. 40 minutes off my PB but never the less a respectable time on a tricky course. I got my nice medal and t-shirt, grabbed my goodie bag, desperately searching for the food items within it.

All runners were given a token for a free soup and meal for after the race. I desperately needed the calories, Brian on the other hand crashed on the grass outside the food tent, and would rather lay still than eat. 

The butternut squash soup was nasty (sorry Baxters) and the Scottish stew ( of which I can't remember the name) was OK..ish, and I sat at a table in front of the duo playing some nice Scottish folk music and consumed the meal.

The meal wasn't the greatest but that's a minor criticism. Overall the event was very well organised. The bus start, the plentiful fuel stations, the Marshall's and staff, the medal and t-shirt, the village, bag handling was all done superbly well. A very scenic road race, one of which I'm glad I've ticked off.

Inverness done itself proud and is a very pleasant town. I enjoyed the Monday shuffling around the town, the weather was beautiful as we watched the world go by sat outside the coffee shops

There is no cheating a marathon, what you put in you get direct back. If you run up hills in training then hills are going to be easier on race day. If you do enough of those big 20 mile long training runs then the 26.2 mile distance is less of a problem. I had a bad sore throat in the week leading up to the race also, but I've got no real excuses, 7 weeks is not enough time to prepare for a marathon when you've been injured and out for 5 months and it showed in the last hour of the race which was soul destroying! But I made it and that's marathon number 3 completed.

Goodbye Scotland