Tag Archives: london marathon

Up to Speed

Until the last month or so, I’ve had one of the least active periods of my life since I started running seriously in 2006. I had my first ‘proper’ injury in the new year (tendonitis on the top of my left foot), then life got a bit too complicated (I’d moved up to Perth, Scotland in December for work) and the running took a back seat. Whilst my injury still had a firm hold, I hatched a plan for a big project: check out my post on Twitter. It’s sometimes good to bite off more than you can chew, but my plan to run all 116 miles of the Fife Coastal Path in less than 24 hours on the ‘longest day’ was definitely a step too far with the other pressures in my life, and I shamefacedly dropped the plan in June. I will resurrect this plan, though. I managed 100 miles last summer, on a hillier route, so it should be within my capabilities.

I’m now firmly established in Perth, doing the new job, life has eased up on me, and I’ve re-discovered the joy of running, especially racing. I’m still dead keen to get a 3:15 marathon under my belt; to take the struggle out of getting into a future London Marathon as much as anything.

As I said, I’ve rediscovered the joy of racing: from 22nd June to 6th July I raced 5 times! They were 2 short and 2 medium hill races, plus a flat road 5 miler for good measure. This renewed enthusiasm led me to cast about for a marathon to run at the end of the summer, to see if I could put this 3:15 thing to bed. The Moray Marathon looked good, but it’s on 1st September, a little too soon to train properly for. The Loch Ness Marathon is on at a much better time, 29th September, but it’s £46 to enter and very hilly for a road marathon. Then I found the Newcastle Town Moor Marathon on 27th October. It only costs £17, is near my family, and would give me plenty of time to train. It’s a very small event (you could guess that from the website), on a lap course on the Town Moor. And it gives me LOADS of time to train.

And training I am doing; combining hill running, a bit of speed work, and some slow stuff. I just need to mix in plenty of long, slow runs to get my stamina up to scratch. To help with that, I’ve just found out I’ve got a place in the Glenmore 12 hour Trail Race (I was on the reserve list), little brother to the 24 hour race. Getting in training for that should be a real boon to my endurance for the marathon.

I’ve been really enjoying the mountain and hill running since I moved up here. Another endurance event I’ve entered is the Glenshee 9. That’s 21 miles, 6000 feet of climb and 9 Munros. That’ll really punish those legs! Again, training for that will build my endurance, and on that note, I’ll leave you with a few pictures I took when I had a big run/walk this Friday and Saturday, over the hills between Blair Atholl and the Linn of Dee, spending the night in the ‘Tarf Hotel’ bothy and taking in 3 Munros

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Where to from here?…

I’m getting out of synch now, as I’m going to report on today’s run and my thoughts for the future before I submit an ‘epic’ for the 3-day backpack I did in the Cairngorms last weekend. I haven’t even managed to finish captioning the 90 or so photos I took up there yet (don’t worry, the captioning is for my benefit so I can make sense of them in years to come; my report will feature highlights).

After the disappointment of the Kent Coastal Marathon 2 weeks ago, I need to consolidate mentally and physically over the winter and hit a fresh marathon in the spring (London if I can in), faster and stronger. I’m not putting too much pressure on myself yet, though. I’ve got the Blackland Downs Challenge next weekend, the Hogweed Mimsy Muggle at the beginning of October, then nothing else planned as yet. I need to get some long training runs in to build up my stamina some more and I’ve no doubt I’ll throw some races in to keep life interesting.

I’m also doing the 5×50 Challenge. I’m doing something every day – check out my profile if you want to see what.

Today’s was a good run, one of my favourite short loops, around Cherhill Down, near Calne Wiltshire. It drains well and is usually fairly firm, but today it was almost as firm as you would expect at the end of summer! It has 2 climbs: the first ‘ramps up, being steepest when you’re near the top, reaching a difficult to run gradient. The other is kinder, quite long and steady.

The best part of today’s run was really hammering the big descent back to the road near the end. I really let gravity do its thing on the steepest bits, which are also the lumpiest. My ‘core’ feels strong at the moment, which is what you need to maintain control on these ‘technical’ descents.

I’m looking forward to a run on the eastern part of the Ridgeway tomorrow, which might also beat my ‘mountain epic’ to the press!

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Rockin’ the Ridgeway

After the London Marathon 3 weeks ago, a fast 20 miler the weekend after, and 28 hilly, muddy miles on Monday, I was happy to drop my plan to run the Ridgeway 40 (RW40) both ways, as outlined in my crazy plan.

This year the RW40 was on 12th May, and was celebrating its 50th anniversary. I arrived at Overton Hill on the A4, the rather underwhelming western end of the Ridgeway National Trail, on Saturday, 25 minutes before the ‘runners start’, with my friends Ian trussler, Paul Byrne and Peter Cusick, together with Ian’s partner Lynne, who was there to see us off. In running terms, you couldn’t find a more disparate bunch:

  • Ian is my main running buddy, a lover of rough, hilly and esoteric races, as well as the more mainstream stuff. I like Ian because he can be talked into just about anything, and so has joined me in some pretty extreme hill races (the llanbedr to Blaenafon fell race most recently) and a couple of ultras (the 2011 Ridgeway 40 and Ridgeway Challenge).
  • Paul has been running for a few years now and has really developed as a runner. He has done many marathons, half marathons and shorter races, and several muddy, hilly trail races. He has been intrigued by ultras for a while now and had always wanted to go beyond 26 miles.
  • Peter makes me look like a slacker. He can run a sub-3 hour marathon, is an excellent triathlete, is super fast on trails and runs ultras, the longest being the 145 mile Grand Union Canal Race (GUCR).

Lynne and Ian tried and failed to light the camping stove that had lit first time the night before. They had hot water in a flask and some rice pudding they’d heated up at home, and planned to get both properly hot in situ. As it was, we had cups of tea and sufficiently warm rice pudding; a good way to start the day.

It was sunny, but cool, verging on cold, with a bit of a breeze; a huge contrast to last year, when I stumbled into the start in stormy weather after running it the ‘wrong’ way overnight from Streatley, to be sheltered by Ian and Lynne in their car and given a good breakfast, ready to go back with Ian.

The Ridgeway 40 is a walking event that takes runners, not a race, although it’s probably pretty competitive at the ‘top end’. Peter was mildly surprised to learn we weren’t to be issued with numbers to pin to our fronts. Most of the entrants start at 8:00, but can set off any time until 8:30. Runners are supposed to set off at 8:30 so that they don’t get to the checkpoints before they open. All entrants have a tally card, which is signed by a marshall, who also records the time on it and their record sheet.

The runners bolted off bang on 8:30. Except for Ian, Paul and I: we were finishing off the rice pudding. That was the last we saw of Peter. He’s doing the GUCR again in three weeks time, and I’d tried to persuade him that a leisurely RW40 would give him more benefit for that than a quick one, but he had his sights on ‘sub 6’ and stuck to it.

My only plan was to stick with Paul and give him any support he needed to get to the finish. He’d ran the Manchester Marathon 2 weeks ago, had a tough time of it in terrible weather, and was feeling less than optimum as a result. Once we set off, a couple of minutes late, Paul, Ian and I soon started catching the slowest walkers and one slower runner, Glynn, who was running in Huarache sandals, earning him instant kudos with me.

I ran with Paul and Ian, at a pretty reasonable pace , except if we hit a steeper slope, where I would pull away from them a bit so I could take photos and then wait for them. We got to the first check point (CP), Barbury Castle at 7 miles, pretty easily: there are 9 CPs on the RW40, so the average gap is only 4 miles. The RW40 cuts a corner off the national trail just after CP1, which makes the route more direct, but cuts out the beautiful Smeathe’s Ridge as well as the rather scrappy trails on the north-east of Ogbourne St George.

The short-cut crosses the wide valley that carries the A346 south to Marlborough, and the national trail is rejoined on the ridge at the other side. It’s easy to carry on straight over instead of turning left back onto the RW, which a woman entrant would have done if I’d not been sat on the junction taking photos and put her right: I’d been told that one year several entrants had turned right and ended up back at Barbury Castle, adding something like 8 miles onto their route!

Back on the RW proper, Paul was starting to show the strain: the distance we’d covered thus far was within his experience, but not over that kind of terrain. I started a relentless stream of encouragement, sometimes bordering on lies (“Fairies will  meet you at the next checkpoint to lift and carry you onward.”) to keep his spirits up and, as much as anything, distract him from his discomfort and fatigue. CP3 at Foxhill (14.5 miles) was the first point at which he started to talk about dropping out, but a bit of rest and food, and the thought that the next CP wasn’t that far, was enough to keep him going.

At the next 2 CPs, we fell into a pattern of Paul pretty much deciding to drop out, then him getting a bit of food and rest, and me persuading him to keep going. The best parts were when we lost ourselves in conversation and the country just rolled by. Ian had headed off by this stage: he’d struggled to keep his pace down to match ours, which can be surprisingly difficult, and I encouraged him to cut loose. Sometime around 25 miles Paul told me that he intended to drop out at CP6 (28 miles) and that I should push on, and I knew from his tone that he wouldn’t be dissuaded. I headed off, happy in the knowledge that his was pleased with the thought of having run further than he ever had, and on a hilly trail.

I was really looking forward to CP6, as it was the legendary ‘tea & cakes’ CP. When I got there, sure enough there was a good selection of cakes, including professionally made ’50th anniversary’ cup cakes and banana loaf made with cardamon. I stayed there long enough for Paul to roll in, pretty wrecked, but also happy to have joined the ‘ultra club’.

Once I’d had several cakes and flapjacks, plus 2 cups of tea, I made ready to head off, determined to hit the remainder steadily, if not hard, without taking any more ‘long’ breaks at the CPs. I said a slightly sad goodbye to the CP6 crew, who had decided to retire from this annual duty, having done it for quite a few years. I also met Alan Smith, the RW40 director there, and thanked him, as he too is ‘retiring’ after many years. I wonder what will happen to this lovely event in the future?

It was good to pass walkers for the last time, having ‘yoyoed’ with them for several hours, running past them, then seeing them again as I rested with Paul.

The weather had been ideal through the day; sunny with some cloud and a cool breeze. By this time, the breeze seemed to have died down a little, and I took my long-sleeved top off and was running in my new, rather excellent Patagonia Capilene ‘tank top’ (as they call it), a light stretchy singlet which has one crucial quality: it’s long enough to tuck into my shorts and not bunch under my rucksack waist-belt. It’s also worth mentioning my Merrell Trail Gloves, which were a joy to use, even over such a long distance.

Inevitably, I was feeling the strain by this point, and just wanted to be finished. I hammered along pretty relentlessly, but still took the time to chat to a few walkers and have a few biscuits at the last CP.

I saw Ian, who had finished about 2 hours earlier, just before I got to the finish at Streatley Youth Hostel. We were all taking advantage of the frequent, relatively cheap train service back to Chippenham to get home, and Peter and Paul (who had been driven to the finish) had both gone.

To add insult to injury, the finish of the RW40 is in an annexe of the YH, up its steep drive and a few steps, which seen very taxing by this stage. I handed my tally card in and enjoyed the laid-on nibbles and camaraderie of the finishers.

Peter was actually the first to finish, in 5:50, which would have been 5:48 if he’d been able to find the annexe a bit quicker! Ian finished in about 8:40, which he was very pleased with. I finished in about 10:40, and obviously hadn’t done the event to get a ‘time’, and so was pretty happy too.

I’ll ‘watch this space’ with interest (and a little worry) to see how the Ridgeway 40 evolves (survives?) as Alan hands the reins over. It’s a great event; long may it continue.

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Two Minutes, Fifteen Seconds

That’s how long I missed my target in The London Marathon by. I want to do this in Kent in September, so let’s think about what I got right in London, and what I could have done better.

Right:

  • I ‘grazed’ continuously (in addition to my meals) in the 2 days leading up to the big day, including a good 600 calories on the morning of the race. The Lucozade Sport Speaker at the Expo explained that the majority of the runners they surveyed didn’t carbo load enough: big, carb-heavy meals and plenty of snacking in-between are needed.
  • I hydrated well. I needed to pee a couple of times in the hour before the start, but not too much. I sipped a Lucozade Sport drink in the starting pen, and picked up 3 water bottles on the way round, keeping hold of them and sipping ‘little and often’.
  • I had some old clothes and a disposable poncho to wear in the start area, so I could keep warm until just before the start.
  • I wore familiar clothes and shoes (OK, so I had my brand new ‘charity vest’ on).

Could do better:

  • I set off too fast: the start felt so easy and the gentle downhill of the first half and the crowds encourage quick running. Start fast, suffer later!
  • I had a really busy few days before the marathon: all stuff I couldn’t avoid, but plenty of sleep and relaxation would have served me better

Lessons learned to take forward to September…

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3:17:15

I did it. OK, so I didn’t manage my 3:15 target, but that was based on me wanting to get an automatic Fast Good for Age place for 2013 or 14, rather than a definite notion that it was a realistic target.

I’ll blog some more on lessons learned, etc later. But, for now, I’ve got lots of stuff to do that I allowed to pile up before the big day.

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Like a Kid on Christmas Eve

I’ve only been out once, a brisk six miler, since I last posted. I suddenly seem to have got really busy, but seeing as how I’m supposed to be saving myself and the weather’s been recalibrated to ‘February’, maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

My enjoyable, if not particularly well paid line of work (self-employed same day courier), allowed me to visit the London Marathon Expo to pick up my number in the middle of a fairly lucrative work day (2 loads going into London from near me and something going from Reading back towards home): a nice bonus.

The Expo was impressive, although I avoided looking at too many of the stalls for fear of lightening my wallet too much. I enjoyed a free coffee on a comfy chair whilst listening to a Lucozade Sport person give a good, detailed presentation on hydration and nutrition, with a little pacing advice thrown in for good measure. listening to him, I realised that I carbo load all year! he said to do it properly you need to eat carb heavy meals and ‘graze’ in between, which sounds like a typical day for me!

So now I’ve got my number and I’m too excited to sleep! Best get off to bed now, I suppose…

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No Pain… No Pain

I’d intended my taper to be a taper, not a drop-off, this week, but a combination of family stuff and sorting the purchase of my lovely red 2008 VW Caddy Maxi van (now on the drive waiting to earn me money), meant that I haven’t ran since Tuesday.

As I haven’t any recent running to comment on, I thought I’d give a brief history of my running up to now: my evolution has been pretty non-standard, which may make it of more interest to some.

I’ve been running ‘casually’, just to stay fit and for fun, since I was a teenager. I developed an interest in hiking and mountaineering at the same time, and doing a bit of running was an ideal way of making sure I was reasonably fit for my trips into the mountains. My running stayed like this for a good 20 years.

In 2006, a couple, Sark (man from London), Echo (Cantonese woman), and their toddler son Miro (named after the Spanish artist), moved in next door. We immediately hit it off, and Sark told me about his running interests, and more specifically his entry in the 2007 Marathon des Sables, the one multi-stage endurance race that many people have heard of. he was just getting into his training for it, with about 10 months to go to the event.

Sark is an unusual runner in that he’s never participated in mainstream races and been in a club, but has extensive experience of endurance events, both running and walking. He was in the territorial Parachute Regiment as a young man, and developed a taste for exhaustion!

I was enthusiastic to join Sark in his training regime, because I liked the idea of ‘upping my game’. We were soon regularly doing 7-8 miles in the summer evenings after work and getting around 12 miles in on a weekend run.

Soon we wanted a big step-up in distance, and so did a series of runs from Swindon to Chippenham Railway Stations, about 25 miles. I commuted from Chippenham to Swindon on the train at the time, so I just took running gear into work and met Sark off the train at the end of the day and we ran home! It’s actually a lovely route, leaving Swindon centre, going through Old Town, up onto The Ridgeway at Barbury Castle, going through Avebury, over Cherhill Down, through Calne and finally back to Chippenham on a disused railway, now a cycle track.

We kept up the running into winter, although we inevitably did fewer miles as the days got short. The first race we did was the Thames Path Ultra 50 (now defunct) in February 2007! You see what I mean now by ‘non-standard’! A friend, Aaron Cowieson, showed concern when I mentioned the race to a group I was having a curry with: he said, “Remember Jason, no pain… no pain.” I ignored his sage advice.

The TPU50 was the second doubling of my previous longest distance, and I took it very cautiously. This type of event usually has checkpoints with food and drink: it’s fairly normal for competitors to take 5 and have a snack or even a small meal. A combination of cautious pacing and 10 minutes or so eating and chatting at each checkpoint (4 or so if I remember rightly) got me to the finish surprisingly easily. I was a little disappointed that I got stitch in the last 2 miles, which forced me to walk for a short time and pushed my finish out past 10 hours: 10:01:01!

I had the achievement of completing my first running race and first ultra in one hit. I came 54th out of 113; a good result for a novice. I was pretty stiff and sore afterwards, but not stupidly so.

I think a lot of runners are overly intimidated by distance, when in fact they can probably run a lot further than they have before with the right approach. A big increase in distance, whatever that is for a particular runner, is as much about pace, nutrition and hydration as it is about fitness. If you can run a half marathon, you can probably run a full one with a suitable adjustment of pace, food and fluids. Doubling that again requires a further slowing, plus way more food and drink: a 5-hour marathon on a few gels and drinks of water is one thing, 10-12 hours requires proper food for most people. Ultras are both very tough and easier than you think! Here endeth the lesson.

Since the TPU50, I have taken part about 60 races, nearly all trail, mostly ‘long’ (half-marathon up to 104 miles) and hilly. It was worth going into the TPU50 in some detail because it is such an unusual starting point and I wanted to make my point about long distance not being such a big deal.

I joined the Chippenham Harriers in 2007 and have found being in a club immensely usful for advice, encourage and camaraderie. Peter Cusick and especially Ian Trussler from the Harriers have really spurred me on over the last few years.

The rest of my races had better be covered in highlights, otherwise this will turn into a novel:

  • The Grizzly.
    Every year from 2007 to 2012, except 2009. A 20 mile trail race, taking in bogs, beaches and hills around Seaton, South Devon. The course is different each year, although many elements are kept year on year. Up til recently the biggest race I’d done, with c1600 entrants. the South West Coast has also provided me with other inspirational races; the Seaview 17 and Exe to Axe.
  • 3 Road Half Marathons – Swindon (Oct 2007 and 2011), Malvern (June 2009) and Hastings (three weeks ago).
    Notable for being the only all road events I have done! As they are relatively flat, they are good for gauging my overall pace. I was about 1 minute slower at Swindon in 2011 than in 2007, I think because I was still getting used to minimal shoes and hadn’t raced much over the summer. Getting a PB at Hastings was a relief, because I knew the training was working!
  • Forest of Dean Trails Half Marathon 2008 and 2010.
    The only other half I have done. 2010 was my previous HM PB at 1:29:46.
  • The Clarendon Marathon 2007, 2009 and 2010.
    The only marathon I have done. Poor as a gauge for London as it’s a fairly hilly, rough trail course! My best time for it is around 3:42.
  • The Ridgeway Challenge 2008, 2009 and 2011.
    My favourite ultra; 85 miles along the whole of the Ridgeway National Trail (bar about 1.5 miles at the end, where the course diverts about the same distance into Avebury, a far better finish than the underwhelming car park at the ‘official’ end). Best time around 20:03
  • Cribyn Fell Race 2010.
    5.5 miles, 3100ft of ascent. Pain! I’ve done several fell races, and this is probably the most extreme. I love running in the mountains. This year’s is the day before London so I thought, “Best not do it.”
  • The Heart of Scotland 100 2010.
    Strictly speaking, not a race, and actually about 104 miles. Probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done, taking me around 33.5 hours. I wore my ‘general’ shoes when fell shoes would have worked far better: they slipped around on my feet too much on the rough, peaty, wet middle section and gave me serious deep blisters on the balls of my feet. Sometimes a 100 is as hard as it sounds.
  • The west Highland Way Race 2010.
    95 miles, a mere 3 weeks after the Heart of Scotland, and it couldn’t have been a bigger contrast. Wearing the same shoes, which this time suited the dry, firm track, and with the new skin on my feet well protected, I ran it completely unscathed! I romped into the Leisure Centre in Fort William after around 24:42 with a huge grin on my face.

This potted history shows that I may be a seasoned runner, but London will actually be a huge departure for me: about 10 times the field of anything I’ve ever done before (3600 ran the Hastings Half) and on flat tarmac. Going the distance will be easy for me, but someone with my background needs to work hard to get a good turn of speed, which I hope is what I have done!

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