Sunday, 29 December 2013

London to Berlin A Tale of 2 Cities

There are times when you think things are important, times when things such as doing well in a marathon, getting 3.30, hammering your splits, blasting past your previous PB and smashing through the tape are oh so important.  Then something like Boston happens and you realise that it doesn’t matter at all.  Times are merely numbers, splits are simply something that you use to gauge how quickly you are running and getting a PB ?  Well there’s always another race isn’t there ?  Well maybe not.  When something like Boston happens it makes you realise that we are all so mortal, we could be having a great time running along the road in a race, laughing smiling, waving at the crowds and suddenly,  a bomb goes off and you’re dead.

I was following the Boston Marathon on the internet, watching the typical American crowds going crazy, brilliantly supporting all the runners and suddenly there was chaos, smoke and an explosion. It didn’t take long for a bomb to be confirmed.  My first thought was panic, my brother ran Boston last year and for a few horrible moments, I thought he was there. Took a couple of seconds to dawn on me that he wasn’t and an overwhelming sense of relief took over, which was very swiftly replaced  by concern as quite a few runners from Stockport were taking part.  This is where social media comes into its own, through twitter and facebook, it soon became apparent that all were ok and not harmed. 

No matter how decent a person you are, thoughts always turn to self interest, and this was the case with me, as a week later was the London Marathon. There was talk of it being cancelled, and security concerns, but there is no way Britain and especially London would adhere to terrorists and give up its Jewel in the Crown, the was on.  A race I’ve wanted to do for years but injury has always robbed me of the opportunity.  This year I was injury free and ready, I had trained and was in 3.30 ish shape.  I had ran Trimpell 20 around 3 weeks before in 2.40, bang on 3.30, though I doubt I could have kept that pace for another 6 miles but I was definitely in the 3.30 zone.

We travelled down to London on the Friday with fellow runners from Stockport Harriers very excited and made our way to the EXPO where I met Martin Yelling from Marathon Talk, said a quick hello and let him get on with his day.  Registration was incredibly easy, just turned up with some ID and your registration pack and you were given your number, along with a black ribbon for Boston to put on your number which I thought was a fantastic touch.  We spent a couple of hours wandering around the EXPO, before wandering back to the hotel, chilling out for a bit and went out for some pasta in the evening. 


After taking it easy on the Saturday, being tempted by but not doing Bushy parkrun, we made the early Sunday morning treck to the start of the London Marathon.   The free travel for the runners was another superb touch and we got to the start in plenty of time, we were so lucky in that it was such a beautiful morning which enabled us to have a lie down in the sun and relax before the start.

Before you knew it your bags were loaded onto one of many massive articulated lorries that drove to the end and we made our way to our respective starting zones.  After a very emotional minutes silence for Boston we were off.   The first mile was very slow with people in zones far too quick for them.  It really pees me off that  runners do this, all you are doing is inconveniencing people behind you, and making them having to run around and go further.  The result was that my 1st mile was 8.44,    well over target of 8s I would need to achieve my 3.30 goal.  I had only run one marathon but had listened to enough episodes of MT  to know that I had 25 miles for make up the 44 seconds. Unfortunately, I had my stupid head on and set off way too quickly for what I needed. Going from 3.47 (my only marathon time)  to 3.30 was a hell of a jump but the suicidal pace I was running at  (around the low 7s) placed me in the 3.20 bracket.  Absolutely crazy but I felt great and decided to have crack.  Part of my brain was telling me “slow down you idiot, what are you doing ?” the other part was saying “sod it, let’s try to crack Boston”.  I managed to hold the pace but blew spectacularly at mile 19 developing some severe cramps in both calves rendering me capable of nothing more than alternating between a jog and waddle.  However painful it was, the thought of pulling out never entered my head, after all this was London and I wanted that damn medal, it does sound terribly cliché but the thoughts of Boston did spur me on.  I was cramping up a bit, so what ?  Zip up your mansuit and finish the race.  The Mall did eventually come into sight, ( I missed Buckingham Palace, how did that happen ?) and I stumbled towards the finish line in a very disappointing 4.01.  This is where London comes into it’s own.  I was swaying as I finished and within a second I was grabbed by one of the marshals, stabilised and led over to have my medal put around my neck.  Flipping awesome.

There were some thoughts before the race that the bombings would affect the crowds on the day, they couldn’t be more wrong.  A mate of mine who has ran London many times said that he’d never seen support like it.  The crowds were simply incredible, non stop all the way round, no more so than when I was struggling.  Two of my favourite moments were a shout of “move it shrimpy” when I was hobbling and a sweet old lady with a purple rinse who was holding up a sign which said “Dear Boston Bombers, this is our race, this is our city, this is our country, we will not be afraid.” Which was ever so slightly ruined, but made perfect, by the line which followed, “f*** off”. That gave me just the boost I needed and made me giggle as I bumbled like a drunken idiot to the finish.

After a free massage, I sat drinking a well earned beer, reflecting on the race.  Didn’t go well, blew apart and got no where near where I wanted.  But the point is, I could have done, it may have worked, don’t want to be the type of person who thinks “what would happen if I tried this ?” Now I know, not there yet, but one day I will be. 

After London, I chilled out for a good while and decided to get my eyes lasered.  A bit of an over reaction perhaps for screwing up London maybe but I was fed up with wearing contacts and having them slip up into my eye before races and needing to dig around to find them or wearing glasses and getting them splattered with rain.  Plan was to get them done and be free to run and swim with decent eye sight.  All I can say is that I would thoroughly recommend it.  Done in about half an hour, it only takes about 20 seconds per eye, bit of a lie down and you’re  sorted.  Pain free and no more glasses.

The next main race on the agenda was the Berlin Marathon.  The aim at the start of the year was to complete 2 marathon majors. There were a couple of blips to overcome, first one being a completely bizarre swollen left ankle, which made running a bit difficult and an operation 5 weeks before Berlin to remove 6 teeth, (4 wisdom and 2 others which had been impacted) this meant that Julie Fairclough’s marathon plan, she had so kindly written for me had taken a bit of a hammering.  Luckily I was in decent shape and figured I could be in marathon condition in time.  Not PB fit necessarily but enough to have a decent pop at things.

I explained this to Julie and she was really up for the challenge.  My main priority was not falling apart like I did at London and running a strong race.  If I could get a PB, fantastic, but, a sub 4 was the aim bearing in mind the race was only around 5 weeks away.

She came back within a day with a brilliant plan with made things very interesting as it differed from day to day, week to week.  I was quite unnerved when she advised that the maximum weeks’ mileage would be over 50 !  Now considering the maximum amount I had done in my previous plans was around 30, this was a big jump. 

She pointed out (quite patiently as would become the norm for my many, many questions) that as I was going a lot of my runs 1 minute slower than marathon pace, I would be able to do more mileage.  Makes sense, doesn’t it ?  Along with this, she included many sessions that were, for example 2 x 10 minutes at 30 seconds quicker than marathon pace, walk for 3 minutes repeat etc. 

She was also very accommodating in changing the plan to suit me, for example I love parkrun and she was happy to change it to fit the run in my longer session. 

My goal at the 40th Berlin Marathon on the 29th September 2013 was 8.30 pace with an aim of trying to keep it for as long as I could and see what happens.  I was really delighted with the result, Julie’s fantastic plan carried me to 20 miles bang on target pace, with the last 6, slowing down.

I was very happy with my finishing time of 3.52.  I not only battered my London time but was only 5 minutes off my PB.  All on a short training plan.  I’m hoping that on a full plan, next year’s marathons should be smoother.

Even though I enjoyed Berlin, I was part of the race that saw the world record being set by Wilson Kipsang  in an astonishing 2:3:23,  the course was very flat and took in the beautiful sights of Berlin and was organised with stereotypical German efficiency, it couldn’t touch London for atmosphere.  Whilst the crowds in London cheered every runner the crowd in Berlin only seemed to cheer their own nationals, very odd, it did leave you searching for Brits or Americans who were cheering everyone, (much to the bemused looks of the locals) to give you a boost. 

It’s now the 29th December, and I’ve been a bit lazy since Berlin.  I’ve done a couple of races and ran my first cross country, which was a load of fun, think it  does you good sometimes to forget about running and just relax.  Good news is that I’ve got into London again through the ballot and I’m determined to be sensible this time and not blow apart.  Training starts properly in January which should give me enough time to hopefully get into shape to give it a proper crack. 

For a completely different challenge, I’m also going to enter the Snowdonia Marathon in October.  Supposed to be Britain’s toughest, also the prettiest.  Should be fun.  See you next year.

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