#feelthethunder

There are a surprising number of V marathons to chose from, and three years ago I picked Vilnius. As my overall timetable began to take shape, particularly last year, I changed my mind. The sensible option would have been Vienna as it would still have left time for me do fit in one I really wanted to do, The White Nights in St Petersburg. But it would have been a too close to the NDW50 and I also really wanted to complete the continents by running an African marathon; luckily Victoria Falls fitted perfectly (but not The White Nights which was the week before) and it gave me plenty of time to run W without having to do one in my home country.
The 11 hour flight to Johanasburg followed by a shorter one back up into Zimbabwe had the advantage of only a one hour time difference so no jet lag. But the flight was overnight and I do not sleep well, or even at all, on planes and I had 2 nights to catch up before the 6.45 am race start.
Registration, it wasn’t an expo, did throw up the most unusual race  rule I have come across.

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Well we didn’t see any, but the large deposits on the trail at various places were evidence of the elephants; but there were armed around the course, just in case! We did see baboons a few times, and some of the runners were not alert enough to their habits and lost bottles that they were carrying in their hands.

Bridge babons

Baboons on the bridge

Of the two problems I had been suffering with over the previsions weeks, the hip was the one I was most concerned about. Self/Google diagnosed as bursitis it was giving a very sharp pain when first getting out of bed, and different degrees of discomfort during the day; I hadn’t run at all since it surfaced. An ankle problem appeared a week or so earlier, a dull ache inside the heel that occasionally became a very sharp pain during running. The hip was as bad as it had been when I got up for the race, but magically disappear when I sat down for the essential pre-race ablution; and it did not appear at all during the race. But the heel pain was noticeable on the walk down to the 6.45 start, just a short distance from my hotel, and it ended up being the factor that determined my conservative pace right from the starting horn.
The beginning was comical, the inflatable arch collapsed just as the race was starting and we ended up clambering over it wondering if our chips were being registered! The start time might seem bizarre, why not 6.30 or 7.00, but it was clearly chosen to give a view of the spectacular sunrise over the Falls as we ran over the bridge that joins Zimbabwe and Zambia over the Zambezi; I have never seen so many people stop in a marathon to take photos.

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After our detour  over the bridge it was into The Zambezi Nature Sanctuary for most of the two laps. Although the surface we ran over was vehicle accessible, it wasn’t really made for family saloons, uneven, dusty and not made up in the most part. I was the first race that I have done where, apart for the brief time we were in the vicinity of the Victoria Falls township I had no idea where I was with regard to the start/finish. Apart from other runners the only signs of human habitation was the odd lodge. There were aid stations every 4k and every one had Coke as well as water. There was also a half marathon, which started 30 minutes later, which covered most of the first lap.
The course was mostly flat, the few undulations towards the middle section of each lap (but nothing that could be called a hill) which shouldn’t have been of any concern. Even when the sun was up it wasn’t too hot as there was plenty of shade over most of the course. As usual I started off running on my own, occasionally chatting to other runners. Around the half way point I teamed up with Geoff Thomas who had nipped over the boarder from Zambia for the race. It was Geoff’s first marathon for many years and he hadn’t trained much over half marathon distance so endwe worked to keep each other going particularly over the last 10k; Geoff kept me inside my Athens time while I helped him to not walk at all over the last 5k as he suggested he would not be able to start running again if he did.
We entered the last stretch together, for one of those annoyingly long trips around a field after you have passed close to the finish line; Geoff was meet by his family and his three young children ran over the line with him.
The race bib was different to most others in that it had a box for age to be filled in. This lead to me being spoken to quite a number of times by and I was actually interviewed by a US YouTube sports channel who were very interested in my alphabetic quest; haven’t seen if it has appeared yet.
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#feelthethunder is used by the organisers, and when you are standing next to the Falls you can understand the reason for it; even though my hotel was more than 2k from the Falls, at night when there was no other noise, a constant low level rumble is very clear.
This marathon is not one of those were the organisers are frightened to make sure the race is recognised after the event, the race top really advertises it well.dsc_1925

I am so glad I decided to include this in the 26, I don’t expect to do another where a majority of the course will be through a setting where you can loose yourself and reflect on being lucky to be able to run over the ground not too far from where Mitochondrial Eve would have walked.

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Another Impossible Weekend – The NDW50

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Most runners, even those that have run a few marathons, are unlikely to have heard of Centurion Events. My first encounter was when I crewed for my daughter Cat at the SDW50 in 2014; at that stage I had run my first 3 marathons where I naturally found the last 10k difficult and confidently stated, “never” (which my close friend Dan always reminds me about). The same year I watched all of NDW100 runners pass through the Caterham aid station, just 2 miles from my home, and in 2015 I crewed for my daughter as she successfully ran the same race which further enhanced my resolve never to run a Centurion Event. Less than a week after that I was annoyed to only be able to get on to the waitlist for the 2016 NDW50. Nici quickly assured me that I was very near the top of the list so my chances of getting in were very good.

I did realise that I had chosen the most demanding of the 50s, but living so close to the NDW I had started to become familiar with the section from Box Hill and decided that I would prefer to tackle a route where I knew exactly what to expect, and of course there would be the option to drop at Caterham and walk home!

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Looking apprehensive at registration, photo by Susie Chan

Wind forward 8 months and just under 12 hours before the start I was in Farnham with Susie Chan and Shaun Marsden, having cheekily invited myself to spend the night at there place. Although Susie had decided not to race she drove Shaun and me the mile or so to St Polycarp’s where I immediately felt like an impostor to even be in the same room as so many amazing runners, never mind having the nerve to run with them. Although I am comfortable running 4 hour marathons, I have only run greater than that distance a couple of times; The Winter Tanners 30 miles being the furthest, 16 months ago. My three marathons in 5 weeks in February/March disrupted the training I had been doing in the Winter over the Downs, and when I resumed for 3 consecutive up-to-marathon-distance runs over the first half of the course my legs were telling me they needed some recovery time, so I listened to them and did very little running during the 3 weeks prior to this race.

Unsurprising, my number one aim was just to finish inside the 13 hour cut-off. To this end I was tempted to run with Ian Lang, who I had never met but we connected on Facebook because of our other common passion, Leicester City. Ian seems to be an expert on pacing his Centurion Events so that he stays just ahead of the cut-off at each aid station, and finishes with minutes to spare. This had tempted me, but as I was unsure how the last 5 miles would go I wanted to have more than 15 minutes to spare, so I decided to just run at a pace that felt comfortable.

My concern in the week before the run was trail or road shoes (my 67 year old knees thank me for the extra cushioning provided by road shoes). I ran the first half of the course 3 weeks ago in road shoes after there had been weeks of dry weather and the non-road sections were as hard as any road so I then decided that is what I would use. However, the heavy rain during the week before put doubts into my mind. Knowing the 2nd half of the course well I understood how slippery the mud and chalk could be, and that the fields could easily be very sticky. The dilemma really got to me and I had a terrible night’s sleep on Thursday, but on Friday morning immediately decided to go with the road shoes and give the trail ones to my crew and change at the top of Box Hill if the conditions before there made me think they would be necessary. They weren’t and I comfortably ran the whole course in my Asics.

Nutrition/hydration also concerned me. I really suffered during a couple of my long runs when it was difficult to carry enough fluids. On one I had planned, and desperately needed, a large cup of coffee at the Reigate aid station site, but the café had closed just minutes before I arrived. There was no way I would have completed the run to Caterham if a friendly couple hadn’t given me most of one of their very large cups. I regularly swapped empty water bottles for full ones with my crew; my son and daughter, Ed and Cat, who were doing it the hard way on bikes. Whilst Ed had a serious ‘dentist’s bike’, so would disappear off at the crew stations rather than just waiting for me for some extra mileage, Cat was on a single speed bike and I really do think she had to work harder to get up the hills than I did.

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Them Simpson support crew, selfied by Cat.

Being gluten intolerant (not just a lifestyle choice), I couldn’t accept the gift from the famed bacon barge and solid food wasn’t just a matter of grabbing a sandwich or wrap at each aid station. I made up five gluten free fruit-bread and strawberry jam sandwiches, cut each into quarters and stacked vertically, wrapped each slice separately so they fitted into the front packet of my pack. I ate one quarter each 4k and picked up a new slice at each crew stop. It seemed to work fine, but I never want to see another one of those sandwiches for a long time. I downed coke at each aid station and although I was carrying a plastic bag with crushed crisps did eat more at the aid stations. The requested cup of coffee was waiting for me at Reigate; I don’t usually drink coffee but am convinced there is nothing works better for me, and I even had sugar added, which I NEVER have in hot drinks.

Even with my limited experience of ultras I was well aware that hills are meant to be walked, however I wasn’t sure what comprised a hill and whether, at the beginning the rule was strictly adhered to. I knew there was a nasty incline on the road near the start and some uphill trail sections before Puttenham. I needed not have worried though; the sight of everyone walking as both of these sections came into view brought a smile to my face. (I suspect the leaders would have breezed up them and without walking.)

Early on

Early on photo by Cat

I am in awe of people who seem to have a photographic memory of a race, being able to remember every twist and turn and minor detail. Actually because of the spectacular nature of the course I probably remembered more of this race than most others I have run. I dislike the section from Newland’s Corner to Ranmore Common; it seems to go on forever and there is almost no variation in scenery. Also, during training runs I had convinced myself it actually had a slightly uphill gradient; of course it hasn’t and although I still dislike the section I found it easy to run. I had calculated my estimated times at the aid and crew stations, but something had gone radically wrong between 7 and 21 miles and I was way inside my estimates so my crew hadn’t arrived at Shalford or Newland’s, but they did make an unexpected  and very welcomed visit to St Martha’s. After that I was within a couple of minutes at every place, except the end; it wasn’t down to targeted pacing, as I said earlier I was just running what felt comfortable.

The stepping stones before Box Hill terrified me. Every other time I have been here they have been flooded so I had to take the bridge. I decided I wanted a photo and stupidly had my phone in my hand as I crossed. I’m sure we have all been in the situation of being aware that if we dropped the phone it was gone forever; this caused me to make sure I had both feet firmly on a stone before moving onto the next one, no skipping. Sorry to the runner behind in the red top, I must have held you up.

None of the hills came as a surprise, but immediately I took my first few steps up at Box Hill the inside top of my right thigh cramped. It was here I met Steve Navesey who straightway gave me an s-cap. This, and keeping my leg straight for a minute or so, quickly overcame the problem but it did reoccur a few more times whenever I needed to lift the leg higher than it had been doing.

Top of Box Hill

Reaching the top of Box Hill

As I walked up Botley Hill (which actually is the highest point on the North Downs) I was greeted by Myles, a runner from my local parkrun, who had actually been following me on the live results, calculated when he expected me to be there and came along to lend his support. Seeing him was totally unexpected, and having him to chat to as I plodded up to the aid station was a great distraction. Thank you, Myles, I was genuinely touched to see you there.

I knew that the section immediately following was incredibly gnarly, and with tired legs extreme care was needed, yet a few 100m along the track I tripped. In that second or so between realising I was going to fall and hitting the ground the possible consequences flashed before my eyes, previous falls here had curtailed my running for a few weeks and it was easy to imagine an injury that would mean a DNF. Fortunately my head took enough of the impact to mean my arms and legs were ok, and of course the steps that soon followed caused the thigh cramps again.

With about 4 miles to go I was joined by the extremely experienced Tracey Watson, who had completed the TP100 just two weeks earlier and was in for the double grand slam. She turned out to be just the person I needed over the final section. Most of it is eminently runnable yet it would have been too easy to just accept that I was going to finish and walk a lot. She bullied and cursed me, demanding that I “get a jiggle on”. We passed through a herd of cows together; they seem to have positioned themselves to be as imposing as possible, although they had the whole field to choose from they occupied about 1% of it, directly on the trail. We walked through them, refusing to make eye contact and leaving a good space between us and the one or two that had turned towards us. We walked through them, refusing to make eye contact and leaving a good space between us and the one or two that had turned towards us.

The adrenaline must have kicked in as we entered the last field and I was certain I would get inside my 12 hour ‘impossible’ time, even before we spotted the finishing line in the distance, and we continued to run away from it; the legs were on automatic and were not complaining in the slightest. That changed with a vengeance after I had sat down in the village hall, and again the idea of 100 became NEVER. Thank you for keeping me going to the end, Tracy.

It was great to see my whole family waiting at the finish, and of course the one that has knowledge of running this actual route was the most pleased.

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Celebration photo by Stuart March

The impossible weekend continued the next day when I could drive over 100 miles north so that on Monday the impossibilities of the previous few weekends could be celebrated in Leicester when I was again on my feet for over 11 hours to witness the team I had watched for almost 60 years make an impossible dream come true for more than a quarter of a million people.

Celebration

A different celebration, photo by Andrew

Thanks to all volunteers, I may not have said much as I passed through your aid station, but your encouragement and enthusiasm did keep me going. Centurion Event are awesome, and I do expect to be back running with you in the near future

A stress fracture is a lucky break for the Utrecht Marathon

DSC_1559How many places can you think of that start with the letter U and have a marathon; you’re right there aren’t many. Whenever people hear for the first time of my project they always ask where the Z marathon will be, never where U is going to be. The reason I had to cram in 3 marathons in 29 days was so I could run The Utrecht Science Park Marathon. These three European marathons contrast greatly with my first three last year, where I ran on 3 continents at venues where either I didn’t really want to go, or was told by the government to not to travel to, or by friends that I shouldn’t visit!

The race started unusually late at 12.15pm, there were 5k and 10k races before and the half DSC_1567marathon started at the same time. The location at the Science Park was more than 5k from the centre of Utrecht and the same distance from my accommodation. Although I walked to the ‘expo’ (really just a place to collect bibs and T shirts) the day before I wasn’t keen to repeat that on race day. A free bus was provided from the centre (although when I asked at the expo they didn’t know about it) so I hopped onto a local one to the centre. I then arrived much too early, and the heavy cloud cover plus cold northerly meant that it was sensible to hang around inside until the last minute before walking 1k to the start.
Like quite a few others I wasn’t too impressed with so many runners being in the same starting pen and the lack of visibility of the pacers. It wasn’t until I had been running for quite some time that I caught up with the 4:30 then 4:15 and finally 4:00 pacers (the latter after 7/8k); no balloons just the time written on the back of the 2 runners leading each target time.
When I was running with the 4 hour pacers, a group of a 20 or so including half marathoners, I tucked myself behind them so as to get a shield from the wind when it was in our face. The problem with this was one of the group was clearly using his own form of wind power, farting regularly and producing an atmosphere that he dragged along with him for too far! I don’t know if this affected my eyesight, or I was just concentrating to stop myself clipping any heels but after 10k I didn’t see any distance markers until we had finished the first lap and the half marathon runners peeled off. I am convinced there weren’t any, but they miraculously appeared on the second time round. The psychological effect was surprising, even though I was obviously running slower from 30k to 40k the time seemed to go by more quickly than from 10k to 20k.

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Being overtaken by Victoria Tetlow at 40k

I was more than pleased to finish in 4:09:46, if you had offered me a total under 12:20 for three marathons in 29 days I’d have laughed at the likelihood. Right from the start of this run my legs clearly were not happy with the thought of the 42.2k ahead, thighs particularly felt tight.

dl_rt20x30-512-UMAE8276-C1XYA real bonus, and something I haven’t encountered in any of the previous marathons, were free downloads of  the official photos from Marathon-Photos; OK they are not high-res but at least I have some I can included (my daughter Cat took a break from her ultras and ran The North London Half Marathon on the same day, but the same company did not offer free downloads for that race).

Before I had actually hit upon the idea of alphabetic marathons in different countries my first ever marathon was booked, coincidentally starting with A and it happened to be in The Netherlands. However a stress fracture less than 2 months before the race meant I couldn’t run it but I had by this time decided on the project, booked up my B race and started to plan others. If I had run in Amsterdam I couldn’t have run in Utrecht and I thought I could run The Ulaanbaatar Marathon; but it is now being called The Mongolian International Marathon. I also contacted some running organisations in towns/cities whose name started with U to ask if they would organise a marathon, none would. So the stress fracture I suffered in the summer of 2013 was, with hindsight, a very luck break.

I now have more than three months before number 22, and the plan is to visit a 6th continent. But I do hope to run, probably with a lot of walking, the NDW50 before then.

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The medal is small but not monochrome!

The Treviso Marathon neither starts, finishes nor goes into Treviso!

Just over a week after returning from Seville we were back at Gatwick for our flight to Marco Polo, Venice.

Treviso MarathonI had, of course, booked an apartment in Treviso, where else for the Treviso Marathon? It was the 13th running of the event and in previous years it had started in, or north of, Conegliano (itself 25k north of Treviso) and finished in Treviso. They changed the course this year. It started and finished in Conegliano (the expo was also there) and didn’t come within 30k of Treviso! Thankfully the name stays the same so fits in with my ‘rules’ the alphabetic being the name of the marathon, ignoring sponsors names.

There was no special transportation for the race, but there was a good quick and cheap train service which made it easy to get there for the 9.45 start. The forecast suggested almost ideal marathon conditions, cool with not too much sun or wind. Various items were used for protection before the start, the bin liner that had travelled to five continents with me was finally used and I saw a first, forensic suits.
Even though I started in just my normal top and shorts, many were wearing base layers, jackets, buffs and gloves.

I had a moment of panic as I walked up towards the start. Even with my non-existent Italian I could understand a countdown, but the relay started at the same time as the main marathon and the half at 10.10, could I really have the start time wrong? Of course not, it was the wheelchair and bicycle race starts.
The marathon web site, T shirt and bib state ‘corri nelle terre del prosecco’ which translates as ‘run in the lands of Prosecco wine’ and we certainly did that. In the first 10k we twisted our way through vineyards, more than once I was offered a glass by locals supporting outside their houses and the goodie bag did contain a 375 ml bottle of the sparkly stuff.DSC_1558

I ran most of the way with the 4 hour pacers, it clearly wasn’t fast enough for one of them to sweat out his pre-race liquid as a number of times during the race he quickly ran off in front of the group then veered off the road to relieve himself!
I was confused during the first 8k when on occasions we passed ‘walkers’ that were part of the race and they seemed to be in similar or even identical kit. After the 4th time I was convinced it was the same person each time, but did not know how he had got back in front of us; clearly I had not been observant enough because I did then see him come running past us a little later and he continued with his successful walk/run strategy for at least the first half of the race as we continual swapped places but after that we seemed to stay in front.
We were given a sponge in the goodie bag, and in some races these are very welcomed, but I was correct in thinking that I did not need to take it with me. Quite a lot of runners did have theirs, I saw them being used at all seven of the water baths provided. The ‘refreshment’ stations were every 5k, with water plus energy drinks in the second half; at two of the later stations cups were handed out that contained neither, strangely it was something warm. I have no idea what it was, a had a mouthful but spat if out at the first and just handed it back at the second. Maybe it was the peach tea that we were given in the goodie bag. I wonder if any using the spongers to cool down then used the drinks to warm up.
It was another easy course; Strava shows it having an elevation of just 86m, making it flatter than Seville. The only noticeable rise came after we ran through a tunnel under a road just after 38k, and the descent came in the final 0.5k running over cobbles in Conegiano. As we ran after the 30k mark the paradox of the area became clear, because when the view to the north was unimpeded the snow covered Dolomites rose out of the plain not a marathon distance from us. I did find the whole run as comfortable as Seville two weeks previous, and ended up more than 2 minutes quicker with 4:03:57 and 3rd in my age category.

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The athletes village afterwards had free beer, which didn’t run out and it seems you could keep going back for more. There was also a warm soup provided, and the servers understood the 2 Italian words I had specially learned “Senza gluten” and immediately went to a different casserole to produce something suitable for me.

So just another 2 week recovery before my U marathon, there aren’t too many beginning with letter 21 of the alphabet. Actually I am lucky I was injured before I was due to run my very first marathon as the change to Athens has left this country free.

 

Snaking around Sevilla

Although I have run a number of marathons in big cities, I have run very few ‘Big City Marathons’. My understanding of this phrase is a race with many thousands of runners, all doing the one distance (so not cluttered with half marathon, relay or 10k) confined to the city region so there can be good support all around the course.

My routeSeville ticked all of these boxes. 13,000 were registered for the race and nearly 11,000 finished (809 recorded their run on Strava). The course was well contained within the city, so much so that there are more than 40 turns of at least 90º. Spectator support was great during the whole run and very enthusiastic in the city centre areas.

It started outside and finished inside Estadio Olímpico (The Olympic Stadium) which was opened in 1999 to support Seville’s unsuccessful bids for the 2004 and 2008 Games, but it did host the 7th Athletics World Championships in 1999, the Davis Cup final in 2004 and the 2003 UEFA Cup Final, where 80,000 Celtic fans behaved impeccably and famously drank the city dry.

I had a 30 minute walk to the start, the stadium actually isn’t very obvious but of course DSC_1517
there were huge numbers making their way across La Barqueta Bridge over Rio Guadalquivir, which we crossed again just over 2k from the end of the race. The start was at 9.00am and it was distinctly chilly as we waited. Despite the large numbers of runners the portaloo queues were negligible and even just 10 minutes before the start I had no problems slotting into my starting pen.

The sun was out for the whole race, but even as it climbed higher in the sky there was plenty of shade from tall buildings. Water and electrolyte stations, on both sides of the road but offset, were every 2.5k so no excuse for anyone to become dehydrated. The organisers state that the marathon is the flattest marathon course in Europe.  My Strava record shows an elevation of 142m, just less than Podgorica with 146m; the Nova Sad Night Marathon was of course less, at 66m, but that was just trotting backward and forward along the Danube 6 times.

Under different circumstances I would have tried to make best use of the course to go for a PB; however with an upcoming schedule of my next 2 marathons in 28 days after this one I had to look at the bigger picture and ensure that I would be ok to complete these. So anything around 4;15 would be acceptable, even though I was starting in the sub 4 hour pen. I had forgotten one of the positives of big city marathons, that is even when taking it easy there are many locals running their first (and often last) marathon so it wasn’t unusual to be going past other runners, particularly during the last 10k, and let’s admit it, we all feel good when we pass others (particularly when they are much younger!)

DSC_1500I hadn’t done much research on the city, so didn’t know much about what there was to see. The stunning, Plaza de España, appeared out of nowhere at just after 35k. It was almost worth stopping to admire, but I resisted and came back the next day; I wasn’t the only one, many runners DSC_1530wearing the blue jacket that was provided, rather than a usual running top, were also revisiting.

The next 5k, until we crossed the Rio Guadalquivir, went past key tourist sites such as the cathedral, with the Giraldillo Statue which features on the medal, and The Metropol Parasol. These street were heavily lines with locals and tourists alike who provided noisy, much appreciated support. My wife who I hadn’t expected to see for a third time after 7k and 16k, was also present just before the bridge.

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The whole race went as I had planned and I crossed the line, after half a circuit of the tired looking running track inside the stadium, in 4:06:08. The exit from the stadium, past tables of oranges, crisps and various liquids was easy enough, but after collecting my bag I had no idea how to get back into the city centre. I actually walked around the outside of the stadium twice before I decided to head towards the car park and ask the security. My Spanish is non-existent and so was his English but I knew I had to go past ‘Isla Magica’; he understood these words and his hand gestures sent me in the correct direction. Strava had managed to restart itself so when I reached the apartment is showed more than 6 hours and 48k since the race start!

Bonuses of running overseas marathon are turning a run into a holiday (there were many DSC_1514
Brits around, in their blue tops, until at least midweek), food and different beer. We stumbled across an amazing Tapas bar, Eslava, just over 100m from our apartment. After many innovative dishes and great gluten free knowledge, it will be very difficult to visit anywhere at home for Tapas; and the beer was cheaper than the water!

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The Reggae Marathon, where it wasn’t just the jerk chicken that was hot in Negril

Prelude
This is total madness. Two weeks ago I ran The Queenstown Marathon, then three days later travelled back for 36 hours to London. Six days later, helped by jet lag, I was on a very early flight from London to Montego Bay. Although these two marathons had been in my plans for most of the year I find it difficult to justify at least this one, it is a total indulgence which maybe I could have forgone and replanned next year so that Zurich was still feasible  in April 2017.

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To the expo!

Main Event
3.15 am Up and down to the 24 hour Sportsman’s Bar, I was the only sportsman there but a few others having the first, or last drink of the day. Used their microwave to cook my gluten free porridge as the hotel does not have specific gluten free stuff.
4.00 am Humidty and mid 70s temperature hit when I go back to my room to pick up bag with post race chocolate milk.
4.20 am Free shuttle bus to start about 5k away, bus crowded with Canadian and American ‘runners’.
4.45 am Find a few Brits to chat to before the start, a couple Kevin Bonfield and Nicky Johnson from Paignton who planned to run it together and they did, right to the finish line.
5.15 am Start, at the very back still chatting but proper chip timing so no problem. Spectacular first few 100m as we pass between flaming torches.

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Flaming torches being set up before race.

5.18 am That wasn’t a good idea. With the 10k and half marathon starting at the same time and MANY of those participants (1932 of them finished) intent on walking EVERY step of their race moving forward was problematic.
5.31 am Cleared the walkers and settled into a steady, slow pace.
Many unknown times: Made sure I picked up Powerade and/or water at every 1 mile aid station.
More unknown times: Reggae sounds blasting out at many parts of the course, lost count how many times I heard ‘ No woman no cry’.
Many many more unknown times: The characteristic Jamaican odour was so obvious, now Canadians won’t have to travel down here to experience it!
5.42 First turn around point, 4.5k, Negril roundabout.
6.14 am Past start and turn off point for 10k race, number of runners on the road thins dramatically. Gets brighter as sun rises and we start on the second out and back leg.
Next hour: Starts to heat up as sun appears through and above trees. The ‘mist shower’ about a mile into this leg (and of course a mile before the half way point) but pouring water over head was already more effective. Go past my hotel, plenty of supporters outside but no one handing out free beer and they are probably all ‘all inclusive’. Passed a lady in a top with a long list of sponsors on the back, which I recognised as being the same as mine from Lima; she confirmed she had run it in 2014 (but was just doing the half here).
6.49 Second turn around point at northernmost part, 15.3k, seemed a lot further than the extra 1k from the start than the first turn around.
7.27 Back at the start where all of the half marathoners veer off to finish. First time I had an idea of the time, had no gps watch, either left at home or lost it. Phone running Strava in my pocket. Very hot (low 30s) and the first time in my two years of running marathons that I thought “Maybe just the half marathon would have been a good idea”.
Next hour: Down and back to Negril roundabout again, sun now beating down on us and almost no shade. At least I was more than maintaining my position, and although I expect my pace was dropping I wasn’t too uncomfortable.
8.29 Through the start line again and was greeted by Tita Bonita who offered me salt, which I gratefully accepted without a second thought. After my cramping problems two weeks earlier (and in Novi Sad in the summer when I ran on consecutive weekends) I had intended to bring salt tablets with me, but forgot.
9.22 The final turnaround and things had started to become difficult, but that was the same for everyone in sight. Walking became the norm, for people in both directions and we were all trying to make use of any small amount of shade occasional trees provided, even if this involved running on the ‘wrong’ side of the round of the road and on the outside of curves. This might explain the extra 0.6k Strava suggests I ran.
10.06 The finish line showing a time of 4:51:22 which I expected to be about three minutes slower than my chip time, as suggested when I stopped Strava. The chocolate milk in my drop bag had never been more welcomed.

finished

Postscript
I did manage to come in at 4:48:10 so preserved my aim of not running slower than my first marathon in Athens. It had been touch and go, and I’m sure if I had had my gps watch I would have been more aware of my times over the final 6k and walked less. If I had been told my time before the start I would have been very disappointed. But looking at the overall event results I am now not. I was in the top half of the finishers, 68 out of 158. The average time for the finishers was 5:06:24 so I was 18 minutes faster than that and I was second in my age category.

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So a year with some quite extraordinary marathons has come to and end, and I can put my feet up for a couple of months. Most unlikely, I hope to get back onto the NDW for some hard winter running in preparation for next year’s races start at the end of February, with the first three in a six week spell, but all in Europe.
I can’t actually confirm that the jerk chicken is hot in Negril, it couldn’t be guaranteed to be gluten free so I didn’t taste any of it.

PPS
Well I can now confirm ” the palate burning qualities of the jerk chicken” quote from the afore mentioned Kevin Bonfield.

PPPS
I am disappointed to report than 2 months after the race the organisers have not managed to produce photos of a majority of the marathon finishers, or provide a reason as to why this has happpened.

Trial by Trail – The Queenstown Marathon

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Police, Protesters, Tear Gas, Smoke Bombs for my Podgorica DNF

My first two marathons this year were in well recognised political hotspots where violence had been and is still being experienced, with official warmings about travel to the cities of Jerusalem and Kharkiv. Podgorica is not one of the better known European capital cities, Montenegro eventually becoming a totally independent country in 2006, following the breakup of Yugoslavia and its then association with Serbia. Milo Đukanović has been prime minister or president since 1991 and the weekend before the marathon the opposition organised demonstrations, which were eventually broken up, and demanded that he resign within 7 days. The next protests were planned for the day before the marathon. Thousands congregated noisily, in the square outside my apartment, and where the marathon was to start and finish, in the early evening before marching off the the parliament building and things became quiet; hours later I heard very loud explosions, saw smoke and flashes, and went to my balcony.

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Montenegro-Clashes-as-demonstAs soon as I opened the door my eyes and nose was stinging, clearly from the effects of tear gas. Fortunately all of the doors and windows were double glazed so I just retreated and watched from the windows. Police were clearly breaking up the demonstrations, and the nearby area was cleared over the next half an hour or so. The events then clearly moved on to other areas of the city, with bangs, flashes and smoke being observable in the skies for a number of hours.

I went to bed, earplugs blocking out all sounds, wondering what I would find in the square at 7.00am when my alarm was set for. I was greeted with clear blue skies, no signs on the night before in the square and the preparation for the marathon almost complete.

View from my balcony 

The expo on the Saturday wasn’t one, it was just a registration and t-shirt collection. But it was chaotic. It was supposed to start at 10.00, but when I arrived, after 13.00 there was a notice on the door telling us that it wouldn’t open until 14.00. I had met a local on the walk down who went in via a side door to investigate and returned telling us to come in this way. Whilst most people were waiting outside the main door we did successfully complete the registration. However, despite the fact that I insisted I had paid the €10 when I registered on-line, I was told this had not been an option so couldn’t have done! Not really being able to argue in the language and that fact that It was only €10 I did pay up, again. Everyone I subsequently spoke to said exactly the same thing had happened to them!

It’s difficult imagine staying closer to the start of a race, I could have been in my room when the gun fired and still not been last over the start line! I did wonder down with 10 minutes to go and met a couple of serial marathon offenders. I had made contact with Donald Bierer before travelling over, and bumped into him when registering, he was running his 78th marathon in his 28th country. He was with Peter Bennett who was on country 92 (or was it 93?). I was still chatting when the starting gun fired, without any preliminaries. In the total brain freeze that hits when something you’re not expecting happens, I started my gps watch ,then realised I was well behind the start so stopped it and started it 10 seconds later, I’m sure we are all pedantic like that!

As in my last marathon I started being totally unsure if I would complete it. The injury I suffered in late July had resurfaced, with avengeance; just over a week after Ostravsky. I had done a particularly hard. long. hilly training run (why I have asked myself constantly since!) and ended up with the whole of my chest hurting in places that hadn’t hurts before, and the muscles beneath the chest rigid. A very slow recovery followed, again with almost no running except for 2 gentle parkruns on the last two weekends. So I had again decided to do what was necessary to get round, and that involved pain killers, as a precaution, before the start.

It was a runner friendly course, in effect flat (my gps came up with a less than 50m change over 15k not even noticeable.

elevation

Elevation

Of course the first and final few k were through the city, including crossing the Millennium Bridge twice (does every city have a Millennium Bridge?) which amazingly must have been closed to traffic for almost the whole day. Then it was a big rather unexciting loop with a lot of long straight asphalt being plodded over.

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Course

My plan had been to repeat what had worked in Ostravka, steady running for as long as possible then revert to walk/run when it became necessary, around 30k I suspected. But that didn’t happen. At the start my legs didn’t feel as heavy as they were 7 weeks earlier and they didn’t object at 30k or 35k or 40k. Maybe I was just taking it even easier. The only walking was as I was using the water, supplied every 5k, to either drink or more often pour over my head, it was warm, bordering on hot, still 25 degrees C at 16.00 as the Sun was notable on the way dow, (sponges were also supplied almost every 2.5k between the water). But the pouring had to  be performed carefully because our bibs were only thin card which disintegrated too easily. They started to appear on the road after just a few k, fortunately timing chips were attached to our shoes.

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Disintegrating bib

I’m not sure what went wrong with the measurements made by my new, replacement gps watch. I showed 41.8k but I certainly did cover every inch of the 42.195k course. It was a DNF for me – Did Not Fail.

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Finished

Although not a time I would have felt satisfied with earlier in the year, the 4:16:12 gave me third place in my age category, with a reward of an extra medal and an envelope with a prize of €22.75 (€25 less 9%tax). The ‘awarding ceremony’ was as unusual as the expo. All winners we ushered, one at a time, into a room where passports were checked, we then had to sign that we had received the envelope with the cash.

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Finishing medal and prize medal

There wasn’t too much left inext day after a meal, a few ‘pints’ and a couple of enjoyable hours listening to heavy metal in The Montenegro Cafe/Pub.

So marathon number 16 has been done, in country number 16. Next up will involve the longest trip in my alphabetic quest to a different continent and one of the southerly marathons in the world, and the opportunity to parkrun in 2 different countries.

Obambulating in Ostrava

When I finished my previous marathon, at the end of June, I was sure that the 11 weeks before my next was too long and I needed to enter another long race in July/August. Well it turned out to be not quite long enough, so I’m glad I didn’t find anything else to run. During a training run in mid July, along the North Down Way I hit a tree root (why?) and gravity did the rest. I picked myself up, clearly nothing too serious, certainly nothing broken and I was able to complete another 20k. There was sufficient pain for me to have it checked over the next day, just bruising to side/back/ribs so 6 or max 8 weeks before it would be healed. Well wind forward to the day of the Ostrava (Ostravsky) Marathon and the suggested time was certainly optimistic, I knew this was going to be a difficult run.

The heavy shower at 0900 then sun with cloud for the rest of the day was exactly what the forecast suggested and ideal conditions. Thank goodness things had changed over the previous week, it was in the low 30s seven days earlier so the 1030 start would have meant it being very hot for most of the race. But a westerly wind was forecast to increase noticeably, with gusts up to 40mph, and this was also correct, strange how although very little of the course involved running to the west the wind did seem to be head-on for much of the second lap!,On my walk down to the start I met another senior runner, a Finn, Christer Kallio, who had had a similar rib problem earlier in the year which, if I understood him properly, he sustained in a robbery in his home when all of his running memorability was stolen; I’d never considered that happening, what a loss it would be.

This is the 2nd two lap marathon I have completed, the other was Bermuda. Whereas that was twice around the island, so a very straight-forward route, this one was convoluted, with different loops such that at no stage were we more than 5k from the start/finish and for a majority of the run we were within 3k. There were aid stations every 5k, a useful distance as it made it possible to just imagine you were running a parkrun from one to another. There was water and energy drink at all of them and fruit plus a juice (guava?) at some. The half and full marathon set off at the same time, so as we started on our second lap the field sudden thinned.

Ostrava Marathon

Ostrava 1The hub for the whole event was Trojhali which was behind the a major shopping centre. The buildings were formally part of a coking plant (Ostrava was formally a major iron and steel city), which have been transformed to produce a new venue for sport, entertainment and culture. The expo was in one of the buildings, the start and finish on the road next to them.

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Near the start

Apart from the approaches to the bridges we crossed the course was basically flat. Before my enforced rest over most of the Summer I had pictured this as a pb run, but on the starting line I knew that would have to wait for another country. My intention was to complete the 42.2k with minimum stress to ribs etc so when I went through half way fractional under 2 hours I was happy and decided to aim for 4:30 by walking/running when things started to ‘tighten’. This was at the 28k mark when I stated to walk one ‘distance’ then run five. My ‘distance’ was either between the adjacent bollards that were used in some places as course markers, or lampposts. This made the 2nd half a relatively comfortable jaunt and I finished a couple of minutes inside my target, despite a brain freeze moment where I took off in the diametrically opposite direction for a couple of hundred metres after crossing one of the bridges.

DSC_0859The whole of the right side of my chest was very uncomfortable after I had finished, so I didn’t hang around once I had picked up my bag. I did know that there were awards for my M60+ age category, but didn’t think I would need to hang around to see if I had managed to get into the top three, I wanted to get back, lie down and have a few beers to ease my considerable aches. Unfortunately I made the wrong decision as I had ended up second, indeed with anything like the run I would normally have had I would have been first. By the time I had seen the official results next day it was too late, I contacted the organisers but the bag of whatever goodies that had collected had been distributed amongst the excellent support team.

So marathon number 15 in country 15 was completed, one that I could have quite easily had to DNS, thus probably ending my whole project if it had happened a couple of weeks later. A salutary lesson for me to be much more careful when running trails, or indeed any run, as something as simple as a trip although producing an injury that ostensible isn’t serious can have a major detrimental effect on being able to run.

Novi Sad Me Happy

Before the start of a first marathon everyone is apprehensive. No matter how much preparation you have done, other races you have run or naturally optimistic outlook you have there is always that thought “Can I actually run/walk and complete 42.2k. Even Grant Schmidlechner who I met in Tromso last week after he had finished second felt this way before the start; but it was his first marathon.

With every subsequent marathon the nervousness might recede somewhat but it always there, 42.2k is a big distance! So 17 months after running my first marathon in Athens, and 12 subsequent ones, you would be forgiven for thinking number 14 would just be routine run without too many pre-race jitters. But that certainly was not the case. On Saturday evening I was ready to embark on a marathon that I wouldn’t have considered was possible for me to undertake at any time since Athens. It is one I had to do, the only sensible N marathon that fits into my project, but it is only one week since The Midnight Sun in Tromso. Two marathons just seven days apart and starting at times when most people of my age are finishing their hot chocolate as Casualty ends before retiring for a long night’s sleep. Or of course they might be down the pub.

So I had all day to try to put the concerns I had out of my mind. When I picked up my starters pack at the ‘expo’ I was greeting by name, I had been in contact with the race director and others previously and I was wearing my Midnight Sun race top.

Expo

The Expo

As I waited at the start, obviously surrounded mainly Serbs (maybe 95% of the runners), I certainly wasn’t aware of any other Brits, I had two aims. Obviously just finishing was the first imperative, but also after Athens I added an extra target to my 26-in-alphabetic-order-in-different-countries; not to run slower than in this first marathon. That aim was intact even after the fun of getting lost in Hageland and running extra kilometres.

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The race (I’m actually not sure most of us think of marathons as races, I think of them more as very long parkruns where we are really competing against ourselves) started on the University race track and then embarked on a course Traviss Willcox might have designed., six 7k dead flat loops besides the Danube. At the end of each loop we did return to the running track where the finishing line was situated with the time clearly visible for all to see, unless you chose to ignore it as I did.
I haven’t run a multi-lap marathon before and had thought it would be incredibly tedious going over the same ground time and time again. Actually I didn’t feel that to be the case. I found it very useful to identify key features that we went past (the start of the river path, the athletics track, the fitness park, the rowing club, the large derelict building, the bridge and the turn around point) then look and ‘aim’ for them in the distance.

Start

Just caught in the bottom left corner.

As at Tromso last week there was also a half marathon, with at ten times as many runners, but unlike last week we all started together. This did cause some congestion for the masses, which of course included me, particularly through a gate near the start. And it did mean we were all overtaken by much faster half and full marathon runners particularly during laps 2 and 3; I was unceremoniously barged out of the way once.

I had a revelation at 22k as I was about to take my first gel; I realised what had caused the toothache I suffered after last week’s run. The dentist had x-rayed and couldn’t see a problem (but he did find two other fillings to do), all he could suggest was that I might be grinding my teeth at night which would cause pressure on the bone and the pain. His suggested cause was wrong but the effect correct. The problem tooth was the one I used to grip the top of the gel before tearing it open. After this revelation it is surprising how difficult it was to learn and remember do that on the other side of the mouth.

I was comfortable enough for the first four and a bit laps but then it became more and more taxing. By the time I was back on the river path with 6k to go I dared to look at my watch to see if I was anywhere achieving the Athens time; I was pleasantly surprised to see 3:42. I could walk it if I wanted. But I kept (very) slowly trudging along, no one coming past me, and after the final turn around I knew everyone I could see on the opposite track was behind me so I started counting. Then, with 3k to go I did something stupid, I stopped for just a couple of seconds. Instantly my right calf and thigh cramped and my leg wouldn’t function.  All I could do force the leg straight,  increasing the pain considerably, and stretch it. I wasn’t moving forward for 5 minutes and it was another 5 minutes of hobbling before I was back to my pre brain-freeze pace. And you would think I’d have learnt the lesson, but oh no. As I approached the running track at the end, I passed the stage where the presentation to the winners was just occurring you might guess what I did. Einstein suggested that “insanity doing that same thing over and over again and expecting different results” so this was my moment of insanity. As I stopped to applaud the winners the same leg cramped again and I almost fell over.  Certainly the most embarrassing moment in my short running career. Fortunately my leg started working more quickly than before and I ran to the end, comfortably inside my Athens time, with 4:39:04. It might have been my second slowest marathon but I was one of the most satisfying.

Me finishing

Finishing

The reward was a bright yellow technical top with the race clearly identified on both sides and great double-sided medal, uniquely shaped (maybe the shape of the Novi Sad district) with the clock tower of the fort (where Exit is held, what a shame the two events didn’t happen on the same weekend) on one side and on the other the of emblem of Ark ‘Fruska Gora’, the running club that started the marathon 6 the years ago and an inscription telling us how long the Danube is (2860 km). For only €12, amazing value.

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All that remained was for me to thank the organisers, collect my bag and walk the 3k back to my apartment at nearly 3.00am on a warm Saturday evening. I managed a couple of days in Novi Sad then Belgrade before returning to the prospect of a strange ten weeks without a marathon after four in the previous eleven.