At the end of last year I committed to run my first marathon before the end of 2013. In March I duly signed up to run Amsterdam on October 20. Training went well during Spring and into mid Summer with a number of half marathons completed and long runs, up to 40k. Then a bit of a calamity, with a metatarsal stress fracture rearing its ugly head to be made worse by my stubborness to keep on running without consulting a doctor. So 3 weeks after the first symptoms with 2 half marathons completed, the x-ray results confirmed the worst and running was ‘banned’ for 6 weeks from the last one, which took me to the day of Amsterdam.
I still harbored hopes of doing it, but after 2 weeks without the slightest hint of improvement I had to accept the inevitable. I felt incredibly down , but then discovered the Athens Marathon was still open for registration. Despite not even being sure I would be recovered enough for it, 3 weeks after Amsterdam, and the course being so different to that flat runner friendly one, I entered.
So even though I had only completed 2 Parkruns and a gentle 11k in the previous 9 weeks, at 9.00am I was on the start line, well in the white pen 100m behind it, with 12000 others. White was the last starting group, designated mainly for those, like me, withou any marathon pedigree.
I am assured that everyone is nervous, with good reason, before a marathon; even Jon, my son-in-law for whom this was to be marathon number 89 confessed to this. I did not sleep well for the 2 nights before but was remarkably composed while waiting the hooter. I think it was because there was a 8 hour cutoff and I reckoned that even if I had to walk most of it, barring catastrophic injury I would somehow finish.
I really did start almost at the back, reasoning that I therefore couldn’t get overtaken by many runners so wouldn’t get too disheartened. I started running at a pace that was certainly slower than in any race I had run before, but was still constantly passing people.
I was well stocked up with gels plus electrolytes in bottles, 1 I was carrying and 2 in a running belt.
I used every refreshment station and the sponges provided; it was hot, certainly in the mid 20s almost from the start.
As there had been a video of the course at the expo, and the coach journey to the start was along the route, I did have an idea what to expect. Actually I was pleasantly surprised. Most of the race reports I had read on line suggested the almost unrelenting upward gradient from about 15k to after 30k made it a very demanding run, it certainly didn”t do Pheidippides much good. I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I plodded along quite happily through to the start of the 10k descent into Athens and the Olympic stadium without really feeling that the gradient was a problem; maybe that is because I was running well within what I might have tried if I hadn’t had 9 weeks enforced rest.
I was disciplined enough not to look at my GPS watch until about 30k, and quickly realised that unless the wheels came off, which of course can easily happen in the last quarter of 42.2k, I might sneak under 5 hours, which was beyond my wildest dreams for the previous 9 weeks. I actually didn’t have to do any more I had been doing, just plod along. The closer I got to the end the more certain I became that not only would it be sub 5 hours but 4:50 was attainable.
I might be a bit of a softy, but on a couple of occasions over the last k, seeing a sign held by someone at the roadside “Pain is temporary achievement lasts for ever” and into tbe stadium with crowds of people you don”t know shouting the name on your bib and cheering you on, what I was about to achieve did get to me and I had to fight to hold back a few tears.
I crossed the line in 4:49:35, and am still in shock 24 hours later. There is a terrific thunderstorm going here in Athens where I am staying for a week before moving on to Cyprus for anothr week. Then to prepare for number two.
Don’t be put off by the suggestions that this is a very difficult course, I honestly do not think it is. You can do it as your first, and so get a pb! Bizarrely I am pleased I suffered the stress fracture because where could be more suitable, the start line at Marathon is THE place to start your first marathon.
I entered the Brussels half marathon 6 months ago, bought my Eurostar tickets and booked a room for the Saturday night. Before each of the last 2 half marathons I ran, 4 and 5 weeks ago, I had considered not starting because of my foot injury. Maybe I made the wrong decisions then, because I ran both of them.
But not this time. I did collect my bib with its chip, and it is still sealed in the envelope. I had paid for the technical T so I also collected it, but of course now have a dilemma. How can I justify wearing it?
I ended up watching my son in law run his 85th marathon, chasing him around Brussels on the metro and trams, eating mussels and drinking a few of the local beers. I actually walked for more time, and a greater distance, than I have in total over the past 4 weeks.
I am sure that if I hadn’t an even more important race coming up I would have forced myself round. But I do have to do a marathon before the year is out, and I am entered for 2. I think I may well be sensible again, and decide to do the 2nd, Athens (in 5 weeks) rather then Amsterdam in 2 weeks.
I did my last race, a half marathon, 3 weeks ago today.
I have the Amsterdam marathon in 3 weeks time.
I have not run, or walked more than essential small distances, in the last 3 weeks. It is likely that I won’t run, but hopefully I will be walking more extensively, over the next 3 weeks.
Hence, in effect, a 6 week taper.
The reason? Even before my last race I was suffering with a pain in my right foot. It had appeared 4 weeks previous to the race. It was intense immediately after runs, but gradually faded over the next 5/6 days.
I ran over the next 3 weekends, including 2 half marathons.
After the Bacchus the pain was much worse and did not go away.
I had it X-rayed and a stress fracture, from 4 weeks earlier was diagnosed.
“Six weeks since your last run before you can expect to run again” I was told by the doctor.
That would make it on the day of the Amsterdam marathon.
Earlier this week recovery was seemed to be almost non-existent, and I was very down.
Then I discovered another marathon, 3 weeks after Amsterdam that would fit my plan nicely, and was still open for registration.
Should I enter? It certainly would be at the opposite end of the difficulty spectrum from the flat Amsterdam course.
The maybe necessary extra 3 weeks recover won the day so the registration, flight and hotel were booked.
Of course sod’s law immediately came into play, and my foot seemed to start to recover much more quickly.
The question might now become, should I run Amsterdam if my foot is OK or should I just wait for Athens.
And if I do Amsterdam, should I then also go for Athens, even though it is bound to be even harder going after run one just 3 weeks earlier.
And if things seem OK this time next week am I going to be stupid and run the half marathon I have entered in Brussels?
It is going to be an interesting next 3/6 weeks.
On March 31st last year the National Lottery Olympic Park run took place. Although I had been ‘running’ for a number of years it didn’t even cross my mind to enter it. I had previously done one half marathon, in under 2 hours, and used to go out running 3 or 4 times a week but I didn’t have any real aims except to keep reasonably fit. Was I really a runner then?
Towards the end of last year my thoughtful daughter pointed me towards #stepup and I took the bait, pledging to run a marathon in my 65th year. I now had an aim for my ‘running’. At about the same time I discovered Parkruns and have been an almost ever present at my local one, Riddlesdown, ever since. I entered and ran half marathons in Jerusalem, Marseille, Orpington and have others on my calender. I ran a 10k a few weeks ago in a time I would not have considered possible last year (thanks to my encouraging daughter). And of course I have the Amsterdam marathon waiting for me in October.
Last weekend was the Anniversary 5 mile run in the Olympic Park. When entries were available I was eagerly on line and was successful. I was doing it on my own, there was no pressure but just the thought of running into and finishing on the track that so many inspiring athletes had done last summer was enough.
I could have taken it easy, strolled round and enjoyed the sights. But no, I wanted to run it. And I did. 1178 runners might have been in front of me, but 10,059 were behind me and I was 8th in my 60-64 age category. And Victoria Pendleton did only beat me by less than 2 miniutes
It was after on the way home, after a burger and a couple of pints ciders that I thought to myself; “now I am a runner”.
Last year I, together with daughter Cat and son-in-law Jon, ran half of the Croydon Ultra (i.e. 15 miles, 24k). The conditions were appalling, with torrential rain meaning we were running through streams along pavements. Certainly 15 miles were enough.
This year we all entered it again. Cat and Jon were going for the full 30 while I was aiming for more than 20 miles, using it as more preparation for my 1st marathon. I did not want to do 42.2k (or more) as I want to save that distance in an official run until the big day in October. The conditions could not have been more different from last year (well of course they could, we could have been running in knee deep snow). It was in the mid-20s C when we started out (early, at 8.30 just to try to miss some of the hottest part of the day) and climbed to at least 30°C during the 2nd half of the course.
The route was two 15 mile loops, starting in Lloyd Park and heading south through well shaded woodland tracks until the first watering point at The White Bear; with plenty of liquids, food , gels and food (never thought I’d be enjoying Nachos in the middle of a run). Then it was back on mainly footpaths to the start/finish. We did manage to miss a couple of turnings (although a lot of the course was marked with arrows on the ground, at one key point it wasn’t…which meant we ended up doing 28k instead of 24k for the first half of the course.
The 2nd half took us up north towards Catford mostly on well signed pavements or cycle tracks. Cat and Jon had quite rightly left me behind, and I decided how far I wanted to go before turning back. My calculations were amazingly precise, and when I ran over the ‘finishing line I kept going for a further 5m until my GPS Kalenji clicked over to 40.00k; that did provide some amusement for the few spectators. So, under conditions that I hope not to experience in Amsterdam, I have achieved a distance which I know will allow me to complete 42.2k, unless anything untoward happens. Have I also proved that footwear isn’t as important as we think it is. For this run I wore an old pair, that I almost discarded 6 months ago and now use just for Parkruns. They have been through the washing machine twice and have real signs of wear. They served me perfectly well on this run, and I also used them for 7 Parkuns, 35k, on the South London longest parkrun 2 weeks earlier.
Cat and Jon arrived soon after, both having successfully completed their first Ultra actually running nearer 33 miles rather than the 30 expected, an amazing achievement for both of them under such extreme conditions.
And we were in time to shower and watch the other amazing achievement of the day with Andy Murray’s win all of the more coincidental as earlier in the year Cat and Jon meet him at Wimbledon the day after the lost in the Australian Open final.
I entered this just 4 days before the event, after the euphoria of watching marathon machine man, my son-in-law (henceforth refereed to as MMM) complete 3 marathons in 3 days, each one faster than the previous, and my daughter getting a podium finish in the Richmond Marathon and then running a PB in a 10k next day. The least I could do was accompany MMM to another marathon and do a half myself. It also would serve as useful training for myself, particularly to see how well I had recovered from 3 long runs over the previous 2 weeks.
The unusual timing, starting at 1.00pm on Saturday afternoon was very useful as it allowed me to participate in my normal Riddlesdown Parkrun before getting a lift in a car then taking a tram and 2 buses to the start. No attempted at a 4th PB in 4 weeks for the Parkrun, just a gentle plod around to add another towards my target of 50 before my next birthday, as in my New Year Resolutions. Despite the as-the-crow-flies distance from Riddlesdown to St Mary Cray, where the Orpington Half and Full Marafuns start and finish, of about 18km I didn’t arrive until after midday, just a few minutes before MMM passed the start/finish line at the beginning of his 2nd lap.
The cool, cloudy and not too windy-for-most-of-the-race conditions made it ideal for running. However we did have a very heavy downpour, lasting about 5 minutes, at around the 16k mark. It didn’t cause major running problems, but did cause me real seeing difficulties. It washed all of the salt that had accumulated on my forehead and presumably my scalp, into my eyes and that stung so much I couldn’t open them properly. Strange I have no problems when swimming in the sea, it must be so much more concentrated this way. The organisers described the course as “naturally undulating with a couple of challenging hills”. I must say I didn’t find it particularly undulating, but the 2 hills were challenging. I did know the one right at the end, I walked up it to the start of the race (and if you do this next year, it is a good idea to look at it before the start). But the other, at the 8 mile mark, was a real surprise. It was a trail off the London Road and up to over the railway near Knockholt station then through Chelsfield lakes golf course. Others around me also walked up part of it and even MMM said he had walked it on his second circuit.
I didn’t look at my GPS until well over halfway through the race when I was pleased to see I was spot on the pace I am aiming for over the next 5 months as I prepare for the Amsterdam marathon. I showed 11.2 km/h as I reached the final hill so a PB was on the cards. That hill did slow me, but the PB was achieved by almost 30s with a time of 1:53:36, very satisfying after the earlier Parkrun and the 2 hills, neither of which I had to contend with when I set my previous time in the Marseille half. When I loaded my run from my Kalenji I was surprised to find the average speed for my Parkrun and the half were exactly the same, 11.1 km/h, at last I seem to be able to run from the start at a ‘sensible’ and consistent pace.
It is a well organised and very well signed course. There were marshals at the really major crossings, and plenty of water points; at one a marshal even ran across a corner to take my cup from me to prevent me littering when I had finished with it! It is cheap, actually free to enter; voluntary donations in respect of entry fees go to Footsteps International which cares for street children and orphans in Kenya. And you still get a medal!
Even though it is a small local run, there were some very seasoned runners taking part, in both the half and the full marathon. I saw 3 runners in 100 Marathon Club running tops, signifying they were members of that elite group who have run more than 100 marathons. One I spoke to on the way round, Danny Kay, has run more than 460.
So I will say to anyone looking for a run, where your money goes to a great cause, there are lots of friendly people and starting at a time where you can have a lie in or even do your Parkrun first, DO IT. I will certainly be returning.
I decided to enter this less than 3 weeks before the event, after I had returned from doing the Jerusalem Half. And I was doing it for a similar reason, to accompany Jon, my son-in-law, in his quest to join to 100 Club; this was to be his 68th marathon. As in Jerusalem, again it seemed ‘sensible’ that as I was going to be there I might as well run myself. An extra incentive was provided by the fact that I had missed the 2 hour mark in Jerusalem; I claim it was because of the extreme hilly nature of the course, so I wanted to
rectify prove that. I pictured a pleasant run on a warm early Spring morning over a flat course. The later was dispelled somewhat on the way over when Jon said the previous weekend, while he was in Rome completing the marathon, number 67, he had met a fellow runner from Marseille who described the course as somewhat undulating. The idea of a ‘warm early spring morning’ had also started to recede with the weather forecast suggesting the possibility of some showers. Oh how that was wrong, little did I know how some aspects of my Riddlesdown Parkruns over the past couple of months would be revisited.
Our hotel, up market compared to the prison-cell-type-accommodation-with-visions-of-trainspotting that we had in Jerusalem, was only a couple of minutes walk from the start. We were a little surprised when we made our way back to the hotel at about 9.00pm on Saturday that there were no signs of the start needed for 6000 runners. Even at 7.00am on Sunday morning, when I was out walking to loosen up, they were only just starting to put things together (for an 8.00am start). Some runners were starting to arrive, huddling in doorways, yes because it was raining. And it didn’t stop during the rest of our stay, just like a typical Saturday at Riddlesdown. Rather than using the bag drop we left the hotel wrapped in plastic and made out way to the start, arriving with 10 minutes to spare and slotting into our respective pens. Well there weren’t really any pens, just a matter of looking for pacers that might be approximately suitable. Both the Half and the Full marathon were starting at the same time from the same place, Jon of course way ahead of me in his positioning. I ended up nearer the 2.15 flag. I discarded my covering just before 8.00, but it seemed an age before we started, and then quite some time before I reached the start line…this was to be a point of contention later.
It was crowded, that didn’t matter too much initially, if I have learnt one thing from previous runs it was the importance of a sensible pace during at least the first quarter of the race. However it did prove a problem at about 4k, when it was combined with and one on my complaints, how narrow the course was in places. In one of the narrow section we suddenly slowed to a walk. No obvious reason, but there was a parallel flow in the opposite direction, so I wondered if there was a 180° turn just ahead. We were walking for 60-90s when the reason suddenly became obvious. There was a large puddle stretching across ¾ of the route and no-one was willing to go through it! Other Riddlesdown Parkrun participants would have been incredulous as I was. The surface was very poor in stretches during the first 6k, potholes had to be avoided
The rest of the run was pretty uneventful and I was running at a pace that allowed me to actually look at what I was running past; that could have been the beach where Popeye Doyle watched the volley ball, and was spotted by Chanier in French Connection II? Motorbikes came past us around the 14k mark, horns blaring and indicating for us to move over. Suddenly we were passed by 4 speedy black runners, the full marathon course had reconnected with us. Only they had done twice our distance and were still running at a pace I could only dream of. It was about here that I looked at the Kalanji GPS watch for the first time, great disciple to ignore it until then. But as I had passed the 2 hour pacer during the first 5k and I was running comfortably, if those in front weren’t getting away from me, and I wasn’t being overtaken except by the very occasional nutter, things were going OK. The undulations were having no more effect on me than anyone else, and I was even overtaking people on some of the rises. Anyway it confirmed what I felt, the sub 2 hour was going to happen, unless something untoward struck me. I even enjoyed the longest uphill just after 18k, knowing that the end was almost gentle down gradient. Along the waterfront toward the finish line was as relaxed and enjoyable finish as I have ever had (too much left in the tank!), even though the timer over the top said 1:57: ?? I knew the time I stopped my Kalanji at, 1:53:29, was almost spot on and a PB by over 4 minutes.
But then something unusual happened. Well after moving over the timing ‘cables’, the chips in our number were hand scanned; it is easy to imagine missing this if a bunch of tired people didn’t see it happening. It didn’t seem necessary, but maybe because it had been so wet, and the running number were only paper that many people ended up having to carry them as they had fallen off (and it was not unusual to see ones lying on the road), it was a sensible precaution.
There was a good selection of fruit, drinks etc in the village, but no thermal foil insulation wraps; so I made it straight back to the hotel for a shower, and returned to the finish to see Jon complete his 4th marathon in 5 weeks, in 3:18:39. 3 of his 4 have been under 3;20, the only one not to be was the ‘notorious’ Jerusalem. The shame about the rain in the afternoon was we didn’t feel like a do-it-yourself French Connection II tour; OK the bar where Popeye peels and eats a hard boiled egg, and after struggling to get the barman to understand what drink he wants ends up getting himself and the barman into a state to sing a version of ‘Madamemoiselle from Armentieres’, couldn’t be there, but it would have been interesting looking for it.
The snow and freezing temperatures that had us wondering if we would get to Marseille a day earlier caused us problems getting home on Sunday evening Our flight was an hour late (because of waiting to be de-iced before leaving Stansted) which meant it wasn’t possible to get the train and tube to Victoria. the coach arrived at 1.05am, meaning I had missed a train by 5 minutes. Victoria is locked at that time of night, so I had to walk around the block to keep warm until being let in at 1.45. I had to take a taxi for the final part of the journey, getting back at just after 3.00am, 3 hours later than expected.
But the whole event wasn’t yet over. When the results were published the next day, they were wrong. They were showing all times from ‘the gun’ with mine appearing as 1:58:07. Complaints flooded into the Official Marathon Facebook page, and initially the organisers denied/ignored the problems. 24 hours later they had done something and a REAL TIME is now shown, for me 1:54:05 and interesting my ‘gun time’ has become 1:58:43. The differences between my watch and the Real Time, and the 2 gun times that were shown are within a couple of seconds but I do not expect any more revisions will take place. At least I have a new official PB, just less than 4 minutes better than before…and I have a target of 1:50 for the next race, which I hope will be at the end of April or early May.
But of course all of this is now just training for my first full marathon, Amsterdam in October.