It all started 1246 days ago in a small town 2338 km away from this one. Very appropriately it was at Marathon in Greece. The conditions were almost identical, the sun was in a clear blue sky, very little breeze and ahead of me waited 42.195 km of ‘running’. The 2 courses were very different; the middle 20km of the first through arid, nondescript unoccupied regions, had a continuous positive gradient whereas Zurich was almost dead flat and much run beside Lake Zurich which helped to temper the heat. I studied the Athens course carefully and even saw a video of it at the expo, so knew what to expect but I had no idea about Zurich, I didn’t know it looped back through the start after 10k. I carried, and consumed, 5 or 6 gels and water bottles with electrolytes in Athens but just a few jelly babies and S-Caps in Zurich. (There were water stations situated 3.5k apart.)
One person ran both races ‘with me’, my son in law Jon. In a perverse coincidence, because of an injury I had hardly run for 9 weeks before Athens and Jon had hardly run for a similar time because of injury before Zurich. In between Athens and Zurich I had run 24 other marathons but Jon had run 113. In Athens coaches took the runners from the centre of the city, along the route we would be running a couple of hours later, to Marathon; in Zurich a shuttle bus took us a couple of km from where the expo had been held to the start line.
But this time I had plenty of other support. Daughter Cat, ultra superstar dropping down to marathon distance, son Ed running his first marathon on (almost) zero training, friend Dan and his daughter Beth also running their first marathons but they had trained. When Dan and I were celebrating my Athens run, with my project known, he said he would come to Zurich to run number 26; at that stage neither of us were either confident I would complete the project or if so when it would be; it certainly came around much quicker than we had suspected. Also Victoria who I met and ran with in Utrecht 12 months earlier, and again in Warsaw 6 months ago was there to run it. Support from my wife Marion and Ed’s GF Holly made up the party.
There is always a huge amount of nervous excitement before the start of any marathon, and that was exacerbated here because none of us could find the meeting point we had agreed on and it was eventually on our ways to the pens or actually in them that we managed to connect and wish each other “Good Luck”; the first timers didn’t know what to expect, Jon didn’t know if the injury would flare up and make him struggle to finish, Cat had a time she was secretly targeting and Victoria knows the last 5k hits everyone . I was probably the most relaxed of the lot, unless something totally unpredictably catastrophic occurred during the run I would finish and inside the time of the first in Athens, another side target I had set after that race. Actually Ed and I saw what could have been such an occurrence. A guy only a metre or so ahead, just to my right lost concentration for a second and ran directly into a bollard and the exact height to cause most discomfort. He did seem to carry on OK, but I do wonder if ‘bollard man’ as I will always remember him was fully intact and functioning in the days and weeks that followed.
Cat started at the front, Victoria, Ed and I with the 4 hour pacers, Dan and Beth just behind us and Jon went to the back. After a few k I said to Ed that the pacers were going too fast and that was confirmed when we went through the half way mark in 1:57 but we were with them. But at the end I was grateful for lack of precision.
Ed and I saw Cat when we were looping back to the start at about 8.5k and she was 2k ahead of us, comfortably in front of the 3:15 pacers. Marion and Holly were cheering us on the out and back section by the lake at 20k then again at 30k where I downed the coffee that was waiting. We saw Cat looking so strong when we had done 22k, she was 6k ahead of us and nearer the 3 hour pacer than the 3:15. I moved away from Ed at about 24k when he was a bit slower at the water station, although this had happened before he had always made an effort to catch up with me, but not this time. I didn’t see him again until we had both finished. I was around 27k when I saw Jon moving towards the 25k turn around, running much better than he had expected. Dan and Beth were about 3k behind him at that stage.
I had stayed with the 4 hour pacer until well after 30k, but even then they were not moving away from me too quickly. I usually look at my watch with about 5k today, when I can image a slow parkrun finish; it was clear to me that sub 4 was possible, and as I turned the corner into the finishing straight (Strava shows it at 46.6k) with 200m to go, one of the 4h pacers was waiting there encouragingly telling runners they were still inside that time.
Cat was cheering just before the finishing line, as pleased as I was that even without the chip timing I was clearly under 4 hours for the first time since Kharkiv. As I made my way round to join Cat we both missed Ed finishing in a stunning 4:02:42 “without training”. Jon came in just under 4:30 one of his slowest ever but with the acute tendonitis inactivity he was very happy and relieved.Dan and Beth were just over 4:50, both as delighted with their first marathon time as I was with mine in Athens, and actually not very different. Victoria finished a minute in front of Ed, not quite getting her first sub 4 but she was so thrilled with the (I think) PB. And as for Cat, she had been targeting a sub 3:10 and as she approached the finishing line her bottom lip quivered (it actually did, it has been caught on the photo) as the clock confirmed a 12 minute PB, well inside the target. Besides the 3:06:13 getting her a championship place in London next year, it was a second faster than Jon’s PB…
It took us much too long to get our first post race beer, some of the bars near the finish would make a fortune if their service was better, or even existed at all. But we made up for that in the evening. The most amusing part of the weekend came next day, watching Ed trying to move down the stairs to the train platform for our trip to the airport, and the look when I mischievously said we had to go up and over to a different one.
I know quite a few of you have followed me throughout this challenge; you may have even read the blog posts on every race. For your perseverance I genuinely thank you. In answer to what I have been asked many times, no, I do not have any idea what my next challenge will be, I cannot do the same in reverse because only China has the X marathon and also with all of the easy nearby countries covered it would take much too long to complete. All of the UK counties, US states, European countries etc have been done so…if you have any possible suggestions do let me know.
My charity page will be open until the end of May. Just think about it…nothing is more fundamental than mastering speech, language and communication to an individual’s development. Problems in any these areas will seriously affect everything that we try to do, and anything I might have achieved in my 26 marathon alphabetic challenge is nothing compared to the success Afasic has with youngsters who struggle in these areas. Anything that you can afford to donate via my fundraising page will help them to continue their invaluable work. http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/KeithSimpson26
Next up The Devil’s Challenge on April 29/30 May 1 and Skopje Marathon the next weekend
The race forms part of the Bermuda Marathon Weekend Challenge. The full challenge involved a mile race on Friday, 10k on Saturday and the marathon on Sunday; the half challenge substitutes a half marathon for the full. 81 runners registered for the full, and I was one of 50 for just the marathon. Nearly 1000 were to run the half marathon which started at the same time.
The expo was held in one of Hamilton’s top rated hotels, The Fairmont Hamilton Princess. It wasn’t really an expo, just 2 separate rooms where the bib then t-shirt were collected. Unusually we were issued with 2 bibs the instructions were for them to be attached to the front and back; but why?* Even more unusual was the front bib having 2 timing chips attached, no-one knew why.** The goodie bag stall for the marathon wasn’t manned, so I sorted out my own bag; not too difficult as there was only one with my size t-shirt!
The hotel chef started work at 6.00am and cooked the gluten free porridge I had brought with me. My OH had decided to come in for the start, getting up so early isn’t usually her thing, but the 4 hours time difference made it easy, we were both awake well before 6.00am. There wouldn’t be much for her to see, except the runners passing after the first circuit, then the finish. Most of the shops in Hamilton don’t open on Sunday, except those serving food. Being a bit of a foodie, the full Bermudian breakfast of salted codfish, boiled potatoes, banana, boiled egg and avocado (with a choice of sauce) was her obvious pick. It probably took as long to eat as it did me to run one circuit of the course.
We don’t usually take taxis but it was the only way to get to the start, the buses didn’t start running until 10.am, not because of any road closures, it’s just the way Bermuda works. There were 2 other runners staying in our hotel, one doing the full challenge, the other the half marathon. The start organisation was very relaxed, no pens, no particular starting order, just get yourself to where you are comfortable, but as the field was small this wasn’t a problem.
I have completed a number of half marathons where the full was run at the same time and involved going round the same course twice. In all of them I could not imagine being able to do the 2nd circuit. So as this was one of those, with 2 circuits of the island, I was very apprehensive before the start. And of course the number of runners decreased dramatically after the first lap such that there would be very few others to run with.
Over half of the course involved running with stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean, and the general consensus was that that course was hilly; undulating is a better description. I’m sure hardcore marathoners would say it is not a difficult course and during the 1st circuit I would certainly agree. Magically all of the gradients seemed to magnify 2nd time around, especially the major hill that occurs just before the 4/17 mile mark (McGall’s Hill?). And the course designer was cruel at the end of the circuit; as we were coming down into Front Street, with the finish line just coming into sight, there was a detour of 200m off at a right angle clearly needed to make up the distance. It would have been much kinder to have added this somewhere else in the course!
Weather conditions were much better than might have been expected. Those running the 10k on the previous day were almost drown! People I spoke to said they had found it difficult to get their trainers dry for the marathon. Locals said usually it is wet and windy for the whole weekend. It was sunny this year, with a moderate wind in our faces along the north shore
There were water and red Gatorade (ugh) stations every 2 miles, but no gels, fruit or sponges. Great support around the whole course for the first circuit, and in pockets during the 2nd circuit where Bermudians were clearly in party mood.
Checking times after finishing I was so pleased to have produced an almost 17 minutes pb (OK, from a low base in Athens), and my time for the first half was faster than my time in the Jerusalem half marathon 11 months previous.
Post scrip: 7 weeks after the race, the evening before I was due to fly out to my next marathon, I received an email from the organisers of the Bermuda Marathon informing me that they had a trophy to send to me for finishing 3rd in my age category! They arranged for it to get to me, so this is now sitting proudly with my medal. Thank you very much for taking the trouble to send it to me.
* The person that organised for me to get my trophy told me the back bib was so that runners of the half marathon could see, when behind a marathon runner, that it was not someone they were ‘competing’ against.
** The same person said the 2nd timing chip was a back-up, just in case the first one failed.
This year was not going to be just another when I went out running on my own on local roads. I was going to step up.
Before 2013 my races comprised of struggling around 2 half marathons, half of a 30 mile ultra, 4 park runs (I know I shouldn’t call them races, but…) and a beerathon. Now I am comfortable running half marathons such that I can do them on consecutive week ends, with a stress fracture in my foot; my 30 mile ultra race distance increased to what I was aiming for, 25 miles, on one of the hottest days of the years; parkruns have become an integral part of my life, including 3 on New Year’s Day and 7 on the Sunday closest to mid-summer’s day and the beerathon is still running, drinking eating and meeting mad people. And of course there was the big one.
The low hit in January, in the midst of Janathon and training for the Jerusalem half marathon. On holiday in Zanzibar I misjudged the last step on the stairs on the way down from dinner and ended up with a grade 2 quad strain. The suggested recovery time of 6 weeks took me to the day of the Jerusalem half. With race entered, flights and hotel booked you can imagine the trough I was in.
The upward climb did began, literally, on the hills in Jerusalem as I was able to compete and finish; it continued to a high in July with 10k and parkrun targets met a half marathon pb after running a parkrun earlier in the day and an exhilarating 5 mile Anniversary run finishing in the Olympic stadium.
Things unravelled at the end of August to be confirmed in September a couple of days after being the first home in the 60-64 age category at the Bacchus half. A metatarsal stress fracture with no hope of running for a least 6 weeks. That would be the day of my proposed 1st marathon, Amsterdam. The deep low really hit after another 2 weeks when there had been no significant improvement, even walking was incredibly painful and I had to accept that Amsterdam would not be possible. Because it was to be the start of significant project, not to be able to run it would mean the 2nd marathon which I had already booked, and subsequent ones planned would really be redundant. But…
The saviour came in the form of The Athens Classic Marathon with a date 3 weeks after Amsterdam. I was fit enough to run it, the project was back on the the high afterwards (and still now) was immense. And to keep the crest up there, even though the announcement came in January, it was for December, I received the Riddlesdown Sweatshop runner of the month award.
So the year has taught me that some setbacks do not necessarily mean that all is lost, but I was lucky that both of the injuries (which actually meant for 20% of the year I was unable to run) gave just enough recovery time; however for some time I will be nervous during the final few weeks before key races.
There were some other highs that I enjoyed. My son coming in 16th place in the Surrey 100 cycle ride in August, my daughter being first lady home in 3 day, 90 mile ultra-marathon The Toad Challenge and a number of other marathon podium finishes, and accompanying/supporting my son-in-law to quite a number of the 30 marathons (and an ultra-marathon) he ran during the year.
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.