Monday, May 23, 2011

Edinburgh Marathon 2011

The thing that I both love and hate about the marathon is that despite all preparations undertaken and training miles done I just don't know how the race will go until I start running on the day.

This years Edinburgh marathon was a point in fact, as mentioned in my previous post, I followed a high risk training strategy that included 300 miles in 4 weeks, I also attended a wedding in Poland - plenty of beer and vodka - the weekend before the marathon and I topped that off with 3 day unable to keep any food or liquids in.

I arrived in Edinburgh with my friend Sean on Thursday evening after an uneventful and calm journey.

We hopped a bus on Friday morning to Holyrood Park to collect our race numbers, feeling better I scoffed a dirty big burger (carb loading !) for second breakfast while there. The rest of Friday and Saturday were spent relaxing and trying to get plenty of food and water in.

Although out of bed early on race day I had very little to do, pinning on numbers, sorting gear etc, were all done the night before. A light breakfast and a final check on the weather forecast - windy with showers - and we were away in the pre-booked taxi. A heavy shower had us sheltering in the hall way of a church, I'm sure there were a few prayers said there that morning. With 20 minutes to race start we dropped our bags off and headed for the starting areas. Unlike Dublin, there is no major panic in the starting pens, I enter my pen 10 minutes prior to the gun but still had loads of room to move towards the front, 10 minutes before Dublin you would be lucky to have enough room in the pens to scratch yourself.

The gun signaled the start of the race, I crossed the starting within about 30 seconds, a sign of how near the front I was.

Another marathon underway, what would this one hold in store for me?

Despite the recent setbacks I had set my watch for 7.30 miles, in the hope that if I had a good day I would manage a sub 3.20 finish. The first 5 miles of the route favour downhill, my plan was to run at a comfortable pace, whatever that may be, and see how I felt. I was a little surprised to see my first mile was 7.02, this was followed by 7.11, 7.11. Around the start of mile 4 I started chatting to a really sound bloke from England, Neil. He was aiming for around the 3.15 mark, that was close enough to my target for me to tag along beside him for a while. Pleasant conversation passed the next few miles. The 6th mile at 7.38 was a tad slow but the previous ones were in the 7.20's , so still on target.

Conversation with Neil had dried up, at one point, somewhere in the 8th mile, Neil asked if I was all right. I told him I was just zoning out but that wasn't the whole truth.

I'm certainly no expert on this, I can only speak from my limited experience but at 8 or 9 miles into a marathon you should feel comfortable, the pace shouldn't cause any problems and legs and breathing shouldn't be under any stress.
My legs were feeling heavy, I had expected this at the start but after a couple of miles, when the blood starts flowing, that feeling should go, today it didn't.

At mile 9 I knew this was going to be a long day.

With the exception of my first marathon in Dublin, that I jogged around, just to finish, the other 3 marathons I've done have finished in a whole world of pain. The trouble usually started after the 20 mile mark, this is to be expected as strange things happen to the body after 20 miles running but today I was uncomfortable so early on that I knew that I could expect the physical and mental issues to hit earlier. Nothing much can be done about the physical, except decisions about pace but the mental process, well, that's a whole other ball game.

Neil was drawing ahead of me but I decided that my best hope of not fading badly was to keep him in sight. The gap between us open and closed several times over the miles, at times I ran just behind him but I didn't push up level with, a totally selfish act on my behalf but I reckoned anything that helped me towards the finish was fair game. I eventually fell away from him after mile 15.

Somewhere after mile 15 the front runners started to pass on the opposite side of the road. I moved towards the median to keep an eye out for Sean. I was beginning to think that I had missed him but soon he appeared, from a distance he didn't look comfortable. A shout and a wave each but when he shook his head and drew a finger across his throat it just confirmed that he was having a bad day. His report is here.

Between miles 17 and 18 there is an out and back section, as I approached the turn I spotted Neil on the opposite side of the road, maybe 40-50 yards ahead of me. I was quite pleased that I hadn't lost too much ground.

As I made the 180 degree turn around a traffic cone I almost came to a complete stop, trying to get moving again took a major effort. Here was also the first taste of the headwind that would torture the competitors for the last 9 miles.

The turn into Gosford House offered a brief respite from the wind.

I was just hanging on, I remember just as I entered the gate to Gosford House, I realised that there was still a hard 9 miles to go and I considered the idea of walking for a while. A mental kick in the arse sorted that. I tried to keep positive. One of my back up targets was a sub 3.30. As I waddled through the ground of the country house, wondering why there were chickens wandering around, I tried to work out how my target times were fairing.

Ok, still close to 3.20 pace but fading fast, that allows over a minute a mile slower for the remaining miles to hit sub 3.30. A mantra started " I'm not going to lose 10 minutes in 9 miles" " I'm not going to lose 10 minutes in 8 miles".

Up to mile 16 I was around 7.30 minute miles, the next 4 were sub 8.00, that's fine, that's good. 8 minute miles would work. I can finish with a reasonable time, that will do.

Out of the park, a short stretch into the wind again, then another short out and back section. Once again at the 180 turning point I nearly stalled, down the hill, sharp left, 20 miles done.

I'll remember this point for years to come, just starting along the straight when I felt a slight twinge in my left hamstring, followed by another one, then bang, full on cramp. Shit, Jesus, that hurts. I hopped onto the footpath to get out of the way and danced a little jig. I've rarely had cramps and never during a race so this was scary. I was really lucky, just where I stopped there was a Scottish chap that helped me, fair play to him, he knew what he was doing. I lay on the grass verge and he helped me stretch out my leg, I was so keen to get going that I got up too soon and did my jig again all the while testing out my expletive vocabulary. After a second stretch I was underway again.

6 miles to go. I took 9.10 including the stop for the next mile, not as bad as I thought. My pace was dropping a few at 8-8.15 but I was still moving. My biggest worry now was the recurrence of cramps. At the 23 mile marker my left hamstring started to twitch again. I was scanning the sideline for a suitable spot to stretch for when the cramp hit, nothing but concrete footpath, no soft grass to lie on, luckily the expected cramp didn't arrive then.

To say that I didn't notice the head wind during the final 8-9 miles would be untrue, I noticed it at points but so many other problems were happening - mostly my legs - that the wind actually became unimportant.

I had promised myself that if I had anything left in the tank I would push on for the last mile or two. I revised this plan as both my legs felt like they could go into spasms at any moment. Maybe I was tired, maybe I was lazy but I was telling myself that I would be better off to keep moving at a steady pace rather than risk cramps. With 1.5 miles to go I was trying to do the maths for how quickly I could walk the remaining distance if the need should arise. 1 mile to go, that's it, even if I have to crawl the remaining distance to the finish I should still make a sub 3.30
As I rounded the final corner and ran (wobbled, hobbled) the last few hundred yards to the finish line a huge sense of relief swept over me. At last, I'd made it. I crossed the line at 3.22.14

Almost immediately after the finishing line my legs started to ache, if lactic could be bottled and sold I would have made a fortune. By the time I had retrieved my bag every step I took caused an involuntary groan. I managed to get to the reunion area. Shower facilities were available but the water was freezing, at the time it was breath taking cold but I think the cold water helped my legs as I felt so much better afterwards.

I met up with Sean, he had a very welcome cup of coffee for me, he had run a fantastic 3.03 and was happy with his performance on a difficult day.

Trying to get back to the city was another marathon in itself, eventually we got a bus and were able to sit for the duration of the journey. We popped into the Rutland hotel for a quick pint with Alan from I have to admit they were the most enjoyable 2 pints I'd have for a while.

On the way to the airport on Tuesday Sean received a text to say that our flight was cancelled because of the volcanic as cloud.......
This was the start of another marathon..........

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Friday, May 20, 2011

Pre Edinburgh marathon 2011 - Journey and Excuses.

It's been a long time since I've posted on this blog, early February to be exact.

There have been many reasons for this but mostly it's because, like Austin Powers, I lost my mojo. Unlike Austin Powers mine wasn't stolen by a time travelling super villain but rather it slid unceremoniously into a puddle on a cold winters night, while the wind howled and my head torch lit the falling rain. I don't remember exactly when this occurred, all I know is that it did happen and for weeks and months after, although I didn't realise it at the time, I was looking for my elusive mojo.

I've done no cycling events this year and only 3 road races, they were:
Dungarvan 10 mile
Dungarvan 10k
Craughwell 10 mile

I had done a ridiculously small amount of training and struggled around these at a slow and painful rate, in fact all 3 races were run at a slower pace per mile than my Dublin marathon time of a few months previously. I've noted these races as some of the best organised and value for money races that I've taken part in and I hope to come back next year and do them justice.

After these I plodded on for another few weeks getting some slow miles in, huffing and puffing, especially on any kind of hill, until I realised that if I wanted to have a chance of finishing the Edinburgh marathon I would have to make some drastic changes.

There were 8 weeks to go to Edinburgh, the last 3 would normally be taper, so in real terms I only had 5 full training weeks left. As I write this I don't have access to my diary but if memory serves I had only run about 150 mile to this point.

Marathon training usually consists of various types of training, speed work, threshold sessions, long runs.

After working out my options I decided that time on my feet would be of most value to me, miles and miles it would be.

Decision made, time to start on a very high risk strategy.

The problem with increasing mileage suddenly is the very real risk of injury. The body needs time to adjust, without this time things can go "ping" and "snap" at any stage. I hoped that with careful management I'd be OK.

First week was 50+ miles, not high mileage by marathon training standards but a big jump for me. The next 4 weeks were to be make or break for Edinburgh. I was about to attempt to run more miles in consecutive weeks that I had ever run before.

The strategy I would employ was from the ultra runners, these athletes do back to back long slow runs to increase their ability to run extra long distances and minimise chances for injury.

I would do 15-20 miles on Tuesdays and Wednesdays with a 20 miler on Saturdays, Sunday would be a rest day.

70 miles done in the next week, all slow but no major dramas, a few slight niggles that sports massages mostly sorted.

From then it seemed that on every run strange things would happen to my poor abused legs. The ITB is a bit tight, the knee is tender, the Achilles is pulling etc, etc, nothing would last long or cause me serious discomfort but I would file them to be mentioned at the next massage.

Another 70+ miles added, no major dramas.

Some days I would run both mornings and evenings, my morning times were always slower. On one run I felt a soreness in my lower leg that by the end of my run had me hobbling. Maybe it's nothing, I'm sure it'll be gone by morning. It was painful enough to wake me through the night. The next run had me cut a planned 1o miler to 5 miles but I only managed 3 and that was nearly hopping the last half mile. Shit, that's it Chris, you gave it a good go but you can't expect your body to put up with that sort of abuse.

A visit to the masseur sorted me out again, I had what's known as dancers tendinitis or as my friend Kev refers to it mincers tendinitis.

80+ miles done, some dramas.

I haven't my diary for reference but some time in the previous 2 weeks I also hurt my back lifting my ride on mower to fix a belt. A typical lift and twist injury that cost me a day and another massage session.

Last week before taper, it dawned on me that most of my runs now, although not much faster, seemed much easier than a few weeks previously. A good sign for me was that I was enjoying more time thinking about various things while running and not constantly checking my garmin for the distance to the finish.

Another 80+ miles done, dramas? no. falling apart? yes.
Over 300 miles in 4 weeks. A new record for me.

5 weeks previously I would have settled for finishing the marathon, ideally in under 4 hours.
2-3 weeks ago I was starting to think that sub 3.30 might be on the cards.
A 3.30 marathon requires 8 minute miles so when I set on on my last long slow 20 mile run I was planning on running 8.30-8.40 minute miles. The first mile was uphill, I hit around 8.30, the second mile around 8.15. Miles 3, 4 and 5 favour downhill and were all sub 8.00. I decided to keep up the higher pace to include some PMP miles (8 min m) All the miles after were +-5/10 seconds of PMP. I finished the run feeling reasonably fresh, which was a major surprise to me.
The problem I now had was that if I could run 20 miles on my own, over undulating roads, at predicted marathon pace (PMP) how much faster could I go under race conditions.
I formulated a loose plan for the marathon that, all going well during the 3 weeks taper, I would set my Garmin for sub 3.20 and see how I felt during the first few miles, it I could hold the 7.30 pace without too much stress I would attempt the sub 3.20 otherwise I would adjust to either sub 2.25 or sub 3.30. Yeah, that plan looked good to me, no pressure, best case would be a decent second fastest marathon, worst case would still be Boston qualifying time and still my second fastest marathon, result !

As I write this post it's less than 24 hours to the start of the race. I'm reflecting back on the events of the past 3 weeks, especially the previous 7 days.
Taper started fine, 50 miles in week one, done in 3 consecutive days, not ideal but OK.
Week 2 was 29-30 miles again a short week but no problems.
From last weekend on is where the fun starts. A wedding in Poland had me flying out very early on Friday morning, I returned on Monday evening after 3 days of vodka, beer and food, not ideal preparation for a marathon but I'd known about this for months so I was expecting a small setback. I was quite please with myself that I managed to get in a 10 mile run in the beautiful Polish mountains, I think the benefits were somewhat negated by having beer for breakfast the next morning (thanks Allen)
Feeling fine, 6 days to recover, no problem, all should be in working order for the race. What happened on Tuesday was unexpected and unpleasant. I got some kind of stomach bug/food poisoning that saw me dropping at least 5 pounds in 2 days, I lost more on the 3rd day but I'd no access to a scales to check. On Friday (yesterday) I was feeling much better and managed to get plenty of food a liquids into me and my first run since last Saturday, a slow 5 miles, the only problem was that my heart rate monitor kept slipping down. Today is more of the same, food,water and rest.
The result of this recent bout is that all targets for tomorrow have gone out the window.
I can only see how I feel at the start and hope that I can maintain a decent pace for the 26.2 miles.

I'll let you know tomorrow..................

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