A tale of two marathons

It’s been six weeks since I ran the London Marathon, having won my place on Twitter during Christmas week last year (I know, lucky me!). It’s taken me a while to write about my experience, partly because I wasn’t happy with how it went and partly because I had lined up another marathon in the meantime.

My training for London went so well, building up my long runs gradually, heading out either on a Friday morning, post-school-run or before parkrun, finishing the last 5k up at Hilly Fields on a Saturday morning. I went into London feeling great, positive and happy that I had trained so well and had reached the start line without injury. Of course, when race day came it was much hotter than it had been in the run up, so I planned my hydration carefully, knowing how easily I cramp and so as not to drink too much and end up making myself ill! The atmosphere up on Blackheath was incredible and I headed to the start with my fellow club runners Sarah, who was running on a good-for-age place and Jen, who had a championship place.

The first few miles were just lovely, I soaked up the atmosphere, tried to slow myself down a bit (it’s so easy to get swept up by the enthusiasm of those around you) and even had a good chat with a fellow runner as we merged with the blue and red starts in Woolwich. Greenwich and Deptford approached and I knew I would start to see friends, so kept my focus and looked out for them and their amazing homemade banners. First up were some Hilly Fields friends, who had strolled down from Greenwhich Park after volunteering on the baggage trucks. Around the Cutty Sark and a surge of joy ran through me, over to Creek Road, where I heard my name and saw my boys.

Chief cheerer, Hector

A little further on I was lifted by the awesome sight of my GoodGym Lewisham runners, who were waving a beautiful banner, made by Lucy. Now to focus and keep my pace steady. A few unexpected cheers along the way and I neared the halfway mark and the prospect of Tower Bridge and its wall of sound. The support on this course was out of this world, I can’t thank my friends enough for the effort they put into encouraging me.

Throughout the race I had felt crowded and slightly jostled, not a feeling I enjoyed. I had been cut up, kicked and elbowed a few times and, as I approached a drinks station, I stood on a discarded water bottle, turning my ankle. This was around mile 12 and I found myself walking. It hurt, but I wasn’t injured, but this is where my mind went ‘switch’ and the thoughts became negative. Fast (or more like slow!) forward to Mudschute, Canary Wharf and thereabouts and I found myself shuffling, jogging, walking and generally having a crappy time. I saw Edward and Hector at around sixteen miles and had a little cry. I gave pathetic little waves to my friends and was lifted briefly by Ellie, who ran alongside me at around mile eighteen, giving me a little pep-talk.

This race showed me just how much endurance running is in the head. My body could do this, but my mind had decided to have a morning off. As I emerged from the hell that is Canary Wharf, I felt a lift as I mentally turned towards the finish. Yes, there were still many miles to go, but I was actually heading in the right direction! More friends, more hugs more ‘believe in yourself!’ advice and more plodding. I spotted the Hilly Fields banner on Lower Thames Street, so pledged to run and hug the boys and give them a big smile! Some good hard shaking and encouragement from coach Adrian and fellow club runner John and I was nearing the final few miles.

Passing the GoodGym support spot outside Somerset House got me moving again, as did a super cheer from Lisa. Big Ben looked ridiculously far away, but meant I was getting near the end and could plod down Birdcage Walk to take on the final stretch along The Mall. I gave a very heartfelt thank you to the woman who put my medal around my neck and hobbled towards the baggage trucks. This hadn’t been anything like I had imagined it would be in the months leading up to this day and I felt heavy and sad as I walked to Horseguards to meet the boys.

‘You got a PB Mum!’ said Hector, happily, confused that I wasn’t dancing for joy. Yes, I had got a PB (4 hours 41, so a few minutes), but it wasn’t the ‘right’ PB, not the PB I had hoped for. Try explaining this to an almost ten-year-old and to your supporters, who think you are amazing for even running a marathon!

Exhuasted

In the week following the marathon, people congratulated me and said how well I had done and so on, but I wasn’t really feeling it, I wasn’t convinced. Edward suggested signing up to another marathon. I said October might be good, but he meant now, as soon as possible, to use the training I had done and to get over London (he knows me well!). I was in two minds about this, it seemed a bit risky trying to run a marathon during what should have been my recovery period and how on earth would I ‘train’ for it?! I signed up to a marathon that was fairly local (in Kent) and within a manageable timescale and worked out that I needed to rest mainly and do a few ‘longer’ runs to keep me ticking over.

Marathon Part Two

Last Saturday morning we jumped in a taxi (yes, it worked out to be the best way to get there!) very early and arrived promptly at the Cyclopark in Gravesend. This is a road cycling circuit, meaning my second marathon would consist of 21 laps, yes, laps. I really wasn’t sure how this would feel, would it drive me nuts, would I lose count, would I hate every second?! The race is small, with around 500 participants, many of whom seem to be part of the 100 Marathon Club circuit and many ultra and multiple marathon runners. I met up with my Hilly Fields friend Tinu, who was running her 67th marathon(!) and saw Ruth, who was running her 500th! Amazing! Registration was quick and easy (and super friendly) and I was delighted with my race number, featuring Pocahontas (who was buried locally 400 years ago) and my surname across the bottom. I was also pleased to find a box of wristbands, 20 of which I popped on my arm, to keep count of the laps.

Counters

A really special thing about this race is that you can set up your own aid station. So we opened up our camping table (which I shared with Tinu and another runner) and set out drinks bottles and gels, that we could collect as and when we needed them (we would pass this table on each lap). I quietly got on with my dynamic stretches and we headed to the start. You might expect this cycle circuit to be flat, but it’s not! We ran up towards the finish arch and started our first (shorter lap), soon coming through again, to discard our first wristband in a big bin. This is where the clouds were broken by a fork of lightning and the thunder rumbled, throwing down a huge but cooling shower. The forecast had been for scorching weather, so this was a welcome break from the heat.

My plan was to set out conservatively and to stick to a slower pace, enjoying the race and feeling in control. This is exactly what I did. for the whole marathon.

Controlled

I listened to conversations around me, looked at the ground ahead (I had borrowed Edward’s running cap, to keep the sun off my head, but it turned out to be like blinkers, keeping me focussed!), smiling at well-wishers and JUST GETTING ON WITH IT! After a few laps, I had worked out where to push, where to hold back and noticed many people had a routine of walking up THE HILL then running the rest…I ran up that hill every time 🙂 I grabbed my drinks bottle from my ‘aid station’ and kept on keeping on. The marshal at the far end of the course was a continuous support point, he was just wonderful, cheering, commenting, calling me ‘Princess!’ and dancing around on the spot for the whole race.

So, I had only told Edward and Hector about this race and also my friends Siggy and Stephen. It had been weird keeping it from people and I felt a little awkward when people kept asking me ‘what next?’ I had to do it like this though, because I didn’t want any pressure at all. As time went on Siggy and Stephen appeared at the finish area, giving me encouraging cheers. My support crew sat at the camping table, having a picnic and passing me drinks and gels and moving around the course to give (gentle) encouragement. During training, I had often had ‘GI issues’, so was reassured by the presence of a line of loos each lap…which I did have to visit partway through (grrrr).

What I found good about the laps was that miles seemed to tick by quickly. I looked at my pace and counted down the laps, ignoring the miles largely, only looking every so often, so I knew when to take on fuel (after the rain, the sun came out and it was very hot). I felt relaxed as I passed the half-marathon mark and pleasantly surprised when I passed the twenty mile mark. I grabbed my phone and headphones and plugged in some motivational tunes for the last six miles, feeling a surge of energy. The wristband system worked well, as did having a commentator occasionally shouting out your name as you passed and telling you how many laps you had run. I was confused then, when I looked at my watch and thought I must have only one more lap to run, but was told I had two – cue dip in energy and spirits!

When I was sure I was on my last lap, I did a little ‘running man’ dance for my crew and danced around to the finish, a HUGE smile on my face. I hugged and high-fived as I showed off my ENORMOUS medal and gave a jump for joy when my Garmin told me I had run 26.2 miles in 4 hours 29 minutes and 15 seconds (the course measured long for me and my official time was 4.35, but I’m going to go with my watch 😉 ). We sat at the picnic tables outside the cafe and Edward handed me my favourite post-race refreshment, a bottle of Erdinger Alcoholfrei. So this is how finishing a marathon should feel!

HUGE bling!

What did I learn?

I definitely know now that big, crowded, noisy marathons might not be my thing! The support I felt around London Marathon was outstanding, but I was emotionally drained and unable to focus on what I needed to do. I learned that I can do this, knocking around fifteen minutes off my original marathon PB and feeling in control and comfortable. I learned that it’s OK to relax in marathon week and you don’t necessarily need to put life on hold to have a good race (I worked, ran and ate normally, even doing a fast track session on the Tuesday!). I learned that I can run around and around and around for hours and actually enjoy it and that I have amazing friends and family, who are not bothered by how fast I run, but (I think) get that I need to sometimes do these things for myself. Will I sign up for marathon number six? Probably, but I have a few other things lined up that I want to enjoy in the meantime.

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Not Quite Half

On Sunday I was supposed to be joining my running-blogging buddies down in Folkestone, a mere hour or so away from where I live. I enjoyed the Twitter build-up and the general sense of camaraderie and looked forward (mostly) to the after-race social bit, so was rather pissed off peeved when I realised I simply couldn’t get there. The training had gone ok, and I had managed to avoid injury, unlike some of the other runners, so not making it to the start line due to crappy travel challenges was very frustrating. However, I got over my sulking last week by taking myself off to the running track and gasping my way round a four mile circular run.

I was ridiculously excited by viewing this run on a map!

Time: 42 minutes

Distance: 4.35 miles

Average Pace: 9.40

Best Pace: 6.50

Calories: 63 (Garmin got back to me and suggested taking the battery out of the HRM then putting it back in to re-set, it doesn’t seem to have helped, any ideas?)

My average HR was 186 and my maximum HR was 200!

When Sunday arrived, I decided to try for a ten miler that would get me home in time to follow the Twitter excitement, beamed live from Folkestone by @richeginger. I set off down the Waterlink Way, planning to run down to Beckenham Place Park, fancying a change from the usual diverted Greenwich route. Early on in the run I was passed by two tall, athletic types who eased past me as if I were invisible, though I don’t know how they missed me in my bright green Royal Parks Foundation Half Marathon t-shirt! Sometimes this sort of (lack of) encounter gives me a boost to run harder, try to catch them up (ha!), but today it just made me feel fat and slow and made me drag my feet. As I ran, my stomach started to play up again, something I am slightly concerned about ahead of the Royal Parks Half in just over a week. I lifted up my torso, breathed deeply and tried to ignore it, but I soon realised I wasn’t going to make it as far as Beckenham Place, so decided to turn at the two-mile point, head home and take it from there.

It was getting hot out there, even though it was still only about nine o’clock, so it was a relief to pop home, take a moment to think about whether I could carry on, wipe my face and head back out of the door, refreshed. From here it seemed logical to head Greenwich way – if I ran to the seven mile point then turned for home , it would make ten miles. I felt much better now, and pleased with myself for not ducking out. As I neared Greenwich I saw signs for the Run to the Beat half-marathon, which was taking place later that morning, and picked up on the buzz around the area as runners started to make their way over to the start. I reached the water and, just behind me, the clock on the old hospital struck ten. I thought about my fellow runners who would now be crossing the start line, and wished them luck as I took a sip of my juice/water/salt combo and looked at the sparkling Thames in front of me.

On my return, I eagerly checked the computer to see how things were going in Kent. I am proud to say that all of the Fearsome Folkestone Four made it up The Hill and struggled through the heat to cross the line with smiles on their faces. You can read about Cassie’s half-marathon debut here, how Helen overcame a painful foot and a heat aversion here, Shaun’s speedy PB chaser here and Cathy has some exciting news about her next big race here.

Time: 1 hour 42 minutes 6 seconds

Distance: 10 miles

Average Pace: 10.12

Best Pace: 5.31

Calories: 177

 

 

 

 

Not in

I, like many other hopeful runners, stepped over the Virgin London Marathon magazine that was on my doormat the other day as I came back from the park. I peered at it hopefully, but left it there after reading the word ‘commiserations’. I did go back later and pick it up to torture myself looking at photos of people running, and enjoying, the London Marathon. Oh well, I guess I knew I wouldn’t get in, it took me six attempts last time so I should think about another challenge for next year. I posted my sad news on Facebook and had a few interesting suggestions, including this wonderfully named event in Cumbria. I think this is the kind of thing I would like to do actually, it seems friendly, challenging and most of all scenic. I have spent some time in Kirkby Stephen before, when I did a residency there, so I know that the hardest part will be not stopping too much to enjoy the view. Other ideas were the Paris Marathon and the Rotterdam Marathon.

But as I have thought about it this week, I have realised that actually I might like to try a longer, more regular sort of challenge, something that could keep me on my toes for a whole year. How about running 26 miles every week, I don’t mean all in one go, but over the course of a week? I know many people cover this sort of mileage each week anyway, but this would be hard for me and would mean running about six days a week and would take a great deal of commitment. I like the idea of something that I could sustain over a year rather than cramming into a few months at the beginning to make it to the marathon. To start me off, I will have the boost of the icy new cousin/little brother of Juneathon, Janathon! As the winner of Juneathon 2010, I feel I have to pull out all the stops and grit my teeth over the frosty month of January to see if I can top my Juneathon mileage. We’ll see!

In the meantime I will be supporting/following/cheering on Warriorwoman, who did get a ballot place in the London Marathon, lucky thing.

This morning I was delighted to see the rain had stopped so I pulled on my gear and left the boys constructing complicated Lego vehicles with cogs and all sorts. I quickly realised my Garmin wasn’t going to last the whole run, with just an hour’s juice on the clock, so asked Edward if I could borrow his iPhone. I had it in the iPhone armband, which can feel a bit like you are having your blood pressure taken, but is certainly firmly kept in place by the wide velcro strip. I felt good on this run but my knees were feeling slightly creaky; I really could do with a new pair of shoes. I had aimed to run ten miles, but the iPhone kept saying ‘Low Battery’, so I knew this was going to die on me as well, which it did at around 7 miles. At a guess I would say the remainder of the run was about two and a half miles, so just short of ten. I had another of my Goodness Shakes powders, this time using the gigantic bottle that came with them instead of the smaller water bottle I used last week, this does make a difference and meant I didn’t have to filter out powdery lumps with my teeth.

Now we will make the most of this glorious sunshine and ride up to Hampstead Heath for some leaf-kicking and conker-picking.

Octoberthon. It’s like Oktoberfest but without the beer.

Well, maybe the odd glass on a Friday evening.

I am feeling a bit sluggish and porky around the middle at the moment and, after my BIG walk last week (which I will write about when I get a chance, really I will), I feel encouraged and inspired to push myself a little bit further than I have been doing of late. So I have decided to take decisive action and commit to a daily activity. Remember Juneathon? Well, this is just like that but it’s in October and doesn’t necessarily involve daily blogging, which I found more challenging than the daily running (look, I’m making all this up, so I can make up my own rules and do what the heck I like). I will attempt to run every day, with a limit of no fewer than three miles and, as I will be perusing the Venice Biennale for a few days towards the end of the month, I will make up for those lost days at the beginning of November (as I said, I make up the rules ok?).

To start you off, I ran to Hector’s swimming lesson and back yesterday and boy did I look like some sort of lardy, asthmatic (yes, I am) beginner! I gasped up Hornsey Rise like a steam train, pausing at the top pretending to look at a digger and roller combo. Coming home was a little easier, but I still felt totally out of condition. Here are the stats:

Time: 52 minutes 59 seconds

Distance: 4.92 miles

Average Pace: 10.46

Best Pace: 8.53

Calories: 512

This afternoon I popped Hector in the running buggy in a desperate attempt to get him to have a sleep. Of course he slipped into gentle slumber within minutes of setting off and I enjoyed a saunter along the canal. There is a lovely new cafe near the playground at Markfield Park, so my longer runs will be full of temptation as the delicious-looking carrot cakes call me from the path of righteousness.

Time: 35 minutes 58 seconds

Distance: 3.47 miles

Average Pace: 10.21

Best Pace: 7.55

Calories: 377

So, does anyone want to join me? I found Juneathon a great motivator and this could be just what we need to get back on track for the dark months ahead. Has anyone heard about a place in the VLM and needs a bit of a kick start? Go on, you know you want to!

Sponsor me!

You might already have noticed the little JustGiving button to the right of the page, but I thought I should give it a more formal introduction. I am running the London Marathon in April 2009 (at last, after years of trying to get a place in the ballot, I am in!). As it is a ballot place, I don’t have to run for a charity and therefore don’t have a set amount of money to raise, but I decided I would raise money for the NSPCC and Childline because people seem to take the London Marathon more seriously than other marathons (by this, I mean non-runners), it seems to excite people more and I guess this means they will be more generous. It’s funny, people do see this marathon as the benchmark, and I have had a few people ask of other marathons: ‘Is this the same length as the London Marathon?’…erm, no, all marathons are the same length, that’s why they are called a marathon (for the record, a marathon is 26 miles and 385 yards or 42.195 km).

I thought quite hard about which charity I should support, and it’s really hard because they are, of course, all so worthy of our support. In the end I decided to give my backing to the NSPCC and Childline because I felt this was an organisation close to my heart now I am a mother, and I have also been very moved by what has been taking place right here on my doorstep in Haringey.

If you want to sponsor me, either click on the fancy button or just click here if you don’t need the mouse exercise.

I’m in!

After trying in the ballot for the past five years, I have finally got a place in the London Marathon! I knew when the envelope arrived this morning because it’s normally clear plastic and you can see the big ‘Sorry!’ before you hurriedly open it, but this time the envelope was dark blue and revealed this when I ripped it open:

Acceptance letter

I was very excited, but soon realised I will probably have to defer entry because I can’t realistically train at the moment. Hmmmm, and I would have been eligable for an automatic entry in 2009 anyway if I had been rejected 5 times!

I would love to run in 2008…