Tag Archives: marathon

The Tow Path One and the Wake Up Call…

I’ve now got two more marathons under my belt. Number two was better than number one (but not by much!) and number three was both a complete disaster and at the same time exactly what I needed.

A friend recently commented that I must be really fit from all the training. I had to admit that my preparation has been really bad, and almost nonexistent between marathons two and three. It was such a relief to get to the finish line in one piece that the drive to get out and run again went out of the window. I’ve come to realise that there is a big difference between running a single marathon a year and undertaking multiple events. Eddie Izzard is approaching god status at the moment!

The Tow Path One

There weren’t a whole lot of marathons to choose from in February, so I entered The Breakfast Race in Walton on Thames, organised by Phoenix Running, on the Monday in half term. It was another, shall we say, low-key event that only the seriously committed (or stupid) would take part in, with just under 50 entrants.

The course was again based on ‘laps’, this time a little longer at 3.28 miles, ‘out and back’ along the Thames tow path. There was a bit more to see, but it was still pretty cold and muddy!

Breakfast Route

Being on a tow path meant a pretty flat course, which was a welcome relief after the previous event, but nevertheless my old friend cramp came to visit around mile 22 and hung around for the next four miles, meaning that my time was a little slower than I’d hoped.

Just before I collapsed...
Just before I collapsed…

However, my welcoming committee more than made up for the pain in my legs! My lovely family were there to cheer me in (and steal sweets from the checkpoint tent). Then we retired for a pint of something cold (good idea to have the finish line outside a pub!) and a closer examination of the medal, which I’m sure you’ll agree is a work of art…

It's all about the medal!
It’s all about the medal!

The Wake Up Call

I had the best part of a month between marathons two and three, which should have been enough time to get my breath back and then pick up the training again. However, my initial enthusiasm / panic had waned and this along with the continuing cold and dark mornings gave the idea of going out for a run very little appeal. I was also lucky enough to spend a week away relaxing in the sun in the middle of February, and unsurprisingly copious amounts of beer aren’t that conducive to training either…

So it’s fair to say that by the time the Charnwood Marathon came around, on March 19th, I was not exactly ‘match fit’. There wasn’t a lot of information available about the route, and I rather foolishly assumed that it was going to be relatively flat. I was in for a big shock when the course took me up and over Beacon Hill, Bardon Hill and Bradgate Park, covering approximately 2,500 feet in all.

There are three fairly big hills on this route!

Given my lack of recent training, my plan was to simply finish this marathon and not worry about the time. That’s just as well, since along with the hills I had to deal with three A4 sheets of very detailed directions. The course was barely marked, and at times would make apparently random turns across fields or down cul-de-sacs. More than once I had to stop and work out just where the hell I was supposed to be going, or retrace my steps when I got lost.

An excerpt from three pages of directions
Try following these when you’re running!

Cramp reared it’s ugly head again on the way down from ‘Old John’ in Bradgate Park, caused by an ill-advised leap over a wide ditch that took me by surprise. Rather than stop and step over the gap gingerly, I decided to launch myself into the air with an extra long stride. As soon as I’d left the ground I realised my error, as a jolt of pain shot up my right calf. I hit the earth and collapsed in a heap, cursing my stupidity. After rolling around on the grass for a while, I gave my calf a quick stretch and hobbled off again.

Looking down from Old John...
Looking down from Old John…

I eventually finished the event (in around 50th place out of approximately 80 runners) with more than a little navigational help from a truly inspirational guy who had beaten cancer (twice) and has since clocked up over 350 marathons for cancer research.

Finish photo
A little upset there was no medal on this one…

But even with the lack of training, the unexpectedly hilly nature of the course, the mind boggling directions and the occasional bout of cramp, I realised about half way through the race that I was actually enjoying this marathon (a bit). Without the internal pressure to hit a particular time for each mile I settled into a steady pace that enabled me to think about what I was doing and why.

Despite what this slightly self-absorbed blog may suggest, the reason I’m running 12 marathons this year is hopefully to raise awareness of Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy and the work that Duchenne UK is funding. I may moan and groan a bit, (maybe just enough to get some sympathy donations?), but whatever pain I feel during training and the events themselves pails into insignificance when compared with the experience of the children and parents affected by DMD (the facts listed here are heartbreaking). There is hope on the horizon, particularly with recent advances in gene therapy, but research and clinical trials are so expensive that it can sometimes feel like a pointless endeavour. However, every pound given really does make a difference, so once again, thank you for your kind and generous donations.

This last marathon was something of a wake up call for me. I can’t just lurch from one event to the next without putting in any effort. I feel that if I don’t give it my best shot, I’m not being true to those who have donated, and in turn am letting down the charity and the cause that we’re seeking to publicise.

So, since Charnwood, I’ve been out running on a much more regular basis, clocking up approximately 75 miles in training. I’ve also been reading up on a technique to improve stamina and performance, which should help me with marathon number four, the Kielder 50K this coming Sunday 10th April. At approximately 31 miles, this ‘ultra’ event will be the longest run I’ve ever undertaken. With nearly 3000 ft of ascent, it’s not going to be flat either. But I’m not worried, I’ve got Eddie Izzard as a role model…

Wish me luck!

Hills, cramp and the restorative powers of Jaffa cakes

I knew it was going to be hard, and it didn’t let me down!

On a cold, wet and windy morning I joined approximately 50 others on a muddy side road somewhere near Telford for the Winter Holly Challenge, run by How Hard Can It Be Events.  In near freezing temperatures I signed the disclaimer (“Yes I understand that I’m an idiot and may injure myself today”) and wondered, not for the first time, just what the hell I was doing.

I attempted to make conversation with the other entrants, but failed to impress when I had to admit that no, I’ve never done an ‘ultra’, and I still don’t know what ‘fartlek’ really means.  I’d managed to leave my new running watch at home so couldn’t use that to send out subtle signals of prowess either.  Fine, I thought, I’ll tell them I’ve got 12 marathons planned this year, that’ll get some respect for sure.  I turned round to be confronted by a vest proclaiming the wearers intention to complete 40 marathons in the same timescale.  Suitably deflated I bought a cup of tea and tried to mentally prepare myself…

Winter Holly Challenge - Start
That’s me with the bad hair on the left…

The course consisted of 32 laps of a very potholed and muddy tarmac road, with puddles stretching the entire width at points.  There were also not one, but two steep inclines totalling about 1/3 mile, the first of which was to become an object of dread in my mind.  (“Must. Do. More. Hill. Training”).  I managed to keep running all the way up it for the first 12 laps, but as time went on I was walking more and more of that b***** slope and cursing How Hard Can It Be Events!  Thankfully it appeared almost everyone else was in the same boat, which made it feel a little easier.

Apart from ‘the hill’, the course wasn’t as soul destroying as I thought it would be.  There is something reassuring about knowing what you’ve got in front of you, even if it is the same thing 32 times over!  Given the small number of entrants it would probably be uneconomical to man multiple checkpoints across a wider course.   The start / lap / finish station was very well kitted out with a seemingly never ending supply of squash, water, coke, haribos, cereal bars and my personal favourite, Jaffa cakes.  Added to that, the race ‘officials’ were all really supportive and the large bell rung by each competitor as they began their final lap was a nice touch.

As was the case in the other marathons I’ve done, I was once again hit by debilitating cramp in my legs.  I felt the tell tale twinges at about 15 miles and had a few spasms in my calves that caused me to wince and limp.  By lap 28 (approx. 23 miles) I was really suffering but trying not to show it.  I passed another runner and we exchanged a few mutual compliments.  Ascertaining that she was three or four laps behind me, I pulled ahead feeling happy that at least I wasn’t going to finish last.  50 yards later and my right thigh gave me such a jolt of pain that I staggered off the road into the muddy bank, and in trying to keep from falling over sent my left leg into spasm too.  There was nothing for it but to attempt to stretch, except this seemed to cramp every other muscle in my legs and feet.  I limped round the rest of that lap in agony to find that the runner I’d passed (who had subsequently overtaken me again), had stopped at the base and located a bottle of ‘Deep Heat’ spray from her bag, leaving it with the officials with instructions to look out for ‘the hobbling guy’.  (I declined the spray in favour of a few more Jaffa cakes. I think I made the right decision).

What really helped me through the cramp was knowing that donations to the DCT were rolling in.  Every time my phone emitted the ‘cash register’ sound of a JustGiving receipt I gave a little cheer, gritted my teeth and increased my stride.  Thank you to everyone who donated!

Anyone watching my running style over the last few laps must have thought I was experiencing periodic electric shocks, as I jolted with the cramp and stumbled off course.  It’s definitely something I need to work on, although from what I’ve read the prevailing advice seems to be that I need to do more long runs.  Bugger.

With one notable exception, all the other folk taking part were really friendly and I didn’t experience  any ‘snobbish’ behaviour that I was half expecting given my lack of ‘serious runner’ status.  Whilst I can’t say that I had a great day, I’m coming to realise that a part of me must actually enjoy this in some way, even if it’s only the euphoria of finishing!  (I finally limped across the line in 4hrs 52mins, 20th out of 34).

Winter Holly Challenge Completed
Tired, but glad it’s over!

My blinkers are off now, and I know what to expect for the next one, in 2 weeks time.  I wouldn’t say I’m looking forward to it, but I’ll be taking it head on.


Running is only fun when it's over

12 marathons. 12 months.  It seemed like a good idea at the time.

I had such good intentions when I set this ‘challenge’ for myself, that I would somehow become a ‘proper’ runner, who could say the word ‘fartlek’ without sniggering to himself. But this hasn’t happened yet, and is unlikely to anytime soon. Instead I’ve got creaky joints, aching legs, my feet are a cause for concern and ‘the fear’ has returned with a vengeance.

It hasn’t been helped by finding out more about the event I’m doing on Saturday.  There aren’t a huge number of marathons staged in January (can’t understand why?), and at one point I thought I would have to go to Marrakesh, but instead I’ve settled on Telford!  For some reason I was under the impression that it was an ‘off-road’ event, but the joining instructions I received a couple of days ago have confirmed that it is ‘on road’ and consists of “a 0.84 mile loop”.  That’s over 31 laps of hell, with nowhere to lapse into a sneaky walk when no one can see me.  Oh crap.

I imagine this must be how it feels to give birth the second time around. The memory of the seemingly unending agony has receded and all you’re left with are the warm fuzzy feelings of euphoria and achievement. Then, when you’re way too far down the line to think about backing out, the barrier that had been protecting you comes crashing down and in one split second it all comes flooding back. The pain, the exhaustion, the ‘oh my god when will it end’ feeling.

Before I get lynched by mothers everywhere, I’m not suggesting that running a marathon is as hard as giving birth. Certainly not. It’s much harder than that. 🙂

But the bottom line is, I cannot imagine anything as hard as watching your child’s health slowly deteriorate and being powerless to prevent it. The more I hear about the struggles that Tom’s family face every day, on a physical and mental level, the more I am in awe of their courage and strength.

I know I’m going to be suffering on Saturday (and Sunday, and probably the rest of the following week).  Luckily for me, my pain will be temporary.

Please take two minutes to watch this, and please give what you can.