It's customary to put pen to paper and jot down a few notes about highlights and lowlights of recent races, and those of you who know me know that I've got a bit of verbal diahorrea when it comes to these things. So bear with me, and feel free to turn the pages without reading, there won't be a quiz at the end!
On Sunday just gone I had to great pleasure of running the York Marathon, but, as the title suggests, the Marathon itself was just the dot of the i (the decoration on the cupcake, the crown on the princes' head, the leaper on the Jag, the culmination of) of the project that turned into 5 months training. The Jane Tomlinson people who arrange the York Marathon also arranges a number of 10k races across the North East, and they sell a package deal called "the ultimate challenge" consisting of 4 x 10k plus the Marathon.
Miles_Yonder has already done a great job of describing the race itself, and there's no way I can match his ability to make the route come alive. So I will in case focus my attention on what it took to train for this fantastic event.
Oh, and the picture, if it shows up, shows plan v actuals, with the red line being the plan and the blue bars being actual weekly mileage. It's quite easy to spot where it all went wrong.
I had studied several different "plans", read a couple of books, and eventually created my very own custom made just-for-me plan loosely based on Hal Higdon's Novice-1 marathon plan, adapted to also include the 4 shorter races, that I gave the grand name 6-2-26 (as in progressing from being able to run 6 miles to eventually hitting 26). I even wrote the distance for each week's longest run down on a piece of paper that lived right next to my work computer for the next 5 months. And this turned out to be sufficient; I knew I wanted a total of four runs per week, with the combined distance of the three shorter being roughly the same as the long weekend run, and with the long run distance generally increasing by a mile per week, I added one km to one of the mid week runs one week and two km to another the next week, and that way it all sort of added up and evened out.
At first I was very motivated and strict with myself. And I had a great time. After having written the plan down, I immediately cheated and made the long run of week 1 into a 10 miler even though the plan only called for 8. I wanted to be ahead of the curve, have a bit of contingency, I wanted to prove that I was on top of things and wanted to give myself reassurance that if for whatever reason I should need to take a week out of the plan later later on, then I would still be on track.
Although the long run of week 1 was ambitious, the shorter runs were all 5 or 6 km, so they fitted nicely into a lunch break. As I had the 10k races to think about, I dedicated one of the mid week runs to be a tempo run to get faster, and this kept things fun. It's very motivating to beat a PB, and with the discipline and increasing distances, I got several of them over the first few weeks.
In week 4 there was a gorgeous run on the Yorkshire moors near Scarborough. We were caravaning, and I took a couple of hours out of Saturday morning to run up and down some steep hills, and noticed in my running diary "This one will stay in my memory for a long time as the prettiest route I have run ever. Through a valley carved by a meandering river, a few sleepy villages, a couple of steep hills, along buttercup covered fields with cows and sheep and occasionally a view over the ocean in the distance. It was simply gorgeous. " Life was good. I was doing great.
A few weeks later I was running 15 along the river Ouse from south of York to where we had parked the caravan to the North. Another glorious run, and even though the last miles were hard going through waist high weeds, it was still one of those great runs that left me feeling strong and well trained and optimistic.
Towards the end of July things had changed. It wasn't fun any more. The nice short 5 km lunch time runs had turned into 5 miles for the shortest and getting close to 10 for the longer ones, meaning that with post run stretches, shower, and a bit to eat it simply didn't fit into an hour. I'm lucky that I work from home and can flex my time, so as long as I made up the time nobody had a problem with me taking longer lunch breaks, but work was becoming increasingly busy, and it was harder and harder to find the time. I started to postpone the lunchtime run until after work (like, I imagine, the vast majority of people do), and as things continued to get busier, they got postponed till the next day, and till the next day again. When August rolled around, I had started to skip entire weeks, and then frantically trying to make up the lost ground in a single run.
Week 12 nearly didn't happen. I had skipped the long run of week 11, and all the mid week runs. So I decided in my wisdom that best motivator would be a nice 17 miles on the small country roads. I took a half day off from work and set off on a sunny Wednesday afternoon. You don't lose much fitness during a week, don't worry, it'll be fine, I told my self. Bl**dy B*llocks to me! It was bloody awful, and I limped home swearing that I'd never ever lace up a pair of running shoes. Never ever again!
In week 13 I decided I had now magically caught up now, everything was going to be fine. And as I was going on holiday at the end of the week, I brought trainers and all the running paraphanelia. First stop of the holiday was Bremen in Germany where I set out on a 19 miler through the city, along the river, past a huge football stadium, crossing the river on a dam used by a power company, through gorgeous greenery and back to the mainland on a 90 seconds ferry (ain't seen no rules saying you can't take the ferry when you go for a run!) and back to my hotel via their exposition centre. This was just what my spirits needed, for although I was limping and hurting at the end, it had been a glorious experience.
Small non running related side story here. When I arrived in Bremen I had parked my car at the far corner of a huge parking space outside the exposition centre. Next morning when I turned up to get the car the entire huge parking space had been turned into a giant flea market. Row after row of neatly arranged car boots and sausage stalls and bric and brac and more sausages and beers and Germans having a jolly good time. My car was in the third row from the back, neatly lined up with the stalls. Oooops. Quick walk through the flea market confirmed my fears. There was absolutely no way it would be possible to drive out until the market was over. Meanwhile my mum was waiting for me in 300 miles away in Denmark, and the stall holder I asked said the market would finish around 3. Or when they ran out of sausages. Or maybe they'd carry on a little longer, since it was such a beautiful day, and actually he wasn't quite sure what the plan was. Double oops. And words that don't belong in a race report! I did eventually find a chap with a hi viz jacket, and sure, he knew about my car. The one with English license plates, right? Oh yes, they had noticed it thank you very much. Would I like my car now? Well, yes, I would be grateful if it would be possible, please and thank you, but I totally understood that I was a dumpkopf for getting myself into this horrible mess, and many apologies for my broken German, but my old mutti in Denmark was waiting, etc, etc, etc. He was a right star. Got a couple of his co-hi-viz-jacket-wearers to help, and within 5 minutes I had a small group of people spreading the stalls like Moses spread the Red Sea, and I could drive slowly out of there and back home. Phew! And prost to German flea market guards!
Anyway, back to the Marathon training. Next weekend I was still aching, and it was hot (as in 28 degrees), and my attempt of a 12 miler got changed to a 8 miler and then after the first 2 miles I stopped, turned around and walked back. Too much. Way too much.
Three more weeks followed of almost no running, and definitely not enough to fit an ambitious Marathon training plan. I was despondent. Tried half heartedly and gave up full heartedly. Early September I had made up my mind. This bloody Marathon was stupid, it was sucking all the joy out of my running, and it was too much like hard work, and I had had it, bwaaah mwaaaahhh!!!
Then on a Friday evening I got thinking while having a glass of wine (wine is always good for that). There's a cut off of 7 hours. I can walk comfortably at 5 km/h, so that's 20 km in 4 hours. So if I could just manage the first half of the race in three hours, then it wouldn't matter how knackered and despondent I was, as I could just walk. So the next morning I went out to run 2 km, walk 500 m, run 2 km, walk 500 m, rinse, repeat for 20 km.
That also hurt. Badly. And the 500 m walks became 1 km walks which then became 1,500 m walks towards the end. I wasn't a happy bunny when I came home, but there was still a few weeks left, so I thought if only I could carry on this run/walk stuff, then I might actually be able to manage the distance. I downloaded Jeff Galloway's book to read about how the "proper" galloway technique is, and learnt that it's meant to be short distance runs and short distance walks, rather than the somewhat large intervals I had chosen. Well, run 2 km and walk 500 m means walking 20% of the distance, and the same can be done by running 400 m and walking 100 m. So that became my new target. Did it for each of the runs during the week, and also for a 15 mile thing on the weekend. It still hurt, and I was still knackered, but it hurt less, and that helped a lot with the motivation.
Then the following week we went on our holiday to Teesdale. For those who don't know, Teesdale is absolutely stunning, not least because of the hills. They look so pretty, and the meandering rivers at the bottom of them are lovely, but the roads are all either uphill or significantly uphill or bloody steep uphill. Well, except for the downhill sections which tends to be almost non existing, and when they do exist they're as steep as a lift in an office building. But never mind, off I went, backpack with water and gels and jacket and map and compass (I have a lot of respect for the moors), and nearly five hours and 22 miles later I finished feeling super optimistic and motivated again. Boy oh boy, I had missed that feeling!
The notes from the run includes "Absolutely gorgeous route with glorious views most of the way. As well as the best Mother Nature had to offer, I also saw a shepherd on a quad bike. First he overtook me with two dogs on the "backseat", and then a few miles later he was stopped and whistling while the dogs were working a herd of sheep. It was quite impressive to watch. At Grassholme there were 12 sailboats out cruising around and across the lake. Beautiful. Pictoresque villages, and friendly drivers who had time to nod and wave to a runner. All in all, this one will be added to my list of truly memorable runs. Enjoyed it a lot, and ended it feeling strong and confident. Exactly what the doctor ordered for a final long run."
From here on it was all downhill, but in the positive, good manner. I enjoyed the three weeks taper, ticked off the runs on my mental list - last half marathon distance, last 8 miler, last 5 miler, last 3 miler, last 2 miler, last run...
And then (after much ado and many, many words) came the cherry on the cake, the dot on the i, the blister on the foot and the crown on the princess' head. The big M on Sunday the 11th.
The organisation was meticulous, and everything just ran super smoothly. From the park-and-run busses taking many of us from a nearby airfield to the event village at York University, to the super friendly marshalls who seemed to be wherever you look, great spectators, great entertainment, great weather, marvellous route, even the porta loos were plentiful and not particularly smelly. What more can you wish for?
Doing a Galloway felt strange at the beginning. When we got underway I ran 400 m and then stopped to walk 100m, then ran 400 and walked 100m. Before long we were going through York city centre and past the Minster, loads of people lining the roads to cheer everybody on, and I must admit that I felt like a bit of a cheat for walking. You see, I could read their mind. They were at the beginning of a marathon route, and there comes a bloke who's walking already. How on earth will he manage to complete the route if he can't even run the first mile?! So I became self conscious and avoided eye contact while I was walking but enjoyed the cheering while running. After a few intervalts it dawned on me that nobody gives a damn, so I stopped worrying and just enjoyed the rhythm of run/walk/run/walk.
The 10k marker came up when I'd been going for an hour 15 minutes, and a quick calculation told me that this would mean finishing in about 5:15. But of course I would slow down later on, so who knows how long it would take, but it was encouraging that I was making good progress at least at the beginning. Almost before I realised it, I was at the half way marker, and the watch said 2:35, so that would mean finishing in 5:10, but of course, I would slow down later, etc. But the strange thing is that I didn't. I got tired, sure, and it got to be harder and harder to get myself running again after a walking break, but I kept surprising myself by keeping the same pace for the 400 m running intervals despite not focusing on speed at all, the only thing that mattered was to just run 400 m at a time at whatever pace felt comfortable. It just so happened that comfortable was between 6 and 6:30 min/km consistently. So when the finish line came up, I was mighty pleased and surprised to having made it in 5:09:15.
There's such a huge amount of positive, and also some negative, experiences over the last five months, but looking back at it, I am very happy that I managed to find the stubbornness to carry on. The feeling at the end, those first 30 seconds after crossing the finishing line, "I just ran a Marathon, I bloody did it" were just magical. Then came a strange emptiness, some tears and a weird empty feeling. Call it a mini meltdown. But after that, once the memories all started to come back, it was simply amazing!
Worst thing about it? The relentless increase in weekly distance and weekly time spent running. Week after week after week, with the plan seemingly endless, and the only hope being that maybe it would hurt a little bit less next week than it had this week, and maybe somehow magically all the frustrations would turn into something resembling fitness.
Best thing? The last 26.2 miles. All the miles had magically transformed my legs and created something resembling fitness, and while it was hard work, the last 26.2 miles were a joyfull experience from the beginning to the finish.