My training runs

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Was it the 'Road to Hell'?

Miles run this week:  26.2!

After six months of training, 161 days of planning, 3,864 hours of preparation and 231,840 minutes living and breathing everything marathon, it took 16,380 seconds to run my first marathon.  I came over the finish line in 4 hours 33 minutes and 55 seconds. And I’m chuffed with that.

Race day started at 5am when I woke up after spending a pretty comfortable night at Hickstead Travelodge, seven miles north of Brighton. I slept well, apart from being woken at 4am when some rowdy blokes rolled into the car park after a stag do in Brighton. I got in the shower, ate my usual pre-race breakfast of porridge brought from home, but had to eat it cold. The butterflies were fluttering, but not trying to break loose. I couldn’t tell if it was nerves or excitement, but all in all, I felt OK. We left at 6.15am to make sure we got a space in the park and ride. As we drove towards Brighton, the butterflies picked up. 

Brian (my partner), Sandra (my training partner) and Alan (her husband and our training route master) arrived in Preston Park just as the sun rose above the treetops. It was a beautiful day. The sky was crystal clear and the forecast was set to be 21 degrees later in the day. But right then, we shivered in the cold. I pulled my leg warmers right up and hugged myself warm. Only 2 hours before the biggest race of my life began.
If you look closely, you can see goosebumps!
A few runners sauntered around the vast green area while organisers hurried about putting things in place. The café was setting up and smells of bacon filled the air. Mobile catering vans pulled up wafting the smell of fresh coffee over us. We chatted with a few other nervous runners, a father and son who watched the race the year before and were so inspired, they decided to give it a go. Within a blink of an eye, the vast empty park became a swarming mass of runners. Noddy and his car walked past closely followed by Elvis.  A huge fairy strode over to the water station, while yellow Afro wigged runners had their photo taken. As the men sipped their coffee, we realised it was 8.15. Time to go to the loo one last time.
All set for the off.
There were two lots of portaloos, each with about 50 loos.  We went to the nearest ones. My jaw dropped and I gasped when I saw the queues.  They must’ve been 200m long at least. We hot-footed it over to the other ones only to find it was exactly the same.  Now what? There was no way we’d get to the front before the race started at 9.  Then we remembered the café had some loos so we raced back there.  The queue was bigger than before, but only about 30 women stood between me and my last nervous pee.

We all stood, patiently jigging up and down to keep warm. Then on one foot to the other as the need to pee got more urgent.  What were these women doing in there? Why wasn’t the queue going down faster?  At 8.50am I was next and then, a male toilet assistant decided that now, 10 minutes before the race, was the best time to top up the toilet paper.  A chorus of highly strung voices shrieked: ‘You have got to be joking!’ Poor bloke. While fumbling around in the toilet, in his broken English (I think he was Polish), he told us he was sorry. He had to do it. Sorry. Sorry. He came out of the toilets with his hands up, surrendering to the 20 or so steely runners’ stares that burned through him as he scampered out and into the crowds.

And so I went, relieved that I could finally relieve myself.  Sandra and I came out of those loos as if the start gun had gone off.  We ran towards the men while ripping off our old t-shirts that were keeping us warm.  Then a blur of hurried hugs, kisses and good luck wishes. The runners were streaming towards their start corrals and we ran to join them. But as I started to jog away from the men, I realised that my running belt was going to annoy the hell out of me like it was, loaded down with energy gels, Vaseline, Nurofen and my iPhone.  I had tried it out a few days before on my last two mile run, but I think the Lycra running shorts I had on now didn’t grip it as well as the shorts I had on before. Damn. Something had to go. I jogged back and handed my phone to Brian, shouting over my shoulder as I turned back to the start ‘I’ll just have to find you at the end’. So much for being cool, calm and collected at the start of the race! I also realised that because of the loo queue, I hadn’t done any warm up exercises. They say preparation is everything and all mine was going out of the window. 

Sandra and I joined the snake of excited runners now being walked slowly towards the start line. Nerves  jangled, excited chitter-chatter filled the air. And then, in the distance, we heard the countdown start over the loadspeakers…….. 10, 9, 8, 7, 6 ….. we all joined in ….. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 Hooooooonnnnnnkkkkkk.  The air horn went off and the cheer went up from the crowd with whoops and whistles.

Like a well practised dance troop, we surged forward in unison only to stop after about five paces.  It always happens.  It’s like the phantom traffic jams you get on a motorway where cars slow to a stop even though everything in front of them is moving. I looked in front of me and there were two firemen in full protective clothing with air tanks on their backs. I asked them, ‘They’re not full are they?’ and was taken a back when they said they were.  How on earth were they going to run 26.2 miles in the heat promised later in the day, in full rig, with those heavy tanks on their back? I hoped their plan was to whip out a mouthpiece tucked under their jackets so they could have a quick drag on the oxygen along the way.

The snake started to move again but this time it didn’t stop.  Slowly we jogged towards the start line, my belt still annoying me bouncing up and down.  I tried to tighten it, tie it in knot, pull it further down, but nothing was working.  So I tucked it down my running shorts and pulled my t-shirt over it. I just hoped it didn’t rub on my tummy too much and cause me problems later in the race.

This was it.  I was about to attempt running for 26.2 miles. The crowds cheered from the behind the barriers that lined Preston Park as got nearer the start line.  I glanced over to the park which had been packed with runners 10 minutes before.  It was eerily empty. Then the runners around me started to cheer as the race leaders passed us on the right.  They’d already done their first mile and we hadn’t even crossed the start line. The start clock loomed ahead. Runners glanced down at their watches, fingers poised to hit the start button to begin their race.  Three, two one, click.  Here we go. 26.2 miles of running ahead.  26.2 miles of the unknown.  My stomach flipped.

A shout came from the left as Brian and Alan called out our names and we waved and smiled.  Then again from the Winston Wish team this time with a video camera. More waves and smiles.  We turned our first bend to be faced with the first hill of the day.  So soon! We knew the first 13 miles was described as ‘undulating’.  Organisers use that word instead of ‘hilly’ as it isn’t as scary to runners. Well, not the inexperienced ones anyway. And they didn’t lie to us.  The crowds cheered, we put our heads down as our hearts started to pound and we forced our bodies to move up into second gear.

I hate the beginning of races or runs.  It takes a few miles to settle into your pace and for your breathing to get back to normal after being kick started into action. And in races, you’re weaving in and out of other runners to try and find space, dodging bollards that you can’t see. 

I managed to keep my eye on Sandra and we got to the top of the first hill and then enjoyed the downhill as the first mile marker came into view. Then it was down towards the sea, through the still cheering, but thinning, crowds. We over took runners dressed in bride and groom costumes, more firefighters in full rig with their practise dummy, (which weighs the same as a person), over their backs, one running backwards just to make the run easier! Already I was thirsty despite drinking lots of water before the start.  My throat was dry and the first water station at three miles couldn’t come quick enough.  I was glad to see the water they were giving out was in small bottles with a pull out and suck spout.  I grabbed one and guzzled that magical liquid that was to be my lifesaver. I made my mind up to always have a bottle in my hand for the whole race, a kind of safety blanket.

Then a left turn, up (yes, up again) a small high street where the crowds thickened again. We were coming up to mile five and were expecting to see the men around here somewhere and also the Winston’s Wish supporters. We both scanned the crowds to take our minds off our breathing which was becoming harder and faster as we climbed the hill. No sign of the men, but a big cheer from Winston’s Wish as they spotted me in the crowd.  Wearing the red tutu was paying off. We headed back down towards the seafront turning left to run along the coast road.  My brother Guy (a five time Southdown marathon runner, i.e. mad as a box of frogs) had told me it was uphill running east out of Brighton and he wasn’t wrong.  The crowds thinned as we started on the long road that stretched out before us.  We could see a stream of runners, miles ahead of us, like ants on the march. And the road was like a switchback.  Long slow climbs up and what seemed to be shorter downs while the sea shimmered on our right, boats bobbing rhythmically in the marina. 

My pace had fallen into a natural stride by now.  We kept checking our watches to make sure we weren’t going too fast.  We were bang on track. A huge sandstone building stood majestically on the hill overlooking the sea.  It looked like a modern Coldizt, but what was it?  I forgot to look going past it the first time and then the when we passed it again four miles later.  I’ve Googled it and still can’t find out what it is. And then what looked like a school, which was in an equally impressive position, overlooking the sea, came into view.  What a fantastic place to have lessons I thought.  But it wasn’t a school, but a holiday home for the St Dunstan’s charity that supports blind ex-servicemen and women.

It was at this point we turned inland again and headed towards Ovingdean. Runners were streaming passed on the other side of the road. They’d done what I was about to do, but what that was, I didn’t know.  Mile seven came up as we ran into a small hamlet of stone houses.  The streets were quiet apart from a few villagers clapping as we went passed, while they sipped champagne! Rotten lot.  A lady sat on her bedroom windowsill and looked down at the masses of runners winding their way through the narrow roads.  I shouted up to her: ‘Why don’t you come and join us?’  She smiled and waved back. And then, another hill. This time steep, but short which left me gasping for air at the top.  The sun was really starting to get warm now and the villages were making the most of it.  The top of the hill opened out into a field where a funfair had pitched up while villagers sat on picnic blankets.  They were in their own little world up there and it was lovely.  The next water station came and I grabbed another bottle of water and tipped some of it onto the back of my head. The ice cold water trickled through my now sweat drenched hair down my back.  Oh that was nice. So cooling.

On we went, back out towards the sea, onto the main Marina Drive that runs parallel to the sea. We turned and started to head back along the switch back road towards Brighton passing mile 10, 11 and 12 and a soldier with a full bergen on his back. On the opposite side of the road, around mile seven was a woman soldier carrying exactly the same.  She looked in agony and I memorised her number 4172 so I could sponsor her.  She made it to the halfway mark, but didn’t finish.

Thank goodness the hills were nearly over.  It was going to be flat from mile 13 onwards (the organisers told a teensy-weensy lie there – more later).

My mental strategy was to break the race up into two 10 mile runs and one six mile run. It was working so far and with the halfway point coming up, another mental boost was that we knew the men should be around here and the Winston’s Wish team.  The crowds were lining the streets again around the halfway inflatable sign that straddled the road.  Now just another half marathon to do. Ha! Just another 13 miles which I knew were going to be tough.

We checked our watches – we’d been running 2 hours 12 minutes. And then Brian and Alan spotted us and we waved and smiled as their cameras clicked away.  Shortly after, Winston’s Wish whooped and called out my name as they picked out my red tutu again.
Looking strong at the halfway point
I was feeling pretty good at this point. The sun was shining, the crowds were fantastic: I was doing what I set out to do – I was enjoying it. But Sandra wasn’t. The heat was getting to her and she was starting to slow.  We hadn’t talked about whether we’d stay together or do our own thing.  Sandra always beats me when we enter races, and that’s fine with me.  The moment I put pressure on myself during a race, be it time or wanting to beat someone, I go to pieces.  So I was torn about what I should do.  Do I stay with my running partner, who I’d spent every Saturday morning with for the last six months, pounding the streets preparing for this day? Or do I keep to the pace I was doing which meant I’d leave her behind?  She sensed what I was thinking and told me to go on without her. I know it’s what I’d have said and have said many a time to her, so reluctantly, I glanced back and carried on. I knew there was every chance she’d catch me as the miles clocked up. I’ve seen her dogged determination and drive many a time so I knew she’d probably have me in sight for the rest of the race.

So this was where the race changed for me. I was on my own so to speak, but at this point I didn’t feel alone. I had thousands of runners ahead of me and behind and thousands of people keeping me company along the way, willing me and every other runner on.

From mile 17 onwards, I was looking for shade to run in.  It was around 12 noon now and the heat was picking up. One foot in front of the other – that’s all I had to do. One resident along Old Shoreham Road was spraying grateful runners with his hosepipe. I wondered if he was on a water meter or not.  I didn’t want to stop and wait at this unexpected oasis for fear of not being able to start up again. I’d learnt from the 20 mile Bramley race in February that my quads began to get very sore from 15 miles onwards. So I was glad I’d taken some painkillers at mile 15 as I was starting to feel it.

Old Shoreham Road seemed to go on for miles. I knew that some of my friends planned to be along this road somewhere.  I scanned the faces along the roadside to find them. Runners passed me on the opposite side of the road and finally, I saw the sign ‘sharp turn ahead’.  There was a band playing at the hairpin and as I got closer, I heard a squeal from the across the road ‘Tina!’ I turned to see my friend Debbie and her husband Mark waving. I shouted over my shoulder: ‘Prepare yourself for a wet hug!’  It was just what I needed as my body started to flag. And then, a double boost, my other friends Marie and Paula spotted me and shouted my name.  I ran to them and gave them a huge wet hug. They shouted words of encouragement as I took off again as the adrenaline boost filled my veins. And then, a hundred metres on, there was Debbie and Mark and I ran towards them beaming.  Mark was taking what I thought was photos, but turned out to be video as I hugged them both.

video

Having friends along the route were my lifelines.  Knowing they were around the route was great, something to focus on to take my mind off the discomfort that was kicking in now. Noddy and his car headed down the road where I had been 20 minutes before and Superman, looking less than super followed behind.

The route took us back into Brighton where we turned right in front of a gospel choir. The wave of song gave me goosebumps all over.  I raised my hands and clapped to thank them for being there before turning to run towards the power station.  Mile 19 was coming up and this meant the dockyard. The 2010 runners said the race got really tough around the dockyard as there was no music along this three mile loop.  The organisers had listened and put three speakers around this part the route to help the now weary runners. The other vital thing that was still missing was going to be the supporters. But just before I went into this abyss, I heard a shout behind me. I’d run straight past the Andover Roadrunners who were now hollering encouragement at me.  I turned and ran back to them and gave them all a hug too. That was the least I could do after they’d taken the time and trouble to come and support me and Sandra. And then, another shot in the arm of adrenaline just around the corner as Marie and Paula popped up again with Debbie and Mark. Another hug stop, another video and then I waved goodbye as I trudged towards the dockyard.

video

I passed the 20 mile marker not far into the eerily quiet dockyard.  The air was still and smelt of rotten fish.  Workers on a boat looked down on us while they drank tea.  Runners were stopping, stretching, collapsing.  I shuffled passed a young girl laying on the ground, surrounded by paramedics asking her to tell them her name.  She stared passed them, her eyes glazed over. I told myself, surely she’d felt that coming on? I was worried.  I’d never run this far before and knew that ‘hitting the wall’ was a real possibility. This is where your muscles literally run out of energy.  They have nothing more to give. Your legs stop and your brain starts to shut down.  Your body goes into shock and tries to protect the core organs to keep you alive. I’d tried to prepare my body for this by taking an energy gel at mile seven and fourteen. I’d kept drinking along the way, taking regular sips.  I started to feel bloated, but I was still thirsty. I pulled my last energy gel from my belt and sucked it down at mile 21. I didn’t want to be that girl on the ground. But had I done enough to stop that from happening?

My body was slowing down now and I felt the soreness of my quads everytime my feet hit the ground. This was where the fight started between my mind and my body. Except, the mind is much more powerful than my body.  I knew my body would go on a lot longer than my mind thought it could. I knew this was going to happen and knew this was where I had to bring out strategies to keep myself going.  I had to keep my mind strong. I mustn’t let it cave in and turn the ignition key off. I told myself I was on my way back towards Brighton now. I was heading towards the finish line. I wouldn’t stop or I’d regret it for the rest of my life.

The runners around me were quiet. Everyone was feeling it as the rays of sunshine beat down on us.  The two Mario brothers passed each other going in different directions, one of them two miles further on than the other. They murmured words of encouragement to each other. 

Finally I reached the marshall that stood at the entrance and exit to the dockyard.  He shouted to those going in ‘Well done, only six to go’ and to those coming out ‘Well done.  Only three miles to the finish.’

I said earlier the organisers had lied when they said all the hills were before mile 13.  Coming out of the dockyard was like coming out of the doldrums.  You could hear people again, willing runners on, getting closer. But to get to them, you had to run up a very short, steep hill.  If I went back to that hill today, I’d probably laugh at the size of it. But at that moment in time, any hill would have felt like a mountain after running 23 miles. But this is where living in Andover became a blessing.  Wherever you run in Andover, you get hills.  Long slow ones that seem to go on forever and short steep ones much harder than the one that faced me now.  But I’d never run up one after running 23 miles. 

The hot, desolate dockyard had taken its toll. Mentally I was in a zone. The world around me became a shadow. Voices became distant.  And so I just carried on, one foot in front of the other, leaning into the hill. I was pulled out of my zone when I heard my name being called by familiar voices.  Like little angels, Marie and Paula had winged their way to mile 23.5 and were telling me it wasn’t far to go now. No hug this time for them.  I was pretty certain if I stopped now, I wouldn’t be able to get my legs going again. So I put my hand up to show I’d heard them and then I remembered Paula’s mantra she’d told me to use.  JFDI – 'just f***ing do it'. Not very lady like, but I'd try anything at this point. I turned and as I ran backwards, I shouted over to her ‘JFDI! JFDI!’.  She told me when she saw me next that they were really worried about me when they first saw me at that point.  I was in another place and they could see that. But when I turned and shouted ‘JFDI’ she knew I was OK.

The finish was at Brighton pier. I looked up and I could see it in the distance. Three more miles.  I could do that I told myself. I pictured my short run at Andover. That’s all I had to do, so long as I could fight the little voice in my head telling me to stop.

Then I noticed Archie. Archie is the guide dog for the blind mascot and he was running in front of me. Here was I wilting by the second and there was Archie with a spring in his step donned in full furry costume. I bet he hadn’t had the luxury of tipping water over his head whenever he felt like it.  A new drive kicked in. Surely I could beat Archie to the finish line?  Well, at least not let him out of my sight. I plodded on behind him as the crowd cheered him on in amazement.  Some of the crowd cheering him on were my friends Debbie and Mark who were looking out for me as Marie and Paula had texted them to say I was on my way.  But they missed me because of Archie. It’s so easy to do.  As I made my way towards the finish, Mark was asking the St John’s Ambulance where to find collapsed runners. The time between Marie and Paula texting and me not passing them was too long.  He thought I’d hit the wall, that my race was over. But Debbie knew me better.  ‘She’d never give up’ she said.

Alfie - who had dogged determination
Of course, I was oblivious to all this.  I was back in my zone. Archie was gone from my mind.  I needed something else to help me battle on these last two miles. And so I thought of my boys.  I’d had a text from my youngest son before the race saying ‘when it gets tough, think of us all hugging you’.  So I thought of them, not hugging me, but running alongside me, urging me on. Their young, fresh legs pulling my tired old ones with a magic thread. It brought tears to my eyes then as it does now. It worked. Before I knew it, I’d passed the 25 mile marker and the crowds were getting louder.  More and more of them shouted out: ‘Come on Tina. Not far to go now’. I remembered that I had to take all this in.  I was getting close now and had to make the most of it.  The pier was getting closer and soon it would all be over.  The months of training, the exhilaration and the pain would end.

I knew Brian would be around here now, but I knew it would be impossible to spot him in the sea of faces around me. And then I saw the ‘800m to go’ sign.  Immediately my mind converted it to ‘twice around the running track’.  This was it.  This was the final push.

I’ll never forget the feeling I had running the last 400 metres. The roar of the crowd was deafening as the runners made their way towards the pier. The finish clock came into view and supporters were on every view point. No matter where I looked, there were faces, clapping and shouting. I remembered my promise to myself: to enjoy it.  So I pushed my sunglasses up onto my head and smiled. And I laughed and got a bit teary. I even picked up my pace, although I was probably the only one who knew. I wanted it to end, but I didn’t at the same time.  This was fantastic.  This was the finale of six months of my life.

As I focussed on the finishing clock, watching the seconds tick by, I lapped up the atmosphere.  And as I crossed the finish line, I had to pinch myself when I realised I’d done what I’d set out to do: I’d run a marathon.  

I'd like to thank so many people at this point. Most importantly Brian who's been my rock.  His never ending support and love over the last six months didn't wain. He was with me every step of the way and gave me encouragement and belief when I needed it.  And he ran nice hot baths for me to slip into when I came back from the long, cold, winter runs.

And then there's Sandra, my training partner.  She's been great. We've battled through the tough times together, helping each other along the way. Knowing she was waiting for me every Saturday morning got me out of bed.  Without her, I may have just rolled over and given it a miss. I really don't think I'd have done it without her.

Which brings me on to Alan, Sandra's husband.  He worked out our routes and showed us the way on his bike.  When we got cold, he got cold. When our hands and legs froze, so did his. And he was our camel.  He carried our drinks in his rucksack. He made the hard runs easier for us.

My friends and family have listened to me moan about the training. They've looked interested as I talked endlessly about running. They've listened to my fears and given me motivational talks when it got tough. And then they came along to support me and made the day very special.

The Winston's Wish team has been fantastic too. Their emails and the personal touches in their support made me feel really special. And coming all the way from Gloucester to cheer me on was the icing on the cake.

Then there's Brighton and all the people who came to see us run. Their never ending clapping, shouting out my name and cheering made the day.
 
And finally, a huge thank you to everyone who's sponsored me. You know who you are. With your generosity I think I'll raise £500 for Winston's Wish.  That will help 50 families support the children where their parents have died.

It's been a fantastic six months and I hope you've enjoyed reading about it. And if you've had even just a slight thought about doing it yourself, I'll just say two words. 

Do it!



Sunday, 3 April 2011

It's the final countdown





Miles run this week:  26

Sunday, 8.45pm

It’s six days and 14 hours before the gun goes off and I begin to move my legs. My heart will be pounding.  My nerves running wild. My body fresh and ready to go. Ahead of me lays 26.2 miles, which will be around 41,000 steps, but of what?

Well running obviously, but what sort of running?  Will I be having a good day or will it be one of those days when your body just doesn’t feel right.  A bit like a run down battery. All runners experience them.  I just hope that I don’t next Sunday. 

One thing’s for sure:  I’m going to do everything I can to enjoy the experience. After nearly six months of training, that’s got to be my main goal. Oh and to finish it of course.

I’m not going to put any pressure on myself to run the marathon within a certain time, or try and keep up with someone.  I’m going to soak up the atmosphere, take in the sites of Brighton, dance to the music (if I’ve still got the legs to do so) and do my best to smile!  And that’s going to be the hardest thing I reckon.  When your legs are aching, and your shoulders are up around your ears with tension, when you’re battling with that evil voice inside your head saying ‘let’s walk now’, it’s going to be hard to find that smile. But I owe it to myself to smile as this is going to be one of the most amazing experiences of my life.  And it’s probably going to be the only marathon I ever run. Note the word probably readers.  I found out the other day that next year’s London Marathon ends in the Olympic stadium and that set the old brain ticking over, much to the annoyance of my partner. He’s just got his Saturday morning lie-ins back. But for how long?  Watch this space.

I’m not going to write too much in this post.  All I’ll say is I’ve done the prep as best I can for a first timer.  I’ve had a few set backs, but I don’t know a runner that doesn’t. And I’ve learnt from them.  I’m really excited, but my stomach keeps lurching with the realisation that it’s almost here. This week I’m going to eat really healthily, drink no alcohol (not counting the glass of wine I had today – well, it is Mother’s Day!) and have some nice easy, short runs as part of my taper (not counting the 15 mile bike ride I did today - I know, don’t say it, ‘bird brain’).

I’d also like to say how chuffed I am to have chosen Winston’s Wish to raise money for.  They’ve got 38 runners at Brighton and they took the time to hand write a thank you card to us all.  In these times when it’s all too easy to bang out a letter on a computer, I was really touched by that. Why not have a look at their webpage to see the reasons why others are running for them.  It brings it home how much people care about others.  Complete strangers want to help people they’ve never met before, or ever will. If we wanted to, we can all remain in our own little worlds these days with the technology we have.  But things like the Brighton marathon show that we’re all human, who are compassionate and care about each other. I know from talking to friends who’ve run marathons that the people lining the streets of Brighton will be willing me on. They’ll be shouting encouragement at me, calling out my name.  They’ll want me to go over that finish line. They’ll be showing me they care.

And it’s that which will get me over the finish line with a smile on my face.  Not just a smile though, the biggest grin ever. 

Signing off as a non-marathoner, hopefully for the last time. Ever.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Me and my big mouth!

Miles run over 2 weeks 43

How many times have you talked about something that you don’t want to happen and then it happens?  You tempt fate and then – BAM! It smacks you in the face. 

Well, no sooner had I blogged my last post about what every runner dreads ‘the danger zone’ and I go down with a horrendous cold with complimentary hacking cough.  I normally sail through sniffles but not this time.  Maybe it was because my body was too busy mending sore muscles that it didn’t have enough umph to see off those pesky cold bugs that had wangled their way into my body.  I felt awful so I didn’t run for a week. I hoped that by doing that, it would allow my body to attack the cold and get rid of it. 

The first run back was a 10 mile road race.  It was my birthday too, although I didn’t tell anyone. I had no nerves whatsoever as I just wanted to finish it, even if that meant walking.  I thought I’d be coughing from the off, but didn’t.  My throat burned at first and I could feel my chest wheezing a bit, but I didn’t feel ill.  My legs were very wobbly though.  I didn’t have much energy, but I just kept telling myself to go nice and easy.  I took my mind off everything by counting squashed frogs.  Not the nicest distraction, but the route was alongside the river Avon and it was mating time for frogs.  They had to cross the road to get to the river to spawn. I counted 29 that didn’t make it to the river, but instead made it to the great spawning ground in the sky.

I used a runner in front as a pacer from about five miles. She knew I was there because when we got to the hills, my wheezy chest meant I huffed and puffed to get up them. When we got to nine miles, I came alongside her. I felt obliged not to pass her as she’d done all the work and I’d just followed.  It wouldn’t be fair would it?  I was just about to open my mouth to say, ‘Don’t worry, I’m not going to overtake you’, when my competitive side kicked in.  Isn’t this what all these months of training had been all about?  Being able to finish strong? To keep going when the going got tough? Find those inner reserves when you needed them? Damn right it was!  So, head bowed, eyes to the floor I went passed her apologetically. I quite expected her to overtake me again, but it didn’t happen.  The last 400 metres were dire.  I dug deep.  I pumped my arms. I wheezed (not breezed) to the finish and fought for air when I stopped.  One of the marshalls rushed over to make sure I was OK as I was bent over double and went as white as a sheet, but after catching my breath, I was fine.

I ran a respectable 1.32 but I was shattered at the end.  And then the coughing started. It went on. And on. And on.  I could’ve hired myself out as a guard dog that night as my cough became a bark.

On the way back to the changing hall, I saw what would’ve been a fantastic birthday present.  What do you think?
My ideal birthday present

The next day, I went back up to the running club to do the normal ‘fast’ five miles.  I’d decided to give it a go, see how I got on.  I was going OK until around four miles. And then that niggle came back in my left calf.  It got tighter and tighter and as I cursed under my breath. I knew I’d have to ease off or risk it twanging. I hobbled back and did all the lower calf stretches I knew.  It was really quite painful.  Now what do I do? The marathon was four weeks and my leg hurt like hell. In the words of Dasterdly and Muttley, ‘Drat and double drat!’

The next day, my leg was as stiff as a rock and very painful to walk on. I rang the masseur who I’d booked to have a post marathon massage with.  I explained the problem:  marathon in four weeks, leg knackered! Could she help me?  I was relieved when she said she was almost sure she could and she could see me that afternoon.  Luckily I was able to get a couple of hours off work and went along. After prodding and pressing, she explained what the pain was.  As I’d increased my mileage, my body started building more muscle.  It does this by growing fibres and one of these had torn and the others had clamped over it to protect it.  That equaled pain. She pummeled my calf (there’s no other word for it) for an hour while I winced, stifled wails of agony and bit my lip.  She told me it would be sore but I was OK to run on it the next day. But she warned me – if you get stabby pains when you run, stop.

The next morning it felt like someone had used my calf as a punch bag.  I quite expected it to be black and blue as t felt bruised., But it definitely felt easier, not so tight.  So I decided to run that night. When I started running the discomfort started to grow from about mile five so at six, so I had no choice but to walk the next two miles back to the club.  I wanted to be safe not sorry.

My next run was going to be two days later and it was supposed to be my longest before the marathon - 22 miles.  When I got up that day, my calf didn’t feel too bad.  I made sure I did some dynamic stretches and had my partner on standby to pick me up.  When I first set off, it was fine, but then, as I expected, the discomfort started coming back.  At 11 miles, I was very close to making that call to be picked up as the pain had changed.  It was more like a soreness than an ache. What to do? I’d brought some Nurofen with me, but if I took them and the pain got worse, I wouldn’t know so decided against them. I thought about everything I’d read and remembered reading that all runners have niggling pains, which they run through.  So, as it wasn’t a stabby pain, I thought I’d carry on for a bit longer. The soreness did go, but the old tightness came back, but not as bad as before.  I was so thirsty though, which is a huge ‘no-no’ for runners.  I had been drinking my half water, half sports mix, but it wasn’t quenching my thirst.  So with the combination of a tight calf muscle and thirst, I decided not to do the full 22 but cut it to 20 miles which was much further than I honestly thought I’d manage when I set off. My last mile wasn’t a jog or a run, but a shuffle.

When I finished, I was close to tears.  I’m not sure if it was in frustration or the fact that I was so tired and my leg was so sore. It hurt to stretch. It hurt to walk. It hurt. I lay out on the grass and stretched my buttocks – even they hurt!  I was enjoying the warm sun on my face and the stretch when the next door neighbour turned up in a car!  I couldn’t get up quickly to save my embarrassment. Instead I rolled onto my tum, then up on my knees, one by one before finally pushing myself up off the grass making lots of old woman grunting noises. Then I staggered to the wall.  It was at that point I wondered who the heck said running was good for you! I vowed at that moment in time to only ever run a marathon once.  Once! But I said that about babies.

I’ve reached the peak of my training runs – it’s all downhill from now on. The magical taper.  The next time I run that far will be on marathon day, Sunday 10 April.  Three weeks’ time!

And just as a reminder of that fact, my race pack was waiting for me when I got home. My race number stared back at me – 3487. There's no hiding from it now.

I’ll do one more post before the race and then one after.  So, stayed tuned and keep your fingers crossed and I’ll keep my mouth firmly shut until then.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Highway to the danger zone


Miles run this week 32

In five weeks’ time, I’ll have either finished the Brighton Marathon or will be limping my way towards the finish line.

And it’s at this time when the mileage is really ramping up that runners dread getting an injury.  The body starts to rebel against the demands you’re putting on it. Muscles buried deep inside make themselves known as every sinew plays its part in your training. Your body becomes a schizophrenic with your body and mind fighting against one another.

This week I felt tired for the first time.  On Monday, as soon as I started my five mile run, I knew it was going to be tough.  My legs felt sapped of energy from the off. My mind stepped in and said ‘keep going – it’ll pass’.  But it didn’t.  It was an effort to keep up with the others.  So much for a tempo run.  I ended up keeping a newish runner company at the back and even she was running stronger than me.  I tried to keep the negative thoughts at bay, the ones saying ‘How are you going to run 26 miles in a few weeks’ time when you feel like this running five?’

Experience told me not to get disheartened – all runners have bad days. And sure enough, when I ran on Wednesday, I felt back to normal which was a big relief. When I thought about it, I’d been sneezing for a few days and with a cold in the household, I’d probably picked it up – I just didn’t know it at the time.  Surround by tissues while typing this up on Sunday, that cold has broken, complete with sore throat.  Better to get it now than on 10 April.

Yesterday I ran almost 18 miles. With the weather warming up recently, I didn’t bother with leg warmers as I thought I’d get too hot. I wore my hat and gloves and stuffed my snood into Alan’s rucksack, just in case I got cold towards the end. Funnily enough, you may have heard all the press about footballers wearing snoods as a fashion item. I don’t think they’re necessarily wearing them as a fashion item; they may be wearing  them to keep warm like I do.  A physio told me a couple of years ago that wearing a scarf (or snood) keeps you warmer than a hat. The footballers wearing them look like they’re from warmer climes, so couldn’t they be doing the same?

Anyway, I arrived at Sandra and Alan’s at nine and was told today’s route was a ‘bit of a long uphill drag’. Oh joy. (See graph of the hills below, which cut off at mile 13 for some reason)
Saturday's hills in full glory

Neither Sandra or I know where we’re going on our long runs. We just follow Alan on his bike. We’d been going about half an hour when Alan got a puncture, so he stopped and we carried on after he shouted to turn left at the top of the hill.  The hill was the ‘long uphill drag’ and went on for about a mile. We turned left at the top and enjoyed the next downhill which then turned into a bit of a switchback.  Sandra reminisced about doing the same run two years’ ago when the same road was covered in ice, making it almost impossible to get up the hills.

We carried on running and came to a fork in the road.  With no sign of Alan and no clue of the route, we had a guess and took the right fork.  The further we got, the more we thought it looked more like a lane than a road.  So, I got my iPhone and opened up Google maps.  All Sandra knew was we had to pass The Cricketers in Tangley. I didn’t even know where that was so I couldn’t help.  Google maps showed we had taken the wrong route so we backtracked.  Had Alan passed the end of the lane while we were up it?  No way of knowing.  We ran on and saw a sign for The Fox at Tangley (fantastic Thai food if you’re ever in the area) which made Sandra think we’d definitely gone the wrong way.  Like most of us, we don’t memorise phone numbers anymore – we just rely on our mobiles. She didn’t know Alan’s number off the top of her head and I hadn’t got it in my phone.  Now what? We were out in the sticks and hadn’t a clue which way we should go. Then, as if the fairy of the forest had waved her magic wand, another runner came over the brow of the hill.  He turned out to be a friend of a friend.  Of course he didn’t recognise me as the person stood in front of him was stipped of make-up and had her hair hidden under a hat.  He’d only met me once and I had make up on then.  When I told him who I was, I could see him trying to match the runner before him with the person he’d met before.  I’m not convinced he managed it!

But, the good news was he knew where The Cricketers was and he’d take us too it.  Result.  We found out he was on a training run too as he was running the Edinburgh marathon this year in May. After chit chatting for about half a mile, he turned off and went on his way and we on ours. Although I didn’t recognise the road, I knew we were going in the right direction.

We ran on and had decided we’d make up the rest of the run if Alan didn’t turn up, but not long after that, he did. His puncture had taken him a lot longer to mend as he hadn’t brought his glasses with him (who would?) and he couldn’t find the hole in the inner tube.  The first thing we did was grab our drinks and had a guzzle.

So far the route had been a bit of a switchback, up and down hills and at half way (9 miles) I felt fine.  It’s scary how quickly things can change when you run.  At 13 miles, my left calf started to whisper in my ear: ‘Hello up there. I’m feeling very tight. I’m going to ache a bit so you hear me.’ I heard it loud and clear. Memories of a calf pull came flooding back where I’d ignored the ache, which ended with the muscle literally twanging into a spasm.  It put me out of running for about a month and I didn’t want that to happen now so close to Brighton. I tried running so that my heel hit the floor first to try and stretch it out.  That didn’t make the ache go so I had to stop and stretch it. That eased it a bit, but not much.  I cursed myself for not wearing legwarmers.  I didn’t realise how icy the wind was when I left the house and I’m convinced that, along with the hills, this caused my calf to hurt.  Then I had a brainwave.  I grabbed my snood out of the rucksack and wound it around my calf under my running tights.  It looked like I had a deformed leg, but what the heck.  I set off again tentatively but it seemed to do the trick and kept my calf warm. 

For the rest of the run, I knew that I was on the edge of injury. The place all runners dread: the injury danger zone.  My muscle could spasm at any moment. Should I stop and walk the final five miles, which would mess up my training and possibly Sandra’s if she felt she had to walk too? Or would that be worse than to keep the muscle moving? I decided to keep going but felt the soreness in my calf in every step. Would it be the next one when my muscle finally gave up the ghost?

Thankfully, it didn’t happen.  I managed to limp home with everything still intact. Very sore, but untwanged.

Once I got home, I got in a hot bath and felt the tension disappear from my leg.  Then, with no one home to massage my calves for me, I put a massage pad on them. When you think ‘massage’, you normally think ‘pleasure’.  That’s not the case when you massage a sore muscle.  It’s down right painful.  I grimaced through the whole 15 minutes of ‘pleasure’.

So, from now on, I’m going to be wearing those leg warmers even if the weather looks to be tropical.  Or I may get a pair of those sexy (?) running socks that Paula Radcliffe wears.  Those see-through white ones, or how about black? Yes, I know I’ll look daft, but I’d feel even dafter to get this far and then relent to the highway danger zone.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

The good, the bad and the darn right ugly!

Miles run this week:  33
I’m going to skip ‘highlight of the week’ because there’s only one story here – the Bramley 20 mile road race. My longest run in my life. Ever. Oh boy.  Where to start?  Let’s start with the history I’d heard about Bramley a couple of years ago, when my brain was closed to any thought of running a marathon. You’ll have seen my friend Sandra in an earlier blog.  She told me of the nightmare that is Bramley when she trained for the London marathon in 2009. She told me how hard it was to start the second loop when the people who were running the 10 mile route were finishing around you.  She told me about the hill at mile 8 and 18. How she couldn’t remember the last few miles as they were so traumatic. How she cried at the end.  And she’s a tough Scottish cookie (or should that be oatcake?) who I see, on a weekly basis, keep on going when I’m gasping for air behind her.

So you’ll believe me when I say my hands were trembling slightly when I put my application for the run in the postbox back in December. I even more scared when I got the information through showing that there were in fact two hills, not one, at miles 6 and 8 then 16 and 18. And the wording on the on the race profile said ‘not precisely to scale’. Gulp. You can see the diagrams below of the route profile from the race information I was sent. How many hills can you see?  Now look at the race profile from my iPhone app. Notice any differences? For the record, there are four hills that you 'feel'.  The longest one is at six miles (then 16), but the steepest is at 8 (then18) with a couple of smaller ones after that. Believe me, you feel every ant hill after 15 miles.
The official race profile
My miCoach iPhone app race profile
I was nervous, but not as bad as usual, which is surprising given this would be the longest distance I’d ever run.  I just kept telling myself that all I needed to do was finish, no matter how long it took me. The weather was ideal: no wind, about 6 degrees and damp, but not raining. We met up with the other Andover Roadrunners and stood chatting for about an hour and a half in a school hall where the air was thick with the smell of Deep Heat or muscle rub. Our watering eyes took our minds off the waiting.  And then there were the loos.  If I said ‘holes in the ground with a screen’ that would just about describe them.  There’s no getting away from it - they whiffed. And you always want to squeeze that last drop out, so you end up braving them at least twice. After no time at all, it was time to line up at the start. By then I just wanted to get it over with. Live the nightmare then go home to a lovely chicken casserole simmering away in the oven after a nice hot soak. I did ask myself more than once why was I doing this?  Why?
About 50m from the start.  Notice all the smiling faces!
Sandra and I agreed to stay together for the first 10 miles and after that do our own thing.  So, off we went at a nice steady pace.  I took in what I could see of the lovely countryside as most of the hedges were taller than me. It’s a bit of a cattle market at the start of races.  Everyone’s bunched up with people in front of you that are running at a slower pace, who you want to over take. Then there are people behind you that are trying to overtake you. And then it thins out as everyone finds their pace.  You start to enjoy it a bit until you come across runners that annoy you.  Now I’m putting this grumpiness down to my age or the fact my mind and body are out of their comfort zones, because I do get annoyed at almost anything when I’m running.  Things like the two women who were talking very loudly to one another about the last year’s marathon. And how they could’ve knocked milliseconds off their time if only they’d put their hair in a ponytail instead of leaving it loose.  You know, the stuff you really don’t want to hear about when you’re trying to focus on putting one foot in front of the other.  And then there was the man with a squeaky trainer, the woman running with what could only have been a pocket full of marbles, and the woman whose water bottle holder ties banged against it with every step.  Thankfully, none of them were the exact pace as me so I either passed them or they passed me.

Even though I was mentally prepared for it, the first hill at six miles was a bit of a shock.  It was long (about 800m) but it wasn’t too steep. And being from Andover (almost as hilly as Scotland) it didn’t phase me.  That’s not to say it wasn’t tough, but I kept plodding on up it where others were wheezing for breath and stopping. At the top, I rewarded myself with a jelly baby.  A very hard jelly baby as it’d been in my running pouch for months, maybe years.  The good thing about that was it lasted ages. What I didn’t know until I got home and looked in the mirror was that it turned my lips blue!

That was the first hill out of the way.  Just one more on this loop to go.  Wrong.  I’d been lied to.  As you saw from the diagrams above, there were four hills that I counted, the last one being the steepest, but it was quite short. An oxygen tank at the top would’ve been welcome especially on the second loop. Once I got past the eight mile marker, I was coming towards the start where there were more people cheering everyone on. This was a big lift, but this also meant the psychological hurdle of running through the start to begin the second loop was looming. At that point I started to wonder if I’d get lapped by the fast runners on their second loop.  Thankfully I wasn’t lapped.  That would have crushed me.

10 miles done. 10 miles to do.

By now, Sandra had started to go on ahead and I felt pretty positive as I knew it was all downhill, so to speak, from now on. It was tough though as there wasn’t many runners around now and I was on my own quite a bit.  So no annoying runners to feed my mental rants.

Throughout the race, I walked fast at the water stations because I can’t run and drink.  It looks like I’m entering a wet t-shirt competition if I try. And then you get into the realms of jogger’s nipple and we don’t want to go there now do we? Good. The cadets handing out the water were fantastic and made me grin from ear to ear when they serenaded us at mile 15 with ‘Oh, runners we love you!’ in a football chant sort of way. They’d had a lull in thirsty runners so were pleased to see us hobbling around the corner to their water station.

I had an energy gel here and if you’ve never had one, they’re like having a mouthful of cold, sweet slime.  Yep, disgusting. I gulped down water to wash it down fast. It takes about 20 minutes for the energy to kick in, but I didn’t notice a thing.  From 15 miles onwards, my legs ached like they’ve never ached before. My Mum used to tell me it was ‘growing pains’ when I was young, but at 5 feet 2, I know now she was telling fibs. I felt like I was dragging a couple of tree trunks around with me.  I’ve never had achy legs when I’m running before.  Afterwards yes, but not during. And I had the hills to come. 

By this time, I wasn’t the only one starting to suffer. Quite a few runners walked up the hill at 16 miles. I got myself up that hill by trying to remember the ‘I love to run because’ poem I blogged about before.  I couldn’t remember it all so I started to make up some of my own up.  I was getting desperate near the top and started saying daft things like, ‘I like to run because I have a nice hot bath afterwards’.  Anything that came into my head I hooked onto ‘I like to run because…..’ and with that tactic, I managed to plod past all the walking runners and reach the top. 

Here I had my second (mummified) jelly baby. It was hard to eat, not because of it’s solidified state, but because I was trying to breathe too.  So I ended up chewing it like a cowboy chews his ‘baccy; out of the side of my mouth. Still my legs ached. My mind wandered and thoughts of whether I should sue the energy get company for false promises crossed my mind. I then latched on to the fact that I was almost at 17.5 miles, which I’d run the week before. Once I got to there, there was only another two and a half miles to go.  Not even once around the block for me.  That helped me as I passed lots of runners in all sorts of positions stretching out their legs, trying to loosen them up so they could make it to the end. I went through the 18 mile marker.  Now I was in unknown territory. Anything now was further than I’d ever run before.  At this point I knew I couldn’t stop as I’d never get started again so I kept on going trying to remember what was around the next corner.  Was it the finish line? Please let it be the finish line.

All around the course the race photographers were taking photos of you.  You didn’t know they were there until you were alongside them, which was too late for you to attempt to look as if you were having fun.  With their huge zoom lenses, they’d taken your picture when you were 100m away. They’d already captured your agony, not your forced smile.

The last thing you’re thinking about at 19 miles is smiling for a photographer.  This can clearly be seen from the awful pictures taken of me.  I look like I’m dying. My achy legs are etched on my face. And no, I’m not going to tell you where you can see them.  I’m not photogenic at the best of times and after 19 miles of hard slog, it really isn’t pretty. Take my word for it.

Blanking out the fact that I’d probably just had the worst photo ever taken of me, I started to hear the cheer of the crowds at the finish line. What a relief that was.  A fellow Andover Roadrunner shouted my name about 50m from the finish, which was a huge boost.  From energy sources buried deep within my muscles, I started to run faster.  I just wanted to get this over and done with.  I started to pump my arms. I focused on that digital clock above the finish line.  I told myself I wasn’t going to let it click over to the next minute.  I grimaced with every stride as I propelled myself to the finish. 

I’d done it. My legs knew I’d done it too and seized up.  I walked like a wooden robot to the railings outside the school to stretch my aching legs out.  Boy did that hurt.  They were so tight I thought they’d snap. Finally, I stood up to walk over to collect my goody bag.  Now you may not know this but the older you get, the more noises you make when you do any kind of movement.  Getting up from a chair, sitting down in a chair.  Reaching over to get something, or putting something down.  The amount of grunting and groaning in that finish area was deafening.  And so was the pride of all the runners who’d run their race.

So after running 20 miles, how do I feel about running 26 miles? As long as I have bullet hard jelly babies as rewards, Ibrobruphen to stop my legs aching, and most importantly the support of the crowd for the last six miles, bring it on.