My training runs

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.

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