Friday, November 27, 2009

Back in the VFAC Game

What a difference a training group makes. Last night I returned to VFAC having last seen their friendly faces in the last week of July between trips to Germany and Luxembourg. That blazing hot night I collapsed at the end of the session at Beaver Lake from chronic fatigue and dehydration, dizzy, disorientated and stumbling I was delirious.

A lot happened between the end of July and the end of November which meant I didn't get a chance to return, but last night made up for it and reminded me why running is so awesome, even when you're relatively unfit.

Surprisingly I ended up being the top runner there and Coach John made me hurt by setting me off at the back with the aim of catching up the guys and girls in front. He sure knew what would motivate me having had six weeks of very little training, but there's nothing like some healthy competition to get the blood pumping and the legs moving, and once the first rep got underway I was able to get into that trance like state and go through the motions.

After a solid five mile warm up we launched into a four mile tempo, complete recovery, one mile tempo, complete recovery, one mile tempo. Six miles of balls to the wall effort with a real killer to start with - pacing a four mile stretch is hard to do when you have no concept of how fit you are and what your body can do.

I started thirty seconds behind the decent guys and decided to ease my way into the tempo; but of course I went out like a bat out of hell and then had to settle into a rhythm. At the half way turn around I finally passed the last of the group ahead of me and had made my thirty seconds up, probably too quickly. Heading back along the sea wall was very unnerving with cars coming towards me with their lights on full beam and not being able to see the holes and drains in the dark. I had to back off a little bit just to keep my nerves in one piece; the prospect of tripping did not appeal!

Once at the three mile mark I found myself running at a fair lick without too much trouble. I was breathing heavily and my legs were tired but I knew I could maintain the pace to the finish. Sure enough I finished the rep in 22:08 (5:32 per mile average), somewhat surprisingly decent with all things considered.

The Olympic rings shine out over Vancouver

One thing that really inspired me when hitting the rep was the beautiful sight of the Olympic rings floating out in Coal Harbour, just off the sea wall. Suddenly it was this light in the darkness, the Olympic dream shining out, the iconic symbol of effort, hard work and prowess for all to see. It really fired me up, the realisation that everywhere in the world there are people putting themselves through hardship as they try and attain their personal goals.

Next came the first of the mile reps and God was it painful. I started ten seconds down on the guys and clawed back half of their advantage relatively quickly before finding the going extremely hard. Thankfully I hit the main traffic at half way and had a chance to recover slightly as I moved through the group before pushing on again. With a few hundred metres to go I went for home and made my way to the front hitting 5:10 (for 1.03 miles according to my GPS).

On the return I felt decidedly lousy and couldn't get onto the back of the guys in front. I should have buried myself early on to make contact and then hung on for the finish, but instead I started steady and tried to build up the pace. Having not done much mileage my legs were exhausted by this point and although I got close with 200 metres to go I couldn't finish fast enough despite clocking a solid 5:13.

Jogging home my right knee started to seize up and some 'runner's knee' I had been experiencing came to the fore, however with some strengthening exercises I hope this will pass relatively quickly and without too many consequences. All in all though 13 miles of running and feeling decidedly good for someone who hasn't done much since the marathon. No complaints, I just need to find a routine and get into it.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Getting Back Into Things?

Since my last post motivation didn’t really pick up, I guess I was still physically jaded from the marathon and mentally just not ready to start running again. I have certainly felt tired this past month, never really quite on song, falling asleep on the couch in the early evening and generally carrying some lethargy throughout the day, despite going to bed earlier.

I decided to have one more week off, just putting in one session last tuesday to see where I was in terms of fitness before having some nights out to relax and recuperate knowing that I could take this final opportunity to let my hair down before having to train again. I hit 4 x 5mins off 90 seconds recovery in the dark on the seawall around Stanley Park, and surprisingly I found I was in better shape than I thought I would be, hitting >0.9 miles for each rep, which isn’t bad seeing as it was freezing cold, I was in trainers and couldn’t see where I was going!

Having a laugh after winning the 2008 Boxing Day Challenge

Despite picking up a sore throat over the weekend I decided to start ‘training mark II’ tonight as the soreness didn’t develop into illness. With The Boxing Day Challenge on Cheltenham Race Course coming up I finally have a target race, and one where I am the defending champion... not that I expect to successfully claim that crown again given my somewhat limited training.

So 33 days to get into four mile race shape. I started tonight with a two mile build-up tempo, two mile relaxed and two mile tempo. All in all it went well and I finished off my tempo in bang on 11 minutes, a perfectly adequate time seeing as I was stripped down topless in the cold (my top started to chafe and my nipples were complaining).

Congrats to Charliiiiii, an 'old' training partner from younger days

I guess I felt an ounce of motivation come back, not least because some of my friends were racing down in the NCAA (collegiate champs) in the USA having been given scholarships for some of the top university teams. Watching the races on the live stream was awesome, seeing the relaxed style of the lead guys, the turn of pace, the surging, the sprint finishes... I wanted to race again.

So a big congratulations to Charlotte ‘Charliiiiiiiiii’ Browning on 21st place, hopefully that will be good enough to see her selected for the GB under 23 squad for the European Champs, and then a pat on the back for Ruth Senior (46th) and Andy Baker (78th). Cheers guys, hopefully you've just kickstarted my training!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Motivation Needed - Volunteers Required

Since the marathon I have run a total of four times and considered retiring or taking a sabbatical from running.

Running is great when you have goals and races, but here in Vancouver there isn't the same racing fixture list as back in England, and as such I pretty much have no races to target over the winter. So what would I train for? Planning a spring marathon or half-marathon is one thing, but it's still quite a long way away and doesn't provide any intermediate fixtures to keep the calendar busy.

Also, since getting back from Europe, this city has been miserable. I can't remember a day when it hasn't rained, and with the clocks going back it's dark when I leave work. Who wants to go out in the dark, wind and rain every evening? I don't want to run on a treadmill, that's boring, so what do I do?

What I need is a BIG kick up the backside!

It's not that I haven't trained through similar winters (although England tends to be cold rather than wet), but back in Loughborough I had a training group of 60 other guys and girls to train with. It's sad to say, but apart from one Sunday run with Jay, I haven't trained with any of the guys from VFAC since mid-summer. I need to get back in the club scene and arrange to train with the guys again!

I've decided that I can't just take the easy option and take a break or stop. If I had achieved my potential then maybe, but looking at my personal bests, 10k through to the marathon need some revision:

  • 10k - set on a hilly course. Give me a flat course in the same shape and I'm a low-32min runner.
  • Half Mara - got a massive stitch and walked for two minutes. Sub-1:12 is possible.
  • Marathon - stitches, cramps, the wall... one day the 2:30 barrier is getting smashed.

So here's an open invitation - email me with a time when you're running in the evening (I'm free from 6:15pm) and I'll do my very best to meet up.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Post-Marathon Ache

I thought I better give a quick update since the marathon. Basically I spent a week of walking with a painful left hip and a sore right knee before they finally eased. A couple of days ago I went for my first easy run and felt pretty good, my feet are fine although I did start to tighten up in my hip.

All in all my body isn't too broken which is great, so I'll give it another ten days or so of doing nothing/very easy running before getting back into training. I fly back to Vancouver on Sunday and then find myself heading off to Mexico on Thursday night to cover the final triathlon of the year... when is the year of jet setting going to end? Hopefully I can find a bit of winter sun to keep my pasty body a little less white for a bit longer!

Once I get back into the swing of things I'm looking forward to reconnecting with Jay, Kevin, Phil, Simon, Paul, Ynuk and co. at VFAC and bashing out some mileage. Winter miles = summer smiles.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Smashed... Me, Not the Marathon

Sorry for the delay in getting a report online after Echternach but I've been busy recovering.
Here's how the race panned out:

I started well enough alongside Georges Krier and there was a nice pack developing through the first few kilometres, although on a few twisty narrow sections we did get a bit tangled up and some of the lankier runners weren't particularly considerate.

Through 10km we hit mid-36mins, pretty quick, although much of the opening part was downhill. By this point I was running with a nice pack of four others although the pacing was sporadic. Guys would surge then relax, it was pretty stupid. I kept an even pace and just let them tire themselves out. They would break ahead for a kilometre and then I would naturally work my way back up by keeping a steady pace.

Coming up to nine miles I took to the front as we entered a narrow section back into Echternach and slowed the pace back down to something more sensible - 6 minute miling. At ten miles I passed Stéph who passed me some much needed sports drink with a smile, although I think she was a little concerned at how fast we were going. I offered the other guys some rehydration but they all refused, which I was fine with.

Heading down to the halfway point three of the guys surged again leaving me to run with Jose, the top Luxembourg marathoner, despite being Portuguese. We must have looked like quite the pair: him short and stocky and me tall and thin. Anyway, sure enough we went through the halfway mark in a little over 1:17, about a minute under schedule. I was moving well but knew it would be very tough in the second half of the race.

Jose and I made contact with the other three guys again as we crossed the bridge at the far end of the course and entered Germany. Turning back down the valley we hit a head wind and the road started to get a bit hillier. On the first of the small hills leading out of the town I went to the front and opened up my legs, keen to take some control over the pace. I held the lead for a few kilometres until Jose surged past, taking Georges with him. I didn't see them again as they pulled away into the distance.

At 26km I started to get a stitch and soon found myself bent over in half trying to hold 6:45 miling whilst I dropped to the back of the group. At every aid station I took on as much carbohydrate as possible and then saw Stéph again at 30km for a much needed pick up. I grabbed my own drink soon after but knew the wheels were coming off.

I went through 32km (20 miles) in exactly two hours, as planned, however things were getting tough. Although the stitch had subsided to a gentle ache my legs were getting sore and especially my left hamstring and right adductor. By 35km I was in real trouble and crossing back into Luxembourg was a real effort. I had slowed right down, and despite running with my sports drink in hand I was slowly seizing up.

At 37km I was reduced to walking breaks, thinking agonizingly of the finish line - it seemed so far away and the kilometre markers couldn't pass fast enough. Sure enough at 39km the flying Belgian Frankie Leus came past and I gave him a 'well done', a man who shows real determination and unbelievable ability to punish his body week in, week out.

The aid station at 41km was manned by Stéph's parents who offered some support as I slowed down to walk and drink the last of the carbohydrate on offer. I was well on target to break three hours despite my troubles although by this point I was so stiff and sore I was either hobbling or walking. Climbing up the final rise into Echternach I kept a nice rhythm ticking over as I made to the line and into the arms of an expectant Stéph who had been wondering what happened to me.

Hot tea, reassurance and a nice shiny medal made me feel better but both physically and emotionally I was drained and hurting. At the end of the London Marathon in 2006 I cried tears of pain and anguish at what might have been. At the end of Echernach I almost felt like crying again in thanks that the ordeal was finally over, haha!!

I had no expectations other than knowing that I could get to 20 miles in two hours, which I did, but it's much easier to talk about hitting the wall than when you actually run into it! In training you cannot fathom how painful it will be, or how slow you will be moving, but when you're desperate to see the finish line five kilometres seems like a long way!

So my final finishing time for sixteenth place (first in my age group) was 2:54:06. A new personal best, although London's 3:07:16 wasn't going to be hard to beat, but I'm pleased to have survived and dipped under the three hour barrier for the first time. There is still much more to come, so maybe in a year's time I will return to the roads of Echternach with better preparation and strategy to break 2:40.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Hurting to Heal

So having endured two weeks of pain with my foot I decided I had to put it through one more run before boarding the plane tomorrow. Just four miles of out and back effort along the sea wall, the same surface the foot will have to endure on Sunday.

The first kilometre was a little touchy, painful and all together unpleasant. I ran around corners as if treading on broken glass and thought too much about where the pain was coming from; but I stuck at it, hoping the foot would warm up and relax... and it did.

After the first mile I drew up alongside a large passenger cruise boat and sure enough was heckled by some intoxicated party goers. "Nice shorts!", "Run Forrest run!", and "Race you!" were shouted from the top deck, how original. Altogether quite funny as at 6:30 miling I still overtook them and offered a smile and a thumbs up to keep them entertained.

Note to self: men wearing lycra must be beaten! ;-)

Once running along the beach front the foot felt pretty good, and despite trying to ease into marathon pace my body really wanted to stretch out as if it was saying "come one, one last blast before the race". I wasn't going to argue so let my legs run away with me for a mile at 5:30 pace, no harm done and it felt good to be moving so well.

I put in a few drills at the large inukshuk statue at English Bay before trotting home, altogether satisfied that my foot was feeling better for the stretch out and would probably survive 26.2 miles on Sunday if I'm nice to it. Back on with the traumeel and compression socks this evening with my feet up in front of the TV.

Tomorrow it's an early start with work, but then I'll leave the office at 1pm, get to the airport at 3:45pm, take-off for Amsterdam at 6:45pm and arrive in 'Little Lux' on Saturday at 3:40pm...

... the marathon starts at 10am Sunday morning which gives me 18 hours from landing to the gun going off. But right now I don't care, just get me on that plane!

NB. A late entry from last year's top ten is Alain Inglebert from Luxembourg who ran 2:43:57. That makes it five from last year's top ten on the start line. Bring it on!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Happy Birthday Ryan Hall

Today is Ryan Hall's birthday so I thought I'd put up a quick video.

What an inspiration to Christian athletes everywhere; a man I really respect for everything he does and strives to achieve through sport. I wouldn't mind being able to run as fast as him as well!

Happy birthday Ryan, and good luck for the New York Marathon!