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!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Marathon Checklist

As I look forward to the weekend I realise that as with all major undertakings you have to prepare the best you possibly can, and sure enough my training has been ill-prepared and my pre-race preparations are pretty much the same... seriously, who arrives in a country 18 hours before a marathon? Haha.

Anyway, what I can control is my diet and equipment, although jet lag will surely rob me of sleep. But as my friend Alan, a sleep psychologist PhD student and fellow athlete, tells me: it doesn't matter how much sleep you get the night before competition, just make sure you are rested. I haven't told him that the race start is effectively 1am Vancouver time... and no, I haven't been training in the early hours to prepare for this either.

So here's my check list for the big day and a couple of meal suggestions for the night before. As I land in Luxembourg at 4pm in the afternoon it's a bit late to go shopping, but luckily I happen to have the most amazing support crew one could ask for.

Marathon check list:

Timing chip and race number (to collect before 9am)
Racing flats (Nike Luna Racer)
Racing socks (Hilly or More Mile)
Vaseline (for those chafing areas)
Racing shorts (Asics)
Cheltenham vest (really comfortable and light)
Garmin watch (GPS and speed reading)
2 x powerade (liquid diet)
Cap (if raining)
Gloves (if cold)

With Eugène or Stéph (my awesome support crew):
1 x powerade (nutrition)
Vaseline (in case of reapplication)
Spare trainers (in case I blister)
Spare shorts (in case I chafe)
Spare vest (in case I chafe)

Post race:
Compression socks (recovery)
Tracksuit bottoms (warmth)
T-shirt (warmth)
Climacool shirt (if I feel like a cool down)
Hoodie (warmth)
Trainers (comfort)
Ibuprofen (pain relief if needed)
Traumeel (pain relief if needed)
1 x powerade (energy)
1 x chocolate milkshake (recovery)
1 x water (rehydration)

Pasta with tomato sauce (no cheese or oil)
Rice with vegetables (no gluten)

White toast with honey (abundent energy)
Coffee (caffeine fix)

So there you have it, my marathon plans in a few short lists. I'll be packing my essentials, so racing shoes and kit, with me in my hand luggage as I can't risk them not arriving in Luxembourg. On the plane I'll wear my compression socks and comfortable clothing, try and sleep as early as possible after take off, and try my best to avoid ill people and stay healthy.

Before the race I'm not expecting to sleep much - jet lag means that midnight in Luxembourg is 3pm in Vancouver, so I'll try and rest up and then go for an early morning jog at 5am (8pm) before having breakfast and getting ready for the drive across to Echternach for the race start at 10am (1am).

Roll on the weekend!

What a Nutter

Ok, I'm definitely shaking Frankie Leus hand on the start line in Echternach, and probably at the finish as well. The mad Belgian who I wrote about in my last blog only went and ran another bloody marathon last weekend in Eindhoven, Netherlands.

Not only did he run it, he went and did a 2:45:29!
Check out hi
s last seven weekends:
29 Aug - 1:17:39 Half Marathon
06 Sep - 2:54:06 Marathon
13 Sep - 2:46:44 Marathon
20 Sep - 2:50:42 Marathon
26 Sep - 1:05:1
7 17.5km race
04 Oct - 2:50:14 Marathon
11 Oct - 2:45:29 Marathon
... and now Echternach this weekend.

I would say I'd expect him to be completely smashed but it looks like no matter what punishment this 47 year old veteran takes he can suck it up and unleash another killer performance week after week. I am genuinely concerned that this guy is going to destroy me. I mean, he's like the terminator. He doesn't die, he doesn't blow up, he doesn't get tired... you can't kill him, he's a relentless runner. The kind of runner you hate to race, the kind of runner who doesn't know when to give up, the kind of runner who will keep coming back at you time and time again.

Hats off to you Frankie, I just hope I don't see you coming after me in the second half of the race!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Eyeing Up The Competition

As I'm far too competitive I've been thinking about where I can place next weekend, so I took the liberty of going through the startlist and comparing the names to last year's top ten. Remarkably, at present, only four of the top ten from 2008 will be toeing the line.

2008 Top 10
1. Rojewski, Przemyslaw. Poland. 2:22:12 RUNNING
2. Gnila, Rafal. Poland. 2:32:52
3. Krombach, Chris. Luxembourg. 2:33:08
4. Krier, Georges. Luxembourg. 2:37:35 RUNNING
5. Rodriguez, Luis. Spain. 2:43:19
6. Inglebert, Alain. Luxembourg. 2:43:57
7. Gilbert, Michel. Belgium. 2:44:22
8. Leus, Frankie. Belgium. 2:47:22 RUNNING
9. Muller, Frank. Luxembourg. 2:52:17
10. Serafini, Jean-Pierre. Luxembourg. 2:52:41 RUNNING

What does this tell me? Well it's useful in assuring me that winning the Echternach Marathon is off the cards, unless the Polish guy is in seriously bad shape. 2:22 is well out of reach so it looks like he'll be disappearing up the road from the first mile. Good to know as now I won't go off with the leader thinking I can hang on!

With any luck I'll be running alongside a local man, Georges Krier (pictured), for the most part. 2:37 pace is what I want to be running at the 20 mile mark (2 hours), so if I can hang in with him it will be a good indicator. Doing a bit of research I found out he ran 1:14:36 a couple of weeks ago in the 'Route du Vin Half Marathon', so he's in decent shape again.

Looking through the photos from last year's race I noticed that Jean-Pierre Serafini went off pretty hard as he was shot alongside both Krier and Krombach, who took third. I'm sure he'll probably have a similar mindset and will be in the mix early on so he's one to watch.

One man I'm looking forward to seeing is Frankie Leus from Belgium. A quick google search brought up his rather remarkable blog... the guy's already run eight marathons in 2009, including three in September and one last weekend. What an animal! I can only presume he fuels himself on a diet of Stella Artois and chocolate sprinkles. Even more impressive are the times he runs. Every marathon in 2009 has been run between 2:42 and 2:54. Eight minutes either way, probably depending on the course elevation. If I do start to slip back I'll be sure to see this Belgian engine chugging past me! He obviously likes Echternach as well, he set his personal best there in 2005 with 2:37:02, great going.

Anyway, enough about the competition, at the moment I'm still rather worried about my right foot. I ran on it for 40 minutes yesterday and although I felt ok, it still twinged and complained. I was able to get through the run fine, but asking it to keep going for a further two hours right now would be putting it into the unknown. I'm applying traumeel three times a day and taking 800mg of ibuprofen with breakfast, lunch and dinner. I've iced it a couple of times as well - the benefit of having an ice cube maker installed with the freezer. I'm confident it will show signs of improvement in the next few days, but it means that I'll be staying on the cross trainer and in the pool and not risking it on the roads. Hardly ideal preparation, but this whole marathon hasn't been very well prepared, so in the grand scheme of things what does it matter?

Come next Sunday when I line up alongside everyone else in Echternach I know I'm at a disadvantage. I haven't trained properly, I have had a sore foot, I will have been travelling the whole previous day and I won't have slept much because of jet lag. But I'm going out there to have fun, run fast and see what I can do. I have no expectations, so I have nothing to lose...

... but a good result would be nice, of course.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Pouring It Out

Over the past year I have been dealt some amazing cards in the game of life. I prayed for opportunities and they arose, I prayed for love and it came, I prayed for others and things happened which helped them. But I've asked a lot of Him, maybe too much, maybe every night when I have my nightly conversation with Him I've leant too much on his shoulders, maybe I've been too demanding, too selfish. I feel it's time to give something back.

When Jesus put himself on the cross to releave us of our sins he did so knowing that he would endure such pain and suffering that he would die an agonising death. In a very small way the marathon is a microcosm of that process, but hopefully without the fatal outcome... we can't all come back from the dead! Running is my gift, it's the one thing I know how to do, how to praise Him through my feet. Others have amazing gifts of music, language or ministry, I have running.

Last October I finished the Stroud Half Marathon and gave thanks. Now it's time to do it again!

So when I hit the roads next weekend I'm going to be running with Him in my thoughts. He poured himself out for me. He suffered for my salvation. He endured intense pain so that I may live. The least I can do is run with Him in my heart and my body.
It's very Ryan Hall-esque, but it's a brilliant thing.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Smashing the Marathon

So this is a little bit stupid and very naive, but with just twelve days to go until the marathon I’ve drawn up a proposed race plan based on my 18 mile tempo from a couple of weeks ago.

On the basis that I can run 1:48 for 18 miles I’m confident on a relatively flat tarmac course with some company and rehydration I can get to 20 miles in two hours. So with that in mind I’m going to go off at six minute miling and see how I feel. If I’m struggling after an hour then I’m going to have to revise my plan and ease off, but if I can go through the twenty mile mark in two hours then it gives me exactly one hour to run the final 10km.

You see I have no real expectations as I have not adequately trained for the race, so I’m going in with blind faith and hope that my winter base training has carried forward seven months and that my body is so rested from a summer of relaxed training that it feels fresh. Of course the chances of this happening are pretty slim and as the old saying goes ’20 miles is only the halfway point in a marathon’. I’m not prepared, that’s for sure, but it’s too late to do anything about it, so it’s time to suck it up.

I'm expecting to look like this in the final 10km

The likelihood is that I hit a massive wall, limp home in an absolute state and wonder about what could have been. But will I have had fun, put myself towards the front end of the race and made things interesting? Yes. Unfortunately for my body I don't know how not to race. The gun will go and I'll look at the guys around me and think about winning the damn thing. 26.2 miles after 800m will seem like a breeze but 26.2 miles after 23 miles will feel like death.

How can I prepare to overcome the wall? Well the event website says there are carbohydrate drinks every 5km, so I'll be sure to drink a lot to keep my glycogen levels up, and hopefully if my girlfriend's dad is officiating then he can carry a reserve supply of powerade on his bike for useful top ups. Otherwise it's going to be a case of burning my limited fat stores, which are depleted before I even toe the start line.

Here goes nothing… do or die... it’s me or the marathon, but one of us is going to be smashed through a wall (I have a feeling it’s going to be me)!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Back on Track

It’s been a rough week with injury worries coming at me, but finally it looks like nothing will stand in the way between me and the marathon start line.

As predicted my niggles became a little bit worse and on Thursday I ran for 10 miles but noticed that I was subconsciously trying to protect myself, skipping here and there, occasionally not wanting to put weight onto my right foot. I slowed right down and jogged home not wanting to risk anything – obviously my body was trying to tell me something. Once home I realised just how tight my right ITB was and that my right foot was aching a little bit as well. I immediately got the t-roller out and got to work, took a hot shower and self-massaged the ITB muscle, bringing myself to the point of tears.

On Friday I intended to put in an easy 45 minutes to see how it was, but less than five minutes from the front door I decided to turn around as my foot wasn’t coping well and I could feel it stressing. If there’s one thing you don’t need its putting weight on a damaged foot for 26.2 miles! I got in and changed into my swimming kit and for the first time used the apartment pool. I put in two sets of 10 minutes with a stop to use the t-roller and do some self-massage whilst standing in the warm water of the hot tub. Afterwards I just sat and relaxed in the whirlpool, turned on the jets and let my muscles relax, it was pretty heavenly.

Apartment pool and whirlpool/hot tub

Continuing the theme of cross training I used the apartment gym on Saturday evening to do some elliptical cross-training (ski machine) and the treadmill. I warmed up with 30 mins on the elliptical before switching to 15 mins running, which felt ok but not great, before going back to the elliptical for a final 15 minutes. I jumped in the hot tub afterwards for some more massage to ease everything off. So heading out on today’s proposed 1hr40min run with Jay I was a little bit apprehensive as to how my legs and foot would cope. At first the foot didn’t take to the impact so well, but with a little perseverance it eased off and for the most part the run was pain free. The ITB felt much better and didn’t give any trouble and a slight niggle in the left quad didn’t get any worse. Result.

It was great to get out and run with Jay, a guy I really respect for his dedication to the cause as he looks to continue his improvements and make provincial and national teams. We ticked over nicely at 6:30 pace on the way out to UBC and brought it back a little quicker. Despite the fact I’ve been running at a faster pace at around the ten mile mark the effort gradually started to catch up with me and I had to ease off, which subsequently gave me a stitch. Typical! I guess the previous night’s hour of aerobic work was still prevalent and the hard tempo running had taken its toll as well.

I’ve made the decision to start my taper from here on in. My body felt pretty bad today and if I get to halfway in the marathon feeling as tired as I did earlier I’m going to find myself in trouble. I’m going to need to be completely fresh for the race so it’s time to consolidate the limited training, just keep ticking over, get in the carbohydrate and stay relaxed. I’m intending to go into the race looking to run fast... just how fast? You’re going to have to find out in a future blog.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Day I Found Out...

… my girlfriend used to be a pretty good runner!

One of my colleagues came in stating he had broken his 10k PB on a training run with a 38:20 clocking. She chimed up with, ‘pfffffff, I used to run 38 minutes’.

‘What? Hang on a minute,’ I thought. ‘I knew you did some high jump and you had great genes, but 38 minutes isn’t hanging around!’

As a member of the fairer sex a 38 minute 10k would currently place 258th on the UK best performance list for 2009. In comparison my 32:51 minute 10k from Cherington back in July (on a slightly hilly course) puts me as the 382nd fastest British man.

*** NEWS FLASH ***
My girlfriend is a better runner than me!!
*** NEWS FLASH ***

Then I looked at my 5k time, 15:36 … that places me 220th on the UK 2009 men’s rankings. Phew, I’m back in the game. It also means that my time is faster than any British woman has run for 5k on the road this year, although the same can’t be said for 10k – I would place fifth. I think I have some proving to do out on the roads of Echternach in two weeks time!

Anyway, enough about me. Unfortunately Steph got a knee injury and stopped running some years ago, but then today went for 4k and only stopped once. She got back home and onto skype looking great, she really loved it. I'm so proud. When I see her in two weeks time we're definitely going running together! She'll be Luxembourg champion in no time! There are such good omens and signs. The one time she stopped she looked down and picked up a four leaf clover - what are the chances? Lucky in life, lucky in love. Run strong with a beat in your heart!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Stepping Out onto the Wire

Marathon preparation lends itself to risk. You enter training knowing that there is a real possibility that you won’t see the start line, that all the sacrifice and pain will be for nothing. When you’re punishing your body on a daily basis it’s liable to break down, and the closer you get to race day the more risks you take as the stresses on the body increase.

‘The wire’ is a term predominantly used by cyclists to describe the time when they find that balance between optimum training load and race weight. There is a point where your muscle power or stamina can be extremely high whilst bodyweight is low, thus when you race you get the best of both worlds – good performance and less weight to carry – making you faster.

The journey along the wire is a haphazard one where injury risk increases and the immune system starts to decline. The final few weeks before a big competition is the time when things can go irreversibly wrong. Get injured or sick now and there is no way to recover in time for the competition.

Heading out onto the wire

I’m starting to see subtle differences in my physiology, the extra rib poking through against the skin on my chest, the way my cheek bones seem more defined as the gauntness sets in, the uncharacteristically brown lower legs from training during sunset. I know I’m creeping out onto the wire, although I’m not intentionally trying to lose weight, it’s just a side effect from the increased training. Ironically, despite looking a little bit skinnier I'm actually becoming more muscular. By running at around 6 minute miling for the majority of my training it's making me tough and my legs and arms look pretty ripped. By appearance you might start to think I was more of a miler than a marathoner.

At present I’m trying to counteract it, I don’t need to be so thin, so I’m scoffing down ice cream every night after training and treating myself to chocolate and marshmallows. It’s a great time to be a runner – intensive training and eating whatever you want. Hunger is almost constant, so I eat decent sized meals and keep snacking throughout the day on bagels and cereal bars. Before midday I had already eaten a bowl of cereal, special K bar, cheese sandwich and a slice of cake and then also finished a slice of quiche, packet of crisps and a large cookie by 3pm. However, despite the tasty advantages there are some disadvantages.

My cough is back. I always get it, originating around the Adams apple, when I’m training hard. It’s mainly prevalent in the winter during the colder months, but it came back last night after a steady evening 16 mile run. It’s both annoying yet reassuring. I cough when I’m fit, it’s ironic, but it’s true. I’m taking it as a good sign, although I’ll be sure to get rid of it as soon as possible. What I don’t want for the cough to get worse and to get ill; that would be a nightmare. I'm taking vitamin C and zinc tablets to help my body fight any germs.

The gaunt look of elite runners, balancing light weight with extraordinary musculature

I can feel the muscle tightness in my lower legs, my left iliotibial band is stiff and needs loosening off. My right adductor is a bit sore and my calves are always glad when I spin on the bike as they get a chance to stretch out. At the moment all of these problems are just niggles, but left untreated they could become full blown injuries which would stop me from running. You start to notice as well that getting out of bed or a chair becomes an effort. Muscles try to relax and allow movement, but underlying everything is an ache and some stiffness.

You can survive out on the wire for a while, but not indefinitely. Hopefully my trip along the wire is happening at the right time and I haven’t started too early or too intensively. Time will tell.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Post-marathon Planning

What I’m going to do after the marathon is over:
Give Stéph a sweaty kiss
Drink a litre of powerade
Put on compression socks
Try not to lie on the ground (but fail)
Collect my winner’s cheque (wishful thinking!!)
Fall asleep in the car
Soak in a hot bath for an hour
Eat a huge bowl of pasta
Eat a whole chocolate cake (with ice cream)
Enjoy a light massage
Fall asleep again
Wake up with jet lag
Hurt (legs really painful)
Realise where I am
Smile (pain goes away)
Fall asleep a happy man
Take a week off running
Plan the next challenge

Another great run tonight – 10 miles in under an hour. Started with a fast three miles (5:37 miling), then into a comfortably four miles (6:11 miling), then finished it off with two miles at threshold (5:31 miling) along the sea wall, and finally 1.5 mile warm down (7:07 miling). Nice cool breeze around Vancouver now as autumn approaches, although that didn't stop me from going topless.

I’m feeling very good and surprised with how effortless my body can just adapt to running quicker than six minute miling. I guess when I stopped all the heavy mileage and focussed on shorter but quicker training for 5/10k racing it’s somehow paid off. The trick now if not to overdo the faster workouts and then blow up before the marathon and go in feeling tired.

To top it all I’ve cycled to and from work every day this week – that’s a round total of 83 miles (135km) – which will have given me some aerobic assistance and helped to loosen the muscles following the hard running. Having biked home and then gone training each night I’ve often felt a bit of fatigue lingering in the legs, so hopefully that will been beneficial come race day.

Right, 11:30pm and I’m shattered – bed awaits and then up to Whistler tomorrow for the day with the parents. Might squeeze an early 30min loosener in before we go, otherwise a day spent resting won’t do me any harm at all.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Where Did That Come From?

I asked a few friends about 'get marathon fit quick' plans and explained my current philosophy of daily hour long runs at sub-marathon pace (6:00-6:30 miling). Oli Mott is always a great guy to ask; a doctor by education and an international duathlete by trade, his mind can calculate lactic thresholds, VO2 max scores and predicted pacing in an instant.

Oli Mott. The picture explains everything you need to know!

"I think you're doing the right thing," he commented. Phew!
"Keep the 6-6.30 mins/mile running going for the next two weeks then ease off. Get a couple of 1.45 hour runs in. No point in doing any sessions, as you're not going to be racing faster than your training pace (and it'll feel easier in flats on flat roads in the race). The main idea for this aerobic training is get your body to burn a higher percentage of fat at race pace so you don't go pop. Maybe the odd glycogen-depleted run... I reckon you'll be around 2.50 (6.29 pace)."

Well I took his word for it and set about a 1hr 45min run this evening, leaving Yaletown across Burrard Bridge, through the streets of Kitsilano out to UBC before running a short loop and home along Jericho Beach. Conditions were perfect having been warm all day, so race vest, race shorts, racing shoes and sunglasses were applied for a complete race simulation, and off I went.

Burrard Bridge

The first couple of miles up and over Burrard Bridge were relatively steady, nothing too frenetic, but once I opened up through Kitsilano I knew I was on to something good. Maybe it was because I was in my racing shoes which are really light and bouncy that my legs responded so well. Maybe it was because I was running on a firm surface which didn't sap energy out of my legs. Whatever it was, it was working.

I headed down to the beach and kept ticking over nicely, glancing down at my Garmin to see 5:50 miling... something had to be wrong, maybe the satellite was re-adjusting. I kept the same rhythm, finding my legs and arms working in perfect synchronisation, my breathing became automatic and suddenly I realised I was in cruise control. I glanced down at the watch... 5:49 miling... 'gees, I must be locked in to this pace,' I thought.

At the end of Jericho Beach at the 7.5 mile point the road bent upwards to the University of British Columbia. I went onto my toes and kept my head up, trying to remain springy with the notorious words of George Gandy in my ears: "Let the hill do the work to you, don't fight it." At halfway I was finding it pretty hard, this hill was longer than I thought, but I took encouragement as I started to catch a couple of kitted up cyclists ahead. Up and over the top and I tried to open my legs up again to find the rhythm, and sure enough they came back to me. I passed the Museum of Anthropology in 51 minutes.

Jericho Beach

Crossing my way through UBC I tried to find a water fountain, conscious that I hadn't sipped anything since home, but my efforts came to nothing. Luckily having successfully navigated my way up the hill I had the pleasure of running back down. Long downhills can really mess me up, give me a stitch and ruin my quadriceps, so I shortened my stride, kept my torso leaning forwards and ran it as I would if it was the marathon: no risks. I came off the bottom feeling good and found a water fountain for a quick stop.

The next barrier was the half marathon and I sailed through back at 5:50 miling on the flat in 1:18:21. Smash! 'I can't keep this up,' I thought. 'I just can't, this is suicide.' But the longer I ran the more I realised that actually, I was finding this alright; this wasn't actually hurting too much. Mile 14 and 15 were ticked off with just a couple of small hills to overcome, and I stopped at 16.5 miles for another sip of water before tackling Burrard Bridge again.

'Stay springy, stay springy,' I thought to myself as I eased my way up the long drag, and sure enough my body listened to my mind and soon I had reached the top and could enjoy the descent. Heading down Pacific I glanced down at my watch. 5:50 miling again... 'how can this be?' I stopped the clock as I hit 18 miles, 1:47:58, exactly 6:00mins per mile average. BOOM!!

That's over two thirds of a marathon in 1hr48... which means that if I kept the same pace up for another eight miles, I would finish with a time of 2:37:30 ... now there's a scary thought. In reality I think I could have kept going at that pace for another few miles, maybe until 20 or 21... and then it would have been very tough. However there are a number of positives as well. I didn't take on any carbohydrate during the run, I only took on water, and my first hydration was at 12 miles. The route had a decent sized hill in it which really takes energy out of the legs; although maybe Echternach will be the same? A lot of the flat running was on fine gravel, not tarmac, which makes you lose energy into the ground as the foot slips a little bit with every stride.

The man in my head, George Gandy (right), "stay springy!"

... and then I also remembered... I cycled to and from work today, that's an hour of aerobic exercise. Sure, I didn't pedal hard, but it wasn't slow either. So I ran my eighteen miles having already done an hour of aerobic work. Bonus!

However, the best thing this run has given me
is the confidence. I thought I was pretty unfit and going to really struggle, but now the marathon looks like it's going to be a really great challenge and a top ten finish is certainly on the cards. Watch out Echternach, I'm coming for you!!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Silence is Golden

Having got back to Vancouver from Gold Coast I decided that I really really really needed to start getting my head, body and backside into some serious marathon training, so with the rain pouring and jet lag kicking in I headed out the door for some Stanley Park running action.

After two miles I had to remove my vest, it was completely saturated in the driving rain and I headed for the relatively dry trails under the blanket of tree canopy. I was going well, legs ticking over nicely and I started to pick up the pace, hitting 6min miling which would get me round 26.2 miles in little over 2hrs 35mins.

One thing I use to distract myself from the monotany of training is music and my iPod shuffle has done its fair share of a few thousand miles since I got it as a birthday present two years ago. However, on this one occasion, despite battling the rain for the best part of an hour (and not for the first time!) it stopped working and my ears tuned in to the sound of my mouth gasping in the oxygen and of legs pounding the ground.

Having got home and tried everything to get it working the iPod decided that its expiry date was up and alas it needs to be replaced.

However I haven't got round to finding a new one, and I'm not sure that I need to. You see, when I listened to music my brain would think too much. The music was a distraction from training, but my brain soon became tired and thought up its own things anyway. Some of those things weren't always positive as my brain would start to get moody as the blood was redirected to the muscles which needed the oxygen. Sometimes I would come home with a tired body and a tired mind. The endorphine buzz from exercise was unable to pull me back up, and when you're physically and emotionally knackered it's a tough thing to feel good again.

But something changed. Now I can't train to music it is as if my body has become a single machine again, not separated into an overactive brain and automatic legs but a working unit that moves in harmony. My thoughts are clear, my senses heightened and my sense of wellbeing improved.

When I run I now understand my body's function. I hear the breath leaving my mouth, feel my lungs inhaling and placing pressure on my ribs, taste the sweat running onto my lips and sense my feet striking the surface. For once, when I train it is as if I am at one with the world, one organism existing in its environment, doing everything absolutely necessary to continue doing what it was built to do.

It's a beautiful thing and it has made me realise how amazing my life is. The moodiness has gone, the positive thoughts have climbed in, and in a little under four weeks I will toe the line in Echternach and start a journey where it's just my body and my mind versus the road. Both will play an important part in ensuring I complete the race, but I already know that my heart will be beating stronger than ever.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

How to prepare for a marathon in just five weeks…

Well here goes nothing, a mad cap idea thrown together because I HAVE to run a marathon. Not many people HAVE to run 26.2 miles, but I do… and here’s why.

Last winter I was training for the London Marathon, had run the elite qualifying time over the half marathon distance and was all set for an epic battle, throwing in 100 mile (160km) training weeks and generally becoming an absolute aerobic monster. I promised my Mum I would run it for charity, Cotswold Care, a hospice that offer support and care for terminally ill patients. My Nana used to go there when she had cancer and they were brilliant.

All was going exceptionally well and then I got a new job… in Canada… which was great, but meant that I wouldn’t be able to run London so I shifted attention to the Vancouver Marathon… which I then missed as I was off covering a triathlon race in Korea. Epic fail.

I promised I would run an autumn marathon instead and signed up for Victoria, but then I met my girlfriend and wanted to be across in Luxembourg at that exact time… and then came a brilliant idea. Walking down West Georgia Street in Vancouver last week a voice said in my ear “we have a marathon in Luxembourg in the middle of October!”

Case closed. Echternach Marathon on 18 October is the go date. Training is sporadic, but has started, it’s going to hurt like hell but I have no choice.

Wish me luck!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Training With The Dobriskinator

There aren't many women in the world who can beat me in a race, but when I was at Loughborough I considered it a privilege to be beaten by my team mate and training partner Lisa Dobriskey. I would put emphasis on the fact that she was a 800/1500m runner and I preferred the longer distances, but every winter for six years we would pull each other through the sessions and base training, smashing out 6 x 5mins on the track or charging up and down Beacon Hill.

Training with Lisa was like training with an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. Off the track she is quite possibility the nicest person in the world, always smiling, always chatty, always complimentary, but during competition she has the sharp focus and determination that makes her dangerous. Very dangerous. She wants to beat you, make no mistake. The top guys were scared of Lisa, knowing that if they were having a bad day she would be nipping at their heels whereas I was just happy keeping up with her, watching the tell-tale bobbing ponytail bounce off her shoulders as we carved out bend after bend, rep after rep.

Being a Dobriskey fan is a hard life, one full of emotions, both high and low.
Here are my memories.

Commonwealth Games 2006
Lisa was a big rank outsider, the up and coming potential but not the race winner. That was until she charged off the final bend in Melbourne and kicked hard for the line leaving behind a trail of competitors in her wake. The world woke up to Lisa Dobriskey and I remember sitting at University watching her on TV with Rich Warburton and Rich Belton screaming at the screen. We went to breakfast still buzzing.

Olympic Games 2008
Lisa's preparation for Beijing was far from ideal, an early season injury left her playing catch up, but just before she left Frank Baddick and Rob Whittle towed her round to a 4min 1500m clocking in Stretford. In the final she came onto the final lap in sixth, moved up with Sharron Rowbury from the USA and used her kick for home, but it was too late, she finished fourth. I watched the race sitting on my living room floor, rocked back with my hands over my face. I looked up and saw Lisa doing exactly the same. I shed a tear but was still delighted for her incredible display.

Lisa falls to the ground after the 1500m final in Beijing. She finished fourth.

My fondest memory was the January of 2008 leading into Beijing. Lisa had been injured the previous autumn and was just beginning to get back into good shape and I was in a good run of form. It was a cold dark night on Beacon Road where we did a 900m uphill effort and cruised back down, usually five or six repetitions. Rep four came and went and I was ahead of Lisa in a group of guys so I dropped back on the recovery to give her some assistance. Half way up the fifth rep she was breathing heavily, really heavily, but Lisa doesn't give in and I wasn't going to let her. "Come on Lise, think of Beijing" I shouted. She surged again, getting into my slipstream before kicking over the top of the hill together. We strode down the hill in silence and went for it again. No words were said, we knew what we had to do. It hurt like hell, but that night we beat the hill into submission.

World Championships 2009
Some athletes in Britain were suggesting that Lisa shouldn't have gone to Berlin for the World Championships, that she hadn't shown the sort of form as she had done going into Beijing. I told them to wait and see. Sure enough she had another great race in the final, finishing third, just 0.01secs behind silver... and then the gold medallist was disqualified for pushing. Lisa had a world silver medal. I followed the race online via the BBC as I covered a race in Japan. I went to bed a happy man. Beijing made her stronger and now the whole world knows Lisa Dobriskey's name.

Lisa celebrates having taken second at the World Championships in Berlin.

Who knows what next year's Commonwealth Games or the Olympics in 2012 will bring, but every time I step onto the track in Vancouver I wish Lisa was there with me. Every time I kick for home I imagine she's alongside me, pushing me to the line. Every time the going gets tough I think about how hard I used to work to try and stay ahead of the only girl in Loughborough who could show me a clean pair of heels.

Here's to you Lisa, you legend.

Monday, August 31, 2009

The Dream

Around 5:30am on Sunday morning my brain started dreaming. For the first time in a long while I dreamt about running, about training with my friends back in Loughborough, experiencing that freedom and that expression through my feet. I'm not sure whether it was the altitude increase in being up in Whistler, or maybe the log cabin we were sleeping in, but something affected me in the early hours.

I woke up feeling pretty low. I missed my friends, I missed Loughborough, the green fields, the team spirit that flowed between us, the boys and the girls all running and laughing together sharing the experience. I ran my fingers through my hair and back came the desire to run, right now, around the lake, getting lost in the wilderness with just the bears to worry about.

Sunday marked seven weeks to the day until the Echternach Marathon in Luxembourg, my next target. Today was a good day to get the training routine back underway.

I went for a run and rediscovered my love. I ran along the lake on an old trail, riddled with tree roots and rocks, enjoying the challenge of keeping my balance whilst moving forward. I didn't see any bears, but I did find a gorgeous spot where the jetty pushed out into the lake. That evening, on the drive home, Stephanie and I stopped there for a bite to eat. It was idyllic.

Sometimes running surprises you, sometimes you even discover things worth telling the world about.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

End of the Summer

Ok, I'm calling it, I'm not racing now until the autumn.

During the past few weeks I have run sporadically, at best.

Week 02 August:
Flew Vancouver - Frankfurt - Luxembourg
One easy run on Wednesday
Flew Luxembourg - Prague - Budapest
Raced 14km on Friday, finished 8th averaging 5:30 miling

Week 09 August:
Flew Budapest - London
Two easy runs on Sunday and Monday in London
Went down with a cold on Tuesday and haven't run since

At work in London, organising a photo shoot in Piccadilly Circus

I had a great week in Luxembourg with St
éphanie before heading to Tiszaujvaros in Hungary. Somehow roused myself for that 1/3rd Marathon race but felt very tired. Once in London I was knackered from all the travel and jet lag, and went down with a summer cold following a couple of easy runs in Hyde Park. I decided to put my feet up and made the most of my time with Stéph who flew in for the week. Now I am in Yokohama, Japan, with another bout of jet lag and still blowing my nose on a regular basis despite not feeling ill. I think I will get up and go for an easy run in the morning before breakfast, just to stretch my legs and wake them up a bit. I don't want to be too rusty.

Next Tuesday I arrive back in Vancouver and
Stéph will fly in from Luxembourg - it's going to be amazing. I'm undecided whether to run or not; maybe I'll train in the early morning before work rather than spending my evenings on the trails and away from her. I have to work and so every second with Stéph is very precious.

Stéphanie and I on the London Eye

Then on 6 September I fly to Australia for the Grand Final of the world champs series which means ten days of heavy work, extreme jet lag and probably a lot of fatigue. I'm tempted to pack in serious training until mid-September when I'm back in Vancouver, but I'm not sure how that will affect my winter preparations. I still want to have a good cross country season and have a bash at a half marathon or marathon PB in December.

Decisions, decisions, decisions...

Saturday, August 8, 2009

This is just the beginning...

It's strange how life can flip, turn completely around and amaze you with its sheer brilliance in such a short space of time. This past week has been the best of my life, without doubt.

Here's the shortened version of my 'Hollywood' story:
25 July - working at the Hamburg World Champs event
26 July - finish work and go to the after party where I meet 'Stéphanie'
27 July - fly back to Vancouver, can't get Stéphanie out of my head
29 July - make the decision to head back to Europe early to see her
30 July - run the worst session of my life, but don't care
01 Aug - board a plane for Frankfurt
02 Aug - arrive in Luxembourg
03 Aug - best week of my life
04 Aug - best week of my life
05 Aug - best week of my life
06 Aug - best week of my life
07 Aug - fly to Hungary the next stop of the tour

A public blog isn't the place to go into details about one's innermost thoughts and private emotions, but I can say from deep within that this is something special.

Anyway, back to the running... sort of...

Following last week's horrendous session where I collapsed after running some truly appalling splits I put my feet up and enjoyed life.

On the Wednesday I did 25 minutes and had to stop three times to walk, I was still a mess.

On the Friday, after just arriving in Hungary, in the heat and with tired legs from travelling, I ran a 14km road race and finished eighth, averaging 5:30 miling. Awesome.

How did I turn it around? How did I go from running like a jellyfish to running like a flyingfish?
One reason: if you pretend you're running to Luxembourg, you can run a lot faster than if you think too much about racing! ;-)

I'm going to continue taking it easy for another couple of weeks with races in London and Japan to attend, but then I'll step back on the gas for the Victoria Marathon.

Want to know how to enjoy the best week of your life? In the words of my best friend, Jack:
"Doing something crazy for love... why the hell not!?!"

Over and out :-)

Friday, July 31, 2009

Rest is Best!

I got back into Vancouver on Monday and found myself in a sprawling mass of heat, humidity and jetlag. Unknowing to my mind, my body had been taking the punishment of extensive travel and was ready to break. But when…?

I went for an easy run to clear my head and loosen the legs and bumped into Kevin. We shared stories, laughed and parted company – 7 miles.

That night I couldn’t sleep, it was too hot, too sticky and my mind was all over the place. At 6am I went for a run along the beach; on a tranquil morning with the sun rising over the mountains and a cool breeze it was blissful. My legs felt heavy, but that was normal.

Wednesday was the hottest day in Vancouver since records began. The average temperature is apparently 22°C and it was 36°C, by the time I left the apartment at 7pm it was still in the thirties and at every water fountain I made sure I stopped to drink. Even the shade of Stanley Park couldn’t shield me from the inferno, but the freedom of running was strong and I went for 10 miles.

Down at Beaver Lake for Thursday’s workout with the guys I knew I was going to suffer. After five miles of easy running just to get there I was already dripping, my shorts completely soaked in sweat; it was like Des Moines all over again.

Rep 1 (1km) – Target time 2:55 … Actual time 3:05. The legs were going round, but they weren’t moving forward. The heat was oppressive, completely brutal. I ran slower than my 5k pace.

Rep 2 (2km) – Target time 6:10 – Actual time 6:19. After the first kilometre I felt like stopping, my legs had turned to jelly, they were physically melting beneath me. I pushed on, my breath escaping from my lungs like lava being thrown from a volcano, forced into the atmosphere.

Rep 3 (2km) – Target time 6:10 – Actual time 6:41. In short, I collapsed after the finish. Hyperventilating and with my legs failing I fell against a log. I couldn’t get up, my vision went blurry, all I could hear was Coach John shouting out the times of the finishers. I had given everything, pushed my body too far, my heart had the strength but my body had broken.

Thankfully one of our members gave me a couple of energy sweets and I finished off my bottle of water. I sat out the final rep, clapping home Jay, Ynuk, Brad, Dave, Paul and Phil who were all giving everything and running well. I tried to comprehend what had happened.

I have to rest a while. My body broke down. It needs to build back up. I’ve put myself through too much. Next Friday I have a 14km race in Hungary at an event I’m going to, but if I’m not up to it then I won’t start. I don’t want to create damage that can’t be repaired.

As far as running is concerned…
Roll on the autumn, roll on the rain, cleanse my skin, flush the tiredness from my bones. Get me out there in the early mornings, watching the sun rise. Get me out there in the evenings, watching the sun go down. Let me bask in late summer sunshine, let me kick up the fallen leaves, let me hear the crunch of snow beneath my feet. Make me whole again.

But as far as life goes, I want to preserve this summer, I don't want it to end.
Enough from me, I’m signing off for a while. I’ll let you know when I’m ready to talk about running again.

The Broken and the Beaten

Next target, beating 2:30 for the marathon.
Who's coming to Sacramento with me?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Finally, the 10k PB is Broken!

I set my 10km road PB back in February 2006 at the renowned flat course in Bourton-on-the-Water during the height of marathon training. 33:14 for a 20 year old in perfect conditions... not bad going. But then 33:14 came to haunt me... I just couldn't break it; I'd get injured (early 2007), get a stitch (Sherston 10k 2007), turn to marathon aspirations (2008), and then get another stitch (Vancouver Sun Run 2009).

During this time Bourton was ridiculed as being short by many athletes, although the deadpan flat and wind-less out and back course on fantastic country lanes was naturally quick and a good group of guys could speed round in double quick time, helping each other out in the knowledge that this was a special place to run.

2009's Bourton 10k was taken off the record books following unnaturally quick times, including an incredible 32:32 for Alyson Dixon. Midland Counties asked for the course to be re-measured and it came in 110m short. Ouch! Whether 2006 used exactly the same course is another matter, but it still haunted me... that is until one day after my 24th birthday.

The Stroud AC 10k champs was meant to be a strictly club affair in the local village of Cherington, however due to some tenuous connections (going to school in the town and training with the Stroud guys) the organisers turned a blind eye to both myself and good mate and GB under 23 x-country star Tom Russell, who left his homeclub to run for Bristol and West AC.

It was decided the day before on Facebook that Tom would run round in a very steady 33mins as a tempo, well within his capabilities, and the rest of us would hang on in for as long as we could. Over a testing course I thought 33:14 was probably out of reach, and sure enough the remnants of a passing storm left breezy conditions out on the country roads. Anyway, to hell with it, with nothing to lose both Julian (Judd) Hough and I decided to have a crack at it.

Mile 1: 5:10 flat / felt pretty good and I pushed Tom on to run a bit faster
Mile 2: 4:56 flat-downhill / took on mile two but was shocked at the mile split
Mile 3: 5:24 uphill-flat / Judd and Tom came storming past on the hill to Rodmarton
Mile 4: 5:20 undulating / Pushed back past Judd, Tom came with me to help out
Mile 5: 5:14 undulating / Tom sheltering me from the wind as we headed for home
Mile 6: 5:31 uphill-flat / final long uphill hurt like hell, but stayed strong and opened up
Finish: 1:11 undulating / (4:46 miling) nice kick for home, really pleased with it
TIME: 32:51

Wow! On a seriously undulating and windy course I knocked 23 seconds off the PB and dipped under 33 minutes for the first time. Both Tom and I were wearing our Garmins and clocked the mile markers to within 0.01 accuracy and both had 6.22 miles showing at the finish - awesome! On a fast flat course I reckon there's another sizable chunk to come off that.

My incredible thanks to Tom for pacing me around, sheltering me from the wind and dragging me up the hills. Fantastic to have someone of his calibre working for us out there, and I will have to repay the favour in beer at Christmas! The Mince Pie run on Christmas Eve is going to be special!

Right off to bed. Am heading to Hamburg in the morning for the next leg of the 'Tri Tour'. Roll on some more PBs!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Training Week 12 July - 18 July 12.86m / 1:30:36 / 7:03 miling
Because of the German GP the women's race in Kitzbuhel didn't start until 4pm so plenty of time to get a long-ish decent hilly Sunday run done in the Alps. Took some energy tablets with me and they seemed to be digestible and work... maybe something to use over 26.2 in the autumn.

Mon. Rest - transfer to Munich --> Birmingham --> HOME!! 6.24m / 46:42 / 7:29 miling
Quick trip up to Loughborough to see Tim Hall before he departed for holiday. Nice run around Outwoods reliving the glory days in a torrential downpour. Catch up with a few of the guys in the evening. 2m WU - 6 x 150m strides - 2m WD
Nice leg stretcher before Thursday's 5k, feeling pretty bouncy. Afterwards the bridge of my foot felt very sore and had some problems walking. Not good. 2.18m / 15:16 / 7:01 miling
Easy jog to wake the legs up. Didn't fancy sitting on them all day with the race not getting underway until 7:45pm. Foot feeling ok, bettered overnight. 1m WU - White Horse 5k, 15:36 (3rd) - 1.33m WD
Lashing it down with rain all afternoon but said I'd take one for the Chelt guys, so rocked up to some hamlet the other side of Gloucester. Found the pub about 15mins before the start, so managed an adrenaline filled 5min jog before getting underway.

Race lead out by Dalton and Roper with a couple of younger guys in tow. I started steadily and worked through it, picking off the first guy to drop off the pace at 2k, then Sam Dagliesh at 3.5k. Finished strongly to get a PB by six seconds. Ironically Chelt placed 5 in 17 but had no 6th man so lost the team prize to Severn. Thanks to Dave Newport, Andy Proph and the Norris bros for the support.

1. Tim Dalton, Severn AC 14:59
2. Dave Roper, Cheltenham 15:12
3. Peter Holmes, Cheltenham 15:36 19.67m / 2:09:04 / 6:34 miling
Was aiming for a 15 miler, but took a wrong turn in Sherston and ended up going out for over two hours. Rather dehydrated and tired, pleased to have a Frijj in the fridge! All good for marathon training though. 2.00m easy - 8 x 180m hills - 2.10m easy
Needed something short and sharp following the long run so hit my favourite strength workout of Cirencester Road reps. Hurting like hell but moving well and powerfully. Rep times: 36, 36, 36, 36, 34, 34, 35, 34 for ~180m.
Unfortunately I stacked it (tripped over a lace of all things!) just a mile into the run and cut my hands, elbow and right knee, but carried on to get the session done. Once I stopped my body really tightened up and became quite sore.

Run total: 57.60m / 6:38:49 / 6:58 miling avg

Nice to be home for a week between legs of the European based races, and great to get a run done in Loughborough and get a race done as well. PB making it especially pleasing.

I've really enjoyed turning my attention to shorter distances and hopefully the lactic threshold work will in turn benefit my endurance when marathon training comes back around in September. 15:36 isn't exactly setting the world alight, but it's nice to have a decent PB to reflect on. Definitely gunning for sub-15:30 next year.

My trip on Saturday has left me a little bruised around my right knee, but hopefully having taken Sunday off I can make a 'birthday run' on Monday. Would like to run the Stroud AC 10k on Tuesday evening, even just to pace someone round, as it's only three miles from home... perfect for a warm up/down... if anyone from Stroud happens to read this, do you think I can make an appearance as a loosely affiliated ex-pat?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Another PB for the Year

On a whim I turned up at the Gloucester White Horse 5k this evening on instruction of Cheltenham team manager, Proph. Having watched the rain come down all afternoon like stair rods I was in two minds whether to run or not, but with the Chelt crew out in force I thought I would show my face and take one for the team.

Having navigated myself to the hamlet of Sandhurst just north of Gloucester I proceeded to spend half an hour trying to find the damn pub on flooded roads. If it wasn't for the fact I'd been in the car for 75 minutes I may well have turned back, but with 15 minutes to spare I found the start.

I managed to get a 'quick' five minute warm up done as the rain eased off a bit and lined up ready for some fun. Dave Roper was out for us and old Uni mate Tim Dalton was also on the start line, so at least I knew how to pace myself this time round.

We started smoothly with Tim and Dave hitting the front with a couple of young guys from Westbury tucking in behind. I started steadily, trying not to blow up as I did in the Yaletown Grand Prix. At the 2k mark I caught and passed the first of the guys to drop off the front group and flew past - he was not getting back on!

Sam Dalgliesh was the next guy to fall off the pace of the leading pair and I caught and past him under the watchful eye of Dave Newport with about 1500m to go. Despite the puddles I was able to pick out a pretty decent line, although I reckon there were another couple of seconds to be had if the corners weren't under water.

I got the "half a mile to go" shout from the marshalls and put my head down, wound up the pace, and went for home. I went for the line about 200m out but kept imagining I was just running the final half a lap at a Kerrisdale track session.

Having not worn a watch I was delighted to hear I ran 15:36 which is six seconds faster than the Longest Day, and a new PB. It also consolidates my second place in the VFAC rankings and leaves me just 11 seconds behind a certain Mr McDonald... although I think a sub-15:30 might have to wait twelve months! My prize of two boxes of biscuits made the trip extra worth while!

I didn't think I'd run as well as I did, but it felt good, my legs were springy and full of life. It was as if I was exactly on the line of lactic threshold - feeling great but knowing that an extra 1% and I would start the slow death that is oxygen debt. Maybe the Austrian hills and lack of sessions has done me some good?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Training Week 5 July - 11 July 15.64m / 1:43:02 / 6:35 miling
Long run in Vancouver, over Burrard Bridge and along Kits beach along to Jericho and back. Explored a few of the trails coming up from the coast - could have done with more time to look around.

Mon. Rest - flying Vancouver --> Dusseldorf --> Munich - transfer -> Kitzbuhel
Flying in to the World Champs race in Austria. Overnight flight so arrived in Austria on Tuesday evening. Jumped straight on the treadmill in the hotel as it was pouring down outside.
4.52m / 32:00 - increased pace up to 20kph for the final couple of minutes. 5.47m / 40:00 / 7:19 miling
Easy morning run to find my bearings, but thankfully remembered many of the routes from when I covered the race last year. Jet lag wasn't my friend so hit the trails at 6:30am 8.83m / 1:09:19 / 7:51 miling
Very easy run, pretty shattered from the travel, but nice to breath in some alpine air. Hit some hills to get the legs working, enjoying the heavy breathing. 8.25m / 1:00:16 / 7:18 miling
Another early run, but done with a tempo loop of the lake thrown in for good measure. Legs still not waking up though. 5.07m / 34:10 / 6:44 miling
Quicker morning run, giving it some beans, finally feeling normal considering a night at the Casino and 3am bed time... maybe that says something about my usual lifestyle 8.52m / 1:04:32 / 7:35 miling
Long day with press conference, athlete interviews and setting things up for the weekend, but managed half an hour. As I came back Andrew from the team was heading out for his run so jogged alongside to put it over the hour.

Sat. Rest
Men's race started at 2pm (Al Brownlee won), and legs were tired from all the hills... not much flat running to be had, so took the day off.

Run total: 56.30 miles (90.6km) / 6:33:21 / 7:10 miling avg

Really nice week of alpine running on the trails of Kitzbuhel; extremely beautiful and pretty warm as well. Very fortunate with the weather despite it raining during the men's race.

Legs took a bit of a bashing as for the most part you were either going up or down, and coupled with the jetlag (9 hour time difference hurts!) I was pretty tired most of the time. As such I didn't do a long tempo or a session, but still feel I got some quality because of the strength work required.

Am now back in the UK for a week before heading off to Hamburg for the next leg of the tour next Wednesday. Hope to make an appearance at the White Horse 5k in Gloucester on Thursday but my left arch has been complaining today.

For some pics of Kitzbuhel, click here.