Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Endure 24 Part 5: Updated Kit List

Having only recently published my kit list, it will come as no surprise that I'd forgotten a few items. Below is now a more comprehensive list, and one I'll use as a checklist whilst I pack. Hopefully I've got everything I need this time!

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Endure24 Part 4: Race Strategy

So here we are: the final few days before the big event!

Thus far training has gone better than expected and physically there isn't much more I can do over and above what I'm already doing. Ideally I'd like to have trained more, but the injury to the foot prevented that, and so I've done the best I can given the circumstances. There's a whole strategy that needs to be devised and implemented along with ensuring I'm prepared and have everything I'll need for those long 24 hours. Hopefully you'll get an insight into how I've prepared for this challenging event. I'm just hoping I haven't forgotten anything!

Key Facts

I've listed below some basic key facts about the event and my targets for it. Hopefully this will put my strategy and preparation into some kind of sense (hopefully!):

Start Time:
12 Noon (Saturday 28 June 2014)
End Time:
12 Noon (Sunday 29 June 2014)
Note 1:
If runners complete a lap just prior to the End Time, they are allowed to continue for an additional lap (this taking them over 24 hours)
My Target Distances
Km (equivalent )
Laps (equivalent )
Note 2:
Solo runners are able to start/stop whenever they want and for as long as they want. They have their own camping area next to the start/end area for quick access to their kit
No. of Solo Runners

Newbury Runners

Team Event:
Quite a few!!!

If there is one thing I've had the most difficulty in planning for this event it is the strategy that I'll adopt. Having never run a 24 hour race before, and with only one lonesome ultra before the event, I'm not really well qualified to say what the best strategy or not. The ultimate mileage I'm aiming for is 100 (20 laps). This is an impossible target for someone of my abilities and my lack of endurance experience (not mention injuries), but I need to start somewhere and 100 sounds like a nice round number. The strategy I'm putting together therefore is based on that target of 100 miles or 20 laps. However I know that during the course of any race, especially long distance races, strategy can (and often does) change (and along with it expectations). Therefore the strategy below is my starter-for-ten and I'll see how I go with it during the course of the event.

I plan on taking a whole week off from running prior to the event.
I'm arriving on the Saturday morning; however depending on the weather I may pitch my tent and register on the Friday afternoon.
Running Style:
The course is pretty much run in trails with a couple of hills thrown in for good luck (I'm sure they'll feel like mountains after 10 or 15 hours of running). I'm therefore adopting a Run / Walk / Jog strategy: Run downhills, walk hills, jog flats. This is likely to change during the course of the event, with more jogging than running and then eventually (during the evening and latter stages) more walking than anything else.
Due to the terrain, distance and duration I'm not setting an average pace. In order to achieve the target mileage I'll be looking to run each lap in approx. 1 hour (or at least that's the plan for the first 10 -12 hours). The challenge is not going out too fast. Some will say 1 hour to run 5 miles (8km) is slow, but after 12 hours it is likely to feel hard and every hill feel like Everest! 
Hydration & Energy:
The hardest thing to plan for.

Hydration is not so much the problem. I will be looking to drink approx. 500ml each lap (dependent on the weather and probably less in the evening), with a 50-50 split between water and an Electrolyte drink after the first 3 hours of running). These will be carried in separate bottles on my hydration vest. To mix things up a little, I will also be drinking different flavours of Lucozade Sport (an Electrolyte). 

To combat the loss of salt through sweat (and thus mitigate cramps) I will be taking on board additional salt. Most of that will come from the Electrolyte but I will also eat some ready salted crisps and salted peanuts. I'm also tempted to eat some lightly salted boiled potatoes that have been sliced up like crisps (for easy digestion).

Energy has been harder to plan for. I've run some long distances races (including a 9 hour ultra) so have a good idea as to what works and does not work for me. As usual I will take the SiS Gels, but to be honest there is only so much I can hack of them after a while. The event organisers will be giving away Cliff gels so I may grab a few of them. However at some point I will need to start eating some real food, all be it in very small doses. 

The usually suspects in the form of jelly babies, fig biscuits, Jaffa Cakes, energy bars/flapjacks, Snickers Bars, bananas, milkshakes, fruit pots will be in my cool bag. As for the more substantial food - this needs to be something that I can eat whilst running as I'm not planning on stopping for any great length of time (or risk seizing up). I'm therefore going to give the following a try: some cooked chicken slices, small slices of thin-base cooked pizza, and cooked sliced potato (as described above). The idea is to eat little at a time whilst also walking. I will take some cooked pasta on the off-chance that I need extra carbs (as an emergency).

Worse case is pack for all eventualities - after all, it's not as if I am lumbering the whole lot around with me!
Kit & Equipment:
Another interesting topic and one I need to get right.

Hydration Vests: I would like to run as many laps as possible in the initial stages without having to stop for supplies; but at the same time I don't want to be  weighed down  either. 

I will start the event wearing my Camelbak LR Ultra hydration vest. There is plenty of storage and it allows for either 2 x 800 ml water bottles on the chest and/or a 2 ltr bladder around the waist. If it's warm weather then I will start with the water bottles (one with an Electrolyte); if it's hot weather then I will use the bladder and have 1 bottle with Electrolyte. As the event wears on, especially into the evening, I may switch to my lightweight 2lt Camelbak. It has no storage but is very light.

Trainers: The condition of the terrain will vary depending on the weather. I will initially run in my trail shoes (New Balance Leadville's) as these provide support, cushioning, stability and toe box space. If the weather remains dry and my knees start to hurt in the latter stages then I may change over to my more cushioned road runners.
Combating Tedium:
Running around the same 5 mile lap (hopefully) 20 times will get boring, especially during the day. At night I will need to concentrate and focus on my footing as I won't be able to see much and the terrain underfoot will have potential ankle-twisting pot-holes, tree routes etc. Nevertheless, to combat the tedium during the day I will use my iPod with both comedy postcasts and music on it.
Body vs. Mind:
The first half of the race will be physical and my body will start to become sore as I go into the evening. That's when the mind games come into their own. It will be all too easy to stop and rest at the end of each lap, or stop and sleep. It's going to be a mental challenge to run throughout the night in the cold dark forest. I cannot prepare for this - I just need to make sure I continue putting one foot in front of the other.
Peer Pressure:
It's all too easy to fall in line with peers and align with their pace. The majority of runners will be running the event as part of a team. They will naturally be running at a faster pace. Even some of the solo runners will be running faster than me. For me it's not technically a race. It's an endurance event. I have a target and so I will stick to my own plan. I must run my own 'race'.
Night Running:
For most runners this will be the time they are not looking forward to. Personally I don't mind running in the dark, and did most of my base-training in the dark during the winter months. I therefore know what it's like to run for hours on end with nothing to see except the spot light on the floor from my head torch. What will be interesting is how I cope when fatigued.

I'll be packing quite a few spare batteries for my head torch and I will also carry a spare head torch for either backup or as an extra light source. I want to see as much as possible. I will also make sure I take a running fleece as I suspect it will get cold at night, especially in the forest. Note if my pace really falls in the evening (which I expect it to) then I may also take a light pair of tracksuit bottoms and run in them.
Injury Management:
BOOM! Finally last but by no means least injury management!

This is the one thing that will stop me from putting one foot in front of the other and continuing when everything else is painful. The key injuries for me for an event like this are likely to be to the following:

Feet / Tendons / Blisters / Knees / Achilles / Cramps / Chafing / Left Tibia

Anyone one of the above can knock me out the event. Even as I write this, there is an 80-20 chance I won't make the start line due to an existing injury to my tendon. Let's take each of these individually and how I plan to mitigate (or overcome) any issues:

Feet: Not surprisingly running on trails for any length of time is going to eventually cause the feet to become painful. Trail shoes are the only way to go for this type of event. The New Balance Leadvilles I'll be using incorporate a rock plate, cushioning, stability, space in the toe box and durability. Designed by New Balance for ultramarathons on trails, I'm hoping they'll serve me well and protect my flat feet! If my feet become sore (and depending on the terrain), I may switch to my road runners towards the latter stages.

Tendons: As many of you know I still have an issue with my tendons on my right foot, and for the past 5 days those tendon have really hurt. If I make the start then the plan is to try and keep my foot as stable as possible without any roll-over in either direction. I will try and run on level terrain as much as possible, even when running up hill. The speed of running should help. I don't plan on running fast, so can stop, stretch the tendon and hopefully manage them. If there is a single factor that will knock me out of this race it is the injury to my tendon. It's one thing above all else I am worried about, and therefore needs to be managed appropriately.

Blisters: Blisters are the bane of any runner and all runners get them at some point. Thankfully I don't suffer from them that much unless I change trainers. Although my trail shoes are relatively new, I've now run over 70 blister-free kms, so hopefully I won't suffer too much. Nonetheless, relying on trainers alone is not enough, and so I will also have the following:

  • Twin-skin socks (helps prevent friction)
  • Vaseline on key areas of the foot
  • Compeed plasters on potential blister areas
  • Needles to pop any large blisters
Will take plenty of socks and change them if they get wet (through rain).

Knees: Recently my knees (especially my left knee) has started to become sore when running. I think this is down to the near-on 500 miles I've run in my road runners in the past 4.5 months. Running slowly and gently should help. Likewise if the knee starts to hurt, I will stop and massage the knee then gently continue.

Achilles: The Achilles on my right foot is closely linked to the tendon issue. Walking up the hills should help elevate any pain. Will try to keep the foot as flat as possible (difficult on the terrain though).
Cramps: Painful as hell. I've yet to suffer from them whilst running and I don't intend to on this run. As per above; will keep hydrated, use electrolytes and ensure I replace lost salt. Stretching the legs every so often will also help.

Chafing: I've done a lot of testing during training and the following seems to work for me: plasters on the nipples; lots of Vaseline on the feet and toes, inner thighs, crotch, my little "member" and his "accompanying friends", base of my neck and my lower back (to prevent rubbing from the hydration packs); changing socks, shorts and running tops when required.

Left Tibia: A recent addition to my injury list. I'm hoping its not the beginnings of a stress fracture. Need to be careful how I run, the pace and to be as light as possible on my feet and in my stride.

Final Thoughts

I'm really excited about this event; I just wish I wasn't injured (as this is having an impact on my positivity). For personal reasons this will be my last long distance event for quite a while, and that is why I am running it. My two main concerns are the tendon in the right foot and the left tibia. Both injuries can knock me out the race at any point as the pain from both will be too great.

Rain is forecast for the weekend; this will add a new dimension to the run. I'd rather not run in the rain for this event. I'd prefer the weather to be mild, cloudy with a bit of a breeze (similar to when I ran the Manchester Marathon). 

My honest belief is that even if I do make the start line, my injuries will knock me out the race before I achieve any of my targets. I'm not being negative; just trying to be realistic. But whatever happens I will enjoy myself and have fun, and that is all I can ask for.

Bring it on!

Friday, 20 June 2014

New Injury Scare

With only a week to go before Endure 24 and I'm suspecting a minor stress fracture to my left tibia. This is purely a self-diagnosis, but the feeling is very similar to when I had a stress fracture in my right tibia a number of years back.

This is not good news. If there is one injury that will stop any runner in their tracks it's a stress fracture. It's painful and even a minor stress fracture will result in me being "out" for 6 - 10 weeks.

However Endure24 is my last planned race of the year (certainly long distance race), and I have come too far, trained too hard and spent too much to pull out of this race before even getting to the start line. I've therefore decided to proceed with the race and see what happens. As it's only a 5 mile loop through a forest, and my pace will be heavily reduced, I'm going to take the risk and see how I get on. I can always pull out at any point.

Once the race is over I will go and see my doctor again. He'll love me - the last 6 times I've seen him have been about running injuries or some sort. When I walk through his office door he simply smiles and says "what have you done now..."

So I enter this 24 hour race with my upper body in fine shape and my lower limbs in somewhat of a mess (right foot, left foot and now left tibia). More than anything mental strength to continue on through the pain will be the greatest challenge. Will just see how far I get. I can do no more than that...

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Endure24 Part 3: Update on Training (and Tapering)

Training for the event has gone really well. I'd planned on spending most of June pumping in the miles with the aim of running more miles with less runs, thereby allowing me to run on tired legs. It seems to be working!

At time of writing (17 June) my mileage thus far for June totals 123 miles (197 km) over 11 runs. I'm pretty impressed with that figure with June looking to be the month I run most mileage in since I started running. 

However it is now time to start tapering. My left foot is suspiciously starting to feel like my right foot; my left tibia is starting to suspiciously feel like it has the beginnings of a small stress fracture; and my left knee is telling me it needs for more cushioning (i.e. new pair of road runners!). It's therefore time to rest my legs; maybe get into the pool a couple of times.

Legs aside, my general fitness is as good as it could be given the injuries. I seem to have lost the weight I recently gained and feel quite good. Just need to make sure I don't drink and eat too much between now and the race. It's my 40th birthday this coming weekend, so I'll treat myself to plenty of nice food and drink over the weekend, but that's it.

My tapering will consist of a couple of 5km jogs in the week leading up to the event (similar to what I did when tapering for the Manchester Marathon). This will be to keep the legs fresh and loose as opposed to any kind of specific training.

With that in mind below is a small analysis of the last couple of weeks' of training.

Week 1
As I wrote in a previous blog entry, after an initial period of getting my fitness levels back I then started to focus on mileage. In my first full week of training I ran 99.5km in 5 runs and although I had tendon twinges in the foot, I managed to adjust the running style and pace so I could continue. The good news is that there were no negative after-effects resulting from each run.

The first week ended with me running 31km around Greenham Common on the Saturday followed by a 24.5km run up the top of Combe Gibbet on the Sunday morning with Andy Woodman. It was such a lovely run and we reached the top by 7:30am. On the way back we passed the Furze Bush pub and although it was only 8.30am, we both really fancied a pint of cider. Unfortunately it wasn't open so we continued running for another 5km before finishing the run. I really do like this run because it combines flat road, gradual and very steep ascents, and some off-road. I ran in the new trail shoes I bought (NB Leadvilles) and found them to be really comfortable, even on the road.

Top of Combe Gibbet
Top of Combe Gibbet

Week 2
My second full-on week started in the same fashion as the first week, although in a little more tired state due to my son having an ear infection and both my wife and I getting very little sleep for 2 days.

Infamous Tesco-Garden Loop
The week's running began with the Tesco-Garden Loop on Tuesday evening (originally planned for the morning, but I just couldn't get out of bed due to a lack of sleep). This is a very hill route which when run at a past pace sap the energy by the legs. It doesn't help that the final couple of km is up Andover Hill which, after having run 10 miles, usually finished me off! I ran the 17.3km loop in a new personal best time of 1hr 37 mins with an average pace of 5:38 min/km. I've ran 17.3km in a quicker time; just not on this route. For some reason I felt good on the run. It was either a fluke, a realignment of the stars, or my training is starting to pay off. Either way I was happy after that run.

My Wednesday run was a loop around Greenham Common but at a slower pace. The weather was warm and, although it was a rather uninspiring run, I still managed to add another 14:39 km to my monthly mileage total.

Work route
Friday brought my very first lunchtime run whilst at work. It was a hot day and I managed to plot a route near to my work. It was a funny old run, but also a little dangerous. I ended up running down the central reservation of the A420. Although it was wide with plenty of protection, it wasn't the smartest move I've done. Thankfully I was only in the reservation for 5 mins.

I managed the 9.35 km in 54:44 and soon made the decision not to run that route again. Still it was yet more mileage under the belt, and along some completely different roads (which made a nice change!).

Saturday slog
Saturday morning however was a bit of an unnecessary slog. For some reason my body just did not want to run. That said I got up at 4:40am and was out the door and running by 5:10am. I set off with the intention of doing an run/walk strategy, very similar to what I'll be doing at Endure. This should have been an easy run, especially as I'd reduced the pace, but every step just seemed to further demotivate me resulting in every km seeming like it was taking a lifetime. I even texted Fran to ask for a bacon buttie and coffee while en route; but to no avail! I arrived back at the start 2hrs 32 mins after I started and had covered 22.20 km (so over half a marathon). This run wasn't about distance or pace it was about time on feet, and so the 2hrs 32 mins was good time on feet. My HR averaged around 142 BPM, so reasonably happy with that, although it would have been nice it had been slightly lower.

That concluded the end of week 2 in June and I'd covered an okay (but not great) 63 km (39 miles).

Weeks 3 & 4 - Tapering

So begins my first week of tapering. With my left leg feeling a little sore the tapering couldn't have come at a better time.

Tapering began in the Monday evening with a gentle 3 laps of the Wash Common/Wash Water loop. This 15 km run felt great. A nice easy pace and although the HR was all over the place at the start, after around 10 km (once I'd settled into the run) it soon started to settle down. I plan on running with the Newbury Runners on Wednesday night - a gentle 7 km. That'll be the last run for the penultimate week before the event. The week leading into the event will involve a single 5 km lap of the Wash Common/Wash Water loop, but that will be it.

There's not much more I can do now but rest and converse my energy for the event. Starting to get excited now!

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Endure24 Part 2: Preparation

There is now less than 2 weeks to the big event and preparations are going well. Below is a summary of the event schedule and also what I need to pack for the event. No doubt I've missed something, but who cares - I'm starting to get excited! 

Event Schedule
The following activities talk place during the course of the event:

Friday 27th June 
10.00 – Campsite opens (please read the camping and site rules carefully). 
10.00 – Registration opens. 
17.00 – Catering opens. 
19.30 – Registration closes. 
19.30 – Briefing, Ultra running talk and Q&A in the race village marquee. 
22.00 – Catering closes. 

Saturday 28th June 
07.30 – Catering opens (and remains open until Sunday 2.00pm). 
07.30 – Registration opens. 
11.30 – Registration closes. 
11.45 – Call to the start. 
12.00 – Race starts. 
19.00 – Music level lowered. 
20.00 – Head torches to be carried by all runners leaving after this time. 

Sunday 29th June 
06.00 – Runners may stop using head torches. 
08.00 – Music levels return to normal. 
11.00 – Warnings regarding last lap are issued. 
11.59 – Any runner or team may start a final lap and these will count in your result. 
12.00 – Course closed at the finish line. 
13.00 – Final runners cross the finish line. 
13.30 – Prize giving in the race village

Friday, 6 June 2014

Endure24 Part 1: Back Training

After taking the tough and heart-breaking decision to withdraw from the Trail Marathon Wales, I now have my sights set on putting 110% into the Endure24 endurance race on the 28-29 June 2014. Having nearly 3 weeks off from running has resulted in a little weight gain and some loss of fitness. I'm therefore planning to put in quite a few training miles in the lead up to the event.

I've already begun training with some short 10/11 mile runs. The first few left me puffing and panting a little, but gradually I've managed to regain some fitness and reminded my legs and lungs of what they've been missing. I've cut the alcohol intake right down (or at least certainly my beloved wine) and ditched the junk food treats. I've started getting up early and hauling my arse out for training runs. My foot is still sore and will therefore be a constant nagging irritation in the back of my mind throughout training and the actual event itself, but the 9 hour Marlborough Downs Challenge gave me the confidence that if I manage the runs correctly (and adapt where and when necessary) then I can make it.

Target Mileage at Endure24
So here we go....I'm going to announce for the first time what my targets are for Endure24. Please not that there is no science behind these targets, and it's certainly not based on any kind of recent post-races analysis. The targets are calculated in miles (based on a single 5 mile lap) and broken down into 3 categories:

  • Minimum mileage I must run
  • Mileage I would love to achieve
  • The ultimate target - mileage I'd be over the moon to achieve (but unlikely to achieve)
This gives me 3 opportunities to leave the event happy. "So Mike, what is the actual mileage you are aiming for?" I hear you say. Well here goes:

  • Minimum mileage: 55 miles (equivalent to just over 2 marathons)
  • Love to achieve: 85 miles (equivalent to just over 3 marathons)
  • Ultimate target: 100 miles (because why the hell not - it's a nice round number!)

Of course the strategy I'm going to put in place (and try to keep to) will aim to achieve those targets in reverse order; that is I will plan for the 100 miles and then see what happens. Some may say 100 miles is over ambitious (I blame Stouty for putting that target in my head on the last run we did together), or even that 85 miles is pushing it, but this is an endurance event after all. For me it's about pushing my body to its limits. To see what I can achieve. It will also inform me as to what I can realistically achieve when entering other ultras later this year.

New Trainers
Although I love my ASCIS Gel Trail Lahar 4 GTX trainers I've now discovered that they are not the right shoe for me when it comes to long distance trail running. When my feet swell they become too tight around the top of the foot, despite being half a size larger than I normally take. This is in part due to the Gortex lining which is very stiff and therefore remains tight. They are great for short technical trail runs, but for longer non-technical runs such as Endure24 I need a trainer that will provide support, stability, space and cushioning.

After doing much research I opted for the New Balance Leadville 1210. This trail shoe was designed specifically for ultra runners and allows space for the feet to swell whilst also providing the support, stability and more importantly cushioning for miles upon miles of trail running. My first run in them was 19km around Greenham Common and they were comfy and I had no rubbing. All runs around the Common will now be done wearing these, especially in the lead-up to Endure24.

New Socks
Along with the new shoes I also invested in another pair of Hilly Twin Skin Anklet socks. I already have a white pair of these and haven't suffered from any blisters, even during the 9 hour ultra I ran last month. Since the white colour has now turned into a yukky muddy colour, I decided to invest in some black ones.

  • Inner sock is Meryl SkinlifE with permanent anti-microbial qualities
  • Outer sock contains Lycra; for better fit
  • Soft-touch reinforced heel and toe
  • Arch grip section and ‘W’ heel for optimum fit
  • Pre-shrunk and new improved fit
  • New ‘VentFlex’ panel on front of ankle for improved ventilation and flexibility
  • New heel and toe box shape for extra abrasion resistance
  • Flat seamless toe construction to help prevent blisters

Back Training
So having taken nearly 3 weeks off from running after the Marlborough Downs Challenge it was time to hit the road again and start training for Endure24. At the time of writing I've run 6 times over a 10 day period. I've decided to ditch the HR monitor for the bulk of my training runs leading up to Endure24. The running strategy for Endure24 differs hugely from that of running a standard road marathon. I'll wear the HR monitor during my long weekend runs (for information only), but apart from that I'm leaving it at home.

The 6 runs thus far have varied in distance, pace and elevation. They range from road runs between Wash Common and Thatcham, local runs around the block to laps of Greenham Common. They've not been particularly long runs (in fact they've been quite short), but these initial runs were more about regaining fitness as opposed to training for long distance. Below are distances covered thus far:

15.19 km
14.45 km
20 km
15.17 km
19 km
9.75 km

Where the runs are on a flat I've averaged around 5:40 min/km. The initial runs left me panting a little due to lack of fitness, but by run number 5 (a 19 km run around the Common with Stouty) I was more than happy sitting at that pace. Fitness is quickly coming back!

I've felt the tendons in the right foot but it's been manageable thus far, and after every run I've been fine and dandy (i.e., not major after-affects on the foot). I plan on running a couple of 10 - 12 mile runs during the week (16 - 20 km) and then throw in 2 long runs over the weekend as a way of training on tired legs. I plan on taking a week off training during the lead-up to the actual event.

It's good to be back running again and now just counting down the days to the event...

Monday, 2 June 2014

Race Report - Manchester Marathon

I did it!

I bloody well did it!

I completed my first marathon!

Despite the odds being against me I managed to haul my injured body over that finish line in what was a battle between my heart, head and body. I finished in a time of 4 hours 21 mins. However that is not the whole story - this was a race of two contrasting halves, when injury was a huge factor in the second half.  My target was sub-4 hours and, although I did not achieve that, I'm still proud of my efforts. It just makes me want to go back out and do another one. Manchester 2015 is definitely on the cards now!

Below is a detailed breakdown of the race. As you will see - there are a lot of ups and downs.

Days Leading Up To The Marathon
I'd been a good boy in the days leading up to the big event. I ran 3 very slow 5km taper runs. However on the final run (the Friday before the race) I twinged my right knee. This was painful and had me worried. That night, whilst in bed, I could feel the pain and my chance of running dwindling away.

On the Saturday I packed my bags and started the long journey up north. I popped in to see my parents in Wigan before then heading back to Manchester. My hotel, the Ibis, was only a 10 minute walk from the start area (outside Old Trafford stadium). This meant I didn't have the hassle or panic of trying to get to the event on the same morning.

Night Before The Big Race
The night before the race I chilled out and at around 6pm headed across the road to a Frankie & Bennies restaurant. I avoided the pasta because I wasn't sure whether my stomach would hack a pasta source that I hadn't tested before. So I ended up with steak and chips....and a nice steak and chips it was!

I chilled out that night and watched a film on my iPad. However I had the worst night sleep ever. Not sure why. It wasn't nerves. Whatever it was I just couldn't switch off...and that was frustrating.

The Morning Of The Race
Having woken up very tired due to lack of sleep I headed downstairs for breakfast. I have to say the breakfast was terrible. There was very little choice, and in the end I had 4 slices of toast with some cheese on followed by a black coffee. I was hoping to eat more, but it wasn't the case. I got back to my room and munched on some Alpen Bars I'd brought with me, which made me feel better.

After packing and checking out I then started the 10 minute walk to the main event. It was very cloudy and looked like it might rain. The event was held outside Old Trafford, and I'd come armed with 6 SiS gels and a bottle of Lucozade. I tried looking out for the other Newbury Runners (Matt and Debbie Studart, Vicki Grozin, Paul Hendry, Matt Brown) but could not find them.

Within 20 mins we were called to the start line. I passed the finish straight, which seemed to go downhill, and told myself that I'd be running down that straight shortly. I was starting to get excited, and everyone was really friendly and chatty as we walked to the start line.

I found it quite easy to find where I should be standing. I was aiming for a sub-4 hour time, and within minutes I'd found the 4 hour pacers (there were two of them). Running a 4 hour marathon is a popular goal and there were lots of people around the pacers. My initial strategy was to stick to the pacers for at least the first half of the race, and then see what happens.

After about 5 minutes of standing around the race began - it took me around 3 minutes to cross the actual start. My first marathon had now started!

The Race - 1st Half
As originally planned I stuck with the 4hr pacer for the first couple of km, but I soon started tripping over people because there were so wanting to be paced at the 4hr mark. I therefore decided that I'd run in front of the pacer with the aim of not being overtaken by the pacer. Now this strategy would have worked had I kept to a similar pace to the pacer...but I didn't!

We were around 4km in and already on our second loop back when I saw the 4hr pacer coming the opposite direction - eeek, I was more than just "slightly" ahead of him; I was quite far in front. Nonetheless I felt strong and had no pain from the knee nor the tendon in my right foot. I felt on top of the world. HR was good and pace was good, averaging around 5:15 min/km. Deep down I knew this was too fast, but I was "in the moment" and really enjoying it.

Before I knew it the 10km mark appeared and when I looked at my watch I'd clocked it at 53:17 - a new 10k PB by a couple of seconds. I wasn't expecting that. In my head I figuring that if I'd got a new 10k PB then I must be running too fast; but then there was another part of me thinking that my old PB I got around 10 months ago, and so with all the training I should be going faster with less effort. I therefore made the mistake of carrying on. I felt good and at the next water station I walked through it then continued. The crowds were amazing!

The next milestone on my hit-list was the 10 mile (or 16km) mark. I flew through that in 1hr 26 mins and was averaging around 5:30 min/km. I started to deliberately slow down and tried to stick to the 5:30 min/km mark (which I'd done in training leading up to the race). 

I'm not a huge fan of loop-backs and I found it rather disconcerting to see the leaders coming back in the opposite direction. Although I (like others) started clapping them as they passed), I think I prefer a route you run along once and not have to repeat it in the opposite direction.

Anyway, loop backs aside, I headed into the Altringham and the half way point I went through the half marathon mark in 1 hr 54 mins and achieving a new half marathon PB

The first half of my marathon was playing out more than I could have wished. I had no pain in either the knee or the tendon; my pace was good; and more importantly I felt good. I just needed to slow the pace down a little....

The Race - 2nd Half
So there I was quite content with my first half performance and, although I still felt good I knew I had to slow the pace down or risk blowing out at the end. In my head I'd already built up a substantial lead over the 4hr pacer so decided to knock the pace down to recover, then increase back up the 4hr pace. I ran a 5:46 (22nd km), 6:27 (23rd km), 6:16 (24th km) and 6:14 (25th km). I'd gotten some of my breath back, had taken some very slow water stops and some gels, and felt a little more refreshed. It was then, just as I was about to increase the pace back up to around the 4hr mark (5:40 min/km) that I started to feel a twinge in my right foot. It was the bloody tendon!

I stopped a few times to stretch it and then continued. It started to become painful and before I knew it the top right-hand side of my foot became sore. I became really angry with myself and all the runners I'd passed were now starting to overtake me. I continued for another couple of km but it was no good, I was having to stop every so often just to take the pressure off my foot. My pace had come tumbling down and I was averaging around 7:00 min/km. At the 29km mark I had to make a decision. 

My body was telling me to stop and pull out; my head was telling me this was dangerous I could risk further damage; however my head was saying "look, it is possible to run through the pain, but It's not worth the risk. I've come too far, trained too hard, and ran an excellent first half, not to continue to the finish! I am going to drag my body over that line even if it kills me!"

So with my mind made up to continue I had to change my strategy. I had no
option but to adopt a run/walk strategy to get me to finish line. It was frustrating because I could not run more than a km without having to stop and walk a little. Not surprising it wasn't long before the 4hr pacer passed me. My heart just sank!

For me now it wasn't about a time it was about being mentally strong and making sure I finished! Of course with the strategy I was running on it seemed like each km was taking me a lifetime. It was sole destroying and my average pace was falling to around the 7:20 min/km mark. This was also impacting on my performance when I could run. Because I had no rhythm to my running, and I was constantly starting and stopping, it was draining all the energy from my legs. 

I dragged my arse around the course and eventually I hit the 37km mark. In my head I calculated that I was only a Parkrun away. I could start to see Old Trafford in the distance. That was my target - it as the finish line! As I ran along I just kept on see people on stretchers and paramedics helping them. I felt so sorry for them. I didn't want to be one of those people. By this stage I was sick of taking gels. I continued my walk/run strategy and eventually hit the final stretch - a 150m downhill section to the finish line.

It was an amazing feeling to run down that stretch with people shouting your name. I tried to go fast but couldn't. I crossed the line with my hands in the air. I'd done it! By god I'd done it! I crossed the line in 4 hrs 21 mins.

As soon as I stopped the pain my right foot became bad and I could hardly walk. I tried to find an energy drink but the organisers hadn't arranged any. A female steward congratulated me and put the medal around my neck. It was a great feeling. The finishing area was very busy, so I picked up a bottle of water, a banana and my goodie bag then went to find somewhere so I could collapse on the floor and chill. In the goodie bag was a Cliff Bar. I'd never had one before, but it tasted nice (mental note for training!). I sat there, on the floor, and reflected on what I'd just achieved. 

My Race - Conclusion
After the initial disappointment of not achieving my sub-4 hour time, I then spent a lot of time pondering the race and my achievement (the 4 hour drive home helped in that sense).

I'm really proud of what I did and, more especially, how I managed to overcome an injury to ensure I finished the race. It would have been all too easy to have pulled out at the 29km mark. But I didn't; I pushed on even when it hurt. Given my lack of training since the turn of the year, and the ongoing injury I have, I am impressed that not only did I finish but I finished only 21 minutes behind my goal time.

If I hadn't got the injury would I have blown up before the end of the race? Almost defiantly! The pace I ran the first half would have certainly meant I'd have died a sudden death. What I don't know is when that would have happened and what my eventual time would have been. That's why I need to do another one - just to prove to myself I can keep to a sensible pace. The next marathon I run I intend to stick to the 4hr pacer and see what happens (something I started in this race but naively ignored!). I may not be able to achieve the 4hr time, but at least running at that pace will give me a good chance.

This was a great first marathon though. It was very flat - the flattest in the country. My pace at the beginning was fairly quick which meant my heart rate was also high...around the 180 bpm as an average. Andy Tucker will say that's too high, and I totally agree with him. That is really too high to sustain for 26.2 miles. During the latter part of the race my heart rate dropped but only because my pace dropped significantly.

If there is one thing I have taken from this race is that I love the marathon distance. Unlike the half marathon (which you can get through with little training), a marathon is a completely different beast. So many people I know blow up in a marathon towards the end. It's a fine line between wanting a good time and actually surviving the race. It's one that takes years' of training and experience. I've only just begun my journey and I'm still learning. But if there is one thing I am, and that is a fast learner.

As I write this blog I still have pain in my right foot. Ironically it's not the tendon but the upper right hand side of the right foot. That is what is making me hobble around. I've decided to pull out of the Marlborough Downs Challenge - a 33 mile off road ultra in May. I'm not sure my right foot is up for 33 miles at the moment; and although the pace will be a lot slower than Manchester, there will be lots of hills and very little support should the tendon flare up again. I am tempted with the Milton Keynes Marathon next month on Bank Holiday Monday. I figure the Milton Keynes Marathon will be like Manchester - should I have an issue with the foot then at least I can run/walk to the finish, pull out or get medical assistance. The same cannot be said for Marlborough (where you are on your own in the middle of sodden nowhere). It's a shame as I was really looking forward to it, but I have to be sensible and, to honest, I now have this marathon bug after Manchester!

I'm seeing the MRI consultant next Thursday. I will listen to what he has to say and then make my decision about Milton Keynes....In the meantime I am still bathing in the glory that was my first marathon, and how proud I am.

A Big Thank You!
There are a few people I would like to thank for helping me get to this point. First and foremost is Andy Tucker. He's always been there to support me and tell me to stop running fast in training. He's a real trooper, and I hope he continues to bollock me as I move forward. To Gobi Lord for helping me put together my training plan. I did follow it at the beginning, but ultimately illness and injury prevented me from following it fully in 2014. However it's a plan that would have worked and one that I will continue to use going forward. To Stouty (Paul Stout) for making me believe, even though he doesn't know it, that it's worth going for something and failing than not going for it at all. He's the man behind my crazy notion of attempting an ultra. I have to say mate - I'm not sure when it will happen now. I still have Endure24 lined up as a solo runner - maybe then I'll break the ultra virginity!

There are many others to thank for their support - too many to name. My ramblings on Facebook probably bored people, but for me it was an outlet (mainly of frustration!). 

Finally to my wonderful wife Mary. For allowing me to train and having to listen to all my ramblings. I suspect she'll not read this blog, but I love her to bits and without her support I would never have been able to complete this marathon.

Oh, one final thing...

I did it son...daddy ran a marathon! I hope one day you will be proud of me.....