Sunday, 19 June 2016

2016 Quest for the Vest - Catch up

It's been a long time since I blogged about running. 6 months has gone by and a lot of running has been done and, quite frankly, quite a lot of walking as well, and not out of choice.  The 'Quest for the Vest' continues and my marathon count is now up to 32 following my 60 miles completed at Endure 24.  Looking back, the last time I wrote about a marathon was back in November having done Thames Meander. Since then I have done another 13 events including Agincourt 600th Anniversary, Portsmouth Coastal, Punchbowl Marathon, Marathon Day, Relativity Run, Book Day Challenge, Thames Meander Spring, Wonderland Caucus race, St George's Day, Top GRun Race, Greg and Janets Wedding Challenge and Endure 24.

The plan with 2016 was to have a relatively quiet January and then build up over 6 months to Endure 24.  The only problem was that the number of marathons I have been doing is not making me any stronger or more able to cope with the distance better. In fact by April I think my immune system had taken such a battering that I had come down with a series of 3 or 4 bouts of flu or chest infections which hit my training in between marathons.

I wasn't injured but my endurance wasn't improving either.  I felt I should be able to knock out a sub 5 hour marathon relatively easily, then have a light week to recover, do a couple of medium to long runs and then another marathon on a 2 to 3 week cycle. But that wasn't happening as I was getting ill just after a marathon and couldn't run at all.  My times for the marathons I listed above were
4:49:53 Agincourt
5:06:26 Portsmouth - chatting on course with Jo Yarnall and Ruth Benzimra amongst others.
7:48:45 Punchbowl - very muddy, hilly, sometimes flooded 30 miles of trail
4:56:22 Marathon Day
5:46:46 Relativity Run three days after the Marathon Day run. Cold and windy at Westgate, Kent.
6:34:35 very muddy hilly trail for Book Day Challenge
5:07:51 Two days later and then it was Thames Meander
5:42:08 Wonderland Caucus run on a very windy Samphire Ho
5:37:51 Next day at Deal for a windy St George's Day marathon. My knees do not like this course.
5:30:18 Top Grun took most pf the allowed time to do this one - what a hot day!
6:42:10 Greg and Janet's Wedding run - one huge hill climbed 14 times on a punishing hot day.

Admittedly there are a few closely spaced marathons in that list, either back to back, or with one or two days in between, which is not a bad way to build up for Endure 24, but I was obviously missing something in training that meant I couldn't cope as I would have liked.  Usually I would have been doing the running and then adding in some cycling to work for recovery, but the weather hadn't been great for most of the spring, with lots of named storms in the mix, so I hadn't been on the bike much at all.  Added to that I hadn't been doing any other strength training.

After St George's Day's marathon I had about 6 weeks until Endure 24, with a 6 hour and 8 hour event planned as training before.  I thought I needed to do something other than just run and, although it was probably too late to do much about it at this late stage, improve my strength and conditioning for the long term. I need the right kind of kick up the arse and as I can't do that by myself (I'm just not that flexible) I decided to enlist the help of a personal trainer.  Luckily I know Jo Longmuir  and some of the runners she has helped through Frimley Lodge parkrun. I have had a couple of sessions of assessment and strength/balance training. She is now my new best friend/worst enemy depending on how many variations of planks and bridges I have just done.  

Having completed Endure 24 relatively unscathed  - I managed a 24 minute parkrun at hilly Barrow less than a week after doing 60 miles at Endure - I can really see the point of the training. I just need to do more and possibly get some extra training from my daughter to improve my skipping!

Here's some pics from the year.
Punchbowl Marathon, no medal, but plenty of free beans on toast!

With Fetch Monkey and Ron Burgandy on Marathon Day

Cardiac Hill - another 'oh dear' moment at Book day Challenge
The bling was pretty good though.

Relativity Run - another cold and windy winter's day in Kent.

Thames Meander spring marathon

Wonderland Caucus run bling. What we marathon runners will do
for a bit of shiny metal!

At work as a marshall at London marathon the day after my
first back to back marathons

More very cool bling together with my 'costume' for the day.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Training and Giving Blood

I regularly give blood and this year so far I have managed to run 12 marathons and fit in donating 4 times. It obviously doesn't benefit me as far as training or performance is concerned, as unlike some people, I don't get to the blood back in.  Still, I am fit and healthy and have given blood off and on for over 30 years and don't want the fact that I now run marathons to prevent me doing so.

Giving Blood and Training
Apart from the obvious warnings about not doing anything strenuous  for 24 hours to avoid bleeding from where the needle went in, they say don't do anything like operate heavy machinery or possibly drive a bus straight after.  Last time I donated, the nurse was a bit concerned that I had turned up to donate riding a motorbike.  Seems like he had heard I wasn't allowed to do that, but then he checked and actually what I can't do is race a motorbike. Well, that's OK then.  I'm a bit like Reginald Molehusband in this respect (ed.-people of a certain age!) - I don't mix radial and cross-ply tyres on the same axle and I don't ride my bike like a lunatic.

So, having done a marathon on Saturday and given blood on Monday, I went for a lunchtime run on Wednesday and was basically fine. No dizzy spells and no bruising on my arm, but I did feel like I was running at a tempo/threshold pace while I only managed a 3 mile run in 27:20, which is about 3 minutes off what I think I could do this soon after a marathon.  Giving blood obviously has an effect on the pace that you can run, but what about long slow runs.

Long Run?
Five days after donating, the Saturday parkrun was run with daughter Elinor at a pace to get her back under 30 minutes and then on Sunday I decided to go on a long run.  This didn't worry me at all, as I wasn't going to be running at a quick pace.  So, on a breezy cold day, after having taken son Alfred to a cross country run, I set off to run home carrying half a bottle of water, leaving the rest of the family to a post event MacDonald's.  My route took me from Ravenscote School north of Frimley, back towards Frimley Hospital, then uphill on road for 2 miles to get into Swinley Forest.  From there I had an undulating/hilly 7 more miles trail running to get home.

I managed a steady 10min/mile pace the whole time and was pleased to see that the miles with big hills in weren't much slower that the rest of the run and I only had slow miles at obvious places where I had to wait to cross main roads.  I did a total of 10 miles in 1 hour 40 mins; not a blistering pace, but that wasn't the point.  Even better I was feeling good at the end of the run and not really stiff the next day, proving that you can get some quality distance runs in after blood donating as long as you keep the pace down - which is, after all, what you are supposed to do.

Tempo and Fast?
The following Monday was a rest day with a day in London on a financial planning course, mostly sitting still all day, but at least I got to walk the mile back to Waterloo.  Tuesday I was out for a run with Sandhurst Joggers, which was another slow medium run of about 8.5miles once I'd added getting there and back.  By now I was feeling good enough to get some proper endurance training in by joining in with SJ's Thursday tempo run - a nearly 8mile 80% effort which I ran at 8:35/mile pace.  I had a rest day on Friday and then had a go at a fast parkrun with Alfred at our usual Frimley Lodge.  That turned out to be a well paced run, but not quite as quick as I had hoped as I wanted to to get under 23 minutes.  As usual, Alfred appeared to be struggling but really he was just keeping up until 500m to go when he hit the gas and made sure I didn't get within 10m of him from then on.  I finished in 23:35, 2 seconds back on Alf, but I did manage a sprint finish rather than just dying in the last 200m.

Lessons Learned
So, the upshot of this couple of weeks post-marathon and post blood donating running?  I managed some quality training, but 12 days after donating I was at least 30 seconds down on my parkrun time. I have read that it takes about 1 month to get back to the red blood cell count  you had before donating, so it's reasonable to say I am still under the influence of that.  However, I am not that far away from being back to normal for fast paced runs and, given 1 more week, I think I could be running a sub 23 minute parkrun.

In conclusion, if you have a race coming up, I would leave a gap of at least 4 to 6 weeks from giving blood and it shouldn't affect your time.  If you give yourself at least 1 week light training after donating, my experience is that you can get back to normal training as hard as you like from then on.  However, you should train to how you feel and according to your perceived effort, NOT the pace that appears on your Garmin.  If you need to train at threshold pace try wearing a heart rate monitor, as this will show you what an appropriate effort is rather than having you collapse in a heap after trying to hit a particular pace.  Just accept that you are going to be a bit slower for a couple of weeks.  Given a few blood donating cycles, you will learn how to train around it and not affect your races.

Talking of races, I have some more fun lined up next week.  I shall be running another marathon on Friday, running a recovery parkrun with Elinor on Saturday and then having a go at the Handy Cross leg of the Thames Valley XC league on Sunday.  That sounds like a lot of fun!

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Thames Meander Winter Marathon

Three weeks spent resting, training and trying to keep up with son Alfred at parkrun has seen me improve my fitness and generally recharge before tackling another marathon.  I think that, at the moment, I can manage a marathon every 2 weeks quite well, but one every week is really hard work. One every 3 weeks feels like a holiday! So, after Abingdon I have three more marathons planned to see me through to Christmas with 3 week gaps between each of them, these being Thames Meander, Agincourt 600th Anniversary and Portsmouth.  2016 is mostly booked up until June with a focus on training up and staying injury free for Endure 24.

In the lead up to Thames Meander I had done a recovery week of 13 miles, a training week  with a gentle 5 miles club run, cycling to work, a medium solo run, a track session (Cooper Test) and parkrun followed by an easier week leading up to the next marathon.  That last week included a Monday club run of 9.5miles and a night time trail run with my son on very muddy trails, which was great fun.  What was also very good was being able to start each of these last runs jogging from the front door pain free, rather than having to walk for 5 minutes to warm up and loosen tight calves and thighs.  There has definitely been some noticeable improvement in former injuries and niggles over the last few weeks.

I have done the previous two events in this series and was expecting a slightly muddier version of the same, but we were told there had been a change to the course where we would start with a short loop up river, then run towards Putney Bridge but turn about 1 mile before it leaving us 2 miles short by the time we got back to the finish line.  That meant we would have to run past the finish line having done about 24.3 miles and add another loop to the end.  This time the organiser's had to take account of a major rowing event on the river which would mean hundreds of coxed fours taking their boats out of the water just before the usual Putney Bridge turn at about the time we would be running past. That shortened the long loop and left us with the short final loop to do.

The weather forecast for race day wasn't great with heavy rain predicted from early morning until at least 2pm. However, although it had been raining overnight, when I got out of bed at 6:30 it was wet on the ground but not raining.  I knew the course was going to be wet and muddy over a lot of the wooded sections so I thought my usual marathon choice of my Hoka Bondi 3s was probably not going to work as they have very little grip.  They are fine for road running or dry trails, but not for mud.  My choice of shoe for today was to fall back to my previous marathon shoe, Brooks Ravenna 4, which is a semi-supportive show and has reasonable grip, which should be OK for a flat trail.  I had never used these shoes on anything but road marathons, so they looked brand new and pristine, but I couldn't afford to get to worried about them - they were the best shoe for the job.

After the usual porridge breakfast and some water, I got the motorbike packed up and set off. I wasn't raining to begin with, but it was certainly windy with strong gusts knocking me sideways on the M3.  When I got to the YMCA Hawker Centre, there was a queue getting into the car park with lots of people arriving to run Kingston parkrun, but I managed to shoehorn the bike in between a couple of generously parked cars and change into my running shoes in the car park, where I also saw Colin and Elaine Brassington, who were there for the parkrun.

The weather at the start was OK, but soon changed.
In the Hawker Centre it was already busy with runners getting their kit together. I saw fellow SJ runners Vicky Horne and Lance King, who were going to be manning the aid station at 10/16 miles. Then Leon Hicks arrived and we got our stuff together ready for the race.  Out at the start we heard from Marathon Man, Rob Young, who set us off.  At the start of the race it was just starting to rain, spits and spots but nothing serious for the first few miles.  The first out and back section of just under 2 miles went quickly and Leon and I were quickly into pace at about 9:30min/mile though it was quite crowded.  We passed the start and continued on tarmac paths for another 2 miles before getting on to stony wooded trail where the rain began to come down harder and there were puddles to weave around and mushy wet leaf litter all over.

Looks like I'm loving the rain (not!) at Vicky and
Lance's aid station (Photo: Sean Smith)
We got to the first aid station at 4 miles and had a brief drink, then at the next aid station at about 7 miles Leon carried on, while I stopped for a bite to eat.  Leon was now about 100m ahead but we were running at the same pace so a I didn't close him down.  At 10 miles we got to Vicky and Lance's aid station to great cheers from our club mates.  At about 12 miles Leon stopped for a toilet break, and I ran past.  I stayed ahead of Leon all the way to about 20miles, but the rain had been really heavy, wind appeared to be in your face both out and back and by then I was struggling along jog walking 250m/50m.  When Leon caught up, we ran on together, jog-walking until the end.  It was good to have company along that part of the course, even though, by the end the rain had eased off, I was still suffering from being so cold from the wind and rain.

We finished together at 4:45:50 and got handed a nice big medal. Thanks to Vicky and Lance for manning an aid station and cheering so well and to Leon for keeping me company on the way home.

Nice big medal, but a bit disappointed with the time.

I have another 3 weeks until my next marathon, so there's some more opportunity to get a bit stronger and get some steady long runs in.  The next one is one of Traviss and Rachel's marathons down in Kent, this time in commemoration of the 600th anniversary of the battle of Agincourt on 27th November.  That will be flat and not muddy, but could still be wet and windy.

Monday, 19 October 2015

Injuries and Abingdon Marathon

Injury Update
A week before Clarendon marathon, I went to have a scan on my groin to check for a possible hernia.  This has been causing me some trouble with pain in my lower abs (I think) especially after a long or hard run and especially if I had a cough as well.  Not knowing what was the cause meant that I couldn't get treatment without possibly risking the injury getting worse.  I had the scan in Aldershot Health Centre and was seen quickly, covered in gloop, scanned and had the results straight away.  Good news - I don't have a hernia, and I don't have an injury to my adductor tendon either.

That afternoon I booked an appointment with a physiotherapist for the day after Clarendon marathon. Fortunately I was feeing OK after that run, being able to walk normally and cope with stairs without having to hang on to the bannisters and lower myself down sideways. Still, I was a bit wary of having Tracy at Fleet Physio dig her thumbs into my groin and inner thigh.

I was right to be a bit worried.  After an extensive catch up on my injury history after my last treatment session 2 months ago, which included admitting, like a naughty schoolboy, that I had done 4 more marathons in 5 weeks and had another in 2 weeks, Tracy got down to business with a reassessment and then painful massage of my right adductor. She then taped up my inner thigh over the adductor, which I suppose does some good, but actually the main feeling I get from it is that of having a leg wax every step I walk as the tape pulls on inner thigh hairs!

I was given a new list of exercises to do to strengthen core and glutes, work on the patella injury doing knee dips, but do the same on the right leg to make sure they are both the same strength.  I know I was there just the day after a hard marathon, but I was clearly weaker and more wobbly doing single leg dips on my right leg than my left.  I was also told to avoid doing exercises that caused me pain, the reason being that I shouldn't be be pushing through the pain all the time and desensitising myself to it, otherwise I risk ignoring the warning signs of potential injuries in future.

Abingdon Marathon is relatively flat and fast with one significant steady climb over about a mile, which you do twice. However, there is also the issue of the 5 hour cut off time.  What that really means is at 2pm any remaining traffic control and road closures are taken off and anyone still on the course has to run on the footpaths and cross one or two roads themselves without much help from marshals.  That doesn't mean that you get asked to stop at 5 hours but there were fewer than 30 finishers beyond 5 hours last year and in fact, if you are a 4 hour marathon runner, you will still be in the last third of the field.  What they are really serious about is running with headphones or unauthorised transfers of race numbers, either of which will get you disqualified (9 disqualified last year).  I can understand the headphones issue - there are several road crossings and the marshals have to be able to call you across at a safe time while holding the traffic, which is not safe if you can't hear them.

I did this run last year and had a really good run - posting a PB and my first ever sub-4 hour time.  This time, I'm still on the way back from injury and building up endurance and strength and my targets and expectations were a lot lower. I was going to go for a sub-5 hour time and hopefully nearer 4:30, which would be a significant improvement on any marathon I have done since London back in April, even the easy flat ones.

I got my kit together the night before as I had a message to remind me from SJ clubmate Leon that it was a 9am start, so no lie in for this one. I was sticking with my now trusty Hoka Bondi 3 trainers, toe socks, ankle/calf compression and knee straps to avoid patella tendonitis after the run.  I also wore a t-shirt under my club vest as I thought it might be a bit cool out.  Leon turned up at 7am and we drove up to Abingdon with no problems arriving by 8am.  There is about a 15 minute walk from the car park area, but we were in Tilsley Park stadium with plenty of time to find the changing rooms and loos before heading out to the start where we met Mark Nikki and Elizabeth from SJ.  After several goes at tying my shoelaces and finding them too tight I finally got them fixed to my liking and we were off.

Leon and I had done 4 marathons each in the last 5 or 6 weeks with Leon doing Chicago the week before, so we were both feeling the miles in our legs.  We set off together with the aim of doing a steady 10min/mile pace and managed to keep that going till about half way.  At 14 miles Leon stopped to walk/jog and sent me on my way, which worked for him, but ultimately tired me out.  I made it to about 18 miles before deciding I needed to have a decent walk break and from then on I was jogging and walking to the end, jogging for a mile and walking for 5 minutes.  At about 20 miles Leon caught me up and a few minutes later jogged on to finish just over 3 minutes ahead of me.

Abingdon marathon is a bit of a mixed bag as far as the course and support is concerned.  There are loads of marshals all doing a good job, the course is picturesque in places around the river and Radley lakes, but a bit of a drag in others where you are running along a busy road or through an industrial estate.  The parts through the town centre were well managed and there were lots of people supporting cheering us on. Elsewhere on the course the support was patchy, but where there were supporters they were enthusiastic and cheering us on well.

Stadium finish awaits at Abingdon.

It turned out to be a good day for running a marathon, with perfect weather and there were some fast times from the other SJ runners, as well as a world record time for a woman pushing a buggy (3:17:52):

SJ Results:
Sean Smith 2:59:40
Mark Fallowfield-Smith 3:04:29
Nikki Stanley 3:43:33
Elizabeth Crow 3:58:45
Leon Hicks 4:40:02
Richard Boese 4:43:31

Splits were: 9:34 9:38 10:03 9:51 9:43 9:59 9:58 9:53 9:56 9:59 9:59 10:28 10:21 10:25 10:29 11:01 10:03 11:26 14:17 11:14 11:50 12:49 12:57 12:08 12:32 11:08 1:50

Next up for me is a 3 week rest before the third in the Thames Meander marathon series where I'll be aiming for a course PB at least.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Clarendon Marathon

Two weeks on since my last marathon on the comeback trail, this is one that I booked relatively late on to make up for having to pull out of Endure 24. I obviously needed some cheering up and what better way than to pick one of the hardest marathons in the south of England as a replacement?

Clarendon Marathon is similar to the Farnham Pilgrim in that it is run mostly over hilly trails and is organised by local Rotary Clubs, in this case the Salisbury and Winchester branches.  It's a charity fundraising event and not a business venture, so it is very reasonably priced for what you get - loads of marshals, plenty of water and bananas, a medal and t-shirt. It follows the Clarendon Way over most of its route, starting at Laverstock to the north-east of Salisbury and finishing at the King's School just to the west of Winchester; you just miss out running through the city centres at each end.

Preparation for this event over the previous 2 weeks had been focussed on some gentle recovery runs in the first week and then some harder tempo runs of 3 to 6 miles in the second.  I'm still getting back to fitness and slowly getting there.  On the morning, I was up at 6:30 for breakfast and on the motorbike for the ride to Winchester by 7:30.  I arrived just after 8:15 at the park and ride car park near M3 Junction 11 and parked up next to a footpath at one side of the car park.  After stowing my bike kit in the panniers, I got my Hokas on and got on the waiting shuttle bus that would take us to Salisbury. I met Sandhurst Joggers' Patrick Wadsworth on the bus and we chatted about the route and the conditions.  The weather leading up to this race had been dry for more than a week and was misty and cold this morning with sunshine on the way.  Apart from being a little warm later on, perfect conditions with great views guaranteed.
Well organised registration

We arrived at the Wyverne College near Laverstock at 9:30 with an hour to go before the off.  The set up in the school gym was just the same as at our local Yateley 10k races, with the hall busy with people keeping warm and fixing their race numbers.  After a final go to the loos and storing our bags on the bus to be taken to the finish, we made our way to the start.  Patrick was going to be about an hour quicker then me so we said goodbye and good luck and got going at 10:30.

At the start with Patrick

We headed south for about a mile before picking up the Clarendon Way and then turned east onto our first trail section and first climb up past the ruins of Clarendon Palace.  Apart from a few noodley bits to add some distance, the route follows the Clarendon Way all the way.  It  is all undulating to hilly, mostly on trails and tracks with some quiet road sections, all of which were very well marshalled with the traffic held up for runners to cross roads safely.
It's always a good idea to have a little rest at the top
to appreciate the view

There were some excellent views up on the Downs and, although I was treating any significant gradient as a walk break, it was still very much worth it to pause and take in the sights.  This kind of marathon is never going to be a PB run, and even if you come back year after year, the weather and ground conditions can play a big part in your eventual time.

At the River Test near Houghton. It looked like a great place
for a cooling dip. One to come back to.

Even the valleys were interesting with classic little English villages and pretty river crossings, especially around the Test valley. Here, near Houghton, the river has come off of the chalk downs and flows over beds of sands and gravels and it was crystal clear.  My feet and calves were saying stop a while and go for a paddle, but I had family to meet at the end and couldn't linger.

On the way up Farley Mount at about 20 miles. Nobody I saw
was running up, it was really big.
Patrick had told me about a hill at about 19 miles and even though I hadn't bothered to look at the course profile, I was expecting something fairly big.  I wasn't disappointed. You come in to an aid station at 19.5 miles alongside a field and turn your back on the hill.  Then, having glugged some squash and with banana in hand you turn to face Farley Mount, a relentless mile of steep climb and by far the biggest hill on the course. After as brisk a walk up as I could manage, I said hello to the marshals at the summit and made my way slowly jogging along the crest and down slope to the next check point and final handover for the relay runners.  I thought about the placing of the marshals and realised that there had been a marshal or two on the summit of every climb and they all cheered us on up the last few metres of the hills.  Another nice touch.

For the last few miles I was struggling along feeling very tired.  I was encouraged to find that I had managed to run well for much further than the last marathon that I did, keeping my mile pacing quite consistently in the 10 or 11 minutes/mile range.  Throughout the run there had been mile markers placed with the number of miles to the finish and the last mile marker came with me hoping for a gentle downhill to the finish. No such luck, as there were two more little stings in the tail before turning to into the road down to King's School.

At the finish with Alfred. Both Alf and Elinor ran the last
200m to the finish line with me, which made it
a wonderful finish
At the school entrance, my wife Julia and children Alfred and Elinor were waiting for me and both the kids came running alongside the course cheering me on, and then ran with me up to the finish line.  They couldn't help turning it into a little race and sprinted the last 20m ahead of me, but I was very grateful for the family support. It was something I was looking forward to and really helped to spur me on over the last few miles.

After finishing, there were drinks, more bananas (Fyffes was a sponsor), a t-shirt and medal to collect.  They had run out of medium sized t-shirts, so I went for a small and that seems to fit alright.  The medal is quite small, as you can see, but this seems to be a bit of a theme for all my hardest marathons - it was the same for the Pilgrim and Richmond Park.  I got my post race recovery underway with a buffalo burger, left the rest of the family to their drive home and got changed before the bus ride back to the park and ride.

I finished this marathon in 5:15:09.  This was an improvement on the Pilgrim (5:23:48) on what I thought was a tougher course.  However, the Pilgrim has cake, biscuits and sweets at every aid station as well as water and squash, while Clarendon has only drinks for the first 12 miles, so I may have spent a bit longer eating on the Pilgrim. Still, this looks like another improvement in fitness with no further injuries.  The next race for me is Abingdon marathon in 2 weeks time where I need to finish inside 5 hours.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Thames Path - Saturday Night Marathon - Race Report

Aaaargh...Another Marathon!
If you looked at my previous post, you may have noted that I have been here before, back at the end of July when I came out for a medium/long run with a number on my vest and achieved 9 miles and a DNF.  So, Saturday late afternoon on 19 September and I was back at the Wokingham Waterside Centre for a second go at the Thames Trail Marathon on the Thames Path between Reading and Sonning.  This run also coincided with International Talk Like A Pirate Day, so I was thinking that there might be a few salty dogs along for this run, but when I turned up there wasn't a west county accent to be heard.

The Wokingham Waterside Centre is nowhere near Wokingham, but lies at the extreme northern end of the borough just east of Reading on the Thames.  The organiser's original plan was to run from here along the Thames through Reading to the other side of Caversham, then return making a 6 and a bit mile lap.  However, works to Reading bridge mean the path has a nasty detour (steps, busy road) so the run goes between the Waterside Centre down river towards Sonning, then back past the Waterside Centre on to Reading Bridge and back again.  It has one short lap of about 2.2 miles followed by 4 long laps of 6 miles each.  The course runs on grass, gravel trails and tarmac paths and you end up crossing Horseshoe Bridge over the mouth of the River Kennet 8 times.

Start/Finish is at A, the short lap goes out to point B and the long laps go out to the red markers
I got to the event at about 4pm to give me plenty of time to get my number and kit sorted.  I have the marathon kit sorted now for road and easy trails and it consists of Hoka Bondi 3's with normal laces, toe socks (today Injinji liner socks) and OS1st ankle/calf compression from ING Source, short leggings and running vest.  I have also taken to wearing knee straps which sit just below the knee cap, more for insurance than necessity as I find they lessen running impact loads and improve my post run recovery.  I dropped my main bag at race HQ upstairs in the Waterside Centre and took a drop bag down to the start with a post run drink, chocolate, banana and my head torch for the second half of the race.

We're off! Not quite crowded with just over 30 runners.
Run in the Autumn Sun
After a short race briefing describing the route we set off on time at 5pm in lovely sunshine with 32 marathon runners out of a capacity of 40 for this event.  It didn't take long before we were spread out along the grassy banks of the river, running in ones, twos and threes.  The first part of the route should be familiar to people who have run Reading parkrun or the Halloween 5 Nite Run, running along the grass path following the river as it bends right and the path goes into the woods.  I noted a few tree roots and dips and hollows in the path for later when it got dark,

Pleasant running along the river
but other than the first section in the woods, the path was fairly flat, with stony gravel tracks up to the first turn around.  The short lap was dealt with quickly and the first long lap took us past Sonning Lock and up to Sonning Bridge, all looking quite picturesque in the late summer sun.

I had decided to tackle this event using a run/walk strategy, thinking that I would still have quite a lot of tiredness in my legs after the Farnham Pilgrim 6 days before. So, I set up my watch for an interval training session of 26 reps of 10 minutes running and 1 minute walking. That turned out to be a bit optimistic, in terms of the number of reps I could do, but I stuck at it and got to half way in a decent time of around 2:15.

Fairly spread out by lap 2, there was a lot of lone running.
In to the Night
At the end of the second lap it was getting a bit dark and I took a break to get my head torch, grab some chocolate and a banana.  My head torch is really good, a fairly cheap Chinese CREE 2200 lumen torch with battery pack on the back of the head strap.  It lasts for ages, stays charged for months and is well balanced, so it doesn't move around.  With the torch set on the lower brightness setting I could see very well, though I was conscious of not wanting to look people in the eye and blinding them.  However, even with a bright torch, I was a bit cautious running on the grass paths and in the woods as it is not so easy to see little pot holes as in daylight.

I was feeling very tired by half way and had got past the turn point at Sonning for the third time when I caught up with a woman in a Supergirl costume who was having knee trouble.  Carla had done a 12 hour ultra a couple of weeks ago as preparation for this, her first marathon, which is a bit unconventional for a training plan.  We sat on a bench by Sonning Lock for a couple of minutes while I showed her some ITB stretches and talked about what her injury could come from, then we carried on jogging and walking together for most of the remaining 10 miles.  There were some very quiet, misty and peaceful stretches along the river with the moon shining and I think we were both glad of the company.

On the way back from Sonning for the final time with 4 miles to go I was trying to run, managing half a mile then running out of energy and was forced to walk for 5 minutes or so, but when I got past the start/finish aid station with 2 miles to go the thought of finishing soon lifted my spirits enough to jog on again.  I got to the finish at about 10:40pm, inside the cut off time with a couple of people behind me.  I got presented with some nice bling by race director Paul Ali, had my photo taken and was directed back to race HQ for some food and a hot drink somewhere warm.  I was very tired but had had a good time on this run. It's well organised, low key and friendly and they didn't seem to mind people taking most of the allotted 6 hours to finish.  The only thing I would say is, if you are a bit nervous about running in the dark by yourself, you might want to take a friend along with you, or just make a new friend along the trail.

So, another marathon done (9th this year and 17th overall), I still didn't quit and didn't do any more damage to any injuries.  I know I am not in any sort of shape to do a marathon a week, but my fitness is improving and I'm pretty sure I can do 1 every 2 weeks and manage some decent recovery and training in between. That is just as well as next up is Clarendon Marathon in 2 weeks time, followed by Abingdon 2 weeks later.
Supergirl Carla at the finish. See you at Abingdon!

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Getting my Mojo (and my legs) back...

Summer Blues
It's been a log time since I posted last with the miserable news of having to pull out of Endure 24.  I really haven't felt like I wanted to talk about running, I've been feeling so down about injuries. Since May and the pain of slogging round a very tough Richmond Park marathon and then the realisation that I had some significant injuries to sort out, I then made the decision to get some treatment.  So, I've been seeing another woman, a recommendation from our club coach James, and have had some interesting diagnoses.  I had a list of problems including left patella tendonitis, right aductor strain, lower right abs strain, tight calves and sore heels. These things mostly derive their source from 2 things - a general lack of foam rolling and a possible hernia.

Having been going through a series of rehab exercises for a month or so, the patella tendonitis has largely cleared up, I have had some treatment on the aductor (extremely painful inner thigh massage!!) and have seen my GP to get a referral for an ultra sound scan to see if I do have a hernia.  That's to come at the end of September and here's hoping that I find out one way or the other what the problem is, so I can move on to to get the right treatment or management plan.

I took a real dip in mileage after June and went back to doing a few short runs a week with lots of stretching, foam rolling, core strengthening and glute workouts, together with club track sessions just working on drills and improving running form.  Our family holiday to Fuertaventura in the Canaries also helped, with loads of swimming and a couple of runs on sandy beaches which were low impact but really hard sessions.

Races that I had booked between Endure 24 in June and September included Yateley 10k Race 3, Thames Path Saturday Night marathon, Thames Meander marathon and the Farnham Pilgrim marathon.  I did Yateley 10k in July to get the medal and the T-shirt as it was the 25th anniversary of the event and ran a respectable 47:24.  I was a bit sore the next day though.

Saturday Night DNF
Having done no distance running beyond about 6  miles for 2 months, I then went to the Saturday Night marathon in Reading. Crazy on the face of it, but it was a lovely sunny evening and I felt like getting out for a run with a race number on my vest.  The course is a series of laps starting and finishing at the Wokingham Waterside Centre (actually just east of Reading) on the Thames, running along the path down to Sonning and back up to Reading Bridge.  It was lovely, and I was cruising along at about marathon PB pace (what!?!) for 6 miles when I realised that the lack of miles was going to cause serious problems if I tried to continue. So I got to about 9 miles, having had a really good enjoyable run when I pulled out. I had never done a DNF run before, which was a bit sad, but what I did do was great and I ran really well, with good form and pain free, so overall I was pleased.

Thames Meander Summer Marathon
That DNF was a sore point, so when the next race came up at the end of August - the Thames Meander marathon - I decided that another DNF was not going to be an option.  However I needed to come up with a sensible plan to complete it.  That started with not doing Kingston parkrun before the marathon, then running at a comfortable 9:15 to 9:30 pace to around 12 miles, run walking to the turn point at 14 miles and jog walking back to the end.

I had done this one back in March and wrote about it in a previous post.  As you would expect, the course is flat and mostly woodland trail, with some quiet roads where they run alongside the river.  My plan was executed as expected, getting to 14 miles in 2:30ish leaving me 12 miles to cover in 3.5 hours to get in under 6 hours - a self imposed cut off time.  There were no major dramas along the way, but the slower runners were all forced to wade through 2 flooded sections caused by combined
Another Thames Meander medal
heavy rain the week before and a very high tide. One at about 18 miles was a slipway that I had to wade across knee deep and in socks as I didn't fancy 8 miles of wet blistered feet; the other at 23 miles was just a couple of inches deep and I couldn't be bothered to take my shoes off.  I got a blisters on my little toes as a result.  I finished in 5:37:17.  Call that a long training run with a very long recovery walk, but usefully I got to feel what it's like to keep going to the finish when I'm really tired and learn some tactics to do this without getting injured.

Ton Up Elinor
I had a little diversion from my own running for a major milestone for my daughter Elinor, who ran her 100th parkrun at Frimley Lodge Park on 12 August. Elinor started running parkruns with me back in 2012 at 7 years old with a first full parkrun in a time of 42:39.  She's now almost 10 and has a PB under 26 minutes, which is great going.  She has also volunteered over 20 times and loves being the centre of attention doing the new runner's briefing and shouting encouragement to runners as a marshal.  We enjoyed our run round Frimley in a gentle 30 minutes followed by some lovely cakes.

Come on Pilgrim! - On St Martha's Hill and still smiling
despite the brutal climb up the sandy trail.
Farnham Pilgrim Marathon
The day after was Farnham Pilgrim Marathon, my third attempt at this one and a punishing but picturesque way to get another marathon done.  This time I had a target of anything under 6 hours, my previous best on this course being 5hours, but I couldn't think of doing this run at a set pace, as it is so hilly.  So, the plan was to walk up any significant gradient and run/jog all the flatter and downhill sections.

This is a great event, with lovely countryside, spectacular views and lots of friendly marshals and things went mostly to plan.  I managed to get to the high point on St Martha's Hill at around 12.5 miles in 2:15, with the only mishaps being almost spraining my ankle running along a narrow path at 8 miles, then on the way down from St Martha's, I was remembering getting a knee injury at this point last year, and jogging gently downhill, when I tripped and almost landed flat on my face!  Fortunately there were no more dramas and I jogged and walked back to the finish in a time of 5:23:48.  I was pleased with that, 2 weeks after the Thames Meander and beating that result by over 13 minutes on a much more hilly course - the Pilgrim is longer too, by about 500m.  I'll happily call that a Comeback PB!

Next up is another go at the Saturday Night marathon, with another plan to beat my comeback PB, not come last, not aggravate any injuries and get in shape to eventually get back below 5 hours at Abingdon marathon in October.  In between we have another parkrun milestone, with my son Alfred reaching 100 runs on 26 September.  It's nice to feel positive about running and getting my mojo back.