Monthly Archives: April 2012

Week 11 – The End

I thought I’d leave it a few days to sink in before writing the final blog as it was a bit of a blur on the day.  Plus I’ve only just found the energy to get anything done!  The photo above is me crossing the finish line, although unfortunately you can’t really see the finish line.  That was 4 hours and 28 minutes after crossing the start line, and 11 weeks after getting my place in the marathon.  While the weeks have gone by quickly, I have squeezed in a lot of training and was surprised how far I’d come.  In fact after completing one marathon in training and finishing a half-marathon in 1:48 the week before, I thought I might have an outside chance of a sub-4 hour marathon.  I realise just how difficult that is now, especially in London.

The days before the marathon were tough enough, sticking to the tapering and carb-loading, but not exactly feeling fresh and fit.  I was looking forward to getting started, but just couldn’t sleep the two nights before the race.  That’s pretty much been the way with every vaguely important event, be it exams, sport, holidays, interviews, so I usually go into these things half asleep.  I didn’t feel worried the night before, I wasn’t even thinking about the marathon, but as each hour went by I realised it was one hour less sleep…until it was 6am and I gave up.  I partly blame Saints for sending me to bed angry.

Before the race, already knackered and with a tree giving me a giant green afro.

I don’t know if that had an impact or not, hopefully with a few more events and more experience I’ll be able to rest more effectively.  I spent 20 minutes on the train to Greenwich with my eyes closed and marched like a zombie through the crowds towards the park.  Uphill too, with a surprising number of people looking fairly worn out.  As an late entrant due to someone else dropping out, I never got to give an estimated finish time, so I was starting in pen 9 of the red zone.  That’s the back for anyone not familiar with the system!  The 9th and final pen, appropriately named given that this is where most the people dressed as animals start.  Also, while nice to see the 101 year-old runner in real life, it wasn’t a beacon of hope for my finishing time.

Prior to the race I’d worried about not being able to run through such big crowds and seeing just how many people were in front of me suggested I was right.  It was slightly surreal, hearing the race start at 9.45am for our zone, then very slowly edging forward knowing we were still a long way from the start line.  I nearly drifted off in this time, while hundreds seized the chance for another toilet break.  Suddenly without much warning or announcement because we were just ‘the rest’, the start line was in sight and people began to jog.  That was a full 20 minutes after the ‘start’.

Pen 9: There's space because the whole world and Batman are in front of you

Immediately I tried to overtake as many people as possible, running off course several times.  It’s frustrating having a lot of energy and not being able to use it.  In training you learn to understand your pacing, when you can push it and when to hold back, but you never experience having your pace controlled by others.  The pen system is far from perfect, with many people starting a long way in front walking after a few minutes.  In fact there seemed to be quite a queue for the toilets in the first mile too.  I’m proud to say I made it through the whole marathon with no toilet breaks, although did have to endure the long queue for the temporary toilets at the start line.

A nice way to start any race.

Being so focused on the time that first hour or so is quite hazy.  I didn’t notice where I was, each street looking the same packed with crowds.  Mainly, my eyes were just so fixed on people in front, ensuring I didn’t run into anyone, looking where I could overtake and so on.  I’ve never been very good in crowds; something that stupidly didn’t hit me until the day before the marathon.  I’ve found all busy events mentally draining and felt quite twitchy the whole time.  It can put you off events, and at times I start to think this isn’t for me, I shouldn’t put myself through it, but I don’t want to miss out and there’s still a chance it will improve with experience.  I think it’s having to focus mixed with fast movement, crowds of people, lots of distractions; my brain doesn’t seem able to handle it!  That’s why I’ve always struggled to play football in proper games and avoided it most the time.  I’d be quite good when relaxed but poor in matches and unable to cope visually with the fast movements in so many directions.  It’s not an easy one to explain so I’ll get back to the marathon now!

The extent of my weaving in and out became clear when my watch register 10 miles 5 minutes before I crossed the 10-mile line.  At that point I was just eager to get halfway and see what sort of time I had managed.  Getting to Tower Bridge just before that was a nice moment as I hadn’t been paying much attention to my surroundings.  The crowds grew bigger and louder, and I didn’t even notice the uphill running.  It is quite daunting to know you have 10 miles just to get all the way back to that position again, and it felt like a lifetime, although just having half the marathon behind you can be quite comforting.  The Mind cheering points always helped, especially just after half way, but even more so on the way back.  I’m not sure if the below picture is at 13 miles or 22 miles, and you’re probably not sure what the hell I’m doing with my hands.  Try to hold a bottle of water, clap, wave and run all at the same time, you’ll see.   It also appears like I can’t spell my own name, but I assure you the ‘I’ is just hiding.

Adran applauds you.

Besides the weaving around people and spectators, the main hazard was the several hundred thousand bottles on the roads throughout the course.  I’ve never seen anything quite like it, and while you can be careful and avoid most, I imagine everyone nearly went flying at some stage.  There’s probably no better system when hydration is so important, although far too many people take a sip then throw the bottle aside nearly full.  I did that myself when needing water and receiving Lucozade late on.  I’ve trained with the stuff for months, yet on the day it was tasting fairly terrible.  The energy gels too didn’t have the desired effect either despite training with them for so long.  Perhaps I didn’t use enough or used them at the wrong times, but I never received that helpful burst of energy from the caffeine!  Perhaps the weather made it more difficult.  While I’d been hoping the wind and rain would stop, I wasn’t expecting 5 hours of sun!  It did brighten up the atmosphere and crowds, made for better photos and kept people smiling, but I could have done with some drizzle a couple of times!

I was going to suggest slipping on a bottle of water and crashing into a fence was the closest I came to injury during the race, but actually like many other people that was probably the moment I spent running directly in front of the guys in rhino costumes.  One sudden stop from the person in front and I’d have been skewered by a precariously placed horn.  The quickest I ran all day was probably when I saw a chance to get out the way.

Reaching the half way point in just over 2 hours felt frustrating at the time as I knew I could be a lot faster.  I’d had the energy to do it but just struggled through the crowds, which showed little sign of spreading out.  If I had any chance of 4 hours, I needed a confidence boost there of knowing I could slow a little late on.  Although I maintained my pace for a couple of miles, I began to tire quite a lot.  After some slow miles I declined to near walking pace and really struggled around Canary Wharf, where I seemed to be for hours and don’t especially want to see again until next year!  In fact I think 18-20 miles was the most difficult section of the entire race.  Just knowing how much I’d slowed made it feel worse, seeing that finish time grow more and more.  My mindset changed soon after halfway though and I stopped worrying about speed, focusing on merely keeping going.  I probably took a lot more in at this stage and enjoyed it more despite the pain.

I chatted to a few runners, listened to the crowds more and soaked up the atmosphere.  I’d always thought 4 or 5 hours of music would be too much and I quickly tired of it.  In fact, upbeat music just seems to be mocking you  when you’re hobbling along at 3 miles per hour.  Although a few crowd members shouting ‘you’re nearly there’ at 16 miles while sat holding a beer didn’t do much for motivation either.  10.2 miles to go is never ‘nearly there’.  There was a surprisingly number of people cooking on the side of the streets too.  Running through barbecue smoke wasn’t something I’d trained for, or burger vans.  I noticed the Guardian picked an appropriately harsh photo to capture such moments (see below).

My slightly injured knee was never an issue during the marathon; nor was my broken toe.  Those two problems had caused pain on the longest training runs and were the only suffering when I ran a full practice marathon.  So I wasn’t ready for the immense pain in my feet, from the sole going right through the centre, hurting more with every stride.  It might sound obvious, pounding the pavements for hours, yet I’ve never had any foot pain despite running further, faster and in the same shoes.  After two hours it was agony and I just had to put it out my mind, but I’m still confused as to why it happened.

By 22 miles and seeing the Mind supporters again I felt like the end was in sight.  At least it’s pretty much a straight line to the finish from that point.  Blackfriars Underpass was particularly memorable, with almost everyone taking a break and walking while the crowds couldn’t see.  It was dark, quiet and with hundreds of people struggling to walk, a bit like Shaun of the Dead.

Those last few miles I kept checking my watch, keen to beat 4 hours 30 and aware it was going to be close.  That helped me to keep running and pick up the pace slightly, especially towards the very end.  The main thought was just to keep moving and that every stride was one nearer the finish line.  I recall being 5km from the finish and thinking how quickly I normally run that distance.  Despite never slowing from this point, it was my slowest 5km of all time!  Seeing Parliament and turning onto the final stretch was a huge relief.  I couldn’t believe it when I saw the finish line; it comes up round the corner from Birdcage Walk quicker than I’d expected.  As with most my running events, I sprinted towards the line proving I hadn’t used up all my energy and am clearly a lazy runner!  I finished in 4:28:03, which despite my struggles I was delighted with for a first marathon with such a short training period.  If anyone doesn’t believe me, here’s the certificate!

I struggled to take it all in at that stage, spending the next 15 minutes queuing for the tags to come off, medals and then getting out the finishers zone.  Helpfully they make you walk up a ramp to cut the tag off your shoes, which took some effort.  In my mind I’d spend the hour or so after the finish celebrating, taking photos, soaking up the atmosphere and talking to other runners.  In reality I was shepherded away from the finish area, stood at the side of the road in a daze and failed to get a signal on my phone.  I then stumbled like a drunk snail to Trafalgar Square, where I sat on the floor by a statue and had kids climbing over me for 20 minutes as they tried to reach the lion.  It wasn’t the relaxing quiet time I needed, but my legs decided to stay put.  I closed my eyes and heard a lady shout at her son ‘don’t kick the man’s head he’s just run a marathon’.

As with some other events my intention to never ever run again didn’t last long and I’m eager to take part in the marathon again.  I can definitely improve on my time, which is one motivation, but having experience of the day and less stress would help me make the most of it.  If I can’t take part I’ll certainly go along and watch, maybe at a charity cheering point, which you really appreciate when you’re running.  It’s an event worth being part of in any way you can, so even better if you can support a charity.

I struggled to walk most of Monday and Tuesday, but almost feel ready to run again now.  Despite my pain on the day, throughout the whole training regime and marathon I had no blisters, no broken toenails and no chaffing at all, so I’ve been quite lucky.  Besides being pleased with the marathon itself, I’m delighted to have raised £1,930 for Mind.  It’s still not too late to donate if you haven’t yet, or if you just want to reward my wonderful efforts even more!  The Saints Foundation kindly donated a signed pennant to auction so I may yet get over £2000, but it would be great if you could help me get there too.  I have until 22nd May to keep the total rising if you do want to help.  The money will do a lot of good supporting people with mental health problems and hopefully raising awareness further.  I’ve only brushed the surface of mental health throughout this blog, but I hope just regularly writing about it has raised awareness a little and made a few people think.

Appropriately, given my cause and post-marathon blues, this is National Depression Awareness Week.  What better time to bring my blog to an end and again highlight the benefits of exercise in fighting depression.  Well over 200 people ran for Mind in the marathon, raising vital funds and helping to fight mental health stigma.  You won’t see a better example of the stigma and bewildering ignorance surrounding mental health than Channel 4 this week helpfully broadcasting the views of dark-age lunatic Malcolm Bowden.  He tells us depression and all other mental illnesses is a ‘behavioural problem, rooted in pride, self-centeredness and self-pity’ and that ‘true Christians should not be depressed’.  I’ve made it through 11 weeks of blog without swearing (a big achievement in itself) so I won’t start now.  Thankfully most people aren’t as relentlessly moronic as Malcolm, but while idiots are given such a platform, more idiots will follow and stigma will remain.  Depression isn’t about being selfish; it’s not even often about something specific related to your life.  Life can be going well or terribly, you might be rich or poor, employed or not but depression can still strike you down.  You’re more likely to just feel numb and unable to imagine being happy, rather than bemoaning what you don’t have. It may be tough, a dark lonely place, but it can be the price of consciousness, introspection and complexity.  When it comes to the likes of Malcolm, ignorance is definitely bliss.  Rethink did complain to Ofcom, but that probably just leads to further publicity for Channel 4, which is its primary focus.  The main way to fight it is to increase awareness of the facts, to help mental health charities with funds, support and time and to discuss your own problems and experiences.

Let’s end on a more positive note at least.  Training for the marathon and raising money for Mind has been a brilliant opportunity for me, boosting my physical and mental health, providing an important goal to aim for and something to be proud of.  Many of you have offered advice, support and donated so thank you one last time.  That’s one last time after the crudely drawn effort above as I thought everyone deserved another individual mention.  Plus it’s a chance to see my lovely medal, which felt even heavier after 26.2 miles of running.  Additional thanks to those working at Mind for their support and help in the build-up to the big day, in fundraising and at the various cheering points.

I’m not sure what my next running event will be but I have plenty of goals to aim for: 1:45 in a half marathon; 1:20 in the Great South Run; and of course, a sub-4 hour marathon.  I’m not especially trying to impress anyone with my times, I love the sport because you can compete against yourself, making it an accessible challenge for people of all levels.  I’m so far behind the top runners I can’t even be jealous so much as amazed…and slightly suspicious they may be a different species.  I’d recommend running and the London marathon to anyone, and any other challenge for charity for that matter.

Registration for the 2013 London marathon opens on Monday 30th April if anyone wants to join in next year.  I’ll happily read your blog all about it.

Thank you.

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Week 10 – One target achieved, one to go…

Rain on your marathon day, that’s ironic isn’t it.  No Alanis…it definitely isn’t.  I can hear thunder as I write this, so things are looking good for Sunday.  At least I’ve done all I can with the aspects I can control.  Training is over, now I’m in the difficult stage of resting and eating lots, which luckily I have years of experience in.  You can see my race number below and track my progress on the marathon site I believe.  Give me a ring if there’s no movement for a while after 20 miles.  You can look out for me wearing the above kit too, although I may yet add a waterproof jacket depending on how brave I feel on the day.

After my slight injury concerns last week I tested the knee on Sunday with my final long run.  Minor discomfort disappeared after a few miles and I managed a decent half marathon time; one I’d be very happy replicating on Sunday…although there’s no chance of doing it twice in a row!  In two shorter runs I felt no injury concerns, so I suppose I’ll only find out during the marathon now after a couple of hours running. The weather is more concerning at the moment, especially the prospect of waiting around at the start in the cold rain.  Actually running in it might prove quite refreshing, so long as it’s not combined with strong winds, but I’d rather not face 4 or 5 hours of depressing weather.  Hopefully the crowds will still turn out to cheer everyone on, even though it’s probably even less fun standing around getting soaked.  If any of you are coming to watch the race do let me know roughly where you’ll be and I’ll try to look out for you.

This week also saw the London Marathon Expo, which I attended yesterday.  The main photo was the only one without me blinking, but probably better than the drowned rat race photos on Sunday.  I thought I’d go along on a weekday to avoid the queues, but still anticipated waiting quite a while to register as others had warned me.  In reality it took about 3 minutes.  I’m really hoping Sunday goes just as smoothly.  So I have my running number (43114 in case you haven’t noticed it above!) and start with the red group in Greenwich Park at 9.45am.  I imagine it might take a while to get across the start line, so I’m hoping to finish the marathon between 2-3pm.  If you’re tracking my progress and that doesn’t look likely, feel free to send a text telling me to speed up.  If my iPhone hasn’t drowned, I’ll try to read them.  The Expo was really enjoyable; like a conference but where everyone actually understands what they’re doing there, finds it useful and doesn’t leave before clients ask them difficult questions.  So not like any conference really…and they had a giant trainer.

To be fair, that could just be a really small door.

Even the pasta bar meal was slightly better than expected.  Fair enough, I had very low expectations, but still, more carbs in the bank.  I definitely wouldn’t recommend attending on the Saturday and spending hours strolling around though.  It’s big, there’s a lot to see and it’s pretty tiring.  Also, there are hundreds of free samples for drinks, gels, protein bars and so on.  While that seems logical at a running event, there are also people giving good advice such as ‘don’t try anything new at this stage’, which doesn’t quite fit in with stuffing your face with all the latest new products.  In fact, the presenter I saw talked about resting the day before, so I’ve no idea what he’ll be saying on Saturday when it is the day before and thousands of people are walking miles eating new protein bars.  You’re supposed to cut down a lot of protein before the event anyway; part of the reason my week or so of eating lots hasn’t been as enjoyable as it sounds.  I also wasn’t too sure about the wisdom of putting beer in the marathon runner’s goodie bag.  If that’s your main source of carbs, you may be in trouble.

Hopefully the emphasis is on YOU rather than HOW.

In an earlier blog I wrote about the world’s oldest marathon runner, completing the Toronto marathon last year at the age of 100.  Now at 101, he has announced the London marathon on Sunday will be his last.  There’s a nice article on him here.  Good luck to him, but if I see him during the race, I’m clearly not doing very well.  I noticed another inspiring running story this week, perhaps a more bewildering achievement reported on here.  It tells the story of an ultra-marathon runner who has been blind since the age of 18, but has taken part in events with guide runners and taught himself to run solo on the streets, memorising routes near his home.  These stories make my efforts seem far less impressive, but importantly at this stage, it also makes Sunday seem infinitely more achievable and adds some perspective.

According to William Hill, the three favourites for the marathon are Patrick Makau, Emmanuel Mutai and Abel Kirui.  I couldn’t find anyone quoting a price on me sadly.  The three favourites are all from Kenya, supporting many of the generalisations about distance running.  It’s not so simplistic when looking at the reasons behind it though.  While Kenya has won 21 gold medals in 800m and above events since 1968, it’s not necessarily logical to conclude Kenyans are good at running.  The majority of Kenyan winners have been from a small region of the Rift Valley called Nandi.  It quickly becomes clear it’s ludicrous to think of distance running as a Kenyan phenomenon when so many of the country are underrepresented.  Likewise, with the wider continent’s success based on the smallest pinpricks on the map, the notion of Africans in general being good distance runners becomes fairly ignorant.

A recent Guardian article also highlights the success of Kenya’s Rift Valley and sheds some light on why the top 20 fastest marathon runners are all from Kenya.  Unfortunately for those looking for some grand secret, it appears to be a unique dedication and commitment to running from an early age.  Poverty exists in many other countries, as does the will to escape it, yet in these small regions of Kenya every last drop of energy is channeled into running.  Despite scientific research, there is no evidence at all to suggest Kenyan running ability has anything to do with genetics.  Right, that’s racism sorted out then.  Next week homophobia, where we learn if you have something important to say, it’s definitely best to stick it on the side of a bus.

Clearly I’ve been reading too many articles this week, because I also saw a study by the University of Exeter that highlighted the benefits of exercise and particularly walking, in fighting depression.  I think time spent outdoors is part of the benefit, while walking is accessible to most people.  It does provide mental health benefits, although exercise that raises the heart rate further is likely to have an even greater impact.  The key is probably to find exercise you enjoy and focus on that, as slogging away on activities that feel like a chore all the time may not be the most motivating solution.  Mixing a physical challenge with an activity you really enjoy or find cathartic can be a great help.

However, merely knowing what can help fight depression isn’t always enough.  Sometimes it’s difficult to imagine a brighter future and find the energy to help yourself; it can be simultaneously numbing and exhausting.  I’m sure it can feel different to everyone, increasing the feeling of isolation, but hopefully increasing awareness and encouraging people to talk as Mind strive towards will continue to benefit people more and more.  This blog has been enjoyable to write and veered off in many directions, but I hope it’s at least made a few people think about mental health and the benefits of exercise.

One thing it has helped with is fundraising, keeping people interested in my training and bringing in donations from a huge number of unexpected sources.  I passed my target this week, which was a great boost so close to the marathon.  I wouldn’t have felt so focused on the race if I still had a huge amount left so raise, so thank you once again to everyone who has sponsored me.  The total now stands at £1,755 and I’d love to get near £2,000 if possible, so keep passing the blog on and if you haven’t donated yet, there is still time!  Perhaps you’re waiting to see if I actually finish the race first.  Understandable, and all donations are welcome at any time, but I’d love to have that support from as many people as possible going into the marathon.  The larger the amount raised, the more determined I’ll be on the day.  Feel free to guess my marathon time if you’ve sponsored me.  Closest guess may win a prize.

This is the penultimate blog and obviously the last before the big day.  It seems like a lot more than 10 weeks since I found out I was running the marathon, with so much training behind me and having come so far with the fundraising.  Thank you again for all your support, help and advice over the weeks.  All I have to do now is relax and get some rest.  And of course avoid celebrating too much due to Saints inconveniently timed return to the Premier League on Saturday evening.

Wish me luck.


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Week 9 – Wake me up next week

So just one week to go then.  It’s difficult to accept time resting is more important than exercise now.  Unlike exams there’s no last minute cramming; basically I won’t be getting any fitter or faster.  Perhaps it’s good that the hard work is all done, it’s been nine weeks of fairly intense running.  That’s just the nine weeks I’ve known I was taking part in the marathon too.  In reality I’ve been building up my running ability steadily for nearly a year.  While tapering is vital in conserving energy and getting adequate rest, I do wish Saints hadn’t adopted the same approach to ending the football season.

Despite spending a fair bit of week 9 eating too many Easter eggs, I did manage to keep to the training plan.  The mid-week runs went as normal, with my Sunday long run reduced considerably.  That said, I still managed a half-marathon, which would have been quite an achievement not so long ago.  Most of that run was spent battling heavy rain while wearing a vest, so not the most comfortable afternoon.  The weather seems so erratic it’s impossible to know what to expect marathon day.  While there’s no point worrying about it, I’m hoping it will brighten up just a little as standing on the start line shivering for an hour doesn’t seem like ideal preparation.  Even training since January I’ve definitely experienced running in every type of weather possible, so I’m fully prepared in that sense.

I’ve had a slight concern with my knee this week too.  I imagine most new marathon runners experience something like this primarily because they’re thinking ‘please don’t let me get injured’ all the time in the final weeks.  It doesn’t hurt, I can still run, it just became slightly uncomfortable.  I’ve taken it easy since, running just once more and fairly slowly.  I also switched to swimming and cycling for a few days to compensate.  Sadly, ten lengths of the pool without drowning remains a positive outcome with my swimming ability.  As for cycling, I think it puts the pace of top marathon runners into perspective that I managed a marathon in 2 hours 38 minutes….on an exercise bike.  So basically I could never get near them without a helicopter.

Prior to getting a place in the marathon, I had aimed to focus more on reading and get through at least a book per week this year; possibly even writing a far less popular blog about it.  I’ve often found reading to be a great help with mental health, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction.  Focusing on a subject bigger than yourself, or engaging and empathising with other characters, different situations and other environments.  Whether seeking knowledge or inspiration, reading helps to build a greater sense of perspective.  Often people suggest fiction is escapism, and there’s nothing wrong with that in any form; we all need a break sometimes.  However, I find more honesty and emotion in fiction than in the ‘real world’ from which it’s supposed to be an escape from.

I started the year finally getting round to reading The Bell Jar, highlighting the mental health theme about to emerge.  I used to get through a lot of books when commuting to work, but now my free time has been spent running (and blogging) instead.  I attempted reading on the exercise bike, ending in quite sweaty pages, or taking books on longer runs for when I need a break.  However, when running so often and not always in the mood for music, I’ve found audiobooks and podcasts a great help.  If you’re really into a story, you often don’t notice how far you’ve run.  On the downside you don’t notice traffic either and it can be really irritating to get hit by cars before you’ve finished a story.  Still, I somehow ran often enough to get through 36 hours of Stephen King’s 11/22/63.  Like many of his books, if I’d been carrying it with me I’d have far bigger muscles by now.  It helps when it’s more of a plot-driven story rather than a novel in which you want to savour the words and re-read pages…like my blog.

I’ve got through several audiobooks during my training and dozens of podcasts.  These range from fairly geeky podcasts accompanying TV series to comedy, sport or science shows.  I’m yet to make it through an entire 606 podcast without pressing ‘skip’ in bewilderment at the stupidity of football fans…or at least football fans who feel their insight needs to be shared on the radio.  As a science enthusiast with no qualifications in the sciences, my favourite listening material is The Infinite Monkey Cage.  Having 30 minutes of humour, learning and scientific debate really breaks up the longer runs.  Plus, listening to Brian Cox quantify things in terms of billions of years makes my running times seem really quite quick.  It always makes 26.2 miles seem like a really short distance, so some perspective is always nice.

My favourite book recently has been Depresso, or to give it it’s full title ‘How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Embrace Being Bonkers’.  I hadn’t planned to read more about mental health, I just love graphic novels and this one was recommended.  That’s generally recommended as a great book, not recommended personally by someone who thought I needed help.  Anyway, this semi-fictional story is far from depressing and provides more insight into mental health stigma, the psychiatric system and the ‘benefits’ of alternative therapies than I ever could in this blog.

Finally on the reading theme and just as relevant comes ‘The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner’ by Alan Sillitoe.  While I read this short story because of my interest and recent experience of long-distance running, it’s worth looking at regardless.  It focuses on a teenager sent to borstal and using running as distraction and solace from his bleak daily existence.  Sounds cheery doesn’t it?  Actually it sounds worryingly like my life…sans borstal of course.  It is a brilliant piece of writing though and the best fiction I’ve found on running so far.  Until I write something myself of course.

Carb-loading is vital during the final week.

I read an article about Ed Balls’ marathon campaign in the Guardian this week.  While still raising money for good causes, it seems to be slightly easier on the fundraising side of things if you’re famous.  Even if you’re famous and unpopular.  Even if you’re famous, unpopular and buying most your training resources from Greggs.  It was pleasing to get a few donations because of this article though, having put myself forward as an alternative if people wanted to sponsor someone else.  I really have to make sure I beat him now.  Even if slower, at least I’ll probably get more votes.

This week has also seen an end to my reliance on Nike+ thanks to a shiny new Garmin watch (below).  Given the frequency with which Nike+ loses signal or just refuses to work, I was a little concerned it would turn out I’ve never actually run more than two miles.  Thankfully Garmin is recording similar times so far.  It definitely helps being able to check your speed as you run although perhaps I’d rather not know during the marathon.  In each event previously I’ve ignored the time and hoped for the best when checking the results, but hopefully a more scientific method will improve things in the future.  According to the Nike+ page, or at least with the runs if managed to record, I’ve 1,512km in the last year or so, running about 150 times.  I might carry on using both, just to compare and so I can reach Nike’s ‘purple level’, whatever that means.  The main benefit of the Garmin watch is definitely not beginning the majority of runs hitting your iPhone as the Nike+ app crashes.

All I want now is to get to the start line feeling fit and rested, not carrying any knocks or worrying about anything I could have done differently.  One thing that has already gone far better than imagined is the fundraising.  With a week left I have reached £1608.  Thanks once again to all who have contributed to that and anyone that hasn’t got round to it yet, you now have the chance to push me over the target line of £1650!  While that’s the target and I didn’t think I’d be so close with a week to go, I’d really love to beat it by some distance so keep the money rolling in.  Going over 100% of the target doesn’t mean I’ll be adding a few miles after the marathon though.

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Week 8 – Happy Easter

I just realised my plan to capitalize on the ‘bored at work Friday afternoon’ market isn’t going to work so well at Easter.  More shocking is the absence of a bad pun blog title.  Still, what better way to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus than by reading my blog.  Well it’s not odder than marking the occasion with a currant bun.  Far better than having your birthday celebrated with a sprout though.

So this was week 8, although I’m now looking at days left rather than days gone.  This was always supposed to be my toughest week of training and I made sure of it with my Sunday run.  I managed fairly decent runs Thursday and Friday, most impressively in that they were before midday.  In fact Friday’s was at 8am, which made me feel quite ill.  The biggest hurdle yet will be being awake on the start line.

Unfortunately my plans went slightly wrong on Saturday, feeling so exhausted and ill I couldn’t envisage attempting my longest run the following day.   This could have been an allergic reaction to the previous day’s early start.  Deciding to put it off until Monday, I spent most the afternoon and evening eating far too much, then not getting any sleep.  Then came the realisation that I was busy Monday and didn’t have time for a long run.  I suppose it was a good opportunity to run with the worst preparation, starting with little energy and hopefully making the big day seem infinitely more achievable.

Fully expecting to end up walking home I took a backpack with a change of clothes and a book.  And an extra 2 litres of water after previous weeks…not the lightest way to travel.  Starting slowly didn’t change the fact I felt quite full, while the amount of early uphill running did no favours either.  Still, perhaps the Saturday of eating provided plenty of energy as I found a way to keep going.  Often so slowly I might as well have been walking, but I made it to the New Forest and about half marathon distance.  I was half planning to go a bit further then get a train back, but since it was scheduled as my longest run and toughest training week, I increasingly felt like pushing it further.  The last thing I wanted was a setback in training at this stage.  Anyway, running home again saves the train fare!  This outing also featured my favourite sign of the week (below).  I was tempted to pop in to fuel my bandwagon.

I made it to a shop near home having completed about 36km and pretty much exhausted.  Having reached 37km before though, it seemed sensible/stubborn/irresponsible to push it a little further.  It is painful to not only keep running at that stage, but run past your house so you can add to the distance.  I stared at the Nike+ screen every 10 seconds while my legs began to wobble as I ran.  When it got to 40km, it seemed I might as well push towards a full marathon – The accidental Southampton marathon.  I even managed to sprint the final few hundred metres and feel full of energy….suggesting I’d just been lazy over the first 4 or 5 hours.  Apologies again to all my supporters that I’m clearly not putting the effort in.

While not usually recommended to complete the full distance before the event, I’m glad I did.  I’d be disappointed with that performance, struggling through and walking a few times, but at least I know I can finish it.  Now I just have to ensure I’m feeling far more fresh and rested for the real thing.  With just over 2 weeks to go so most of the hard work is done, and it’s only now I can appreciate just how much effort has already gone into it.  In just 8 weeks I’ve run around 50 times, so most days really.  It definitely helped running a couple of times a week over the winter and not losing much fitness, but I think most people could build up to marathon distance if they get a place early on.

I’ve been lucky with injuries, although I’ve spent so long stretching; warming up and sat in cold baths I’m not sure luck has much to do with it.  That said, I have found problems with a broken toe on the longer distances and it was agony a few times throughout the ‘marathon’.  Luckily, loosening my left shoe seems to have fixed it for the most part.  I seem to remember breaking it during a typically impressive performance by King Edward’s 3rd XI about 14 years ago.  It hadn’t caused any problems since, other than looking slightly deformed and poking out of my Converse.

Enough about that though, I’m here to talk to you about the true spirit of Easter.  Some optimistic reports have claimed chocolate is good for runners, anti-oxidants or something equally unlikely.  Unfortunately that’s just dark chocolate, and even then the positives are outweighed by its calorific brilliance.  I may just add up the calories burned from all my Easter runs and eat the corresponding amount of chocolate egg.  It’s about time Nike+ calculated performance in potential chocolate consumption too.  If I added up all the effort put in so far, I think I could justify the egg below.

Speaking/writing of running and chocolate takes up back to the Marathon/Snickers.  Possibly the only running based brand name and one I assumed had disappeared forever.  That didn’t stop me trying to find a photo of a Marathon Easter egg for the blog cover.  What I did uncover was Snickers’ range of energy and protein bar products, called ‘Marathon’.  Is this why they changed the name, so they could better cater for runners?  The Marathon died so runners could go on…or at least run a little further. Perhaps I’m just thinking about chocolate too much.

In non-chocolate news and after struggling with a heavy backpack on Sunday and fistfuls of energy gels other weeks, I invested in a running belt this week.  That’s ‘running belt’.  Not bum bag.  It’s actually quite nice although needs securing properly, otherwise it slips and you find yourself heading rapidly down hill with your ankles tied together.  It is good to have easy access to my energy products though, as shown below.

Not a bum bag.

The day after my accidental marathon I managed a short recovery run.  Partly to see if it was possible and partly through worry my legs would completely cease up if I didn’t keep moving.  While it was fine, it was Tuesday I really started to feel the marathon effects.  I switched to cycling to give myself ‘a rest’.  Seemingly my cycling isn’t much faster than my running though.  Perhaps watching films while doing so doesn’t help so much.  I should point out I’m talking about an exercise bike, rather than some daredevil stunt involving an iPad perched on the handlebars.

With 2 weeks left I’ll be cutting down the running now.   Maybe I’ll have time to actually produce a blog on time…although probably nothing to write about.  Week 9…I rested.  Week 10, ate lots of pasta.  Hopefully in the next couple of weeks I will be able to tell you that I’ve reached my sponsorship target.  I’m at around £1,500 now after a busy week of sales and some great donations.  I can’t describe the boost (another chocolate reference) it will provide having reached this target before the race.  Of course, if you haven’t donated yet, don’t be put off by the target!  I’d love to raise as much as possible and every extra pound will do a great deal of good.

Thanks for reading and have a great Easter.

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