Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Warsaw Marathon 2018 (part of the 3in3marathonchallenge)

PREAMBLE (PACING STRATEGY) 
The Warsaw marathon took place on 30th September 2018. My second marathon of my #3in3marathonchallenge for the year.  The challenge is to run each marathon in under 3 hours. To recap Brighton in April I ran in 3 hours and 5 seconds! The challenge for Warsaw was to find those extra 6 seconds but of course I had much grander aspirations than that. I use to think (until this marathon) that we owe it to ourselves in every race to always push ourselves to our absolute limits. To realise our full untapped potential. I would of course be extremely pleased with a sub3 this weekend but training had been going very well following Brighton and posting PBs since then in 5K, 10K and half-marathon distances. All the signs were very good and I was confident of running quite a bit faster than 3 hours. 

So taking everything into account from my training times and recent races I decided to go for a time of sub 2 hours 50 minutes which equals 6.30 minute per mile pace. But this was Poland and I was running 42.195 kilometers not 26. 2 miles! The whole course was in KM so I needed to think in kilometers and thus know the corresponding pace in KM's too. The maths was actually dead easy. All I had to do was run each 5K split in exactly 20 minutes which would see me cross the line in sub 2:50 ~ my new A goal.

To be clear the maths was easy but doing it wouldn't be!! At 4 minutes per KM this was an ambitious plan but I was confident in myself that I could pull it off. My final 18 mile training run for example saw me the alternate between 6 and 7 minute miling for each mile (3min43sec and 4min21sec per km pace). So I was use to this pace. I was also treating the extra 10 minutes as a safety cushion in case I couldn't hold the pace the entire way. I did not think I was in anyway jeopardizing my goal of running in sub 3 hours or my 3 in 3 challenge. So confident was I from my training and the last 5 months build up since Brighton that it did not occur to me that such a plan could in any way back fire. Haha hello Mr. Hindsight I hate you 🤣 

So as you have probably guessed or already know via social media this story does not have a fairytail ending. I don't intend to drag out every agonising detail, instead let's pick out the key moments from the race. It was certainly an eventful one as you will see! I'll then reflect a little on what it all means, what I have learnt and what is next.

THE RACE

I got to the start with just 20 minutes to spare. I'll save you the detail of the frantic dash across Warsaw! Final adjustments to lacing, a wee and bag deposited and I was all set. 1 minute to go... Shuffle forward in the sub3 pen as the ribbon gets lifted and a small surge and we were off.

At the start
START TO 15KM

Time to relax and get straight into my stride. The thing about 6.30 pace (oops...  4 minutes per kilometer ;-) is that where as I'd normally be concerned about going off too quick that just isn't a concern. Why? Cos it feels fast from the very start even though that was my target pace. I was wearing my heart rate strap too so could use this to judge my effort. Anything in the low 170s was fine. I was hovering around 165 at this early stage and so I fell in with a small group of runners and just stuck with them.

Early in the race 
My Garmin pinged up my first mile split. (the lap counter was still in miles which was actually helpful as I had the best of both worlds tracking in KMs with mile splits too). The first mile was a 6.18! Oh heck. The 2nd mile calmed down with a 6.30 and then 6.18 again for the 3rd. However this was a fast course and there were a few long gradual decents contributing to the fast splits in the first 5K section. I didn't think I was overcooking it as I was right on pace for a sub 2.50 (2:48.05 to be exact). 

Coming through at 5KM
As we crossed the first 5KM check point I glanced down at my watch. Exactly 20.00! Bingo. I just had to repeat that another seven times! The course had plenty of variety and really showed off the best Warsaw has to offer. A new section between 5-10KM was introduced for this 40th Jubilee year of the marathon taking runners straight through the city zoo on the East side of the river. We would cross the river 4 times during the race. The zoo was a unique experience in a marathon seeing buffalo and large cats. It certainly makes you run faster right 🤣 

Whilst the sights were indeed nice this was no sightseeing trip. I was taking in some of the scenery and atmosphere but unlike Brighton where I was relaxed and the pace felt very settled and flowed this was different. With no physical pace makers either I was far more reliant on my watch and checking pace at least a few times per KM. I had also set up an audible alert that sounded when I fell below 4.10 pace. In the early stages this only happened on the very few short ascents. Later I would be hearing it a lot more.

Working hard in the group at 7KM
We were soon at 10KM (we being the same 3 or 4 runners I fell in with). Again as I looked down exactly 40.00 was on my watch. Nice. I love hitting split times in training, and the comfort that came from hitting them so precisely in the race was great. But it wasn't lost on me that they only represented what I had done so far, not what was ahead of me. I remembering thinking to myself a quarter of the race complete (not withstanding the final 2.195KM). Some comfort came from thinking this but I still knew the effort I was putting in to maintain pace was high. I couldn't relax for even a second. My heart rate was constantly around 174 BPM. 

THE PARK AND THE HILL! 

At 13K we turned into the very green and pretty Royal Lazienki Park. The running surface changed to compact dirt and gravel ~ not hard to run on and a nice change and distraction. A nice section of the course. What was coming next though couldn't have been more of a contrast. At 14.5K you come out the Park and turn right and right again and hit Belwederska Street. The only significant hill on the course ~ much bigger and longer than anything in London but thankfully not Snowdonia! I actually enjoyed it and focused on keeping my stride smooth and cadence high.

Running though the Royal Lazienki Park

15KM TO 21.1KM (HALF WAY) 

At the top of Belwederska Street was the next milestone ~ the 15KM marker which as I went through once again my game of split time bingo was spot on rolling through in exactly 1:00.00. 1 hour for 15K. Nice. So far so good, but I wasn't celebrating. I knew to hit these splits was taking a huge amount of effort and in the next 5K section up to the half marathon distance my quads started to complain a little.

That is far too early in a marathon to be feeling such discomfort. I was trying my best to ignore the slight discomfort but it was there and it wasn't going away. I was 5 seconds slower per KM between 15-20KM. It doesn't sound alot and at that stage it wasn't. I was still just under a 2:50 finish time too but I knew the slowing down was something I would need to control and try and limit the damage. 

To compound matters [I can't remember exactly where on the course I first starting feeling uncomfortable] my stomach was not in a good place. I felt laboured and nothing was coming easy at all. I just tried my best to dismiss the feeling and ignore it.

Yep it was hurting 
I hit the half marathon marker in 1:24.25. My third fastest half marathon split ever including half marathon races. And my fastest half split in a marathon race 5 minutes faster than at the same point in Brighton. But I can't remember rejoicing or thinking anything about this in the race as I was just hurting. In hindsight this is also quite odd. The pace to half way was 30 seconds per mile slower than my recent PB in August where I clocked a sub 1.20. In that half I didn't feel battered and my quads were okay whilst running a constant 6 minute mile pace from start to finish. Here in Warsaw I was running 6.30 pace (sorry to swap back to miles!) and I felt pretty crap. Lower pace but really feeling the effort. Obviously every race is different and you can't expect to feel the same each time or deliver the same performance but this still surprised me. 

21.1KM TO 30KM

I hooked up with a local chap called Raff. The only person I would speak to in the entire race. I really missed the camaraderie of Brighton where I ran in a group 15-20 runners deep with two pace makers and chatting with them. That made such a huge difference to perspective and just made the miles go by quicker. Here I was alone. So when Raff pulled up on my shoulder just after the hill at 15K I made a deliberate effort to strike up conversation in a bid to find out his target time and buddy up. He too was looking to run 2.50. His PB was 2.52 which he ran this year. Great I thought I just need to stick with him. So we worked together. We almost held the 4K pace resulting in 5KM split for 20-25K section of 20:21. For me that was a huge relief as I hadn't leaked any more time from the previous 5K split.

Raff and I in Warsaw Old Town

THE UNRAVELLING

It was somewhere after 25K where my race started to unravel not from the pace (initially) but from the growing discomfort in my stomach. I had been dismissing it up to now and running with Raff was a great distraction. However it was now becoming clear that I needed to do something about it if you know what I mean! 💩 But I carried on regardless for fear of losing touch with Raff and a pack of runners who were evidently running 4 minute KMs too and had just eased passed us both. Raff gave chase and latched onto them but I just couldn't. It was also here that my stride had significantly altered. This was quite a shock as I became very conscious of my left heel slapping the ground with each step... thud, thud, thud. That wasn't good. My quick light cadence had been replaced with a slower sluggish inefficient stride that sounded awful. And that of course starts to compound the impact on your muscles and quads as each thud sent a bigger shockwave through my leg. And it's a vicious circle.


But that was the least of my worries. As more urgent matters more concerning me right now was whether I had to stop and find a portaloo. For me stopping in a marathon whatever the reason is a white flag to the internal-self (the Central Governor). A slight chink of weakness appearing to upset the balance. If the brain picks up that it's okay to stop no matter how legit the reason then later it will say it's okay to stop or slow down for another 'good reason'. I was really reluctant to stop and passed by some portaloos and then another one further up the course as one or two more KMs passed. Shortly after passing that last portaloo though I immediately regretted the decision. I was in a bad place now and my marathon plan was unraveling. It was causing me to slow further as the pack moved further and further ahead of me. I knew then that I was waving goodbye to any hope of running sub 2:50. 

I continued on in slight distress and turned a corner and there was an amazing sight...  more portaloos!!! [Believe it or not if there is one marathon that you would wish to have stomach / toilet trouble you would chose Warsaw. Unbeknownst to me they have more portaloos than any other major marathon! No idea who counts them all but I read this fact in my new marathon book that I bought at the airport. I thought it was a funny fact to include]. 

Exiting the portaloo (no detail required!) I felt a whole lot better. It didn't fix my legs of course but the stomach discomfort had reduced and I felt then like I had reset the watch and could now tackle this second half just as I had the first. And for a short time I was feeling quite positive about progress and my returning pace. My form wasn't back but in the first full KM after the stop I was pretty much back on pace.

30KM TO FINISH

So I saw out that drama and reached the 30KM check point. Clearly it was my slowest 5KM split so far ~ 23.26. But if I could stem the tide (poor choice of phrase perhaps 🤣💩) I believe I was still on for a finish time of sub 2:55.00.

This section marked a noticable change in the course. We had at around 28KM I think transitioned largely from city streets to long flat straight highways. They should of been super fast. Perfect for marathon running, but they didn't feel it. They seemed to have the opposite affect on me. It felt slow going and I was indeed slowing down. Of course I knew this as I was continually checking the Garmin. The pace alert I had set to 4.10KM was now chiming repeatedly. I just couldn't hold the pace and was falling off pretty significantly. My quads were pretty battered and the heel striking wasn't going away. I just didn't have any spring in my stride. I knew then that the last 12K was going to be really tough. Even tougher than my very first marathon in London in 2006 where the wheels fell off. 

The problem now as well as the obvious slowing down was my maths! My watch was only displaying KM pace I only knew that 4 was my original KM target pace. Beyond that I had little clue. When running in miles and mile pace I could do the maths on the road with the time remaining and work out what pace I would need to run. For some reason even though the course was all marked in KMs, I had KMs on my watch, and I knew the time elapsed I still couldn't work out what KM pace I had to run to make sure of a sub3. The real issue was that I thought I had a comfortable time cushion so no matter how much I slowed I thought it wouldn't get so bad that a sub3 would come under threat. Surely not! Or perhaps the Central Governor was back to its mind games, saying it's okay to slow down because you are still on target for sub3. You'll be fine. 

But I wasn't on pace. I just didn't have a damn clue. Initially I was holding my pace at steady 4.20s, then 4.40 as other runners started to pass me regularly. My pace fell further to 4.50s and then 4.56s. This wasn't a case of stemming the tide anymore. This was a full blown tsunami.  I knew at 5 minute per KM pace that this equaled 8 minutes per mile and I thought that would be safe. I was doing the maths with 4 miles to go, 8 x 4 = 32 minutes. I had 35 minutes. Yeah I thought, I'm fine. The sub3 was still on. But I wasn't running with any urgency. Neither my mind or body was cooperating with me. Of course I wanted to run a sub3 but as I floated along fairly oblivious to the real peril of my situation I wasn't actually engaged in the task of ensuring a successful outcome. I have no other words or explanation that will explain it other than I was battered, knackered and I was done. Stick a fork in me.


The sub 3 hour pace maker with his flag and band of merry men and women came alongside and past me in the final 4KM. I sped up and ran alongside the group for all but 50-100 metres. But I didn't have anything left. I wasn't checking out mentally (at least I'm pretty sure I wasn't), I really wanted this. But 6.52 mile pace (I still don't know what that is in KM pace) was far to fast for me. Only 4KM left I kept telling myself. I visualised my local Parkrun course and wondered if I might just be able to keep up. Why couldn't I? Why couldn't I motivate myself to push that little bit harder. Where was my drive? Was this everything I had to give. Seemingly so. 

I didn't actually 'feel' anything much at this point. There wasn't any major wave of disappointment or sense of failure. I wasn't gutted. I had taken a big but calculated gamble deciding to run at a certain pace and clearly that gamble had not paid off this time. I said earlier that I didn't think for a second that my target pace was risking my #3in3marathonchallenge. I was 200% confident that I would run sub3 in Warsaw.

The final kilometer

In the final 2KM I was actually just admiring how brutal the marathon distance is. What it had done to me to put me in this state. No matter how good your preparation and training has been, if you don't get it 100% right it just chews you up and splits you out. The distance will find every weakness and expose it. My race had completely unraveled in the last 15K from me accepting that I wouldn't run a sub 2:50 to finally crossing the finish line in an actual time of 3:12.11.

Still smiling at the finish despite the outcome

Great medal to mark my first VET40 marathon

The final two miles took me 24 minutes! I ran the first three miles in almost that time. My first half marathon split was 1:24.45 and the second half 1:38.33. At 30KM the live race tracker was predicting me to finish in 2.53. At 35K with just 7KM to go the prediction had fallen to 2.57 but still comfortably inside a sub3 finish. The point I'm making here is that there is nothing remotely predictable about the marathon. It's the marathon's unpredictability that draws people to it time and time again. And even when you think you have cracked the secret of the marathon you have a race like this that reminds you just how much you still have to learn. Back to the drawing board!! 

5KM SPLITS

20.00 (0-5K) ~ est. finish time 2:48
19.59 (5-10K) ~ 2:48
20.08 (10-15K) ~ 2:49
20.18 (15-20K) ~ 2:49
20.21 (20-25K) ~ 2:50
23.34 (25-30K) ~ 2:53
23.32 (30-35K) ~ 2:57
29.09 (35-40K) ~ 3:05
15.59 (last 2.195K) 

SETTING GOALS AND THE 3IN3MARATHONCHALLENGE 

Some friends have asked about my 3 in 3 Marathon Challenge...  so what next? Where does this leave the challenge? Well the broader challenge is over. I won't dress it up. I'm not afraid of failure or fessing up. It was bold and ambitious. However Snowdonia is most definitely still on. I have 4 weeks to recover and prepare fully for my final marathon of the challenge. 

But as I was thinking about this blog, and the challenge this got me thinking about the process of setting goals. How do we set goals and why do they change? I think this is where I really lost my way and led to the outcome in Warsaw. Let me explain... 

I chose Warsaw late in 2017 as my A race in 2018. I chose it because it was a super fast flat course. My goal was to run sub3 here. That was it. Just one goal. I didn't have any other goals or plans apart from that. But along the way ambition creep kicks in. 

Brighton was 'only' a training race to check my form and progress towards Warsaw. Because training was going so well I thought why not set a sub3 target for Brighton too. Wouldn't do any harm right. It was just a training run after all. There wasn't any pressure in that race and I enjoyed every second and came very very close. But whilst in the mood for setting goals and because I run Snowdonia every year that's where the 3 in 3 Marathon Challenge was born. Why stop at setting the sub3 goal for Brighton and Warsaw. Let's make it all three!! Why the heck not. 

Let's start with the amazing news about the Challenge. I've now raised over £2,000 for my Church to support a new youth and community project. That in itself makes the whole challenge worthwhile. That's a given and I wouldn't change a thing for this reason alone. 

But setting all these goals has definitely clouded my thinking and my approach. My only original goal for 2018 was to run a sub3 marathon. That was it. Two marathons down now and still no sub3! Why? Because over ambition can effect our judgement. Training has indeed been going very well and I was/am in good shape but why risk all that and the last 10 months of training (from November 2017) to run a time just 10 minutes faster than my original A goal. 

Sometimes it's just too easy to get ahead of ourselves. I hadn't even achieved my sub3 goal yet but was seeking to over-achieve to be the best I could and demonstrate this to others. Why wasn't I simply content with sticking to my original goal. I don't think this is just a simple case of hindsight either. I really do think I lost my way and took my eye off what mattered most. But what is done is done.

Time to move on. That's where I am. And now it's all down to Snowdonia! The last marathon of the 3 in 3. Who would have thought that it would come down to the least likely race of the 3 for me to achieve my original goal. But perhaps that's where it is supposed to happen. And interestingly ever since I first started running Snowdonia 8 years ago it has always been my inner-ambition to run sub3 at Snowdonia. That's why I made it a part of the challenge so perhaps it's now more appropriate than ever that to should do so. I'm certainly going to give it my all.  

4 weeks and counting.....

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Thursday, 27 September 2018

Warsaw Marathon 3 days to go.... Gaining the Mental Edge in marathon running

So the Warsaw Marathon is just 3 days away now (well actually 2 days with this edit) !! Wow where does the time go?...  I was wondering just the other day how I would get through the next two week taper. But it seems to have vanished without so much as a trace of a niggle or imaginary faux injury. I'm feeling well rested and have used the last few weeks not to run hard or focus on any further physical improvement (the training is in the bag after all) but to focus on all the mental aspects of preparing and running a marathon.

The timing of 3 recent books I have been reading couldn't have been any better. Huge inspiration has come from reading about US elite marathon runner Deena Castor whose book which details her whole running career from high school to elite marathoner provided huge nourishment and practical tips on the mental approach to marathon training, preparation and racing. It's a really good read and highly recommended.

Two clients also recently gave me books as gifts ~ Mark Beaumont's 'Around the World in 80 days', and the South African running and sport scientist Tim Noakes 'Challenging Beliefs'.  Mark's amazing 78 day world record cycle ride was astonishing in every sense and provided a real moment of clarity about the goals that we set ourselves and how we should pursue them no matter how audacious they may appear. You have to believe with 100% utter conviction in what you are doing otherwise you will fall at the first hurdle. Similarly anyone familiar with Tim Noakes and the Lore of Running, and his more recent book will understand about the huge importance of the mental aspects of running in attaining your goals. But many will never have heard of him so let me expand further as no runner should be without this information. 

I find the mental aspects of running absolutely fascinating. There is no race distance quite like the marathon to really test your mental aptitude, your metal, nerve, grit and determination. The Central Governor theory first presented by Tim Noakes in the Lore of Running in the mid 80s was the first time someone had presented evidence and causation about the links between the brain and running performance. Not just a few casual links but a hard wired programme where the brain is in absolute control of your output and performance. Before Noakes it was believed (and still is in some circles) that slowing down during running was simply and purely a direct physical reaction to the stresses of exercise placed on our bodies and heart when we run. In 1923, a renowned researcher 'Hill' theorised that we fatigue in running (or any sport) when our bodies reach an oxygen plateau (an absolute limit) where our heart has reached maximum capacity and has no choice but to slow down and pump less blood to our oxygen starved muscles because it can't keep up with demand and so we slow. Muscles need oxygen to operate and the heart provides that oxygen to them. So it sounds fairly reasonable that fatigue and ultimately failure of the system occurs at this point based on the inability for the body to physically carry on at the same pace. Sounds reasonable, but it's totally wrong!

Neither the heart, or any of our primary organs for that matter which are working equally hard whilst we run, reach a maximum limit of oxygen debt or anywhere near it as theorised by Hill (even though this was widely accepted for the next 80 years!). The body and mind is far too complex and clever for that to happen. Hill had never even considered or contemplated in his research that the brain might have a key role to play in managing our output. 

And that is what Noakes discovered and has since written extensively about in the Central Governor theory. The brain is the Central Governor ~ an in-built safety mechanism that protects all vital organs and does everything it can to reduce the body's output if it senses an unsustainable pattern of exercise BEFORE it reaches anywhere near its limits. And that ladies and gentlemen is the key difference between what Noakes has identified and what Hill had suggested. In Hill's model the runner reaches an absolute physical limit (oxygen plateau) and has no choice but to slow. To carry on would be suggest certain death is almost eminent. We know that isn't true even though most sports science is still based on that physical limits theory. BUT the mechanism that is controlling us (the Central Governor) which is very powerful and also VERY cautious will try every trick in the book to slow us down by sending signals to recruit less muscles (e.g. slow down) and thus reducing the strain put on the heart. 

Let's come back to that feeling of fatigue you feel when running. I'm not even talking about a hard effort or the end of a marathon but just general feeling of fatigue when you starts to tire. Would you be surprised to learn that that feeling of fatigue is not even a real physical feeling. What you are feeling is NOT actual physical fatigue in any of your muscles. It might feel like your legs are screaming to slow down, or your lungs are gasping for air and you can't possibly continue. BUT fatigue is purely an 'emotion' created by the brain. Fatigue is exactly the same as feeling happy or sad. They are real feelings and feel damn real especially in the latter stages of a marathon BUT all the same they are just emotions. And emotions can be controlled.  And that changes everything!

When you consider how you are feeling in a marathon when fatigue sets in during the second half and especially those last 6 miles the brain is sending you all sorts of signals to slow down, to say enough is enough, but you don't have to listen. Your muscles have NOT reached their physical limit. Your true physical capabilities are way higher than the safety net provided by your brain to control your outputs and protect itself. Understanding this is a huge eye-opener and provides another option when it unleashes the hurt locker and throws everything at you. 

What follows from this theory though is a whole host of tools and techniques available to you to better equip oneself to prepare for a marathon before and on race day. Deena Castor's coach and her training was all centered around gaining that mental edge. The last two weeks for me have all been about gaining that edge too ahead of the marathon. Visualising the course, visualising how I'm going to feel at each mile, at half way and in those last 6 miles. Imagining myself running with a smooth and powerful stride and hitting every mile split without overexertion or over reaching. It's about being confident in the last 5 months of training since Brighton (where I ran 3:00.05) that my fitness has improved further. It's about taking huge confidence from recent race results and PBs set that all point to being on track. Confidence is everything in marathon running because as described above everything links back to the brain. The brain will determine what it thinks (and to a large extent knows) you are capable of before you even run a single stride. Standing on the start line the brain has an innate ability to set your allowable work rate (your pace) based on all your build up (physical and mental). Based on past results, how you are feeling on the day, the conditions, the heat, the wind, how you slept, recent illness, injuries etc, everything is taken into account. And the pace you set out at will quickly be determined by the brain with little, if any, conscious need to set the pace yourself. It's automatic. It's in auto-pilot. You can try to override that pace but you will know instantly if you have and your brain will send back signals pretty swiftly if you try and over cook it. Noakes mentions that for every step you take (in fact every second or milli-second) the brain has four choices: slow down, speed up, stay at the same pace or stop. It is making these calculations every millisecond with every step taking into account everything that is happening around you, the environment, the support, the conditions, internally assessing and adapting every stride accordingly. How amazing is that! What I read into that is that you have to be both totally in tune with everything that is happening whilst also getting into the zone and almost feeling nothing at all. The two seem at polar opposites but in that zone where everything just flows, you feel the effort but it feels good and mind and body accepts it and the Central Governor allows you to continue. That is the state I hope to achieve on Sunday. BUT if it fights back it had better be ready for one hell of a fight.

If you want to understand more about the science and a far better explanation than my attempt here then please do go and look up Tim Noakes.

This blog has not gone in the direction I expected it to at all!! It wasn't by intention to explain the theory but what is driving me forward with such focus and positivity but I'm glad I did. I think a Part 2 is necessary to talk more about the practical plan ahead of Sunday... about the actual pace I plan to set and maintain, and how I'm feeling about heading to Warsaw, how I'm feeling to run my first marathon at the age of 40! Can you tell I'm a wee bit excited about this one! 🤣

But for now I will leave it there as I really need to get some sleep!! (well that was last night!) 

Monday, 3 September 2018

ElliptiGO European Championships 2018 ~ Mount Revard, Aix-Les-Bains


To add a bit of extra excitement to my marathon training this summer I decided to mix it up and head over to France for the ElliptiGO European Championships 2018. It takes place in Aix-les-Bains, France each year in the foot hills of the Alps. The event is a 21.2KM climb to the top of Mount Revard ascending 1,300 metres. And it was a race! I've never actually raced the ElliptiGO before despite owning one for nearly 8 years now. I've taken part in many long distance rides organised under Audax rules but these aren't considered races. So this was something rather different. I will openly admit to being a very competitive person so a race was something new and exciting. 

I travelled over on the Eurostar to Paris on the Friday. The race was on the Sunday (2nd Sept 18). It was trouble free getting through France with the ElliptiGO. French trains are very accommoding to cyclists and have a separate carriage ('chariot' in French!) for bikes. As show in the photo even my ElliptiGO Arc bike fitted very nicely indeed. 

A day of travelling saw me arrive in my AirBnB apartment in Aix-les-Bains just as it was getting dark. I devoured a whole vegetarian pizza from the nearby takeway which hit the spot. The young Frenchman who served me was very excited to try his English on me asking if I understood him. His English was far better than my French that's for sure. 

Aix-les-Bains is a pretty town that sits right on Lake Bourget. Typically French in architecture and charm. Saturday morning and it was time to find the local Boulangerie for breakfast. Many almond crossiants later and I had the rest of the day to not do too much but rest, ahead of the race on Sunday. The only important task for the day was to register for the race in town at 5pm with race organiser Eric Bouvier. A top chap who has selflessly put this race on for the last 5 years. This was the 6th Edition.

ElliptiGO family of bikes, latest Edition the SUB in blue
Fellow Brit, friend and ElliptiGOer Billy Grace had flown in from Jersey via Gatwick to Geneva to take part too. Billy won the 5th edition last year on his ElliptiGO Arc bike (the same bike I was riding this year although I have upgraded my gear set to Deore XT 10 speed). But Billy had a new plan too and had brought across his new ElliptiGO SUB in a flight box. The SUB is the latest model in the ElliptiGO range. It's their lightest model yet (so good for hills!) and all reports from those that have one is that they were quick! It's not an elliptical bike though and is based on a conventional bike crank set, but crucially still without the saddle (SUB = Stand Up Bike) with larger foot platforms replacing the pedals.

So essentially it was myself on the Arc versus Billy on the SUB and of course any number of other riders that will show up also eyeing up glory. One of these riders was Nate from the US who had flown over only the day before for the race. Nate finished 2nd in 2016. So the scene was set for a good battle up Mount Revard in the morning. 

Race start was 9am sharp in the main town centre. We would race half a mile or so to escape the town Centre before we hit the slopes of Mount Revard. 27 riders lined up at the start from 5 countries (23 Long Strides, 3 Arc's and 1 SUB). After some start area photos, pleasantries and comparing bikes it was down to business as Eric Bouvier called 6 minutes to the start. I wasn't messing around and got myself positioned on the left on the start line. Billy soon emerged from up the road to reverse his SUB to the right hand side also on the start line. We were all set. 

With friends: Emmanuel, Veronique, Eric and Billy

I was hyped and ready for action! 
There was countdown from 5 and we were off. I wasn't hanging around we were racing after all :-) Billy soon chased on as did two other riders Jeremy and Clement both from France. Jeremy also riding an Arc and Clement on the ElliptiGO 8C long stride. The four of us soon put some distance between us and the rest of the pack. Clement was pushing really hard on the slopes in town so he passed me and Billy followed him with the two of them just ahead of myself and Jeremy.

Off the start line! 

In the first few KMs this is how it stayed as we begin the rise out of town and onto the slopes of Mount Revard. It begins with residential streets before the houses disappear and give way to the mountain road. Clement was still pushing quite hard out in front and Billy right alongside him didn't appear to be working anywhere near as hard to maintain the same pace. But that could be because the long stride makes a lot more noise, but its extra weight (7kg more than the SUB) and the extra resistance in the rollers means it IS more work (but just as much fun!!!). 

Jeremy and I were back and forth position wise about 10 metres behind. I certainly didn't want this gap to widen any further even at this early stage so was concentrating on keeping my stride smooth, the gear changes precise to match the changing elevation profile and generally try to keep up whilst not wasting unnecessary energy this early on in the race. 

To provide some context of what we were undertaking as far as the Mt Revard climb is concerned the course record over the 21K distance is just over 1:25.13.  The average gradient is 7% and it climbs 1,300 metres in total. It doesn't go much steeper than 7% but it is very consistent hence the need for efficiency with every pedal stroke. We were already riding the 7% stuff almost immediately once we were out the town and only 20 minutes into the race. So it wasn't going to get any easier and we still had well over an hour + of this high intensity effort to go.

As I dare to peer skyward you could see the clear peak of Mt Revard looming down large from such a magnificent height. There isn't a single road climb in the whole of the UK that climbs over 1,000 metres and I'd never attempted anything like this before. I was enjoying the challenge so far. 

A little further and I decided to close the gap.  We caught up and were now riding as a four. I sensed the pace might have slowed just a little so went ahead. Thoughts of race tactics then occupied my mind, and my initial thought was to try and control the pace from the front. That's what Team Sky do in the Tour de France right, so why shouldn't it work for me here too. Well one reason... Billy because he had other plans and pushed on again to up the pace. Clement pushed on too with a mega high cadence. The chap was fit and an Ironman! I had dinner with him and the gang the evening before and naturally conversation led to what events each has done. He was certainly fit and meant business, as was Jeremy who was younger (mid-twenties). Clement I'd put around my age ~ a young 40.

Anyway Billy was pushing on smoothly with a very consistent cadence that he made look effortless on the SUB. I followed on but the gap was probably nearer 15 metres now. With this push of pace Clement and Jeremy were now falling behind and we wouldn't see them again in the race. It was now just Billy up ahead and myself in hot pursuit but trying not to burn up my reserves in some madcap dash to close the gap. On this steepness gaps can't be closed quickly and our pace was already high. 

At this point I remember glancing at my watch and seeing the time elapsed of 28 minutes. We were only a third into the race (judged by the course record), but I should add that I wasn't looking at the distance on my watch as I didn't want to know. Nor was I preoccupied with the course record. I'd be lying if I said it wouldn't be nice to get close to it or even better it but right now that was totally irrelevant to what immediately occupied my thoughts. And that was Billy who was still way up the road as we started to enter switch backs to take us up.

The steady climbing continued
As you get onto the climb 'proper' with the winding mountain road there are KM markers indicating how far to the peak. The first one of these I saw was at 11KM, exactly half way up our climb. It was a nice moment in the race to know we had half the job done. But in terms of effort it was probably just beginning. As I looked to my left the views of Lake Bourget far below were stunning. Not that I could lose myself in the moment for very long as the gap to Billy just wasn't closing. I started to count the seconds between us when I saw Billy pass a point I could pick out. At this half way point it was roughly 25 seconds.

The only way is up

Over the next 6K of climbing the road surfaces were generally very good and smooth which makes for better GOing. But there was one moment when I could swear I had suffered a puncture. Game over I thought! The effort I was seemingly having to put in to maintain the same speed was higher. And the rear tyre just felt 'draggy'. It turned out to be nothing at all. Just the increased effort on a slight change in road surface which also creating a rumble effect like a flat tyre. The gap between Billy and I would close slightly and then widen again as we both hit different gradients stretching like an elastic band. He was always in my eye sight and this gave me hope but at the work rate we were both putting in to maintain our current speed I was starting to wonder what I could do to close it. So close yet so far is how I felt. 

Thoughts even started to cross my mind at this point that I would be happy with 2nd place if it finished this way. On the podium was a good result but it wasn't a win and I really did only come here for one thing. I knew it even if I didn't outwardly admit it that anything less than a win wasn't what I can here for. I wanted to win and I had to do something to change the situation because Billy wasn't appearing to fade at all.

Having fun!! Even time for a thumbs up :-)
As I passed the 4K (to GO) marker I knew then that I had to start doing more. So on every section where the gradient did lessen slightly I would change up a gear, sometimes two, and do a short surge pumping the legs. For the first few of these efforts I would then use my watch (rather than count) to see what the gap was. Around 20 seconds. A tiny in road but not much. I was actually amazed how little effect these efforts seem to have showing how strong Billy was riding. 

Of course what I could not know was much much effort Billy was putting in to. When you are following someone else and watching their motion and ride you only see and witness the outcome as they appear to effortlessly glide up (in this case) the mountain in front of you. I couldn't experience or know if Billy was also going through the same turmoil. I could see that Billy would look back occasionally to see how far back I was. Did I have him worried? Was I closing fast enough to provide any concern? I wasn't sure. 

The surges continued on every section where I could. I had stopped counting the gap between us by this point. Counting wouldn't bring it closer. Only working harder would. The switch backs continued and we rose higher still. But where once the peak loomed high above it was now achingly close. I saw the 1K marker and I knew Instantly that it was now or never. It wasn't a waiting game. This was a race up a mountain to see who could get to the top the quickest. And what a race it was turning out to be. The gap was now visibly closer in that final 1K. What I had no idea about was what Billy had left in the tank when I try my move. 

What actually surprised me in the final stages of this race is that on the surges my legs were still good. In fact I was feeling better now than when I checked my watch at the 28 minute mark. Whether in reality that was true or it was just my brain telling me that you are nearly there so it gives you permission for one effort I don't know. I think it's a mixture of both. I knew I had something in the tank but I was petrified about blowing up by going too early, or leaving it too late and not making the catch. 

Something told me to GO as I approached a switch back with a building to the left side (which surely signaled we were approaching the top). With Billy having ridden the event twice before he knew exactly what was left. I had no idea but just rode as hard as I could from this point. This was my final move. Next was the catch ~ I passed Billy to my right, I didn't look across mainly because that would take more effort and it wasn't as if we were about to engage in conversation. I also didn't want anything to distract me. I just focused on driving hard as I could up the hill.

Steepest climb in the last 1KM

With a left turn I now followed the lead motorbike which had accompanied us the entire way. I still didn't know the way but just followed and hoped that I could make the move stick. I didn't look back. I just clung on, prayed and hoped. My legs were screaming, my lungs bursting. Surely we were almost there. There was a series of very short but steep zig-zag climbs through tight twisting roads amongst dense trees and (I think) some huts. We then came out of the trees and the road widened a little, and the motorbike rider indicated to follow a path off the road. This was a tricky 90 degree left hander from tarmac onto gravel. I had to slow down to take this safely but I had a feeling that Billy wasn't directly behind me. I followed the path left and then right as it opened up on the final short slope down to the finish.

Crossing the finish line
  
I shouted with pure emotion and joy, tremendous satisfaction and extreme relief. I had won the European ElliptiGO Championships 2018. That made me happy of course. But it was the whole sense of occasion, the race, how it unfolded, how Billy had ridden that made it so special. We rode that mountain together from start to finish and we pushed each other on to a finishing time that individually I wouldn't have managed alone. You have to be pushed to bring out the very best in a performance and Billy pushed me to my absolute limit.

Bottom right: Jeremy, me, Clement, Billy

My official finish time was 1:19.08. Knocking 6 minutes off the previous course record set in 2015 of 1:25.13. Billy came in 1:19.29 just 21 seconds behind me on the SUB. Clement appeared and crossed the finish line in 1:28.21 on his ElliptiGO Long Stride. An absolutely brilliant ride. I honestly thought with the effort he was expending on the lower slopes only 15 minutes into the race that he would blow up. So it was brilliant to see him hold that position and get on the podium. 


So three different ElliptiGO models all on the podium!! That says alot about these bikes and their development. Every one of them performs. What's unique about the ElliptiGO is that the products complement each other. They aren't rivals. They aren't competing for the same space. Each one has a set of unique benefits which owners love. And that's why many ElliptiGO enhausiasts own all three models (in some case even more!!)

Full race results 
Hey hello anyone still there? ....  I'm still stuck up this mountain....  Now it was just the small matter of getting back down.... 🤣

****************************************

Huge and special thanks to Eric Bouvier and all the volunteers that supported the event. The whole weekend had a unique and special communitu feel to it. It was an honour to meet so many other ElliptiGO riders whom just like me are hugely enhausiastic about the bike we all love to ride. This event really does attract and suit all abilities. Every one of 27 riders who started finished all the way up to 3 hours as the gathering crowds cheered and encouraged them across the finish line. Many new friends were made, information on the bikes and mods shared, a chance to chat, socialize, eat good food, and generally just have an awesome weekend in an awesome setting in France. 

So if there is anyone reading this that has always thought about coming over to the European ElliptiGO Champs, or who hasn't thought about it until now but wants to then I'd encourage you!! You'll have a blast. 

Friday, 31 August 2018

August 3in3marathonchallenge training update. 4 weeks until Warsaw!!




The idea for this blog during my training for the 3in3marathonchallenge was to provide regular weekly updates. Evidently I haven't being doing that, both because of a lack of time but mainly I think because from week to week during marathon training there isn't always anything exciting to talk about. I don't believe in blogging just for blogging sake and I'd much rather have something to say and reflect on that then a continuous monotonous diatrade of thoughts. So with that in mind let's fly through the last 4 weeks since my last post. 

In short it's been a great month. And a critical one. 8 weeks out from a marathon is always crunch time where you really have to make it count. My overarching aim that has guided all my training is to maintain the focus on getting faster through speed sessions both on foot and the ElliptiGO Stand Up Bike. There was an opportunity to take part in a new event organised by a buddy of mine Elliot Hind at MK Marshalls Athletics Club. The MK5000 was touted as a PB event. Come and run 5,000 metres around the track and walk away with a PB. It was a well organised event with all participants grouped by their 5K PB time. There were at least 10 different heats with some GB runners in the final BMC (British Mile Club) heats. They were run in sub 15 minutes!! Seriously quick!! 

With a PB of 17.35 I was in heat G. Each heat had a pacer set out to run each lap in an exact time. My heat was 82 seconds per lap. Well that sounds okay I thought. Maintaining that pace would bring you home in sub 17. Now baring in mind that I'd only run sub 18 for the first time the month before chopping off a minute was at best very ambitious, or just plain daft and asking for trouble. 

In my mind I always think anything is possible so I set out to run with the pacer from the start and stick with him. There were 15 runners in my heat. Some with sub 17 PBs in the locker. This was gonna hurt. The first lap was quick. 78 seconds. The second on target pace. At the end of each lap a chap was calling out your predicted finish time based on your current pace. We got a scare on that first lap cos he said 15.XX. And that's because just 4 seconds faster multiplied by 12.5 laps does indeed bring you in 50 seconds ahead of target pace. Of course I shouldn't have let hearing that phase me cos it would calm down quickly but perhaps it did.

After six laps and half the race I was still on pace but I knew the effort was all out. To maintain the pace I had to put in a big surge on the first bend to not lose the heels of the runner in front. But it was taking a huge effort and I probably wasn't going to sustain it. And from lap 7 onwards my times fell away a little. 82 seconds on paper looks doable but physically I couldn't sustain that pace. Not only did we have the chap calling out our predicted finish time on the 200m line, we also had someone else calling out our lap times on the finish line. I heard 83, and on the next lap 85 seconds (only 3 seconds off pace but multiplied by the 6 laps left and it quickly adds up). The next lap 87. And that's when I had to dig deep and not leak any more time. I maintained that pace with two further laps of 87 seconds (5 seconds off pace), and a 78 second lap to finish with a sprint. I crossed the line in 17.23. I was very happy with the 12 second PB even if it wasn't quite what I set my sights on.

Yep it hurt that much!
Track racing is really tough!! That's the one thing I came away thinking. No where to hide. The only focus is on performance and times. It's pure running. Very different to your Saturday morning 5K Parkrun where your thoughts can drift and you can relax a little. This was very different. I enjoyed the racing aspect and pitting myself against others. 

I had the slowest PB going into Heat G. And I came 11th out of 15 runners. The winner came home in 16.45 with some very impressive and even splits. My splits (secs) were 39 (first 200 metres) then each subsequent 400m: 82, 83, 82, 82, 82, 81, 83, 85, 87, 87, 87, 78. 


So the speed sessions and competitive Parkruns have been working. I also put that to good use in the Beds AAA 10K race on a Friday evening. It had PB potential with a flat out and back course. But a Friday evening after a long working week. I felt knackered when I got there with lots of driving that week including on the Friday. But it turned out to be a good run and indeed a PB lowering my London10000 time by 6 seconds with a 36.30. In truth it probably should have been more but I slowed in the last two miles. 

With a Half Marathon race in the calendar towards the end of August I had to start getting in the long runs in the build up to that race. The speed sessions and Parkruns would have to give way to the training runs that really matter most when training for a marathon. The 20 miler. I have mixed up my long runs with some run at a continuous steady pace, whilst others a little slower and some with some real intensity to them. Running buddies in my club had posted a few runs on Strava called 6s and 7s. I asked what's that? The answer : Alternate between 6 minute per mile pace and 7s! Okay on paper that's sound simple enough to execute. Garmin at the ready I chose a short 0.8 mile flat loop in town and went for it. It was a tough session!! It stresses the body in the RIGHT way slowing down and then speeding up, and repeat. But 7 minute miling isn't slow! That's just over 3 hour marathon pace. And 6s are an all out effort. So combining these really does require 100% commitment. I actually enjoyed the session in a rewarding sense and by breaking it down you only had to focus on 1 mile at a time. So it didn't feel like a long run, just a series of repeats. I did 15 miles at that pace. The first mile at 8 mpm pace to warm up from my house. Then I tagged on 5 slow miles at the end to round off a 20 miler. Job done. 

And so with a few long runs under my belt it was time to combine my training and the bring it all together in the Half Marathon. A great distance to test everything. Pace, stamina, endurance and race day tactics. I read back my last blog and saw I already put a marker in the sand and said I wanted to run a sub 1.20 in August. And so this was that chance. To see if I could better the time I set in 2013 as a young 33 yr old. I turned 40 this month and this half was my first race as a VET40! Bring it on :-)

I had to find a half marathon race on a specific Saturday to fit my schedule. I looked around and there wasn't too much on offer. But there was one that looked interesting. An event organised by RunThrough who use the Lee Valley Park Vélo circuit at the Olympic Park to put on a series of races all on the same 1 mile track at the same time. On offer was the Half, followed by a 10 miler, 10K, 5K and 1 mile race. Perfect I thought. Knock out even paced mile splits over 13 laps. This was right up my street

Nice medal reflecting all the race distances
I like destination races and whilst this was only East London I don't enter that many races in the year. I was excited and ready to execute my plan. Sub 1.20 requires 6.05 per mile. So that's what I set out to do. The first lap - 5.35! LOL. Okay Stuart so much for even pacing! What the hell was that. I wasn't looking at my watch so ran as I felt and had no idea it was that quick. But I calmed down by lap 2 and started knocking out consistent 5.55-6.03 laps.

Lee Valley Park Half Marathon start
When I registered I thought the 1 mile lap was pancake flat but it turns out it had a few cheeky inclines. Very shallow and not long but enough to keep you focused and not over-cook it on the ups. It also kept me fully engaged every lap from start to finish. Never bored. I told a friend I had entered this race and he's reply was he couldn't imagine anything worst than running in circles. Everyone is different. But I loved it. There was also the added element of more and more runners pouring onto the track as each race started with the mile race setting off last which had kids everywhere! It's not often you are running a half-marathon trying to set a PB and passing people half your height! It was a fun experience for that reason.

As the laps ticked by the effort to maintain the same pace was rising as I had to weave around other runners but I remained stead-fast. Unlike on the track at the MK5000 where I knew the pace wasn't sustainable and I would slow. Here I felt confident that I could maintain the pace to the finish which spurred me on. 

There was one issue though! Not my pace but the length of each lap. Advertised as exactly 1 mile per lap (and perhaps it is) but the Garmin had other ideas and it was coming up long. That matters because if you are running by pace and mile splits but those splits are not in fact 1 mile splits but 1.05 miles then the pace is exaggerated. And my finish time won't be what I think it is. 

And so that first quick mile of 5.35 was absolutely necessary to help me towards a sub 1.20. I crossed the line with a race time of 1:19.41. Get in!!! A new PB. I finished 4th overall and 1st VET40. If I had run that first lap dictated by my Garmin and not by how I felt I would not have broken 1.20. It would have been Brighton all over again missing it probably by seconds. So that's also a very good lesson to take from this race to be confident in your own ability and judge your pace based on what 'feels' right not the numbers on your watch.

My mile splits
Despite those small inclines it was a flat course! 



Certainly putting in the effort (HR chest strap data) 

A good morning's work at a great event
Strava Link here https://www.strava.com/activities/1795779511

This was a perfect race for me. At the perfect time in my training schedule. 4 weeks to go until Warsaw now and all the signs are good. 

I'm writing this blog post on my phone sat on a train as I watch the French countryside whizz by. I'm on the way to Aix-les-Bains South of Lyon to take part in my first ElliptiGO race. I've owned my ElliptiGO for nearly 8 years now but have never actually raced it. Audax is not racing. That's cycle touring with strict time limits but you are not racing each other. On Sunday 2nd September I will line up alongside 50 other ElliptiGO riders to take on a 13 mile hill climb up Mount Revard. It promised to be a fun weekend which is the main reason for coming over. The French ElliptiGO scene is full of eccentrics who adore their cycling and hills! The organiser Eric has organised this race for the last 5 years. I've always wanted to take part and now I'm here. And it happens to fit in perfectly with my marathon training. 

Wish me luck! 

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

3 in 3 Marathon Challenge Update - Warsaw 10 weeks away!


I wanted to provide an update on how training is going for the Warsaw marathon which takes place on the 30th September 2018. 

After the Brighton Marathon in April (3:00.05) which was the first of the #3in3marathonchallenge I took a little break before getting straight back into training.  Focusing on shorter reps and increasing speed with some key goals to keep me focused and motivated. Goals which included shooting for sub18 in Parkrun (5KM),  and I was also looking forward to the London 10,000 which took place in May. 

I'm happy to report that things have gone well. In the London 10,000 I ran my first sub 37 minutes 10K and a few weeks after that I ran the Aylesbury Parkrun in a time of 17:35. This was only the second time I ran sub 18 so was very pleased to get in the mid 17s and I'm now looking to see whether I can break 17 minutes before the end of August. That will be tough! 




As far as my training volume has been concerned I haven't been running many miles averaging around 20-25 miles per week max. A lot of my harder training has been on my ElliptiGO Arc too over short distances. This allows me to keep the training intensity very high but with the ElliptiGO's Zero Impact nature it's extremely kind on the body. Results on the ElliptiGO have also been very positive. I've managed to set new ElliptiGO PBs at 5 miles, 10 miles and 20 miles distance which are the fastest known times in the world (although we are quite a small community)!  There is a online leaderboard for the Global ElliptiGO Riders Club (GERC) and it's on here where I can compete daily with 100s of other riders on all continents. It's a great motivator and I'm not ashamed to admit that I am stupidly competitive when it comes to topping leaderboards :-) 





St Albans Half Marathon in June - 1:22

Warsaw marathon is now just 10 weeks away so having focused on the shorter faster stuff and being very pleased with progress, I have set out my training schedule for the next 10 weeks which you can see below. 

S = Slow
H = Hard
M = Marathon pace (6.30mpm)

1- 7 / 15s / 5s / 10h / 8m   [45]
2- 18s / 5m / 5 / 12m / 5h  [45]
3- 18s / 8h / 5s / 12m         [43]
4- 20s / 5s / 10h /                [35]
5- 20s / 5h / 12m / 8s         [45]
6- 20s / 5h / 10m / 5s         [40]
7- GO Mt.R race / 8s / 8m / 8s   [24]
8- 18m / 5s / 15s / 5m        [43]
9- 18s / 5s / 10m / 5h         [38]
10- 10s / 5m / 3s                 [18]
11- Warsaw Marathon

My marathon goal is to try and run a 6:30 minute mile pace at Warsaw which is quite ambitious but with how my training is going I believe it to be both realistic and challenging (which is the perfect blend to keep one highly motivated in training). It will all depend of course on how the next six to eight weeks of training goes and whether I can continue to progress especially when I start running 18+ miles.

My very next distance and time goal (hopefully this week) will be to run my first sub 1 hour 10 miles. I think that will be a very good marker and show that I can hold my form and pace over that distance and then gradually work that speed into my longer runs as well.  Perhaps with a half marathon planned for mid-late August where I'd like to run a sub1.20 for the first time. Let's just hope it starts to cool down before then! Although I have to admit that I am also enjoying the hot weather training and would never complain about the amazing summer we have been having.
Remember that whilst I'm doing what I love I'm also looking to raise awareness and funds for a local Church project that I'm involved in. Warsaw is part of my #3in3marathonchallenge to run 3 marathons all in 3 hours or under. And all proceeds will raise money for the #goodshepherdcommunitybusproject. More details about the project can be found on my fundraising page 


And if you have any questions at all about the #3in3marathonchallenge or the #goodshepherdcommunitybusproject then I'd love to hear from you.