Thursday, 21 May 2009

Marlborough Downs Challenge results are in!

Hooray the Marlborough Downs Challenge results have finally been posted on the web! So am I a mid packer or a back of the packer!!?? Well it turns out that I finished in 44th place out of 96 finishers with an official time of 5hrs 39min 43secs :-) which puts me in the top half! nice.

Also two photos of me in the MDC linked here (losing my shoe in the mud!! argh!) and here (running up to Cherhill monument) courtesy of Nick Ham. Thanks Nick.

3000m race

quite what possessed me to run in a 3000m race five days after my first Ultra I don't know... nevertheless I'm always up for trying something different and i guess this was different! I'm not a track runner. In fact I can't actually remember the last time I ran competitively on the track... it was probably at secondary school.

The event itself was called the 4 DA's challenge and was something organised through work. They were despriate for runners to compete... well they would have to be to ask me! It was a low key affair, and friendly to boot. With four Government departments battling it out to see who could take gold. I think Defra are the reigning champions. I was representing DCLG (Department for Communities and Local Government).

I arrived at 1pm with plenty of time to warm up on this sunny afternoon in North London. However not knowing the start times for the different events I soon found out that the 3000m was not due to start until 4pm. Such a long wait wasn't very appealing so I decided to past the time and run in the 800m too. This way I could check out the competition as most were running in multiple events, whilst also getting my race legs on. The gun went and the pack fired off at a tremendous pace and not one I was use to. But I wasn't about to to make the classic mistake of trying to stay with them so I plodded along at my own pace in last place just hanging on to the back of the second pack whilst the first pack of 4 runners stormed ahead. In the second lap I could see those in front were tireing, and with that I pushed a little harder, caught up, and passed 3 runners in the final 200m. I was happy with that. It was never about featuring in the race but about getting the pace right which I did so job done. Finish time was 2min 32secs

The 1500m was next, but I decided to take a pass on that and save what had for the 3000m which soon came around. The 3000m was run with men and women which provided a good mix of all abilities. About 20 runners in total. This was 7 1/2 laps around the track with a horrible head wind on the back straight. The gun went and we were off. It went much like the 800m with the leaders soon shooting off at an unsustainable pace (for me). I'd already made the decision before the race to try and run a consistent 6 min/mile pace (aided by my garmin) and so I stuck to this plan, which really paid off. As the laps wore on I started to pick off runners, and this spurred me on. One by one another fell as I kept the pace going to the end with an average of 5:45min/miling. I finished in 5th place in 10min 51secs which I was well happy with. Not bad for a non-track runner I thought.

This was an good experience and one which I thoroughly enjoyed. However mostly because it was different. However the thought of swapping this for my long runs on the woods is not so appealing!! So back to the normal routine at the weekend :-) Just waiting for next weeks training schedule from my coach Mad Dog.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Marlborough Downs Challenge...

I did it!! I completed by first Ultra!! The event was a 33 mile run called the Marlborough Downs Challenge across some great English countryside in the sunny, rainy, wind swept hills of Wiltshire.

I planned this race purposely because it followed only three weeks after London, providing another opportunity to put all that hard training to good use, whilst also giving myself enough time to recover from the pounding that my legs and feet took on the streets of London.

And all in all it worked!! The race plan went great.... I employed a 9 min/1min run/walk strategy from the very start of the race. This was advised by my new online running Coach Mad Dog ( who provided me with some great advice in the lead up to this race. The run/walk strategy worked a treat!!!!... Unlike London where the miles and the pace soon took their toll on me, this was an altogether calmer affair. I just went into this race with the one goal (actually two goals) 1 - to enjoy it, and 2 - finish it! I did that order.

The pace I ran throughout meant that even at mile 30 I was still feeling fresh as a daisy (comparatively speaking) and running the same pace as I was at the beginning of the race. The course was also mostly unmarked which added some extra spice to the pot! It required constant checking of the detailed route description that I had attached to my camelpak in a font size just a tad to small to read easily on the run! (note for next time - BIGGER FONT). I even brought a compass but luckily didn't have to use it. The navigational aspect certainly slowed me down a bit (a good thing probably!)...but it was actually a very enjoyable part of the event. And whilst there were a few wrong turns made most of the time there was always a person behind you to shout...WRONG WAY...TURN RIGHT! Thanks Britnick for your company on-route and navigational support on the tricky sections, and also to the two brothers; one of whom had run this event 7 times before and who could probably have run the course blindfolded, and the other brother who was just along for the ride. And what a ride!!

The best parts for me (there were many) was the amazing scenery which was picture postcard stuff, the friendliness of the event volunteers who even at the most wind swept of check points out in the middle of nowhere greeted you with a smile and plate of custard creams (which I couldn't eat - see 'blog title' - more on this in a future blog perhaps), and lastly the sheer enjoyment that comes from running such a long way. I can't describe what this feels like, well I could, but not right now... its enough to say that I will be back for more... In fact I'm just getting started...

I finished in 5hrs40min (still waiting for offical timing and placing) which I was extremely pleased with. I may even have got a negative split but haven't analysed the garmin data yet to find out.

Its a great feeling to get the first ultra under my belt and I can't wait til the next one!!! This will be a 52.4m ultra (Kent 50 mile Challenge) on 19 July which I better start training for now... after a week recovery that is!

London Marathon 2009...

I will say straight away that I need to find a new mantra because 'finish strong' was not what happened here, or what I would use to describe how I was feeling at mile 20... I won't try to build the suspense to my finish time so here it is.... I finished in 3h42m16s. Short of my original 3h30m target time, and way short of my more recently revised 3h15m finish time, which I am now cursing, because had I stuck to 3h30m I think I would of definitely achieved it. argh!

As it was I went out at a reasonable pace 7:45min/mile for the first 10 miles as planned, then knowing I had to up the pace to have a fighting chance of getting anywhere near a 3h15m finish I upped it to 7:30m/m from mile 10. This unfortunately was probably my undoing later in the race. My pace dropped slightly in mile 17 & 18, and then BANG... mile 19... ARGH there it was...the dreaded WALL!! Something us runners have read all about but not really something I believed existed! I always told myself it was all in the mind... and thought that I could plough on at the same intended pace to reach my end goal...but my legs didn't agree and let me know it in no uncertain terms. I felt completely helpless and could it seems do nothing about it... By going all out for my ultimate goal of 3h15m I had unwittingly, now put what I thought was going to be a certainty (finishing in under 3h30m) in extreme jeopardy.

And as the last 6 miles wore on it become painfully apparent that 3h30m was indeed slipping away. How could this happen, i asked myself? All my training pointed to the fact that I was indeed well capable of finishing sub 3h30m. However you are only as good as you are on the day, and unfortunately this wasn't going to be my day... I had left my best run in training weeks before, rather than saving it for the big day itself. Mile 23 was particularly tough (a 11 minuter!!), made tougher still by the fact that the 8 min/mile pace makers steamed past me at what felt like a sprinter pace. I attempted in vain to keep up as I clinged on to the hope of my sub 3:30 dream however it was quickly apparent that even with the added motivation of seeing my dreams laid out in front of me, the two pace makers and the hordes of runners that followed them disappeared off into the distance.

I kinda knew already that I didn't have enough to keep up with them, and with this realisation came a slight sense of calmness, and contentment. Despite my current plight I was still in the race, I was upward and mobile and was still moving forward towards the finish line. This restored some perspective to my thoughts, and I started to enjoy myself again. I stopped worrying about my time, and took in all the wonderful sights and sounds of London, including the amazing supporters that lined the streets, 10 deep in places. At one point a guy shouted out "Disco Stu want a beer" which he handed out to me, and I kindly accepted the offer taking a gulp of warm beer which tasted 100 times better than those energy gels I had been taking (a note to makers of Carb BOOM - beer flavoured energy gels are definitely the way to go!! :-P) And so the final miles ticked by at a snails pace. I was still extremely disappointed that my dream was in tatters (something I had been training 6 months to achieve), but nevertheless as I bounded down Birdcage walk in the final straight with my wife and 10 month old daughter cheering on from the sidelines I was happy and smiling, and so very very glad that it was now all over!

3:42.16 was a new PB. 15 minutes quicker than my previous best set in London in 2006 so I have to be happy with that. There was much I learned about marathon racing on that hot hot Sunday in London, 1) Never underestimate the marathon distance even when your training has gone well. 26.2 miles is a long way, and whilst a cliché its never over until its over and the last 6 miles are as hard if not harder than the first 20 miles combined... 2) Set one target time and stick to it! Because training went so well I confidently upped my target time to 3:15 which I felt was realistic, however this wasn't the case and as a result of this over-confidence I took my eye off my original goal to only see it slip through my fingers... 3) Its only one run, so don't build it up in your mind to be more than this. In short treat it as a training run and run it like you would any other. 4) big races attract big crowds in terms of spectators (a good thing) and lots and lots and lots of runners (and bad thing) who all seemingly get in your way, break your rhythm, and effect your focus. Want to achieve a super quick time...choose a small low key event not arguably the biggest marathon in the World!! 5) Want to have the experience of a lifetime?...then run the london marathon! it rocks! The fact that I did run a PB in the biggest marathon in the world and finished in 6,236th place out of 36,000 starters, whilst not being what I originally set out to achieve time wise, was indeed a great journey, and one which I will take a lot from.