Category Archives: Running

London Marathon 2014: unofficial race report from reluctant runner

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After working myself up into a bit of a tizz on Friday, it was a relief to have Saturday afternoon to carefully pack my bags, pin on my number (in the right position – that took a couple of goes), write a pre-marathon blog post, and generally get myself sorted out.

Scoffed a high volume of pasta for tea, but didn’t sleep particularly well so it was a relief when the alarm went off at 6am and could just get on with things. Quick dither about whether or not to wash my hair (obviously no one else would care but ‘Standards, Katharine’ I could hear someone saying, so did so, and then tried to quietly and quickly dry it in the kitchen to avoid waking everyone else up). Beetled off to the railway station where, suddenly, there were loads of people with red plastic marathon bags (the first one I saw nervously puffing away on a fag (was that really a good idea??)), and a few other people wondering why the train was so full of people in Lycra. I’d queried going on so early – theoretically getting to Greenwich at 8.30 – but it was entirely sensible as the trains from Charing Cross were rammed, and the one we were on (I’d met up with a couple of local girls in Paddington) was delayed, and actually the venue is so massive it takes a while to orientate yourself.

Having finally found the red start (for charity / slow runners it seemed) we finished our preps: for me plasters and sponge round my semi-healed blisters; vaseline around the edges of my brand new control knickers, suncream all over. Socks and shoes on, then remember calf supports, so off and then on again, by which time my companion (the other was speedy and had gone to the blue start) heard the tannoy announce that we only had 4 minutes to get our plastic duffel bags on the trailers, and so we had a mad dash to hand them in, which got the adrenaline going. Then there was a dither about loos, but the queue for the ladies was so long it appeared to have no end, so we got in place instead, and proceeded to continue to lurk about there for about 25 minutes after the starting gun had gone off. Thankfully there were also loos just before start, so I and a bunch of other people beetled off there BEFORE crossing the start line. VERY cunning, I thought.

Then, in summary, followed 13 miles of hot running south of the river; amazing drumming resonating under the A102; brief excitement when seeing family at Tower Bridge; running straight past a friend yelling my name (but so many people were shouting ‘Kate’ (et al) you gave up trying to spot someone you actually knew); a weird endless Kafka-esque period running hotly around Docklands and the East End (unnerving coming back down The Highway seeing the odd lone runner and the clearing up team (reminded me too closely of Junior 4 obstacle race when they were setting out the new one while I was still struggling with hopping along in a pillowcase)); then finally becoming overwhelmed by the noise and reading endless emotional stories on the back of people’s vests and putting my music on at about mile 18 which made the world of difference, and carried me through along the Embankment (amazing once you’d hit about 23 miles, and you knew that it’d then be 24, and then 25, and that’d the LAST ONE!); finishing in a sprint finish for the last 10 metres up to the finish line. Then I said to the guy next to me, ‘Is that it? Can we stop running now?’ and burst into tears, with some helper saying, ‘I know, it’s emotional, it doesn’t matter what time you do.’ I suppose he was looking at the clock that showed the starting gun had gone off about 5 and a half hours before when he made that comment, but NO IT DOES NOT MATTER, I had just run 26.2 miles.

In an ideal world I would have collapsed into the arms of a loved one and howled, but actually by the time I found them in the meeting place emotions were more in check and we were dealing with the practicalities of tired dusty children and closed tube entrances.

So, 48 hours on, thoughts on the run.

#1: I am, I admit, absolutely GUTTED I didn’t make it in less than 5 hours. My official time was 05:02:02. My pace in training had been suggesting about 04:40 would be good, but I’d hoped that that gave me enough buffer to make it under 5. So I’m currently tormented by thoughts such as:

  • If I hadn’t stopped to speak to the family I might have done it. But I read of someone whose children were distraught when she beetled on by, so that was pretty non negotiable.
  • If I hadn’t stopped twice to pop some paracetamol I might have done it. But the heat (my worst nightmare) was making my head throb even at about mile 5. It would have made the whole experience really unpleasant (as opposed to the walk in the park I found it…).
  • If I hadn’t taken a loo stop at about mile 25 I might have done it. It cost me about 7-8 minutes (about 6 minutes queuing, and then 2 minutes swaying slightly in a confined space searching for a tissue). But I felt I’d already tested my pelvic floor quite significantly and just wanted to try to minimise the risk of embarrassment downstream. THIS IS WHY PAULA RADCLIFFE WON IT AND I DID NOT.
  • If I’d actually got to grips with my frigging Garmin watch I’d have had a better idea of how I was doing. Most of the time during training I used my iPhone for music AND endomondo tracker, but it couldn’t do both for runs of over about 3 hours, so I’d invested ambitiously in this ridiculous gadget that is too big for my wrist (hence sweatband) and totally unintuitive to operate. Thinking I was on top of it, I pressed start when I crossed the line, but on the interface I was monitoring a) the time b) my average speed and c) something else not too helpful. What I should really have shown was a stopwatch, to encourage me to get my arse in gear – particularly around mile 25 when it seemed to go particularly slowly (but that was when we went through Blackfriars underpass so maybe that messed it up).

HOWEVER in the process of writing that last paragraph I have logged on to my Garmin data and all its sins are forgiven as it has quite cleverly measured my mile speeds AND my moving speeds. So I can see that paracetamol cost me 10 seconds, family about 50 seconds (really? I was jogging around as I talked…) and loo stop at least 5 minutes.

So can I hold myself up at being under 5 hours? Please??

#2: See how mad it makes you? It’s a bit like having a baby: totally obsessing for months leading up to it, a long period of physical effort, then exhilaration, adulation, and a bit of anticlimax. I keep telling people not to let me do it again. I shall channel my 5-hour angst into trying to do sub-2hr half marathons instead. Much more realistic, and tend to hurt less.

#3: The medal is really good and heavy and people are impressed. The t-shirt is one size fits all (and there were all: including fridges, a Womble, and a million bloody rhinos which I never seemed to be able to overtake, there was always another one on the horizon), and is recreational rather than running. Pretty hopeless, as I’d hoped to be able to wear it out locally on my next run to show all the people I see regularly that I was Officially a Runner (rather than a Pretender).

#4 The weather was my worst nightmare, ie v hot sun, but the sprinkly showers along the course were good and I was just v relieved I’d remembered sunglasses (and paracetamol).

#5 Music made such a different on the last stretch. Although there were loads of fantastic bands (drummers in tunnels were particularly amazing) with great songs you only caught a snatch of them as you ran by. I was worried that I would seem ungrateful to the crowds to have my headphones in, but as that is how I’ve been running for the last n years, I had them in from the start as a sort of comfort blanket, and only turned the music on further down the line. It put a spring in my step when I really needed it, and gave me a rhythm to run to. I could still hear everything going on outside but it just helped create a zone that made a difference when it was all just getting overwhelming. I’d already been in tears 3 times before we even started listening to the reasons why my companion was doing the run, and if you really started to read the backs of all the t-shirts, with photos of loved ones who’d clearly died in tragic circumstances, you’d turn into a gibbering wreck. In this context, it was a blessed relief to spend a mile or so running behind a Womble.

#6 The results. As per above I am obviously far more competitive about something I’ve got no natural inclination to do (ie move fast) than I expected. Virgin post a whole load of data online (frustratingly with splits in kms rather than miles), which aside from driving home that I took MORE THAN 5 HOURS, also helpfully point out that in the rankings I came in at 26,022. So instead of dwelling on this, I try to cling to the fact that I was still faster than 9,744 other people, ahead of 20% of male runners (I can believe this; towards the end I passed more and more fit looking blokes who were walking as if this was something they’d signed up to one night in the pub but wasn’t quite going to plan), and (and for me this is the killer stat, as I really tried to put some welly into the last bit), over the final 7.2k (so about 4.5 miles), only 3 other runners passed me, while I PASSED 1,404.

Thank you, and goodnight.

PS: if you’re actually looking for helpful tips on the marathon rather than my insane meanderings, I found the following useful:

PPS: didn’t (and never have) Hit the Wall. Though perhaps this is because I never actually Hit the Accelerator. Did however fuel up quite well, to the extent that the Lucozade gels started repeating on me and I thought I was going to throw up on the Highway.

PPPS: All of this is put further into context after someone dies: and with all the other runners and their families my thoughts are with the family of Robert Berry. It was an amazing day, and I hope he went peacefully, having enjoyed a great run and London looking at its finest. His JustGiving page is here.

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One year on: London marathon to go

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So I note with some amazement it’s been almost a year since my last post. The wedding happened but as was probably evident from my last post there was a high degree of stress around the organisation of it and although we had a lovely day and honeymoon, I still tend to burst into tears whenever I think of it (and not in a good way). I think it was mostly a function of having FAR TOO long to think about it. And losing the wedding planner (so suddenly having to make all decisions myself) (I’ll not even pretend to include DH in that process. I went mad).

Anyway, that dealt with, and in replacement for child #3, I managed to get myself in to a sponsored place for the London marathon (tomorrow, as I write). I’m running in recognition of Victorian nurse, Kate Marsden (which is where all my blogging efforts are currently going), and I’ve almost reached my £2,000 sponsorship target (though feel free to donate…).

Having assiduously followed an Asics.com online marathon training plan (which I kept rescheduling when I found there were too many long runs until it protested that I was running out of time), I’ve run up to 20 miles (round and round Dorney Olympic running lake, including an hour through hail storms). I have vacillated for weeks about what to wear and am consciously making the cardinal mistake of wearing new underwear tomorrow which Holds Me In under some very loose shorts. Rather upsettingly, I’ve put on colossal amounts of weight during training (none of this muscle business, it’s totally fat) and my dressed up body feels like a half deflated balloon with elastic bands round it. I’ll be wearing fluorescent yellow socks, shocking pink calf warmers, an orange sponsored top, and a red wristband under my otherwise unwearably uncomfortable Garmin watch. People say you shouldn’t worry about what you look like but psychologically it would help to feel a bit less self-conscious. But what can I do? Couldn’t find an orange wrist band anywhere…

It’s also been alarming to find myself getting slower through training than faster. There was a period of time when I was running some miles in 8mins something (fast for me), but that’s long ago, and now I struggle to hit less than 10. I’ll definitely be averaging 10:30 to 11 tomorrow, and it may be worse if the semi-healed blisters on my big toe stage a protest. I’ve taken to running long distances with a sponge tube around my toe which protects it quite successfully from blistering, but has the side effect of very slightly throwing my body out of its normal alignment. So another dilemma for tomorrow is sponge or no sponge?

Finally, I’ve had to resort to the purchase of a pelvic floor trainer (for this blame DS#1 and #2 totally) and with monthly hormonal changes also scheduled for tomorrow (male readers, please just feel so relieved you’re not in this situation), frankly if I manage to get round without any major embarrassing leakage it’ll be a result.

So off now to repack my bag for the millionth time. See you on the other side…

On running my first half marathon

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Well, we did it, and Sister-in-Law (to be) and I have spent the rest of the day congratulating ourselves on basically how amazing we are. We ran something with the word marathon in the title. I did! Freaking fantastic! And we didn’t die. And we even did it faster than we expected (about 2:17). Did I mention we were amazing?

So in summary, this is how this absolutely fantastic feat was achieved by someone who was still trying to finish the obstacle course at primary school when they were setting up the next race, and at senior school gave sport up as soon as possible in exchange for Ancient Greek. Note, gentle readers, moving fast does not come easily to roaringkate.

  • Training: I would have died without this. This superduper half-marathon training plan was surprisingly achievable, and the final week of easy 30 min runs/”rest” cancelled out in my mind the struggle I’d had trying to do the 2 hour run – the longest in the plan – a couple of weeks’ before. So by the time today came, my runner’s knee had subsided from previous exertions, my twingey hip had stopped twingeing, and I basically felt reasonably normal.
  • Food: last night’s carb fest of pasta with roasted veg (SiL is veggy) plus Nigella’s pear and chocolate pudding did the job in that department. This morning, after a brief deliberation as to whether or not to change my routine, I had cereal and toast as normal, about 2 hours before, and then a banana about half an hour before. Everyone on the running blogs had also mentioned GU food gels as key to any long distance running, and we’d bought a couple each yesterday when picking up our registration gear. My 3-year old, who was stationed at the 4mile/9mile points (the route was a double loop) was charged with handing them out as we went past. I have to say they are pretty disgusting, basically sachets of sweet thick baby food, HOWEVER I do think they helped me keep my pace up once the first hour was over (I had lemon and orange flavours which were palatable; SiL had strawberry and banana but couldn’t eat it..). They were certainly better than the jelly babies people were handing out. I adore jelly babies, and nearly over swerved and fell over once I saw they were on offer, but as I also breathe through my mouth when running, trying to chew and swallow and breathe and run all at the same time was pretty tricky, and not worth the angst.
  • Runners IBS and Other Problems in That Department: again following other bloggers’ tips, I took an Imodium Instant just before we set off for the start, which successfully prevented any cramps through the race (and probably for the next few days…). No such luck in the pelvic floor department however – which frankly is pretty nonexistent despite endless clenching. Just relieved that on a day to day basis I am not leaking like a sieve.
  • Pray for the right weather: We were very fortunate in that we had fantastic weather: coolish and cloudy. Had it been hot and bright, the experience would have been completely different, and there would have been a lot of sweating and swearing and quite probably abandonment.
  • Run with an appropriate partner: I had been afraid that SiL was going to pelt off without me once the first, manageable, hour was up, but actually we established a pretty reasonable pace (for us, not the winning runners, who managed to lap us) (we were averaging 10.x min miles), and we definitely kept each other’s momentum up.
  • Get support: I never imagined I’d be as pleased as I was to see DH and the DSs (the younger of which had been hauled out of his cot with chicken pox and was less than impressed). Their waving and cheers were just delightful, and when DS1 pelted out from the crowd to run over the finish line with me it brought tears to my (slightly lunatic, see below) eyes.
  • Find your pacemakers and the opposition: For the first half of the run we kept in our sights two young blokes who were running in t-shirts and cargo shorts and looked like they’d just got out of bed, and who seemed reassuringly amateur. We eventually passed them. The rest of the run was focused on beating a non-athletic looking lady in a Slimming World t-shirt and her fitter running companion. We’d singled these two out because they kept on stopping to walk, which did not seem fair, AND THEN WOULD RUN PAST US. Eventually we made a tactical push when they paused at a water station, putting what we’d thought was sufficient grey tarmac between us never to see them again, until the fitter one overtook us with about a mile to go. By that point though I Did Not Care, and resigned myself to eating her dust. However, they did serve as an approriate incentive to keep the pace up through the second half.
  • Run for a reason: I can’t actually remember why SiL and I decided to do this (most I’d ever run before ‘competitively’ was a 5k), but when people asked if they should sponsor me, and I said no, they asked why I was doing it then. But yesterday I thought I should do it in recognition of a friend’s father, who has just died in very tragic circumstances, and was a lover of life, and that felt entirely right. And indeed, when it all got really hard work, after about 10 miles, I thought of them both, and it kept me going. More profoundly motivating than the pathological desire to beat Slimming World lady…

So that’s about it. The race was started by a canon which gave us all a bit of a jump (unlike the Great North Run today which began with a Mo/Bolt stretch routine), and we were slightly alarmed to see that it was indeed a race. No fun run here my friends – no one in fancy dress, or happy to amble round. In fact when we went to find our ‘pen’ at the start line (ie to bunch us in with all the other guys who were looking to do a similar time), our target time (2:30) turned out to be the final one available. We were right at the back. But did not finish last! Did I mention we were amazing?

My final observation is that however fit and slim and athletic you think you look, in practice you (at least I) look red faced, in need of at least 2 more sports bras, and covered with still a substantial amount of what I like to think of as baby fat, but is more like roaringkate fat. And I need to work on those lunatic expressions…

PS When I next saw my mother after this event, I asked her how amazingly she thought we’d done. She commented yes, very good, but how curious that SiL looks as fresh as a daisy, while you… hmmm… perhaps it’s the hair..? Yes alright mother. I was wearing my lucky headband, and I get a red face. I’ll go and rock to and fro in a corner now…

On one week to go until the half-marathon

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Obviously my failure to post ANYTHING of interest, or even anything full stop, for the last few months has been down to me spending every waking hour pounding the tarmac in preparation for next weekend. Not.

In reality it’s been down to a mixture of work, family, work, more family, and quite a lot of just general fatigue and grab-an-early-night when you can. Nevertheless I have doggedly maintained my half-marathon training, according to The Plan, with a blind faith that if I do what The Plan says then somehow I’ll get round the course without collapsing/major disaster. My previous post on this topic sounded quite optimistic, but with one week to go, I feel less so…

  • The statement that I was regularly running 4.5 miles was proved wrong once I finally got going with my Endomondo iPhone app and discovered that my estimates via Google Maps were about half a mile or so out (the wrong way).
  • A bout of tonsillitis and then a heavy cold knocked me out for about 3 weeks in July, just when The Plan was getting going (notably a week after the previous post). In retrospect, I think that is the time I should really have been making some strides (ha ha) towards improving my endurance and speed. As a consequence there hasn’t really been much of a step-change (dear god) in my performance. I’ve improved incrementally, I think, but no where near enough to manage 13 miles running.
  • Training a couple of weeks ago with my sister-in-law, also doing the run, was good in the sense that it helped having someone to run with (and somewhere nice – Jersey’s Corbiere to St Aubins railway walk – sans dogs and cars), but highlighted how much fitter she is. On the other hand she does have Pilates classes, a personal trainer at the gym, and no kiddiwinks.
  • On the topic of kiddiwinks, the pelvic floor is not holding up terribly well, at least not for runs longer than about an hour. I shall have to see someone about this after the event; needless to say I thank technology for inventing moisture-wicking fabrics and various absorbent devices. All totally embarrassing, and even worse when combined with IBS-style cramps, which reduce me to a speed of about 15mins/mile.
  • I still hate dogs, I’m afraid. The river path at one point is covered with dog walkers, all of whom stand directly on the path I’m running on gassing to their mates, and whose dogs run straight at my legs, causing me to swerve at the last minute and risk knee injuries. I want to shout at them, ‘Do you not appreciate how amazing it is that I’m doing this? Could you please be a bit more helpful? It’s taken all my efforts just to get off my arse and get out of here, don’t make it any harder’. Only I haven’t got the breath.

So that’s about it. The furthest … sorry, the longest (The Plan is based on time, rather than distances), I’ve run so far is two hours, and I must say that the second hour of that I was dead on my feet. I remember at one point staggering down a path, and some walkers ahead hearing my fairy footsteps behind them and very NICELY (note this, dog walkers) moving to the side for me to go by. By the time I actually went past them, however, they’d had time to sit down and read half a novel. I had to apologise for being so slow.

Two hours may be OK, but I’ll prob need to do another hour on top of that to get over the finish line. I’ve already briefed my sister in law that I don’t want to run with her for the second half, as I know she’ll be secretly planning a sprint finish, and that’ll just make me want to lie down and weep.

The only benefit of the whole thing at the moment, as far as I can see, is that I now have an excuse to stuff my face with carbs for the rest of this week. Chocolate muffins, here I come.

PS Performance from today’s 1 hour run posted above, for reference. I have NO IDEA if this is good enough for a run (bearing in mind I slow down dramatically after an hour). But there we go. I like the running image at the top, makes me feel v athletic.