Running, not so much

There is a sentence in my post-marathon write-up which kept coming back to me around the time of the Bristol 10km. “After those 10 miles it would be the last 10km and I could run that distance even feeling unwell”. Nearly a month after I wrote that, I am not so sure at how much it holds true. It was true on the day I wrote it and it felt true while I was running in London, but today it doesn’t feel so believable.

I have run twice since the marathon. I ran the 10k on May 9th and I ran 3km around the harbour last weekend. I didn’t manage to run the whole way around. I ran to Cumberland Rd and started to walk when I passed Phidias Neo Classical marble merchants. They must be Greek I say to myself whenever I pass by. I have yet to go and find out. Nevertheless and distractions aside, the running wasn’t physically tough but I just couldn’t do it.

I managed to run the 10k at a speed of 1:00:17. For me, that is an official personal best so I was quite happy with it. I say official because I’ve run 10k in under an hour outside of a race. I had been hoping to do that again but I’m not complaining. About 3.5km into the run my right foot started hurting and while it didn’t slow me down, it also wasn’t of much use in my attempts to speed up.

The ankle injury was a remnant of the marathon aches and pains so I didn’t mind too much. For about 10 days it had hurt but less and less. On the morning of the race it felt fine. All better now luckily but I still don’t have the heart to go out and run.

Someone wrote on Twitter that ‘post-marathon life was fun’ and they mentioned some wine they would be enjoying. I was surprised. It doesn’t feel fun for me. I felt quite aimless for a bit and now that’s become a slight curiousity about what happens next.

I entered the ballot for the 2011 London Marathon but there’s a lot of competition for places. I wondered about whether to try to do the New York Marathon this year but that idea didn’t catch on. I’d like to do it one day so maybe next year I will enter the ballot. The Loch Ness marathon sounded nice when I first researched it last winter. I’ll wait to see what happens though and if I get a bit more excited about it I think I’d enjoy training for it.

I think that this may be the come down from the training and the worry and the travel and the running. I hope that wasn’t the only highlight of my year because there are still over six months left. However my enthusiasm needs a little bit of work. Just waiting and seeing for now.

London Marathon, how many miles?

The cruellest people on Sunday, the 25th of April, weren’t the old people with their arms out like pterodactyls, they weren’t the drunks offering support by getting lairy with crying runners, they weren’t the ones dropping their mostly full water bottles in the middle of the road or the ones walking with their friends side by side and blocking off most part of the course. No, none of them were the cruellest. The ones I’m talking about were the spectators handing out aniseed flavoured jelly beans. Joyful, gleeful laughter characterised these people as they stood with their outstretched arms offering black malignant little morsels of candy. I gave them evil glares and waited for the next person with the tasty Haribo or Jelly Belly treats. This was the first time I’d taken up the offer of sweets from the sidelines and I found it a fun little distraction to look out for the next bowl or outstretched hand. I was also overcome with a craving to consume as much as possible. A woman was eating a sandwich and I briefly considered how that would taste along the way. I didn’t reach for it though.

Random thoughts throughout the 05:10:11: I never want to see another woman’s bottom in lycra, ever. No more orange Lucozade (I left my last half-full bottle on the train). The Marathon goody bag was the best one yet. Could not believe people were drinking beer at 10 o’clock in the morning – all those supporters gathered around in happy socialness.

Most confused by people who would spot their friends, boyfriends, girlfriends by the side of the road and go up to them for a chat. Really? You have time for a quick chat? I found the surprise and discomfort on the spectators faces quite apt, they were there to support and wave but what do you say to someone who has rushed over? Quick conversations such as you’re doing great keep going. One woman rushed over to chat and hug her friends not 200 metres from the finishing line. We’d rounded the corner, the end was visible, I was counting down the metres and she veered off course with an enthusiastic yelp and rushed over. Insane.

There was a woman behind me at the toilets having a full on conversation on her phone. Is Aisha alright? is she not feeling well? put her on. Aisha? Aisha? hello? Aisha? I can’t hear her. I couldn’t hear her. If she’s not feeling well let her stay at home. Fair enough.

A couple of times I wondered whether I should have my name on my top. For the first half of the race it would have motivated me. For the second half, it would have distracted me from my little chanting mantra and brought me back to the pain-filled reality (over-dramatic cliche but a little melodrama about a 42km run never hurt anyone right?). I ran close to people with Jo written on their t-shirts twice and waited for the crowd’s support. It never happened and I went on and I ran by.

Dismay at realising that it wasn’t 42km and my last few metres had to be extended. The Garmin says 42.9km.

I ran my longest run three weeks before the marathon and on that day I was incredibly bouncy – so much energy that my thoughts would race ahead and I could ‘feel’ myself bouncing off walls and posts and everything in front of me like one of those Parkour people. At the end of 29km I could have kept going. At 25km on the day of the race I decided that I couldn’t.

As a strategy, because I knew I wouldn’t be stopping, I started counting down as opposed to counting up (1, 2, 3, 21, 22km…) until that point. I started at 17km went to 16km, 15km, then to 12km. 17km was a comfortable long run back home around the harbour and then up the Ashton-Pil path. I had run 10 miles the previous weekend and I had been disappointed that I probably wouldn’t even finish a lucozade bottle at such a distance. I did finish it but had not needed any energy gels. I knew I could run 10 miles. After those 10 miles it would be the last 10km and I could run that distance even feeling unwell. So getting to that point gave me an extra boost of energy. Once I got to 10km I started counting down to 100m and just repeating it over and over. 9.6, 9.6, … 7.5, 7.5, 7.4, 7.4, over and over.

My left knee gave me the most pain and I stopped three times to stretch out my legs.

I saw people (women primarily) with eight or nine energy gel packs attached to belts around their waists or to arm bands. One woman consumed one at 4km. I had two with me and I used one of those, and one Lucozade one, when I felt myself getting a stitch at around 32km and 35km. I drank a lucozade at the runner’s village when my attempt to buy some bottled water that morning had failed. It cost 99p and I only had 85p on me. Lucky it did really because I needed 30p of that money to use the bathroom at Paddington.

I picked up a bottle of water at the first table and then picked up a lucozade bottle at every opportunity after that. I had either one or the other (or both) in hand the whole way through. I had some worries about hitting the wall and felt pretty relieved once I passed 20 miles. With 2.7km left of the race I threw my lucozade bottle to the side and I felt pretty freaked out doing it. What if I needed it? what if I suddenly ran out of energy? well I had one last gel pack in the back of my running kit so I thought I would risk it. By the way, I now have a bruise where the two gel packs kept rubbing against me.

My left knee hurt from around 8km and I guess my right knee joined in at some point but it was never bad enough that a stretch couldn’t ease it up a bit. I was used to the knees but at some point and it really was all of a sudden, my right hamstring jerked into painful awareness. I stumbled, I hobbled, I felt a twinge and then I kept running. Twice before I’d had some sort of surprising issue like this. After the Bristol half-marathon last year, my right hamstring was the one thing that kept me from running for about three weeks. It hadn’t been a problem before and it faded soon after that. Two weeks ago I was running by the harbour and had to quickly side-step when passing a car park exit. The next step down was a hobbled one and I had to stop. Now, during the marathon it was only a twinge more than pain but enough to alter my running. I slowed down a bit, I limped a bit, I did my best to ease the pain a bit, and then I just kept going. It faded in and out of awareness and I lost track of it with my new pace of around 7:20/km.

The streets were crowded, at times I had to walk because I couldn’t run past. My vivid memories are of KFC ‘restaurants’ and the smell of BBQs.

When I approached the finish line I managed to speed up and crossed the ‘line’ (the foam mats) with a big smile. I got my tag cut off in a narrow little walk way and the woman in front of me, for some reason that nearly got her violently pushed over by moi, had to take out her shoe laces to get it off. We’ll cut it off said the woman collecting the tags, you can get new laces later.No, no, I’ll just undo this. I went back and walked through the next little walkway. The medal was placed on me just after the tag point and I didn’t take it off until I got to Bath. I took off my race number just past Reading and kept it on my lap from then on.

Today I ache but I’m happy with the pain as long as I heal well enough for the Bristol 10k on the 9th of May. I still don’t quite believe that I did it but the medal and the pain helps to remind me. A great adventure.

Marathon jitters?

The ipico timing chip is attached to my right shoe, my race number is pinned to my running top, my race number is affixed to the appropriate bag, I’ve had pasta for lunch, I’ve got my pasta meal ready for dinner and I can’t actually taste anything. Initially I thought the problem was the bland food at Amano where I had to add salt, pepper and parmesan cheese to my pasta al funghi. While it wasn’t the best dish I’d ever eaten I couldn’t lay the blame entirely with the restaurant. I could eat but I had no appetite and I couldn’t taste much of the food. I walked around the Tate Modern and my lips felt dry. My mouth was dry. Everything felt so slow. Going from picture to sculpture felt like forever. This was my first visit so I forced myself to walk around the free exhibitions and I felt some excitement at the Liechtenstein, Warhol and Bruce Davidson originals. I would have loved to reach out and touch them but no such action took place and then I had to get out of there. I found a Marks and Spencer for some jelly beans, pasta salad and water. Waiting in line was slow. Waiting at the check out was slow. When the woman asked if I wanted the Tate map, I said no thanks I’ve already got one. She looked at Me strangely until I realised that it was my pamphlet she was handing over.

I decided that I best just get back and rest. I’ve talked to my parents, had supportive messages from amazing friends and now I’m just waiting. I’m not actively nervous about the London marathon but it’s mainly because I won’t let my thoughts dwell on it for too long. My body however has no problem in suggesting that I take myself out of action for a while. So I’m hiding away until morning and I won’t let myself think about it until I can enjoy it. ’til tomorrow then.


Nepal, an education

Arati is 10 years old, she attends Shree Yagamati Lower Secondary School, and lives in Nepal. £10 would sponsor Arati’s education for an entire month but she is not one of the 80 children being sponsored through Global Action Nepal.

She lives in Kapan Village, Kathmandu, which has a population of 15,340 and where women are nearly three times more likely to be illiterate (2157) compared to men (874).

Arati is one more example of the gender inequality in education in Nepal which was addressed last week (5 April) as the two-day international conference on ‘education, gender and development’ took place. The event was organised by Development Partnerships in Higher Education (DelPHE) and included research presented by academics from Nepal, Bangladesh and the United Kingdom.

Presenting a paper on ‘trends and issues of gender equality in school sector reform in Nepal’, Dr Lava Deo Awasthi, joint secretary to the Ministry of Education, painted a grim picture of higher education in Nepal, particularly that of females. According to the Nepal Labour Force Survey 2008 men outperform women at all ages with only 0.9% of women over 15 years old and over acquiring a degree compared to 3.3% for males. Only 10.4% of women complete some form of secondary education and only 2.9% of women completed higher education. 46.7% of adults never attended school while 10.7 per cent had not completed even primary education.

Dr Rose Khatry, lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University, UK, talked about ‘gender mainstreaming and women’s health: assessing maternal mortality as a marker for women’s development’.

At present GAN‘s supporters sponsor 80 children in four different districts of Nepal. The sponsorship scheme costs just £10 per month (33 pence per day – less than the price of the Bristol Evening Post at 38p), and yet provides a child with everything they could need for an education – books, pens, pencils, paper, uniform and much more. The money also goes towards paying for the direct costs of education such as tuition and examination fees.

Change to the current situation is being attempted through small grassroots developments led by charities such as GAN. To provide help and support to children like Arati, I am running the London Marathon and raising £1000 that will go direct to the charity. £10 provides education for one month for a child and any help is appreciated. Please sponsor my efforts and help children go to school and work towards a better life. Visit

Running, the bad and the good

I just had the weariest run in about a year. I set out towards Pill and I passed by the harbour, the suspension bridge, the fields, the trees, the Avon and all that is so beautiful but I hardly noticed it this time. My head was down and all I could see was the pebbly, rugged and irregular path. I didn’t have the energy to lift my head and no matter what I drank or what energy gel I took, nothing seemed to make a difference. At 19km I just had to stop. This was a total lack of health rather than energy but they go well together.

The last time I felt like this was when I was training for the Bristol 10k and I couldn’t keep up my pace on the treadmill. I put it on a hill setting, ran as fast as I could for a while and then chilled for the rest then did it over and over until it was fun rather than an endurance test. My body gave up after I’d finished my prawn red curry at Tampopo that night and I barely made it home before I collapsed.

Well the same goes for today. Weary and exhausted I walked back home without any aches and pains. I managed 22km but it felt very strange. I was late for lunch with a friend who had to be let down and with two weeks to go until the London marathon I was (and am) feeling a little more emotional than usual. Ah well. The good runs aren’t that great without the bad ones to balance them out.

There was a highlight right near the end which cheered me up a bit. I passed a group of women who were looking quite middle aged and as if out for a casual walk by the water. So you’re training for the marathon? one said to another. I looked up with a piqued sense of interest to encounter the person who was about to respond. Dark sunglasses, black hair, pasty complexion, not exactly in shape and cigarette in hand: Yeah, two years I’ve got she says as she taps some ash on the ground.

Anyone can do it right? Encouragement is sometimes lurking in the most unusual places.

Breakfast thoughts

Before a long run, my usual breakfast is porridge boiled up with water and augmented with yoghurt (either vanilla or Greek style/honey) and bananas. Within two hours of eating I am ready to go out and I am happy for this to be my breakfast on the day of the run. However, how do I boil up porridge in a hotel in a strange city? Do I take the box with me and ask the kitchen to help out? I’m not so sure. Just in case I need an alternative plan, I am giving Weetabix a go this week. Same concept but I only need to add boiled water to soften them up before the addition of yoghurt / honey, fruit and nuts and the banana.

The advice I’ve read, and heard, suggests that you add nothing new to your routine on the day. Everything should have been practised and tried and tested before. I did get some further advice however from Justin Miles who is doing the Last Great Challenge which is an expedition to and from Antarctica with Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions, via their camp at Patriot Hills near the Antarctic coast.

He prefers a choice of either cold pasta or a special home made muesli mix made up as follows:

Good quality muesli, mixed the night before with natural yoghurt, a little milk if it gets too thick, grate in a little apple and pear, add some sugar, and a pinch of cinnamon. This mixture made up the night before will see you through the day well enough.

Also consume a little protein, eggs are great (boiled eggs travel well), and don’t forget your High Five 4:1 (energy mix).

For the pasta, use as you like. Maybe pasta with a little tuna for the protein content, some oil, and a little pepper (no salt).

Justin is currently taking part in the Marathon des Sables which is a 6 day / 151 mile (243km) endurance race across the Sahara Desert in Morocco. I trust that he knows what he is talking about and as always, advice is appreciated.

With 16 days left until the London Marathon there may not be much space for advice any more and while I understand this I am still enjoying reading it all. I have been following Steve Halsall’s posts on the blog and have found it very helpful.

Not long to go now and I will have my breakfast plans finalised this Sunday. Lots of luck to anyone else doing the same.

Long run, 29km around Bristol

I could have run a little bit more than 29km, but I had reached back home and I didn’t at that point have the creativity to figure out where else to go. I remember getting to Pill, just next to Easton-on-Gordano, and running past a playground and down a path before weaving away from a family on bikes – it was 14.28km in and while I’d been aiming for 15km in order to make it an even 30km, my knees decided that it was not a good idea so I turned back.

I had my first session on my knees on 1 February and as the physio guy likes to remind me, my left leg was in poor form and my right extremely poor. I had some nights where I would wake up in the middle in order to apply ice. I would wake and fall asleep with the thought of the ache. I now have to remind myself that I used to hurt. Discomfort is a funny thing. I have put so much effort into building up my right leg that at 6km into the run on Sunday it was the other knee that started hurting. I noticed it, wondered if it was just a passing thing, and then I kept running.

I had run the Ashton-Pill path the previous weekend and combined with a run around the harbour I had managed about 26km. My Garmin ran out of battery at just under 10km. I had been running at just over 7 minutes a km so I ran for 25 more in the direction of Pill and then turned and retraced my steps. My plan was the same as that previous weekend, I would run half way and then run the same way back. I felt energetic enough to add extra kilometres in before I got to the path but didn’t think I’d be able to do it at the end.

I started by circling the harbour and instead of crossing over to Coronation Rd I ran down past the Louisiana on Wapping Rd, turned in on Princes Wharf, passed the Olive Shed and the crowds around Brunel’s Buttery and ran down to just before the SS Great Britain and then back to Cumberland Rd. The day was Easter Sunday, it was sunny and pleasant and there were a lot of people enjoying their time off. I said thank you many times as I weaved in and out of crowds. I was very proud of myself for feeling so pleasant towards everyone. On the way back, when I was doing the same thing but at the 26km point of my journey I was not saying any words of gratitude. I just wished they would all get out of my way and there seemed to be hundreds more people than three hours previously.

The Garmin was charged (unlike the previous week), my meal the night before was carb heavy with brown rice; my breakfast was porridge, yoghurt and a banana. My drink was the raspberry lucozade which tastes just like candy and my ipod was charged (Gaga, Alphabeat, Kings of Convenience and then podcasts on Buddhism towards the end).

The only thing I worried about was the muddy path from the rain that fell the previous couple of days. I gave up avoiding the puddles and while I didn’t enjoy seeing my trainers get dirty, I wasn’t going to worry about it during the run itself.

The previous week I had started my day with the same breakfast and didn’t finish my bottle of lucozade with a little bit left when I arrived back home. This time I finished the bottle, I consumed one Torq energy sachet and towards the last two kilometres I wished I had more. Next time I’ll be better prepared.

For now I’m happy with the run and the views were incredible, the fields and the trees, the Avon and running underneath the Clifton Suspension Bridge and looking up. I could have kept going past 29km and the only thing to mar the experience was a swollen toe which kept me away from running for three days. Ibuprofen and rest made it better but I now have two black nails on my left foot. I am hoping for one more long run within this week and then I’ll wind it down. I know that others have already run their longest run but with my delays and lost training I am going to have to adjust.

Looking at the route I ran on Google Earth I am so impressed with the technology that allows me to have such information available so readily.

[Click on the image for a better view]

Marathon, a bit of a panic

I’m trying to remember the exact words and I almost have them but not quite. A friend was saying something about the London Marathon about either starting slowly or not going fast. Slower than even the half-marathon pace. It’s a sentiment echoed by the New York Times as well in the article The Best Marathon Advice You’ll Ever Get written by Liz Robbins: “Don’t go out too fast. You will be tempted. Resist. Don’t do it.” There’s a lot of advice out there but this one seems worthwhile and consistent.

There was just over one month of training left last week when I was chatting about the marathon and I hadn’t run more than a half-marathon distance yet. By the end of the chat I had approached a little closer to panic with his earnest admonition to run at least 20 miles before the race. If I was increasing my speed at no more than 10% a week that would give me only around 15miles -> 17 miles -> 20 miles by the third week and then tapering off before the marathon. That weekend (this last one) would be crucial.

I woke up in a panic that Saturday at around 3.30 in the morning with thoughts of all the miles I hadn’t run yet. I spent the rest of my night exploring what resources were available out in the wider social networked world and I came across a video blog and twitter account of @runitfaster. I felt a little better and paid attention to some great suggestions from a sporting coach on threshold runs, longer runs, and tapering.

I’ll outline some of the suggestions because the video was only up for a couple of days. I recommend following him on Twitter if you can for further advice.


Remember the purpose of tapering which is to allow your body to recover. If you’re looking for a 4 and a half to 5 hour time, then aim for 25-30 mins recovery runs.

Mentally preparing: this is such a big deal, especially if it’s your first one, pacing the race can be tricky. For a sub-4 hour run, your average pace should be around 9 minutes per mile.

There are three strategies for running the race: 1) either a steady pace throughout; 2) run a positive split, first half faster than the second half; 3) negative split, run the second half faster than the first half, step it up 15-20 seconds faster each mile in the second half.

You need to prepare the strategy mentally first, go into the race with a plan.

Breaking the race into sections is another strategy. You can see the marathon, as two 10 mile races and then a 10km, and the real challenge is the 10km at the end. For a marathon runner the 10km is an easy run, easy peasy. Of course it doesn’t matter how you break it down, either 5km or 10km as well.

Find out where the water or fuel stations are. With the London Marathon you can find it on the race web site or in the magazine Marathon News. This gives you something to aim for.

Plan your race day routine as well. Hour by hour. What time do you have to get up in the morning, what time at the venue, start line. What you are going to wear. Avoid stress: get to a race early, and also have a warm up.

Sudden changes in your program are something to avoid – increasing your sessions towards the end is a bad idea.

Avoid excessive alcohol consumption as this will affect your training, performance and recovery. Try to get early nights, allowing yourself to recover. An extra half an hour / hour in bed will make the world of difference.

Some of my favourite advice is from the NYT article and the advice to enjoy the little bursts of joy, the thrill “when children standing on the sidewalks hold out their hands for runners to high-five.”

They end with the same advice with which I, and they and he, start: don’t go out too fast. I’ve made a note.

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