26.2 London

On Sunday 24th April I ran the London Marathon for a challenge, for charity and for the spectacle. It took me 02:55:08 to complete the 42.2km course. Over 39,000 people started the race. And each and every one will have their own story to tell. Here’s my perspective…

On one day in April the streets of London are transformed into the world’s greatest stadium – the noise emanating from this arena is unimaginable and unforgettable. I read that finishers often feel ‘shell shocked’ after crossing the finishing line. I thought this was just another exaggerated line to fuel the clickbait headline ‘top 10 things you didn’t know about the London Marathon’. I can’t quite describe how loud it was out there on the course. I only knew a handful of spectators and yet the cheers and encouragement followed each and everyone one of us all the way around the course.

Training

The training through winter was pitiful. My motivation was off and it showed, with less than 18km/week of running in November and December. In January I made a plan, and the shift in mileage was insane. For comparison, so far in 2016 I’ve averaged 52km/week. I don’t think it was one thing in particular that led to consistently running 200km+ per month; something I’ve only previously achieved twice before (Feb 2013 and Jan 2015). Consistency at work, having a plan, eating well, sleeping well, stretching and being a smidge nervous of the ominous London Marathon all combined to produce the results. Looking back, the only thing I would change for next year is joining a running club; speed sessions just aren’t as productive on your own.

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The 2016 London Marathon plan. Yellow weeks were lost due to illness.

I had previously ‘poo-hooed’ this event as ‘just another marathon’, probably a hassle too… Well, it’s true that there was a lot more planning required than for the Manchester Marathon. And the sheer number of spectators and competitors did make things a little bit more stressful, but overall it wasn’t so bad – I’d go as far as to say I enjoyed the event.

1 day to go

We Screen Shot 2016-04-30 at 10.53.49.pngarrived in London on Saturday morning. The train down was mad busy which didn’t help with nerves. Of course, I came prepared, wielding a detailed plan of how the day should go. This was my strategy for coping with nerves and removing as many unknowns as possible from the event so that I could relax and enjoy things (sort of). I believe it worked.

I’m not sure how I feel about the Expo at the EXCEL. In some ways it felt like part of the build up and in others it was just a load of tat, plastered with advertising and staff trying to push their products on you. When I got past this though there were a few good features. The ‘motivational talk’ area was pretty interesting and definitely worthwhile for newbies. Whilst I was sitting listening to this Mum let me know she was queuing to see Paula Radcliffe – I was mortified… “leave the poor woman alone” I thought. She’s a superstar and has got way better things to do with her time. Yeah I’m a dick… a minute later I was stood in the queue with Mum and I’m so glad I did. The fact that Paula’s world record hasn’t even nearly been touched is a testament to her dominance in the sport and I only hope that it serves as an inspiration for the next generation of British athletes to strive towards.

Paula_Radcliffe
Quick pic with Paula Radcliffe. Wow!

The rest of the day went smoothly. We took a walk round Greenwich up to Cutty Sark, recce’d where would be a good spot to spectate on Sunday and then headed for some pasta before calling it a day. The hotel was great, they even rolled out the red carpet
for us (hehe).

Based on past experience I knew I wasn’t great at sleeping before a marathon, but this time really took the biscuit. The air conditioning units directly outside our window were obscenely loud and completely to blame for my 3am wake up call. I read for a bit, listened to podcasts and dozed ’til 6 and then gave up on getting any more kip. It was time to see what my legs could do.

Race Day

The morning of the race continued to be a bit rubbish as I forced down some rather liquidy porridge rather than the stodgy consistency I’m used to and prefer. With food in me, I took back control and I was back on plan with my supporters ready and raring to go too.

There’s only so much you can prepare for the unknown, but I think I got it just right. My nips and anywhere else prone to chaffing received a generous smothering of sudocrem and I was calm as we left the hotel around 8:30 to arrive at the start at 9.

Everything about the event was bigger and bolder than anything I had experienced before. There were people everywhere, the queues for the loo were ridiculous – in some ways it would have been interesting to experience the mass start and ‘runners villages’ of either the Red or Blue start. I have no complaints though, I was in the GFA warm up zone and had plenty of room and time to psyche myself out without worrying about anything else.

09:15 – 45 mins to go

Join the toilet queue. Final drink. Banana skin disposed.

09:40 – 20 mins to go

Finally go to the loo. Tracksuit off, last lube of the nips with some vaseline, quick swig of water and then it was time to drop off my bag and warm up.

09:50 – 10 mins to go

Runners called to the start. I keep running around trying to get the legs ready. Start trying to get GPS signal on watch.

09:55 – 5 mins to go

I finally get signal on watch and warm up is over. I ditch my throw away jumper and join the queue for the start.

09:59 – 1 min to go

I dump the space blanket and check my watch for a final time. All set.

10:00 – Go!

The boom of the start gun and… no movement around me.

10:01

We start to jog and get into stride just before the line. We’re off! Wooo. Now it’s time to channel the past 3 months plus of training into the next 3 hours or so.

As the race merged around 3 miles in, the sheer volume of runners suddenly became apparent. We spanned 4 lanes of road and there was barely enough room to not run into the person in front. Over the next couple of miles we started to disperse slightly as everyone found their pace and settle into a rhythm; I passed Bob the ‘crab’ – if he kept up that speed he was on for a great time.

The next milestone was Cutty Sark, where I received a huge roar from the crowd as I lifted my arms in the air. Beth and Libs did a cracking job getting a prime spot at the front and I spotted them straight away. It gave me such a buzz and I had to consciously slow down round the corner to stay on pace. Unfortunately this was the first and last time I spotted my family. They did see me once more near Canary Wharf but it was so loud and I was so in the zone that I was oblivious to their cheering.

Tower Bridge was the next unforgettable moment. Each side was packed with spectators – again, two runners just in front rallied the crowd by raising their hands in the air. The eruption of noise was insane and such a boost.

I was through half way in 01:27:06. 24 seconds up on schedule. All fine. Just got to do that again… eek!

Canary Wharf was the next section which left me feeling a bit shell shocked on exiting. By this point we were a lot more spread out, rounding bends in single file which was good as there were a few tight turns.

With 3okm behind me, my legs started to twitch. And over the next few miles it only got worse with my quads tightening up, finally turning into a burning ache. I was definitely nearing my limit, teetering on the edge of going too far too soon, but I was still 20 seconds up on schedule. I needed to keep pushing. My speed did dip over the last 10km, but I was doing well and still passing other slowing runners.

VMLM_marathon_2016

Running along the final 5km of the course, there wasn’t a single spot where it wasn’t at least 3 deep with screaming spectators. It was unbelievable how many people were out. By this point runners were definitely outnumbered by those on the side. As we turned on to Birdcage Walk I thought it was around 500m left, just up the road I spy the 1km to go banner. WHAT??? That’s not fair. I see nothing other than the 3metres of road in front of me. I blindly get funneled from one side of the road to the other as we go around the spectator passing points. My legs are burning everywhere now.

400m to go. And I found that last tiny little bit. Sprinting in ludicrously slow motion round the final bend on to the mall and the finish is in sight. I looked down at my watch. Sheeeet, I’m so close, so close… And. I just, just missed it. 02:55:08, a mere 8 seconds outside of my target time. I’ll take that. I was a complete wreck.

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London Marathon 2016 – Splits

 

My legs had just managed 42.2km and all of a sudden they couldn’t quite compute how to move one more step. The walk down the rest of the mall was painfully slow. I was shuffling at best, weaving my way past lorry after lorry on my way to bag collection. I toyed with the idea of sitting down, but knew that I’d struggle to ever get back up again. This is by far the worst bit. All the emotions, pain and suffering become overwhelming. Several helpers and other runners check to see if you’re ok. Yeah… sort of… As I continue to sway. I somehow make it to the final truck in the line where my bag awaits.

I grab hold of the lorry and gradually lower my body to the ground, kicking out a couple of cramps on the way. I spend the next 10 minutes rolling around trying to get my legs in to my tracksuit without my legs going into spasm. I devoured all the food in the goody bag and swiftly gulped down plenty of fluids. I eventually found the reserves to pluck myself off the floor and wander over to Horse Guards Parade (not a pub) to meet my family.

I was surprised to see Olly and Rachel waiting for me – completely unexpected. I was so happy to see some familiar faces and just did a lot of hugging, laughing and smiling. Later the rest of the crew arrived after what sounded like a bit of an adventure exploring some routes waaay off the beaten track. It was all worth it. I did it. We did it. And I realised I couldn’t have asked to share this moment with more incredible people (missed you Sammy).

 

At the end I finished just outside the top 5% of men in 1266th place behind 1228 men and 38 women. I can safely say: I will be back. If not next year then at some point in the foreseeable future. Maybe Paris, Berlin or somewhere else next? We’ll see. Right now, a week on, my legs are still a long way off being back to normal. Walking is fine but running has a way to go. I’m just savouring this moment for a bit and then it’s on to the next goal.

London_marathon_2016_PositionMS_justgiving_london_marathon_16

 

What’s Up?

The weekend just gone (6th March), I took the decision to not race in the ‘Great Northern’ Half Marathon. It was a tough call as it represented a key milestone in my Marathon campaign. With a mere 10km of racing under my belt this year (2x5k), I’m getting a bit worried about holding race pace. I’d recce’d the course and was confident I could post a sub 1:25 time (not a course suitable for a PB even if I had the legs).

The reason I bailed? Tactical. And to be honest, it was the only decision that was right considering my condition. The last 2 weeks have been pretty much a write off. I’ve had various symptoms of illness which concluded in a ‘tickly cough’ leaving me incapable of heavy breathing and made everything just a pain in the arse including a regular day job. The cold air was particularly unhelpful.

I built back into things with a few days in a row on the turbo. Very low HR, in a warm humid room mostly breathing through my nose. It would have been dull as anything but luckily I had the Track World Champs to motivate me and keep me entertained. The first ride was a mere 15mins before my cough started. Next day was 40mins. and on Saturday I managed just over an hour. I felt I was about ready for a run. With a buff over my mouth to control the air temperature I survived with minimal coughing fits and today was my first cough free run/ride/day in over 2 weeks! I hate being ill. Especially when it’s something as pathetic as a ‘cough’ – ultimately I’m not sure there was much else I could have done. I’m putting everything behind me now and if anything I’m more excited to get back into the swing of things again.

6 weeks to go.

(Photo post first run back with buff)

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LEJOG in Short

I’ve written this blog post in the least timely manner, but for those of you who are interested, here’s how my big bike ride went down. And I know I’ve bored some of you on the day-to-day narrative already, so you can skip to “Why?” to find out about why I cycled End-to-End.

Start: Land’s End (Cornwall, England) —–> End: John o’Groats (Scotland)

10 days, 1 map
10 days, 1 map
The first challenge was occupying myself for 6hrs on the train down to Penzance. Fortunately Sean joined me at Bristol so I was only alone for a couple of hours. It was a lovely day for us to ride from Penzance station to the South-Western tip of Cornwall and onwards to the hostel for the night. The terrain would prove to be a taster for what was to come on the following day; lots of short sharp hills.
Day 1
The profile of Day 1 resembled the edge of a saw. It wouldn’t be a challenge without a heavy dosing of rain to go with those hills, leaving our legs absolutely filthy. The most important thing, of course, was food. If you want to eat guilt free for 10 days, ride LEJOG. I spent almost as much time eating as I did riding… in fact, as the week wore on I had to consciously save more sugary foods to the afternoon as my teeth were starting to feel horrible if they were exposed to sugar all day.
Day 2
We covered 180km today from Okehampton to Bristol. Less of the staggeringly steep hills and more rolling terrain. Our average speed was pretty high partly to minimise expose to inclement weather and also to make the most of my last day with a man to draft. We entered familiar cycling territory as we cycled up Cheddar Gorge and onwards to Sean’s house. This was the perfect time for some home comforts and some delicious grub. It was all too easy to forget I had 8 days of solo riding ahead of me. It was nice whilst it lasted.
Day 3
The solo adventure begins. A brief jaunt into Wales where I helped a fellow cyclist find his rogue pannier (it fell off on the Severn Bridge), this made me weary of how secure my panniers were. Luckily mine made it to John o’Groats without any escapades. Probably the day with the most off-road paths and tracks, which offered some beautiful scenery albeit at the expense of being all the more solitary. And the sun came out for lunch!
I quite like a bit of me space, but today really took the biscuit. After my first day of riding solo, I arrived at the hostel for the night, a listed building; no wifi, no phone signal, no TV and no other guests. After catching up on all of the Tour de France podcasts I’d downloaded already, all there was to do was read and go to bed. I was asleep by 8:30pm which probably did me some good in hindsight.
Day 4
To Beth’s house. After last night’s experience I was in desperate need of some human contact. Today was the shortest leg of the route, however the wind made sure it was not forgettable. At 20mph and from the West, it was a vicious cross-head wind for most of the morning before I fortunately turned and enjoyed a tailwind for the final 25km.
More home comforts, great food and some much needed human contact. Again, it was hard to leave.
Day 5
Up to now I had been following the CTC recommended route which had proved to be excellent! (The guide came in helpful in many areas, message me if you’d like me to forward it to you). There were so many bike paths and small lanes that I would never have ridden on if I had planned it all myself. Because the route is designed for 14 days I needed to fudge a few sections leading to some unreasonably hard days. Today was supposed to be almost 3000m climbing up to Slaidburn in Lancashire then onwards to Kendal. It looked pretty gruelling and with the Lakes and Scotland coming up in the following days I took the decision to reroute to a much flatter route (similar distance). I’m glad I did as I saved my legs and enjoyed a different style of riding. I’ll have to return and check out the riding up to Slaidburn some other time.
Day 6
Tackled Kirkstone pass en route to Scotland! Fuelled for lunch at my Aunt & Uncle’s, another nice home comfort. Then a hotel in Moffat. Small but swanky compared to hostels. In ‘No Man’s Land’ just North of the Scottish border, the selection of locations to spend the night were few and far between. I was lucky to find the Bonnington, a reasonably priced single bed room with breakfast included. To further splurge out, I dined out on pizza and chocolate fudge cake to fuel for the big following day.
Day 7
Longest solo ride to date, 193km from Moffat to Crianlarich (Northern end of Loch Lomond). It turned out to be one of my fastest average speeds; I must have pushed it because I was worried about it taking too long and falling victim to the fading light. In the end I was never in any danger whatsoever. The busiest hostel on the route, even so, another early night was in order.
Day 8
Loch Lomond to Loch Ness. In this region of Scotland the ‘route options’ are narrowed down to a single unavoidable A-road. Less than ideal, and of course it’s medium-mountains with typical Scottish weather; driving wind and rain with low lying cloud reducing views to staring at my stem.  That said, I still turned up 2hrs before the Loch Ness hostel opened, and realised there that yet again the toughness actually made me faster; less faffing and stopping as I tried to stay moderately warm. Only 2 days of cycling adventure to go!
Midge bites got so itchy I woke up scratching myself at 2am, however the silver lining was that I could utilise the 3G that was non-existent earlier. Lots of podcasts downloaded for the next few nights. These helped me to keep pretty up to date with the Tour de France, even if it was only audio updates.
Day 9
175km from Loch Ness to Tongue today. All that’s left is to traverse the North Coast of Scotland. 1 day to go. Have you ever been on an A-road that’s single track? How about one that is single track for 50 consecutive miles? Well it turns out there’s very little except sheep and a few hills between Lairg and Tongue; so peaceful! The hostel was no pricer than anywhere else but everything just felt nicer. There were carpets, comfy sofas, an open fire and the bowls were actually big enough for my porridge (without it exploding everywhere in the microwave).
Day 10
A hard final day. Both physically and mentally. The profile was similar to Cornwall with lots of ups and downs, and the weather in the morning definitely was not on my side. I made it though.
“1000 miles and 10 days later. Lands End to John o’Groats has been completed.” – the ride from John o’Groats back West to Thurso (where I’d be catching the train home the following day), was the probably when I hit my lowest point of the 10 days. The immediate contrast of all the emotions and release from ‘finishing’ made the ride back into a horrible head wind almost unbearable. However I didn’t end on a sour note. Fish ‘n’ chips cheered me up and I had 12 hours of trains the following day to contemplate, reflect and realise I had enjoyed the experience.
John o'Groats. The 'tired but happy' look
John o’Groats. The ‘tired but happy’ look
Thank you to everyone who supported me in every way on LEJOG.
The encouragement I received really helped to keep me going when the weather and terrain was battling against me. (When the going gets tough, all you can do is harden the f##k up, but happy thoughts help too).
If you’d still like to donate to Multiple Sclerosis, you can do so here: https://www.justgiving.com/Tom-Mowbray/
Cycling End to End may look hard, but I can definitely recommend it.

Totals

  • 1642.5km (1020.5 miles)
  • 67hrs (moving time)
  • Avg. speed 24.5kph (15mph)
  • 10 days of riding (+ a little bit).

Why?
I set myself 5 goals in January. This is another one I’ve completed and can tick off the list. I had the time so I just did it. I’m fortunate enough that I didn’t have to do any extra training, in fact I had only ridden the touring bike for a total of 40km before I set off from Penzance station on the first day! It could have gone horribly wrong right there; I’d recommend giving the bike you’re going to ride a bit more of a test ride if and when you decide to take on any touring.

  1. 5k – Run sub-17min.
  2. Half Marathon – Run sub 1:20. (Sub 1:25 in March).
  3. Marathon – Run sub 3:10.
  4. Cycle Lands End to John O’Groats – 7-10 days.
  5. Swim – 4km in Open Water.

As for the rest of my goals, if I get my act together I should be able to complete the swim by the end of the summer and then Autumn will be focused on 5k and HM PBs.

When I told my parents I was going to cycle end-to-end, my Mum encouraged me to raise some money for charity in the process. It hadn’t even occurred to me before then. I had no idea anyone would be willing to part with their cash to sponsor me to ride my bike, how wrong I was. In some ways to me it just wasn’t a big deal, and yet at the same time it totally was because of all of the unknowns I was setting myself up for. To name a few: longest ride on my own (Day 7 – 193km or 120mi), first time riding with panniers, different bike/cleats/saddle to what I’m used to, and the prospect of riding 10 long days in a row with very little support (Thanks for helping me through the first bit Sean! It set me up really well for the rest of the UK).

So naturally I was astounded by the response I received and the support of my kind friends, family and even some people I had only just met. In total my page received 27 individual donations (plus 2 more offline), totalling over £600! I am humbled by your generosity.

Furthermore, MowbrayGill have pledged to match the total raised and donate this to the Warrington MS branch. Once again, thank you. The cycling provided some incredible memories, and now I know it was all for a very worthwhile cause.

Sponsorship total as of 1st August 2015
Sponsorship total as of 1st August 2015

Summer is for Cycling

Summer is here! I’ve been working on my tan lines over the past few weeks with a noticeable shift from running to cycling. This switch has become a regular part of my sporting schedule over the past few years. I am the first to admit that I am a fair weather cyclist… I’ve been known to cut a ride short at the mere sign of rain clouds (although on at least one of these rides I timed it to perfection and made it inside just before it chucked it down = winning!)

Other than the obvious cold and dampness that must be endured in foul weather, my main gripe is having to clean my bike; it’s one of my most avoided tasks, despite really appreciating a smooth ride delivered by a clean machine. Inevitably when I eventually do clean it there will be a freak mud-storm on the next ride negating all my cleaning efforts; the result is a crusty grubby bike that will see a month of nothing but sunshine before the next clean/rain shower combo.

Since I last wrote a blog post, I’ve finished my exams and with that my time at University has also come to an end. Amongst other things about Bristol, I’ll really miss riding around Somerset; we’re really spoilt for beautiful cycling routes within such easy reach of the city. I’ve explored a lot, but it never fails to amaze me how every new route can offer a splendid mix of challenge and scenery.

Final year has flown by. The painful days that rolled into one in the Autumn term are now a distant diluted memory. My running form has offered several surprises with multiple PBs despite falling far from my desired training schedule. On the other hand my cycling has suffered and I feel every ride requires an extra level of motivation to push myself to improve. The impact is a double blow because as I’ve taken a step back in form, those around me in the club have collectively improved to a level beyond what was my former peak. But never fear (well I do, but there’s no time for moaning. I’ve had enough of that this year).

#SummerisforCycling

My final big summer will not feature any jet setting off to far flung lands but I hope it will feature sufficient challenge and memories to do the ‘Big Summer’ title some justice. First is the Pyrenees, sure to be a leg breaker and may well result in comparisons being made to taking sandpaper to the gouch. After a small break it’s LEJOG time. 10 days, 1000 miles and another goal to tick off the list. I’ve had some interested parties volunteer to join me on several bits of it, but anyone else who fancies it, let me know! What I’ve learnt from my 100 mile tune up ride is that riding for that long on your own is soo dull! Even with podcasts and music to occupy my ear drums!

LEJOG Route
LEJOG Route

As an added extra incentive for me to crack on and do LEJOG, I’ll be raising money for MS. There’s no obligation to support, and any support in any form is much appreciated. I feel I may have bitten off more than I can chew given I’ve never done any touring and only today rode my first 100+ miles solo. Eek!
You can support MS and my ride here: https://www.justgiving.com/Tom-Mowbray/

August may well feature more cycling. We’ll have to see. For now it’s time to tune up for the Pyrenees (less than a week now); you’ll be able to find me trying to lug my chocaholic fuelled frame over some mahoosive mountains. I’d be lying if I said I’m not worried.

I’m looking forward to a Summer of Cycling.

Sub 3 Hour Marathon

Sunday, and the Manchester Marathon, approached with the same feeling of excitement and sickening trepidation that can only be compared to the night before Christmas as a little kid. The sleep is the worst part. You want to go to sleep because otherwise Santa won’t come (or the required rest before the race in this case)… but the nerves/excitement keep waking you up at all hours of the night. At 5, all you can do is wait patiently and watch the clock tick down as you’ve no hope of getting back to sleep now.

Lucky for me (of sorts), the alarm was set for 6am anyway, so I only had to endure 1 hour of extremely boring restlessness. I knew I’d be panicking, so it was a small relief that I’d spent the previous afternoon making sure everything was in order and ready to go in the morning. The porridge oats were forced down as my stomach did flips at both the time of day (gulp) and the mammoth task at hand (bigger gulp)!

Way back in January I set myself some goals. One of them being for the Marathon distance (26.2miles or 42.2km).

Marathon – Run sub 3:10.

This goal was to knock 8 minutes off my PB, which was set in the same event in 2013. At the time I thought this was realistic seeing as I ran the event in 2013 simply to finish. That said, I’d completed a decent amount of training for the race and I was in good shape back then too, so going faster would be a challenge.

Race Day Mayhem

The race village chaos, the huge toilet queues, the ditsy comments from nervous runners and spectators alike… it’s all part of the pre-race build up that, frankly, I hate. Yep! Not a fan. I had a plan though. Arrive with time to spare. 1 hour did the job. Party in the car because it’s a wee bit chilly. Vacate the car in a shifty manner hoping not too many people are judging you for your sitting dance moves.

Now is the time to soften up your spectator(s). A warm drink goes a long way 😉 None for me, but it’s banana time. Now depending on toilet queue length, there’s a bit of time to kill. 35mins to go… In you go. 30 mins to go… the most awkward strip tease the world has even seen. Layer after layer is removed until I’m left standing in a vest. Vaseline is applied in liberal quantities (no bleeding nipples today thank you very much). And before I get too chilly, that softened up spectator helps you to wriggle into a ridiculously small bin bag (doh!), to keep those weedy exposed arms from succumbing to the cold.

I dropped my bag off, found an empty stretch of road and did 10mins of warming up. It was really weird to find such a quiet place so close to 10,000+ people. After some mild confusion trying to figure out how on earth to get past the barriers, 5mins from the start, I managed to squeeze my way into the start pen and started moving forward. I was searching for the ambitious 3hr pace runner. “Jeez he’s a long way in front!” – I couldn’t really get any further forward without being ‘that guy’ who’s a bit of a knob trying to fit into a space where there isn’t really any.

And we’re off. I’d written on my arm 2 mile splits for both a negative split 3hr and a constant paced 3hr 10 run. 4:20min/km to halfway, then if you’re feeling good, pick it up, otherwise, revert to 3hr 10 pace. This meant I should really be loosing sight of the 3hr pace maker over the first half… I ran roughly 100-300m back from Mr 3hr man, but never more, on the way to halfway. It was quite a nice place to be, with just enough space to grab bottles at the water stations. I knew I was on for a good time, but I was also avoiding the melee that was going on around the 3hr man himself. I was a bit miffed at how there was only 1 gel station on the course and I missed that anyway. Good job I had a trick up my sleeve/ in my pockets.

Another shoutout to my spectators here. I’d made the secret ‘EPO flapjacks’ that are infamous for their wondrous ability to rouse riders on the longest, hardest bike rides known to man. Today they were out in force, with a risky first trial in a running event – this could have gone drastically wrong, but fortunately I managed to get them down and they were uber-tasty as always. One in each pocket, and some extras provided along the way by a very sleek exchange with Beth just before halfway kept me fuelled for the duration of the race. The rest of the family were loaded up with little flapjack packages too, however these weren’t needed in the end as a little Church along the way gave out loads of bags of jelly babies, one of which made its way into my pocket for use a bit later on.

Overall, the pace was ok to halfway, even to 18 miles. At 20 I wasn’t feeling quite so perky and the ‘let’s nail it’ attitude from an earlier thought process was swiftly vetoed. At 23 I made it up to Mr 3hr man, and over the next 3 miles I managed to pull out just over a minute on the depleted pack around him. The crowd with 400m to go was phenomenal. There was just a wall of noise with individuals indiscernible from one another. I managed a last kick, petering out in the final 100m, but… I did it!

I smashed the goal I’d set in January out of the park and managed to dip below the 3 hour mark (2:58:21 – Strava shows the split times were pretty even too). Something I really didn’t think I had any hope of doing based on the pitiful past two months of ‘training’.

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 23.37.39

The exhaustion, exhilaration and everything else hit me 30 seconds after I crossed the line. I couldn’t speak. I just nodded at the marshal which size T-shirt I wanted. I staggered, momentarily crying for no apparent reason to my bag and onwards to my awesome spectators. I gave it my all and my body was, for want of a better word, absolutely f##ked. There was nothing left. I still couldn’t speak as Beth guided me over to a concrete block to sit on. I did it!

Writing this now, I still cannot believe it. Almost 8000 runners took part. 5600 men, 2300 women of varying ages and abilities. The fastest runners on the day returned in 2:17:47 and 02:37:21 (men and women respectively), which is bloody mental! That’s a sprint in my eyes 😮

6% of finishers broke the 3 hour mark (483 runners) and overall the average male time was around 3:55.

Everyone who raced on Sunday has their own story to tell. Mine relied heavily on the support of Beth and the rest of my family (Mum even gave me a high five whilst singing in her choir)! I’ve got a lot more confidence now and some more goals to pick off for the remainder of 2015. Oh and with this time I can apply for the “Good for Age” Entry to the London Marathon, so maybe that next year? We’ll see!

After
After
Before
Before

Let the Tapering Commence

15 weeks later, having fallen off the training plan completely, and failing at keeping up with the weekly blog posts, it’s now less than a week until the Manchester marathon. This week is my ‘taper week’; this is the time before a race when you wind down the intensity and volume of training. I feel the term is mostly symbolic in my case, due to the distinct lack of structure to my training over the last 6 weeks.

Mallorca Ride
Enjoying the sun on a seaside ride in Mallorca

It’s been an up and down month or so, but last week proved to be my best week for a while. Funnily enough this happened to be whilst I was on holiday in Mallorca. I’m a fan a good weather conditions, and the sun was plentiful. Amongst a few bike rides I slotted in a flat tempo 10k, and a lung busting 6.5k at 5% up the hill/mountain near the apartment. I did feel a bit mean passing a handful of the slower cyclists, although equally it’s a hell of a boost as it felt pretty fast.

Puerto Pollensa - hill run
Puerto Pollensa hill run.

All that being said, I’m still struggling to focus my mind and body on what I want to achieve. In the coming week, what I eat and how I sleep will be crucial in the final outcome of the race. I’ve caught myself experiencing a hint of excitement and trepidation, which is good news. On Sunday I was glued to Eurosport and Twitter, avidly following Paris-Roubaix and in the process I stumbled across a fellow competitor also aiming for sub-3hrs (albeit he has significantly more hope of achieving this goal than I do based on the serious training mileage and speed he’s achieved to date… we’ll see). Simon’s blog is a stunning example of what I’d like to achieve on here. It helps to see someone else walk through the thought process on topics such as ‘how to tackle pacing’ and the logic behind it. Is my target time achievable? We’ll see.

Simon’s blog pointed me towards Pace Your Race, which allows you to put in a target time and out pops the splits you need to achieve your goal. I could even specify that I wanted to run negative splits (a slower first half than second). Apparently we can pick these up to wear as a wrist band on the day. I’ll probably still scribble them on my arm (not under where my watch sits this time). It’s a nice feature for those who, unlike me, don’t possess the nerdy enthusiasm to calculate the splits manually.

3hr Splits 3hr 10 splits

The pace bands almost seem to over simplify a frankly mammoth task. Run at the speed you do a normal 10k, but as a twist, do it 4 times without stopping! I’m going to keep with me both the ambitious 3hr target and a more realistic aim of 3hrs 10, which I will be equally very happy with. Anything that beats my PB (3:18:09) will be a good run. Planning and preparation will give me the best chance of success. My 5k PB came on a day where I paced the race perfectly, after the most thorough warm-up I’ve done before a race (the warm-up took longer than the race itself… I’m under no illusions that if this occurs on Sunday, I’ve gone barking mad!)

Race number, check. Bristol vest, check. 5 days to go!
Race number, check.
Bristol vest, check.
Oodles of enthusiasm… sort of check?
5 days to go!

Now the reality is really dawning on me, it’s time to boost my confidence a bit. So far in 2015, I’ve achieved a new 10k PB (36:51) followed swiftly by smashing the Bath half marathon and recording another PB (1:21:04). Now it’s time for the big one. 3hrs 18mins 9secs is the time to beat, set on the same course in 2013. In that edition of the race, I kept an even 4:50min/km pace until halfway, then around 4:40 to km 28, before I opened up a bit and went sub 4:30 on a km or two. I paid for this in the final 4k, dropping back to the 4:50 pace. With this in mind, 4:15 seems unfathomably fast.

Come Sunday lunchtime, all the training (or lack thereof), the ups and downs (emotional and physical), and the plentiful racing miles, will be mere memories. Bring on the weekend!

Manchester Marathon 2015, I’m ready!

Manchester Marathon Route 2015

One Foot in Front of the Other

Rewind 3 months, I had a detailed day by day training plan and heaps of motivation. Looking back to 4 weeks ago, that training plan had set me up brilliantly for a week of PBs. First in the Varsity 10k where I finished 9th in 36:51, and then the following weekend in the Bath Half Marathon I smashed my PB in a time of 1:21:04 (inside the top 200 out of a few thousand). I’m really chuffed with both results, with these results sandwiching a mid-week sub-18min 5k that kept things ticking over (not quite a PB).

Varsity 10k
Varsity 10k

I’m not sure whether I got post-race blues, or whether it’s a combination of other distractions and my addictive personality, but for 3 weeks I’ve been well of course on my plan; the feeling of ‘out-of-control’ pretty much describes my state of being right now.

I’ve binge run/ridden when I’ve had an overwhelming urge of uselessness and pent up energy that needs a release in the only way I know how.

I’m back here -> http://brainonaplate.weebly.com/blog

My chocolate consumption is out of control (I don’t drink caffeine or alcohol, I don’t smoke; chocolate is my drug of choice). My work schedule is erratic. My sleeping is off. The amount of time I have wasted online is exorbitant.

I’ve been putting off writing a ‘negative’ post for a while… I honestly had some great plans to be incredibly positive about my PBs and the motivation this would give me for my marathon, but hey ho, life’s complicated. My mind is a mysterious place at the best of times. In this case, a problem shared is a problem halved, and halving a f##k-tonne of ‘problems’ reduces matters to a mere half a f##k-tonne, which seems a whole lot more manageable.

I have words to write. Trails to run on. Roads to ride on. And a sunny break from internet and other crap to look forward to. <- I really cannot wait, I’m just struggling to find words that don’t sound exceedingly sarcastic to describe the ‘need’ for this break.

Project work tomorrow. Then a run. One foot in front of the other. The Marathon awaits.

Delicately Held Together by Compression Top, Shorts and Socks.

It’s been 13 days since I was knocked off my bike. The minor physical injuries from the incident are now all but gone or negligible.

Training has been iffy at best this week. I’ve salvaged it with a few longer runs in the last few days rather than the planned sessions, which I’ll undoubtably pay for at a later date. Kinks and twinges are currently being held together by my new compression socks, base-layer and shorts. When daubed in the full ‘compression-attire’ I look like a bit of a tool, but so far it seems to help with the 20km+ runs. I think (know) I need to include a full stretching/roller session in my weekly plan… It’s just so darn dull!

3 Runs this week:
Total Distance: 68.1km
Total Time: 5hrs 6mins

The physical impact of the crash may not be affecting me currently, however the mental impact is indescribably clingy. All I want to do is to just forget about it, move on and get back on the bike. I’ve tried, but every couple of days I’ll relive the crash all over again or see a cyclist nearly get squished as I’m walking home. I suppose there are a couple of other things currently holding me back that mean it’s difficult to let it all go:

I’m still without my bike. The insurance company seem to be cooperating, if a bit slowly; even so, I wish it would hurry along a bit quicker so that all the worries that I have of any complications occurring and of not being reimbursed for the bike damage can be put out of my mind.

I’d been subconsciously avoiding riding my town bike. Partly because it’s a rusty pile of junk, but mainly because I had no confidence to ride it. It seems that I was right to have concerns. On Friday I had the choice of a 1 hour walk vs a 15 minute ride. It seemed silly not to cycle, so I bit the bullet and did just that. I’m a sensible cyclist however there were still two incidents on the 30 minute route trip that rattled me. The first involved an unnecessary near pass just before a red light (which we both then stopped at). The other involved a car that swerved into the cycle lane and then stopped immediately forcing me to quickly dismount onto the curb to avoid being squished. Obviously this is quite unlucky, but it hardly fills me with confidence…

The negative vibes that may be portrayed by my blog are probably down to the fact that it feels good to have a rant about the world. So I’ll finish with my positive, good news story 🙂

290 runners start the Ashton Court parkrun on a chilly Saturday morning
293 runners start the Ashton Court parkrun on a chilly Saturday morning.

A Splash of Positivity

Taking the lead at parkrun.
Briefly taking the lead at parkrun.

Yesterday I ran really well in the Ashton Court park run finishing 2nd. (Note this is not technically a race, but it is socially acceptable to treat it as one and many runners do so). I paced it pretty well on the hill and slowly pulled back the top 5 runners passing them all. At 1km to the finish I had the lead. Something I’m very very unfamiliar with. With 300m to go some guy zooms out of nowhere and leaves me for dead. I lost 8 seconds in those last metres. I’m still really happy that I could run 18:09 on a difficult course having had such poor training of late. Maybe next time I’ll get lucky and secure that Number 1 spot.

This week I’m going to keep this phrase in mind:

“You’ve got to get up every morning with determination if you’re going to go to bed with satisfaction” – George Lorimer

Photo credit: Rich Kenington – 7th February 2015 (Flickr) .

Hitting the ‘Resolution Wall’

It’s the end of week 4 of the training plan and things haven’t quite being going to plan. I imagine this about the time when New Year’s resolutions are ditched or commitment dwindles… In my case, the inevitable has been taken out of my control/forced upon me (for now).

The Plan What Actually Happened
Run 3½hrs 2hrs (1hr+ planned tomorrow)
Bike 4hrs 1hr
Swim 1hr 0hrs

My first ride of 2015 started on a balmy winter morning and ended with a very sore bottom and a written off bike. I’ve sometimes had some pretty dark thoughts regarding the outcome of coming off my bike at speed, but till now I’ve been quite lucky. In the end, I was surprised at how lightly I got off. I was riding at over 40kph (down a bit of a hill) on a regular main(ish) road, when a car pulled out from a side road; before I knew it, I was sitting on my arse 5-10 metres further on down the road.

Somehow, despite somersaulting and taking the first impact with the tarmac on my head, I didn’t break anything (on my body) and walked away with merely scrapes and bruises; I’ve been left rather stiff and sore, but (hopefully) nothing long-lasting. The bike on the otherhand is a write-off.

Of course the crash was a pain in the arse physically, financially, but most noticeable to me, mentally. Everything is a bit slower and I’m really itching to get back running again to release some energy! Having finished exams and with only 1 day of lectures each week, I always knew it was going to be hard to get into a routine with training and project work. The crash has scuppered my immediate plans of using the training regime to keep me in check and I’ve just been moping around a little bit lost in the world for the last couple of days.

Yesterday was my first run since the incident. The legs held up ok. Today was a much longer run (19km) with a lot resting on my right leg performing. I took it easy and all went well, so I’m hoping that lots of sleep has done the trick, and that I can get back to the training plan as soon as possible.

Supercharge Strava for Free!

I’m an avid Strava user however I won’t buy Strava Premium. Why? Because there are already loads of analysis tools out there that integrate with Strava and offer loads of geeky tools and pretty graphs to play with. I can’t think of any analysis that Strava premium might be able to offer me that I can’t already do for free. This is a list of 5 tools (+1 extra) that I use to better visualise the data recorded and stored by Strava.

Firstly, I’ll note that I’m very much aware that behind (almost) every website is a business that is out there to make money, and Strava is no exception. All large websites have bills to pay; servers, staff and hosting events all cost money, so I see why they need people to subscribe to premium. In fact, I thank all those who do pay for the service because in doing so you make it possible for me to use Strava for free!Screenshot 2015-01-21 00.02.38What I’m not ok with, is Strava forcing premium upon users e.g. ‘try-me for 30 days’, or ‘Joe just got premium, join him now.’ There’s even a little icon next to your notifications that is always there to tempt you! I’m not 100% sure what extra perks you get with Strava Premium. What I do know is that you should be made aware of these 6 tools and how they can enhance your analysis before you commit to purchasing premium.

This is not a comprehensive list, it is just the tools that I use and have come across through various means (word of mouth, blogs, twitter etc…). You could interpret it as a little payback to the community, where I’ve gather what I think is good and now I’m sharing it with you. I hope there’s something here that you’ve never heard of before and it improves your sporting analysis experience.

Activity Playback (Strava Labs)

Strava Activity Playback
Strava Activity Playback

This is a really cool little tool which I use every so often when I pass someone I know, or indeed someone I don’t and I’m interested in the route they rode. You simply pop in your Strava ride url and it shows your route overlaid with all the other Strava riders who rode routes which either crossed your path or came close. Will Barr gave me the link to this one; here’s a sample ride of me and him passing close to each other so you can see what I mean. I sometimes have a play around with this when there’s loads of groups going in different directions on a club ride. It can be a bit mesmerising to watch. You’ve been warned!

Strava Multiple Ride Mapper

Multiple Ride Mapper
Multiple Ride Mapper

This is another fascinating one. You’ve probably seen a general heatmap before, but have you seen one comprising of just your rides/runs? Using the ‘low detail’ option plots much quicker and gives you a good overview of where you’ve ridden before (best for people with 200+ activities to map). Or if you really can’t deal with losing the detail, pick ‘high detail’ and you’ll get all your routes as they would appear on Strava, but now they’re all overlaid on one map with appropriate ‘heat’ for the routes most travelled upon.

Global Heatmap (Strava Labs)

Strava Labs Heatmap
Strava Labs Heatmap

So you’ve mapped where you’ve been with the multiple ride mapper, but what about if you just want to see what the most popular routes are? This global heatmap gives you a great overview. I find it comes in handy when plotting new routes and I’m unsure whether a road will be suitable for a road bike. Just have a quick check on the heatmap to see what sort of frequency it’s been ride to give you an idea of whether it’s worth adding to the route. If no one else has ridden it before, i.e. there’s no heat, it’s probably best to steer clear.

Annual Summary (loads of data!)

Running Annual Summary
JPO – Running Annual Summary

The big numbers! There are two options for viewing a summary of all your activities displayed in all manner of tables and graphs. My faithful tool of choice for the last year or so has been jpo’s annual summary. This has enough detail with plenty of graphs and tables to pour over for hours; right up my street. Veloviewer delivers a slightly more in-your-face ‘US style’ (albeit UK based) summary with more stuff to play around with. Unfortunately this is limited to 25 activities, beyond which you can pay to go Pro… Boo! This is all about the free stuff! Still, it might be worth a check if you want to analyse a really good month or something like that. That being said, I’d still go with jonathanokeefe‘s annual summary.

Cycling Annual Summary
JPO – Cycling Annual Summary
Veloviewer summary
Veloviewer userpage

Segment Details

Another Strava tool from jpo that I hadn’t used until I decided to write this is the Segment Details tool. If the other tools were a bit nerdy, this is the pinnacle of ‘Strava Nerd’. It allows you to analyse the podium of segments, see all the efforts ever made and loads more. I imagine this could get quite demoralising over time. Strava Segment Details toolbar Strava Segment Details Podium results for KOM *This is pretty much my only KOM and I’d forgotten about the little Strava scrap to secure that top spot 😉

Plot a Route

Finally, this isn’t a Strava app, but it’s a cool surprisingly helpful tool to get you out of the habit of doing the same old routes over and over. Sometimes it’s difficult to be creative, Plotaroute helps you out by using the ‘Make me a route’ option. You can select a distance and either go in a loop or from point A to B, and it will plot around 10 options for you to try. Have a flick through and ride/run whatever route takes your fancy. The advanced option also allows you to select your preferred terrain e.g. hills or ‘flat as possible’ (quite handy around Bristol).

Plotaroute - make me a route
The plotaroute ‘Make Me A Route’ Option