Monday, 23 April 2012

To the victor - the spoils...

The race is run, the miles toiled through. Marathon number 5 and a personal best. 3h 18m 09s is forever mine in the annals of Marathon running. OK, it's not exactly a Kenyan pace, and I did just miss the 3h 15 which would be a Boston Qualifier standard. Doesn't matter.

What does matter to me is that I ran it well. 

I've always struggled to hold back the pace for the first few miles, the excitement of the event usually getting the better of me - and of course, having tapered down in the weeks prior, you feel springy, alive, like you can challenge the world. I know enough, now, to know that the feeling of elation can slip away from you in a heartbeat at about mile 16. It really is save now, spend later, where this race is concerned. I did find myself chasing a man dressed as a monk at mile 3...and then had to have a strong word with myself to slow, slow, slow...

I am getting ahead in the story. 

Sunday morning. 06.45am, Marriott, South Ken. Poor night's sleep - naturally. The morning is clean, sharp, and it isn't raining. The forecast has changed totally in the week, and we are now on for the perfect race conditions - cool not cold, dry, still. I hop in the lift, past the night porter, and out into the Sunday silence of the Cromwell Road. On the road, I pass another runner, waiting with his red kitbag, like mine. He's taking a taxi to the start and kindly offers me a lift - but for me the train is part of the build up, the energy, the purpose. I walk on to the tube, pausing only for a coffee in Starbucks - where of course I meet another runner. We talk nervously, and head into the tube. We meet others. Suddenly we are two dozen on the platform, smiling, chatting, like an exercise-bound version of the Moonies, heading to the start. The tube arrives, and we disgorge hundreds of sport-shoe-clad, be-lycra'd runners, all clutching the red plastic square that marks you out as ONE OF US. It's just gone 7am at Charing Cross...

...fastforward to Greenwich now, and the athlete's area. 37,000 hopes, dreams, fears...I meet a fellow runner from work and wish her well..and then I warm up a bit, luxuriating in the fact that I have a ticket for pen 2 and thus will commence within 50 yards of the start. This is the 'semi-good' start, and means that I do not have to worry, for my place is secure amongst only a couple of hundred runners. I can leave it to the last minute to take my place, and the masses must stay behind me! We chat. We pretend to stretch and warm up. We pee (as subtly as we can do) and we check our GPS for the hundredth time.

..and then we are off, and nothing matters, this is it, you start, you run, you finish, and in the middle you prove yourself. What am I going to be today, you wonder - hero, weakling, passive, active, true to myself, conqueror of my feelings or victim to my tiredness? The first few miles pass easily enough, and you take in the surroundings, the cheering, the music. By mile 5 you are in the race, and can do a quick check in with all major functions. All seems to be going well. Then the Kodo drummers under the bridge, their rhythm beats into your chest, and you have to stop yourself from sprinting. Hold back, hold back...

..then you hit 10 miles, and after a systems check, which concluded that you are feeling good, you start, ever so gently, to pick up the pace, to get faster. You pass people every second, for as you are speeding, they are slowing. Then Tower Bridge. No words can prepare you for the wave of energy and cheering that lifts you across, you have seen, heard, felt nothing like this. You round the corner and it continues for 2 more miles, a solid wave of sound. 

..and at 15 it's starting to tell on you a bit, but not too much. You compare with last year...yes, I am feeling much better than last year, oh push on, you keep passing runners, you hit Canary Wharf, and now you know you are digging deep, this relentless pace is tough, and yet you are still passing, passing, passing...and now you worry about fuelling, have I got it right, did I take emerge and see the Gherkin, and now it's 21 miles, and oh you know you've worked today. You push harder to maintain the pace, and now you know that it is just going to be a battle for the last 5, and one that you can't know the outcome. This could go either way. Tower Bridge again, this time, you're on your way to the finish and on the other side of the road, they are not even half way. Push, push, wonder if anything can help...

23 passes and your legs are like lead, where did that come from so suddenly? this is the moment I dreaded, the moment when I knew I was no longer fully in charge...then the Cannon Street underpass...200 yards of sudden silence and darkness. Some stop, as if their spirit is broken, or if here is the only place they can walk without being seen. Some pee. I push on, we are carrying on today, we are a bit broken, a bit battered, but we still have some strength. You emerge into the light. The pace has slowed a bit, you now know that you cannot pull a further pace increase out of the bag. Holding this will be tough enough. You focus. Cleopatra's Needle. Janet will be there. God you want to stop. But you won't. Today is not a stopping day. Now you know this.

24. You know you will carry on but you know there will be a compromise, what will it be? Pass Janet, wave, be cheery like you always are for the cheering supporters, but you know she'll know you are struggling, for you are not your usual self at this point, you are digging in. 

25. Look up at Big Ben. 5 minutes to my target, but..what? 7, 8, 9 mins of running left? You just keep going, now there is no doubt in your mind you will finish and finish well, a PB is on today, even if 3h15 isn't. Could you push it, you wonder? You chance a lift in pace and a muscle says no way, not now mate, so you compromise and drop a few secs/mile, it won't matter now and it will get you home

800 yards to go..that's half a mile..never did that seem so long. The tarmac is pink around Buckingham Palace, this is a strange place, this is like an illusion, a are on autopilot now. You round the corner and still you are running, this is it, you are going to do it, and then there's the finish ahead...

200 yards and you see the clock..not quite as much of a gap to your previous best, but something to be proud has been good..

You Finish.

Smile. Whoop. Stagger. Get Medal. Remove chip. Get water. Get kitbag.

Today you now know that you delivered. 

That feels good.



Monday, 16 April 2012

Two lovely wines...

It's fair to say that my wine consumption habits are probably not the ideal pre-marathon training - however, in my pursuit of good-for-age running times, I am not prepared to don the hair shirt, which therefore tells you enough in the way of revealed preference for the amateur psychologist amongst you about the relative importance of the goal to important but not a 'be-all-and-end-all' kind of thing.

So, the weekend prior to the marathon, two lovely wines to titivate the palate. 

First up, Petaluma Riesling 2011 (Waitrose, about £11?). This was so perfect with a stir-fry, all lovely ripe citrus and lime fruits, juiciness personified in the mouth, and with a clean finish that just lingered on. These cool-climate Rieslings from Australia (Clare Valley this time) are just sensational. And, whilst they are not exactly unknown to the wine drinking community, still, I think that too many people are put off by a tall brown bottle - some kind of Pavlovian reaction kicks in and they think of the horrible sweet liebfraumilch drunk in their youth! Away with such thoughts, this is NONE of that! 

Then, in the red camp, back to the world of France and Bordeaux. I have a number of 2002 and 2003 Bordeaux wines in the cellar and I never quite get a handle on whether they are right to drink now or not. Anyway, in this case, I seem to have hit lucky. The year was a warm one for Bordeaux, and so you are expecting a bit more in the way of blackcurranty cabernet fruit, and less of the 'cigar-box and lead pencils' that is more usually associated with a mature claret. This was in fact a real treat - good body, soft, perfumed and delicate, with plummy richness and a great finish.

A very good drinking weekend!

Pip pip

Thursday, 12 April 2012

A right pain in the knee....

9 days to go to the marathon. Perhaps what I did not to have to deal with was a sharp, continuous pain in the right knee after about 3 miles...

Today's treatment is the glorious 'dry needling' which is every bit as unpleasant as it sounds. It's like acupuncture without the soothing music...

We shall see if it does the trick!

Friday, 6 April 2012

The times when it doesn'te go quite right

I am in curious time right now. 16 days to the marathon, so the running plan is definitely in taper mode. The usual plan is to cut the miles, but maintain the intensity. My last two weeks of training have been compromised by going to Italy (pasta, house, heat, wine, mozzarella di bufala, hills, time..) and a knee problem that seems to come on at mile 3. So, I have missed my last big long run and the one before that wasn't perfect.

I've read enough to know that the right approach is not to panic, most people rarely hit 80% of their plan, and I do have a lot of the fitness banked. And on the day I will be able to manage, it feels like this is in the category of 'painful but not damaging'. However this stage of training is all about the mind - trusting in the work completed, relying on years of experience that says your muscles need 3 weeks to feel fresh, and knowing that you cannot 'cram' the training now, even if your knee was fine - which is isn't.

So, a balancing act. Come the day, all will be well.