It Ain't Half Hot Mum by Andy Mahoney

It’s normally agreed that the question “How did it go?” does not put you on oath to give a full and honest answer.  You assume that no one really wants to hear the finer details and minor horrors of a race that didn’t go to plan. Or perhaps they do, if only to be sure they’re not alone in having their body go from friend to foe in the blink of an eye.

We all know that’s exactly what can happen in marathons, especially when someone’s turned the heating up and the twisting streets of London are hotter than Satan’s naughty bits. We all knew it was going to be hot.  VMLM sent us text messages saying so, and advised us not run dressed as a rhino. The BBC said it would be hot too. Even non-runners (we now call them Muggles) who don’t know the first thing about running marathons felt obliged to tell us it would be hot. “It’ll be hot,” they said. And they were right – it was.

Despite all this I wasn’t overly concerned. Though as I sat on the Eagles’ coach, eating a bowl of porridge that had slowly turned into cement, there was some slight trepidation as we neared Blackheath. Blimey I thought; a year later than planned but I’ve got to do it now.

I got down from the coach, repaired a few potholes with the leftover porridge, and headed over for the group photo.  After this we slowly separated and headed to our respective start areas. I went to blue, which at least had the benefit of being a cooling colour.  Others went to the red start, a colour more closely associated with hell, and quite possibly a more accurate premonition.

I spent much of my time in the blue start in the wonderful company of Suzanne Grant and Stephen Ralston (who assured me he wasn’t David Powlson, but who can be sure). Anyway, as Suzanne, Dave and I sat on cardboard mats that were kindly supplied by the EHM volunteers, there was little talk of the heat. It was if you like, the calm before the storm – except there was no bloody storm.

After the obligatory last-minute toilet visits we headed to the starting pens.  I positioned myself close to the 3:45 pacers. This was my target time, and as it was generally considered to be ‘slightly conservative’ I thought I might still be in with a chance despite the weather.  How wrong I was.  It turns out that 3:45 was less ‘mildly conservative’ and more ‘Monster Raving Looney’.  Still, you live and you learn.  It’s the last time I’ll be voting ‘mildly conservative’.

I finally set off at 10:22 and the first few miles felt OK, but things soon changed.  By mile five I was a minute behind target.  This was partly down to some bottlenecking.  It was surprisingly busy in the first few miles and I frequently found myself up against an impassable wall of slower runners and walkers.  This may have been down to the heat because people were slowing down early – deliberately or otherwise.

By mile ten my wrist pace band was a constant reminder of the ever-increasing gap between my target time and where I was.  I’d have torn the bloody thing off, but I’d taped it on so well it would have required a pair of scissors to remove it. And as any teacher will tell you – you mustn’t run with scissors.

By mile 13 I was genuinely concerned about not being able to finish.  I thought this must be what it feels like to run a marathon without any training. Except that I had trained. I had trained bloody hard and the training had gone very well.  Six runs over 20 miles and they’d all gone like clockwork.  Yet here I was at mile 13, sinking like the Nutty Professor on a see-saw.

The trouble was of course that I (like everyone else) had trained through the winter in near arctic conditions, and was now running in what felt like sub-Saharan conditions.  Let me tell you, it does not work.

I know that it was back at about mile six that one of the lenses felt out of my sunglasses.  Strangely, this is something I failed to notice until, well – after the finish at Horse Guards Parade.  And so I ran most of the marathon looking like some partially sighted guy who’d become separated from his guide.  This may account for why the roars of encouragement often sounded somewhat on the compassionate side.

And so I plodded on, the visor on my cap shielding my good eye from the sun, and possibly accounting for why I hadn’t noticed the missing lens.  Though by this point my brain was so focused on putting one foot in front of the other, that if my shorts had fallen off I doubt I’d have notice them either.  That certainly would have generated some decent crowd sympathy – and quite possibly a BBC interview.

As each mile went past I knew those tracking me could see I’d slowed down dramatically, and may be concerned.  There was little I could do about that except keep going, but eventually I had to walk for bit. Naturally I wasn’t happy about this, but I clearly wasn’t alone – I’ve never seen so many walkers in a marathon.

Somehow – don’t ask me how, because I genuinely don’t know – I made it to mile 23.  This gave me an adrenaline boost and chance to let people know I was OK.  Perhaps I should have slowed down because it went by in a quick blur.  I was desperately looking for Rachel, plus my sister and niece.  Familiar faces went by but not these three.  I stated to panic and thought I’d missed them, but then at the end of the row, they were there!

Suddenly I had more energy and with about three miles to go I thought I could dig deep and finish a little stronger.  Alas by the time I came out of the nearby tunnel I was wrecked again and slowed right down.

Eventually the mile markers became kilometre markers, and mercifully meter markers. That final kilometre was the hardest kilometre I have ever run. I crossed the finish line and couldn’t quite believe it was over.  My time was 04:20:33. That’s 35 minutes behind my target time.

Am I disappointed? No, not in the least.  Whilst it would have been nice to run in more favourable conditions and see if I could make 03:45, I think we all did the best we could in brutal conditions. And besides I only had one good eye.

Later in the Wellington pub there was much talk of the harsh conditions.  It wasn’t all doom and gloom though.  I had an interesting conversation with Kieran Santry, Emily Schmidt and few others about pre-race toilet strategy.  The main focus was around when and how many times one goes for a poo before a race.  The average seemed to be two number twos per person, which I suppose is easy to remember.

I must say Mr Santry was well informed on the subject and if you’re ever in need of pre-race toilet training (so-to-speak) than you’re strongly advised to consult with him.  When it comes to talking shite, Santry’s your man.

Finally, I got home for a much-needed early night.  As I was crawling into bed I noticed a blister on my left foot.  Like the missing lens earlier, I had completely failed to notice it before. I didn’t even notice it when showering in the gym. Still, it was my first ever running-related blister so I suppose I wasn’t expecting it.  Nonetheless, I had a quick check to see there was nothing else I’d missed.  I’m pleased to report there wasn’t. All toes and other vital appendages were thankfully still attached.

And talking of reporting, that brings us to the end of my race day report, and this year’s blogs.  It was hard, at times it was hell, but thanks to the Eagles it was always amazing.

And if I ever do it again I promise to run for the RNIB…

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Nearly There...

I have now officially been tapering for over a week, though you’d need to keep a very keen eye on Strava to notice. Whilst last week’s overall mileage was about seven miles less than the previous week, I still finished with a 20-mile run on Sunday. I find it hard to consider any week that includes a 20 mile run to be a tapering week.  But taper it was as I’d ran 22 miles the previous Sunday.  

This 22-miler was the longest run of my training plan and I’m pleased to say it went very well.  The idea was to run the first 14 miles slower than marathon pace and the final eight at marathon pace or quicker.  Somehow I managed the final miles much quicker and finished strongly.  I’m not quite sure how I managed this. Perhaps it’s down to a good training plan and a good coach. Yes that’ll be it.  My coach is of course my girlfriend, Rachel, which some might say is a risky strategy.  But to be fair it’s all worked very well.  Phew…

I incorporated this 22 mile run into the Kingston Half in order to take full advantage of the water stations and marshals. Whilst taking advantage of marshals is frowned upon in some quarters, I was happy to make do with their words of encouragement.  In fact when one enthusiastically told me I was almost at mile 10, I felt no need to mention I was actually on mile 19. He would have assumed I was a show-off, or possibly just lost.

Next week’s training will finish with a not-so-long run of a mere 13 miles. That’s one of the great things about marathon training – it makes the half marathon distance seem like an absolute breeze.

However, I’m pleased to be finally tapering as the last few weeks have been the toughest.  They were not helped by the weather, where I welcomed the return of the Beast from the East with about as much enthusiasm as a Russian in Salisbury.  There were times earlier in my plan when the weather was so bad and icy that I had to resort to the dreaded treadmill. As anyone who has been bored shitless on one of these infernal contraptions will know, it’s not a decision to be taken lightly.  Spring marathons will obviously require winter training, but I think the weather has been particularly unkind this year. 

My plan has included six runs of 20 miles or more.  Some have told me this sounds tough, but I do not say that, and refer you back to the paragraph about my coach as to the reasons why.  Whilst I was starting to feel a bit battered by all the mileage I now feel fine, with very few aches.  In fact I could not have asked for the last 13 weeks of training to have gone any better.  I am as well prepared as I could hope to be. I know what it’s like when marathon training goes horribly wrong, so I’m pleased I somehow held it together and got though the hard miles this year.

It now seems like a very long time since my name was drawn from the hat in the December 2016 club ballot. But one deferral and 16 months later I’m now impatient for race day to arrive.

So with less than two weeks to ago I have a simple final strategy: eat well, taper well and don’t do anything stupid.

Hopefully I’ll see you at mile 23. Oh and of course, good luck to all the ballot winners and other Eagles running London this year.    

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Training Going Well, Blog Less So by Andy Mahony

It’s been more than a few weeks since my last blog. Sorry about that. The delay in delivering this latest round of running related ramblings is down to one simple but unavoidable fact – I’ve been too knackered to write it.

Whilst marathon training does not ordinarily lead to writer’s fatigue, changing jobs halfway through marathon training most certainly does.  And so fellow Eagles this week’s training advice is simple: avoid changing jobs halfway through marathon training, especially if the new job delivers you a longer commute than you previously had.

Anyway, since my last blog there’s been lots of running in lots of places, nearly all of which has gone according to plan.

A few weeks back there was the Hillingdon Half, which I incorporated into a longer run by running the seven miles to the start.  It all went without a hitch. Well, apart from the obvious hitch of a lead bike error and a short course.  However, at the end of my overall run my Garmin said 20 miles, which was what my plan said it should say.  So whilst obviously frustrating for others, I was fine.

Perhaps the most important run for me so far was the Cambridge Half on the 4 March.  It was immediately after last year’s Cambridge Half that I decided to defer my London Marathon place.  Last year at Cambridge I’d been plagued by an assortment of injuries in the lead up to the race, and just to be consistent; I finished in a lot of pain too.

Not this year though.  There were no injuries to report before, during or after the race. And whilst I didn’t get a new half PB (it still stands at 1:43:59) I did manage a respectful 1:45:20.  

In fact the only hitch was starting in the wrong pen.  I’m fairly sure I put down 1:45 as my predicted time (a spot-on prediction as it turns out).  However, I ended up in the pen behind the 1:45 pacers, meaning I faced a bottle-neck when I did finally set off.   In fact I didn’t see a pacer the whole course.  I’m not sure how much this affected my time and to be honest I’m not too bothered.  The race went well in all other respects and was head and shoulders above last year’s effort.   And unlike last year I didn’t have to stop off at the pharmacist for some Ibuprofen on the way to Weatherspoons. That’s always a bonus.

The Richmond Half was to be my next event, again used as part of a longer training run – 21 miles this time. As many of you will know this race, and many others, was cancelled due the return of hysteria from Cyberia.  

Alas marathon plans don’t give a hoot about inclement weather and so I set off early on Sunday morning for a seven mile run to Richmond Park followed by two seven-mile laps of the park itself.

It was bitterly cold and the wind on the west side of the park cut through me like a knife.  However, I did have one advantage over the other runners in the park.  The wonderful Rachel was camped out in the café near Roehampton Gate and came out with water each time I passed by. Of course, to time this correctly I did have to stick to my training pace, but despite the ice-cold headwind I managed to do so.

I also bumped into fellow Eagle Hannah Copeland and it was nice to see a friendly face in these rather grim conditions.  I finished my 21 miles near Roehampton Gate and headed into the café to be met by Rachel and Hannah.  After I glugged back plenty of water, Hannah bought me a most welcome cup of tea. (Thanks Hannah!)

After being sat down for a few moments I started to develop a burning sensation in both my legs.  It gradually increased and became quite uncomfortable, reaching from my hips to my feet. Just my luck I thought; I get this far through marathon training with barely a hitch, only to spontaneously combust in Richmond Park.

I’m not sure what caused it (no, I hadn’t spilt my tea) , but suspect putting my muscles through well over three hours of running in very cold temperatures and then coming into the warmth of the cafe, may have had something to do with it.  Whatever the cause it soon wore off and within about 20 minutes I was back to normal.

My longest mid-week run was 11 miles last Wednesday. As I now work near Waterloo I decided to make this run my commute home.  This is the closest that I get to multi-tasking, but I’m pleased to say it all went according plan.

And ‘went according to plan’ pretty much describes every training run I’ve had so far.  Whilst this is great news for me I appreciate it doesn’t make for the most exciting blog.  And whilst I’m not a suspicious man I will not tempt fate by going on about it.  Except to say that I hope my good fortune continues for the remaining four weeks’ training.

Just four weeks?  Blimey – it’s not long now.  With a bit of luck nothing ‘exciting’ will happen between now and then, and my next blog will bore you all to sleep.

Now if you don’t mind, I have a rest day to get on with…

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A Case of Garmin Disconnect by Andy Mahony

As I write this the London Marathon is exactly ten weeks away.  This still feels like a fair way off and yet next week is already my first ‘cut back week’.  My training plan for the week ahead has me down for some relatively easy mid-week sessions and a mere 11 miles this Sunday.

This practically feels like a week off and I won’t deny I’m pleased at the thought.  Last week was what some people like to call ‘challenging’. I like to call it ‘hard’ because I’ve never been one for genteelism.

The training week started out with track on Tuesday. I’m not really sure if I like track, whilst the running surface makes a nice change from the rock-strewn Thames towpath, running around in circles doesn’t quite do it for me. I like hills though; what’s that all about?

Anyway, I managed to get my track session slightly wrong. Well quite a lot wrong actually. It should have been six times one mile, with a two minute rest in-between each mile.  This was to be followed by 10 lots of 200 metres, with 200 metre recovery jogs. (I won’t bore you with the pace details)

For me the trouble with running around in circles alone is that I loose count after, say, about one lap. This is where the Garmin website comes to the rescue by allowing you to download a workout onto your watch, so it will vibrate and generally tell you what to do and when to do it.

Success here is predicated on you entering your workout details correctly and not, for example, entering 200km repeats when you meant 200m. What sort of idiot would do that?  Well me as it transpires.  I soon realised my mistake and had to ignore my watch (though obviously with such long intervals the watch appeared to be ignoring me) and start keeping a mental note of what I’d done. The result of this, and mix-up on the earlier mile repeats, was that I inadvertently shaved off about a quarter of the session.  Well done me.

I finished feeling tired but nowhere near the physical wreck I was assured I would be. My training plan had advised that I ‘take the pain in,’ and ‘smile when it starts to hurt’. Who the hell writes this stuff? Presumably it’s people who’ve actually completed the session and can operate a simple watch.

Anyway having got home and realised my schoolboy error there was no way I was going back out (I’d already made a cup of tea) and I figured most of the session was better than none of the session.

The rest of the week consisted of a 5 mile run on Wednesday and 20 miles on Saturday morning (moved from Sunday to allow for a carb-loading beer session on Saturday night).

Twenty miles is the furthest I have run in quite some time and I’m pleased to say it went well.  I only started to feel tired with about three miles to go, and given this last stretch was mostly uphill, I think that’s allowed. Besides, my average pace was spot-on and I achieved an overall negative split.

Added to this my hip and its pesky Femoro Acetabular Impingement behaved itself too.  There was brief worrying moment at mile 19 where a sharp pain occurred.  However, it went away after about 30 seconds and didn’t return.  It didn’t start niggling the next day either, as it’s been prone to do, and even survived a walk around Kew Gardens on Sunday (avoid the cafes – £4 for a slice of cake and about three grand for a cup of tea).

I’m writing this blog at home with a free cup of tea and a biscuit (next time I’ll use a laptop) and this is about as energetic as I’m going to get for the rest of day.

You learn a lot about yourself and the business of running whilst marathon training, and this week I’ve learnt three things: enjoy your recovery weeks while you can, appropriately priced tea is important, and if your Garmin tells you to run 1,240 miles on a track session it’s best to ignore it…

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Here We Go Again... by Andy Mahony

As some of you will know this is my second attempt at training for the London Marathon.  After winning a club ballot place last year my efforts were scuppered by a veritable plethora of strange and interesting injuries.  Obviously I did my best to avoid injuries, but my injuries did their best to avoid being avoided – if you know what I mean.

I have since discovered that one particular injury was the route of all evil.  That is, all other problems were caused indirectly as result of overcompensating for it.  The injury in question goes by wonderful name of Femoro Acetabular Impingement (FAI).  It means the ball and socket joint of the hip doesn’t move as freely as it should and so running causes friction and inflammation.  It sounds painful, and trust me, it is.

Strictly speaking it’s not an injury as it’s something I’ve probably always had.  It’s just that a walk to the shops is unlikely to aggravate it whereas, say, running the Cambridge Half Marathon might just get the bugger going.  In fact last year’s Cambridge Half did get the bugger going and it was at this point I decided to defer my London place.

However, later in the year I ran the Ealing Half Marathon without so much as niggle.  Perhaps this could be incorporated into EHM’s marketing strategy – great crowd support and FAI friendly. 

The lack of a pain on the Ealing Half may also be put down to the advice of a good physiotherapist.  I’ll call my physio Dave because I’ve forgotten his real name.  However I won’t call him Dave Powlson because that would be too confusing.  Anyway Dave turned out to be a top guy (tallish, angular good looks) who had done a fair bit of running, including a marathon, and so he seemed to take particular interest in my Ferrero Rocher Aero Assortment hip problem thing. The downside was I had to wait 11 weeks to see him, but all good things come to those who wait. There was one other notable plus point with Dave – he was free!

Anyway, this has all resulted in months of stretching and strengthening exercises, whilst trying to keep running and gradually (and I mean gradually) upping the mileage.  So in some ways I feel like I’ve been marathon training since last summer.  This may be a club record.

Over Christmas I was in the Philippines (yes, lucky me) and I managed to get a few runs in despite the heat and sandy terrain, but to be honest it wasn’t really conducive for marathon training (you pass too many cool beach bars).

So in reality I’m now a few weeks in to ‘proper’ marathon training and my highest weekly mileage to-date is only 27.2 miles (that’s 43.9K in new money).  The hip has been fine on all runs but often sore the next day.  I guess all I can do is keep following the physio’s advice and see what the coming weeks bring.  My hip may cope with the mileage demands of marathon training, or it might not. If it copes I’ll be on that start line; if not I’ll once again be stood on haystack at mile 23 having a much easier time.

For now let’s just see if I can make it past the Cambridge Half in four weeks’ time.  Although now that I think if it, I’m panning to do the Hillingdon Half before then.   

So on second thoughts let’s just see if I can make it to February…

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