Harry's VLM Blog 9 - Race Day!

So, I finally I was to arrive at one of those events that defines your life into two halves – before and after running a marathon. I had those pre-exam nerves and couldn’t relax. As I arranged everything I would need for the next day a nagging feeling that I was missing something struck me, and as I searched again through the instructions I finally found a sentence that confirmed my fears; I didn’t have the clear plastic kit bag that you had to use to get your things transported from the start to the finish. Perhaps it fell out of my bag at the Expo, perhaps they never gave it to me at registration. I’ll never know. I did see two people with the kit bags as I left the Expo and wondered where they had got them. The helpline couldn’t say for sure they would have spares, so I packed light in case I needed to take up kind offers from other Eagles with spare space in their kit bags, and took my spare clothes in a similar bag from another half, just in case that was acceptable.

Given all this I was even more grateful to only have to make to Ealing Green for 6:45am to catch the Eagles coach to the start. It was cold, but fortunately not windy on the exposed Blackheath starting area, and after a photo we split into our separate start areas; I was in Blue. It was on a scale I hadn’t seen before; rows of baggage trucks along one side, port-a-loos along another and the starting pen along the third, with urinal areas and large changing tents in the middle, and an EHM team handing out bottled water. I went straight to the info tent where to my delight they had a box of spare kit bags. It had felt like unboxing a new toy only to find it dented, and suddenly I felt like a genuine full participant like everyone else. However, as I packed light, I was feeling the cold and on the edge of shivering in a long sleeve T-shirt and bin bag, and was hoping that I wouldn’t use up too much energy keeping warm in the long wait until the start. After a second nervous visit to the urinals, we dropped off our kit bags with 30 minutes to go. The queues were just beginning to stretch out across the start area as we entered the start pen. The warmth of the surrounding runners made it a bit warmer as the minutes ticked down and we finally shuffled forwards. I’d put in an very optimistic finish time when I applied so was fortunately in pen 2 with some other fast Eagles runners, and when the hooter finally went it took less than 40 seconds to cross the start line.

The main aim of the first few miles was to settle into an efficient rhythm at the right pace, which seems bizarrely slow given the excitement. After about a mile, just when it looks to be thinning out a bit, the Green start suddenly merges in. Shortly after I saw someone in my peripheral vision lose balance, perhaps clipped by someone else. It looked like he would be righted by the runner between us, but he somehow missed him, and in what seemed like slow motion he tumbled to the ground. Fortunately, perhaps because he had plenty of time to think as slowly fell, he didn’t land hard, but did a sort of stuntman roll towards me so I ended up hurdling his head, his hand clipping my foot on the way over. I could hear the sounds of runners trying to avoid a pile up behind me, and made a split second decision that I wasn’t in the best position to help, and I would more likely add to the carnage if I stopped.

After 2.5 miles the course drops down off the heath down into Woolwich, where the huge mass of the red start flowed in like a giant tributary. It must have had a later or slower start as I saw the red 3 hr pacer go past, and I’m sure I glimpsed Jose up ahead, which worried me. I was checking my kilometre splits and freewheeling down the hill had got me ahead of schedule of my target time and I consciously tried to scale it back as we headed to Greenwich. The crowds that lined the route were getting deeper and noisier, and charity cheer squads would erupt into deafening cheers if one of their runners were spotted. I ran along the side of the stream to take in the atmosphere. I had ironed my name onto my Eagles vest a couple of years ago for the EHM, and I was getting plenty of plenty of personal encouragement. I vividly remember catching the eye of a man about my age, who with the SE London accent I remember from my childhood told me ‘Come, you can do this Harry’ like a friend I had known all my life. It was around this time I spotted the first of the mobile Eagles cheer squads, standing on something to rise above the throng.

I was checking my km splits on my watch, and checking the clock times on the mile markers against my Xempo pace pocket. The water stations were every mile or so, and even if you missed them, you could find a runner who had finished with a bottle. Each time I soaked my head and took a swig rather than a gulp. I carried four gels to take every 45 minutes, alternating caffeine ones, though the first one I took resulted in mild stomach cramps which had me worried for a while.

After the landmark of the Cutty Sark there were a lot of miles to tick off to Tower Bridge and the psychologically important milestone of half way, when the miles left are less than the miles run. I was beginning to spot the same runners again, and would exchange the odd words with runners from local clubs I recognised. The pace wasn’t feeling as easy as at the start, and I knew the halfway in terms of effort was still some miles away. As I passed the London Pride stand they were blazing out Dizzee Rascal’s ‘Bonkers’, and I was emotional transported to watching the GB hockey team score in the 2012 Olympics down the road. I loved the music at various places around the course, whether live bands or blaring out of loud speakers.

It was shortly after halfway that the elite men came flying down the other side of the road on the way to the finish – a reminder that we were in the same race, though I was some way behind. I’d purposefully not run the route in training as I wanted to experience it all fresh. This did mean I was a bit disorientated in the Docklands, not quite sure where I was headed and the effort was steadily building. When I finally ran past the towers at Canary wharf I didn’t have the energy to look up, and was thankful of the roving Eagles cheering me on. By 20 miles I was beginning to feel drained and focused on ticking off the 3 miles to the cheer squad. The stream of runners had thinned out a bit, and more of them were struggling. I had steadily banked another couple of minutes ahead of my target, but I still feared hitting a wall in the last few miles and fought to keep the pace up.

I was worried about not getting up on the pavement early enough for mile 23 and ran on the right hand side to make sure I didn’t miss it. When it arrived it seemed very narrow with a marshal on it who wasn’t looking in my direction. It may have been the emotional lift of seeing my wife and kids but it suddenly felt like running down a steep hill. I hadn’t planned what I should do, and I just let out a roar as I ran past a blur of familiar faces, high fiving as I went, and it seemed over in a second.


Then came the dreaded underpass out of the reach of the crowds. I was really having to work hard now but I was determined not to drop the pace. The Embankment seemed to go on forever. I was catching three men in an inflatable boat. I’d run with Darth Vader for bit, been overtaken by a monk and passed someone dressed as a peanut, but up until now I hadn’t seen too much fancy dress, and I was determined not to beaten by the boat. Turning round past the Houses of Parliament, the photos show I’ve got full race face on with half empty half haunted expression. I remember seeing people stopped with less than a kilometre to go trying to stretch out cramp and hoping that my legs would hold for a few more metres. When I turned into the Mall and could see the finish I knew I could make it, though no sprint finish; my body was in too delicate a state to try anything that rash. I managed an Eagle pose for the cameras and then a wave of relief as I made the finish line over 3 minutes inside my target time and gratefully received a medal. But as I picked up the goody bag and walked down to the baggage trucks chatting to a Fulham runner the pain in my legs seemed to get worse as they stiffened up. The sun, which had come out in patches during the last few miles suddenly seemed intense and hot and I was glad not to still be out on the course. I went to meet Plan International who I raised some money for, as it seemed rude not to say hello, and they were very charming and grateful, and gave me another little bag of goodies.

I walked over to the pub in Waterloo and was struck by the number of people who stopped to congratulate me. One family even asked if they could take a picture of me with their little girl. Getting on the bus in the morning with all the other Eagles, and then starting the race in a crowd of tens of thousands, it was easy to forget what an achievement running a marathon is, and this was an unexpected but welcome reminder. They didn’t ask what time I got – just the finishers medal was enough. Everyone has had their own journey to the finish line, and I have been more fortunate than most. A group enjoying some beers on the Southbank in the sunshine called over to say that the café was giving out free brownies to marathon runners, which turned out to be true.

The Eagles were gradually arriving at the pub and following a welcome shower in the gym round the corner I finally met up with the family for a welcome beer. The rest of the Eagles, runners and supporters filled up the corner of the pub, the beer eased the pain, and we relived the day’s achievements. It was people chatting about marathons they had run which had finally hooked me into trying to enter the London marathon – I wanted to feel part of that world, to share the experience. It was also a challenge to motivate me to improve as a runner. Apart from the slight hiccup with the kit bag I had been incredibly lucky, from winning the last ballot place to staying injury free and fit during the training, to having perfect running conditions in what is arguably the best marathon in the world, with the best cheer squad of any running club. People asked at today’s victory brunch when I will be running my next marathon. But I can’t see how I could possibly top this experience.

I don’t feel qualified to give any training advice, my training had fit around family life and was influenced by what I felt comfortable with from my experience as a rugby player in my youth. Be wary of people who are more excited about success, than doing the thing that they want to be successful at. I enjoyed the whole journey; training runs along new routes or with fellow Eagles, club champs races. Run your own race and enjoy your running.

Harry's Blog 8 19/04/17

With just 4 days to go, it is all becoming very real, with marathon being mentioned everywhere, though fortunately in the weather forecast it was to say it was good conditions for the runners. Even prince Harry had been to the Expo.

I managed a decent crack at the Thames Towpath 10 miler; I couldn’t quite keep up the early pace in that tricky third quarter. I doubt we will see such a dusty towpath in April again, and given the sunshine, and my daughter’s birthday paintballing later that morning, I was grateful of the early start. There followed some shorter runs, scoping out Harrow on the Hill in the dark, a possible WCR training run. Over Easter a different canal (pictured), with more locks than I’m used to, and finally some unavoidable hills when visiting my mother over Easter. Even the facial hair is coming along nicely. With 740 miles in the bank since the start of the year at an averaging 45 miles a week, I have run over a marathon for each mile of the marathon on Sunday.

Today, nervous about making sure everything is in place for race day I went to pick up my number from the wrong side of town. I’d never been to a running Expo before and didn’t know quite what to expect. Opposite the entrance were rows of booths to pick up race numbers – presumably getting it out of the way first to make sure people don’t forget what they came for, and then oddly you pick up a the timing chip separately. Then there was a challenge to run on a rolling road 400m at elite marathon pace. I jogged down from Canning town to save some time, so I was all set in my running kit and up for a challenge. It was hard work, and tricky staying in the middle of the slightly spongy rolling road, but 70 seconds later an Abbot World Marathon Majors cap was mine. Slightly sweaty, next was the large Adidas merchandise area, reminiscent of the 2012 Olympic shop. I was confident enough of finishing the race to treat myself to shirt and running top. Then it was into the Expo proper with hundreds of stands for running products, charity stands and race promotions. My Eagles WCR top was noticed by a Runners World pacer from Les Croupiers, and I found another Eagles member who was very complimentary about how friendly the club was. On the main stage there were experts preaching race day tactics to the faithful. There was a goody bag similar to what you would normally receive at the end of a race to pick up if you flashed a race number. Then, finally there were the photo opportunities to support all the fundraisers. Apparently over £16 million had already been raised. It was all very different to picking up a number from a gazebo in a field.

I’ve managed to squeeze training runs in around family life, from early morning runs into work to running round Greenford in the dark while my daughter swims. I have even found late night pounding the pavements after carbo loading a stash of spuds uncomfortable, but tolerable. The long runs have generally been early on weekend mornings. But still there has been an impact, and this is probably the right time to thank everyone, in particular the mother-in-law who has been looking after the children when I head out for an evening run, for patiently indulging my slightly selfish personal challenge. It will all be over soon. Just one final long run left on Sunday.

Harry's Blog 7 - 8/4/17

The cold symptoms have thankfully gradually disappeared over the last couple of weeks. I hadn’t managed any intervals or hills for a while, so I went for 20 reps of West Walk hard up with recovery on the way down. At least I have finally worked out how to use the lap button to keep track of the number of reps, a simple mental task that is completely beyond me when I am pushing hard.

I’ve been using the marathon training to run some new and interesting long routes, so the next dayI ran the scenic route home from work for the first time. This took me from Paddington down through the Royal parks to the houses of parliament, where there were poignant reminders of the attack the week before, and then along the river to Kew Bridge and home. There was quite a head wind, and my legs felt heavy, but it is an interesting route. Unlike the bridges further upstream, those in the centre don’t have pedestrian underpasses, so it was a bit more stop start, and there is the odd tricky bit where the path leaves the riverside, but fortunately there were enough other runners to follow that I didn’t get lost. I cut across through Barnes after passing some outdoor broadcasting equipment setting up for the boat race. I fortunately made it back in time to lead a club run for the first time, but I was too tired and stiff to actually run it.

I had a couple of days rest before one final long run, as I struggled a bit on the last one. I wanted to incorporate a more distant parkrun, but miscalculating how early I needed to get up for Bushy parkrun I did a late switch to Kingston parkrun, but still left too late. I thought I had missed it completely when the runners streamed past, and I continued on to find the start to tag along at the back. It would have been my slowest parkrun, even if I hadn’t started some 5 minutes late. Still, another ticked off the list, and a nice route along the riverside. I continued on to loop back through Bushy Park anyway (pictured), and by the time I was home it was over 39k at 8 minute mile pace. It was good to have that distance under my belt without hitting a wall or injury.

The following week was resolved to do some shorter runs to aid recovery and start the taper. Towards the end of the run on Monday I felt some pain behind the back of my left knee. When I stopped I found my knee strap had rubbed my skin raw. I’m not sure if the knee straps are still necessary, but I’m not going to experiment ditching them so close to the marathon. I was worried it wasn’t going to heal as it was painful on the next couple of runs, particularly the more I bent my knee. Fortunately by the end of the week it seemed to be healing up.

Compared to the other bloggers I have been lucky, and have been able to keep running through cold and niggles. I still have the odd aches, particularly in my left ankle before it is warmed up, but now that I have made it to the taper and have the miles in the bank, my worries are more about the weather and logistics on the day, and whether I will do those miles justice. I keep having doubts about the pace to run on the day despite the examples of the half marathon times last month. I’ll be running the Thames Towpath 10 miler tomorrow, which will give me a final data point, before I have to dash off to my daughter’s birthday party. She was suddenly ill last night – I hope she recovers quickly, and not just for her sake.

Harry's Blog 6 23/3/17

I’ve been reading the blogs of the fellow ballot winners with gloom. I wish Andy a speedy recovery and hope Chris bounces back after some rest. It is a reminder that marathon training puts quite a strain on the body. I honestly didn’t give myself great odds on getting this far, but the aches and pains haven’t got any worse, though I’ve been struck down with a cold yesterday. I’ll take that any day, hopefully it won’t last long. I had already psychologically factored in some unforeseen problem that prevents me training for a few days, and the rest might do me some good.

Since my last blog I’ve extended out my commute to a half marathon ‘Full Greenford’. Particularly in the morning these start out at an easy pace as my body warms up and my breakfast settles down, and then rather like an F1 car on race I progressively speed up. I did taper towards the end of the week to prepare for the Fleet Half Marathon.

I wasn’t expecting to be able to beat the time from the flatter Cambridge Half, particularly as it was a bit breezy, and wanted to enjoy the race, but still be competitive with club championship points at stake. I just don’t like putting pressure on myself to do well in a race, but would just see what happens rather than set a target. I thought it worth going out at 90 minute pace with the pacers, and lined up with other Eagles doing a similar strategy. My strategy disappeared as soon as we got going as there appeared to be thick crowd of people behind the pacers, and it seemed easier running in front. First time along the packed high street I heard the pacers snapping at my heels, slightly ahead of pace, and I pushed on with the wind behind me. We looped around for a second pass along the high street, when I passed Chris looking uncomfortable with his injuries, before heading out into the countryside on the big loop. The runners had thinned out now which was problem as the route turned upwind. As I passed Tom Easton at mile 8 (no, he was on cheer duty – I’m not that fast), he helpfully pointed that the pacers were only 200 metres behind, providing a useful motivational boost as the miles began to take their toll. Fortunately the last few miles were downwind, but then my Garmin started going haywire, so I couldn’t be sure how far away from the finish I was. I thought I was really struggling, but with the finish in site I managed surprising burst of speed. The children in the finishing area were very friendly and no delay at all picking up the bag. All in all a very well organised runners’ race. "From a runner's perspective the day went very well. The weather was a bit windy though...There was a good turnout and everyone seems to have enjoyed themselves."  Sums it up nicely. So while it was the first half marathon I have run where I hadn’t run a PB on the 9th attempt, it was only a half a minute slower than my time at the Cambridge Half.

On Tuesday I took the shorter route home as I could feel a cold coming on, and arrived to find the final race day instructions. The 186 pages brought home to me this is a race on a different level to all the races I’ve run in. It is full of helpful advice, like this tip on page 140: Being passed by a giant banana, rhino or Elvis - This may happen. If it does, suck it up, keep moving, smile to yourself and carry on.

After a couple of rest days the cold wasn’t getting any better. Fortunately, after a bit of searching I finally found a website that suggested you could keeping running if all the symptoms were above the neck, and not only that, but it claimed in a trial of 30 people, half of whom were given a cold virus, running hadn’t statistically increased the duration of the cold symptoms. Who signs up for a trial like that? That was all the encouragement I needed to give a run down to the Old Deer Park on Saturday morning a go and tick off another Parkrun. It was a beautiful sunny early spring morning, but running with a stuffy head isn’t much fun. We were on the ‘B’ course due to the presence of the Moscow State Circus; three flat laps all on grass. It has a smaller turnout than the more well-known Parkrun in Richmond park, but has that friendly feel because of it. While the run was hard work, I didn’t feel any worse afterwards, so resolved to try a longer run on the Sunday morning, practising carrying and taking gels to see if they helped. On a previous long run I had put a couple of gels in the pocket on the back of my running shorts, only to find the small of my back was scratched raw when I showered afterwards. I took in a loop of Richmond park via Mortlake. It was sunny again, and a little windy, and the elements combined with my cold and the 17 miles really wiped me out and I needed a proper lie down afterwards.

I’ll take a cold over plantar fasciitis any day, and the timing could have been worse. Though it does make it hard to keep the training going, I had mentally prepared myself for something going wrong, and up to now everything had been going better than I had hoped. It is now less than 4 weeks to go, and I’ll soon be into the taper. I’ll keep you posted.

Harry's Blog 5 12/03/17

500 miles run since the New Year, and now less than 6 weeks to go.

After the last slightly downbeat blog where I was worried about my pace, I was nervous about how I would do in the Cambridge half. I had come agonisingly close to 90 minutes in the Oxford half, and hoped that the marathon training would be enough to sneak me under. This nervousness translated to fretting about how to keep warm at the start in the forecast cold rain and wind and worrying about forgetting something important.

I can’t improve on Dominic Wallace’s excellent race report. It was the first time I had tried wearing a bin bag, but it did take the edge of the wind chill. Kieren sniffed out the urinals – a few long gutters at a height that catered for most behind some modesty screens. He was taken with the design he almost took a picture, which might not have gone down well. Fortunately it is much warmer in a crowded starting pen, where I started with Kieren who was also targeting a similar time. The rain slowly soaked my feet as we headed out through the city centre, and the wind was generally against us, but we managed to get to half way out in Grantchester about a minute up. With a more favourable wind we made it back to the city centre in good time – we still hadn’t seen the pacers who started behind us. Near the finish there was mile or so heading back into the wind, where Kieren pushed on ahead, which was hard work. Fortunately wind and slope then made for a fast finish. Official time 1:27:28; all the training had been having an effect, I’d posted a PB I would be happy to take to my grave. The sun cream in the goody bag was a bit random given the weather, but there was a nice unfussy weighty medal. Maybe it was the PB, but the weather didn’t seem dampen the event for me as I had feared, though as Dominic will attest, make sure you bring the right bin bag type to fit your shoulders in, a towel, plenty of dry clothing and dry shoes for the journey home.

I was in Sweden with work the next week, and just about squeezed my running kit into my hand luggage. The weather turned out to be colder than forecast, so my evening 12k in sub-zero had to be quicker to stop my toes getting cold. Fortunately I managed to pick a simple route heading out North on the seafront from Helsingborg, passing plenty of Swedes out running in high viz and lights. It would be perfect for Sweden’s second parkrun.

Back in the UK I needed to make up the miles for the week. It was just getting light enough to run back from work along the canal, which I much prefer to running in, as I reminded myself the next morning. I was going to do a long run on Sunday, but the weather forecast was for rain all day, so I switched to Saturday morning taking in Wimbledon Common parkrun. Slightly tardy timekeeping, but a nice intro by the run director and a friendly feel with several milestone cakes on show. There was an odd comment about stopping to help fallers, which made sense shortly into the first of the two laps as the path turned into deep mud with the odd tree root and puddle obstacle. Following someone too closely was decidedly risky, but great fun. As usual I ended up pushing hard all the way round, but running back on tired legs must be good marathon training. The rain wasn’t so bad on the Sunday morning, and I took the opportunity to round off the week with the Sunday club run.

The route I took included the unpaved ‘road’ parallel to Putney Park Lane. It is like the road that time forgot. I love exploring London on longer runs and finding hidden gems. You can smell the history round some of the old streets and lanes near the Thames. The north circular aqueduct has reopened on the Grand Union Canal with a wider re-laid path leading up to it; I remember the surprise the first time ran over it as you don’t see it coming.

This week I got the miles in early with a long run into work. This time I had a second breakfast when I got in, and felt much better. I find I need to eat straight after a long run. This was followed the next day by a long run back in the warm weather, at almost exactly the same pace. The pace, I later discovered, that would give me the time given by the marathon time predictor based on my Cambridge half marathon time. This was tantalisingly just under 3:15, which would be ‘good for age’ for a vet man and earn a chance to do it again. Anything could happen in those last few miles on the day, but it could be worth a shot. I’ll be running the Fleet half marathon, but I feel I can take it a bit easier now with a time in the bag which should get me on the bus to Wales.

Harry's Blog 4

The training has continued on in similar vein to previous blogs which doesn’t necessarily make for an interesting blog, but it will do me fine. One ankle is a bit stiff in the mornings, but otherwise in reasonable shape.

I’d left you last time doing a long run around Ealing’s canals, waiting for children to be well enough to make it down to Brighton for a half term break. We did finally get down on Friday, and I squeezed in an early morning run along the seafront in much better weather than the Brighton half marathon would endure the following week. I bumped into a crowd of runners on the Hover Promenade, and realised I stumbled on a Parkrun. Fortunately I always carry my barcode along with an oyster card and cash when I ran, so I incorporated a fast 5k into the middle of the run. Such are the benefits of having a flexible approach to the training plan. I love the way you feel at home and welcome in any Parkrun. The run director had run the Ealing Half Marathon, but found it a bit hillly. I stretched out a quick Sunday club run to a half marathon the next day, followed on Monday while my daughter swam by a hills session up Studland, Ealing’s steepest street – give it a try if you haven’t already.

I then tried extending a run in to work to 20k, but felt that slightly out of sorts all day – I think I need a decent meal after a long run. I then tapered with a quick short run and day off to the club championships Parkrun. I was spurred on by chasing 3 eagles just ahead, and managed to match my track time fromtwo and half weeks earlier, though this time finishing just behind Santry. Still, a Gunnersbury PB by a massive 21 seconds, a place in the Gunnersbury fastest 500, and time I never thought I would ever achieve.

Buoyed up by this success and inspired by Chris’s blog to stretch out the long run to 23 miles, partly because I was nervous of what would happen in the marathon in those last 6 miles. I took the opportunity to run down through Bushy Park to Hampton Court Palace and back up along the river – always get the trickier navigation out of the way on the way out. I deliberately went off at a cautious pace, but by half way it was feeling like hard work, and I wasn’t able to up the pace as much as I’d hoped while keeping my breathing relaxed. I was glad to see some Eagles coming the other way on the Sunday club run – I had started very early – and I managed to up the pace a bit for the last 3k. At least I hadn’t hit a wall. I caught the bus up from Kew bridge which meant I was a bit cold and stiff by the time I got to Ealing Green, and I decided I had to be anti-social and refuel properly rather than join the other just finishing the club run in café. It was only when I got under a hot shower that I found out from the sharp pain that the weight of a couple of gels had caused my shorts to rub my skin raw on my lower back.

For some reason I don’t understand myself I felt deflated rather than elated after the run. Perhaps subconsciously I’d hoped I would find it easier to keep up a faster pace, or I expected too much on the day following such a hard 5k run, or it was unrelated non-running stresses, a chemical imbalance in the brain or just mid plan blues (is that a thing?).

After a rest day a couple of quick runs showed I still had pace, and then a couple of slower runs to taper for the Cambridge Half this Sunday, which hopefully will give a better feel for what time I should be aiming at for the marathon, and post a time that has a chance to getting me on to the Welsh Castles open team.

Spring is beginning to poke its head cautiously out from under the duvet, and I finally took some time out of the schedule to check on my allotment. Unfortunately Doris had uprooted my poly greenhouse, including heavy wooden base, and tumbled it over the blackberries and mangled it against an apple tree. It’s hard enough keeping on top of an allotment without marathon training. So I brought some seed potatoes – it will be low maintenance crops this spring. I’m travelling with work next week. I’ll take my running kit, but it might be low mileage. It’s not easy fitting life around marathon training, but so far I think I’m ahead slightly, so I will just have to squeeze it what I can. All in all, I’m running faster and further than ever, and I’m still injury free, so it’s all good.



Harry's VLM Blog 3 - 65 Days to Go!

Well, first I must apologise – it has been almost a month since my last blog. This is partly because I’m no Caitlin Moran - I struggle to think of anything to write that would be worth reading – and partly because I got out of the habit of taking a picture. I’ve been running 4 or 5 times a week, one of which will be hills or a track session and one a long run at the weekend, in total 40 to 45 miles a week. Overall it has a reasonable semblance to the plan, even if it differs in the details.

I’m still getting the odd twinge, like suddenly feeling a pain in the arch of my sole (plantar fasciitis?!), and then it goes, then I feel it again, but can’t remember if it is the same foot or not, and then it goes again. Sometimes when I wake up various joints are stiff and I shuffle down the stairs, but then that is no different to before I started marathon training. So all in all, fingers crossed, touch wood, the body is holding together.

To be fair there have been a few highlights. I’d given myself a 2 day taper for the Battersea 10k as it was club champs race, and was a just a few seconds off a PB. Chris Lambert mentioned our 17 mile long run, where I managed to navigate a new route by the railway past Chiswick and Barnes stations. A lost Irish lady joined us in the park, claiming she was not as fit as she used to be. Turned out she was 12th woman in the 1984 London marathon. The following week I ran with Kieran to the Burgess Parkrun. I hadn’t run the route through Hammersmith, Kensington and Victoria before. Kieran had highlighted the last part through Kennington in a post with “This is the bit where we might get lost!”, and indeed, an unintentional detour meant we approached the park at five past 9. Fortunately they were not as prompt as the Gunnersbury team, so looking forward to lift back courtesy of Paul, I set off a ridiculous pace on the flat course which my tired legs couldn’t maintain.

The following Tuesday Ben Cale had arranged a timed 5k down at Osterley track, which I decided my flexible plan could accommodate. Just as well, as Melissah had given up looking for the track and was heading home when I bumped into her on the way there. I found setting up the Garmin to beep the pace every kilometre helped keep track of the laps, and using others as pacers dragged me round to sprint finish and a big new PB. Perhaps all this training was doing me good.

Last weekend there was a big shout out for the last MET League cross country of the season at Ally Pally to try to overhaul Highgate C to the league 3 title, which was an excuse to add some mud to the hills in the training plan. I really enjoyed mixing it with Eagles who would have been out of sight ahead in the past, though I didn’t have much left in me for the third time up the muddy hill. A commemorative towel at the finish was an unexpected bonus. Cross country is a great way to get to know other Eagles over a post-race pint – get yourself a pair of spikes and join in.

This week the training plan needed to flex around half term and a couple of days off in Brighton with the family. Both my children picked up a vomiting bug, which has spoilt their holiday a bit, but gave me a free morning, so I took the opportunity to get a good long run in early with a 20 mile run around the canal with a diversion down to Osterley House. The towpath is generally in good nick, but the corner on the other side of Southall is a bit muddy and worth cutting off. Note also a stretch including the aqueduct over the North Circular - a favourite bit of mine on the run into work – is blocked off until March, though the detour isn’t too tricky via an underpass to the South. The picture for this blog is the three bridges North of Osterley, where the canal simultaneously goes over a railway and under a road, built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel in 1859. Genius.

Harry's Blog 2!

Now with less than 100 days to go this is my second blog. Heidi Vickery has very kindly offered to coach me, but I’m not sure I’m the best trainee (coachee?), and I’d like to make it clear the following doesn’t quite follow her suggested training plan, and please don’t take it as. I did say, rather like Eric Morecombe, I intended to do all the training runs in the plan, just not necessarily in the right order, given my busy family life. In hindsight I’ve used this as an excuse to let myself be seduced by new running challenges, I’ve rather crashed headlong into the training, so please do not take this as good example. 

I took the opportunity of being off work on the 2nd of Jan to go for a long daytime run stretching out the furthest I had ever run to 26k, partly due to getting a little disorientated in Chiswick as it got dark on the way back. The Wednesday club run and a set of 800m intervals at a very frosty Perivale track on Thursday night were to plan. James Linney had tempted me on the Saturday into a long run incorporating Richmond Parkrun. Somewhat predictably I got carried away and ended up going hard round the Parkrun, and paid for it on the way home. I should have taken it easy the next day, however I had agreed to taxi my daughter and her friend to and from netball training on the Sunday morning in Hillingdon, and with two hours to kill I decided to run up and down the canal in the Colne valley and top 100k in a week.

With sore legs and a ticking off I aimed to take it easier the following week starting with a dawn run into work along the canal to Paddington on Wednesday. On Friday I used to the opportunity of working from home to do some hill reps up West Walk in the daylight. All to plan so far, but Sunday was looking very wet for the long run and James Linney had scoped out a run this time incorporating Fulham Parkrun for the Saturday. It was a bit further than in the plan, but I could not resist exploring a new stretch of the river, bagging a new parkrun and most importantly the company on a long run. I took it a bit easier on the 3 lap parkrun - it’s a quick course, but look out for the chicane on the back straight - but I felt the hills again at Kew Bridge and once again I struggled up the hill to Ealing. With a couple of minor detours and the extra distance to my house, it was so close to 20 miles that I added that ‘Garmin extra’ 200m even though I was shattered.

I wasn’t worried about sore muscles, but in the afternoon the side of my right knee suddenly became painful. It subsided the next day, and was fine when I ran round Greenford on the Monday while my daughter was swimming at Gurnell, but it was a wakeup call. So this week I’m cutting back a bit and taking it a bit easier. Now that it is past the date the ballot place can be transferred due to injury, I’ve need to look after myself and listen to my coach. However the key for me is keeping the training varied by running new routes, running with others and taking on challenges along the way. I am aiming to enjoy the training as all part of the experience I’ve been so lucky to get.



Harry's First Blog

When I received the confirmation email with my number, 22396, it suddenly became all the more real; barring injury, I was running the 2017 Virgin London marathon. I had lucked out with the final ‘Charlie Bucket’ Ealing Eagle ballot place, and I would get to run as an Eagle in the black and white vest, though it would mean turning my hand to blogging for the first time. I’ll first give a bit of context.

My running journey started thanks to Kelvin; I couldn’t pass up the chance to run in the first ever Ealing Half Marathon in 2012.  Shortly after that half marathon, I heard about Parkrun for the first time, andI thought it was just a brilliant concept.  I remember the last three miles of that first half as absolute agony, but was proud to have scraped in under 2 hours, and set myself the challenge to up the training and beat the time the following year. This continued year after year, and in 2015 I decided I needed the help of the running club that used to run past the end of my road as I picked up my children from beavers. After 3 months I even managed to take part in a club run. It worked, and wearing the vest for the first time in a race and getting cheered on by strangers was emotional.

Buoyed with beating my time for the 4th time at the EHM I started entering other events, the Twickenham 10 miler, the Serpie’s New Year’s Day 10k and for the first time I continued to run regularly through the winter. I got to know more Eagles and many would talk about the Welsh Castles Relay experience. I didn’t think I would fast enough to make the team, but I also thought I might never be as fit again, and it motivated me to redouble the training. I was overjoyed to make the team, and it didn’t disappoint. Not just the race, but the way the whole event leads to new friendships. The picture is me just after the end of my leg; my expression says it all. Even spending 17 hours on the Sunday very slowly making back to Ealing with a broken minibus showed what a friendly club this is.

It wasn’t that long ago that I couldn’t imagine running further than a half marathon. Before I get accused of sandbagging, back in my youth I wasn’t a bad rugby player; I wasn’t the quickest, strongest or most skilful, but I had what football pundits would call ‘a good engine’ and as a flankerI would tear about for 80 minutes trying to get to every breakdown first. But running for 3 or 4 hours is quite different, and I am now a few years older.

So what changed? Well this year at the EHM I managed to run a negative split and finish strong for the first time, high fiving children in the last mile, and in record time. I’d upped the training, and run two other half marathons either side of EHM, and despite my concerns and various aches and twinges, the body had held together. I even managed to run slightly further than 13.1 miles in a training run. With a newly acquired Garmin and Strava account, and now familiar with terms like ITB, plantar fasciitis, maranoia and shit-stop, I was finally considering myself – whisper it –  a ‘runner’. I’d enjoyed taking part in different races – relays in the summer evening in Richmond park, the mayhem of a cross country start, the world famous West Walk half marathon, – and found myself reading and listening to the marathon exploits of other eagles enviously.

I still strap my knees up, and my feet were sore at the end of my longest ever run on Monday of 26k, but no-one said it was going to be easy. If I don’t try I’ll never find out. My training plan needs to fit round family life, which means some early mornings and running up the Grand Union canal while my daughter has netball training. So far it is going well, with a new 5k and 10k PB at the Serpie’s Last Friday of the Month and the New Year’s Day race this week. I’ll keep you posted.