Category Archives: Races

Ecos parkrun 03.11.18

Back to parkrun, and my first proper outing since Dublin. I know I’ve done a mile per day on Thursday and Friday but this was going to be the first time I’ll have gone further than that.

I normally wake up on a parkrun morning with a sense of dread, and a feeling of pressure, but I didn’t experience that today. I’ve been feeling absolutely no pressure in my running since Dublin so today I wanted to make sure it was going to be all about the enjoyment of it again.

And that’s what happened.

After chatting to a few people about Dublin etc. I set off without a time target in mind, preferring to run to feel, and actually found myself knocking out a pace much quicker than I would normally.

If I had a race coming up that’d worry me. I’d deliberately slow down in an attempt to save some energy but, this time, I wasn’t worried in the slightest. I didn’t try to maintain it, nor did I purposely try to ease off. I just kept going without really thinking about it, a quite refreshing feeling.

Bits of the second mile were strewn with wet leaves so there were places when I had to be careful and slow down a tad to just to keep my footing so I lost around 30 seconds on mile one, but it was ok. I was just out for a worry free run, remember?

This attitude continued into the final and third mile. I could have chased my parkrun personal best, it was in sight with a bit of effort, but I didn’t really want to.

I went into this with the intention of enjoying myself so I didn’t want the self imposed pressure of aiming for something I very probably wouldn’t achieve anyway and then getting frustrated with myself.

However, it was really encouraging that less than a week after a marathon I felt I had it within me to even come close in the first place.

Relive my run

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Dublin Marathon 2018

Oh Dublin, Dublin, Dublin … just where do I begin with you? So much went wrong, but so much also went right and, as I write this, I’m not really sure whether to chalk it off as a good ‘un or a bad ‘un.

I suppose the best place to start is with the Expo on Saturday. I had travelled down to Dublin with my training partners, Iverene and Bronagh, whereupon we met up with my daughter, Michelle, who had flown over from England for the weekend to support me.

This was my fourth marathon and Michelle has been an ever present at each of them. I’m not sure whether it really is to support me or to make sure I actually survive the thing!!! Either way, it was lovely to have her there.

Rather inconveniently, in their wisdom, the powers that be decided this would be a good weekend to cancel the local DART services on the line that would take us out to the RDS which was hosting the Expo.

Great decision, lads. A bank holiday weekend when visitors from all over the country, and the world, would be descending on the city for the fifth largest marathon in Europe, so it made perfect sense, then, to not have a feckin’ rail service available.

At the Expo, registering and collecting our numbers was a totally painless exercise. The volunteers were fantastic, it seemed like they were making a big deal of each and every runner, announcing to all and sundry where you came from or, in Iverene and Bronagh’s case, declaring them marathon virgins to much applause and adulation!

After a quick look around the very busy Expo we made it back into the city centre and out to Dublin 8 (just behind the Guinness Storehouse) to check into our apartment for the weekend. After a quick freshen up, it was back out again to find somewhere to eat for the all important ‘night before the race’ carb loading before going back to the apartment for an early night, not that there was likely to be much sleeping done, what with pre-race nerves and so on to contend with.

As it turned out, I did sleep ok. Perhaps the long day caught up with me. I also didn’t feel particularly anxious about the race itself. I know what to expect by now. I know it’ll hurt, and that was my only real concern, but not the pain itself rather what exactly would hurt other than my legs. I’ll let you use your imagination on that, but think rubbing, chaffing and, after the Royal Parks, bleeding.

We made it to Merrion Square in good time for the start. I said my goodbyes to Michelle as she made her way to her first cheering point at the two mile mark on the James Joyce Bridge.

The three of us then made our way to the baggage area to drop in our bags after some last minute checks, and then a further walk to join our correct wave in preparation for the race, and one last trip to the loo.

Well, that was the plan anyway. For some reason the portaloos were in pairs, rather than a huge bank of them as at other mass start events, and the queues were horrendous. After walking a little while we decided the queues weren’t getting any shorter so we just joined one and hoped it wouldn’t be too long a wait.

Unfortunately, it was. So much so that with less than ten minutes to the start of our wave I decided enough was enough and made my way as quickly as I could to the start, and even then I missed it by four minutes. I wasn’t too upset because it’s a chipped event so my time would still be my time, and I know what a mass start is like plus at many events it takes more than four minutes to even cross the first timing mat anyway.

I didn’t actually have to use the facilities, but we trained for this as a team so it would have been good to have started as a team even if I’d be trailing in their wake pretty soon after. Bronagh and Iverene, however, decided to wait it out at the loos. I felt bad leaving them behind, but I felt even worse that they missed out on experiencing the excitement and anticipation of a mass start.

Actually, and I’m straying into TMI territory now, I didn’t have to go once for the entirety of the race. That was a real surprise, especially considering it turned out to be one hell of a long day.

I power walked my way to the start line before breaking into a run. I was amongst the stragglers but not far enough back that I couldn’t see the bunch in front of me which was encouraging so I just focused on catching them, which I did after a few minutes.

To do this I had to go at a faster pace than I would have liked but it didn’t take much out of me, plus it did my morale good to be part of the crowd so the extra effort was worth it.

As I mentioned, I knew Michelle was planning to be on the bridge at the two-mile mark and, true to her word, there she was. I could see her looking for me as I approached the bridge so I shouted over to catch her attention, she saw me and cheered me as I got closer which felt great.

Due to the nature of the bridge there’s a bit of a gap between the footpath and the road so I couldn’t get within touching distance for a hug, but that was ok because I knew the hug I’d get when I saw her next would be much more needed.

I had started the race wearing my woolly hat so my plan was to hand it over to her at the bridge once I’d warmed up. However, given the gap between us, this proved a little more difficult than I anticipated so I basically had to chuck it at her and hope it didn’t end up in the Liffey … which it nearly did 🙂

Moving on, it was time to focus on the next few miles which would take us in and around Phoenix Park. I had feared this would be a fairly desolate part of the course, at least in terms of spectator numbers, but it wasn’t too bad. Granted, the crowds weren’t massive but there were still enough there to offer support and encouragement plus the interaction with my fellow runners helped make up for it. Indeed, as far as that aspect went, this was the best part of the day.

Whilst in the park, I also got lots of flashbacks to last year’s Rock ‘n’ Roll weekend with Dawn. We had done the 5k and Fun Run together, and it was nice to run parts of those courses again and to remember what a special experience that was.

We eventually left Phoenix Park at around 9.5 miles so my attention turned to making it to the halfway point where I knew Michelle would be again. I was running well within myself, perhaps slower than my favoured half marathon pace but that was deliberate.

I was aiming to hit specific times at different distances and at this stage I was perhaps seven or eight minutes to the good. I knew I’d slow down later in the race so I was banking time whilst still taking it easier than normal. All good.

Somewhere between the 12-13 mile mark there was a rise on the road and, at the top, I could see Michelle standing waiting. What a sight for sore eyes she was! I wasn’t struggling or anything like that but it’s always so good to see a familiar face. It also reassured me she was ok. She was here on her own in a strange city so naturally I’ll worry.

Stopping for a hug, a selfie and restock of energy gels I was on my way again all too soon.

Crossing under the halfway banner I knew this was going to be the first real test of the day. Because I have done so many half marathons this year I was worried about how I’d cope physically and, more importantly perhaps, mentally.

To be honest, this was a real struggle. I always did find this part of a marathon tough, but this felt worse because I had become so conditioned to running 13.1 miles and then finishing. I had to do it all over again.

It felt so difficult getting to around 15.5 miles but, gradually, I began to feel better again and at mile 16 I sensed I had got over the worst of it.

Then, running past a first aid tent, something told me to look inside and there I spotted a lady from my club sitting. She’ll not mind me saying that she’s in her 70s so, without hesitation, I stopped with her to see if she was ok.

She explained what was wrong and said she had been walking for the past few miles because she couldn’t run and was waiting on the sweeper bus coming along to bring her to the finish because she had enough of walking on her own.

Again, without thinking, I offered to walk the rest of the way with her if she wanted to continue. I’d rather help her to the finish than have her not finish at all if she felt physically able.

She accepted my offer so, after explaining the situation to the first aid volunteers, off we set.

My next priority was trying to get hold of her family. She is a pretty accomplished runner and, even in her 70s, is much faster than me. I figured her loved ones would worry when she didn’t finish in her expected time so I wanted to get the word out that she was ok, and to not worry. After a little difficulty I got hold of her daughter, whom I knew, so I was happy that this had been sorted.

Whilst I said this lady is an accomplished runner I should also have said that she can walk at a pretty nifty rate as well! We began at around 18.5 mins per mile, which isn’t bad as it is but even more so after 16 miles already in our legs. Then we got quicker … we drifted into 17 minute miles, then 16, 15 and then began to creep into 14 minutes.

Passing the 30km marker I was having to jog just to keep up with her. Don’t forget, this was us walking! I couldn’t keep up and had to admit defeat. I was reassured that she was feeling ok again so I let her go. She wasn’t that far ahead of me, and I could occasionally glimpse her a little in the distance so I was happy she was still going, I knew that if she did experience difficulties again I wouldn’t be far behind.

It did take quite a bit out of me and with five miles left I was exhausted. But I also knew it was only five miles so I knew that by digging deep I’d be able to push through. I felt marginally better as it got down to four miles, then three. Just a parkrun to go.

I began to feel sorry for myself. I was more tired, more exhausted and more in pain at this stage than I can remember feeling before during a marathon.

I also knew that Iverene and Bronagh had finished, and I began to beat up on myself. I messaged them to tell them to go on ahead without me, that I’d get back to the apartment on my own. Iverene, bless her, messaged back instantly, to say that they won’t be doing that, they’ll be waiting on me. Sorry it took me so long, ladies.

Mile 24 … just two to go. A bloke passed me, whom I’d chatted with on and off at different stages, he was as shattered as I was but a few words with him cheered me.

Mile 25 … almost there. Up ahead I heard a bit of commotion. Getting closer it turned out to be a cheering group from the Asics Frontrunners team. They had created a little human tunnel and as I passed through them I was treated to a blessed few seconds of the most amazing support. Fair play to them for standing out all day offering this to each and every runner. It was hugely appreciated.

Then, with just over half-a-mile to go, I heard someone calling me by name. I didn’t have my name on my shirt so it puzzled me a little. I looked to the left and saw Shelley from my club.

She said she’ll run with me to the end. I thought she had already run her marathon so I told her it was ok, that she didn’t have to do that because she must be exhausted already. But she hadn’t been taking part in the race and had come down for the day purely to spectate and support. She also said that she wasn’t going home until she saw every last member of the club finish. That’d be me then.

And that’s exactly what she did. She was fantastic. Just when I was out on my feet she ran alongside me. She was bloody amazing. She encouraged, cajoled and made me laugh as far as she could go. She was like a human slingshot, propelling me ever closer to the blessed blue carpet that covered the last 40-50 yards to the end. Thank-you Shelley, thank-you so so much for that.

Then, just metres from the end, was Michelle. It was so great to see her. I raised a celebratory clinched fist to let her know I was ok and, then, it was over. I had finished. I had bloody well finished.

Something totally unexpected then happened. I broke down. I’m not scared to admit it. I just burst into floods of tears. I hadn’t really experienced as much emotion as I expected after finishing my 18 half marathon challenge, perhaps because I knew I still had this race ahead of me.

I couldn’t help it. This was proper bawling. A huge wave of emotion, mixed with relief and dear knows what else just washed over me. I imagine it was because, subconsciously, I knew this was my year over and, finally, I allowed myself to acknowledge everything I’ve done. Who knows?

I can’t finish this account with paying special tribute to Iverene and Bronagh. For both this was their first marathon and, to coin that oft overused phrase, both absolutely smashed it. Thank you for training with me over the months. I hope all the effort was worth it. You should be so proud of yourselves.

For me this was, believe it or not, a marathon pb for me. It really doesn’t feel like it, but the facts speak for themselves. It also means that throughout this year I have achieved personal bests at every single recognised distance up to and including a full marathon. I guess that’s not a bad old return from a challenging year of running.

Perhaps, in the next few days, I’ll allow myself to ‘recognise’ that fact but, for now, I’m still very much in recovery mode and all the post-marathon blues that come with that.

Relive my run

Royal Parks Half Marathon

The Royal Parks Half Marathon is one race I will never forget.

Not only did it conclude my challenge to run 18 half marathons this year (#18in18) but it was arguably the best of the bunch and up there with the actual London Marathon itself in terms of a sense of occasion and the sheer atmosphere generated by the spectators along the route.

I have so many memories and so many experiences that I only hope I can do the day justice.

So let’s wind it right back to the beginning, back to 7am when my ever faithful and long suffering supporter Dawn and I left our hotel in South Wimbledon to make our way to Knightsbridge and then onto Hyde Park.

It was a bit of an interesting journey. The early part was ok, but the further away from Collier’s Wood and the closer we got to Green Park the bigger the crowds got.

We then had to change at Green Park for the final leg to Knightsbridge. The place was absolutely packed but, inexplicably, TfL only had trains running every five or six minutes.

Surely to goodness with such a mass participation event on the powers that be could have provided trains at a greater frequency than that, even if only for a couple of hours. Every train that came was packed, but yet more people tried to squeeze in.

And it was no better in Knightsbridge. Off the train we got, assuming it’d be a fairly straightforward process to exit the station. Not so. The platform was rammed, everyone was obviously trying to get to the same place but, yet, no-one was moving for some reason.

Eventually we made our way through, around half-an-hour behind schedule, into Hyde Park. The delay was a little stressful, but was more annoying because it didn’t give us much time to study the lay of the land, to pick out a meeting point for afterwards and to generally just sample the pre-race atmosphere.

We said our goodbyes after a few minutes and a few pictures in the rain. Dawn went to find a spot just after the start line, whilst I went to find my starting pen but not before using one of Hyde Park’s ‘natural’ facilities. The queues for the portaloos were massive and a sizeable number of men seemed to be taking matters into their own, ahem, hands so I found a discreet spot and … well, you know.

Finding my starting wave easily enough I settled in for a long wait, thankfully wearing my poncho to protect me from the worst of the elements. And it was a long wait, I think I got there at around 8:50 and I didn’t actually start the race until some 40 minutes later. I was cold, I was wet, my feet were numb – not really ideal ahead of a half marathon. I tried to keep as active as I could whilst mindful of the mass of people around me.

Eventually, finally … we were off! This was my last half marathon of the year, the last of my 18 and because of that a little wave of emotion washed over me. Dawn had messaged to say she was standing a few hundred metres past the start so I did my best to keep an eye out for her, sticking as closely to the left side of the road as I could.

But, after a couple of minutes, I didn’t see her. I thought I’d missed her so stopped looking and focused on the road in front of me until I heard her call my name out. This was great, from thinking I’d missed her to seeing her it added a spring to my step and allowed me to throw myself entirely into the race happy in the knowledge that she was able to see me off.

After leaving the park the first real point of interest, for me anyway, was Constitution Hill. This was the original finish to the London Marathon, and a road I’d run before when I decided to run along all three finishes to that iconic race on my own in a previous visit. It felt good to be back.

At the end of that road was Buckingham Palace. Again, I’ve run past the palace on quite a few occasions now – both training and in races – and it never gets old. It’s always special.

From there it was down Birdcage Walk to Horse Guards, through Admirality Arch, down and back up Whitehall, through Trafalgar Square, along the Strand before turning to come back through the Arch, up the Mall back towards the palace before returning up Constitution Hill/Green Park.

It was a wonderful route, and we weren’t even at the halfway point. I was having a ball. Given the conditions and time of day it was perhaps no surprise spectator numbers weren’t great but that didn’t really matter. There were thousands and thousands of runners out on the road for company, support and encouragement.

I was running in a t-shirt I had printed solely for this race. It listed all 18 of my half marathons on the back and attracted some interest from my fellow runners, a few congratulating me on my achievement, some asking about it and others just acknowledging it. This really spurred me on.

As I said, we hadn’t even reached the halfway and already the day was special. But nothing could have prepared me for what was to come.

Returning to Hyde Park, we were met by an almost deafening wall of noise and what felt like multitudes of cheering spectators. Running wise, it was up there with going over Tower Bridge on London Marathon day but, looking at sport in general, it is likely the closest I’m ever going to get to experiencing what it must be like in the Tour de France riding up Alpe d’Huez.

It seemed like the spectators were really closing in on us, it felt like we were almost down to single file at one point. From my perspective they were getting right in our faces, literally screaming encouragement … it truly was a spine-tingling moment.

I’ve experienced a fair few special moments since I started running but this really was something else.

Up until this point I was running a hard and fast (for me) race but this reception just floored me, so much so that I purposely eased off a little. I wanted more of it, I wanted to savour the last half of my last half marathon. I didn’t want to bust a gut chasing a time and possibly miss out on what a wonderful experience this was turning out to be.

Dawn had messaged to say she was standing just beyond this near a specific charity flag so, on a high from this reception, I kept an eye out for her. But I couldn’t find the flag and, again, I thought I’d missed her. Damn.

Then, after what seemed like an eternity but really wasn’t, I spotted the flag and there she was. This was brilliant. Not that I was struggling or anything like that but it was just so good to see her, to let her know how I was getting on … although I can’t remember what I said.

This moment was also notable, with hindsight, because I was able to study the pictures she took to confirm I had no bleeding nipples! Why do I mention this? Because not long after that, around seven miles, I noticed that I did.

I’ve never experienced this before. It didn’t hurt or anything like that. I just happened to glance down and spot the not inconsiderable amount of blood. It perhaps wasn’t surprising. I was wearing a brand new t-shirt, one which was too big on me and hence moved around my body too much causing friction on my skin. Rookie mistakes.

It was a mixture of surprise (no pain), embarrassment (blood, white shirt) and pride (runners badge of honour?) and passed a fair few moments as I tried to figure out what was going on.

Running past an aid station my predicament was obviously spotted by one of the volunteers who beckoned me over and handed me a big glob of vaseline, or similar.

After applying said product onto the affected area I carried on my merry way. Then the heavens opened. It had been raining most of the morning, but this was different. This was torrential. My shirt, which was about two sizes too big, stuck to me like cling film.

This downpour must have lasted for around a couple of miles but that didn’t deter the almost fanatical support out on the course. Granted it wasn’t continuous now, there were areas of the park that were crowd free but when they were present the noise and enthusiasm was amazing.

Once the rain had ended I began the process of unsticking my shirt from my skin, taking extra care not to further aggravate my very own version of ‘nipplegate’ … but where was the blood?

I’m not exaggerating. Where had it gone? I hadn’t imagined it, the first aider clearly spotted it but, now, there was nothing there! That shows how heavy the rain had been. It had effectively washed my shirt. Royal Parks, is there nothing you couldn’t do? Wonderful course, masses of runners, electric atmosphere, fanatical crowds … and, now, a laundry service 🙂

Up until this point I hadn’t really experienced much emotion, with this being my last half of the 18 and all that. A bit at the start, yes, but not too much more.

That was until around the 12 mile mark. I had been running behind a couple of young ladies for a while, they had been chatting non-stop. I then went past them, they fell silent for a bit before one said to the other, “Did you read that?” to which her friend replied, “Yes, wow!”. Clearly they had read the back of my shirt and had looked at the list of all 18 races.

Hearing this almost set me off. I was into the final mile, I was about to complete my challenge. Could I hold it together? I wanted to, but I also didn’t want to. I wanted the emotion, I wanted the goosebumps, the sense of pride and achievement … what I didn’t want was a blubbing face on the official photographs.

I think I struck a happy balance. I let myself go until I spotted a photographer, then composed myself until I went past and then allowed the significance of what I was about to do take over.

I also knew Dawn would be close to the finish so I focused on finding her which offered me a distraction from the emotion of crossing the line.

I wanted to spot her. She had been to five of my races, including the opening one back in March, so it was fitting I’d see her just before I finished the entire challenge. It wouldn’t have felt right otherwise.

Dawn spotted, I was then able to concentrate on those last few yards … I put on a bit of a sprint finish, ending on a high. I had done it! I had completed all 18 half marathons!

I’m not really sure how I felt. There was relief, but also exhaustion. There was emotion, I’ll not deny that, but my focus then turned to finding Dawn in the event village. We must have walked past each other because it took a few minutes.

I think I was a bit shell-shocked too, the significance of what I’d done hadn’t really sunk in. But it came, slowly but surely. After navigating the seemingly endless goodie/freebie funnel we made our way to the main stage to listen to the Rock Choir. I can’t remember what they were singing but it felt really uplifting and spine tingling.

I got a few photographs taken with them as a backdrop, then in front of a Royal Parks sign at which point Dawn produced a celebratory cake. Then it hit me. I tried telling her about some of the incidents from the day but found it difficult to compose myself. This is the emotion I wanted, I was glad it came. I was a bit concerned that I hadn’t felt it as much as I expected, so it was good to let it out.

Next stop was the Diabetes UK charity stand. I had been trying to raise a little for them throughout the year alongside my challenge so I went over to say hello, and had a lovely chat with them especially Lynsey with whom I discussed my plans right at the start of the year. It was nice to be able to tell her face to face that I had actually done it.

Incidentally, if you’ve followed my progress or enjoyed this account and would like to donate a little to the charity my fundraising page can be found here.

What a remarkable day! What a wonderful year of running! High points, low points but so so many special memories and experiences, I’m so glad I’ve done it and hope I’m not too pompous in feeling proud of myself.

So what now? I have the small matter of the full Dublin marathon at the end of this month but after that I’ll take a bit of a rest. I’ve got a holiday planned in November and have no races booked for the rest of the year. I’ll still be running, but I’ll be taking it easy.

Relive my run