Monday, 8 September 2014

Gordon's Alive

Well, it's done.

The 2014 Great North Run, with over 57,000 entrants, took place yesterday.  The main race kicked off at 10:40 and finished for Mo Farah an hour later at 11:40.  At about 11:00 I was just crossing the start line and my race finished nearly 4 hours later at about 3pm.  My time of 3:56 isn't going to trouble any history books but it does mean that my personal best at the half-marathon is now the half-marathon and I reckon that's the main thing (well, I would wouldn't I?).

It was hard.  Real hard.  I didn't complete my intended training programme but I take some solace from the fact that even if I had I wouldn't have had a prayer.  The little guide-book that comes with you running number makes it clear that you should be able to run 8 miles comfortably by race day otherwise you are unlikely to finish.  Well, I could run 5 miles comfortably but like I say, even if I could do 8 miles nothing could have prepared me for this.  For one simple reason - I live in Lincolnshire.  We don't do hills.  The GNR is (despite what the elevation profile claims) just one big massive hill.  The only meaningful downhill comes just before you turn on to the seafront (at about 11.5 miles) and is the entire uphill you've just done, only downhill and compressed into 50 yards which by this time is absolute murder on your knees - think going down a steep hill in 1st gear in a car with no brakes.

Having already realised I didn't have a chance of completing the distance by running I had decided to go for the Run/Walk strategy advocated by former US Olympian Jeff Galloway.  Basically you run for a bit and walk for a bit.  I did 2.5/1 intervals (run for 2 and a half minutes and walk for a minute) repeated throughout the race.  At the beginning it proved psychologically difficult - I couldn't bring myself to start walking after 2 and a half minutes when I had effectively only just started and was running through the centre of Newcastle with throngs of people cheering me on.  Also, I wanted to be sure to run over the Tyne Bridge (which is at about 2 miles).  So I ended up running the first 3 miles before dropping into my strategy.  This meant I had a bit of walking "in the bank" which was to prove useful later on.

Once on the other side of the Tyne you sweep round left and eventually hit Gateshead Stadium at about 3 miles.  At this point someone in the crowd helpfully shouted out that Mo had won.  "You'll be pleased to hear Mo won," she said.  Well I was pleased that Mo had one.  I wasn't pleased, however, to learn that some sod had already finished when I still had 10 miles to go.

This is also a notable point because this is where all my troubles began.  As you leave Gateshead Stadium you begin a slow uphill climb which is about 3 miles long.  This is sheer murder.  I was really starting to fell ill as I hit the summit.  I'm not sure what pain in your kidneys means after running 6 miles but I don't think it's anything good.  Fortunately we hit the Lucozade Sport station at this point and, whether by placebo or genuine goodness, that really sorted me out.  Then came the BBC interview station (the BBC had all packed up and gone by the time I got there but at least the loos were available) and the sign telling me I'd come halfway.  Mixed emotions about this one but I think overall it helped.

Past a pub with a band playing on the roof, then up (yes up) a motorway exit ramp to the next section.  Miles 7 - 10 are a bit of a painful blur - there were more bands (including one playing Johnny B Goode with a veteran lead guitarist who came dancing round me with his wireless guitar.  I tried to think of some witty response but ended up just smiling wearily and plodding on).  At mile 10 was another Lucozade stop (no I'm not being paid by them but I have ditched my scepticism of sports drinks) featuring a band who started singing my name - a nice little extra spur.

You then hit South Shields and another long, slow climb (although not quite as bad as that first one).  Most of the spectators were on beer and cider by now (no-one offered me any, just orange segments) but were consistently supportive and friendly.  Having your name displayed so people can shout out personal encouragement is really very motivational.  At the end of the climb was a massive pub, packed with folk all yelling and screaming and then the aforementioned steep drop to the seafront.  A sharp left turn and you're on the home straight.

Now, the home straight.  I know people who have done the GNR and the consistent message is that the home straight is a killer.  You think you've finished when you hit the seafront but you haven't.  I was ready for a long finish.  What I wasn't ready for was the organisers producing some sort of distortion in SpaceTime.  Yes dear Reader - a mile along the seafront in South Shields is significantly longer than a mile anywhere else in the Universe.  Stephen Hawking needs to get on this one - the solution to the Unified Field Theory lies in South Tyneside.

You start running.  "Maybe I'll just run all the way in from here," I thought to myself.  Then I hit the 12 miles post.  "Hang on, I thought I was over 12 miles already!  It's 13 and a bit miles.  How much is 'and a bit?' Right, I'll walk a bit and then run home," I had already taken off my headphones at this point.  I hadn't been listening to music; you really don't need to with so much going on all the way round.  I had been listening to my iPhone Running App telling me when to walk and when to run but when I hit the seafront I'd taken them off - a bit like Luke Skywalker disengaging the targeting computer at the end of Star Wars only the Force was definitely not with me.

As I was running home I then came to the 20 kilometre post.  "Hang on," I thought, " a half-marathon is 21k - there's still a chuffing k to go!  Right, I'll walk a bit and then run home."

Then I came to the finish line.  Only, no - it was the purple (a new colour) "800m left" sign.  "OK, just 2 laps of a running track - I'll walk a bit then run home."  At this point I entered a grudge match with a Minion running alongside me (a grudge match I'm pretty sure he remains unaware of).

I finally came to the finish line.  No - it was the "400m left" sign, "right - I'm definitely running from here!"  I passed the two Arthitis Research ladies I'd been following for 5 miles, and drew level with the Minion (Stuart, I think it was).

The came the Sprint Finish (and yes ladies and gentlemen, it does deserve capitals).  Earlier in the year, at the Woodhall Spa 10K, I had attempted a sprint finish.  I even told my legs to sprint.  The reply came back promptly, " thanks boss."  There had simply been nothing left, no more energy to give.  Yesterday however I amazed myself - there was something left; I fair flew across the line.  If you bother to look up my time on the website you'll see that 3 or 4 people finished within the 4-5 seconds after me.  Well I flew past them all at the finish, including Stuart.  In your face, Stuart!

So there it is.  Did I enjoy it?  I really don't know.  I think I enjoyed miles 0-3 and 10-13 with the bit in the middle being part boring and part horrific.  I'm glad (and a little proud) that I did it but I'm not sure I want to do it again unless I'm significantly fitter (and leaner).  I had been considering the New York Half in March but will now need to check the hilliness or if they do a 10K.  There's certainly no way I'll ever consider a marathon - the very idea that yesterday was half distance chills me to the bone.

Tips for future GNR entrants:
1. Don't
2. The toilets right at the start line are a little quieter than the others (although still expect to queue for 15 minutes)
3. If you start at the back (pink zone) it'll take you 20-30 minutes to walk from the start line to your start position
4. It's a very, very uphill course.  Make sure you've done some serious strength and stamina training - Lincolnshire training will not do!
5. Don't run with music - the atmosphere is fantastic and you'll rarely experience the like
6. When you hit the seafront, you're nowhere near the end
7. Consider your exit strategy; the event is just too big for South Shields and transport links cope poorly.  We got the bus to the Ferry and then went to the Supermarket opposite, where taxis pull up to take people and their shopping home.  The Metro queue was 4 hours, the Ferry 1.5 hours.  Alternately , park near South Shields and get the Metro in for the start
8. If you've any doubt about your ability to finish, go for the run/walk

Thanks to Stuart, the ARC ladies, Superman in the wheelchair (and the impressive fella who pushed him) and my right knee for holding out.

What's the next challenge?  Possible the New York Half Marathon but the first thing is to lose weight, which this process has singularly failed to achieve.  I need to get my pace up but my poor legs just won't do it - I still can't actually run fast enough to get out of breath!  Next training scheme is a "Run for weight loss" programme.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Watch this space.......

Saturday, 6 September 2014

They stack the odds still we take to the street

Jimi Jameson died this week - for those of you who don't know he was the lead singer of 1980s hair-rock outfit, Survivor.  A little while ago I wrote about needing a montage; well I could do with some of Jimi's stylings now!  For the more intellectually destitute of you, yes I know he didn't actually sing 'Eye of the Tiger' (he joined the group after that) but it's a good enough link for me.

The run is tomorrow.

The world's biggest half-marathon.  Among the finishers will be the millionth finisher of the Great North Run who, amongst other things, will get to meet Seb Coe.  It could be me.  If I finish.

The run is tomorrow.

Note I'm referring to it as a run.  The others I'm running it with keep calling it a race.  Race?  The only race I'll be doing is with the somewhat sinister-sounding "sweep van" which pootles along at about 3.5 miles an hour and anyone who it overtakes is out of the race.  Stephen King wrote a novel (under the name of Richard Bachman) called 'The Walk' in which contestants had to walk above 4 miles an hour.  Every time you dipped below you got a warning and after 2 warnings you were shot dead.  The winner was the last man standing.  I'm very worried about the sweep van.

The run is tomorrow.

If I'm honest, preparation hasn't gone as well as I'd hoped.  Holidays, a full-time job and (occasionally) sheer laziness have intervened.  By now I should be comfortably running 10 miles.  I can comfortably run 6 miles and I reckon I should be able to do 8.  Trouble is, that still leaves 5 more!  I know I've previously mentioned the run-walk strategy - this involves alternating running and walking and is, I'm told, a legitimate way of doing long-distance events.  I may yet go for that - something like 5/1 (i.e. run for 5 minutes, walk for 1 throughout the distance).

The run is tomorrow.

Wish me luck.

Watch this space..........

Monday, 11 August 2014

I'm with Sooty

The stuff arrived while I was on holiday.  You know, the GNR stuff - no, not Guns N Roses, the Great North Run.  I'm number 54623 (Pink K) - a quick look at the start map reveals that I'm starting at the back, almost a full kilometre from the front.  This will severely hamper my attempt at winning the race.  I may have to settle for 54,623rd!  It includes an invite to a Pasta Party the day before - that would probably be more sensible than my planned lager and curry frenzy with my good friend Stu.

Holiday was good.  Alicante in August is seriously hot!  My nephew managed to fall and dislocate his elbow which gave us an unexpected experience of the Spanish health service.  Managed to run 4 miles during the week (which in the Costa Del Sol Sun is a serious achievement; honest).  The training programme steps up a bit this week but I can now comfortably run 5-6 miles with a month to go; should easily be doing 10 by the race and the full distance is only 3 more.  Couldn't be simpler!  Will try and blog more frequently during the final month.

Having a bit of a do this weekend for my birthday.  Lots of friends and family coming and lots of beer and meat to be consumed - according to my schedule I need to run a 10K the day after.  I may alter the schedule.

One slightly disturbing thing - there is such a thing as the "sweep van" in the Great North Run.  This sets off after after everyone has crossed the start line and proceeds to the finish at a pace of 17 minutes per mile.  Anyone being overtaken by the sweep van is deemed to have left the race and is asked to complete it on the pavement (to allow for road re-openings etc.) - this has chilling echoes of the ambulance following me around during the Woodhall 10K and a 17 minute mile is not that much slower than I run!  This is my new target - beat the sweep van round the course.

Looking forward to going back to South Shields - spent a few happy days there as a wean and we may be able to take my daughter to visit her great-grandmother who's not far away.

Thanks for reading and watch this space......

Thursday, 24 July 2014

45 days to go!

Oh f**k - it's 45 days to go until the Great North Run.  They've even started putting the sign up on the Tyne Bridge.  I feel slightly sick - although that may be the microwaved curry and wine out of an unlabelled bottle I'm having/have had for tea.

Work has been a bit of a b@stard over the last few weeks - got involved in a particularly difficult case which pretty much took over my life for 3 weeks and allowed no time for any serious training.  Three weeks off quickly became four and now I feel like I'm starting again.  45 days to go!

It's hot this week.  Real hot.  Went for a quick break-back-in 2 mile run on Tuesday and I reckon I lost about 10% of my body weight in sweat - apparently Gary Lineker lost 1st during the 1990 World Cup Semi-final; still lost though!  Did the same run again today (with still-aching legs from Tuesday) and it felt a bit better.  Actually I felt stronger after the 4 week break than before - maybe a rest does you good every now and then.

I've had the bike out for some cross-training but I can't work out how to lift the handlebar up so I pretty much have to ride horizontally flat - like some kind of Tour de Francer (which I'm patently not).  This is surprisingly painful.  I wish I knew about bikes!

45 days to go!

I'll still do it - even if I end up hobbling round!!  Training begins in earnest again (although I'm off to Spain in a couple of weeks - it's as if the whole world is against me).  I'll have to give up on any thoughts of a decent time and just concentrate on getting round.  I will get round.

I will get round.

45 days to go!

My legs hurt.

Watch this space.....

Sunday, 1 June 2014

The Woodhall Spa 10K

I've been looking forward to this moment for a long time.  This moment now.  The moment when I'm no longer running the Woodhall 10K.  The moment when the Woodhall 10K is behind me.  Truth is I had no idea how I'd cope - the furthest I've run so far is about 6K and the longest time I've run uninterrupted is 27 minutes.  I was actually nervous when I woke up this morning; even more so as I lined up with all the other starters - I believe there were about 1,200 runners in total.

The start line was interesting - separate spots for sub 45 minute runners, sub 50 minute runners and sub 60 minute runners.  Where was my spot?  They appeared to have missed out the sub 2 hour lot!  Every time I run I have one of those smart phone app thingies which tracks my progress and I do a kilometre in about 10 minutes.  I was, therefore, aiming for a time of around an hour and forty minutes.  Sadly, I didn't quite make this - I haven't seen my chip time yet but I clocked myself at an hour and 48 minutes.  I don't think the British Olympic Team Performance Director is going to be knocking on my door but the important thing (to me at least) is that I ran the whole thing.  No breaks.  No spells of walking.  A full hour and 48 minutes of (very slow) running, breaking my previous best by over an hour.

It's a cunningly designed course - start and finish in more or less the same place but still manages to be slightly uphill the entire way round; surely this is not actually possible?  The air horn announced that start and we were off!  It turns out it is very difficult to maintain the pace you know is the maximum you can manage if you're to cover 10K while thousands of people stream past you (including Wonder Woman and Batman).  Still I'm nothing if not dogged and I maintained my discipline.  By the 2K mark I'd pretty much lost sight of everyone.  At 3K I was really struggling and my inner monologue was constantly updating my targets and expectations.  I wanted to run at least 5K as that would be a similar distance to the Comic Relief 3 Miler I ran in march and which nearly killed me.  4K to 5K was really difficult - a long uphill straight with no-one in sight and by now the race winners had finished and they were starting to let cars back on the roads.  When I hit 5K the psychology changed completely - every step I took now was bringing me nearer home (instead of further away).  I thought, "OK - I'll try and run for an hour and see where that gets me."  That got me to 6K and I was actually starting to feel relaxed, increasing my stride length and thought I could run for ever.  At this point, the ambulance which had been tailing me for the last 20 minutes got an emergency call and had to move off - not without giving me a bottle of water fortunately.  Luckily for me the "Sweep Car" was still behind me.  This took me right back to my school cross country days where the PE teacher, Mr Milner, would follow us around in his car barking our speeds at us and challenging us to speed up.

7K arrived and suddenly there was only 3K to go.  3K is easy.  I've run it loads of times.  "I'm sorted," I thought and so picked up the pace even more.  This turned out to be a mistake.  More hills intervened and not even a cyclist going the other way shouting, "Only two and a half K to go," helped.  At 8K I turned on to a long uphill straight - this really isn't fair.  I had to stare at the road in front of me so I couldn't see how far I still had to run (and that was only until the next bend) - my confidence at 6K had all evaporated by now but there was no way I was going to stop running.  Not even for the procession of cars building up behind who didn't seem to be able to pass a fat man running at 5.5 - 6 kph without running him onto the grass (which is considerably harder to run on).  One of them even honked his horn at me - although I'm being generous and assuming that was in encouragement.

A right turn and a downhill bit soon brought up the 9K sign and I now thought "there's no bloody way I'm not finishing this" and kicked on again.  I hadn't had any throngs of spectators applauding me on (they'd all gone home assuming it had finished) but here there were a few more marshals and ambulance crew to clap and shout out encouragement; it really does make a difference although it can be counterproductive if it forces you to start running a bit quicker.

I was met at 9.75K by a friend with a bottle of water (thanks Scott) and soon turned in to the finish straight.  I did try a sprint finish but having seen the video playback it was clearly very rubbish.  The announcer proclaimed "the very last man."  Thanks for that.  I was given a medal and a banana and that was it.  A full 10K ran.  I've only got to go twice as far and I'm there.  Easy.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Pretty fly for a white guy

I spent last week in Lanzarote.  It was very hot.  Despite this I managed to get out on two mornings (it should've been three but I still reckon I did well).  The main trouble was that you have to get out before 8am otherwise the sun just makes it too unpleasant to run.  I'm not sure the locals are ready for the sight of a 130kg paleface trailing beads of sweat behind him as he pounds the pavement.  I have made a top purchase - a pair of round-the-back-of-the-neck bluetooth headphones.  This eliminates the trailing wire and hence improves my aerodynamic profile - I'm with David Brailsford on this one; it's all about percentages.  I got out again on Easter Sunday despite not getting home until 3am the night before - two main observations: firstly it's much colder in Lincolnshire than in Lanzarote; secondly the running is definitely easier.  I'm almost up to a full half hour without a break now although still limited to around 6.5kph.  My legs don't seem to go any faster - I'm not getting remotely out of breath anymore but stepping up the pace is proving difficult.  I was out this afternoon and did just over 2 miles and I think I'm starting to lengthen the paces a little so maybe there is progress.  I certainly couldn't have run 2 miles straight 2 months ago.  I'm beginning to think that running the entire distance in September is not that unrealistic after all.

When returned home I was greeted with my Woodhall Spa 10K number and chip.  This is all getting a bit real now!  Just 41 days until I run 10K and my current distance is sitting at just under 4K.  Need to keep up the training - no time for gaps now.

Apologies if the blog is a bit random and disparate this week - nothing exciting has happened or occurred to me since the last entry but I feel the need to keep things up.  My good friend Angela has just completed the London Marathon in just over 6 hours so very well done her (she only really started running about this time last year and has come through several injuries).  I don't think I'll ever do (or want to do) the full marathon but the thought of running half marathons in different countries is actually quite appealing (not least because it's a good excuse to go to those countries).

According to Prince on a track that came on the iPod today, it's flyer to be hungry than fat.

If only someone had told me before.

I could've been so fly.

So, with 139 days to go:

Longest sustained run: 27 minutes
Musical highlight: Bloc Party
Weight: Slightly up (damn you Spanish cuisine)
Confidence: Increasing
Urge to kill:Minimal

Monday, 7 April 2014

Don't push too far

It's a month since my last post but fortunately that doesn't mean I haven't been training.  I've been doing at least 3 sessions a week and am close to being ready to go for a longish run (by which I mean half an hour without stopping).  That should form the jumping off point for training for 10K which I need to be ready for by 1st June when I shall be attempting the Woodhall Spa 10K.  It was the Lincoln 10K yesterday which I did briefly consider entering but it just comes too soon in my schedule and I don't want to demoralise myself.  That said I was reassured by the amount of people doing the run/walk thing - I have calmed myself about the half marathon that if it comes to it I can do a run/walk and still cover the distance in a reasonable time.  No - the reason I haven't blogged for a while is because I haven't been able to think about anything funny to write, so don't hold your breath!

I guess I'll discuss running instead.  My wife did the Lincoln 10K yesterday in 1hr 40sec (the winning time was 32:10 which is just plain wrong).  I reckon I'm aiming for a time of around 1hr 15min in June and possible 3hr 30min for the half marathon - I'm not quite at the Elite level yet!  I did the Sport Relief 3 mile run as a run/walk and was in quite a lot of pain afterwards although felt surprisingly good the day after - my body is obviously becoming finely tuned (albeit in B fat major)!

One of the key things when running is the music - running is an incredibly boring occupation.  I've never found it useful to run with others; partly because they're always much faster than me and partly because I prefer to just get my head down and pound the pavement.  This is where music comes in - when I did the half-marathon all those years ago my Walkman batteries ran out at about 5 miles which made for a very bleak finish.  I can't remember what I was listening to at the time - probably Fantastic by Wham.

I'm currently trying to put together a play list which will get me through just over 3 hours of running. I'm after a mixture of uptempo songs (to revive me) and songs which run more or less at my pace - I was a little disappointed to discover that my running pace exactly matches T'Pau's classic "China In Your Hand," a song about Mary Shelly and Frankenstein!  I will be running at Frankenstein's pace.  Maybe I should hire a mob to chase after me waving pitchforks and torches?

Even more disappointing is the occasional unexpected song - I'm not sure how I've come to have the current mix of songs on my iPhone that I have but it seems to include the soundtrack from Mamma Mia amongst other things - I'd rather eat my legs than listen to that.  Truly horrifically a song came on today to which my initial reaction was "nice one - this is pretty good," only to realise half way through that it was a track from High School Musical!  So as I bopped to the top completing my 2 x 8 minute run:

Distance covered last month:  27.86km
Musical highlight: Blister in the Sun by Violent Femmes
Weight lost: Absolutely f***ing none! Not fair.
Urine: Still smelly (see earlier blog if you're confused by that one)
Pain in ankles: Lessening
Breathlessness: Lessening
Urge to kill: Moderate