Manchester, sorted for pb’s + whizz

I woke up to my first marathon since York in October last year with ice on the car and a cold feeling inside.

I’d been training, I mean really training, for this one since Christmas. Actual Christmas Day. I’d decided to run 3 marathons in 3 weeks but had entered Manchester specifically because it was reputedly flat and fast.

All winter I’d attended interval and track sessions in a bid to get quicker. Training had gone well up until about a month out when I couldn’t run for two weeks due to illness. But I’d recovered and run a couple of (for me) pretty quick half-marathons quite comfortably.

This, then, was the culmination of all that work. I had put a lot of pressure on myself in trying to attain a specific time and now it was time to go for it.

I had three targets in mind.

  1. Sub 3 hours 15 for a Good For Age automatically qualifying me for London next year

  2. Sub 3 hours 25 to allow me to apply for Boston Marathon next year

  3. Crash and burn and just enjoy the run

3 wasn’t really an option but its nice to think I had every base covered.

I knew 3.15 was going to be really tough as I hadn’t run at that pace (7.26 minute miles) for a sustained period as, but the time I was well again I was into my taper. However, the half marathons at Cardiff and Reading (both 7.17 minute miles) showed that, if the stars were aligned, I could get close.

My previous marathon pb was 3.26.59 so I would need to beat that by 12 minutes or nearly 30 seconds per mile.

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I’ve read a lot of blogs over the last couple of days detailing the failure of the infrastructure at the start and finish of the marathon so won’t detail it here. The only thing I will mention is that it was unclear where the start line was until you were running over the timing mats which caused a lot of confusion but ultimately didn’t affect my race.

By the time the race started the sun was out, there were blue skies and no wind. I guess it started at about 5-8 degrees. Absolutely perfect running conditions.

I wanted to start with the 3.15 pacer but couldn’t see him as the pens were pretty fluid. Luckily there were a fair few switchbacks early in the race and I saw where he was. Slowly I reeled him in and spent most of the race sitting 50 feet behind. The pace was ok to start with but by 8 miles I was wondering how I was going to sustain it.

My pace started to drop a little, from 7.20’s to 7.30’s but I was still keeping up with the pacer. I should have realised something was wrong but it was so comforting to be putting all my calculations in someone else’s hands that I just went with it. Looking back, from mile 8 to the end we only went under 7.26 4 times.

There isn’t much to say about the race really as I was so focussed, so exhausted and so determined to keep up with that bloody bobbing flag in front of me I didn’t take anything in around me. I was hoping to see some Frank Sidebottom characters around Timperley but couldn’t tell you where Timperley was on the route. I did see a couple of fellow Handy Cross Runners on the long out and back to Altrincham which was great but aside from this there was no distraction from the relentless pace.

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Eventually we were on the home run, about 5 miles from the finish. These were my slowest laps. I was pretty much done in. I’ve never wanted to stop and walk before but I could easily have done over these 3 miles. The pacer was slipping away from me and I was averaging 7.35 minute miles. My only consoling thought was that, as I had started quite far back from the pacer, as long as he was in sight I had a chance.

The last 2 miles I really don’t remember. I know I managed to increase my pace to 7.30 and then 7.25 for the last mile. I also remember the finish gantry never seemed to get any closer. And I remember slumping on the barrier immediately after the finish line. Oh, and a chap puking just over my shoulder and thinking “well at least I’m not THAT guy.”

I knew before I looked at my watch I hadn’t beaten 3.15. There had been too many slow miles and sure enough I came in at 3.16.13. The pacer was only 30 seconds ahead of me but obviously had a problem and came in around 2 minutes slow.

I was ecstatic. No really. 3.15 had been a dream. It would have been a miracle to beat my pb by 12 minutes.

But to beat it by over 10 minutes was still incredible. Almost certain to qualify for Boston just amazing.

There were many things I could have done that may have shaved those 74 seconds off. Not eaten ALL the Easter eggs, trained harder, lost that half a stone I’d promised I’d lose.

But I’m not going to beat myself up. On the day I simply couldn’t have run any faster. Its the first time I’ve felt I left absolutely everything out on the road and I’m kind of proud of that.

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3 in 3 becomes 4 in 4 (and a bit)

Its 2 days until Manchester Marathon and what was going to be the first of three marathons in three weeks. However, I couldn’t resist running Milton Keynes again so last week decided to add that one. It is the week after London but, as it’s on the Monday rather than the Sunday, I get an extra day off!

Sadly, confidence has dipped rapidly this week. On Sunday I ran the Reading Half Marathon. Initially I was going to take it easy as I had “gone for it” at the Cardiff Half the week before. However, after a mile or so I felt really good so decided to try running at marathon pace (around 7.25 minute miles) for the rest. It all felt great and my pace increased as the race went on. I came in at 1.36:09 only 9 seconds slower than Cardiff.

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I’ve got mixed feelings about this as, if I’d decided to go quick from the start I’m sure I could have easily beaten my pb of 1.35:21. Conversely I could have taken it easy and saved my legs.

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What has really got my worrying though is the huge blister on my heel I got from the run. I don’t do blisters, not even in ultras, so this is a bit of a shock. It’s huge and I’m struggling to see how I’ll be able to run properly in only 2 days.

I spent yesterday sticking needles into it as there was no way it would go down on its own. Liberal amounts of Savlon and plasters have made it go down a little. I really wanted to go out for a run today but am worried that it will knock my confidence too much.

However, I’ll definitely be parkrunning tomorrow as this is a pre race ritual I can’t do without – especially as I am now only 10 away from my 100 t-shirt!

I’m looking forward to Manchester though, as it supposed to be a good flat fast course. Initially I wanted to try for a 3.15 but after illness during the middle of my training I would be happy to qualify for Boston (somewhere under 3.25). If my foot holds up I will hopefully go for this and leave the Good For Age 3.15 for Berlin Marathon in the Autumn.

The course looks like it has a lot of out and backs which I really didn’t like at Bournemouth but I think I was just having a bad day.

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From about 9 1/2 miles to 17 miles is a long out and back so it will be great to see the leaders coming back the other way, less so to realise they are on their way back and I’m still on the way out!

So that’s it. All the training since before Christmas, the run on Christmas Day, the endless training runs in the cold and pouring rain being drenched by cars, the fantastic days of sunshine running through woods and trails, the 20 mile races and half marathons are all over.

It’s time to pack the marathon bag, try to forget about what can’t be controlled and focus on the things that can. And most of all enjoy it.

I might just have another go with a needle on my heel though….

 

I’m running these marathons for the South Bucks Hospice – a charity who support patients and families coping with life limiting illness, death, bereavement and grief.
If you feel you would like to help please click here to donate. Many thanks.

Runner

Win a pair of Ashmei Compression Socks

It isn’t a secret that I love Ashmei gear. I’ve been wearing their clothing ever since I started running (which, admittedly is only three years ago).

At my first race, the Henley 10k, they had their airstream at the start and I was immediately drawn to their styling. I’ve now got a couple of their shirts, a hoody, jacket and a number of pairs of socks.

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The main reason I like them, as well as looking good, is the fact that, after wearing them, they just don’t smell. I’ve used a shirt three times in a row letting it dry out between sessions and it still hasn’t smelled as bad as a normal shirt after one use. And the salt marks make you look pretty hardcore/disgusting!

Anyway, that’s enough free advertising. I bought these compression socks a week or so ago but they are the wrong size for me. Ashmei offered to take them back and refund the money but I thought I’d spread the love a bit and offer them up as a competition prize. I haven’t even tried them on, I realised once I had them that there was no point even trying. If a sock doesn’t fit, its just a blister waiting to happen.

 

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These are a size 6.5-8 foot (European 40-42) with a 39-44 cm calf circumference. I’ve had a pair of these previously and loved them but unfortunately hadn’t cut my toenails close enough before a particularly hilly ultra and put holes in both big toes.

So, the important question –  how do you win these socks (retailing at £30)?

Simple really. Retweet my competition tweet and follow me both at @thebaldrunner and @mattfowlerphoto. Oh and following my blog wouldn’t go amiss too! Obviously it would be lovely if you took a look at my business site www.mattphoto.co.uk but that would just be an added bonus for you!

Good luck!

 

T’s+C’s
The winner will be drawn at random on Friday 8th April from everyone who has followed both of my twitter accounts and blog page and retweeted as directed above. Postage will be paid. UK participants only. The prize is one pair of Ashmei Compresion Socks size 6.5-6 calf 39-44 as described. This competition is in no way linked to or endorsed by Ashmei. No alternative prize is available and no correspondence will be entered into.

 

(pre) Cardiff World Half Marathon

My only previous trip to Cardiff city centre was in 2003 when I was asked to shoot a number of rubbish bins at the recently completed Millennium Stadium (don’t let anyone tell you the life of a professional photographer isn’t glamorous…)

So I was doubly pleased to win a last minute place to the World Half Marathon Championships (many, many thanks to Advent Running) this year being held in the Welsh capital.

As it was a last minute place I was going to struggle to get accommodation but luckily one of my club mates was going and had booked an apartment. All I needed was a sleeping bag and roll mat and I was sorted. Friday afternoon saw Gareth and I crawling down the M4 getting into Cardiff 2 hours later than expected but still with plenty of time to meet up with another Handy Cross Runner, Soraya, pick up our race numbers and get to our pre-booked restaurant. It was a good job Gareth had reserved a table as, when we arrived for our 7.30 slot, people were being told the next table available would be 10pm!

Two and a half hours later we left feeling stuffed, and not feeling in any way like athletes!

The race wasn’t going to start until 2.10 on Saturday so I thought I would have a trot around Cardiff parkrun in the morning. Luckily a friend who I’d met at the Marathon Talk run camp a couple of years ago (and again earlier this year) had the same idea so I arranged to meet Anna there. She is training for Boston marathon in late April and wanted to get a few miles in either side of parkrun. This was supposed to be my first week of taper but I figured a few more, slow,miles wouldn’t do me any harm.

The apartment was at the other end of the park so I had a pleasant run towards the start of parkrun; until I realised I didn’t have my barcode, sprinted back to the room and legged it back again to where I was meeting Anna. We then did 2.5 miles around the park before the start.

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As we were running we met Mark, one of Anna’s club mates who had also run down to get some extra miles and had the obligatory selfie, all resplendent in red.

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I had been checking the weather constantly the day before as it wasn’t looking too friendly but it stayed dry and, down in the park, hardly windy at all. Hopefully this would set the tone for the day as the forecast was for 40mph winds at around 2pm.

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It’s a nice flat out and back (ish) course on tarmac paths and probably a quick one. However, having just done 4 miles beforehand, and having 13.1 to do in the afternoon I took it fairly easy. I’d love to come back and have a proper go at another time.

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As a parkrun geek I really liked the way they organised the barcode scanners by extending the finish funnel and having a scanner at the end of each exit. So naturally I got a few shots and have fed them back to my local run.

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Once parkrun was finished we still had over four hours til the race so there was only one sensible thing to do. Eat a full English (Welsh) breakfast.

We went back to the apartment to get changed and then off to a little cafe Anna had been told about. Full monty breakfasts all round. Happy boy.

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We managed to spend a good hour and a half over breakfast then a bit of a wander around town before finally plucking up the courage to take off the warm clothes and don the oh-so-flattering but very welcome ponchos.

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Anna went to meet her club mates and I wandered down to the start line to find my starting pen. I bumped into Soraya there and as she was going to run 7.25 minute miles we thought we’d run at least the first part together. I still wasn’t sure whether to go for a good time or just enjoy it but thought a 7.25 pace for the first mile would let me figure out how I was feeling.

But that’s for a later blog.