Sunday, November 3, 2013

Murcia marathon

So, for those of you who don't want to read all the way to the end, I completed the marathon, all 42km 195 metres of it, in 4:23. I am ecstatic about this. Not anywhere near the time I wanted, but there were mitigating circumstances.

For background, I may have had the crappiest two week taper in the history of marathon running. A cold, throat infection, cricked neck, swollen foot...all combined to devour my confidence, make me paranoid and believe in chess as my true calling. However, I was still at the start line on a fine Sunday morning, with my Newfeel trainers, vasline and garmin all in place, finally realising it was all in the mind and I was ready to go.

At 8:30 we set off. As per the million pieces of advice I had been given, I didn't set off too fast and in any case, the first two kilometres were uphill. The sun was also already quite strong after a few gloomy days. Eventually we turned around to begin descending and I started to speed up. Then my breathing got a bit laboured so I held myself back and settled into a pace that would see me finish in about 3:45. I was happy with this pace and started to knock off the kilomtres without too much trouble. It helped that Murcia is a beautiful city to run through.

And that was it for a while. I ran along, acknowledging the people supporting us and thinking it was going to be a piece of cake. However, at around 17k, things started to go wrong. My abductor muscles started to feel really tight and I started to lose a bit of power in my stride. By 20k, I knew I was in trouble. The pain in my legs wasn't acute, but I couldn't push them forward and my pace started to dramatically drop. I went from 5:30 per km to around 7 minutes per km over the next 3-4k.

At around 30k I suddenly felt I couldn´t run any further. My chest was tight and my legs were hopelessly weak. So I tried to walk for a bit and found that more difficult than running. I was becoming a real mental mess as well, with my body pretty much demanding that I stop, telling me with certainty that I would die if I didn´t, while my ego wouldn't let me contemplate giving up. In the end, I just kept going, one foot in front of the other, robot style. There are no words to describe how tough this was, and I guess only those who´ve been there will know how this feels. But...there´s also something about the marathon that is special in this respect. You are not alone, there are others trying to get to the end as well, and this solidarity can be a real source of strength if you can tap into it.

Eventually, the kilometres whittled down and I passed the 41k mark. Then I turned a corner and there was the finishing line, about 800 metres ahead. The support here was huge and I started to milk it for all it was worth and started to enjoy the moment. I even got a bit more pace in my legs and crossed the line in 4:23.

To bring a usual cliche into this, my marathon was a real mental battle. It was simply about keeping going when my body didn´t want to and, although it wasn´t pleasant at the time, I´m really glad I went through it. The sense of achievement at the end made everything ok (and still does - I´m on a real buzz this morning).

Things I did right:
  • I picked the right shoes - I´m a firm believer in this. I run in a pair of Newfeel trainers designed for walking. I chose them because they are minimalist and comfortable and above all, €5. You do not need to spend a fortune on expensive trainers, in my opinion, but would be better placed building up your foot strength over time. These trainers were perfect for me and can be for anyone else.
  • Diet - I ate a paleo diet for the three months leading up to the race. Apart from my legs giving up, I felt fine within myself during the race, and I was injury free for all my training.
  • Time-based training - doing time-based training instead of distance training delivered everything it said it would. The only thing I may need to improve in this is doing a longer base-building period next time in order to increase my general pace.
Things I did wrong:
  • I have never dedicated myself to building up my leg and core strength. I´ve no doubt this was a major part of the problem yesterday. If I am to continue to improve this now has to become a priority.
  • Dealing with stress - I let my mind get the better of me in the build-up. I have to deal with the stress better next time.
So that´s it. A fantastic experience and I feel stronger and more enlightened for it. And finally of course, there was this:

Will I do it again? I´m already planning it.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Wot no zombies...???

Today I completed my last long training session that eventually came in at 3 hours 30 minutes. Due to various family commitments, I had to be back home at 9:45am so that meant this:

Going out in the dark was a bit of a change and despite the early start I was quite looking forward to it. It meant I would be running when it was cool, as opposed to having a baking hot sun trying to turn me to jelly, and there would be little traffic and nasty fumes around. I was hoping this would give me a good indicator of where I really am fitness-wise, especially as I haven´t played rugby for two weeks either. My other motivation was that it was my last long run...and while I cannot put into words how happy this made me, I can give you an idea:

So, off I went. I walked the first ten minutes as per usual, then started some kind of demented stagger to try to get my legs moving like something resembling a runner. I went my usual route through the back streets and then hit the countryside, which, due to the hour of day, was pitch black:

Despite it being scary as hell, this run through pitch dark country lanes has proven beyond doubt that zombies, and monsters in general, don´t exist. The simple reason for this deduction is that if they did exist, I wouldn´t be here now. It was the perfect setting to get me. As they clearly didn´t, we can obviously put that one to rest. I hope you can all sleep easier now as clearly, the only thing resembling a zombie was me.

But then, things started to get better. I started to be properly warmed up, was making a good pace and in general, finding the whole thing a lot easier. I hope this means my plan is paying off and all those summer training hours may have done me some real good.

I carried on up through Mutxamel and then, instead of coming down through San Juan, I kept going north and headed towards the N340. It was at this point that God started showing off how many colours He knows:

Then I got a case of runner´s trots just before I hit the national road so had to stop in a garage. There is nothing more embarrassing than this - stopping in a garage when you don´t have a car, buying one poxy bottle of water and spending far too long in the toilet, so it´s obvious why you went in there. I know we all have to, but I hate rubbing it in people´s faces.

Anyway, down I went through San Juan and eventually came to the beach. Now, I don´t want to brag about where I live but I have to say that just after sunrise, the beach is possibly one of the most uplifting places you can be:

Inspired and close to the end of the run I headed back through the Alicante Golf and made it to Albufereta at about 2 hours 50, which meant I could go into cool down phase i.e. start walking. This made me very happy indeed:

When I got home, I´d covered just over 17 miles, which according to most people is good enough to get around a full marathon. I´d also done this distance by incorporating a fair amount of walking into my training, especially for the  cool downs which last about 30 minutes, so I reckon there´s a fair bit left in the tank for race day itself.

Sooooooo.....3 weeks to go!!! I´m looking forward to it, so much so that I´ll sign off by sharing this short 2 minute video...

They can´t scare me. My next post will be from the finish line...happy days!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Six weeks and counting...

Oh, bumbly, bumbly. bum, bum...6 weeks to go and I´m starting to get nervous. I´m not quite as nervous as last night in rugby training when a huge slab of whale meat decided he was going to run through me rather than around me, but nervous all the same.

I don´t know what to make of my aerobic training. I seem to be stuck at a pace around the 6:15 per km mark at best, but which normally translates to 7:15 because of all the stupid hills in Alicante. A 6:15 pace in the race will bring me in about 4:20 whilst a 7:15 pace will bring me in after everyone has gone home. I know the theory, according to Lord Maffetone is that this training will translate into a much quicker race pace because of my newly-constructed aerobic base, but it´s hard to feel that way when it JUST ISN´T HAPPENING.

And I want my 4-hour time...

The Paleo diet is going well though and I´m beginning to feel pretty good on it. The body is holding up great since I´m running 4 times a week and doing 1 day a week of rugby. My ankle is still niggly but manageable and I think it´s down to 1) eating the right food and 2) getting stronger.

But are some photos from recent runs...

First...Victims of Terrorism Street in San Juan de Alicante. Nice!

Second, has some kind of English religious sect set up in another small Spanish village...?

And some nice countryside...

I did see even more interesting things on my runs but they involved other people so it felt a bit rude to take sneaky pictures of them. I´ve got another 2hr run tomorrow then next week, I´ve got a 3 hour Sunday run after a rugby match the day´s all getting quite intense.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Caveman Approach

I´ve had to take an injury break for the past week. It´s not ideal but about 12 mins into my mid-week session last week, it was clear that my ankle was giving me big ´no-no´ signs by hurting more with every step I took. I concluded this was more than your normal aches & pains and sensibly stopped. It was very frustrating as I feeling more Mo Farah than Mo Farah himself.

As always I thought a sensible solution was needed so I radically changed my diet, to go along with the standard RICE treatment. Therefore I am now fully paleo! From Saturday onwards I am no longer eating grains, legumes, processed foods, breads, sweets, dairy etc etc. Basically, all I can eat is meat, poultry, lamb, fish, and all the veg and fruit I want, plus most condiments and vinegars. There are many ideas and theories behind this diet, so I won´t go into them now, nor will I advertise any reading I´ve been doing. First, I want to see the (if any) positive effects. To add to my suffering I also gave up caffeine.

It´s been ok. I spent the first day pretty light-headed, which is normal. The second and third days have brought feelings of being rundown, again pretty normal. Then I hurt my back lifting the kids out of bed, so I´ve been distracted by that. However, on Tuesday, just two days into my diet, I went out to run again, with my ankle seemingly well-rested. Interestingly, I set my fastest kilometre within my target heart-rate of 135, completing it in 5:51 running on the flat. This was a total surprise. I can´t honestly say it´s down to changing my diet as I also had a good rest, but it´s certainly encouraging.

So, to spread the word, try this dish:


Hake fillets, plum tomatoes, garlic, onion, nutmeg powder, black pepper, salt.

Chop the hake up into small chunks. Fry the onion and garlic in butter for a few minutes, then add the hake and fry it until it´s slightly browned, adding some black pepper. Chuck in the tomatoes, nutmeg powder and salt and simmer away to your heart´s content. Optional extra - add some cayenne powder whilst frying the hake to spice the whole thing up.

For those who say paleo is difficult, how easy is that?

Sunday, August 18, 2013

First LSR for Murcia...

There´s no room for negative thinking when you´re training for a marathon. So when my alarm went off at 6:50am this Sunday morning, I jumped straight out of bed and put the chicken broth on to heat up. I drank that, got my magnesium down me, unplugged the iPod from the Mac and headed out the door for 2 and a half hours. The reason I had to go out so early can be summed up in two words: Alicante & August. Any later in the day and I would have shrivelled up like a snail in a salt bath.

It seemed like I just couldn´t get going today. I suppose it´s a consequence of my first rugby session on Friday after a couple of weeks holiday, but I felt stiff and lethargic, despite the raucous support from the drunken Alicantino´s going home after their Saturday night out. But I carried on of course. Although I was stiff, none of my niggles started protesting sufficiently for me to consider cutting the run short, and my new ankle support seemed to be doing the trick. So I headed down to the centre of town, up the coast road towards San Juan Playa, across Cabo de Huertas and back again.

Here are some pictures of Cabo de Huertas...

Two things were significant about today. First, I made the crazy assumption that filling up my iPod with 80s classics would help me along, so last night I purchased an 80s compilation album on the cheap. Then, without really checking the songs in great detail, I put them on the iPod. When one of the first songs to come on was Sabrina´s ´Boys, Boys, Boys´, I realised I may have made a mistake. When Luther Vandross started his drivel, I knew I´d made a mistake. Time to search for some iPod editing software.

Second, Cabo de Huertas is obviously a place when gentleman of a certain persuasion like to meet other gentleman to get to know each other better, albeit in a very fleeting manner. Funnily enough, this is going on among all the other runners, fishermen, sunbathers and yes, nudists. Now I´m as open-minded as the next person and each to their own and all that, but let´s face it, there were no A-list models on display. No wonder most runners stare straight ahead. I´ll continue to do so, probably after changing my schedule around. After all, I wouldn´t want to be a nuisance to anyone.

Garmin data for whomever is interested:

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Cricket grounds and ankles

As it's hammering down with rain today, I thought I'd write my blog as opposed to do a 2 hour LSR. This is not good for my marathon training but I don't have waterproofs and I'm used to running in sunshine, so...

On Tuesday this week, I managed a 1:20 LSR going up and down the Taff Trail. It was fantastic. I was running through beautiful countryside, next to a river that doesn't smell and enjoying the rabbits crossing my path. Dog-walkers said a cheery 'good morning!'. For the first time in my life I also ran across a cricket ground before crossing the railway bridge at Radyr and heading up to Castell Coch. I kept going for half of my allotted time before heading back down the trail. In the end I didn't come back down exactly the same way because I stayed on the other side of the river, so I got lost. I ended up asking two people for directions, one of which was a runner who, while sprinting past me, claimed contrarily, 'I can't run today!'.

The great thing about this run was that I managed two kilometres, both under 6 minutes, at 130bpm. This is a major improvement for me proving that my aerobic capacity is improving considerably. I have to say it's probably because of the rugby. This bodes very well for my marathon.

What doesn't bode well is my ankle and the tendons in my lower leg. I have a bit of chronic soreness there at the moment. It's ok when I walk but it's just niggly. I'm worried that with the upping of intensity it's not going to recover properly and it's going to have to be managed between now and November. That's not ideal. So now I'm caught between cutting down on some sessions or sticking to the training programme as best I can, maybe taking a rest week along the way. The reason for doubt is that I've had this injury before so I don't think a rest week will necessarily make it go away.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Road to Murcia

I would like to formally announce, to all 7 of my beloved followers, my candidature of marathon debutante in Murcia on November 3rd, 2013. It's taken a lot of soul-searching to decide to enter this race but in the end, boredom won out.

I've been running for about 2 and a half years now and like anyone I've had my ups and downs. In the end, I've decided these are no worse or better than anyone else's so I've kind of become a bit alienated from the running community. This is because I've realised that blogging about the mental aspects of running, as this blog attests, can be mind-numbingly boring. So I thought I'd just get on with it, enter the bloody race and see how it goes.

There are a couple of great things about this particular marathon that grabbed my attention. Firstly it's being organised by a club called 'Corre Birras' or 'The Running Beers'. Cool. Secondly, it's limited to 1,500 runners so there won't be big crowds to negotiate, which is something I am eternally grateful for. Third, it's Murcia's first marathon so I reckon there will be a pretty good atmosphere.

I've done four training sessions so far, using a time-training approach I've downloaded from It's really good. My sessions have included my first interval session (where my son came with me and played on my mobile while I ran up and down past him, high-fiving on the way), a mountain session where I fell over and gashed my knee (taking me back to my school days) and a two hour LSR that I'm still stiff as houses from. However, it was the beach session that really taught me a lesson. I won't say much about it except that no-one ever told me I had to wear underwear and not just run in my swimwear. Chinese water torture had nothing on it. I only got through it because I'm so mentally hard but there were some delicate moments for days afterwards.

The other great thing about running is I'm back in Cwmbran at the moment. Wales is a beautiful place and makes such a contrast to the grim desert heat of Alicante. You can see this by looking at the garmin routes below and changing the map to satellite mode:

The other thing about Cwmbran was the running in the rain. If I tried to do two hours in Alicante I would be stopping every 30 minutes to glug down 20 litres of water. In Cwmbran I did my 2 hour LSR without the need for any water and I got soaked into the bargain. I also got heckled by a car full of lads, who I gave the finger to, and a car full of girls, who I waved at. Oh, the mysterious vagaries of the mind.

Anyway, I'm underway. My ankle is hurting. I'm feeling positive. I'm blogging again. All 7 of you have my love if you could be bothered to get this far. Let me hear you say 'yeah!'