Saturday, 17 November 2007

Final Total

A thank you to everyone who sponsored me. The final totals raised for the schools in Pokot are:

Given under gift aid: £943
Money reclaimed under gift aid: £943 * 28% = £264.04
Given not under gift aid: £1507

Total: £2714.04.

You can of course still donate any time you like - I can still process the payments, and I'll pass the money on.

Read about the cause and make secure donations here.

Saturday, 3 November 2007

Possibly final words, and tips if you ever try this...

My feet look about normal now, but I can still feel it every step though it's not painful any more. The post-marathon muscular aches have subsided too - the acid test is being able to walk down stairs without staggering!

I'll post a final update on how much was raised for the schools in Pokot later, but it looks like it will be about £2,300. There's still time (hint, hint)! In fact this blog, which I set up because I saw someone else saying that they'd had strangers donate through becoming interested, didn't have the affect of attracting any donations from strangers - but it's been fun anyway.

I benefited a lot from reading other runners' blogs and reading all the advice I could from the Internet. Of course, some of it conflicts and as ever, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, so you have to be cautious. In case it helps anyone, I've uploaded the spreadsheet with my training record. Anyone can click on the HTML one, but the spreadsheet one has more comments in:

You'll see that I did about 6 months training, starting from nothing, running 4 times every week unless injured or a couple of times with an extra little jog thrown in. I didn't do any cross-training (i.e. exercise other than running), but think I should have done. It would have reduced the injury risk and made the cycling I had to do in the final weeks because of the shin splint easier! (It's not a good stage to start stressing muscles that you haven't stressed before!). I worked up to about 40 miles a week (only going over it once - 42 miles), and maintained that level for a couple of months more or less. All I can say is that it worked for me. Here are some unordered thoughts in case they come in useful for anyone:

  • It took me a few weeks to realise that you can't carry on trying to increase your mileage and speed every week and every run. The body does not get much fitter if you over-do it. I needed to relax. One shorter-than-planned run does not really spoil anything. You can't skimp on doing the quota of long runs, but one shortened session is better than being injured for weeks. I didn't get my first proper injury until the last three weeks, so I didn't have the lesson of hindsight: if something starts hurting persistently and doesn't go away, stop running! It's not worth aggravating it whilst you grind out the last 5 miles!

  • It took me a long time to learn to relax. But this is the key, I think. It takes a while to get a sense of the speeds you're comfortable at and where all the gears are. I'm sure that someone who does running anyway would get into it a lot quicker.

  • I tried to do too many long runs too close together at first. The long runs do take a toll. You get fitter when resting in between runs as your body rebuilds, not during them as it spends its resources. Good sleep makes a great difference!

  • I should have got shock absorbers earlier. I also did all my running on the roads, as there aren't any long stretches I knew of off them - but I should have probably tried harder to find them to protect myself from the impact. Looking at my second pair of running shoes, the heels are very worn, but I didn't have any injuries whilst using them.

  • Running whilst holding a fluid bottle in my hand worked for me. I got so used to it it felt quite odd to not carry one.

  • I never ran with a heart-rate monitor or fancy GPS thingy to track my distance and speed. If I was going to get serious and do this again, that might be interesting. But frankly as a first timer it doesn't seem worth it.

  • Stretching is good. Skimping on it is bad!

  • As a first timer, I was nervous that the last few weeks with reduced training load (which in my case was enforced because of the injury so I didn't have a choice) - would it cost me? By race day, I felt I could hardly remember what it was like to run. But, all such thoughts vanish pretty soon. I really felt the benefit of the freshness - much different to when in the hard parts of the training.

  • Finally... I should have followed the advice I'd seen to put some vaseline on my nipples! I'd not done this on the long runs in training and I'd been fine; but on race day it really rubbed it down and left me with ongoing soreness for the next few days and a nice scab. My wife says she saw people running at the end with blood pouring down their clothes from theirs; not very nice!

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Thursday, 1 November 2007

Does this look normal to you?

I didn't really look at my feet/shin after finishing on Monday or on Tuesday, but Wednesday evening, I noticed that the left one (right on the photo above) doesn't look quite right... it was a lot easier to walk on on Wednesday though than on Tuesday, so I wonder how much swelling it had on Tuesday!

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Tuesday, 30 October 2007

A little dream came true!

Did it!

Official position: 1,649 (8,428 finishers, approx. 11,000 starters)
Official time (race time): 03:40:54
Official time (chip time): 03:40:15

10 km, half-way, 30km times: 00:51:33, 01:47:39, 02:33:57. (Check it out here).

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I slept very well the night before the marathon. As I was fairly convinced that I only had a very small chance of making it, that took the pressure off. I had begun to think that it was possibly a stress fracture - it gave me pain at night, is quite localised and in the "right location" and I couldn't contemplate hopping 10 times on it; all of which are apparently indicators of a stress fracture. I was, though, also seeking to put all of that out of my mind - determining to give it my best. Having booked my place, the ferry, hotel room, etc., I might as well start! My plan was to run until it hurt, take an ibuprofen, and then run until I could run no more - and walk the rest.

Before the start

The weather was good for the time of year - clear sky, only a gentle breeze. It was cold though to stand around for an hour beforehand. I took the advice and wore a bin-liner! The toilets were surprisingly clean, and the queues not too bad. I joined the "less than 4 hour" group that I'd signed up for a few months ago, and waited.

Eventually we were off, and you can see from the difference between my "race" and "chip" times that it was about 40 seconds before I crossed the start line. (Each runner has an electronic chip which triggers as you pass certain points monitored on the race. The official times and places are decided on the race time which starts at the same time for everyone, whether an elite runner starting from the line or someone 5 minutes back. Those who are competing for prizes will be at the front anyway and so the two will hardly differ for them).

There was not much room to move in the first half-mile, and it was about 3 miles before there was comfortable freedom. I'd done all my training on my own, so it was quite different to be surrounded by lots of runners all the way. By the end it got a little bit thinner than the photo below, but not very much. The photo below looks like I'm about to execute a karate chop, but I think in fact it's just that I've given or am about to give a "thumbs up" sign.

I think that the first mile was actually the slowest for me - 9:00 according to my watch (which I started as I crossed the start). In such a huge crowd I found it really difficult to know how fast I was going - you can't "listen" to your body amongst so much commotion. I'd heard plenty of warnings about going off too fast (if you've got spare energy, use it in the last mile, not the first!), so erred on the side of caution.

The next couple of miles were about 8:22 and 8:10. At five miles, my watch said 41 something (either 20-something or 50-something, I can't remember). My dad caught my attention at about four - he was running across between various points on the course where it was possible to meet up: I think I saw him at 4, 11 and 21 miles. He says that thinks he ran 8 miles during the race dashing across the city!

I did all my training with isotonic drink bottle in hand, and that's what I did here too. I figured that if you're using energy and fluids gradually, it makes sense to replace them that way. I found the water stations, every 3 miles, a nice concentration break - I used most of them to grab a bottle and tip some over my head to cool down!

So far, it all seemed pretty good - I wondered at what point I would start feeling my shin. It had been before 4 miles just over a week ago. In fact, it hit me just after 7 miles (which I think took me 56:56). I was feeling a real pain, every time I landed on it - thud, thud, thud. Ouch! Very disappointing - I was beginning to dream that it had gone away!

Time to take an ibuprofen! I didn't take one before beginning the race, because I didn't really know how long they would mask the pain for, and I did want to know if there really was pain still there. Half a mile later, the pain was getting worse, so I took a second one as I doubted that the first on its own would be enough once it had kicked in. It was about ten miles before my shin just started to feel like a minor soreness rather than a sharp pain on every step.

It was really nice to see so many people lining the streets. Those playing drums, ringing bells were a great encouragement. There were stretches of a mile or two with nobody, and then others with quite a lot - it varied from one part of Dublin to another (the course is basically one big loop around the city).

I dashed into a Portaloo at about 11 miles - the only time I stopped running during the race. For me the stretch from about 7 miles to 12 or so is the toughest mentally in many ways - by now, things are hurting quite a bit, and yet it's a long, long way to go. I found it very boring! Eventually, though, the half-way mark approaches. As I crossed over, my watch said 1:47:00 which about agrees with the official time (given the chip difference and a couple of seconds). I was still feeling good - plenty of energy still in store. The large amounts of rest in the final couple of weeks had done the job. If I could repeat that time in the second half, I'd make 3:34; I wondered, hopelessly optimistically, if I could beat that if I retained enough energy for a speed-up in the last few. My plan was basically to just keep going at a comfortable pace until 21 miles, and then if anything was left for a speed-up, to go for it from then and see what was possible.

In reality, though, they don't say that it's a whole different ball-game from 20 miles onwards for nothing! At that point, I could really feel the bruising in my calves, and everything felt that much stiffer and heavier to move. I've got some nice blisters under my feet too, as I was wearing some new shock absorbers. The photo above is from about 21 miles. I did though feel reasonably comfortable mentally - the sun was out and it was quite bright, and there was a little breeze behind us for a couple of miles or so from about 15 miles. At about 15 miles I picked up a gel sachet, and ate it a couple of miles later - very sickly, but surely full of energy and caffeine! From about this point onwards there were plenty of people handing out all kinds of things - sweets, chocolate, oranges, biscuits; not all of these things are easy to digest at this point though! I took a barley sweet from someone but had to spit it out a couple of miles later as there's just no energy to suck the thing! At the 16 mile mark there was the chance to reflect on the fact that the winners would have already finished... but still, they do train 120+ miles every week.

At about 20 miles, my shin started to become quite painful again, so I took another ibuprofen - a final one to see me through the last few miles. Into the last 6.2 miles - which many runners say are often as painful as the 20 going before! I started to see people walking from about 19 miles onwards; at the pace we were going (just slower than 8 minutes/mile) I didn't get to see any walkers until this point. Now there started to be plenty of people stopping because of exhaustion, to stretch, or suffering from cramps, etc.

The miles started to slow down noticeably for me, but not hugely. As I said, I think the slowest mile I ran was probably the first, at 9:00, though maybe the 23rd or 24th were a few seconds longer; I wasn't keeping an accurate count. I could see that the time per mile was slightly rising and likely to get me to about 3:40 (I thought I was going to just dip under it but the final 0.02 in the 26.22 must have tipped me over!) When I got to 21 miles I felt like I still had some energy and ran the next mile slightly faster, but when I finished that mile I didn't keep it up!

The end was getting near now, and the crowds were getting thicker as we came nearer to the centre of Dublin. At this point of course you're pretty desperate for it to end. I found it quite difficult with all the cheering crowds not to cry (I managed!) - I really didn't think I would be making it to this stage, still running, only just outside the pace I'd been aiming for if I'd never been injured. It was such a thrill to be fulfilling a dream which I thought was not going to come true. Truly God is full of mercy.

Eventually, comes the 26 mile sign... and it was only after I'd run past it that I realised, "you don't need to save any energy now - that sign means there's only about 300 metres to go!" I broke into a sprint, which was quite fun, as some of those around me did too whilst others were clearly just hanging on as best they could to stagger over the line. I think I won the sprint of those around me! I got into it so much that I forgot to look up and smile for the photo they take as you cross the line. It was impossible not to smile though once I'd stopped running - made it! Yes yes yes! At last! I looked at my watch: 3:40:13 (my eventual chip time was 3:40:15). I could hardly ask for any more.

First half: 1:47:39
Second half: 1:52:36

As you walk through the finishing area, you're congratulated and given the medal, and then the T-shirt (which says "Finisher" on it). I was asked if I was small or medium, but was too brain-dead to process the question and the fellow just gave me a small. The chap next to me seemed to have done several marathons and said that 3:40 was very good for a first time.

With my dad

It was some minutes before dad turned up, back from the 21-mile marker. I hadn't spotted my wife and children cheering me down the home straight - I think you get tunnel-vision once you see the finishing line!

With the love of my life!

I owe a huge amount to the help and encouragement of my wife, Liz, over the six months since I hatched this insane idea. She has been supportive from the start. I don't know which of us was more relieved that it all turned out so well on the day - I thought it was all going to be for nothing!

Scoff, scoff - mine's a double whopper; make it large please!

Though I did keep stretching after finishing, it's not long before the stiffness started to set in! A marathon really is a very very long run - there's no escaping it. Those last few miles are really amazing in what they do to you. I started to feel the pain from my shin pretty quickly. Writing this the day after, I can hardly walk - it's staggering rather than walking; everything is stiff! My shin is very painful, and I can't put enough pressure on it to operate the clutch, so it was a good thing I didn't go to Dublin alone else I'd likely still be there now! I had a somewhat painful night with it, as it wouldn't and still won't let me turn one way or the other without a lot of discomfort. If I press it it's very painful. I don't care too much about that though - it got me through my little dream, and now it can do what it likes for a few months. I'm not planning to need it to take me running anywhere any time soon. Mission accomplished!

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Thursday, 25 October 2007

This is it...

Twenty-five minutes of cycling today... that's it, except I'll try to jog for a few minutes on Saturday, all being well.

So there it is! In April I was a desk potato; six months later, marathon day is just about here. The outlook has changed rather drastically in the last few weeks; as the "taper" period approached, all seemed on course to be able to have a serious attempt at 3:30. Now, I think that my chances of finishing the marathon are probably about one in five or six - it seems very unlikely that my shin will let me do it; it keeps giving me strange twinges and I don't see how it can be in a state to do a marathon if it's healing from an injury like this.

I am, though, very privileged to have got to this point. It's been very enjoyable; I started from scratch, and have got to the point where I have a shot at making one of my little goals a reality - it's a thrill to be able to get from there to here. I've run a 22 mile run in training, and so know that I've done what I had to do to turn dream into reality inasmuch as I could.

I've had the privilege of experiencing another part of human life. Human experience is amazingly and fantastically diverse, and we can only experience a little part of it. I've enjoyed tasting on more. I know that the immensity of enjoyable human experience isn't a coincidence which happily "just happens" to be; I give God praise the amazing world that he has created. I know as well that my little goals in this kind of thing and whether I achieve them or not isn't the "big story" of history; that's Jesus Christ. I've really enjoyed the experience of planning, learning, training, improving, and so on. My wife has been wonderfully supportive of my latest mad scheme, and I will in all honesty likely not achieve what I set out to do.

Before I get to the start line on Monday (presuming no more incidents!) I'll have to try to erase the likelihood of failure from my thinking because it'll be irrelevant once the starter's gun goes. I intend to give it my best shot; I don't intend to stop running until my legs fall off. You can't do these things if the word "can't" exists in your thinking up until the point that you have no option at all. I'll give it my all, and we'll see what happens. Just because I say "one chance in four" doesn't mean I'm thinking I'm defeated already. I'm going for it; it's all or nothing! Dublin here we come!

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Tuesday, 23 October 2007

It's good to be tired

Another 7.1 miles cycled - the first consecutive days of significant exercise for a couple of weeks. It's a good feeling. Six days to go!

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Monday, 22 October 2007

Some cycling

I calculate that last week I had a total of, hmmm, 78 minutes of exercise. Oh dear!

Well, today I cycled for just under 73 minutes, around 13 miles. The aim of this is just to keep up my cardio-vascular fitness... the fact that it involves legs is a bonus. It's good to get the heart pumping again.

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