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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Not going very well...

I attempted a 4-mile run last Thursday, after a 1 mile and a 2 mile run in previous days. It was too far; after 3 miles the shin splint could be felt with every stride, and so I decided to stop and walk home rather than make it any worse.

There are seven days to go; I think it may be best just to not run at all in that time, except maybe for a little jog on Saturday to loosen up for Monday.

I didn't really do any cycling either last week - only 5 miles; it was a really busy week. 6 miles run, and 5 miles cycled... and it looks like those 6 miles will be all I do in the last three weeks. Ho hum. I have no idea what effect this will have. I'm fairly sure that the shin is going to start hurting once I start running the marathon; it's just a question of how much it hurts and how much speed these three weeks and that hurt will cost me. I suppose I should just aim to finish now and forget about the 3:30 goal.

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Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Back running

It's been a week since I last ran, and a few days since I was able to detect anything in my shin, so I decided to have a short and gentle run today.

I ran 2.1 miles into the next village and back, all the time wondering whether my shin would start playing up. It wasn't easy to tell - when you think there are biting insects around, every little movement of air is suspected and you feel itches all over! I think that it must be good that it wasn't easy to tell. However, when I'd finished, I felt it very definitely (though not in terms of pain). It only lasted about two minutes, though, after which it felt perfectly normal. So, I think it's almost there; it just needs to be handled carefully.

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Saturday, 13 October 2007

Another cycle ride

I don't feel the shin splint any more in just going around the house. I had a short walk this morning; I think I could just about detect it at the end, but that might have been by imagination.

Anyway, to remain on the safe side at this stage I didn't run today, but cycled again - 10 miles / 49:31. With a day's rest tomorrow, I'm hoping to try a jog on Monday and see how the shin responds - that'll be six days between runs. I've been very blessed with being free of injuries - I haven't had more than one consecutive day without a run since July! 22 miles run this week, and 20 cycled. Just 23 days to go now.

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Thursday, 11 October 2007

Definitely a shin splint

Like probably most of my UK readers, I now have rubbish collections only ever fortnight. It's tough to get everything in the bin, and I normally have to resort to jumping up and down on top of the rubbish to squash it down. Just doing that today made me feel a bit of pain in my shin - definitely a shin splint.

Hence I didn't run today, but instead went cycling for 50 minutes / 10 miles. (That's slower than world class marathoners run 10 miles!). I don't know how valuable that is or isn't; it should maintain my general fitness; if I cycle exclusively the muscles will probably develop in the wrong proportions. I have no idea; but I don't think I have much of a choice at the moment.

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Wednesday, 10 October 2007

An injury

For the first time since I started running in April, I think I've got an injury. I've had aches and sore bits, but I've got something at the moment which is in its 10th day.

I've got a shin splint. When I did the 22 mile run just over a week ago, my left shin was feeling sore in the last few miles; I pressed on. It then seemed to die down, gradually, over a few days. But I could feel it again during yesterday's 16-miler, and since then I have felt mild pain whenever walking about, and lying in bed at night. It was quite painful overnight.

Apparently the cure for these is complete rest; aggravating them can make them much worse, even to the point of bringing about a stress fracture. Hmmm. It is troubling that it feels significantly worse now than it did at first. It's good that I'm at the stage where I'm meant to be winding down the mileage. I'm keeping some ice on it, and will see how it feels tomorrow. I was only planning a couple of 5-milers more this week; we'll see how it responds.

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Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Last of the long runs...

Today is 20 days until race day. I set out to do 15 or 17 miles, depending on how I felt... in the event I split the difference and did 16.

Every mile was at about the same pace - 8 minutes/mile. I found it quite tough though in the last few miles especially. I don't know to what extent last week's diarrhoea and vomiting bug will still be affecting me - I'm sure it'll be a couple of days yet before its effects are fully gone.

All in all, 2:07:50. Looking at my records, I can see that I've run a 16 mile run once before, about 11 weeks ago, and improved by just under 13 minutes; at the time that was the longest run I'd ever done. The pace I did today is the pace I need to average over the whole marathon to get under 3:30 - that seems a really tough proposition at the moment. I suppose that three weeks' tapering and hopefully fresh legs in the morning (I did this one late afternoon) ought to help. If I can do it, I think it's going to be very close.

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Monday, 8 October 2007


I had a 5-mile jog this morning - I felt rather queasy. I don't know if that's because of last week's sickness. I think I ate too much yesterday! I felt rather weak most of the way, but got more into my stride into the last mile. 40:59 in all.

My plan this week is to get in one longer run early in the week, and then just do a bit more to make the mileage up to about 32. I'll keep an eye on my fellow marathoners' blogs who are aiming for similar-ish times to see what they're up to: those who've done this before seem to have more of a clue than me! Various articles I've read talk about speed-work, but I'm really not sure how this works out in practice.

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Saturday, 6 October 2007

Another week over - not quite as planned

After Monday's long(est yet/ever) run, and Tuesday's recovery jog, I ran again on Thursday, a fast run of 7.1 miles. This took me 50:38, which was 11 seconds faster than I'd done it before - the improvement was in the last couple of miles, which is a good thing I think.

Then, though, I had a diarrhoea and vomiting bug on Thursday night, together with the rest of the family (one of my children began on Wednesday) - out came Thursday's dinner, and I didn't eat another bite until a piece of bread Saturday morning.

That meant that I couldn't meet this week's target of 45 miles - this was meant to be a final tough weak, before beginning a taper (easing off) until the race day. As it's turned out, though, with all that's intervened in the last couple of months, I've scarcely increased my weekly mileage since I got up to 36 miles 8 weeks ago.

Never mind! As a first-timer, I have no experience to inform me as to what I should be aiming for anyway! After eating nothing on Friday, I felt a bit better today, and had some fish fingers for lunch, before running 5 miles at tea-time. I ran really gently, though when I finished I was surprised to see a time of 40:38 - I was expecting 43 or so. I think that only one day of D & V means I won't have been affected too much; just a bit weak and needing to start eating again to recover my strength. 39.2 miles for the week in total; the race itself is just 23 days away. Tomorrow I'll be, all being well, carrying on preaching the sermon series which can be downloaded here: http://www.gracebelper.org.uk/audio.php#acts.

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Wednesday, 3 October 2007


Yesterday I ran 5 miles after getting out of bed. Lots of bits felt quite stiff and sore after the 22 miles the previous day - I think the first couple of miles felt almost as bad as the last miles the day before had! But, by the end, I was feeling more normal again.

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Monday, 1 October 2007


Today I ran my third. and in my current plan, final 20+ miler before the marathon, which is four weeks today - a run of 22.1 miles.

I didn't find the middle miles as thoroughly dull as last time; I don't know if this is down to experience or just the mood I wake up in!

The course was 5 miles round the hilly circuit, then 5 miles up the A6, 5 miles back, round the hilly circuit again, then into the next village and back. On the one hand, the final hilly circuit didn't feel quite as painful as last time, but on the other in the last couple of miles I felt like I'd only got one speed available whereas last time I was able to speed up a touch.

Split timings were approximately like so (going from memory):
First 5 miles: 40:39 (8:08 per mile)
10 miles: 1:22:55, hence 42:16 for the section (8:27 per mile)
15 miles: 2:05:37,42:42 for the section (8:32 per mile)
20 miles: 2:47:55, 42:18 for the section (8:28 per mile)
22.1 miles: 3:05:49, 17:56 for the section (8:32 per mile)

That's pretty consistent; I used to check my watch every mile but that was unhelpful in terms of relaxing mentally - I would spend half the time doing unnecessary calculations and worrying whether I was going too slowly! Today I just looked every 5 miles, apart from at mile 1. I didn't consciously slow down after the first 5 miles; I just went at the speed that felt comfortable, though with an effort to slightly increase the pace in the final 5-mile section. The last couple of miles were physically tough - the tank was just about empty.

I was hoping for 3 hours, but I didn't have the reserves to speed up to make that. I'd guess that's probably because of the half-marathon "race" I ran 6 days ago. Still, according to http://www.runnersworld.ltd.uk/3hr.htm I ought to aim for a training run of 20 miles in 2:55 a week after a raced half marathon of 1:36 at about this stage if I want to beat 3:30 in the marathon itself, and that's pretty much where I am. I'm meant to have about 7 days more of full training, and then gradually wind it down over the last 3 weeks. Not long now!

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