Monday, 18 April 2011

London Marathon

The London Marathon Exhibition at registration on Saturday marks the start of the event and is the time when I beginning to get excited and apprehensive about the forthcoming race. After registration I retired to the apartment only pausing for pasta and a glass of red wine from Pizza Express before bed. I awoke at 6.20am and left for the start. The streets of east London were relatively quiet but it didn't take long before I saw another solitary figure walking towards Stratford railway station clutching a red plastic kit bag and signifying a fellow marathoner. The Jubillee Line took me to London Bridge where I changed train. I was grateful that the overground train to Blackheath was less crowded than previous years.

I was genuinely glad to get to the start at Blackheath on Sunday morning the 17th April 2011. There's a lot that can get in the way of starting a marathon, in 2008 I arrived at registration 5 minutes late and they wouldn't let me run. For the past two years I've been 'managing' an iliopsoas muscle injury, then plantar faciitis which meant deferring my marathon entry and so to walk out across Blackheath was mildly emotional, not helped by a severe lack of sleep the night before due to pre race nerves and noise outside the apartments where we stayed.

First mission accomplished - getting to the start.
The queues for the toilets are legendary this year they seemed especially long despite 'new' men's urinal blocks and even women's urinals too. I'm not sure how women's urinals work but I've read since that they are a welcome addition, maybe someone can enlighten me? It was about five years since my previous London Marathon  but I remembered the pre-race routine, vaseline the nipples, the underarms and between the legs, factor 30 the forehead, make sure the timing microchips are attached to a shoe, pack everything you don't need into the red kit bag and place on the relevant baggage lorry according to your race  number. When the gun fires the baggage lorries take an alternative route to the finish so your bag is ready to colllect when you cross the finish line. I was really nervous at this stage I'd put a lot of pressure on myself to avoid aggrivating injuries but once my bag was on the lorry and I had made a final toilet trip I decided to make a consious effort to relax and so headed off to 'Pen 1' at the start.                               

When you apply for the marathon you have to state your estimated finish time. You are then allocated a 'pen' accordingly. I was fortunate to be placed in the first pen and was really close to the front of the field. I could see the start line easily and I knew it would only take a few seconds to cross. I had entered the pen some 15 minutes before the start. Usually there's a balance to be struck between drinking plenty to ensure good hydration but on the other hand not standing on a crowded start line needing a pee. This year I stole a tip from the Serpentine Runners website, I wore a huge wheelie bin liner and carried an empty bottle to pee into under the bin liner and just before the gun. In the event I didn't need it but the whole plot kept me amused as I waited for the gun which is actually a loud claxon.


Richard Branson sounded the claxon and 37,000 runners surged towards the start line ready to run the 26.2 miles to Buckingham Palace and Pall Mall. It took me about 30 seconds to cross the start and I remember the relief that at last I was doing that simple action I love most....... running. The first miles were uneventful until I attempted to escape an incoming runner at a water station. I put on a surge to get out of his way which had the effect of unitentionally blocking another runners access to water. I thought I heard him mutter something so I turned to offer him my bottle as a peace offering. When I looked to pass the water on, I noticed it was Bob Hope of Emmerdale Farm. I wouldn't have known him from the soap but I did recognise him from fell races which he competes in around the Peak District. He accepted the water, we exchanged a brief pleasantry about an endurance event that we had both completed and then I ran on. My other unintentional celebrity encounter was more uncomfortable and involved Nell McAndrew at about 8 miles. I knew Nell was a classy marathon runner and wasn't suprised when suddenly the crowd began shouting "go Nell!" I glanced to my left to see the model setting a good pace alongside. Nell had henna paintings of the cancer research symbol on the outside of her legs. Sadly, a 50 something male runner pulled alongside to 'chat' to her. Not content with saying hello he proceeded to ask, how she was feeling, whether Nell remembered him from last years race, how her children were?! and what she thought of motherhood! The motherhood question was the last question I heard. Due to having to conduct an interview with the lonely man Nell lost the pace and dropped back. For all Nell Mcandrew's running abilty, I can confirm she's has patience in abundance too. I only heard her politely answer lonely man's questions., It turned out Nell ran 3:08 so I assume she shook him off fairly soon after I left her.  

My race plan was to tick over until half way. I had to be disciplined not to go too fast, I wanted to get to 13 miles in good form but if possible under 1 hour 30 mins. The first ten miles passed quickly but I remember Tower Bridge seemed to be taking a long time to reach. That was perhaps my first minor point of demoralisation. I reached half way in 1 hour 31 and although slightly discouraged by the time I was encouraged because I felt good, with plenty of energy left to draw on in the second half. I had decided to now focus on the 22 mile mark and not allow myself to become obsessed with mike markers. Marathon running is like that, when it gets hard (and it always does) you end up longing for the mile markers to come in. The more you long for them the further apart they seem to get. The best term I have ever heard used to describe that desperate state is "personal turmoil". It happens with every endurance race, you desperately want to stop but you have to carry on and the finish seems ever longer away.       

Bird Cage Walk
By 18 miles I had begun to suffer. This was common with my previous London marathons, it always seems to be about 18 miles when the muscles become depleted and you feel like you want to walk or even give up and retire. I used energy gel and shot blocks this year, previously I have only drunk on the marathon and not eaten. I can't confirm absolutely that eating wards off 'the wall' but there is a psychological comfort to merely putting a gooey gel or a sugary sweet in your mouth and I suspect that helps. Although I had started to deteriorate I was encouraged to some degree by the occasional muttering from the crowd "they are close to 3 hour pace" I heard on more than one occasion.

I had bought a stop watch at the marathon exhibition and had spent the previous evening dutifully studying the settings. Sadly at some point during the race I must have banged into another runner and the time recording stopped. This wasn't a big deal as the microchip on my shoe would ensure an accurate detail of my time every 5K to the finish but the disadvantage was I was unsure what time I was pacing. I was encouraged about the possibility of running sub 3, its my dream, but in honesty I knew I was some way behind that pace despite what I was hearing from the crowd. If I could not run sub three, there was another massive incentive. If i could run sub 3:10 I would qualify for a guaranteed entry to next year's event. That's a good illustration of the madness of running. I'm at mile 20, knackered, shot, wanting to stop and walk, hurting and stiff yet I'm ignoring the pain because I need to keep running fast and achieve a sub 3:10 time so I can come back and get hurt again next year!

Mile 22 came and I reminded myself that this was my next planned milestone. In addition to the crowds sub 3 hour mutterings I had heard a spectator say he thought we were running at 3 hour 5 pace. I thought that was more accurate and with now only a little over four miles left I knew I had to knuckle down and keep putting one foot in front of the other. I reminded myself that I had less distance to run than an average lunch time training run. I was excited about getting a good time. I would be thrilled with sub 3 hours 10. The marathon isn't over however until you cross the finish line, Sophie Raworth and Dwight Yorke will confirm the same. Rawoth dropped at mile 24 and ended up in the St John ambulance tent, Dwight Yorke 'bonked' big time. He was on for sub 3 as late as 23 miles but finished in 3:23 indicating the level off his personal turmoil over the last few miles. Raworth finished some time later after the medical assistance of the heros at St John's who line the route, incidentally I passed more people lying in the road this year than in previous years but thankfully I haven't since of heard of any fatalaties which is great.

Somewhere before mile 23 you run under an underpass I look forward to this section as its the only part of the course where you are by yourself away from the crowds. The crowd support is fantastic and part of the spectacle of the event but for that few yards of underpass its nice just to collect yourself away from others, have a mental chat with yourself, fix your hair and emerge back into the chaos ready to try and hammer the last three miles. I passed someone staggering at mile 24 someone just caught him before he fell, I felt desperately sorry for him to have come to grief so late on but I hope he got the Raworth medical treatment and managed to finish. I turned the corner at Big Ben and knew I was on the final push for home.

I started a last push down Bird Cage walk, 400m left, then 200m round the bend outside the Palace and the most beautiful site lay ahead - the FINISH. I can't muster a sprint and notice the clock is about to turn to 3:06. My Offfcial finish time - 3 hours 06 minutes and 1 second.
"Never again"

I was thrilled with the time, thrilled just to finish. Coping with my injury, managing to get an entry, the winter miles in the snow, the two 20 mile races in preparation not to mention the half marathons, lunch time and evening training runs and that awful Sunday morning 4 hour run across the Vale of Belvoir, it had paid off .I had finished my fifth London Marathon and it felt great. The chip was cut off my shoe and I staggered on up the Mall towards the baggage lorries. On the way I heard "Rushi!" glancing to my right I was met through the wire fence by the welcome sight of my partner, Tracy. We kissed through the fence. Tracy knew what it meant to me to be there. I carried on up to collect a goody bag including t-shirt before collecting the other bag which I had deposited on the baggage lorry some hours earlier.

I am very grateful to all the people who have sponsored my run. At the last minute I ran in aid of Save the Children's Japanese tsunami victim's relief fund. It's not too late to sponsor. The just giving page will remain open for 9 months and I'll dedicate the rest of this years events to the cause: 

The biggest thanks should go to my partner Tracy. I know I became a bit difficult in the week leading up to London, nothing else matters in the preceding week, thanks for putting up with me!

 Competing in the London Marathon's a great experience, described to me once as a 'life experience', I think that's that an accurate description, the pain the happiness, the turmoil, the glee, the camaraderie, the satisfaction all make it a day to remember. The shared sense of accomplishment between runners is special. I had to go back to work the day after but on the train back from an appointment in Peterborough I spotted a red bag. A girl on the seat opposite had run and we exchanged stories about the day before.

Although I said "never gain" after crossing the finish line I suspect I'll take advantage of my "good for age" place next year. So it looks like I'll be back. I need to do more speed work in training next year in addition to endurance work. There's s still that sub three hour dream, I know its possible!!!     


Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Ascent of Mount Misen - Miyajima, Japan

Summit looking back to Hiroshima
We had to cancel the Tokyo trip of the Japan trip because of radiation fears after the Tsunami. Instead we travelled South to Hirosima and after the challenge of visiting the peace museums it was good to head out via ferry to the peaceful island of Miyajima.
Torii Gate
As soon as the ferry left the mainland I could see the mountains on the island and inevitably I started to think about running to the top. The gateway to the island is flanked by the impressive Torii gate apparently one of the most photographed sights in Japan.
The first adventure after checking into the Ryokan was a cable car trip to the top of the mountain. It soon became apparent that other people had walked to the top along a tourist path. I was keen to walk down to see if I could run up the next morning. The path was well trodden, steep in parts with many
A Japanese "Snowden Cafe" on the summit
stone steps to upset the purists. It was clear that the route was safe and runnable and so I decided to try and get up before dawn and run to the summit to see the sun rise. I awoke at about 6.30am too late for sunrise but still early enough to run. I ran to the top at an easy pace walking up some of the stone steps.
I remembered the route from the previous day and my only concern was to look out for the mountain monkeys. I had been tipped off that they could be occasionally aggressively curious. I stopped briefly at the temple near the summmit. The temple was eerily quiet but it was good to stand on the decking outside inhaling the pure mountain air whilst  looking out across the pacific.
This was the first time I had run off road over seas (unless you count the Manx Mountain Marathon) and I was enjoying it. i reached the summit shortly afterwards. I hadn't seen anyone or monkey all the way up and in contrast to the previous day when the summit was full of

Tea in the Ryokan
tourists, I had the whole place to myself. I sat and appreciated the views until I started to get cold then I began the long decent back to sea level. There was a Buddhist praying in the temple when I returned and I paused briefly to appreciate his chant. It wasn't until I was nearly back to the village when the first walking tourist passed me on the way up. Miyajima's a beautiful, peaceful island. Its well worth the expense of a traditional Japanese Ryokan for an overnight stay. Running up Mount Misen is recommended, just watch out for the monkeys! 


Belvoir Half Marathon 3rd April 2011

Coming two weeks before the London Marathon this was to be my final race. After this race I would begin to take things easier in preparation for the 26.2 miles a fortnight later. I went into Belvoir feeling confident and decided that I would try and thrash it out a bit and use the time as an accurate indicator of how I would fare at London. In the event I was probably too keen and I think perhaps I went off too fast. It could have been a bit of jet lag knocking about after my return from Japan but whatever it was I recorded a disappointing 1:29:01. So close to London with all the training under my belt I would hope to be running closer to 1:27:00, the course was fast, the weather good but for some reason I never felt good. It was one of those races where you feel like you labour round the course and you don't have the zip to do as well as you might like.  The marathon calculator says I'll run London in 3:10:39 - the pressures on, sub 3:10 is worth an automatic good for age entry in London 2012.  

The Belvoir race was well organised, the course is relatively fast and run along country lanes but in my view its expensive. at £17 unattached and £15 attached with  no t-shirt.The cost would put me off entering again.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Kyoto Road Race (Half Marathon) - Kyoto, Kansai, Japan


Without any doubt competing in the Kyoto Road Race was a highlight of my running career. With the exception of the Manx Mountain Marathon the Kyoto race was the only time I have run overseas. I am eternally gratefully to my friends Mako and Richie for entering me into the race and 'escorting' me to registration, given the language and cultural barrier it wouldn't have happened without them.
Richie & Mako - thanks for a great trip!

The day before the race we had been visiting Kinkajuji Temple, a gold-leaf covered temple and one of the most famous and beautiful sights in Kyoto. After leaving the temple and walking along the philosopher's path we were surprised to see some runners heading towards us and it seemed like they were raising money. Two days before we left the UK Japan had suffered a massive earthquake and subsequent Tsunami which left the area around Fukushima devastated. Nuclear power reactors had become damaged and the resulting radiation fears had meant that many residents of Tokyo had moved South temporarily.

The runners we met on the Philosopher's Path had evacuated Tokyo and decided to move to Kyoto for a short time. I now know those runners as Jurgen and Christina residents of Tokyo that had decided to use their time in Kyoto positively to literally run around the city raising money for the Tsunami victims. Jurgen was an energetic and inspirational character who seemed enthused by his efforts to help those in the North of the Country. Jurgen runs a website called 'Run Tokyo' look him up if you are in those parts.

As runner's do we talked about...running and Jurgen was surprised to be reminded that the Kyoto Half Marathon was taking place the next day. Jurgen suggested he would come along too and continue his fund raising efforts among like minded runners. I was disappointed that I couldn't take up Jurgen's offer of a run the following Monday but was glad we would meet again the next day at the Kyoto Road Race.

The journey from Osaka to Kyoto took approximately 40 mins on the efficient Hankyu Line. Japan's a well ordered country and in contrast to the throng of people trying to board a London tube the Japanese have a system of lining up at points on the platform which indicate where the doors are going to stop. Consequently I arrived at the start relaxed and excited about running on Asian soil. The route was to be out then back to the start then out in the opposite direction, then back to the start, then a repeat twice or three times I can't remember. race registration worked much the same as in the UK and I was grateful to receive a t-shirt, a bunch of bananas and a bottle of water to assist with pre race fuel and hydration.

In addition to the half marathon there was a preceding 5k race. Christina and Jurgen showed up and couldn't resist the temptation to 'woo' the race organiser by suggesting that their fund raising efforts would be enhanced if they could gain late entries. They were successful, Christina ran the 5K and at the last minute Jurgen got a late half marathon entry on the condition that he started at the very back of the field. Amazingly Jurgen started at the back and picked his way through to finish the race in the top twenty in a time of 1hr 27 mins, a fine achievement! More importantly the Run4Tohoku charity was well supported. You can read about Jurgen's day here

I lined up for the half marathon alongside some of Richie's friends to form a Gaijin or 'foreign' team. The team included Vince, Indiana USA?, Mark, Manchester, England and Craig Colorado USA. 

Pre race confidence and nerves

Pre race fags!

The start was fairly confusing. A man seemed to be wandering the start line ticking people off. I couldn't understand what he was saying and couldn't understand the tannoy announcements, I just stood around trying to do what everyone else was doing, only everyone seemed to be facing opposite directions! Just before the start of the race the half marathon crowd cheered the last finisher of a previous race. I briefly saw the eighty something year old man stagger past towards the finish line. I learnt later that he had collapsed shortly before the finish but when people went to his aid he stood up and staggered on, it was quite humbling to see such an elderly man competing and it inspired me to run well over the 13 miles that were about to begin. 

I had a steady start and at the first turn noticed Mark was not too far behind me. Mark quickly caught up and told me that if I needed a pace guide he was running at 1 hour 30 pace. Mark was certainly going well and i was able to keep with him over the next few miles before deciding i had to let him go. I knew Mark was a fairly inexperienced racer and I wondered if he might have overcooked it during the first part of the race. I decided to just keep him in sight and if I had anything left at 9 miles I try and challenge him for the later bragging rights. It turned out Mark was good to his word as he sneaked home just under 1hour 30 minutes. I'd struggled to keep him in sight and rather than get closer after 9 miles the gap extended to me running home in 1 hour 31minutes. Craig broke the 2 hour barrier and Vinnie came in shortly after that.

20th place in 1 hour 31 minutes
I enjoyed the race immensely, it was completely different to run so far from home. There was a lot of support for the Western face in the Eastern crowd and another highlight was meeting Olympic silver medalist Eric Wainaina at the finish. Eric was talking to my partner, Tracy about competing at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002. It seemed strange to be so far from home talking to a Japanese based professional athlete about our home town but Eric certainly loved Manchester and the Manchester people!

We love Manchester us, Peace!
The organisers had let me buy an extra half marathon t-shirt. I intended to keep one as a memento and use the other to show off at the gym. Eric signed the second t-shirt wishing me good luck for the London marathon. Incidentally Eric won the half marathon despite as Richie noticed, he spent the whole race high fiving all his fans along the route - what a guy!

I was pleased to finish 20th if my time was a little disappointing. I remember it felt humid on the day and the travel across time zones may add to excuses. Performance of the day was Mark's coming home in 17th place in his first half marathon. Good luck at the Osaka Marathon later in the year.  

Ashby 20 Mile Race

The Ashby 20 came the day before a trip to Japan. Other than the Kyoto Half Marathon I knew I wouldn't run in Japan and was concerned about the affect of two weeks away from training so close to the London Marathon. I was keen to get another 'long' race on my legs in preparation for the London and knew that if I put my body through some effort I had an 11 hour flight the next day to rest and recover.

The Ashby race is run around two loops plus a bit more around a route in the shape of a pan. First you run up the pan handle then round the rim a couple of times before a final assault on the handle back to the finish. The advantage of a two loop race is that you get a recce of the difficult parts so you can mentally prepare yourself for the same parts during the second loop.

I enjoyed the Ashby 20. My ongoing illosas injury was in a mess at the end but I recovered over the next couple of days.  I came home 101st out of 800+ in a time of 2hours 19 minutes and 52 seconds. The marathon calculator says I'm going to run 3hours 8 minutes at London, my sub three hour target is looking increasingly remote as an achievement. 

All finishers at Ashby receive a 'hoodie' which is a nice alternative to a t-shirt. It came to great use at 35,000 feet as we flew over Siberia the next day and I got some sleep!