Monday, 29 March 2010

A bad run

55 days until my qualifying marathon.

12 years ago I trained for and ran the New York City marathon. It's the only other marathon I've done.

I remember vividly my first 20-mile training run. My partner followed me on her bike as I ran a loop along the Charles River in Boston, where we were living. I started slow and got slower as the miles continued. At the end, I was barely shuffling my feet. Old guys easily jogged passed. I was bonked. Utterly bonked.

Yesterday, Sunday, on my longest training run thusfar in the season, I did it again. OK, it wasn't quite as complete, but then I was only going for 16 miles.

It never felt right. I missed an hour of sleep the night before because the clocks went forward (in the UK this happens after the US, for some reason). I had some beer the night before, but nothing excessive. Two days earlier, I'd done a tough 10 miles in the hills with a friend, but then I'd rested the next day.

I started just before 10 a.m. (for my body, on old time, just before 9) after a full breakfast - coffee, muesli, and a danish. I ran into town, where I thought I might catch some running friend who sometimes get together on Sunday mornings to run. They weren't meeting this weekend, apparently, so I went up the the tow-path that is adjancent to a canal in the town. This runs for a long distance - 40 miles? - and is flat.

On my way out I headed into a stiff head-wind. I prefer to head out into the wind and then have it at my back on the return trip. I didn't carry any water or food; I thought I'd be running with my colleagues and that I'd stop at home for a drink before doing some additional miles.

My legs felt heavy and tired. I'd done a half-marathon race the weekend before, but I thought I was recovered. I trudged on, taking it slow.

Just before my turning around point my upper left leg began to be sore. When I began to head back the soreness began to affect the whole leg. Perhaps fighting the wind for over an hour had taken its toll. Whatever the reason, I was physically beat.

I was also starting to worry about water. I'd been out for over an hour and a half by this point. I stopped and asked a walker if there were any stores nearby. She said there was something, but it was a ways away from the canal.

I didn't want to extend the distance any more than I needed to, given that I was already tiring. Stupidly, I hadn't brought my phone. To get back home I'd either have to run or walk.

After a mile or two, the canal crossed a road and there was a sign with a local map. It showed a store nearby, and I went down the street to it. It was open, and I bought a sports drink. It tasted incredibly sweet.

Clutching my drink, I returned to the canal and kept plodding along. I thought that at the next mile marker I'd stop running and walk a bit. The object of the long run was to get used to running long miles, but I also didn't want to injure myself. I was beat.

However, I must have missed the marker, and so I continued running. It wasn't fast, it wasn't pretty, but it was running. As the distance to home shrank to around 3 miles, I figured I'd just push on. I was just over the 2 hour mark for the run thusfar.

Off the tow-path at last, I shuffled through the sunny woods on a path that runs along a river. Any descent, however, reminded my how sore my legs were.

Eventually I got to my neighbourhood, and at 2:31 to my house. I was shattered.

12 years ago, after my bad run, I'd bounced back by increasing my mid-week distances.

My confidence for this year's race has not been ruined, but this bad run has reminded me that I have lots more work to do. It's an endurance event, and I want to approach it as such, by building endurance.

Monday, 22 March 2010

The Alloa Half Marathon

59 days until my qualifying marathon.

This past weekend I ran the Alloa half marathon. On Sunday, the day of the race, I woke at 7ish, and had my usual breakfast of muesili and coffee, plus an oatmeal cookie for extra calories. I left for Alloa before 9, and arrived at 9:15. I parked near the starting area, and walked to the sports hall where runners picked up their numbers. I picked up mine, affixed it to my shirt, and attached my chip to my ankle.

I went back outside and jogged around the starting line a bit. I had arranged to meet my friend, M., at the start at 9:45. He arrived, but still had to pick up his number. I continued warming up until the marshall began getting everyone to the start area.

The weather was good. Partly sunny, cool, little wind.

I lined up towards the front of the 977 runners for the race. I talked to one guy who was hoping to run under 1:50. We wished each other luck.

At 10:00 the gun went and we were off. I wanted to start out easy, and run a steady pace.

The first mile wound through the small town of Alloa. 6:24. This was way faster than I'd planned.

I tried to ease up. Mile 2, still in town, was 7:04. This was much more like the pace I wanted to run. One guy running near me appeared to be working really hard, breathing loud, and apparently going all out.

Mile 3 included a climb and came in at 7:22. Surprisingly, in this mile, I'd seen two runners stopped at the side of the road. One appeared to be stretching a cramped leg. The other was bent over and breathing hard.

4 had a downhill, and came in at 6:54.

The miles thereafter started to blur together in my memory.

My 10k was in 42mins something. This was better than my 10k time in my most recent race of that distance.

I tried picking off people one at a time. One of my splits in these middle miles was 6:12. I have to assume I made an error in the using my watch, or, worse, one of the mile markers was misplaced.

Mile 10 or 11 included a good climb back to Alloa. I was tired, but running with a guy who had a consistent pace. He pulled ahead on the hill, and an old guy wearing a head-band chuffed passed. After the climb, the road descendend a bit, and I passed the old guy again.

Mile 12, as usual, seemed incredibly long. I was back in town now, and even though I knew it was the last mile, I couldn't push harder because I had a side-stitch.

From last year's race, I recognised the final corner leading to the finish line and started sprinting. I passed one guy, but another runner came sprinting up behind me. He drew even for a second, and then I went just a touch harder and crossed the line in front of him. We shook hands after crossing the line.

My official time was 1:30:55, a personal best. This put me in 177th place. I'd shaved nearly five minutes off of my time in this same race last year, and nearly three minutes from my previous half marathon best time.

Monday, 15 March 2010

My Appalachian Trail

69 days until my qualifying marathon.


As mentioned on the first post in this blog, one of my life ambitions is to hike the Appalachian Trail. I've done small bits, but living 2,000+ miles away makes any real contact with the trail a rarity. I've read many accounts of the trail, and follow on-line discussion groups. I often think of those times when I've been on the trail, and wistfully plan future hikes there.

Although I will do the entire trail someday, it isn't my reality right now. I sometimes worry that getting to preoccuppied with things that are well outside the moment risks overlooking the the joy of the day.

So, I try to focus at times on "my" Appalachian Trail. This isn't the actual trail, but a state-of-mind experienced by enjoying comparable experiences nearby. For example, there's a woodland trail that runs about 10 miles or so along a river near my house. There are still bits I haven't done. This weekend I went with my children to one stretch of the trail, and it was wonderful in the sun. The leaves weren't out on the trees yet, but it's been unusually dry, so the trail was in great shape. It was indistinguishable from the Appalachian Trail in March.

Later, I returned to the trail for a run. One hour out, and one hour back. I probably did around 13 miles altogether. I wore a bum bag for the first time, and carried my phone, a drink, a torch (flashlight), two cookies, and some jelly babies (soft chewy candy). It was beginning to get dark at my turn-around time, so I used the torch on the way home.

Friday, 12 March 2010


O.K., I did 10 miles after work today, but I didn't feel strong. The run was a loop that included 4 miles on The Road, and then about 6 miles on two other roads, together forming a sort of triangle.

I changed into my running things in my office, dropped off my clothes in my car in the parking lot, and jogged over to The Road. It starts, as I've described in an earlier post, with a steep climb which merges into a moderate climb, before another steep climb. So, in the first mile, there's a lot of uphill. Even after this there's an elevation gain, but it's punctuated with downhill stretches.

In that first mile of climbing I felt like I was just shuffling my feet. My thinking was that I just wanted to get miles in and build endurance - and slow running was fine for this. I wore a head-band, thin gloves, running tights, a long-sleeve long underwear type shirt, and a high-visibility mesh vest. I ran with my phone in my hand.

Eventually, The Road evens out a bit, and I found myself amidst melting snow fields. At points it was several feet deep on the side of The Road, but the tarmac itself was snow free. It's been an unusually snowy winter here in Scotland.

After four miles on The Road I made a left turn onto the road that makes up the second side of the triangle. It's a long, gradual descent, and it was pleasant to run with the sun still out. The melting snow created several gurgling burns (creeks) in the fields and woods along the route, and the water was clear. I wondered if a slow snow melt fills the reservoirs nicely, although in Scotland drought isn't usually a problem.

After this second leg of the triangle, I turned onto a former road that is now only open to pedestrians. This winds through a ravine, and in parts portions of the road - guarded by fences - have eroded into the ravine.

Next there a village adjacent to where I work. By now, after more than an hour, I was starting to feel tiredness in my legs. My route takes me through the leafy back streets of the village, where there are substantial Victorian houses.

I then came to the back of my work-place, and jogged to my car. 1:25 for the route.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Training for my qualifying marathon

It's just beginning to feel like spring. It's still below freezing at night, but the sun is up much earlier, and it contains real warmth. There's still some snow in the mountains here, and the trees are still bare. But spring feels likes its ready to burst through any time.


Last month I ran the Carnethy 5, a popular hill race in the Pentland hills outside of Edinburgh. I was pleased to shave a few minutes off of my previous year's time. Also, as shown in the photo, I managed to catch a guy who passed me a few minutes earlier.

73 days until the Edinburgh Marathon. In it, I'm hoping to run a 3:30, and qualify for next year's Boston Marathon. I've been upping the mileage of my long run on the weekend, but still feel like I should be out there more. Tonight I was keen to run, but my wife is out and so I'm confined to the house with my sleeping children.

Tomorrow (Friday) maybe I can sneek in a 10-mile loop on The Road before I have to be home (child-care again), and then I should be able to get in a long run on Saturday as well. Back-to-back long runs aren't ideal, but I likely won't actually make one of these runs long.

I'm starting to be consumed by miles.

Next week is the Alloa half-marathon. Then I rapidly ramp up to 20 miles for my long runs, and, after three of these (on alternate weekends), I begin tapering.