The alarm buzzes annoyingly. Its 6am, it’s a Sunday, and its race day. Like any other race day, I get up feeling a bit nervy; wake up the rest of the family. Then flap about, eat porridge, drink coffee and leave the house about 20 minutes later than I had hoped to. Except this isn’t like any other race day, I’m not racing, my 8-year-old daughter is. It’s her first race without me, and the nerves are just as strong if not worse than if it was me racing. But as I tell her ‘if you’re nervous it means you care about it’. And, I certainly care about it.
We arrive at The Hoe with a few minutes to spare, and find her classmates. I think this is the point it sinks in that she is running without me and begins to get some doubts. Luckily this doesn’t last long, and the excitement takes over. Photos are taken and she is taken with her group into a massive holding pen. Part of me remains relieved that I wasn’t asked to help with the schools’ challenge; the noise coming out of the pen – containing something like 300 excitable 6-10 year olds – was unbelievable. Must have been like trying to herd cats on amphetamine at a rock concert – but less fun.
Once they are in the pen we scamper over to past the start finish line for a good view as she comes past. All the runners have been given the same red top, so picking out individual children is nigh on impossible – in fact I know people who didn’t see their kids at all. I resort to trying to spot her teachers, then who is running with them. It works; I see her teacher from last year and there she was running next to her chatting away. We cheer, take lots of photos and then try to get across to the other side of the route for a second shot. This time we are less successful as we can’t get very close and don’t want to miss her crossing the finish line. Missing the second photo opportunity we dash back across the finishing straight. As she comes into view she is still with the same teacher – beaming from ear to ear even if she is chatting a little less.
She crosses the line and disappears into the hoards past the finish line. After a few minutes, we find her school’s spot in the pen, sat with her mates – medals around their necks rummaging through the goody bags. I can confirm that goody bags at kids’ races are also full of crap that no one wants. After what feels like an age, the schools begin to file out. We head around to the drop off point to scoop up my running champion. Once the crowds disperse we find a patch of grass with a few of the other parents. The kids run around for a while enjoying the late morning sun.
As our parking runs low, we head off and go for a celebratory brunch. It feels right to make a big deal of her accomplishment and she is overjoyed when the waitress takes an interest in her medal and how she got it.
My grasp of the English language fails me when I try to describe how proud of her I am. It’s not that she ran the mile. Its far more than that. Running isn’t something she finds easy or that comes natural, but she persists at it and works hard. She has a stubborn streak in her – not always in a good way – and a stoic determination that even if she has to walk she will get to the top of the hill.
My 8 year old daughter has recently signed up to run a half marathon – of sorts. She will be running the schools’ half marathon challenge in Plymouth and will be running a mile a week with the final mile taking place on the half marathon weekend on the Hoe (where the main event starts and finished). This has really caught her imagination, and has reignited her desire to come running with me – which I am obviously overjoyed about.
Despite the looming threat of ‘Storm Doris’, an after school family run was all but demanded. So after school, we pop home to get our running kit on and head over to Saltram House (a local National Trust property), however not all of us are quite so keen to go for a run in the Plymouth mizzle. So the two of us head to Saltram for a run around the grounds and down to the river. Despite the threat from meteorologists it’s a lovely night for a run, a bit cool but not too cold or windy and the trees protect us from the worst of the rain.
She is noticably excited as we set off – she skips, bounces and grins like a cheshire cat. I try to calm her down a bit – without wanting to piss on her parade – and we jog around the grounds while we chat and generally just be silly. Running as it should be, fun.
We make it as far as the river, before having to turn back for failing light. It’s been a while since we last ran together, and I honestly can’t believe how much more resiliant she has become, she is able to run much further and was able to push herself much harder, wanting to get to pointmarkers despite obviously working hard.
Famous Danish beers don’t make running buddies, but if they did she would be it.
I dare say it happens to all amateur athletes at some point, probably around this time of year. Possibly even every year.
This year however, it feels far more acute. This, I think, is mostly down to having a plan laid out to follow. I’ve been working with Laura at Fryfit for 12 weeks, and I am, genuinely enjoying the increase in focus and structure. That is once I get myself out the door and actually doing it.
I get my weeks plan on a Thursday or Friday, and I will quickly make a mental plan of how it will fit it – usually swimming on Tuesday and Thursday, run at lunchtime and evening turbo on a Wednesday and weekend run and ride. I feel that this gives me a good blend of family time and training time. The problem is come Tuesday evening – usually quite late after getting the kids to bed after my daughter gets home from Brownies – I just can’t be arsed. I will just sit on the sofa having an internal battle and then re-jig the week in an attempt to justify having the evening ‘off’. I just seem unable to get myself going until I really have no option other than to either do it or drop sessions.
Typically, this coincides with another loss of discipline – eating. It goes something like “Im too tired/it’s too late/I can’t be arsed to go swimming tonight… I may as well have some biscuits with that cup of tea” or “Ooh, fish and chips for dinner?” (Laura, if you are reading this, I am NOT eating biscuits – or fish and chips – while writing this). I definitely find that this is a secondary issue, and once I sort out my training mojo the eating habits always come into line fairly quickly. But that doesn’t help now.
But, and this is the crux of it, how do I rediscover that mojo – that spark. Initially I have given myself a break – if I’m not feeling it I’m just not feeling it. I just need to deal with the training guilt in a way that doesn’t include custard creams. There is little to be gained from forcing myself out in December if I’m still resenting training come April. But I can’t live in this training hiatus for too long – see previous custard cream statement.
Fear not, for I have a plan – he tells himself. Usually I would just enter one – or a few – cross country races. It isn’t quite that easy at the moment, I’m having a few issues with a knee niggle which has been hampering the time and millage I can committee to running at the moment. This leaves one option, the bike. And one bike in particular.
At this time of year, for road cyclists, it’s all about cyclo-cross. My plan is to enter one pure out and out ‘cross race, the Lovecrossed in Gloucestershire. What awaits is an hour of mud based threshold suffering (in the best possible way) in the grounds of the country house in Poldark, with the added bonus – and potential argument fodder – of a couple’s race. The second race I’m eying up to kick start my training hunger is the Battle on the Beach held in Pembrey Country Park. It differs from a standard cyclo-cross format in a few ways, primarily the time spent racing. This is far more of an endurance event, comprising of around 45km of racing over sand, single and double track. The idea of the event is that whichever bike you choose (mountain, cross or fat) there will be sections where your bike is perfect, others where it is less appropriate. I have read a race report from a previous year where a guy on a fat bike barrelled into a puddle in the single track section of the course. The puddle however was far deeper than he anticipated – about a foot deep. The extra air in his tyres caused the bike to stop abruptly ejecting the poor rider into near orbit.
So, with a couple of races I mind, I really hope that I reignite my fire. Before the custard creams and fish and chips have irreversible negative effects on not only my fitness, but also before my clothes shrink too much more. And if my knee sorts its shit out I may be able to race a bit of cross country too. What? A man can dream.
Happy Christmas all, I hope you get all you hoped for, be that presents, family time, lots of food or your mojo back.
So, if the silver lining is two personal bests in a few weeks (5km and half marathon) and a few seconds away from a 10km best. The cloud has been the heel injury I picked up just before, and exasperated by, the Plymouth half.
For a week after the race walking drew a wince, and sometimes an expletive muttering. This slowly improved, but hasn’t healed. The walking pain has gone, other than maybe the first few steps out of bed in the morning. Running however is still off the menu. Even trying to run across the road angers it. Initially I blamed my running shoes. I haven’t really gotten on with them, with blistering and numb toes being an issue – a bit of creative lacing sorted out the toes but not the blisters. A trip to my local running shop and I am the proud owner of some new running kicks, opting for the new incarnation of the trainers I ran the Eden Marathon in. I loved the Nike Zoom Elite 7s and I just hope that my relationship with the 8s is as happy.
The heel however has meant that I haven’t been able to test out the new runners. As my frustration grows, I began to research ‘running heel injuries’ and the dreaded Plantar Fasciitis comes up. I’ll admit now that up to this point I had no idea what it was, I’d just heard horror stories of long periods on the side-lines – to the point where it seemed to be the Voldemort of the running world. I have a look at the symptoms and feel my dread levels increase as I tick of the symptoms that I am showing. One article I see advices rest and some stretching and a visit to the GP if the symptoms continue for three weeks. This gives me a week to see a miraculous recovery.
That week passes with little-to-no noticeable improvement, walking is fine and no morning pain now but running is still a long way away. All too long. GP appointment made, and I manage to see a doctor the next day. Nervously I wait and I am slightly relieved when I am called in and I notice the doctor is wearing running shoes. I settle down, and explain the symptoms I am suffering. After a bit of pointing, poking and tip-toeing I get her prognosis. It’s confirmed, although I was already fairly sure, I have Plantar Fasciitis.
The confirmation doesn’t really sink in until later that evening. I don’t think it’s the being injured that really hit me. It’s frustrating yes, but it’s something that happens to anyone that partakes in sports. What I’m really struggling with is the lack of a time frame, that’s the darkest part of the cloud. A slight muscle pull – a few weeks; a broken bone – 6-8 weeks; Voldemort – who knows, potentially up to a couple of years. Man V Horse has been scrubbed from the calendar and other races later in the year that have been pencilled in will remain that way.
One thing the doctor said to me that has resonated however was ‘see this as an opportunity to try something new’. Initially I raced triathlons, but recently I have got my racing kicks from running because of its simplicity. No need for running clubs or race licences. Just enter, train, pin on number, race, and repeat. I like that. I like that because, basically, I am lazy.
If I have a free afternoon to train and given a choice of going for a run or a ride, I will invariably go for a ride (if I don’t have other race commitments to aim for). But I don’t race on my bike. This is mostly due to the need for a licence to enter road or circuit races, or membership of an affiliated club to enter local time trials. These aren’t huge obstacles, just a bit of bureaucracy and a bit of a financial outlay. They have however been enough to put me off bike racing. This is beginning to change.
I have entered the Plymouth Gran Fondo, which runs on the 18th of September, and I aim to enter a few of the local time trials over the summer months. Once the time trial season is over the Cyclocross will be about to start. Longer term I hope to use ‘cross racing to increase my confidence of cycling and racing in a group. By the start of the following road season all being well I should feel ready to give a road or circuit race a go.
Time to view this injury as a diversion, not a road block.
This spring has been quite busy for me. For someone who usually enters 2-3 races a year having two in spring felt rather congested. The two races, The Forest of Dean Spring Half Marathon and Plymouth’s Half, had very different objectives.
First up was the Forest of Dean. This is a mostly trail half making use of the old mining train lines making most, not all, the gradients steady with the added bonus of a beautiful forest backdrop. The objective for this race had been to run with my youngest sister and my dad, but unfortunately my sister was unable to get the time off work so it became just me and my dad. This seemed to concern him. I say seemed, he was quite vocal about it. Having not run consistently for about 5 years, he was planning on running until my sister had to walk, and then walk with her. That plan was now redundant. The new plan: run, and when you can’t run then walk.
From a personal point of view my training for this race has gone ok. I am using this as a dial up for the Plymouth half a few weeks later so I haven’t got all the speed endurance in my legs but I am building towards it, including a new course PB at my local parkrun a few weeks before.
In typical fashion, we turn up with a bit of time to spare, but leave it too late before joining the pre-race toilet queue. As a result we manage to miss the start of the race by a few minutes. We are not the only ones; we were by no means at the back of the line.
Don’t panic, DON’T PANIC. No mad dash, just go at our pace and we begin to pick up the back of the pack. We do just that, and then try to pass people as and when we can, but as we hit the trails for the first time about 1 km in this becomes a little trickier. The first 5 km or so are all either flat or down hill, giving us a chance to warm up before the proper work starts – did I mention we missed the start, thus no warm up? After being gently eased into proceedings, the climbing begins. We gradually climb for about 7 km, topping out at the highest point of the race. We then drop down before climbing again for another kilometre or so. It is at this point that stage two of Dad’s strategy comes into place, the walk. So I do what any good son would do, I continue to run and leave him to walk alone. If I am honest, I can’t believe he lasted 13 km running once, maybe twice, every 5 years. Obviously good genes, or poor decision making.
Once on my own I try to push the pace a little, and try to run the remaining 8km at around threshold. It has to be said, there is something uplifting about waiting until half way through a race before really opening the taps and being able to give it a big push as others begin to feel it bite. By the time I finish I am the beetroot red, sweaty mess that I usually finish a race in. Garmin paused, and medal collected I go find the family for the obligatory ‘just finished a race’ pictures, and then go for a little cool down run to get the distance up.
By the time I’ve done that and gone to collect my bag I find that my dad has made it back, and not moving too freely. Feeling guilty, I give him a hug and make sure he is ok. Thankfully he’s ok, just a bit disappointed that he couldn’t finish the race.
After a couple of days off I get back to focusing on the Plymouth half. The aim is to be as consistent as possible; double run day early in the week (2 x 10km), speed work on a Thursday, longer run on the weekend. This continues with the exception of a couple of away day Parkruns (both at Swansea Bay, both PBs). Two weeks before the half I set a new half marathon personal best. It was only 1 minute faster, but all is looking good. A week later I set the second new 5km personal best of 19.09 at Swansea Bay Parkrun, which is another 27 seconds quicker than the time I set there a few weeks earlier. All is pointing towards a new personal best at Plymouth half, I just had to try to manage my expectations.
In the final week before the half, all the preparation appears to be going well with the exception of a slight niggle in my left heel. It doesn’t appear to be anything that will prevent me racing, just something I need to be mindful of.
Race morning comes around, and the niggle in my heel is still there but it shouldn’t give me too much trouble. I walk down to the ‘race village’ with Steve, a mate who is also running the half. He has only been running for 6 months to a year and is annoyingly quicker than me, so I feel the 15 minute walk may be the only time I see him. We get to the start with a decent amount of time to get ourselves sorted and find where we need to be in the starting pen, no running late this time.
Once the ridiculous warm up is done – how can you do jumping jacks in a crowded starting pen? – We are off. Over a minute passes before we cross line. The first km or so is very crowded as 6000 people make their way through the closed roads of the Plymouth waterfront. Steve and I go our separate ways shortly after, I see him about 10 people ahead, but make the conscious decision to let him go. My plan is to try to keep it as steady as possible to start with, and open the taps towards the end. As the roads widen there is more room the run at my own pace. The early kilometres tick over nicely as I consciously try to run at an ok pace without over cooking it.
After around 6km the first of two climbs starts. It’s a long gradual drag, rather than a steep hill. I consciously aimed to just try to hold my pace, and not let my average pace drop by more than a few seconds per km. I try to relax and make the most of the free speed on the other side of the hill, and then repeat the process on the second climb which comes straight after the first. The decent from the second climb is a long and gradual affair through the beautiful grounds of Saltram House. Once out of the grounds the race recounts its steps, with one exception. Just before the route heads back to the waterfront it takes in an out-and-back. This takes us along the river for a kilometre each way, which, in direct contradiction to all topography rules, felt uphill both ways. On the way out I see Steve coming back to other way – quickly I try to look comfortable. I make a mental note of where I am and by the time I reach the turnaround point I guestimate he is about 1 km, maybe a bit more, ahead of me. I conclude that I won’t be catching him and concentrate on my own race. As much as I would like to beat him, I don’t want to ruin my race chasing after him.
There are now 5 km to go, 4 of which are predominantly flat with a climb for the final kilometre. My plan was to push on at this point, but when that message was sent down stairs to the engine room there wasn’t much of a response. I try to keep my pace up as much as possible, saving something for that final climb.
The lower cobbled section of the climb is tough going, but as I hit the tarmac and I round onto the sea views I begin to feel a little better. As the climb continues the crowds get bigger, and louder. I push again, giving it as much as I can. The final two corners approach and the crowd is 10 deep, or my vision is beginning to blur. It feels like nothing I have raced before, I genuinely don’t think I have seen so many people at a mass participation event. I dig in for the final ramp and push for the line.
I had hoped for a new PB, and had told people I wanted to get as close to 1 hour 40 as possible. Internally I was hoping for something close to 1 hour 35. I glance down at my Garmin and I have managed to get a personal best, finishing in 1:37:38 (course) and a half marathon PB of 1:36:45, an improvement of 6m 34s. Just outside my internal target, but if I’m honest I don’t think I had much more to give. There isn’t anywhere that I can look back and think if I had done X or Y here or there I could have saved a little time. What I am pleased with is my pacing. I had planned to pace it as uniformly as possible, before pushing on. I didn’t quite manage the push but the pacing was pretty much uniform for the whole race, something I have never managed before.
In the week since the Plymouth half I have been unable to run, as the sore heel has felt pretty tender. Usually post-race this isn’t too much of a concern, but I have entered another race.
After running part of Man Verse Horse as a relay a couple of years ago, I have had an itch to run the full race. This year I have entered it, using the training I have been doing for the halves as the base miles to build up to 23 fell miles. It was always going to be tight getting my endurance up. However the longer I have to rest my foot the more anxious I get about it.
I was recently asked by a friend what gets me out in the winter, and I’m often met with derisory comments from work colleagues for leaving the house at 6am to run to work in inclement weather. Essentially wouldn’t it be saner to join the gym? This got me thinking, why would I join a gym? The obvious reason is that they are relatively expensive for something that I don’t really enjoy, but there are more nuances to it than that.
I can see the advantages to the gym, I can, and this is in no way an attack on people who use them. They are warm, dry and have a myriad of different bits of kit for me to embarrass myself on, and there’s the crux of it. They are warm and dry because they are indoors and I like to be outside.
Running outside offers me so much more than just a cardiovascular workout. During the week I tend to run on the road and watch the world going about its business as I go about mine. I love the visual impact as the sun goes down and the lights come on. At the weekend I try to get out the city landscape and hit the trails. This doesn’t always mean leaving the city, I’m lucky living where I do that I have a number of nature reserves and wooded areas within a couple of miles of my front door. These little pockets of ‘wild’ offer the trail running experience without having to drive all the way out to Dartmoor. Dartmoor is an incredible, beautiful place which offers amazing running options and is worth the drive but it isn’t always a viable option.
When running on a treadmill with nothing to look at but a magnolia wall – or worse a mirror – I feel I’m missing something. Early morning runs offer so much visual stimulation, from the changing tones of the sky to the chance of a – brief – sighting of the cities shyer inhabitants, most notable for me a fox darting across a graveyard and one summer I had the privilege of seeing an adder basking in the mid-morning sun (admittedly the adder was some way out of Plymouth).
The only indoor training I do is cycling on the turbo trainer. I don’t particularly enjoy the turbo but if definitely has a place within the winter training arsenal. I have blogged about using a turbo trainer before (which can be found here: http://wp.me/p4NbsO-1g) and won’t go into that again. What I find with the turbo is I can get two hours’ worth of real riding into an hour on the turbo. Having said all that given a choice of a two hour ride out in the cold (or even the rain) and an hour on the turbo I would take the two hours on the road. I actually rather enjoy cycling in poor weather for a couple of reasons; one of them is that I genuinely feel it makes me a better bike handler. There is also a feel good factor from getting back from a ride in bad conditions. Provided to can keep yourself warm and dry these rides have a true feel good factor. The feeling that a lot of people will have had a look out the window and gone back to bed. To quote Sean Kelly “To know if the weather is too bad for training, get your kit on and go train, you’ll know when you get back”. I particularly enjoy riding in crisp cold conditions. The type of day where it’s so bright you have to wear sunglasses but so cold you wouldn’t even consider leaving the house without having your ears covered.
Other than the physical and technical benefits to cycling and running outdoors, it also gives me a chance to de-frag. I think I am a better person as a result of the time I spend outdoors. I have more patience and generally I think I’m more fun to be around. In fact when I’m being a bit snappy with my wife she’ll ask me if I need to go out for a run!
Forgive me reader(s) for I have procrastinated. It has been a very long time since I had anything even remotely interesting enough to warrant writing a post – and arguably I still don’t.
I think the biggest development has been an increase in little runners in the family (note: same number of children, just both come running). My 5 year old son had become more and more vocal in his annoyance that going for a run was either a solo or a dad/daughter affair. I had come to the point that I had run out of reasons, proper reasons, why he shouldn’t. My main reason was that this is the only bit of one-on-one I manage to consistently get with my daughter. He is fascinated with bikes and riding them and has happily helped me build him a bike. We started off buying a cheap kids bike on eBay – which was a bit too big for him. We stripped, re-painted, upgraded and renamed it – giving it that personal touch. Then once he was just about big enough he was riding it. My daughter on the other hand isn’t so keen on the bicycle. She is learning – and is doing well – but she just isn’t that into it, nor is she so keen on falling off. With this in mind, I had pigeon-holed running as ‘daddy/daughter’ and cycling as ‘daddy/son’ one-on-one time. So, once it was clear that a) he wasn’t going to let this go, and b) she was happy to include him it was a done deal.
Off we went around the block – the same route as the first daddy/daughter run. It was incredible how well they cooperated, listen to instructions and most importantly both enjoyed the running – and my daughter genuinely seemed to enjoy having her brother join in too.
Since that wonderful, sunny winters morning we haven’t all been out for a run together. This is due to a couple of reasons. One of those reasons is I am trying to get them cycling as often as possible, but also I am waiting for them to ask me again. I am conscious that I want it to be something that they want to do, so I don’t ask them if they want to go for a run , it has to come from them – I don’t want them to feel at all pressured to do it. The weather may have played a part. It has been a little wet recently, and I think this has put a little dampener on their running ambition. But the interest is still there it seems.
Since the Santa Run in December I have been looking for another race which is suitable for the kids to run too, and then it came to me. I had been half looking at a 9km night run organised by the National Trust. Now a 9km run is definitely out of their range, but there is also a 2.6km option. Perfect. A little bit of digging and kids are welcome. Family entry booked, a proper race experience for the whole family.
The day of the race arrives, and there are equal measures of excitement and trepidation. The latest storm has hit, and – luckily for the Lake District – Plymouth appears to be at its epicentre this time. In the morning I am emailed with the warning that a decision on the race will be made by 2 pm. Finally the email arrives, and the final decision has been made – the race is off. To be fair to the organisers it is probably the right decision, with trees being blown over and heavy rain over the moor.
We inform the kids that the race has been postponed – and subsequently cancelled. Their disappointment is obvious, and I make an effort to lessen the blow by promising to look for more races we can do together.
The following morning the weather has calmed down significantly, the wind has dropped and there is even a hint of sun. First out the door is me and the boy, who declares he wants to go for a long run. A longer run it is then, a hilly two km later as we turn for home he still isn’t satisfied and wants to keep going, I – joking – suggest we throw in some hill reps on the way back “YEAH!… what are hill reps?” you’ll see my boy, you’ll see. The prospect of running up two steep, but fairly short hills didn’t deter him, and the grin was smeared across his face as he plummeted back down them again. He’ll be a fell runner by his 6th birthday.
Upon our return, I swap son for daughter and head out on the same route – minus the hill reps. The improvement in her running is amazing, and it isn’t that she is getting quicker. It’s the increase in confidence. Knowing she can get to the top of the hill before having a little walk or running up to the road because she knows we’ll have to stop there anyway and have a breather. The most pleasing improvement however, is that she is now confident enough to tell me to slow down. Confidence has always been an issue for her, never really willing to back herself, so I love that she now has the confidence to tell me we are going too quick. I couldn’t be prouder.
On a personal level, the running has begun again in earnest. I have entered two ‘spring’ half marathons four weeks apart, the Forest of Dean spring half in mid-March and Plymouth’s half in mid-April. I am really looking forward to both for very different reasons. The Forest of Dean will be my youngest sister’s first race and being able to run it with her is going to be a real joy. Plymouth on the other hand is all about the time. I set my personal best there a couple of years ago and running it again should be a good indication of where I am at. Up to this point I have been concentrating on base training and some hill work, but it’s getting close to the point where some speed work will be required. This is not my favourite aspect of training; I generally like to just lace up and run but needs must and if I want to get a time that I am happy with now is the time to put in the hard work.
There are many childhood milestones that all parents should get to share with their children; first steps, first words, first day at school. This weekend I got to add another to my list – first daddy and daughter race.
After our first run – maybe our second – my daughter began to express an interest in doing a race together. At first I thought this may be something we would have to wait until spring to do. Then I thought of maybe a junior parkrun. Then I had a brain wave. Every year the local Rotary Club runs a Santa Run in the city centre. All the basics of a race are covered – lots of people, race numbers and race finisher’s bling. Also being a fun run the pace of the other ‘competitors’ shouldn’t be too high and there are other kids running it too. After speaking to Rhiannon about it I excitedly entered us both, and then went about telling anyone who would listen what we had planned.
The morning of the big race arrived and we got our selves sorted and made our way to the city centre, Rhiannon getting noticeably more excited with every passing Santa. Once parked, we don our suits and make our way down to the shopping centre. We pose for a few customary pictures and then make our way out of the shopping centre toward the start line.
The only possible downside, which I didn’t anticipate until lining up to start, was with everyone dressed as Santa keeping tabs on a 7 year old Santa in a sea of Santas may prove tricky. We started in a little pocket with a number of other people with kids, hoping that we would be behind any over excited starters. Once the race starts I try to manoeuvre us to the right hand side to keep us out of the way a little. I won’t lie I was a bit anxious for the first few 100m that she might get knocked over or put off by being crowded out. To her credit she just took it in her stride, happily going round people who were slowing in front of her. As the horde of Santas thins out (I’m not entirely sure what the collective noun for a group of Santas would be) I begin to relax and we run side by side chatting away. One thing I couldn’t help but notice was the pace she went off at, much quicker than the pace she runs when it is just the two of us. She also manages to keep this going for the best part of a kilometre before having to ease up for a breather. We ease up a bit as we climb back up to the start, walk through the shopping centre and then run back down the hill to the finish.
We cross the line and the look on her face makes my heart melt, she has the biggest grin I have ever seen on such a little face. The sense of pride I felt watching her cross the line was indescribable, much bigger than any personal accomplishment.
I won’t lie, I loved this race. I just need to find another fun run so we can do it again soon.
I have never really been one for ‘this is my best run because…’ until yesterday. Yesterday was my best, most rewarding run. It wasn’t long, fast or special for any reason other than the company I was keeping.
My soon to be 7-year-old daughter has been keen to come out for a run with me for a while, and this has been accelerated by my training for the Eden Marathon. First things first, Sunday morning we head into town to buy her first pair of ‘proper running shoes’. Nothing special, but something more suitable than the daps she currently has to wear to the park. She was surprisingly excited about buying them, almost as excited as me.
The plan initially was for her to wear them in the house for a few days to make sure they were comfy and then go later in the week. That plan didn’t last. Once we got our proper parent-children duties done (i.e. homework) the words “Can we go for a run now” positively explode from her gleaming, smiling face. How could I say “No”? So I suck up the remnants of the cold I’ve had for what feels like an age and get changed into my running gear.
We head out the front door, stop for a couple of pre run photos then have a little stretch while my Garmin gets a fix. While stretching – which she is far better at than me – I ask her where she wants to go, “Around the block” is her instant reply, even the news that it requires running up ‘that’ hill isn’t enough to dampen her enthusiasm. So off up the hill we go.
Once we get to the top, I drop back to get a picture, but before I can she has stopped to check on me. Once I get the desired picture, we jog, we chat, and we even put in a little sprint at the end.
As the dust settles, and the aches begin to ebb away I have begun to reflect on my first venture into the world of marathons.
Firstly, the race itself. The route is described as a challenging, multi terrain route through the heart of Cornwall’s spectacular mining heritage and beautiful countryside – and I certainly wouldn’t argue with that. The race starts in one of the car parks for The Eden Project and heads out the main entrance and down into St Blazey. The first 3km are all downhill, so while being a good warm up it also makes early pacing a bit of a guessing game. Reaching St Blazey the route leaves the road for the first stint on off road running through some woods, coming out near Luxulyan and the first proper climb of the day, about 7 km into the race. I remember this climb from the half, which I did 4 years ago, and it’s still a rough little climb with amazing views out over Cornwall. As we reach the village we bare right for a nasty little decent before another longer climb. At this point I am feeling good and I cover the first 10km in 53 minutes 44, which is pretty much bang on a 3 hour 45 minute pace. I continue on the road for a while as the route undulates around Cornish back roads. Running alone, I try to tag on to groups of other runners to help with the pacing.
I find a small group of club runners who are going at a comfortable pace, so I jump onto the back. We reach the Marathon/Half split, heading off to the right and before too long we are off road again heading towards Helman Tor, which I had missed from the race info until the race start. We head up a narrow, wooded path coming out onto another track with Helman Tor looking dominant over us to the right, after about half a km it’s another right, over a stile and every runner for themselves as we find our way up to the top of the tor. To my relief it’s not half as bad as it looked, I get to the top having passed a good number of people electing to walk it. I gasp for some fresh Cornish air, let a proper looking runner pass me, and then off back down the tor I go. I truly dislike running down steep stuff, even on the tarmac. I feel a little frustrated by my lack of descending ability and try to follow the line of the proper looking runner and seem to get a flow going. My Garmin buzzes, second 10km done in 54 minutes 28, so the pace is still good. Once down off the tor the route continued between two huge hedgerows for a while making it feel a little bit claustrophobic, before opening out for a bit until we reach another stile. Over I go, and back onto the road. Up some more, then up again – even the downhill now begins to feel like climbing.
Passing through a gate and back into woodland, and in to the most technical part of the race. This part of the race truly is beautiful, with amazing vistas across the valley and autumnal colours. However, I can’t really concentrate on that, as I am trying not to fall over tree roots or smash my face on low branches. After about 15 minutes of jumping fallen trees, ducking low level flora and trying to spot roots in the leaf litter, I get to some savagely steep switch backs. This steep, rooty, rocky, knee popping downhill gradient brings me out at a nice tranquil leat, it’s at this point that I can enjoy the surroundings, the footing is mostly sure on a good quality path; I could almost forget I am running in a marathon. Almost.
Reality strikes back as I leave the peace and serenity of the woods and return to the road, and I think that I recognise it. It’s then confirmed by the 4 mile half marathon marker. I am just outside Luxulyan again. No sooner had I realised this I was going up the first climb of the day, again. This time it was much slower and felt steeper. Mentally this is where it got tough. With a relatively small number of entrants I spent a lot of time running alone. This in itself isn’t an issue, I do all my training solo, but when it gets tough – and then really tough – it’s nice to have someone to help you along, even if it’s just someone to try and chase. It feels like it takes forever to reach the point where the marathon splits away on the first lap. Before I get to the junction, my watch buzzes again with the third 10km split, and I have slowed to 58 minutes 32. Not too concerned, it’s still good for a sub 4 hour marathon, I try to push on.
Most of the next 10 km is a blur of tarmac, shoes and gravel tracks. There seemed to be about 5 or 6 people within about a minute or so of each other, but due to the twists and turns you couldn’t see them until either you passed them while they walk a section or vice versa. At this point I now have to walk sections of hills, but still seem able to keep up an ok pace while I’m running. Two people in particular stand out from this part of the race a guy in a marines/navy running vest and a bloke from a local running club. We passed and repassed each other for about 5 km offering encouragement to each other every time we do, and this really helps me to dig deeper as I hurt in all sorts of places. Finally, as I get into the grounds of the Eden Project the final 10 km split comes up, 1 hour 2 minutes! Sub four hours is going to be touch and go now. It’s downhill all the way to the finish now, with the exception of one very small climb – which I remember because I was mightily annoyed with myself for having to walk it. It hurts, I feign a smile as people cheer us on, and I try to give cheery replies as kids shout encouragement, but it’s nearly over. I hear the finish line a couple of switchbacks down calling out finishers names. It’s all but over. Last switchback and across the line.
Finished, Eden Marathon, done. I stop my watch and check the time; 4 hours and odd seconds. I think I’m pleased with that, but at the moment I just need to sit down.
I have also been considering the training I have done to be ready for this. There are defiantly areas in which I could have improved. I followed a generic structured plan from Strava, and feel that it covered all the usual bases well. What I feel I needed to do however, is tweak it so that it had more hill work. I genuinely feel that I could have improved my time if I had done more hills. That’s not just hill repetitions, but also hillier tempo and long runs. Basically, what I think I failed to do was look at what was a carefully structured and varied plan and assess its suitability to my race needs. In hindsight I could have swapped some, not all, tempo work for hill work, and added a few extra hills – but not necessarily more distance – to the weekend’s long runs. I think this would have added more physical and mental resilience as the hills mounted up towards the back end of the marathon.
One area where I really feel that I let myself down was my nutrition plan. I had initially planned to use 5 gels over the course of the race (10km,20km, 30km, 35km and one extra emergency gel), but after reading the race info pack I decided to change this to 3 gels. I made this decision as the water stations where I planned to use 3 of the gels had energy drinks as well as water. I used this rationale that I wouldn’t need a gel for those points in the race and decided instead to use gels at 15, 25 and 35km. I may have still been light on gels with 5, but 3 was woefully inadequate for my personal needs.
In the days after the marathon I was asked a few times by friends if I would do another and initially I was unsure, that then became “Yes, but maybe not this one”, and now I think I will be back. It may not be my next marathon, but it will be revisited. Increasingly two things bother me about this race. Not the organisation or the route, but personal things. One is time, but more specifically 16 seconds of time. I know I can go under 4 hours, I am positive I can. Even on this route I can see where that time and more could be saved. The other is my GPS track. It measured my run as 130m short, and that sort of thing bothers me. As petty as it sounds I want a marathon PB on my Strava page.