Dedication

One of Martin Yelling’s tips for the marathon is to dedicate each of the last few miles to a particular person, preferably someone who has helped or inspired you along your marathon journey.  The idea is that thinking of these people will act as a motivational tool in those painful last stages as you won’t want to stop in “their” mile.  I think that’s a really lovely idea, and plan to adopt it.  So here are my mile dedications:

Mile 20:  Gordon Booth, aka Boothy, aka Old Running Fox.  A gentleman I have never even met, but who still manages to inspire and encourage me every day, on The Running Bug, Facebook, his blog and mine.  Now the “wrong” side of 75, Boothy still regularly runs long races over the kind of mountainous terrain that would totally defeat me, more than 45 years his junior.  And wins silverware for them too.  The definition of inspiration.

Miles 21 and 22:  My grandparents.  I consider myself unbelievably fortunate to have reached the ripe old age of 30 with all four grandparents still with me – in fact, I don’t know anyone else close to my age who can boast the same.  Holding a joint celebration for my 30th and Grandpa Griffin’s 90th was one of the highlights during my marathon training.  They may not quite be running fell half marathons like Boothy (well, they do have ten years on him) but Cuddly Nanna and Grandpa Griffin, and Little Nanna and Grandpa Loader, are all just as inspiring in their own ways.  So these two miles are dedicated to knowing just how lucky I am to have them (and particularly lucky to have their extraordinarily good genes!)

Mile 23:  Michael Jackson.  Not the late controversial king of pop, but my uncle, who was diagnosed with as-yet-unidentified cancer earlier this week.  By mile 22, my battle will be nearly over, but his is still to come.  So this one is for him.  No way am I giving in here.

Mile 24:  Rachel Antony-Roberts, who has been the most wonderful flatmate a person training for a marathon could ever wish for.  Rachel ran London herself a couple of years ago, and as I have previously mentioned in this blog has been free with advice, unwavering in support and unbelievably generous with the cakes!  She is even giving up her bed this weekend so my parents can stay over on Saturday night.  I couldn’t have done it without her, so mile 23 is just for Rach.  I’ll reward her properly when we hit the beach in Cuba on 25 April.

Mile 25:  My Mum.  Who has taken to running like a duck to water and is brilliantly inspiring, proving just like Boothy that it’s perfectly possible to take up the sport in your 50s and get an enormous amount out of it.  She can take some of the blame for me tackling this marathon at all – I had to step up the distance in order to avoid being left behind, since she left me for dust at the last 10K we did together.  I have a feeling she may be lining up for her own marathon one day in the not so distant future.

Mile 26:  Having thought about this one, I’ve decided that the last 1.2 miles are going to be just for me.  By then I’ll be well on to home turf and with the finish line in sight.  I plan to enjoy mile 26.  And after all, who else am I really doing this for?

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48 hours to go!

The countdown is in hours, not days, now, and many of the pre-race preparations are being ticked off.  On Wednesday evening Sue Bell and I escaped the office early to go and register at the Expo.  Glad we went then – it was nice and quiet and registration was super-fast and slick.  We called into the Oxfam stand, picked up a few free goodies (although skipped the London Pride!) and then got out of there – it’s quite a trek back to West London from the Excel centre. 

The last couple of days have been the start of carb-loading, and to my surprise I’m not enjoying it as much as I expected!  Being a big fan of pasta and bread and rice and potatoes I didn’t really see this stage of the training as a problem at all, but actually it is a bit of an effort to make myself each such a high proportion of starchy food.  I feel heavy and bloaty. A bit of a change tonight as I’m going to a friend’s for an evening of cheese – but even then, since I’m not drinking, I will be bringing my own baguette in lieu of a bottle of Bordeaux’s finest!

This is what remains on the last minute preparations list:
1.  Register at Expo.
2. Attach timing chip to shoes and race number to T-shirt.
3. Iron my name onto my shirt (I think I’ll save that one for my far more talented mother who arrives tomorrow)
4. Arrange logistics for getting to the start with Gemma and Adam (depart Brook Green at 7am to catch 7.54 train from Charing Cross to Greenwich).
5. Finalise my iPod playlist – not enough tunes on there yet.  I think I’ll add a few miles of Belle and Sebastian at the beginning to help me keep a gentle pace through that first section.
6. Keep eating carbs.
7. Go to my last spin and pilates classes to keep me ticking over and give everything a nice stretch (very gentle exercise only though).
8. Replenish post-spin with some more carbs. 
9. Pack my race-day bag.  I’ve got everything I need now – just need to bring it all together in one place.
10.  Confirm where all my supporters are going to be along the race route so I can keep an eye out.

I’m sure there’s plenty more I’ll be adding to that list over the next 2 days.

On Wednesday I did my very last run before the big one – 30 minutes on the treadmill, doing intervals of 4 minutes gentle, 1 minute fast.  It felt good. Whatever was wrong with my right quad has fixed itself during this long taper period, and my legs feel strong, despite my right knee being black and blue and yellow from Monday’s fall.  All I have to do now is take care of myself for just two more days…

Stats
Distance:  5.25km
Time:  30 minutes (6 x intervals of 4 mins gentle, 1 min fast)
Terrain:  treadmill
Time of day: 12.30pm
Notable features:  last one!!

Countdown: 6 days to go!

And so into the final week.  This time next week, I should be hobbling around the office basking in the self-satisfied knowledge that I am a London Marathon finisher.  That is, assuming nothing stupid happens between now and then.  I had a momentary panic this morning after going flying on some kind of kitchen grease spilled across the pavement on Fetter Lane.  I landed quite hard on one knee, which is now sporting a neat graze and a big bruise reminiscent of the school playground, but (fingers crossed) I don’t appear to have done any real damage.  Even my dented pride was restored when another chap also slid spectacularly to the ground just seconds after I did.  Well, misery does love company!

But back to the training.  As per my last post, I have been trying to get some hot weather runs in just in case the current summery spell continues into next weekend (although forecasts at the moment are more encouraging).  To that end, I headed out on Wednesday lunchtime for a quick jog along the last 2.5 miles of the actual marathon course (and back via Northumberland Avenue).  I made sure to really notice my surroundings and try and imagine how different they will look on Sunday lined with thousands of spectators.  I’m not sure my imagination really did it justice.  I did particularly notice one lady on Birdcage Walk though, who can’t have been much older than me but who was shuffling along very slowly with the help of a frame.  I told myself to remember her when I am in pain in those last few miles and remind myself again how lucky I am to be able to contemplate running the marathon at all.

The 2.5 miles to Buckingham Palace and the Mall took me about 22 minutes  (not being sure exactly where on the Mall the finish line will be I couldn’t be more precise).  It’ll be hugely interesting to see how long they take me on Sunday – safe to say that it’ll be longer than that!  It was a hot lunchtime to be out and about, and I did feel the heat slowing me a bit, but I was pleased to find that it wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be.

The same was true on Sunday morning when I went out for the last long run. 10 miles, Putney to Barnes.  Again baking hot, but with a perfect breeze that cooled but didn’t slow me down.  There were loads of obvious marathon runners out in their charity vests for a final dress rehearsal, and I made sure to give each of them a particularly encouraging smile.  Maybe my boring black vest and shorts didn’t inspire similar sentiments, because none of them smiled back except for one beaming grin from a blonde girl in a Breakthrough Breast Cancer vest.  I hope she does well on Sunday.

I was really pleased with the 10 miles.  The heat didn’t bother me at all (I slowed to have some water at every bridge, so roughly every 2.5 miles), I felt strong and comfortable and had to deliberately slow myself down at times to keep to a gentle 10.30 min pace, getting home on target in 1:44:49.  After the disappointing long runs of recent weeks it was a relief to feel back on form.  Even better to look back to where I started from and realise how much I’ve already achieved: I can now run 10 miles in 20 degree heat with ease, which would have been pretty unthinkable six months ago. 

All that’s left to do now is sort out logistics for Sunday morning, get to the Expo (hopefully on Wednesday evening) and stock up the fridge.  Oh, and actually run the marathon.  Bring it on!

Stats (Sunday)
Distance:  10.0 miles
Time: 01:44:49
Weather:  hot midday sunshine, 20 degrees
Route:  river, Putney to Barnes loop
Notable features:  ITV1 were filming the Britain’s Got Talent London auditions at the Hammersmith Apollo, so I got to run past TV cameras, guys in drag and tutus, and loads of very weird costumes.  So pretty much just like the marathon then!

Warmer weather

I didn’t quite recover my steely determination over the weekend as hoped, but things are obviously picking up again because despite another long run fail I am feeling more positive. 

On Saturday morning I dutifully headed out into the Warwickshire countryside, fuelled by a couple of rather tasty danish pastries.  (It wasn’t my first choice of breakfast but it was all my parents had apart from toast – which gives me stitch – but it turned out to be surprisingly effective as pre-run sustenance.  Ideally I’d have eaten them a tad earlier as they sat in my stomach a bit, but no stitch, and no running out of energy either.  Good to know, especially as I do love a danish pastry.)

I think its fair to say that after the long cold winter we’ve just had, everyone has noticed and revelled in the resurgence of good weather lately, but we runners are particularly atuned to the turning of the seasons.  Especially those of us foolhardy enough to battle through the winter training for a spring marathon; we have spent hours trudging through the snow and the ice and the wind and the rain, so even more than most we notice the little things that tell us that spring is definitely with us once more.  When I last did this run only six weeks ago, the world was still hibernating and the air was heavy with rain.  This time, birds were singing, lambs were gambolling, and daffodils lined every road.  Even after heavy rain in the early morning the pretty little villages I ran through just glistened in the sunshine.  I felt so pleased to be out and about and running.  Despite the grey-looking photo (turns out I still had the protective plastic over the lens of my new blackberry), I even got suntan lines during my two hours out on the road. 

It didn’t all go according to plan though – despite my joy at being alive and running in the countryside my mental strength was still a bit lacking.  I did well for the first five or six miles, and was strong through seven and eight, but the nasty stretch down the Straight Mile did for my willpower.  However nice a day it might be, it’s never fun trying to run down a single carriage A-road with no footpath (and no verge to jump onto) with cars whizzing past you at up to 70 miles per hour.  At the start of the mile I was already feeling fatigued and negative.  By the end of it the slightest of grumbles from my sometime dodgy knee was enough to convince me that the remaining 5 miles (most of which would have been downhill, a particular knee irritant) were just not worth the risk of it flaring up so close to race day.  So I did what any self-respecting 30 year old would do – I called my Mum to come and pick me up.

Despite a somewhat foolhardy night out in a nice bar followed by a not-at-all-nice Chelsea club, I managed to limit myself on the alcohol front that evening and made it to my Pilates class for the first time in ages on Sunday.  I have missed Pilates – just one session makes you feel instantly so much stronger and leaner.  (Plus my instructor commented on how trim I was looking which is always pleasing!)  And having spent an hour focusing on my posture and core, I realised that the limp on one side which I have been cultivating for weeks is starting to go now, so I feel justified in having taken it pretty easy these last couple of weeks.  

Physically, I’m now feeling in good shape and hope I still will be in 11 days time.  Mentally, I definitely need to work on the willpower and determination, although I’m told by everyone that the atmosphere and the crowds will be an immeasurable boost on the day.  I certainly hope so!

Only a couple of final hurdles to go now before the big day.  Tomorrow is forecast to be 21 degrees in London, which is both wonderful and worrying.  I’m all for the sun usually (can’t wait to hit that Cuban beach on the 25th!) but I simply can’t run in it – if temperatures are anything like that on the 17th I’ll really struggle, especially since all the training has been in cold cold weather to date.  I can’t do anything about the weather, but I can at least train, so tomorrow the plan is to head out into the midday sun for a jog taking in the last 2.5 miles of the marathon course.  It’ll only be 40 minutes instead of 4 hours and 40 minutes but at least it’ll give me a reminder of running in the heat, just in case.  In the meantime, I’d appreciate it if everyone could keep their fingers crossed/say some prayers/do a little dance for the 17th to be a nice sunny day with seasonal temperatures of around the 11 degree mark.  Thanks!

Stats
Distance:  about 10.5 miles
Time: 01:50:28
Route:  Warwickshire loop, with the end bit cut off
Weather:  spring
Notable features:  daffodils and tan lines

Taper (or running out of steam)

I fear that I may have peaked too soon.  Since the 20 mile run the other week, I have been feeling far less motivated about running, and even training more generally.  The taper period has started now, so I deliberately took it easy last week in an attempt to help my poorly quad recover from whatever it is that is ailing it.  It did appear to help – my first-thing-in-the-morning limp is less pronounced – but the general apathy that has come with the tail-off has taken me by surprise.

Admittedly, work has been busy, but since my last post ten days ago I have only managed the following in terms of training:

Wednesday evening: short gym session on the rower, cross-trainer and free weights;
Thursday morning: Spin and Tone session (unfortunately the toning session focused on the same upper body muscles as my own workout the night before, so it was a struggle);
Friday:  30 minute yoga/pilates class;
Sunday late afternoon:  ten mile run/walk; and
Tuesday evening: a 5k interval session on the treadmill. 

All of which is OK for what it’s worth but is much less than I had intended.  The plan was for the long run on Sunday (a whole week after my last run) to be 16 miles rather than 10, but my heart just wasn’t in it.  I dithered all day and am pretty sure that if it hadn’t been such a glorious day outside I wouldn’t have gone at all.  I decided to do a river loop between Barnes and Putney, and had it not been warm and sunny I would have turned towards home when I got back to Hammersmith Bridge at 5.5 miles rather than continuing on along the south bank.  But even though I resolved to keep going, it was with the promise to myself that provided I covered the 10 miles one way or another, I could just walk it and enjoy being outside in the lovely spring weather instead of pushing on through.  I did run bits of it but got a nasty stitch two and a half miles from home and just meandered my way back from there.  Hardly gritted determination to succeed at all costs.

Yesterday’s treadmill session was more of the same.  My schedule suggested 7 x 800m intervals, which I thought was optimistic even before I started and so I resolved to do six.  I did three reasonably happily, but without my iPod and with the gym hot and sticky I was tired of it after just three.  In the end I did manage to push on for a fourth and made a point of making it faster (flat out sprinting the last 200m), but it was really just a lame attempt to justify quitting before I was done.  Rubbish really.

I’ve also deliberately slept through 2 morning spin classes so far this week, which isn’t great.  I’m hoping it’ll be third time lucky tomorrow.

Lots of people are asking me now whether I’m excited or nervous and how the training is going – all I can tell them is that I just want to get it over and done with now.  I know its common to feel strange and frustrated during a taper period but I don’t feel like I want to get out and run, I just feel apathetic and want it to be over.  Anyone else felt like this?

The plan for the weekend is to go home to Warwickshire tomorrow night for a brief Mother’s Day visit, and head out Saturday morning for the same 15.25 miler that I did back in February.  The good thing about that is that really there’s no turning back once you’re committed to that run, and I’ll have my parents to kick me out of the door in the morning, so I’m hoping to get my mojo back that way.  Fingers crossed anyway.

PS.  I’ve been invited to a Cheesefest the Friday night before the marathon, which is exactly as it sounds – a bunch of friends and lots and lots of lovely cheese.  A wonderful idea as far as I’m concerned, but I’m not sure whether the timing is so great.  Any thoughts on the possible implications of cheese overdose 36 hours before a marathon greatly appreciated!

Stats (2 runs)
Distance:  10 miles; 5k
Time: not sure; 00:29:26
Terrain:  river path; treadmill
Time of day:  late afternoon; evening
Weather:  wall to wall sunshine;  just walls, no windows
Notable features:  lethargy, grumpiness and not finishing the job

Final push

This week the final instructions and registration form arrived on my doormat, informing me that on the day I will be marathon runner number 52610!  It’s all starting to feel very real and very close now.  In some ways, that’s a bit scary, but for the most part I’m just glad that the punishment I am putting my body through at the moment is nearly over – I am fed up of limping around the office.

The final instructions were the impetus I needed to step up the fundraising drive this week, so I finally got round to sending out emails to friends, family and colleagues, and putting a link to my Virgin Money Giving page on Facebook.  I’m delighted to find that people are really rising to the occasion and being incredibly generous; so much so that I’m already almost at my target total.  Thank you so much to everyone who has supported me so far – I really appreciate it and your money is going to a great cause.

Having sorted the fundraising, there was just one last thing to tick off, and it was the big one: the 20 mile long run.  I was extremely lucky to wake yesterday to a truly glorious spring day: wall to wall sunshine and blue skies, and yet a bit of a chill in the air to keep me cool on the move.  I couldn’t have asked for a more auspicious start to a big challenge.  (Well, the start of it could have gone a little bit better – my dodgy right leg was playing up a bit and the first couple of miles were run with a distinct limp on that side.  But recent runs have taught me that once I get going I seem to even out so I pushed on through it and by the time I reached Richmond Park I was into my stride. )

The really long run is supposed to be practice for the big day, so there were a few things that I wanted to try out on this one.  Kit first: I wore my Oxfam vest to see whether it was comfortable to run in, and learnt that it chafes under the arms so I won’t be wearing that on the day.  Fortunately Oxfam have also sent a bamboo T-shirt which I tried out last week and is much more comfortable.  I also tried some supposed “proper” running socks which gave me my first blisters (very impressive, but fortunately not painful), so again I think I’ll be sticking with the old cotton, completely non-technical, socks that have seen me comfortably through the rest of the training.

I also tried a strategy of having a short break every 10K to eat some Haribo and have a drink – taking my time and walking briskly as I did so.  This strategy worked well and gave me a welcome boost each time, but is a bit costly in terms of time.  I’ll have to have a think about how much I care about that – running the marathon comfortably is probably a bit more important to me but it would be nice to have as good a time as I can manage.

As for the actual run itself, it was definitely a run of two halves.  The first half was mostly in Richmond Park, which was totally transformed by the sunshine.  It was no longer the grey and bleak expanse that I have become so familiar with through the winter months, but a leafy, green oasis full of excited children and shiny happy people.  Much more pleasant.  That first half (once I had got into my stride) was fairly comfortable and enjoyable, although my body did feel really tired and I found myself thinking longingly of the taper to come.

Once I left the park I headed through Barnes to the river and ran along the riverbank to Putney.  By the time I reached the half marathon stage at Barnes I was starting to feel tired, and knew that the next seven miles would be a struggle.  Although I was eating jellies regularly I could tell that I hadn’t really eaten enough the night before/that morning – must significantly increase the pasta intake prior to the long runs.  I was initially distracted from the discomfort by the river itself – it was really high, as high as I have ever seen it, presumably tidal as a result of last night’s “supermoon”.  It was also noteworthy that on this glorious day there were no rowers out on the river – generally there are loads even when the weather is really miserable, and given that we are only a week from The Boat Race their absence seemed really unusual.  I assumed the very high tide must be preventing them from getting onto the water.

When I got to Putney (at around 17 miles) though, I realised where they all were.  There was a regatta taking place yesterday afternoon and as I got there thousands and thousands of people were thronging the riverbank about to put hundreds of boats into the water.  The road was completely impassable, and I had to take a detour into Putney proper to get through.  That detour (which added just under half a mile to my route) was a psychological killer – I was only just holding it together at that point and I pretty much ground to a halt at the extra distance.  I had the last horrible section up Fulham Palace Road still to go and it defeated me – I had to walk a big chunk of the way and the whole of the last half mile to home.

Still, one way or another I covered the 20.5 miles, in just under 4 hours with a lot of walking at the end (the last 3 miles took me 45 minutes).  Everyone keeps telling me that the support and atmosphere on the day will provide a huge boost to keep me moving, and I am relying on that to a certain extent.  I also know that I need to eat a LOT more – the last couple of long runs I have been running out of energy rather than having any biomechanical difficulties.  It’s interesting that I didn’t have that problem with some of the earlier long runs – the 15 miler after the 30/90 party at home was no problem in terms of energy despite being really hilly, but I had noteably eaten my own body weight the day before! Similarly the 16.5 miler was fine too, but these last few longer runs I have been feeling hungry and weak by the time I get to 13 miles.  I’m perfectly OK with the kind of exercise that requires me to eat, eat and eat some more – when do girls ever get free licence to do that otherwise?!

That’s the longest run I’ll do, and listening to my body I think I need to start the taper from here so I’ll go back down to 16.5 next week.  Instead I need to step up the stretching and flexibility regime, try and get to some pilates classes and spend some time in the gym working on my core strength.  Hopefully then I’ll be in slightly better shape come 17 April.  Not long to go!

Stats:
Distance:  20.48 miles
Time:  03.56.39
Route:  Richmond Park, then river from Barnes to Putney
Weather:  glorious!!
Time of day: 11am-3pm
Notable features:  glorious weather, thousands of rowers in my way

Record breaker

Brilliant perk of running as part of the Freshfields Oxfam team today.  And I’m not talking about the rather fetching baseball cap they gave me .  Freshfields sponsors the world record breaking marathon runner and Paralympic medal hopeful Richard Whitehead, and today the marathon runners got to go out on a training run with him.

Fears that we wouldn’t be able to keep up were fortunately allayed as we headed out at a very gentle pace along the Embankment and made our way up to Hyde Park.  Richard runs with a wide circular gait which makes running right alongside him a little hazardous until you get used to it, so for the first half a mile or so we made quite a spectacle for the tourists as he led the way with a dozen girls (and one guy) chasing after him.  When we got to Hyde Park we did a few intervals of around about 200 metres or so, which gave my dodgy quad something to think about, and finally headed back to the office at a much more brisk tempo pace which felt pretty great actually.

Richard is a great guy and very happy to chat and answer questions.  We discovered that his secret weapon is a large bowl of plain spaghetti for breakfast before a marathon race – a strategy I don’t think I’ll be adopting.  Haribo might not fuel me to a world record but they are a much more tasty option!

As midweek training runs go, they don’t get much better than today’s.  A great combination of easy, tempo and interval running, some inspirational chat and the opportunity to bunk off work with impunity.  I think my training may have just peaked.

Stats
Distance:  11.6km
Time:  not sure, no watch
Weather:  misty but not too cold
Time of day:  2pm, on a Wednesday, so pretty indulgent.  Lucky it was sponsored by the firm really.
Route:  Embankment, St James Park, Green Park, Hyde Park
Notable features:  training with a world record breaker – can’t beat it.