Amazing, exhilarating, painful, wonderful day.  Delighted to achieve my sub-5 hour target on a very warm day.  Full race report to follow later.


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…

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!

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!

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.

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.


Spring – in the air but not in my step

Since I last blogged quite a lot has happened.  Unfortunately not all that much of it was running.  In what surely can’t be a coincidence, my body has decided to fall inexplicably apart since I hit the big three-oh on 3 March.

Falling apart

My birthday dawned, grey and gloomy, and I didn’t have to get up and go to work because I had taken the day off to get my 18 mile run in before the party at the weekend.  Unfortunately, the sniffles I had picked up from hours of running in the rain the previous Saturday had turned overnight into a full blown cold, and I felt pretty ropey.  So I spent a lovely morning eating cake and opening cards and hoping I’d feel a bit better after a spot of daytime TV.  By the time the church bells rang for midday though, I had to accept I couldn’t breathe properly just sitting on the sofa, and that in the circumstances heading out into the drizzle for three hours wasn’t such a great idea.  So I went back to bed and had a snooze instead.

Despite the total lack of long run on Thursday, on Friday I noticed that my right quad was really quite sore and that my lower back was killing me.  Obviously old age had caught up with me, right on cue.  The quad was still hurting on Saturday morning when I went for a fairly gentle 10K with a friend – although I was OK running I was quite glad it was just a short one.  After that run my back was really killing me, but fortunately four inch stilettos seemed to relieve the pressure so I was able to dance my birthday party away without too much pain.

Trouble is, the problems in the quad haven’t really eased up, despite the fact that I’ve really cut back on the running and other exercise (work has had something to do with that too).  It’s particularly bad when I’ve been immobile for a while, so first thing in the morning I can barely put any weight on my right leg without toppling or getting a sharp pain in my back.  I’ve been to seen the physio about it and he has noted that I have got an imbalance, but this close to the marathon he’s reluctant to change too much for fear of making it worse in the short term.  Fortunately, although it’s making walking quite challenging, it seems that the injury isn’t actually stopping me from running – apart from a bit of a limping gait when I first start out I seem to be able to run on it fine.  Perhaps my body is evolving so that running is my natural state? 

Hitting the wall

This Saturday I decided to test the theory that running on a sore leg was OK by trying the 18 miler I hadn’t managed the previous week.  So you can imagine how delighted I was to wake up to glorious sunshine and balmy temperatures.  For the very first time since my training started in October, I was able to head out in a T-shirt (my Oxfam one no less) and capri leggings.  The sun was out, Richmond Park was beautiful instead of its usual grey self, and my leg felt fine.  As I ran down towards the park I felt like I could go on forever.  There had to be a catch, and there was.  It was only after the big hill in Richmond Park at the five mile mark that I realised I had forgotten to put on the bumbag which contained my trusty Haribo that was supposed to be fuelling me round the latter stages of the run.  I had had a huge meal the night before at a friend’s house (two servings of treacle tart, AND cheese and biscuits) so I hoped that I would have enough energy to keep me going.  I didn’t.  I was OK until I got back down to the river having run through Richmond itself.  I think it was all the ice-cream vans everywhere that got me thinking about food, but I started to feel noticeably hungry around the 12 mile mark and could feel myself slowing down by the time I got past the half marathon stage.  It wasn’t long after that that I completely ground to a halt and realised I had just stopped moving.  I kept on walking/plodding for as long as I could but by the time I got to Barnes I was dizzy and staggering and getting cold very quickly.  So I persuaded a friendly bus driver to let me on the bus back to Hammersmith for free and skipped the last 3 miles.

Not a great result, and totally my own fault for being stupid.  But at least hitting the wall has happened once during training and I know how it feels now.  This post is such a long one that I haven’t properly described the sensation – in fact it sounds a bit like I just gave up.  But it was an unnerving experience, and I felt like I had just crashed through the floor.  I’ll be trying very hard to avoid that fate on the day itself.

I went out that evening with a fellow marathon runner, who had had an equally depressing run, managing just 12 of her planned 20 miles.  So we consoled ourselves with some Sauvignon Blanc. 

Distance:  18 miles.  Twice.  Only the first time I did 0 miles, and the second time I did 15
Time: 03:02:33.  But the last three miles were by bus (and I had done a lot of walking)
Weather: sunny!!!
Time of day:  1.00pm
Notable features:  no food, a big hill, and a bigger invisible wall

Must get better at blogging

Dear oh dear, another month has gone by and no more blog posts.  Fortunately this time it’s not because I haven’t been running – just that during that time I have been (a) very busy at work, (b) away skiing, and (c) too lazy to blog.  But now that February is here and there are only 9 1/2 weeks to go until the big day, its time to start thinking about fundraising.  And if I’m going to ask people for money, it seems only fair to update them on what I’m actually doing to earn it.  So my Chinese New Year resolution is to get back into the blogging habit.  2011 is the Chinese Year of the Rabbit – I’m hoping in my case that rabbit will be more like a hare.  (Or, more probably, a tortoise.)

By way of update, the training schedule since January has been somewhat modified to take account of the time I missed over Christmas, and the demands of a particularly nasty Chinese transaction at work, but has largely followed the three-times-a-week easy run/intervals/long run pattern.  I’ve had to be increasingly inventive to get my mid-week runs in: running to work is usually a good bet but treadmills in ski resorts and running to/from the dentist have also featured over the last week or so.  (Note to self for future reference: it’s not actually possible to “run” down Charlotte Street on a Tuesday lunchtime.)

The fundraising drive also starts here so I need to start rounding up email addresses and making a general nuisance of myself.  I’m planning to use my upcoming 30th birthday as a good way of badgering my extensive collection of relatives into making a good start, but if anyone else wants to set the ball rolling you can do so by clicking on the Virgin Money button on the right (with a huge great “thanks” from me and Oxfam).