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!

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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