Monday, 20 January 2014

The Viking Coastal Double Marathon

Ok, so these two marathons were last minute entries. Although on the waiting list, I didn't know until Thursday if I would gain a place. Thankfully a place per day became available.
I knew that the event would be well organised, and I had heard good things about the goody bag and medal. When the race organisers are both 100 marathon club members, you could say they are more than qualified to know what a marathon runner would want from a race. We weren't to be disappointed!!

The marathons were on the same course for both days. Starting at the sea front in Birchington, Kent, then running 3.30 miles west along the Viking Coastal path to Reculver Castle. Once there, it was just a case of running back to the start area, doing that loop four times.

I decided to drive to the race on Saturday morning. The weather was looking promising considering the recent heavy rains. But being a Coastal event, I was aware the weather could change quickly. I arrived in plenty of time and started to see the usual faces from other double marathons. I received my race number for the weekend. Number 65.

As the weather was good, I opted to give my new Balls to Cancer running shirts their first outing. My plan was to again try and hit a pb, or more specifically 4.22 marathon. Running 10 min/miles as an average. The plan was to run at least halfway at 9 min/mile pace, 16 miles was where I was hoping to hold it for, then I could slow to 11 min/miles pace for the second half. Haven't got my head around negative splits yet. Only down side to my plan, I had forgot my salt tablets?!

I soon saw two friends who I knew were attempting their first double marathons. Hannah Prentice and Jennifer Chilton. They both looked a little nervous, but also excited. Hannah was doing marathons 6&7? And Jenny was doing 3&4 (I know, nuts). These were to be 20&21 for me. 

With our final race brief, a few hello to friends and applause for Rik Verco for doing 150 marathons in 365 days, plus Brian Mills starting marathon number 952!! A uk record by a very large margin, we were off. 

Still chatting with Stefan after the first loop. (6.6 miles)

With the wind at our backs, I settled into my pace and chatted with Stefan for a while. Although I felt the pace was a little slow I pushed on a bit. I was aware that I was now running around 8.45min/mile pace, but I wasn't stressed and stayed happily with it. It was a nice flat route upto the castle, where we turned around 100 yards short of the castle at a gate. As soon as I turned to head back, I immediately noticed the head wind. Joy! I had a plan and I wanted to stick with it, so it was a case of pushing harder back into the wind to keep the 9 min/mile pace going. I was now in a little group, and we were having a good chatter. It was helping. The head wind was making it tough to keep on pace, but I knew I'd get the benefit when heading back out. I was amongst some great runners and felt proud of how I was doing. Reaching the quarter distance I took on some shot bloks and headed straight back out. This left me out on my own as the little group spent a bit long at the aid station. 

I went inside myself a little bit as I pushed on, the head wind now at my back, I didn't feel as help for as the first loop. Nevertheless, I stuck to my plan, occasionally having to slow back to the 9 min/mile pace. To occupy my mind I started counting the field and my position within it. I found myself sitting in 22nd position of a field of 57! I was stoked, but knew there was a very long way to go. I had also set my virtual pacer on my Garmin to 9.40min/mile pace. That would be a 4.15 marathon time.

At the second time of touching the gate, I opted to freshen up on the route back into the head wind. I was ahead of my VP by 6 odd minutes, roughly 9 minutes in front of a 4.22 marathon pace. My walks were short, but it allowed me to push a little harder when running without over stressing myself. It wasn't long until I slipped into 23rd. I argued with myself about gaining the place back, but it was stupid, stick to the plan. Not far from the half way point, Stefan pushed me down into 24th.

Again I wasted no time here and was back out. My half time was sub 2, so all was still really good. 
Stefan was soon back on me, kicking my backside. I had decided that I wanted to get back to the gate 5 minutes in front of my VP. So at this point I could afford to slip into approx 9.40 min/mile pace. 

I soon slipped down into 26th place, but did so with encouragement from the two guys going past me. They knew my target and were very encouraging, which lifted me. It was time to dig deep. I stuck to my revised plan as best I could and arrived at the gate for the third time, 4.30 minutes in front of the VP. The plan now was to see how much of that I could keep when heading back for the bell. I was now  the best part of 12 minutes in front of a 4.22. It seemed like a lot of time, but with just under 10 miles to go, it was a small amount realistically. 

Turning back into the head wind, which now seemed stronger than before, I started to struggle. With my focus purely on getting to the bell as quick as I could to keep the time I had made. I was struggling with cramping, not my legs, but my stomach. All week I kept thinking I need to take my salt tablets to the race. I was now rather annoyed with myself for forgetting them. A mistake which was now costing me big time. I struggled to the bell and the start of my last lap in front of my VP by a few seconds. Still not a loss though. I still had approx 7 minutes in front of a 4.22 and 13 minutes from my pb. This was going to be tough.

It's said many times, a marathon is a 20 mile training run with a 6.2 mile race at the end. Unfortunately I had ran a 20 mile race and was slipping into a 6.2 miles of pain, all of it in the stomach. I was stuck in a rut. I was trying to push, my stomach bringing me to the occasional stand still. I was slipping back through the field. I reached the gate for the final time for the day. 4.22 was all but gone. It was now about breaking the pb, even by a few seconds. But I was done. I applied a run walk strategy, but it still wasn't enough. Matt and Jennifer were next to catch me, a bitter sweet moment. With a mile to go, these were the last two to pass me. I had a little chat with Matt, he was doing marathon 99. I then tried to catch Jen. But I couldn't. I finally crossed the line 35 seconds behind Jen. Completing the marathon in my 4th fastest time of 4.39.54. Not a disaster, but due to one mistake of forgetting my salt tablets, I could've smashed my pb. I congratulated Jen on her time, a pb for her by a massive 30 minutes!! We didn't have to wait to long to see Hannah complete day one as well. All three home! Mel Floyd then arrived, which was really pleasing after she had a knee injury during the Winter Double and DNF'd, day two. She was back and the marathon completed!

Day one done
Fantastic goody bag!

After a rubbish nights sleep, Day Two was upon us. I managed to get a good bacon and eggs breakfast in, before heading to the race venue. It had rained over night, but it looked like it was going to be another dry day. The wind had settled down too.

Today was about getting the job done. No time plans, just do what needs to be done to get through 26.2 miles. I had decided if I could to run with Hannah and Jen. Stefan half attempted to convince me to try for a pb, which I laughed off. Another short race brief for those who didn't run day one, and we were off. I started running with Jen, Hannah and Mel chatting just behind us. 

Jen and myself settled into a 10 min/mile pace. We slowly opened a gap between Hannah and Mel, and discussed if we should run with them. Although I knew Hannah would be happy with Mel, after they ran Berlin together for 95% of it. 

We soon reached the castle/gate for the first time. Both of us feeling the pace a little, so we started to ease it back to 10.30 min/mile pace. Thankfully there was no head wind to fight! We soon started chatting about all sorts of weird and wonderful subjects. It was nice to be sharing the miles. 

We were soon finishing our first lap. Time to get some scoff on. Plenty to choose from, cheese balls, pretzels, mini cheddars, peanut butter M&Ms. Water, squash and energy gels. With some scoff on, my jacket removed and Jen catching up with her mum, we were off back to that castle.

Reculver Castle and the turn around point.

We had decided to do a walk run strategy. Easier said then done. Jeans walking pace was unbelievable, I struggled to keep up!!! We were breaking up the course into walk sections and run sections. We were also both aware of little niggles creeping in. My foot was sore and Jens knee was feeling out of sorts. Jens plan for the weekend was to pb day one, finish day two. Pretty much the same as my plan, but I missed that pb. 

The weather was beautiful and there was many cyclists and walkers out and about. Although I did joke that I wouldn't walk the route. Even though I was running up and down it eight times in two days.
The castle was reminding me of the part in Monty Pythons Holy Grail, where King Arthur attacks the castle to save the fair maiden after Concorde took the arrow to his chest. You know, where the guards look and see him charging in the distance, then look at each other, then look back and he's no closer. After a few more glances, he's suddenly there. That's what the carle was like. It just looked like it wasn't getting closer, then suddenly we were there. 

Still smiling or wind? You choose!

Eventually that castle was in front of us. Yes, only needed to see it two more times! We both were surprised to feel our stomachs rumble?! How could we be hungry? We ate lunch in the Brewers Fayre, dinner at Chiquitos and breakfast that morning! We were calorie burning machines. Best get back to that aid station for food!!

Easier said than done. Our niggles were now protesting. Making us question what we were doing. No doubt like the walkers we were chatting to. We were soon discussing how nice it would be to have an ice cream.

From the halfway point on it was about digging deep for us both. We were hurting from the day befores effort. Our walks were becoming longer than our runs. We were doing what we needed to, getting the job done. I don't remember much of the next loop other than hurting and the castle taking forever. However I did enjoy the bell, signalling the last lap.

At this point we were down to walking. Happily, we were passed by Mel and Hannah who were running really well. We stuck to our plan. Somehow we discussed bowel movements and other odd things, including what do dogs think?! 

Finally the castle and gate arrived. We were 3.3 miles from finishing the challenge. As beautiful as the castle and route is, I'd be lying if I said I would miss it. Although, in the long term I will.

Saying good bye to the gate.

Just a Parkrun to go, that's what one of the runners said to us. It was true, just a very tired, aching and sore Parkrun! We attempted to run, but it wasn't happening. So it was back to Jens walk speed. 14min/miles! Although we decided that we would run across the finish line.

With that last .2 miles in front of us, we set off doing our last bit of running for the weekend. We had fought our demons through day two, we did it wearing smiles. It really was a pleasure to help a fellow runner complete the challenge of doing two marathons in two days. Even if they beat me by 35 seconds collectively! We crossed the line together in 5.42.

Without Jen, day two would've been so much harder mentally. Running with a friend to chat to really helps the miles go by. We talked about everything except, war, religion and politics. It was amazing to see Jen complete marathons 3&4. To do your first double so early in a marathon career is bonkers. The same for Hannah. They both set themselves the challenge and they both completed it in style.
100% impressed. It takes a huge amount of guts and sheer determination to complete a challenge like a double marathon. Only a small percentage of the worlds population will complete A marathon, you get into very small percentages to find those who have done two in two days. It really is an amazing achievement. One that should be respected for the challenge it is, but also huge respect for those who take it on and complete it.

Well done guys, I'm proud of you!

A big thank you to Traviss and Rachel and their support staff for a fantastic event, medal and goody bag.
A big thank you to all my running friends at the races and supporting me around the country. 

Viking Coastal Double Marathon finishers! Hannah, Me, Jen and Mel.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Buff Enigma Winter Double Marathons

2014 was only a 3 days old when I made the drive up to Milton Keynes ready for the weekends double marathons. Only having a half day, I meet up with Foxy at Foxy towers for tea and biscuits. We then planned to head to Caldecotte lake for some lunch and mark the course. After a lovely lunch, thank you Foxy, we went out to check the course and mark it. All looked god considering the weather. Caldecotte lake is a man made lake to deal with flooding in the Milton Keynes area.

At 8pm that evening I was back in the pub for the "Expo". Karen and Foxy were late, and I soon found out why, at some point after we marked the course the weir on the river had been closed and now part of the course was flooded. This was also the route they were using to walk to the pub. Karen and foxy now had a dilemma, one they had already started to rectify, a course change to the nearby Furzton lake. The final decision was to be made in the morning if the course was still flooded, for now it was food and drink time.

I arose around 6am, so decided to head down to the lake myself. Unfortunately it was still flooded and I texted Foxy to let him know. Wheels were now in motion and it wasn't to long until I was driving Foxy to Furzton to start setting up for day one. Karen stayed at Caldecotte to meet the runners and to direct them the short drive to the new venue for the Winter Double. It was amazing to see how easily they took it into their stride to organise this last minute venue change.

This years Enigma races have been sponsored by Buff Headwear, the new banners in the picture above. This was the start/finish line.

My race plan for the day was to go for a pb. Of course the wind and rain was going to make that a tough target. My plan was to run 9.30min/miles for he first half and run 10.30min/miles for the second half. Hopefully bringing me home around 4hrs22. A 6 minute pb. 

In wet and windy weather we were off. A short loop up the course clockwise then turning around to run the lake anti clockwise 17 times. Now I know what you're thinking. And I thought that too. But the course is surprisingly nice to run around 17 times. There's always a fellow runner near by either catching you or you're catching them. You get to see the finish area where the food and drink is lots of times too. It's at this point I must thank Karen. If the race was at the original venue, Karen would've only needed to count approx 60 runners for 7 laps, with the course change, it was now 17. A tough task I think you would agree!

Back to the race. My plan of 9.30min/miles went out the window pretty quickly. I was feeling good running at 9min/mile pace and occasionally dipping below that. So, probably unwisely I decided to stick to this pace. All was going really well and although some time had slipped, I went through half marathon distance in 2.02!

I then decided to keep going as long as I could at sub 10min/mile pace. Thinks we're looking good and I didn't feel that I was taxing my body. Around 15 miles I had to help Steve Edwards along with a few other runners. The risk on running at the lake was the Canada Geese, unfortunately a group of them decided to come across Steve's path. Being the size they were, and as Steve said on Sunday, a mix of large bird and tired legs was only going to result in Steve going over. Like a real trooper, Steve dusted himself down and was off into thei distance. I finished off my Jaffa Cake. 

The next lap and the wheels were starting to come off, but, I had banked some time. Bonus! I was now having to dig deep. But, by mile 20, I had to readjust my target, 4.22 was now a very tough target, so I started to look at just grabbing a pb, 4.28. Two laps later and a bit of maths and I knew that was slipping. 3.2 miles to go and I was pushing as hard as I could. Unfortunately 4.28 slipped by, but I crossed the line in my second fastest marathon time of 4.33.13!!I was over the moon! 4 and a half minutes off a pb in less than ideal conditions. I gave everything.

Day two didn't start the best. Waking up with a sore left foot. It had been wedged at the end of the bed where the duvet gets tucked in. I wasn't feeling up for it. But hey, that's the challenge. You can't bust your gut on one marathon and expect to feel fresh for the next day!

The previous night, myself and Brenda had convinced Carrie to run the marathon. Carrie had planned to run a few laps for training. A little pier pressure and no alcohol and Carrie was in!!

After checking out of the hotel, I took Foxy and Cameroon to Furzton lake to setup for day two.
A few running friends were turning up for day two, they included Lorrine, Coralie, Belinda, Jo, Emmett, Paul and of course Carrie. Carrie and I decided to run together. The weather was better than day one, but it was cold an icey under foot. 

The plan for the day was to run 11min/miles for the first half, then try to go quicker for a few miles after that, settling back into 11min/mile pace for a sub 5. 

We were off again and the legs started to complain, as expected! Setting off slow was alien to me, constant checking of my Garmin to check pace. To be honest, I struggled to run at 11min/mile pace. It just felt to slow. Carrie and I did feel for the first half marathon. Chatting the way around, me constantly asking if it was a good idea to run a last minute marathon! Also getting told off when reminding us of how far there was to go. We crossed the halfway in 2.30, it would've been slightly quicker, but someone needed the little girls room. 

Not long after going through the halfway point, we caught Lorraine, Belinda and Coralie. I have to say, they were doing far better than I expected. I don't mean that disrespectively. I just expected them to be a little slower. They were doing really well and were only 1.5 miles behind us. After a quick chat and some words of encouragement, Carrie and I cracked on.

This second day was far more social, chatting to friends as they went by, Emily with her lovely dog, Paul always smiling as he checked on us. Stefan and Jeremy were having better days. Trying to keep count of how many times Rik had lapped me. The best thing about Enigma events, it's personal. With only 60 runners, it really is like a little family, especially as it's almost the same faces that I've seen over the four races I've now done with them.

With a few miles to go, and the chance of a sub 5 gone, I worked out, if I got my ass in gear, I could attempt to complete both days in sub 10. I needed a 5.26. After a bit of umming and arghing, plus the encourage net from Carrie, Kate, Jo and Emmett, I shot of for the final two miles. They needed to be sub 13min/mile pace. I soon past Kaja and Jagjit, Jagjit asking if I was on my last lap. I guess it seemed a bit crazy to be running as hard as I was. I felt comfortable and it was nice to open the legs.

I took the bell to indicate my last lap and saw I was in the 10min/mile pace. Happy days. I was running two hundred steps then fast walking one hundred. With around half a mile to go, I saw Carrie catching me, she had decided to get it over and done with. Just as she caught me during my walking break, I was running again. Carrie had ran the whole lap up to this point. With the final short hill walked it was the finishing straight. We ran it together until I decided to go for a sprint finish. Finish four seconds in front of Carrie with a 5.21.11!! I had completed the double in 9.54.24. A double pb by some 45 minutes!

I would like to thank Karen, Foxy and Cameroon, for all their hardwork over the weekend. We just had to run, they had to count 60 runners 34 times around the lake in every weather imaginable. They had to deal with the logistics of changing venue to allow the marathons to happen. They made sure we were safe and happy, we got hugs and Foxy even handed me a Jaffa cake during the race!
I'd also like to thank the guys who were handing out water and help pick up the empty bottles.
Finally, I'd like to thank all those who support me and those who have sponsored me. You help me achieve my dreams!

My two medals

Carrie with her medal.