Two Half Marathons In Two Days

 

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Windswept hair?

It seemed like a good challenge and a good idea, when I first thought of it six months ago. Inspired by a podcast, MTA, where Angie was running two full marathons over two days and discussing the mental problem of getting up on the second day to “Do it all again.”

 

Because I have made the decision to not run any more full marathons and only do half marathons for the rest of my running life, I figured the challenge of two halves in two days would be physically like running a full marathon but mentally tougher and, of course, everything would depend on recovery between halves, both recovery time and recovery meals and drinks. Add to this a training regime and you have the recipe for an interesting six month experiment. It would also get me into “Half Fanatics”.

 

The first job, of course, was to find two halves in two days, not an easy job in the UK where the vast majority of races fall on a Sunday. When the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships advertised their race in Cardiff, Wales, on a Saturday, it seemed the challenge was on. I scoured the web for a local half on the Sunday (local to cut down the travelling mileage) and picked the Pendine sands races. Pendine is a long beach in West Wales where land speed records have been attempted and was obviously going to be very flat. A bonus for my second day. I knew that one race would be high key and one low key but hadn’t quite realised how difference the gap would be.

 

My grandson ha a sleepover on Friday nights and I look after him all Saturday so double header training has to be on a Sunday morning and then Monday morning before going to work.

Training went well. I took the mileage up to 13.1 plus 10 the next day to get used to the psychology of getting out of bed tired and running. I didn’t go as far as 13.1 plus 13.1 as this would be kept for the special weekend.

Three things happened to change my recovery plans. What started out in my mind as two morning races starting around 9am with 21 hours recovery between, changed somewhat. An e mail from the IAAF announced that the World Half in Cardiff would be an afternoon race starting at 2pm so recovery would be cut down to 16 hours. Then someone asked me when the clocks in the UK went forward an hour for British Summer Time and I looked it up to find it was on my weekend so recovery was down to 15 hours. Luckily an e mail from Pendine announced that because of an exceptionally high tide on the Sunday the race could not start until 11am when there would be some beach to run on, so recovery was back up to 17 hours.

 

I guess the lesson there is that you can plan but things change. It wasn’t announced at the time but was on the day (as an apology) that the World Half had to be in the afternoon because of TV times in the US and Japan.

 

To the races, or should I say plods as both were slow. Cardiff was organised excellently with registration queues at a minimum as the expo and number pick up was over Thursday, Friday and Saturday morning. A very good idea for the 16,000 competitors. I chose Good Friday and enjoyed walking through all the trade stands. I wondered why half the attendees were in tracksuit and trainers. Some sort of uniform? The disappointment for me at the expo was the Adidas official kit stand. I wanted an after race warm hoodie and this seemed to be a good opportunity. Before arriving at the expo I envisaged a black hoodie with small writing on the front saying something about the World half marathon championships. What I found was almost the exact opposite. A hoodie of nondescript colour with a very large red dragon’s head on the front (red dragon, symbol of Wales) looking like a chess piece, with, in very large letters below it, the word “Cardiff”. I searched for a mention of the upcoming race and found it on the back, under the hood! That’s right, if the hood was down the writing was obscured. Come on Adidas, you are a rich company; surely you can afford an outside design company? I eventually came away with a Spongebob Squarepants running vest.

 

I thought the race itself would have no surprises as it was the same course as the Cardiff Half, run a number of times in the past. Those that watched the televised race will know that a world record was possible up to the point where the leaders were a mile or two from the end and the heavens opened and soaked them. This was from Storm Kate. At the time I was less than half way around, about to cross the Cardiff Bay Barrage and hanging on to my peaked cap, protecting me from stinging rain. Managing to dry out a bit by the end a good looking medal was handed out along with a tee shirt replicating the hoodie mentioned above, a few bananas and water.

 

Up the next morning and a one and a half hour short drive down to Pendine. For three day expo read, for this lower key race, pick up your number from the back of a Landrover. There was a bit of confusion over the state of the tide, Storm Kate pushing the waves up the beach and delaying the start for half an hour due to there being no sand to run on! Because of this delay, some transferred from the half to the 10k and some, unfortunately, went home. In the end 23 ran the 10k and 24 ran the half marathon, the winner finishing in 1hr 33mins. Nine also ran an ultra of two laps.

 

Running the first half of the out and back course I found difficult. It was difficult to find my right pace among the 10k runners and difficult also to find hard sand to run on. The guy in front of me had a run, walk, run, system going and, frustratingly, started running just before I caught him up each time.

 

Getting past my run, walk, run, man just before the turn around I started the run back in front of him and as I raised my legs to run, the wind stopped me moving forward and my competitor walked slowly past me. I persisted with attempted running until he was 30m ahead and finally decided on my own run, walk, run, philosophy – it was quicker.

 

Getting back to the start was my hardest run ever and amounted to 15 minute miling – yes 4mph a walking pace gained by run, walk, running. Sand in the face and completely exhausted we then had to do a further challenge, just as we were informed at the briefing “It’s not quite 13.1 at the finish line so run to the rocks and back to the Landrover, three times.”

 

A surprisingly large, colourful medal was presented along with a question as to whether I was in the 60-69 years category. On answering yes, I was handed a “Champion” certificate for first in age group. My first ever race win done from the back of the pack!!

 

I have joked that, taking both races into consideration, this was the weekend where a) I raced Mo Farrah and b) I won.

 

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Thus Spoke Zarathustra through Phedippidations

the spiral of life.
the spiral of life.

My first run out-doors since missing the Cardiff Half. Rhinovirus  it was called, a posh name for coughing, spluttering and having a headache for two weeks also known as the common cold (and manflu). Deciding a few days before the race to DNS I wanted, for some reason, to reinforce my disappointment so went into Cardiff, shopping, straight after the race, to watch everyone walking about in their tech shirts with medals around their necks. Grrrrr.

Getting back into running slowly I did my five ten-minute runs on the treadmill in the gym (with a different leg then arm exercise between each one) but still needed inspiration from somewhere.

Inspiration came in the form of a notification on my iPhone that a podcast I subscribe to had downloaded an episode. Past Runwelshman press items have referred to Phedippidations, and how on 5th July 2015 episode 329 of this podcast had come out but nothing since. I had enjoyed Steve Runner’s podcasts so much I had left his podcast app on my phone “just in case”. I was rewarded with episode 330 on 16th October 2015 and it provided the inspiration I needed to get outside for a run but not in the way you would think.

Episode 330 was very personal and showed Steve as a different person after a bit of a life change. It may have been a farewell podcast, it may be another three month wait, we shall see (your podcast app is still open on my phone Mr. Walker). 330 was mainly about a book Steve had read a number times called “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” by Friedrich Nietzsche and how it had shaped his life. The show was punctuated with the usual tasteful music and was excellently presented and produced as usual. I am not going to go too heavily into the content of the podcast but would suggest you download this and past episodes.

Talk of Thus Spoke Zarathustra sparked my interest enough for me to download a copy onto my Kindle and to start reading. Among the first pages, in fact in the introduction, was a reference that hit home “Like Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Henry David Thoreau before him, Nietzsche did his best thinking while walking in the open air, so that place was of the utmost importance to him as a philosopher.” This brought home to me how I was missing my me-time, my running while letting my mind run free, my break from concentration and the reason I have never run with music.

So today it was important to run a slow but hilly 7.35 training run and to contemplate Steve’s podcast, his state of mind and my entry into his suggested book. Love the way this book came to me as Nietzsche himself said “Then the life that is saved in the book is immortal since it survives its author’s death with a strange autonomy: It seeks out readers for itself, ignites new life, delights, terrifies, engenders new works, becomes the soul of plans and actions.”

Another book I have read recently, or half read (more on that later) was called “Runner’s World Running On Air” which was previewed on another podcast I listen to (either Marathon Training Academy or The Conscious Runner Podcast) which interested me so I downloaded it onto my Kindle but only read half, if that. I mention it because part of Steve Runners podcast is recorded while he is running and it stood out to me that he breathes in two strides then out for two strides (again more on that later).

The basis for the book is that your body is at its weakest, while running, when you start to exhale. So, if you breath in for three strides and out for two strides then you will start to exhale on a different foot each time thus balancing your body and avoiding injury. If going faster then you can change this to two in and one out. Guess how many pages of the book it takes to get that message over – not many. Interested to find out what the rest of the book had to offer I was horrified to find I had spent money on a beginners running guide – beginner runners go out too fast, it’s ok to walk when you first start etc. No I wouldn’t recommend this book unless you are a complete beginner somewhere between walking and running.

So on my first run outside I tried out the 3/2 breathing pattern and hated it with a vengeance. It messed with my running, it messed with my breathing, I hated it. The only redeeming feature was that it made me think about my breathing pattern, which is two in and two out (see above) and, at the crest of a hill I could slow down my panting and heart rate by employing a 3/2 rate.

What about this for a thought to mull over. Next Easter on March 26th is the World Half Marathon Championships in Cardiff. It is on the Saturday and I am already entered. On the following day Easter Sunday is the Pendine Sands Half Marathon (and ultra run but forget that) held on the beach where Donald Campbell used to race Bluebird on land speed record attempts. What about running Cardiff, jumping in the car, bed and breakfast somewhere down west and then running the Pendine Half as a back to back over two days.

Not only would this be a challenge to work towards but it might even get me into The Half Fanatics running club. What is going through my mind at the moment, and would have to be run out of my mind, is a note from Angie on the MTA podcast that running back to back marathons is mentally harder than a fifty miler (so assume back to back halves harder than running a marathon) because, she said, in a fifty miler you are running with a goal of finishing the run, with back to back marathons you are running with a goal of finishing the first marathon knowing you have to get up and do it all again tomorrow.

I wonder.

Building Mental Toughness – Run Long And Taper

Run long and taper – with apologies to Trekkies. I kept hearing this phrase on a brilliant podcast that I found by Steve Runner (real name Walker but you can see why the change occurred) called Phedippidations. Back issues can still be found but he slowly lost interest in his wonderful running community after the bomb incident in his home town and the podcasts seem to have dried up. COME BACK STEVE!! We are missing your wit, your philosophy and your choice of inspirational music.

I was supposed to run long last weekend and taper down to a slow 13 miler on the flat today with no long run next weekend and then the huge, in numbers, Cardiff Half Marathon on the following weekend. These things never go to plan. Two days before the twenty miler I spent a long time in a new car, stop-start driving in London. My foot was constantly on the clutch pedal which was higher than in my old car so was bending my foot on every use. Add to this lace up boots and I ended up with a bruised upper left foot that took four days to simmer down to the point where I could walk properly again.

The idea of tapering is a bit alien to me as I am a runner that is either working or looking after grandchildren. I cannot seem to keep to any plan, run when I can (usually 5am) and constantly have that guilt feeling of any weekly mileage not being nearly enough.

So, today’s easy 13 turned out to be a faster (relatively faster for me) 13.1 mile run that ended up being only three minutes slower that my time in the recent Severn Bridge Half. So today was about mental toughness. It was a four lap course (so passing the temptation to get back into the car three times) taking in three miles of the actual, upcoming, half marathon.

For me the mental toughness thing comes at the point, at the bottom of the Roath Park rose gardens (for those that know the course) where, on race day, you observe all the runners, faster than you, going in the opposite direction with only one mile to go to the finish line whereas you have only reached the ten mile mark and have to run away from the finish line, up one side of the lake and down the other side, with faster runners always in view, a mile or so ahead of you but over the other side of the lake. This could be a moment of despair. My plan, that worked last year, is to chant a little mantra something like “How many times have I run around this lake? I could do it with my eyes closed.” Hence the four lap run around the lake today.

Other runners had the mental toughness idea also. I saw lots of Cardiff Half T shirts from past years, both black ones and red ones, their owners silently proclaiming “I am not a beginner you know, I have done this before.”  And lots of older runners, which reminds me of an earlier (an earlier press) finding that more and more older runners are returning to the second running boom after the experience of the first one (UK 1980s USA 1970s). If you remember I came 99th in age group at the Cardiff Half, took ten minutes off my time the following year and came 126th – You do the math(s).

It strikes me that with all these oldies getting fitter, the fear that the Youff (sic) have that they will be working to pay taxes to look after the oldies, may be unfounded. The oldies, may well be fitter, work longer, pay taxes to look after the unfit youngsters who sit around all day either gaming or telling everyone on Facebook / Twitter that they have been gaming.

I wrote in my paper journal back in August – “A week of extremes. Sat outside the gym where seven year old Mali does her rhythmic gymnastics and I had to sit in the car for an hour as we had turned up early.  At the end of the road was an imposing building “The Games Centre”. Watching people come and go from the games centre I would guess that about 90 to 95% were obese rather than just overweight. Mali finished her 6 hours of gym and was offered a McDonald’s as a treat. She asked if she could have just 6 chicken nuggets rather than a meal and went on to explain that her coach had been talking about nutrition, had said that McDonald’s was a once a month treat and that chicken was better than a burger – but leave off the chips at all costs.

I will be back after the Cardiff Half for a race report. Some fast runners expected (not that this should overly concern me) as the course will be repeated next March 26th 2016 as the “World Half Marathon Championships” I am already practicing my line to grandchildren that, yes, Mo Farrah and a host of Kenyans / Ethiopians did beat me. I guess I won’t have to tell them by how many hours they beat me!

Why do runners run?

Okay, all the usual reasons for running. To keep fit, to lose weight, to run a marathon because it’s on your bucket list – but what are the other reasons, or advantages, that runners have over non runners?

The reason i started thinking about this topic is because I was, last week, changing in my gym changing room, after some cross training, along with some squash players. One of these squash players, who was obviously fired up with his newly found sport, started announcing to the room that squash was really interesting and that he was an ex-runner who found running boring and was glad that he had given it up.

I don’t get drawn in to that sort of conversation where the persons mind is firmly made up already. It did, however, set me wondering what I get out of running and how it affects the non-running part of my life.

First, the obvious, keep fit and lose weight. The keep fit is not argued. The ‘lose weight’ is slightly more complicated. Logic would dictate that if you go for a run and use up 500 calories and, when you get back home you eat a meal of 500 calories, you have gained no more weight loss than if you had skipped the meal and not run. So why does running work for weight loss? Simple, sometimes it doesn’t – but. If you are a new runner and finding it hard to keep going on a run because you are overweight, you naturally diet to lose weight to make it easier to run without running out of energy. You keep it in your mind that if you lose two pound off your body it will be like discarding a bag of sugar from the rucksack that you take with you running. (for rucksack read belly pot).

So far the squash man is right, you can lose weight also in order to be better at squash. So what about other advantages?

An experienced runner will never make a decision while running up hill. If you find yourself thinking about the future of a run while travelling uphill (eg. If I walk for a bit my time will not suffer that much or this hill is so steep if I walked it would be quicker than running) the experienced runner will blank their mind and think “When I get to the top of this hill and it flattens out a bit, I will make a decision on the rest of the run.” The reason I mention this? Pat, my wife, was also a runner years ago and I rang her from work – I had a horrible, negative boss at the time who enjoyed bringing people down in the mistaken belief that it raised him up. I rang Pat and told her he was being particularly bad and although I hadn’t handed in my notice, I had decided to look for another job and then leaving my employ. Pat’s reply – “Are you making a decision while running uphill?”. She was right. I carried on, got to the top of the hill, decided to ignore my bosses negativity and stayed in that employ until long after he had been dismissed.

Signing up for tough things, makes the tough things that life throws at you a lot easier to cope with. I heard this on a podcast with an interview of an American psychiatrist John Ratey MD who described signing up for tough things as “Stress Inoculation” I shall try to explain. If asked if we are stressed in work most of us will say yes we are (if we are not then we may be let go as not being needed). When Pat was an A&E nurse she did a dissertation on stress which we discussed at length. In a nutshell, we all need an amount of stress in our lives otherwise life would be boring and uninteresting. Occasionally that stress level will be raised temporarily and will be difficult to cope with but will be coped with if the time period is not too long. If the too high stress level goes on for too long it becomes dis-stress and can cause anxiety, illness and possibly total collapse. It is difficult to explain to non runners but, overcoming pain, say at the end stage of a marathon, makes you stronger – you can even get a kick from “overcoming and beating the torture and coming out the other end.” Another way a runner copes with self imposed stress during a long run is by knowing, through practice and by previous knowledge, whether the stress is temporary or not. A seasoned runner who feels absolutely terrible on a run, will not tell himself that his race is over, he will tell himself that he is going through a rough patch and will wonder how long it will be before he comes out the other side, feeling better. The non-running, life in general comparisons, are obvious.

Throw away the negatives and look for the positives. A friend was training for a marathon and we decided to run one of my training runs together, a four lap run adding up to twelve miles. Running laps can give you mental toughness if you use the run well and look for the positives. I told him, after the first lap, that we had completed one leg of a three leg stool and that I saw the first three laps as building three legs and that they would support the final lap being the seat of the stool. He could not see the positive and looked only at the negative and replied “What you are trying to tell me is that we are not even half way around.” Pat and I couldn’t get into Madeira Island last year because of high winds and we were diverted to Tenerife. Every passenger on the plane (bar us) saw this as a negative. we took the positive of the adventure, the fact that we’d never been to Tenerife before and took the opportunity to do some duty free shopping and sending “selfies” to people who expected us to be in Madeira.

We get “Me Time”. Searched out more by women than men, for some reason. Me time is important. Whether you are busy with children or grandchildren, me time is precious and starts the moment you step out of the door with your running kit on. For me, headphones are a big no, no unless I am on a treadmill. I enjoy the singing of many different kinds of birds locally and would hate to miss that and have “background music” in my ears. Every runner knows the feeling of suddenly coming out of a trance and thinking “how did I start thinking about that?” and then trying to wind back to see what started the chain of thoughts off and how it led to the weird thinking at the end of the chain. The problem I have with ‘me time’ is running in HR zone 2 and letting my mind wander and then waking up in HR zone 3 – where it is more natural to run. Yes I take a mobile phone with me on a run for emergency use and, yes, it’s on airplane mode so it cannot disturb me.

How is my nutrition working for me. I am not going to bang on about NSNG, being fat adapted, avoiding bad carbs, wondering why governments keep preaching 1960’s out of date dietary advice – you can read all about that in any of my previous blogs or books that I have previously recommended. Suffice to say that, as a runner I have read a number of nutrition books (not necessarily aimed at runners) and listened to regular running, diet and lifestyle podcasts. I don’t think if I was a non-runner I would have been so interested in what was going into me.

Thank you running and the running community for all you have done for me.