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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Thigh girth, running style, knee replacements and pointed out feet.

A completely unscientific study of the knees of obese people watched while on holiday based on my knowledge through rectifying a recurring knee injury suffered back in the 1980s. In no way is this article anti obese people, it is merely an observation.

Background
I have, luckily, only ever suffered one running injury. Back around 1986 I started getting pain in the knee of my left leg, on the inside of the knee only. This got worse after a couple of marathons and ended by my leg locking up completely during the Swansea 10k resulting in me falling over, not being able to straighten my leg. My running colleagues at the Pontypridd Roadents said I had a strange running form but couldn’t explain further other than ” you run like a crab! ”
Shortly after that we moved to a new house at the top of two hills and this, coupled with my knee pain, pushed me into a break from running that lasted twenty five years.
My return to running came when my stepson told me he was going to run a marathon, instead of encouragement I laughed and told him that even at my age I could run further than him, he signed us both up for the Edinburgh Marathon without telling me.
My next birthday present from my wife was a series of lessons on how to run. Some people may have been offended but, on reading the pamphlet that came with the lessons, it explained that a trained person would video me running on a treadmill, discuss with me any issues and then work on rectifying those issues. In my case it was discovered that my knee problem came from my shoulder. That’s right, from my shoulder. My left shoulder dipped while I was running, making my left leg shorter than my right leg. To compensate I had to bend my left leg outwards putting strain on the inner knee every time I put my foot down. In case you can’t imagine that, think of someone being bow legged but only in the left leg.
Over a six week period we worked on my keeping my left shoulder up, running on a treadmill in front of a mirror and then taking that posture into road running. I now run with much better posture and only have to think where my left shoulder is when very tired at the end of a race or long run. Think Alastair Brownlee, now think much, much, much slower.
We then worked on foot placement as my right foot was facing forward in the direction I was running but my left foot was splayed outward, shooting off towards the left. This I had to concentrate on more while road running but eventually programmed my brain to have both feet facing forwards while running and also, as a bi product, while walking.

Observations
Two weeks in the sun on the island of Sal in the Cape Verde islands helps your brain relax and wander, much as it would do on a long run but for a much longer period. Because people in and around the beach were scantily clad, I started to notice their knee and foot placement. I had always imagined that there was a very simple equation that went – obese people are heavy which puts a strain on their knees which eventually forces a knee replacement operation. I soon discovered that obese people have larger than normal thigh girth and are unable to get their feet together. They can either walk with their feet apart, as if they have wet themselves, or bring their feet together by bending their legs and becoming bow legged. This bow leggedness reminded me of the shape of my left leg prior to rectifying my problem, I could see the strain on these people’s inner knees and wondered how long it would be before they had severe knee problems requiring a knee replacement.
Happy with this observation I started walking around with my head down looking at foot direction of everyone at the hotel. I discovered that the larger you are, the more your feet point outwards as you walk. Perhaps this is a natural reaction to someone who is wide, the extra width on foot placement stopping movement from side to side and thus the person falling over sideways.
I started to think that I was the only person on the island that walked with feet pointing forward and then noticed someone walking towards me with very straight, forward pointing feet. I wondered if it was a runner, looked up and saw the tee shirt “Munchen Halb Marathon”.

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.

New gear for a non-gear-geek.

 

omm bag

 

No, I’m not a gear geek. Gear for me has to enhance my life, not bog it down with technology or uselessness.

Running gear is especially troubling. The wrong gear chosen can mean extra weight, blisters, discomfort or a combination of all these factors.

My carrying gear has served me well up until now. Most of my training runs have been under fifteen miles so my Original Mountain Marathon (OMM) belt has been great for carrying my bottle of water/GenUcan, my mobile phone and an assortment of cheeses, olives and hazelnuts (which reminds me it needs a good clean out, getting a bit mucky in there). I can reach for my bottle, behind me (this bag is worn at the rear as a, what we Brits call a bum bag but the Americans have a different name for, including naming ladies bits) and put it back again with no problem, but the food, that’s a different story. I either stop and load my hands with food and then run off, scoffing, or I spin the belt around to the front and eat at my leisure. Good enough for smaller runs but not for longer runs.

camelbak

For my longer training runs, of twenty miles or so, I have used a Camelbak with lovely positioned tube for drinking from a two litre bladder. The rucksack part has plenty of room for warmer/drier clothes and food, along with phone, but no way of spinning the rucksack around to get to the food. The two mesh pockets to the front are on the waist strap so do not hold enough food for a twenty miler plus, but has sort of done so far up to twenty. Separate bottle for Ucan – no. The Ucan has to go into the two litre bladder or nowhere.

Without running I tried, in the bedroom, to wear both the belt and the Camelbak. No, it doesn’t work.

Time for some research and I came up with an item called the Inov8 Race Ultra. Not a cheap piece of kit but, hey there was one on eBay and I just won it and paid the lady so now await it’s arrival. What am I expecting? Well the two litre bladder of my Camelbak, the bottle holders of my OMM belt in the two bottle holders on the front straps and also, the pockets needed for food, also on the front straps but higher than the bottle holders.

That is what I am expecting. I am also expecting to receive the package and immediately go for a long run. I’ll let you know how I get on.

The Weather – Bad Luck / Good Luck

Chickened out of my weekend run on waking at 4.00 a.m. and looking out at the ice rink which was the road that I live in. It didn’t take much persuasion or effort to climb slowly back into bed. Then I started reading posts of those I follow on WordPress and it seems like everyone in the Eastern USA is running through deep snow and slush – made me feel guilty.

Monday morning and the weather forecast has said that the bad weather is mostly over for us and we could expect showers only, today. On waking, pre-dawn, I could see that car windscreens were white from hail stones, but if that was a shower and was over then it was OK for me to run – logic.

My usual 7.35 circular route involves road running and today is the first Monday back after the school’s half term holiday week so the roads needed to be avoided. I decided on an out-and-back course along my local cycle track and back and wondered why I didn’t do more out-and-back runs. Then I found out. The “out” bit of the run was into the type of head wind that makes you wonder why you are not making progress, even though your legs are moving – and then the inevitable – getting to the turn around point, turning around and being puzzled that the wind has mysteriously stopped completely.

Returning home I was grumbling at my “weather bad luck”, reached the house, stripped off wet tee shirt and made coffee and looked out the window to witness, hail then sleet, then snow – my “weather good luck”. Be aware though that when I say snow – imagine the US East Coast snow drifting across the Atlantic, weakening after every mile and then snowing on Wales such that you can still see the road surface through the light sprinkling. The hills around my valley look neat with their white coats though.

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.