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”.

Over Reliance On Gadgets

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These thoughts inspired by reading over an old blog and realising how easy it is to over rely on a gadget!

The old blog was titled “A non-programmed too scared to run week.” To cut a long blog short – I pulled out of a very cold and wet half marathon after about 4 miles because of a hugely increased heart rate that scared me rigid at the time and made me seek medical advice the following day. After a normal ECG and normal bloods my GP advised me to carry on running.

After about a month I was out on a HR zone 2 training run and looked at my heart rate and was shocked that it was showing over 200, shocked mainly because I was running down hill. As I started up the other side of the hill and started puffing, my heart rate dropped to 72 according to my Garmin, something was obviously amiss.

Ignoring my Garmin I trundled on and started thinking about the half that I had dropped out of. A couple of days later I was going to give the Garmin another chance. It would not start and had died. I placed it on charge and went for my run and on return, took the Garmin off charge – it was still dead.

Happy that it was the Garmin at fault and not my heart, happy that it was the Garmin that was dead and not me, it was confined to the back of a drawer.

Did it put me off gadgets? Did it put me off Garmin? No to both. The photo is my 310XT which I love. I think I might think twice about receiving a dodgy message from this monitor though. (note the photo is from the catalogue, I do not run 10 miles in 52 minutes)

One message I did get from my 310XT shook me a bit. I strapped it on for my first run in Cape Verde while on holiday (see below) and, after trying to find satellites for a minute or two a message appeared on the screen “Have you traveled hundreds of miles since your last run?”

I told it yes and all was well with the world.

 

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!

Could be an excellent half marathon – please sort the parking issue.

IMG_0469Car Parking – has to be the first thing said. In its second year this half has grown and, if it grows again next year then parking will be a serious problem. Luckily I was in the area and registered to pick up my number (US=Bib) the day before but many were running from their cars to join the registration queue. .Arriving at 10 to 8 for a 9 o’clock start, as I did, was too late. The queues for the car park were backed up onto the motorway (which was closed to through traffic) and moved slowly towards car parks A and B.

We were told in the pre-race pack to alternate cars between A and B parks but everyone was going for B as it looked closer but wasn’t (could have had a marshall there). By the time I got to A  it was full, the marshalls were running around looking for vacant factory units that didn’t open on a Sunday and parking people there. Then people started parking on the grass and eventually at the kerb side on double yellows.

Some fast runners passed me at about mile 2 and I am guessing they missed the start.

That said, the rest of the race was excellently planned, marshalled and finished. The organisers make a big thing about it being a fairly flat course, which it is, but with one big hill in the middle. Psychologically you are either prepared or scared of this hill as the two slopes before it are sign posted “This is not the hill” When you reach the base of the hill it is signed “This is the hill – honest” and it most certainly was.

For me (finishing in 2 hrs 20 min) my pace was a pretty even 10 minute miling plus change. The mile with the hill in it (7th) was clocked at 12:41 and the following mile, down again, at 9:33. Nobody likes walking in a half marathon but if you were in the group that I was with (see times above) then you soon realised that those around you who were walking the hill were going faster than you running. It is a quick flick of a switch in the brain that says “Ultra runners walk hills” and before you know it you are walking.

From the top of the hill to the finish was mainly down hill with a nasty slope just before the finish labelled “This feels like a hill”

Full marks to the organisers for their pre race info, complete with humour, their marshalling and the finish area. The goody bag was ravished by me with salty crisps and two Mars chocolate covered swiss rolls going down instantly followed by a strawberry drink that I wouldn’t normally touch that went down in one gulp. Bananas could be collected as you went through the goody bag area along with water. The shirt is a tech shirt and is pictured here with the excellent medal.

Will I run this next year – yes, probably, because it is a well run local half in August with nothing else around. There were many running clubs represented this year and I am guessing many more next year so please sort out the parking.

Warning to each and every grandchild of mine. Every time we drive over the new Severn Bridge I will be pointing to the old one and saying “See that bridge over there? Bampa has run across that in the middle of the road!”

JCP Swansea Half Marathon race report

IMG_0447On Sunday 14th June 2015 the second only JCP Swansea (Abertawe) half marathon ‘SwanseaHalf was run by 5000 eager runners. Apparently the inaugural race attracted 3000 runners and the expectancy is for a growth up to around 10,000 in 2016.

I have absolutely no idea how the organisers started looking at starting this race but have imagined the following and I am pretty sure that I am not far off the mark;-

I envisage a group of runners probably sat in a pub somewhere in Swansea, discussing whether or not they could start a Swansea Half. Someone suggests that to attract the usual runners from South wales, The West Country and beyond, it would be a good idea to have the half in the summer as all other halves are in the Spring or Autumn (Fall).

Then they delve into the minor details of what they would improve over other halves, given the chance. Someone says “Whenever I pin my number (bib) onto my vest I worry about the pin going through that very hard paper that the number is printed on and then the pin going through my finger. Why don’t we get the numbers printed with holes in each corner.”

“Good idea” says someone else, “And while we’re at it, I hate tying my chip into my shoelaces, why don’t we attach the chip to the back of the number?”

“Great” says person number three “I have a running vest with my name on it and love it when people call out my name. The vest is a bit old though, why don’t we get the numbers printed with the person’s name at the top?”

And there you pretty much have it. An out and back course, very very flat along Swansea bay, loads of spectators lining the route, on pavements and in bars and cafes.

A good medal in two colours, an indifferent goody bag that will improve as sponsors clamor to get involved and a hot (don’t forget your sun screen) day enjoyed by all.

Registration is now open for 2016 and I for one will be there.