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Ok not quite but almost.

 

I went into this year’s London marathon with easily the least preparation for many a year. Only one training run of 20 miles all the way back in January and at a decidedly slow pace. Throw in a troublesome ITB and an unplanned trip to SA on a family emergency, and there wasn’t much marathon specific training going on at all. My planned diet of 60 and 70 mile weeks had been replaced with weeks varying from 3 miles to 50 miles.

 

What I did have in my favour was that I knew my fitness level was decent and that I had 4 or 5 years of decent, consistent mileage behind me. A good batch of good solid training. And fresh legs.

 

Saturday dawned and we headed off to London on a late morning train. We arrived and met our running chaperone, all-round-good-guy-and-in-no-way-sponsored-by-Adidas Dan, and travelled straight to the expo.

 

I savoured the privilege of being able to register at the championship table, a first for me. I picked up my race pack and after the usual stampede through the expo, coupled with the usual indecision about which branded race gear to purchase, we headed for some lunch. The rest of the day was spent checking into the hotel, eating, watching Arsenal squeak into the FA Cup final, and more eating. I slept well enough.

 

Race morning!

 

Shoes on, timing chips laced into both (a requirement for championship and elite runners only – another cheap thrill for me)IMG_9591, and off we went. Journey went smoothly and on arrival in Blackheath I hooked up with fellow BRATs Dan, Tim and Eloise in the separate championship start area.

 

A quick warm-up to reassure ourselves that we did actually remember how to run, tying, retying (and then reretying) of the laces, a few obligatory photos, and once Timmy had finished styling his hair, we headed to the start line.

 

I was racing in my Union Jack emblazoned Brooks Green Silence. A relatively easy decision as I’ve had many good races in them in the past. But with that model now sadly discontinued (come on Brooks, change your mind!), and my remaining pairs looking somewhat worse for wear, I don’t know how many more races they would see. As my running buddy Riaan put it to me post-race: “Nice way to finish the green silence marathon era”. I hadn’t considered that, but yes it probably was.

IMG_9594

We started directly behind the elite runners (an experience which for me was akin to standing next to the red carpet on Oscar night). It was a special thrill seeing the backs, and sometimes faces, of the best marathoners on the planet. Being so close to them felt a bit surreal. The crowd went wild for Mo naturally but there was good cheering for each of the other runners when their names and achievements were announced over the PA.

 

But we’re not here to talk about that. Go time.

 

5k 18:49

The gun went and we were off. I had been in two minds for some time leading up the race about whether to start slow and ease into it, given the lack of miles in my legs or to throw caution to the wind and head off with Dan and Tim who were targeting 3:37 kays in search of a 2:33 finish. I knew I didn’t have that kind of time in me but had been toying with running with them for a portion of the race and then sliding off the back of the bus as and when it happened. I latched on behind them and set off. Without really knowing it I had opted for the “going for it” option. Before we got to the first mile marker the alarm bells were going. The pace didn’t feel like work but it also didn’t feel easy. We hit the first mile in 6 flat and I decided to pull the plug on it then and there. I knew it was a touch too fast and I knew if I stuck with it for a few more miles it would be too late to undo the damage. I backed off and ran without thinking about pace for a few minutes. Just assessing what I wanted to do. I still didn’t really know how I was going to approach it. I noticed someone who looked like they knew what they were doing. He had a relaxed stride and just looked easy. I thought, run with this guy for 5 miles, let him do the thinking, and see what happens. His vest said “Sean” on the back. I set off behind Sean and mentally cleared my head of any pacing thoughts for the time being.

 

10k 38:06 (5k split 19:17)

I clipped along behind Sean, we were running a nice even pace. I had chosen to set my watch to kilometres for the race. Two reasons, one it had worked well in Abingdon (my most recent marathon, a 2:47 in October 2013) and two, I figured the London course had mile markers with big clocks at every mile anyway so I could get my mile splits from that if I really wanted to.

 

My watch was ticking off kilometres in the 3:45-3:55 range nicely now. Sean knew his game, clearly. A big shout from some of my supporters who had found their way to the 6 mile mark just before we turn and head around the fantastically restored Cutty Sark (a WSP project I might add).

 

15k 57:36 (5k split 19:30)

I spent most of this stretch continually reassessing how I felt and whether I had any chance of actually finishing at this pace. As each mile ticked by without me feeling any worse, I started wondering if I might be onto a good day. I hadn’t yet bothered with taking on any water or Lucozade so I grabbed some water at the next stop and had a few sips. All systems were good.

 

20k 1:17:02 (5k split 19:26)

This section is about one thing and one thing only. Crossing Tower Bridge. I felt my excitement building as we weaved through the streets towards the point at which you turn right and witness the enormous bridge looming up in front of you. No matter how many times I run this race, this is a goose bump moment. Last year I had the rare pleasure of sharing this moment with one of my favourite people in the world, Phil. Phil had stayed in Joburg this year so I was on my own, but as per our text chat before the race, I turned to my right where he would have been in 2013 and said “here we go mate”. Anyone seeing this probably thought “this guy has clearly lost his marbles. Talking to invisible people and we’re not even halfway.” But I didn’t care. The emotion hit me and I felt myself welling up. Man-up dude, you’re running a race here. I pressed on and crossed the bridge, soaking up every second of the amazing experience. The crowd screaming their encouragement, the bridge silhouetted majestically against the clear blue sky, a perfect spring day in the capital. It was unforgettable. It always is.

 

20-25k 1:36:21 (5k split 19:19)

As I crossed the last part of Tower Bridge I calmed myself the hell down and made the right hand turn that marks the point at which the race is about to become a countdown to the finish instead of a count up to halfway. The halfway mark. For the few miles leading up to halfway I had been telling myself to relax and get to halfway, look at the number and challenge myself to run the second half at that same pace or quicker.

 

Halfway in 1:21:13.

 

I thought of a text message I’d received that morning from another good friend, Simon, who was sharing the London marathon experience with Phil in his living room in Joburg. Simon had sent a text guessing what my halfway split might be “Mince’s Goal 21 split. How does 81:47 sound?”. I smiled at how close he had been. These guys know me well, and sometimes I think they know my running better than I do. I also smiled because I had been quicker than his guess. Small pleasures at this stage in a race.

 

Back to business and I was still tracking Sean. We hadn’t said a word to each other but subconsciously we had paired up and were working our way through the race together. Splits just kept coming 3:51, 3:52, 3:52 and so on and so on.

 

25-30k 1:55:42 (5k split 19:21)

Something strange was happening. As we ticked off the miles, I started feeling stronger and stronger. It wasn’t a sudden change, just a slow realisation that I was now going through the 15 and 16 mile marks and on assessment of my legs, still felt like I hadn’t really started running yet and certainly hadn’t started working yet. It was a fantastic feeling and one I seldom get in marathons. Once I got to the 16 mile mark I told myself it was single figures now as we headed home. 9 point something, 8 point something miles to go. This was happening and I absolutely knew I was going to be ok. I knew I could make it to the end of the race at this pace. It was a marvellous sensation and I savoured every bit of it. Writing this now I am still savouring that feeling that washed over me as I ran through this section.

 

My fantastic supporters had somehow managed to get to a two further points on the course and yelled encouragement at me as I trotted past.

04 - Mark Ince

30-35k 2:15:13 (5k split 19:31)

The dawning realisation over the previous few miles had begun to change things for me. I went from thinking, can I keep this up, to thinking, at what point should I put my foot down and see what I can do? Sean and I had picked up another runner, I’ll call him Ely because I think that was the club vest he was wearing. Ely, Sean and I formed a little triangle and worked together. I came really close to saying out loud “guys we are working so well together, let’s keep this going to the finish”. Something stopped me from saying it though and I think it was because it felt like I was tempting fate if I voiced how well things were going out loud.

 

The 20 mile mark came and went in this section, and I noted that the 2:04something was a 20 mile PB for me. But we all know these intermediate splits don’t count as actual PB’s, a point Simon has made very clear in the past.

 

I started to speed up now and broke away from Sean and Ely. I had mixed feelings about this, like I was somehow rudely ending the silent camaraderie we had shared for the previous two hours. I pressed on, feeling like I was starting to wind things up. In reality however, and I only noticed this on reviewing my splits post-race, the pace had actually stayed in the 3:50 zone and if anything had slowed a fraction. But I was raising the effort level no question and thought I was running quicker.

 

35-40k 2:34:50 (5k split 19:37)

It all began to feel very marathon-like now. A few things happened very close to one another. The first was that Sean, who had clearly been sandbagging, no wonder he had looked so comfortable all the way through this, suddenly came back past me. He was on the other side of the road as he did. Clearly the friendship was over. The lines were drawn. I upped my pace thinking, yes, I can get a tow from him and we can run even quicker. But it wasn’t happening. I was working increasingly hard to close him down, and wasn’t having any success with it. He slowly disappeared into the runners ahead of me, passing them faster than I was, until he was out of sight. It was now starting to hurt a lot. I played my final hand and poured all my effort out onto the road. No more reserve tank, let’s finish this thing. The crowd noise which I should have mentioned earlier was insane. Screaming and cheering as we gutted it out alongside the river up to Birdcage Walk and past Big Ben towards St James Park.

 

40-finish 2:43:27 (2.2k split 8:37)

The hurt locker, which I had been smugly avoiding even looking for the key for, was now open and I was scraping around inside for somewhere to hide. The 800m to go sign couldn’t come quick enough. Could I even get to the 600m to go sign without walking? The mind plays tricks at this stage, telling me I was spent and needed to stop. I negotiated with myself, don’t walk now, slow down if you have to (I had no intention of letting myself do this, but it’s all about empty promises to your body through the final minutes of a marathon). 600 to go. Turn the corner in front of Buckingham Palace, run under the “385 yards to go” banner. Head for home. Turning one final right hander into the finishing straight and staring at the clock at the end of it. Ticking away patiently and mercilessly.

 

The pain is suddenly manageable in those final seconds. You know it is ending right now and the body relaxes and goes, ok we’ve got this. I watched the clock tick into the 2hr43’s as I pressed on down the home straight. Over the line, stop the watch, done.

 

2:43:27.

 

Elation. Relief. Happiness. Exhaustion. Pain. Satisfaction.

 

All the emotions merge together in a heady mix that invariably results in me sobbing (briefly mind) like a little kid.

 

I pull myself together and begin the post-race routine. Walk up the little ramp to get the timing chips cut off my shoes. Yep, that’s right, one on each shoe. More shameless pride in being a championship entrant. Collect the goodie bag, walk down the long line of baggage trucks. Collect my backpack. Marvel yet again at the immaculate organisation of the London marathon. Everything just works.

 

“Mark!”. Tim has spotted me. I find him in a crumpled heap on the ground with Dan somewhere nearby. We operate in a trance, trying to find the strength to swap vests for t- shirts, drinking water, pretty much anything is a battle. This weird post marathon daze lasts only a few minutes. Energy levels get restored and balance returns. The fatigue stays, it’s there for the long haul, but now at least my mind is able to think clearly again.

 

IMG_9605I dig out my phone. Dozens and dozens of messages. Thank you to each and every one of you who sent me supportive, good luck messages, and well done messages. The first time I see my finishing time is from a text conversation between my friends in Johannesburg, thanks Riaan for letting me know. They have actually created a photographic representation of my time. What a bunch of heroes. I love you guys.

 

We walk through the finish area and meet up with our unbelievable supporters. They’ve all done a fantastic job. Probably worked as hard as we did on the roads of London today.

 

Post-race

Time to head off to a pub for some r&r. And to talk the hind legs off anyone who will listen, about the race. Timmy assures us he knows the way to the pub. He has booked a table there. “No tube necessary” he announces. “it’s only a short walk”. About 100 miles and 3 days later we stop and look at the map (again). Joking of course, we did find the place (eventually). Thanks Timmy for organising. The beer had never tasted so good. Neither had the steak sandwich (with salad not chips – Noakes and Gear nod in approval).

IMG_9609

Tired and happy we leave the pub a few hours later and head off to catch our respective trains back to Brum.

 

London, you provided us with an unforgettable marathon weekend, yet again.

 

To my fellow runners, outstanding performances all round. Dan 2:34, Tim 2:34 (close behind…!), Ed 2:57 and Eloise 3:07. All heroes.

 

To our supporters – you were amazing and continue to impress with your dedication at finding good spots to watch us from. Thank you for buying into the craziness of the entire weekend.

 

Mo, respect for putting it out there. Next time it will be different.

 

This is what keeps us coming back.

 

 

 

 

2013 wrapped up

Yes I know it’s almost February, but here is my wrap up of 2013.

It will not be a year I forget in a hurry.

There are many things that shape our lives, some good some bad. And as we stumble through these things and find the paths we need, we get hurt and we get knocked down. But we develop strength and resilience. And most importantly, we always always learn along the way.

So onto my running headlines for the year.

Where do I start with the year I’ve just had? In any other year each of the following items would be head and shoulders above everything else. In no particular order here they are.

Friends

“Lame” I hear you say. Too bad. The support from my running friends has been overwhelming and unwavering. I’ve lent on so many of you so many times. So many to thank, you know who you are.

There are some standout moments. Running London with Barrow (more on that later) the older brother I never had (and did I mention older? ), the flexibility afforded to me in training times – people being willing to adjust their schedules to suit my higgledy piggledy new regime. Dan doing everything in his power to get me to run the Coventry 5000. “I just really want you to have a go mate”. Offering many lifts, sacrificing his car for the entire week if needs be leading up to the race to help me get on the start line. Simone and Gracie, both rocks in so many ways, there for me, providing hands to drag me from the brink of some of the darkest blackest holes I’ve had the displeasure of looking in to. I will never be able to fully express my gratitude guys. Looking back on how the year started is like looking at a movie of someone else’s life. I’ve come so far since then and it seems surreal that I was ever in that place. The foundation created by those first few months was the platform on which my running year was built, but it could have been so different without the help of all my friends. Thank you each and every one.

15:51

ABMC 1551h the infamous Coventry 5000. Probably the single  most significant race of the year. An earlier blog post covers it in full detail. Click the image for a link to the post.

Summary: I broke a long standing PB from 1994 as well as getting under 16 minutes for the first time.

18:55

2013 6StgNational Six Stage Road Champs. First time under 19 minutes and first (and possibly last) time I’ve beaten the class of Dan R, Chris A and Tim C in the same race. This race is an unusual distance (5.85km), so it is difficult to relate it to the other race distances but the powerof10 website ranked it higher than all my other races save the 33:06 Telford 10k in December.

73:49

Bristol Half Marathon. After the 15:51 this is probably the next big breakthrough I had. I went in with a PB of 77:26 and aspirations of breaking that time and possibly sneaking under 75 for a UK Marathon championship qualifier if it went well. It went very well. I ran fairly even splits to about halfway or just after and then dropped the hammer over the final 3-4 miles for a big negative split and even bigger PB.

33:06

I had the pleasure of running this exact time twice in two months. First in the Leeds 10k in November and then in the Telford 10k in December. My previous PB was 35:00 so I was chomping at the bit to get under the 35 minute mark. Leeds goes down as the big breakthrough simply because it was first. Similar to Bristol I ran a negative split although not as marked. Halves of 16:42 and 16:24. I was over the moon. The whole race felt good, never in too much trouble. The next month at the Telford 10 I put no pressure on myself, thinking that the 33:06 was out of reach. As it turned out I had had another great day and was on pace for a PB and even a sub33 through halfway in 16:29. I tied up a bit on the second half and the final slight inclines from 7-9k did me in.

Mileage 3018

My mileage for the year topped out at 3018 or 4855km. This works out to 58 miles or 93km per week. Not my biggest year, in 2011 I ran 100 miles more overall, but I feel this year the quality of the running was much better and I was able to tap into some of the strength I’ve been accumulating over the past 4 or 5 years of reasonable miles.

108 miles in one week

Prior to 2013 I had never run a 100 mile week or even a 90 mile week. In the summer my training was a bit sporadic on a week-by-week basis depending on the childcare situation. One of the weeks when I wasn’t seeing them at all a colleague asked what I intended to do with my free time. “I’ll probably just run” was my response. The week didn’t even start off that impressively and I didn’t start thinking about what it might total until the Wednesday. I felt great all week, probably because the novelty of the mileage was overriding the general fatigue I must have been carrying. Two weeks after the 108, I ran a 91 mile week. I look back on those two August weeks and really believe they kicked my form on for the rest of the summer.

VLM

2013 vlmA fantastic race weekend with Gracie, Barrow and I and a very personal shared race experience. One of my favourite people in the world and lifetime mate Barrow, who like a fine wine gets better with age, came over from SA to run London with me this year, and to try and break 3 hours. We ran every step together, and although we never quite hit the sub3, ending with a 3:04, it was one of the running highlights of my life.

Iffley Road Stadium Mile

A chance to run on the fabled Iffley track, surely the most famous running track in the world. And better still to run the distance it became famous f2013 Iffley02or, the fabulous mile. Travelled down with Dan and Tim, partners in crime. Dan and I were drawn in the same heat and quickly moved to the front of the race when it became obvious the others weren’t keen on the 70 second laps we wanted. I took over from about 500 or 600 metres in and kept the gas pedal pressed hard, Dan stuck to my shoulder all the way through the bell. I felt him wanting to come past and I pressed again determined not to let the pace slide. Going around the final bend into the finishing straight he eased wide and came past me. I kicked to stay in touch but he was too strong and I ended a second or two behind him in 4:41.62 for second place.2013 Iffley01

Roon the Watter

Going into any race as defending champion is pretty cool and I loved turning up at Roon and getting a mention on the start line. Jon and Teri were there as always. Teri looking after the girls while Jon, Bec and I ran. I had run 34:50 something to win the 6 mile race the previous year and was hoping for quicker. I didn’t know my road form but had been racing a lot on the track which I hoped would have me race sharp at least. I won it in 33:12 and have a full report on the blog already here.

Why?

So that was 2013. In a nutshell the best running year I’ve ever had. All-time personal bests on the track over the mile and 5000m and on the road at 5k, 10k, half marathon and marathon. Where did it come from? I’m not entirely sure but there are a few factors this year that have almost certainly had a big part in it. It would be remiss of me not to mention the weight loss. I lost half a stone early in the year and decided to tighten up my diet and ensure it stayed off. I cut out a lot of fizzy drinks and crisps, and my personal Achilles heel, late night snacking.

Nutrition aside, I joined Bud Baldaro’s training group in January and it is surely no coincidence my running curved steadily upwards once the Tuesday sessions with Bud’s group started bedding in. I couldn’t be more grateful to Bud, Johnny Cullen - who talked me into joining them - and the Tuesday night gang. Thanks guys.

The only PB’s I still have outstanding from my uni days (or first career as Jamie calls it) are 800, 1500 and 3000. Let’s see how 2014 goes.

Maybe I’m prone to hyperbole, but I think this might go down as the best race I’ve ever run. How do you define best? That is the question. I’ve certainly run more interesting races, races I’ve enjoyed more, races I’ve suffered more, races in more scenic surroundings and so on. But when you pare it down to the bare bones of performance-based assessment, this one must be right up there.

 

Back in 1994, Nelson Mandela was poised to become the new president of South Africa. The Springboks had yet to win their first world cup. OJ Simpson was being chased down the highway by the police, and Ayrton Senna and Kurt Cobain were still alive.

 

Also at that time a group of Wits Athletics Club university runners ran a 5000m race in Durban in the now defunct SAU’s. I was in that group and ran 16:13 in a memorable “additional compromise 5000” which deserves a blog entry of its own. Team mate Hendrick (Ramaala) won the A race that day in 14:31. Also a story for another time.

 

That 16:13 PB stood from back then until Saturday 24 August 2013. 19 years.

 

During the period immediately after that 1994 race I was confident I would get under 16 minutes. Young and keen and on an upward curve, it was surely simply a matter of time. But it never happened. Months then years passed, I got close with a few sub 16:20’s but that was all. When I left Wits I gave up running (temporarily). My time to break 16 minutes had come and gone.

 

Fast forward to the early noughties. Back to running regularly in the new millennium, a new country and a new family. I stuck with the running, it became once again a way of life. Week in week out, month after month year after year.

 

So we arrive in 2013. This track season has been a good one.  I’ve run decent times in all the distances I’ve raced and was hoping it would culminate in Saturday’s 5000. I was confident of a good time but not of breaking 16 minutes. That was out of range. Inside 16:20 for the first time since the 90’s and I would go home very happy.

 

BMC 1551

Not sure why BMC were using numbers from 2007…

Time to Race.

 

We did a three mile warm-up where Ed showed us his old stomping ground around the Warwick University campus. The pace felt disconcertingly hard for a warm-up, but I pushed the negative thoughts aside and reminded myself that I was fit and that nine times out of ten it was fitness that determined how well you race, not how you feel on the warm-up.

 

A group of five runners, Ed, Dan, Tim, Chris and Sarah (superfast friend of Tim’s) were targeting 76 seconds a lap for kilometre splits of 3:10 and a finish time of 15:50. Ed, being capable of comfortably quicker than this, had volunteered to pace the group from gun to tape. Which he went on to do admirably.

 

My plan was not to commit to running with this group for the whole race but to try and stick with them for the first km. I thought I was capable of 16:15 and was happy to get there with a blow if necessary. Hence a first km of 3:10 suited me perfectly. After that I could run my own race, assessing how I felt as it went.

 

Showtime.

 

The gun went and we were off. Even though there is no entry standard for a BMC regional race, it does not attract all-comers. It tends to draw in the serious athletes who know their way around a track. So it was that when I tagged myself onto the back of Ed’s group, I was also at the back of the race.

 

After two laps our group swallowed up a pair of runners who popped straight out the back and I was no longer in last place.

 

The first km split was 3:11.

 

So far so good. It hadn’t felt particularly easy but it was manageable. I carried on. I focussed on maintaining as small as possible a gap to the back of the group so that I never felt disconnected. Once a gap appeared I knew I would struggle to close it.

 

2km in 6:20.

 

This was a good split. It meant I had run the second km in 3:09. It hadn’t felt any tougher than the first. Keep it going. More of the same. Keep calm and concentrate. I wanted to get to 3km before I lost touch.

 

The 3km mark came in 9:31.

 

A 3:11 for that one. At this point I worked out that even if I bombed to 3:20’s for the final 2km I would still run a 16:10. That gave me encouragement as I knew it was a time I would be happy with. So anything under that became a bonus. I pressed on. Things were getting tough now. The girl I had been running behind dropped off the group and I suddenly found a gap appearing between us and the group. I made a snap decision and went around her and surged to close the gap back to the group. It was hurting a lot now. Every lap that I could stay with them was bonus material. Ed was shouting out encouragement and splits to all of us, he had been doing it all race like a legend, but now it was all becoming blurry. My head was fuzzy with the pain and the concentration. I was determined not to tie up. The group was pulling away. I could not stay with them but we were only 3 laps from the end. I had stuck to them for 9 laps.

 

I hit the 4km mark in 12:46.

 

A 3:15 for that km, my slowest of the race. I knew I needed a 3:14 to get 16-flat. I was hurting so much I couldn’t think any more than that. I got to the start/finish line with two laps to go. I was totally on my own now. The group had splintered as Dan finally cut loose and Tim, Chris and Sarah stretched out behind him. Ed was still shepherding us but it was each to his own.

 

Two laps to go. Come on Mark. When will you ever get a chance to be in this position again?

 

I don’t know what my penultimate lap split was but I hit the bell in 14:38.

 

I needed an 82 second final 400 to do it. I didn’t feel confident. I kept waiting for the blow but I also kept pushing as hard as I could. Down the back straight. The timekeeper at the 200m mark had been calling times each lap. I heard him calmly announce 15:14 as I ran past him. I had 46 seconds to run the final 200m. Damn I was going to do this! I knew it was in my grasp now and I kicked as hard as I could down the home straight. The number I feared was 16:00. To be that close and miss it would be hard to take. I sprinted down the home straight and over the line. I looked down at my watch.

 

15:51.

I had done it.

 

The next few minutes were a blur.

 

Dan (15:39), Tim (15:42), Sarah (15:45) and Chris (15:51) had all finished ahead of me. That meant every single one of us had achieved the sub16. We all stood around in mild disbelief. What just happened?

 

A magic day.

 

I want to end with an awesome paragraph from Ed’s blog on the race.

 

Everyone in our training group has been training really well this summer so it was satisfying to see it all come together for them. Moments like that are rare, and in an individual sport like athletics, feeling like part of a team effort is unusual but very enjoyable. My personal highlight was seeing my good friend Mark holding his arms aloft in disbelief after breaking a PB that had stood since his teenage years in 1994. It was inspirational to see him run the perfect race after training so hard this summer, and to see him not give up on running a time he ran half a lifetime ago. I will bear that in mind next time I complain about having PBs that are more than one year old.

 

See his full post here. Definitely worth a read. Mate you were a pacing rock for us all to lean on that night. Thank you.

 

Our club website also reported on the race.

 

Official Results:

BMC results

Roon the Watter 2013

Official results are yet to appear but before this race becomes a distant memory here are some thoughts.

rtw map

Jon, Bec and I headed back to Gatehouse of Fleet on Tuesday 30 July to run the Roon the Watter 6 mile race for the second year in a row. My second year at any rate – Jon’s fifth (?).  Teri, Jode and Abs accompanied us to provide moral support, cheerleading and photo-taking duties.

Having won the previous year (in 34:52) I was looking forward to trying to defend my title. A year is a long time and a lot of things have changed since this time last year, but I felt I was in as good or better shape. Fitness-wise at least the same, race sharpness was better having run more track races this season than last, and not insignificantly, being a few pounds lighter.

The weather was variable leading up to the 6:30pm start time. Nice and sunny most of the day, then the heavens opened about two hours before the start, and then all but stopped just as the starting horn sounded.

It was race organiser Mac McNamara’s final year of organising the race. After 30+ years in charge he was handing over the reins to Galloway Harriers, who are sure to do as fantastic a job with the race in years to come.

There were some brief announcements at the start, an emotional round of applause for Mac, a mention that the defending champions in both the men’s and women’s race were present, which was nice. And then we were off.

rtw profile

I tagged onto the back of the lead group over the first half mile or so, to see if there were any classy guys about to blast out of sight. I edged to the front of the group without really meaning to and found myself leading the pack of 4 through the first mile in 5:20. The second mile has a fair amount of climbing in it and I wasn’t surprised when we to see we had run a 5:47 to the second mile. At this point one of the 4 had been dropped and I started feeling more confident about the race. I figured if there was real class in the field he wouldn’t have let the second mile slow like that, even up the hill. I pushed on a bit in the next mile, putting my foot down in 10 or 15 second bursts and then easing up to see if anyone had come with me. Covering the mile in this way I dropped first one and then the other runner so that I reached halfway on my own, covering the third mile in 5:29 for a halfway split of 16:36. I realised at this point that I had a chance of breaking 34 minutes if I held it together, which was more than I thought possible at the start.

The fourth mile continued the up-and-down terrain. Running more evenly I managed a 5:31 for this mile. I couldn’t hear any footsteps behind me by now and knew I must have a reasonable lead. I still didn’t feel confident that someone wouldn’t come back to me though and kept a bit in reserve in case someone did catch me. The fifth mile was 5:44. Once I got into the final mile and was feeling more confident about my chances I cut loose a bit and stretched my legs. It felt great running the final mile which is down the high street with lots of support. This mile is also downhill and I savoured just putting whatever was left in the tank onto the road. I ran 5:12 for that mile and crossed the finish line in 33:12.

Roon2013

I was really happy to defend my title and was in equal part pleased and surprised with the time. More than I could have hoped for.

1 00:05:20
2 00:05:47
3 00:05:29
4 00:05:31
5 00:05:44
6 00:05:12
00:00:09
0:33:12

I’m not sure about the extra 9 seconds at the end. I guess my Garmin measured the course as a bit longer than 6.0 miles. Put that down to me not running the best racing line around the corners!

The local paper, the Galloway Gazette, covered the race with a headline article and a full report on the race including selected results.

Getting the numbers out the way first:

In 2012 I ran 2712 miles.

This works out at a weekly average of a fraction over 52 miles (84km).

(For comparison in 2011 I managed 3183 miles for an average of 61 mpw).

The lower mileage this year was not a conscious decision, but one that was made vaguely early on and stored in the back of my mind.

 

Running is not a linear progression consisting of more miles and faster times year on year. It is more like a series of efforts interspersed with rests. This applies on a micro level, day by day, and scales up nicely to apply to week on week, month on month and year on year.

 

After 2011, which had been a big jump from 2010 (47 to 61 mpw), I felt consolidation was needed in 2013, rather than trying to continue to forge ahead. I decided to focus on improving the quality of the mileage rather than pushing out big numbers for the sake of a nicely shaped graph. In a sense I guess you could say 2012 was a recovery year after 2011.

 

Did I achieve this? I feel like I did and I am satisfied with the year. In terms of cold, hard, reportable facts I don’t have a glut of personal bests to show for 2012.

 

The synchronization between fitness and races wasn’t quite aligned this year for whatever reason, and I had periods of top fitness with no race results to show for it. Conversely I had lots of races where I arrived, again, for a variety of reasons in less than ideal shape. Some would say that is how running goes. And they’d be right. This is one of the many unique aspects that make our sport great. Getting yourself into shape at the right time is a combination of science, art, and experience. I intend to work on that in 2013. An easy first step would be to schedule in more frequent racing, which I plan on doing.

 

IMG_6643

 

 

Races

I recorded two Personal Bests in 2012.

Both PBs were in the first quarter of the year. The first was the Droitwich Half Marathon, where I had no intention of chasing a time but was aiming for a controlled hard effort. Funny how these things work out. Anyway I felt great and managed to take 10 seconds off my PB with a 77:26.

 

The second PB came in April where, in unseasonable conditions (cold and rainy); I ran 4hr14 at the Two Oceans Ultramarathon (56km) in Cape Town. I was targeting a silver medal (given to all finishers under 4 hours) and was on course for the first third of the race. I went through halfway in 1hr56 which may sound right for a 4hr00 target but the second half of the race is incredibly hilly and more time is needed in the bag before hitting the big climbs. Still, I’m pleased with the 4hr14 which takes 3 minutes off my time from 2011.

 

That was it as far as personal bests went in 2012. The best times I achieved in each race distance for the year are below.

 

2012 Best times:-

Distance

Time

Date

Race

Notes

1500m

4:35

30 May

BMC 1500m

 

3000m

9:43

11 July

Birmingham Uni Open

 

5km

16:41

15 September

Cannon Hill parkrun

 

10km

36:34

9 September

Lichfield 10k

Total Rubbish! I ran 35 minutes a number of times in solo time trials. But races are what count.

13.1 miles

1:17:26

4 March

Droitwich Half Marathon

PB by 10 seconds

20 miles

2:09:10

18 March

Ashby 20 Mile Road Race

Not a race effort. Trying to practice target marathon pace.

56km

4:14:26

7 April

Two Oceans Ultramarathon

PB by 3 minutes

Non Standard Distances

3 miles

16:39

12 May

National Masters Road Relays

 

5.1km

16:54

13 October

National Six Stage Road Relays

 

6 miles

34:52

31 July

Roon the Watter, Scotland

Won the race :-)

         

 

The most surprising result was the half because, as mentioned above, I hadn’t gone in with the intention of racing.

 

The best race performance was probably the National Six Stage. 16:54 for 5.1k is pretty much as fast as it gets for me and was one of the few occasions this year when my fitness aligned with a race.

 

Thanks to everyone who was around to support (and share) the racing and training experiences. Many miles, many hours logged on the road, track and mud, and much nonsense talked.

 

As always, a special mention to my incredible better half, Bec, and our two girls who support me 100%.

 

Ok. With that, 2012 is out of the way. Enjoy all 2013 brings.

 

Keep running dudes.

 There has been a niggling feeling lurking around the murky depths of the running community for the past couple of months (possibly years). The whispering that goes on behind closed marathon doors. People only want to watch fast races and see fast times, the whisperers are saying. The perception that time is king and the actual racing is secondary. 

Are we so obsessed with time we cannot enjoy a race unless it is fast? No. This opinion undermines the intelligence of running fans. Everyone wants to see an exciting race. And what is more exciting than two or more people burying themselves late in a race in an attempt to get rid of their competitors? Nothing.

But running fast is also exciting. I don’t think fast running deserves the bad rap it seems to be getting from the learned running media.ryan hall finishing houston half

It is not, as many people would seem to have us believe, an on-or-off situation. Actually you can have your cake and eat it. If you love the racing you don’t have to hate the time. And if you love world record attempts you don’t have to hate racing. When you think about it, that is a ridiculous proposal anyway. But that is the choice we are told we are making.

Well I reject that choice. Distance fans are smart enough to appreciate a race and a course for what it is. No-one would say an elite marathoner who wins a race has run badly in that race because he was five or ten minutes slower than his Personal Best. Those guys run races to win. Fast times are secondary. In the choice between a fast time trial and a tough attritional battle between gladiators, as a spectator it is a no brainer. And for the competitors it is win first, time second. If you can win in a fast time, well that’s just dandy. But just as the two concepts aren’t mutually exclusive, they aren’t joined at the hip either.

What needs to be remembered is that writing off time as being pointless is just as foolish as saying it is all that matters. Sure you want a close race, but it has to be reasonably fast, by default. What does reasonably fast mean? That is the question. Not because we want it fast, but because if it is not reasonably fast you will have dozens of contenders for the win. We might not care as spectators but you can be sure the elite runners in the field will care. The top half dozen runners don’t want a bunch of guys they don’t know hanging around the lead pack waiting to show off their unheralded kicks. Fact is it has to be some form of fast. Fast doesn’t relate to an absolute pace. Fast in Berlin might be 2:03, but fast in New York might be 2:05, and fast in Honolulu might be 2:11. Fast in Mumbai might be 2:15. In road racing terms, speed is a relative thing.

In cross country, pace is completely arbitrary. Yet there again you know the pace is “fast”. You know this because top quality runners are being burned off left and right. Guys who have run 27 minutes for 10k on the track, which is fast by anyone’s definition, are barely in shot as the camera follows the lead pack. So you know it’s quick. More than that it doesn’t matter. It is all about the race.

 

sprint finish Pure racing taken to the extreme is just as bad as solo time trialling. In more 1500m and mile races than I care to remember, I have seen the group go out at a pace barely above crawling. They creep around for 3 laps and then blast the last lap. There are plenty of people in contention but I wouldn’t call it exciting. I don’t want to watch a bunch of 1500 guys trying to decide who the quickest 400 guy is. An honest hard pace for 3 laps and THEN a kick. That’s when the final lap split counts. Who has the quickest 400 once when your legs are full of lactic and your lungs are burning and you can taste blood in your mouth. That’s compelling racing and has both a time and a race element.

Let’s summarise if possible.

Two competitors repeatedly attacking each other over the final miles of a race IS incredibly exciting.

Mass sprint finishes CAN be exciting.

Solo races against the clock CAN be exciting.

I don’t see the need to write off races based on a pre-conception of “how races like this go”.

There is one rule that applies across the board. Racing must come first. But really this is the default position anyway. When Haile Gebrselassie was chasing marathon world records in time-trial fashion a few years ago, he went out hard with the clock and pacemakers as predetermined company. However when he hadn’t shaken off a competitor or a couple of competitors by the 20 mile mark he made that his priority. Win first, time second.  And he would state it afterwards. “once I saw I hadn’t shaken off x or y, I knew I had to forget about the world record and go for the win”. That’s not a direct quote but it is generally words to that effect. All professional athletes have this understanding.

I can say that with certainty even though I am far from a professional athlete myself. It is clear that winning trumps a fast time, every time. Moses Mosop ran 2:03:06 in Boston last year, second to Geoffrey Mutai in 2:03:02. Geoffrey took the bulk of the limelight but Mosop ran an incredibly fast time. If you have offered Mosop the win but said it would be in 2:04:06, a minute slower than he ran, what do you think his response would be? I know what I think. Winning is the thing. Bill Rodgers won Boston four times and New York four times. An amazing marathoner. A hero. Probably a lot of hard-core marathon fans know the times Bill ran, but outside of them, people tend to remember the winning. Grete Waitz, who held the world record for a while in the marathon, is remembered primarily for one outstanding achievement: Grete won the New York Marathon NINE times. Nine times! That achievement surpasses any of the quick times she managed, and she was quick.

 

 Road cycling teaches us this lesson in unequivocal terms.  One-day classics or individual stage wins in a three-week grand tour. It’s the winning that matters. When Mark Cavendish wins a sprint finish no-one cares about the time. It has no meaning. A great post which goes into far more depth on this, and on the odd occasion where people do pay attention to times in road cycling, can be found here, on the incomparable inrng website. Long breakaways or bunch sprints, the underlying principle remains: it’s the racing not the time.

However, while this is a good lesson, it is not one that running can swallow hook, line and sinker. Because running is intrinsically different. Track racing is track racing, and cycling has track too, so for sensible comparisons we will ignore the track elements of both sports.

Marathons are a very precise distance. 26 miles and 385 yards. Because of this standardised length, times are unavoidably compared. Courses are different and this is accounted for in winning times anyway. Every running fan can appreciate that a 2:04 marathon, no matter where it takes place, is incredibly impressive. But it doesn’t have to work the other way, i.e. that a 2:12 is NOT impressive. There are always factors on the day that have a major influence on time.

Then, on certain occasions you get great racing and great times. Sammy Wanjiru in Beijing is a great example of this. Dog-eat-dog racing with scant regard for race conditions, AND a three minute improvement on the Olympic Marathon Record.  The outcome was a very special event that people identified straight away as being something we will remember for a long time.

This shows that there are certain occasions, when the planets are aligned and the stars are shining brightly, when we can be treated to great racing which we get to watch unfold at record speeds.

Christmas Mile 2012

Today saw the second running of the world famous Christmas Mile. Numbers were up on last year with four hardy souls toeing the line. The weather played along by being cold, miserable and wet.

22 December 2012 10:15am University of Birmingham Athletics Track.

Results:
1. Ed Banks 4:39
2. Martin Matthews 4:55
3. Mark Ince 5:04
4. Kevin McMillan 5:30

(Kevin had run a hard 5k immediately before the mile, solid pre-race preparation in anyone’s book.)

A few laps cool down and we were off.

That was that. The conditions minimised any pre or post race banter. The mile was short, sweet and to the point. And so is this report.

Same time next year chaps.

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