Archive for April, 2010

Aka: London 2010

Sunday 25 April 2010

What a great weekend. Let’s begin at the beginning. I make no apologies for this report, read it at your own risk.

Saturday morning, car packed and girls bouncing with excitement, we took to the motorway, destination London. We were staying in Stratford – hub of the Olympic construction site, which consequently confused the hell out of satnav-lady who kept trying to send us down roads that had been swallowed by the Olympic village construction. Eventually we found a place to park – but not before we got ourselves stuck in a loooong queue coming out of a supermarket car park. Welcome to London, we never learn our lesson.

So parked up, we headed off to find our accommodation. This year we had opted for a serviced apartment instead of a hotel. The thinking was it would be better to have our own kitchen for preparing the night before carb-fest and also having separate bedrooms for the girls to sleep in etc. What a great decision it turned out to be. A lovely spacious two-bedroom en-suite apartment awaited us; with living area, dining area, and a bigger kitchen than we have at home!

We dumped out luggage at the apartment and pushed off to the expo to pick up race packs etc. At this point we met up with Gracie (Mark Grace) and Nice Guy Eddie (Ed Banks). We all sauntered off to the expo; Abigail was loving the tube and train journeys – but would it last? We got our packs with no fuss at all (kudos VLM organisation) and managed to get through the expo without spending any money. Lots of lovely running gear, but we had what we needed. Jodo wrote some lovely good luck messages for me on the graffiti wall and virtual graffiti wall in the expo.

Back to the apartments and we met up with the final member of our group, Andy Wells. We went to our respective apartments, prepared our food and then all converged on the Ince apartment for a social carbo-loading, nonsense-talking evening session. We took a couple of photos – pose inspired by the Hajj crew down south.

And a variation of our own, entitled “little runners”. Then it was time to wrap it up and get ready for an early night.

Race morning! I got up, got ready and met the other three guys in the lobby. A couple of photos taken by Bec, standing on the balcony above, and we were off. The journey to the start of London is always an expedition. We took a DLR train from Stratford to Canary Wharf, then changed and caught another one to Greenwich. To say the trains were packed with runners wouldn’t do it justice, but it all added to the build-up. At Greenwich we then had a walk of over a mile to get to the blue start. A fair old trek but well worth it when the gun goes and you don’t have to fight for space with the teeming red-start. Don’t get me wrong, the road is crowded, but thanks to the seeding pens it’s mostly crowded with people going your pace.

At Greenwich we left Gracie who stayed behind to meet his missus for a pre-race motivational chat. We got to the blue start and said farewell to Nice Guy who was off to the “Fast – Good For Age” start, a special separate area with even less congestion, for the speedsters – you have to have a sub-3 marathon to get into that little club…

Andy and I got to our blue start area with about 40 minutes to the gun. Then of course the heavens opened. Actually this didn’t worry me at all and I was quite pleased, given all the heat wave warnings that had been kicking around the weather reports in the buildup. The rain stopped with about 20 min to show time. Andy and I said our farewells, got our bags into the baggage trucks and headed to our respective pens. I was in Pen 1 – in theory the 2:45 to 3:00 pen, but for people who haven’t actually achieved that otherwise they’d be in Nice Guy’s start area. Gracie and Andy were in Pen 3.

They marched us all forward towards the start line. In front of Pen 1 are the championship runners (sub 2:45) and the invited elites. Not a group who would be getting in people’s ways really. They announced the big names and fired the gun. We were off! I was over the line and running within about 20-30 seconds of the gun I think.

My race plan was roughly worked into three stages. Stage 1: ease into it. Take the first mile or two at equal or slower than target pace (credit PQ). Stage 2: get onto 6:45 per mile pace and run as close to that as I can manage for as long as I can manage. Stage 3: assuming stage 2 had played out to plan, evaluate situation somewhere after 20 miles and then do whatever the hell I can to get to the finish.

So we were off. I was carrying two phrases in my head. nicked from Shaun Meiklejohn (Comrades winner early 90s). Relax and Control. He had written them on his hands the day he won. I didn’t go that far, but kept repeating them in my head, along with “Bitch, be cool” (Pulp Fiction).

First mile, 7:20something. Don’t panic, this was the plan. Keep easing into it. Second mile 7:00, better. Third mile (downhill), 6:30-something. Ok stage 1 finished, now was the time to start deploying the 6:45’s… This is where it left the script ever so slightly. I couldn’t seem to get to 6:45 with my target effort level. I was determined not to “push for a pace” this early, surely that would be suicide. So I kept the control mantra and hoped the splits would do their thing. I was clicking off 6:50s, 6:55s, occasional sub 6:50s but each one was a few seconds slower than target and was slowly accumulating a deficit that would prove tricky to get rid off.

That’s how it continued until halfway. I went through in 1:30:23, giving me a cushion of precisely nothing. In fact an anti-cushion to the tune of 23 seconds. I should have been more worried but I wasn’t. I was vaguely concerned that I would have to negative split the race now to get my sub-3 but I felt like I had been doing everything right to this point so I had a fair chance of it. I also thought (hoped) that 6:40 pace would emerge as the second half unfolded so that the problem would take care if itself and I would find myself under target just by continuing my plan. It became clear this wasn’t happening. The 6:55’s continued and there was nothing I could do about it without seriously risking the race. Worse still, it was starting to tell in my legs anyway and by about miles 15/16/17 I was having to up the effort noticeably to keep the pace sub-7. Any slower than this and I knew it was race over, I couldn’t afford any more slipping.

Bec and the girls were waiting just before the 20 mile mark. I had assumed they would have been well aware of my progress through the 5km live updates, only to find post-race that the live tracking website hadn’t worked at all. As it turns out Bec did know something was up because there was a 3-hour pacing runner with a flag that said 6:50 on it and she saw him before she saw me. Still, I wasn’t panicking. Relax and control. I high-fived Jodie (racing tradition), caught sight of Abigail looking bemused in her buggy, and gave my peak cap to Bec. She shouted something like “6:50 miling is just ahead of you”. Took me a while to figure out what she meant. Still seeing them had given me a boost and I knew it was time to act if I was going to get this stinking sub-3.

I went through 20 miles in just under 2:18 (and I mean just under… 2:17:48) and the writing was clear as day. I had to run the final 10km in 42 minutes. I was tiring a lot but still felt some confidence in that I could surely up the pace now and get what I needed. Mile 21 and 22 came and went and was only managing 6:45-6:50. It wasn’t enough. I knew I had to ditch the relax and control mantra now and get the f**k out of dodge. I hung onto another runner who seemed to be passing lots of people, and then it got tough very quickly. I was mildly annoyed that I left myself no cushion. Mild annoyance turned to despair and I tried in vain to hit the 6:20s I thought I had ready to deploy. I swore I would never get myself into a position where I had to maintain and INCREASE my pace at the end of a PB marathon. It was madness. Who runs like this? Mile 23 went by in 6:46. All this effort and I wasn’t making a dent in the deficit. I was beginning to think it actually wasn’t going to happen. I’ve fooled myself all along and now it’s obvious. A lot of thoughts were going through my head. 3 miles to go. 20-21 minutes of running.

After one of his 2:29 marathons I remember Martin telling me the only thing that slows you down at the end of a marathon is your mind, and how much pain you are willing to take. I had to give it a go. I thought of Eric, always leaving himself far too much to do in the final 14km of Oceans and then always coming so close, refusing to blow and let it slide. I took comfort in that, I thought I’m going to run these final 3 miles like that and then I’m never putting myself in this position ever again. Mile 24. 6:41. Four blessed seconds under pace. Not enough. It was too much at this point, and the runner I was trying to stay with was just too strong. To quote Arnie “I let him go”. For a few hundred yards I realised it was over and I wouldn’t break 3 hours. I regrouped, and did the best I could to maintain. Mile 25. 6:51. Too slow. But more importantly I checked my total running time – 2:51:41. I thought: I have 8 minutes to run the final 1.2 miles. This has got to still be on. But I didn’t know. What I did know is that I threw all caution to the wind and went for it. I knew there were “800m to go”, “600m to go” and “400m to go” boards in the final mile and knew that if I could just get to them I would be ok. Embankment just went on forever; then turn right past Big Ben and Westminster. The crowd noise was unreal. I was thinking, are they aware of how close we are cutting this? I was also thinking “why aren’t the other runners picking up the pace, they must know there’s a chance if we sprint?” I pushed on. The 800 to go board came into view, I looked at my watch, I had just less than 4 minutes to go. I didn’t know if I would do this. A 3-something final 800? I pushed on. The 385 yards to go sign appeared, I looked at my watch. It said 2:57-something. That was the FIRST TIME in the entire race that I knew I was going to do it. I relaxed, but not my pace. I rounded the corner past Buckingham Palace and tried to soak up the occasion. This was it. I was going to run sub-3. Finally I was going to do it. It was an emotional 385 yards let me tell you.

As soon as I crossed the line I just wanted to see Bec and the girls STRAIGHT AWAY. But it’s a long walk once you’re done. First get your medal, then get your chip removed from your shoes, then a photo, then the goody bag, then the long line of baggage trucks, reclaim your bag. Then out into runners/supporters meeting point. As I left the runners area Nice Guy was waiting with his parents and fiancé. How did you get on? 2:59 I said. It sounded sweet. How about you? 2:44.53 !!! Wow Ed!! A championship qualifier by 6 seconds. And he had missed a lot of training these past two months with a knee problem. That performance was an absolute stunner.

I waited at the “I, J, K” section and after about 5 minutes the family arrived. I was so pleased to be able to give them some good news after the previous couple of London’s. Emotional bits done, we began the journey home. Two tubes back to Stratford to collect the car, Abby still not getting tired of the novelty of trains in tunnels, and then the long journey back up the M1 to Birmingham.

En route Gracie called to find out how I did. I told him and asked how he got on. “I’ve qualified for Boston!” He ran a 3:10:35 (3:10:59 required for Boston). Awesome running! Andy had a tough day out there, running a solid time, but well below what he is capable of. Next time Andy!

A 7 minute PB for Nice Guy, a 7 minute PB for me and a 9 minute PB for Gracie. Not bad team, we must be doing something right.

Mile splits below:

Mile Time Split  Projected finish
1 00:07:22 00:07:22 03:13:00
2 00:14:36 00:07:14 03:11:16
3 00:21:14 00:06:38 03:05:26
4 00:28:01 00:06:47 03:03:31
5 00:34:45 00:06:44 03:02:05
6 00:41:46 00:07:01 03:02:23
7 00:48:38 00:06:52 03:02:02
8 00:55:31 00:06:53 03:01:49
9 01:02:28 00:06:57 03:01:51
10 01:09:19 00:06:51 03:01:37
11 01:16:14 00:06:55 03:01:34
12 01:23:01 00:06:47 03:01:15
13 01:29:45 00:06:44 03:00:53
14 01:36:32 00:06:47 03:00:39
15 01:43:28 00:06:56 03:00:43
16 01:50:25 00:06:57 03:00:48
17 01:57:25 00:07:00 03:00:58
18 02:04:08 00:06:43 03:00:41
19 02:11:03 00:06:55 03:00:43
20 02:17:48 00:06:45 03:00:31
21 02:24:37 00:06:49 03:00:26
22 02:31:23 00:06:46 03:00:17
23 02:38:09 00:06:46 03:00:09
24 02:44:50 00:06:41 02:59:57
25 02:51:41 00:06:51 02:59:55
26 02:58:02 00:06:21 02:59:24
26.2 02:59:19 00:01:17 02:59:19
1st half 01:30:23    
2nd half 01:28:56    

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Saturday 17 April 2010

If ever you need putting in your place, there are a few events that will help you out. The national cross country champs is one. The national road relays champs is another.

The 12 stages are divided into 6 long and 6 short, alternating. The long stage is 5.4 miles, the short is 3 miles.

I ran leg 11 which is the last of the long stages. The course is on the roads and pathways around Sutton Park and, lets be honest, is a bitch. The first mile involves a sharp downhill, twists, turns, doubling back, disappearing into the woods and a lovely climb complete with 3 distinct houses of pain, roughly in that order. And that’s the first mile. To be fair, the rest of the course is not as bad, but invariably by the time you summit the triple-headed monster you’ve not got much in the way of “something in the tank”, and you basically hang on as best you can for the next 2 miles (if you’re lucky enough to be on a short) or just over 4 miles (if, like me, you have been “selected” to run a long one).

This year to date I have been focusing on base work and mileage and consequently my race-sharpness was non-existent. In fact I couldn’t really tell if I was putting in a race effort, so long has it been. Whatever, I felt strong out there if a little “rudely awakened”. My time was 31:35 which ain’t setting the world on fire I’ll admit, but is sub-6 miling (5:50s to be exact or 3:38 per km if that’s your flavour).

So where did it place me? There were 404 long stage runners on Saturday and my time put me joint 301st. I’d be a weak link in three-quarters of the teams taking part. In fact I’d struggle to be the mid-pack slacker I claim to be.

Still, the thing with relays is that they are, well, relays. Individual performances don’t mean much, team performances are what counts. And as small fish in a big pond we did ourselves proud. Our best showing in many years. 40th out of 62 teams.

We’re BRATS now by the way. Birmingham Rowheath has merged with our triathlon club to form one big, confusingly-named-but-theoretically-stronger club

40 Brats 4:47:25

Martin Matthews (38) 28:24

Anthony Gray (34) 15:30

Edward Banks (44) 31:45

Chris Horton (46) 17:23

Richard Gray (45) 31:34

Andy Kenchington (45) 16:47

Patrick Allaway (45) 31:57

Matthew Bayliss (43) 16:09

Guy Evans (43) 31:35

Mark Hirsch (42) 17:11

Mark Ince (42) 31:35

C Lindesay (40) 17:35

Full results

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It’s marathon week baby. And if you don’t know what that means, move right along please, this is not the blog you’re looking for.

Boston today and London on Sunday. The Boston question is: can an American win the men’s race? (Ryan Hall being the most likely American according to pedigree) while London will be another hallelujah attempt on the world record by a handful of the best marathoners currently hanging around the planet. London ladies will be a tasty battle between top-Brit Mara, yank Deena, and defending champ Irina.

Let the games begin…

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Lel needs a break dammit. He’s too good to have all this misfortune year after year. I really hope he gets clear of it all before he is too old to entertain us with his trademark special skills, involving smashing world-class fields to smithereens.


Looks like it leaves a three-way shoot-out between Wanjiru, Kebede and the one and only Tadese.

With Abel Kirui and Duncan Kibet lurking ominously should an upset be on the cards.

Appetite-whetting stuff. World record? Time will tell… and that time is 11 days and counting.

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