Hang on. This is a (semi-abandoned) cycling blog. Why am I talking about running when I won’t even talk about cycling.
(Sorry but no photos or video as I draw the line at attaching a camera to my head while running)
Running isn’t a natural fit for cyclists. The secret being cyclists despise running unless they are that strange breed known as a triathlete.
The satisfaction of sitting at my desk at work after punishing myself in training or after an event is very high. Additionally it’s nice to be able to say ‘Even though I’m currently sitting in my office at work or eating chips on the couch but if I wanted to I could go outside and run for two hours without dropping dead’.
So in this interest of doing stupid things to my body (often mistakenly described as ‘challenging oneself’) and thinking I should because I’ve completed endurance cycling events, I wanted to tick running a marathon off the list.
I’d already completed half marathon in minimalist shoes and figured that a marathon couldn’t be that much harder.
I had a scanned training plan from Marek (the all-round fitness guy). 16 weeks averaging around 50kms a week with long weekend runs between 10-33 kms. Despite best intentions my training was pretty abysmal due to catching two colds, one Achilles injury, three visits to the physio, numerous blisters and 3 or 4 all-nighters at work. This all resulted in me not running anywhere near the total number of kilometres in the training plan. I only completed 319kms of a recommended minimum 552kms. I’d given up the idea of running in minimal shoes as I wanted to finish and this was just one more thing that would get in my way.
I started off with the Advanced training plan and dropped myself back to the Beginner plan shortly after realising that I was indeed a Beginner. What I did seem to excel at and made sure I didn’t miss was the long weekend runs. The 5-10km runs throughout the week, while important, just didn’t interest me and in the scheme of things don’t indicate that you are going to be able to finish a marathon or in what time. As part of the training you need to be hitting at least the half marathon distance in training to ensure you are will have the stamina.
Myself and Marek had run a number of the long distances together where he proved he was going to bury me (just like on the bike). I also managed to injure myself during a mid-week speed session which basically bought me to a complete halt. It felt like a shin splint but in my ankle and I couldn’t even run 100 meters without being in serious pain. I’d also started to get extremely bad blisters in unusual places on one foot. This logically led me to believe one foot was bigger than the other and left me at a quandary as to what to do. I was considering the oft use feminine course of action for confusing or stressful situations i.e. purchasing new shoes would cure all my mental and physical angst.
Instead, unlike most men, I decided to actually take myself to see medical professional and I’ve very glad I did. Unlike most GP’s the physio could tell me exactly what the problem was within about 5 minutes of looking at me. This involved measuring the bend in my knee while keeping my heel on the ground. Left was 12 and the right was 7. She said she had never seen such poor flexibility in someone archillies. The achillies tendon had basically been damaged due to a) never stretching it properly and b) doing speed work in very minimal shoes. It was so badly shortened that my gait was all out of whack and each time I ran my achillies was twisting like a coiled up rope. She said eventually it would either snap (no walking for 3 months and probably not ever running again) or I’d eventually break my ankle (unfortunately I wouldn’t get to choose which). Stretching twice a day , drugs, ice, painfull massages and a week off running !!!
The stretching was the most interesting part. I told her I stretched it a lot but it didn’t feel like it was doing anything. She asked me to show her my ‘stretching’ so I gave her my pushing on the wall with one leg slightly further back than the other routine I’d seen those short shorts people (serious runners) doing all the time. She then told me that my stretching was useless and showed me how to do it correctly. What a revelation. It actually worked and I was fixed a week later. Great. I’m better so let’s go run 33klms.
I ran a 25km by myself after this which went very well but was at much slower pace . Far better than the first 28km I had run with Marek (before my injury) which resulted in me walking and Rowena picking me in the car of shame. I was having serious cramps, which I suspected was due to a lack of food and salt loss on what had become a hot day. Stupidly this run was also carried out after having only done a number of smaller runs less than 10kms. This was nowhere near enough ramp up for this distance.
So after a very mixed bag of long runs I was getting worried that I wouldn’t finish and was regretting telling anyone I was going to run a marathon. I was about to lower my expectations yet again. After a fast start we were powering down the Kms so I added in a bunch of hills in the hope this would test me out later on. We ran half way around the city and realised that if we kept going the way we planned we would be up for over 40kms. After 5 minute rest stop we shortcut back through the centre of the city and by the 28km mark I was extremely fatigued. The legs felt like lead and the last 5kms back to Brunswick felt like I was running on sand. I was craving food so once again it appeared I hadn’t planned food for such a long journey appropriately. One good thing to come out of this run was the feeling that I was pushing on through the wall. In the end every step I took while in this zone was preparing me well for what was going to happen on the day of the marathon. I did it as part of that run but didn’t like the thought of having to do so for another 7km.
Even though they were flawed these long runs had taught me some very important things;
Lesson 1 – Pace (or don’t run as fast as Marek on race day because you will be crying by the side of the road by km 35) – Even though Marek was a great motivating training partner and I thought he was being very patient running at my pace I realised he wasn’t doing anything of the sort (he was training with me a lot slower than he could have been so I must have hampered his training somewhat.). He was actually running a fair bit faster than I should have been because he is a lot fitter than me !!! It’s actually not as bad as it seems because this is exactly what you need to do in training. Push yourself faster than what you would normally. The reason I was struggling in our training runs was because I had assumed our pace was correct because that’s what I could run at for 10 or 15kms (4.5mins per km). This was fine for these distances but not between 20-42kms.
Lesson 2 – Nutrition . On a number of these long runs I had not drunken, eaten or had enough salt. Endura gels hardly have any salt in them at all and the Powerbar gels have about 20 times as much. To summarise…I am a f@#$ salty bastard. Every time I finished a long run I looked like salt and pepper squid. Soft and tender on the inside but coated in an outer crust of human flavoured sodium. Lack of sodium leads to cramps and once you get them you trouble. Magnesium and salt tablets seem to keep the cramps at bay and to work pretty quickly. Better to get in ahead of time though to save some pain.
Lesson 3 – Spend more time ramping up and doing hill work. I jumped into some longer runs way too early and didn’t have the muscle endurance I needed on the day. My cardio system ate up the kms and gave me the impression that I could go all day. My calf muscles were telling me otherwise. The general running wisdom refers to getting injury’s if you don’t ramp up correctly. This might be the case if you are starting from a low base but in my case it appeared that I didn’t recover as well from these long runs resulting in muscle fatigue. If I’d built up over a longer time I might have recovered better and been able to just do more running and may have even avoided getting sick twice.
Having learnt all the above I began to formulate a strategy for the marathon and by doing so started to feel a lot better. It seems obvious but the initial part of my strategy was to just finish. I knew it was going to be hard and that I might not be able to push through the pain barrier similar to the one I had previously experienced. Alternatively I could get painful blisters or bad cramps. I was going to finish even if that involved walking or crawling. A very valuable skill. Lower your expectations and be surprised.
The second part of my strategy was to aim for something better than just finishing. Just in case I was having a great day. Standard running lore indicates take your half marathon time, double it and then add 20 minutes. OK great that makes me 4hrs 20. The problem being that there was a partial cut of time at 11am at the 35km point after which you had to run on the footpath. You still had another 2-3 hours to finish but you had to continue your march of shame on the footpath avoiding all the prams, sk8rs and disgruntled Melbourne cyclists. No way. I’d settled on 4hrs as a realistic target that would let me beat this cutoff (10km/hr or 5.75mins per km average).
I’ve since discovered that 4.5 hours is the average marathon time for US marathon runners (run fatty run). Looking back at it now if I had of known that I might not have been so ambitious setting the 4hr target. Once we arrived at the start I was even feeling quietly confident that I might even do better. Perhaps 3hrs 45mins or dare say it even 3hrs 30mins.
In all endurance events pacing is very important. The hardest part is knowing when you are pushing yourself past that point or whether you are under doing it. You really have to find out through training and tools such as heart rate monitors or power meters. You are going to feel great until you no longer feel great and in a marathon if this comes early you are in deep shit. Once fatigued, hungry, mineral deficient or thirsty you cannot recover without losing time (rest). This is a classic mistake I make on the bike all the time. I’ve done it for all the Three Peaks I’ve ridden and for Amys Ride a couple of weeks before the marathon. Feel great, go hard, feel the pain consider having a nap under a rock in the rain rather than keep riding. I was adamant I was going to stick to my target but perhaps try and ramp up the pace within the last 10km. I had learnt my lesson…… or had I ?
3.00am – Wake up in a panic (probably work). Get up and have a drink. Lie awake for 59 minutes. Fall back into the deepest sleep ever.
4am – alarm goes off, jump out of bed and almost fall over feeling dizzy, eat, stretch, dress, tape toes, fill socks with drying powder, pack bum bag (bum bags are (still?) cool in the running scene apparently)
6am – pick up Marek
6.40 – park and walk to the start line. Marek drops off clothes I queue for toilets (anyone still reading ? )
6.58- Marek gets back from the MCG with 7000 other runners at the same time, I wonder where all these people came from and how the hell we are going to get past them all.
7am – start running like a sardine in a can (??!?!)
7.15 – St Kilda road is full of runners, weave through the runners with Marek pondering why everyone is going so slow, look at my heart rate monitor, see why and slow down, I feel a twinge in my left knee (!!!), an itchy ear (!!!!!!)
7.30– 5klm mark. I manage to catch up with the 4hr pace runner. He has a flag and balloon tied to him and is approximately 75 years old, I decided this is the man I want to spend the next 4 hours with so Marek takes off on his own, I promise to catch up with him in the last 10 klms.
15klms – Get around Albert park and past the grand prix pits feeling great. With Marek gone I stick in my headphones and get started with my running playlist. This is going to be a piece of piss. I see Rowena who hands me a chocolate bar as I head onto Beaconsfield parade. Feel good so I decide I can speed up a fraction. The sun is out, it’s still cool and the large packs of runners are starting to break up.
At this point two things are going through my mind. Go faster and you will win the race and slow down you idiot. I decide to just stick to 11kms/hr. My music is trying to convince me to go faster but I decide I’ll keep my current pace until I get to at least the 20klm point.
18klms – I see Marek running down the other side of Beaconsfield Parade and give him a wave. Awesome I’m not too far behind.
20klms- I get to the 20klm section and realise that I’m half way but don’t feel as great as I did at 15klms. I see another guy with a flag and a bolloon and assume he is the 3hr 45 pacer. Dig in a bit to try and catch him up and find he is a 4hr pacer which I was sure I had passed !!! WTF is going on ? I lost energy chasing a guy I’d already passed. He seems to be really sticking to 10klm/hr so I slowly creep past him too. I finish my second gel and place my empty wrapper into my back pocket. Shortly afterward and stand on some else discarded gel packet sitting in the sun. It sticks to my foot and I run another klm before realising and try and kick it off. Its stuck solid so I have to stop and pull it off with my hand. Perhaps I’ll speed up at the 30klm point.
25klm – turn around at Elwood and its getting hot. My average speed says 11.2km/hr. Awesome. Heaps of people giving out lollies along the side of the road. Pass two people wearing Five Fingers and no toe socks !!!! Crazy. I see one runner jump to the nature strip like a cat surprised by its own tail. He hops on one leg, rotates a couple of times like one leg to short and immediately enters the cramping pose (looks likes like someone who has just had a broom handle quickly inserted in their backside). I pray I’m not doing this later and take a salt tablet.
I get to St Kilda again and turn onto Fitzroy street. Rowena is waiting for me with a coke and more chocolate. A kiss and I’m off again as I know the 30km banner is just around the corner and I’m looking forward to it.
30klm – still feeling pretty good and running at around 11km/hr. Turning off into St Kilda road things start to fall apart. At almost 2/3rd of the way to the finish mentally I’m expecting to be nearing the finish. My calves are feeling very fatigued and its getting warmer. I keep checking my timer and I’m struggling at 9 km/hr, are being overtaken by lots of runners now and the kms seem to be passing at a crawl. I worry that pushing myself faster earlier is starting to come back to haunt me. I feel better than the same point after my 33km training run but this time I still have 12 kms to go. My right calf starts ache in a menacing way hinting of cramps. Either that or a slight torn muscle. The music that was earlier tempting me to go faster seemed to have no effect now.
34klm – finish two more gels, and a magnesium tablet and some more water to keep any cramp at bay. The feet are starting to blister in the usual places and I can feel myself running into the wall. The food makes me feel better but I’m cursing considering how far the remaining 8kms will be. I see Rowena riding her bike down St Kilda road and she takes some pictures of me while I wave pathetically. In any case it gives me a bit of a boost seeing her cruise along so effortlessly.
35klm – I see a number of people collapsed on the nature strip being attended to by first aid. One rather healthy looking runner is curled up in grass and looks to be napping peacefully. Somehow I suspect he wasn’t having pleasant dreams. Rather perversely this made me feel better about myself so gave it another kick picturing the finish line just around the corner.
36klms – Unfortunately not. When they were planning the run I suspect they miscalculated the distance so had to add in some additional kms somewhere. As a joke someone must have said ‘Lets make them run around the Tan. Runners love going around the Tan’. Bastards. It’s up hill but since I knew this part well I started to speed up looking at my watch and realising there was only about 30 minutes to beat my 4hr target. The legs were weary but I was dying to finish. By this stage about ¼ of the people were walking or off to the side of the road stretching out cramps.
39klms – Crossing the flinders street bridge I run back into the 4hr pace setter who had frustratingly got back in front of me (again damn it !!!!). I exchanged the playlist on my iphone for something more upbeat and break into a sprint to try and beat the magic 4hr mark. I am determined to beat the cheating 4hr pace setter. I pass a lot of other runners and heading into the MCG there is a large crowd by the side of the road cheering loudly.
42klm- quick lap around the MCG in the sun and I’m done. I can hardly believe I’ve just beat my target time by about 5 minutes. I feel totally wrecked from the waist down and consider some push-ups in the grass to even up my vertical fatigue ratio. I’m not hungry or thirsty but after pausing to find Rowena for 10 minutes and catch my breath my legs start setting like stone. I have to start hobbling out of the ground with thousands of other runners doing the same. I think everyone looked happy for it to be over.
Would I do it again ? Probably not but given the title of this post includes ‘2012’ perhaps that means something. I’ll have forgotten about it by the time I get up for work at 5am tomorrow but perhaps while bored sitting at my desk at work I might start to ponder whether I could complete a marathon in 3.5 hours……