Jantastic Update and an awesome Long Run

Another week of Jantastic complete successfully, sadly I had to use my February joker to achieve 100% as due to a crazy work load and the hideous weather (we’ve lost 3 fence panels this week) I’d not been able to get out as much as I would have like. The only run I did other than my long run was squeezed in at 10pm as a 4 mile run home after dinner with friends. 4 miles directly after a steak dinner+desert+cake was an interesting challenge!

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Luckily, an easy week meant I was well rested for the weekend long run of 18miles. It was the same route as last week but in reverse, I also was going to make sure I’d fuel better before and during the run. Last week if experimented with depleting my carbohydrate resources and simulating the infamous ‘hitting the wall’, and the end result was my worst long run ever!

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Luckily this week was notably easier, I even thought of tagging on another 2 miles to get up to 20, but was sadly running out of time. Instead, I aimed to finish strong and despite averaging 9:04 per mile, my final mile was a 7:30 and I still felt like I had more left in my legs. A complete change from last week and massively encouraging with only weeks to go before my next marathon. It re-illustrated to me the importance of having a fuelling strategy in training, both as practice for the race day and for simply getting you round on your training day!

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Brighton Marathon 2013

This was my ‘A’ race of last year, my first ever marathon and the goal was simply to finish. I initially had a secondary aim of finishing <4hrs but in my first run of my 2 week taper, I felt a twinge in the outside of my left knee that caused the taper to be even more dramatic and I only managed to do around 15miles total in those final weeks directly before the marathon, and the pain whilst easing off a bit, hadn’t completely gone away.

Brighton Marathon Course 2013

So the big day came, and I set out with a plan to average 9min miles, and get as close to 4hrs as possible. If I had any issues with the leg I was going to ease off and make sure I didn’t do anything to damage it permanently, but I absolutely was going to finish! Myself and two other friends (Gary and another Matt) had been raising money for charity, so I wasn’t going to let anyone down and not complete the distance.

The first few miles were a bit chaotic, I was running with one of the above friends, Gary, and we had started quite far back in the pack of runners. This meant we were weaving through a host of people wearing tutus, morph-suits and a variety of colourful wigs. This caused the first mile to be slower than our target pace at around 9:18. The effect of this is that we felt pressurised to catch up on time and ran an 8:30 second mile. In retrospect, we had 25.2 miles to get those 18 seconds back, and could have run 8:59 the entire way and finished ahead of schedule, but the mind does funny things to you when you’re running.

There then followed 6 miles in the 8:45-8:55 range, and somewhere in that period we ran by the Brighton Pavillion. I say somewhere, as I do not remember seeing it at all. After the race I told my wife, Becca, that I don’t think we ran past it at all despite the course promising that we would. We then got the post-marathon photos and the evidence below suggests that we definitely did run past it. Again, the mind does funny things when you’re running, I’d either been that focused on running, or simply just blanked it out. Of course, it may have had something to do with the fact that around that time we were trying desperately to find Gary’s wife in the crowd so he could hand over his jacket he had fetchingly fastened around his waist.

Pavilion

I wasn’t even sure we’d run past this tiny, unobtrusive building

This part of the route around Brighton’s central area also saw a couple of hills, nothing particularly big or challenging, but enough to feel them, particularly on the outside of my knee. When running downhill or on the flat I had no pain at all, just whenever I had to run up a slope it let me know it was there. Miles 7-10 along the sea front were particularly sore and mile 9 saw us drop over the 9minute mark for a mile. On the plus side, the route there loops around and you run back the way you came, so we had the same 2/3 miles of gentle downhill to catch up on that pace so by the 13mile mark, where I got to see Becca for the first time that day, we were still averaging around 8:50min/miles.

Miles 13-20 were some of the more boring miles on the course, as we moved off the seafront and into residential area around Hove. The crowds were still out and we still maintained mile splits between 9:04-9:15, but were starting to feel it. In particular, I felt like I needed the toilet and eventually had to give in and stop briefly around mile 19.5, I left Gary to carry on running and stopped for under a minute before setting off again. The second I started running again to try and catch up, my knee felt like someone had just stabbed it, it was agony and I had to walk for a bit. Clearly the standing still and waiting for a porta-loo to free up wasn’t good for whatever was wrong with my knee. After a little walking I was able to run again and catch up with Gary.

Sadly, the knee pain didn’t go away and I started to feel nauseous as a result and had to let Gary go ahead and finish whilst I walked a little bit after the drinks stop around Mile 21. Finishing under 4hrs was not an option any more, but I knew that 4:15 was still realistic and would be a great achievement given the circumstances. The next couple of miles I walked a bit then jogged a bit, the support of the crowd was phenomenal all the way around the course and that didn’t change here. The day had started around 7 centigrade, but was now getting up to 22 as we hit the seafront. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t massively tempted to go and paddle in the sea for a bit just to have a rest.

At about mile 24, I’d managed to get back around 9:30min miles when I looked to my left and realised I was just about to run past Gary, who’d clearly hit some kind of a wall and was taking a breather (he’d averaged 4hrs sleep a night for the week before the marathon due to a crazy work load). I pulled up along side him and we agreed to stick it out to the end. We’d covered a lot of miles together that day and only a couple separately, so we were going to cross the line together. Shortly after we saw Gary’s wife and daughters, and then Becca, my sister and my brother-in-law at mile 25, just the perk up we needed before the final mile.

Look at how happy I was to see my wife.

Finishing under 4:15 now was a certainty, we could have walked it in, but we were determined to finish it running. A 9:40 final mile (no sprint finish here!) saw us cross the line in 4:07:15. Not the sub 4hrs we wanted, but given my knee, and Gary’s lack of sleep it was definitely an achievement! The third part of our fundraising team, Matt, also completed the course and we were delighted that as a team we’d raised over £3,000. The miles of training and the race day itself had all been worth it.

As for the Brighton Marathon and the day itself, it was a fantastic experience. I would recommend Brighton to anyone thinking about a first marathon, the organisation was brilliant and the support on the day was unreal. Other than the bit around mile 13-20 I enjoyed the course and it’s definitely a course that could get some fast times. As for the support on the day, I can’t speak highly enough about it. The fact that I had my name on my chest meant that I heard something along the lines of “Great work Matt!” or “Go Matt and Gary!” roughly 300 times over the course of those 4+hrs, from people I’d never met. My brother-in-law Ben loved supporting on the day so much that he signed up for the 2014 Brighton Marathon before I did and we’ve done some good training runs together already this year.

It’s only a few weeks until I get to revisit Brighton and do the course again, apparently they’ve removed one of the small hills and made the course even faster, so I’m confident that with the change and the way that training is currently going that <4hrs is definitely possible! A 1:44 in the 2013 Run to the Beat Half Marathon in September on minimal training showed that I’ve picked up some speed since Last April. I’m just praying I stay injury free this year, especially in the taper period!

Jantastic

I regularly listen to the podcast ‘Marathon Talk‘ and this year decided to give their new year participation event ‘Jantastic‘ a blast. To keep it brief you set your targets for the three months of January, February and March, join a team and then log how you’ve done compared to those targets.

5 weeks in, January is completed and I’m into February and still on track for a 100% score.

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The target categories are as follows

January – Number of runs completed in a week – I went with 3 as a minimum

February – Number of runs completed + length of longest run (I went with 3 again and 14,16,18, 20 as the weekly targets)

March – As above but with a prediction of timed finish for one all out run/race over a set distance. The closer you are to your estimated time, the better you know your own body. I’ve not set this yet, but will be picking the Silverstone Half Marathon in the first week.

It’s such a simple concept, but a great little way of making yourself accountable for yourself! In 5 weeks there have been over 185,000 runs logged via the website. I’m confident a few thousand of those at least would not have happened without Jantastic.

The Great South Limp 2012

This was the run that was meant to be my target ‘race’ between starting to run in June and the 28th of October 2012 and my first race since I was at school. The race is over 10miles of the Portsmouth/Southsea coast and is the only 10mile run in the world to be classed as an IAAF Gold Label event with an estimated 25,000 runners. Quite the event!

My preparation for this was to literally get out and run, when I felt like I wanted to. I had no plan, no guide, no real experience and would just go out and run. I was running mostly in my Vibram Fivefinger Bikilas (weird toe-shoes for those that don’t know, I’ll expand on them in another post at some point) that I got in America and really enjoyed the ‘feel’ of being connected to the ground in a minimal cushioned running shoe. Being able to feel every lump and bump of the ground made me far more aware of every step I took and the experience made me want to run more. A good start.

I quickly worked my way up to doing a nice 3 mile loop of the area I live in, entirely on the pavements. I’d sometimes mix it up with an alternative 3 mile loop in the other direction (the two together would form a nice figure 8 once I was ready to go up to 6 miles) that went out on country roads for the first half and pavements again for the second part. The pace I was going at wasn’t particularly fast (9min miles) but I found myself wanting to run faster and increase distance at the same time. My ‘building up’ to 3 miles went – 0.59 miles – > 0.94 miles -> 3 miles. I’d read that you’re meant to only increase your mileage 10% a week, but felt because I’d run in the past, even if it was a couple of decades ago, I’d be able to do it quicker. Mistake! I ran 11 times in June, for a total of 26 miles, but realised that two things didn’t feel right.

  • Pain on the base of my left foot just behind my 2nd and 3rd toes starting at around 1.5 miles
  • Really tight calves. Particularly the right calf, which felt like it was cramping up around 2 miles into a run.

I’ve since realised that the pain behind the toes was due to the toe-shoes being too tight. They fit like a second skin, really comfortable to walk around in and at the start of a run. What I hadn’t account for in the sizing was that my feet would swell up when running, making them too tight on my left foot (which is half a size bigger than my right already), particularly behind my 2nd toe, which is longer than my big toe so was reaching the end of the toe-box, causing the pain in the soft tissue at the base of the toe. To combat this, I changed shoes and ran in my Merrell Barefoot Trail Gloves, which, as the name suggests, are designed for off road running, but make for a very good comfortable minimalist road shoe with plenty of toe space!

The calf pain on the other hand, would not go away. It was the same level of pain in both calves at first and I put it down to learning to run on my mid-foot rather than landing on my heel, which is necessary in less cushioned shoes but caused more load on the calf which in turn causes them to feel tired. However, after a month, the pain in the left had gone, but the right was getting more and more sore, causing me to be unable to run at all after about a mile of running. I tried resting it, and only ran twice in July and 4 times in August. September came, and the pain hadn’t gone away but I realised that I really needed to be able to finish 10 miles in October as I had raised over £500 for charity by this point. So I tried to run through the pain, some days were better than others and I was able to get up to a painful 5 miles as the furthest distance I’d run.

The Sunday before the race, I went out for an intended 6 mile run, got 2 miles into it and had to give up and walk home. I could barely put any weight on my leg at all. Monday morning, the pain was still there, it had never really lasted after I stopped running for longer than 30mins, being in pain 24hrs later was entirely new. Tuesday I went to the local Doctors and saw a Nurse Practitioner who told me it was Achilles Tendonitis and strongly advised me not to run the 10 miles. When I asked if I could walk it because I’d raised over £800 for charity that I didn’t want to refund, he said he wouldn’t recommend it but understood if tried, but advised me to stop if it started hurting on the day.

Loo Queue
The big day came, and I made my way over to Portsmouth with my hugely supportive (and concerned) wife, and my brother-in-law who had not only come from London to support me, but had brought his P.E. kit in case he needed to sub in and run the race for me! I’m very lucky to have family like that. I made my way to the start line, and felt pretty good. On the Thursday before the race I’d been out for a slow jog and realised if I kept my pace really slow, and my stride length much shorter, it didn’t hurt as much and I managed 3 miles at 12mins/mile pace. So I figured I’d run as far as I could before stopping and walking the rest of the 10 miles.I set out running, forgetting all about the planned 1hr30min target time I’d thought I could hit back when I started running, 9 minute miles were not an option at this point. I’d re-adjusted with the idea of being over the moon at being able to limp across the line in under 2hrs. Somehow, I kept running, despite having to stop twice to adjust shoe laces (was originally too tight, then when I loosened them, it came undone).
The key moment of the run came at the 6 mile point, a man with a fridge on his back overtook me and was suddenly 20yards ahead of me. I didn’t have my headphones in so had no idea what time I was on course for or what pace I was running, but I did know I didn’t want a guy with a fridge on his back to cross the line ahead of me. So I tried to go a little faster, whilst monitoring my right calf. I reeled the fridge-guy in with 2 miles to go and kept going to the finish line.Somehow, I’d made it, running the entire way, having only done a maximum of a 5 mile run in training, I’d run the whole way round with a dodgy, and seriously painful, achilles tendon (ibuprofen helped with that as much as adrenaline I think!) and wearing my trail running shoes, which time would show were way too small as well (part of the learning curve!). My finish time was just over 1hr42mins, I’d managed roughly 10mins per mile almost the whole way round. Each of my last 6 miles was progressively faster and I limp/ran the last mile in just over 9mins. My finish place of 11154 somehow put me in the top half of finishers.
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So that was it. The run I’d planned was done, I was quite seriously injured (after the run I couldn’t walk without a limp for nearly 3 weeks) and needed physiotherapy for a couple of months, but I’d got the running bug and wanted to keep at it. Something about it felt good and natural, and when my friend Gary asked if I’d run the Brighton Marathon with him in April 2013 for his friend’s charity, I agreed with the proviso that I wouldn’t risk my health or my calf (I’d been advised by a Doctor by now that it was Achilles Tendinopathy and could be 6-8months before it was back to normal). So I had my next target to aim for…

Why I run

This is the short version!

June 2012, whilst at on a weekend away with my wife, Becca. I felt challenged to be more active and get out and ‘do something good’. Life had been too sedate, and despite being relatively healthy and sporty, I’d not really done any sustained continuous physical activity since leaving university where I had played football 2/3 times a week. I realised that even when I did that, it wasn’t the best physical shape I’d been in. I had to go back nearly 20 years to when I did cross country running at school in my early teens and was running 3/4 times a week and doing competitive races at the weekend that I found the period of life in which I was my most healthy.

In fact, looking back at that period, I was actually quite good at cross country and longer distance running, being in the top 10 of my age bracket in the large and competitive county of Yorkshire. I even ran in the English schools championship finals (the pinnacle of school cross country) a year under-age and finished in the top half of runners despite having an asthma attack half way round (incidentally, the only asthma attack I’ve ever had!). Yet when we moved home from Yorkshire to Worcestershire I took the chance to get away from running and spent more time on sedate sports, like cricket!

So for the above reasons, the idea of running to get fit and healthy really got stuck in my head and I couldn’t even wait to get home before parting with £40 to enter myself for the Great South Run in Portsmouth in October via my phone. I knew that I needed something to aim for otherwise I’d go out for a few runs, get bored and give up. I also knew that even with the event being months away and having plenty of time to prepare I wanted some accountability and wanted the run to achieve something more than just getting me fit. So I decided to raise money for Great Ormond Street Hospital Charity as they had done so much to help the daughter of some very good friends of ours.

I’d well and truly thrown the gauntlet down. To myself. I had to do it.

Fat Matt
Me on holiday in 2012
The weekend away also came soon after we’d returned from two and a half weeks visiting friends and family in the USA. We ate out a LOT, and American portions tend to be larger than British. We also wanted to experience as many culinary delights (and non-delights) as we could whilst over there, including American super-sweet potatoes, cheese fondues, corndogs, steak, cheesecake and much much more. I came back from that trip weighting 93.7kg (4lbs short of 15 stone. Since then I’ve managed to get down to 82kg, which is under 13 stone). I knew I had to do something about the weight before it got really unhealthy. In fact, whilst in the states Becca and I ordered a Cross Trainer/Cycling machine to arrive just after we got back so that we could keep fit and lose weight.

Whilst in the USA, I stumbled upon a ‘new’ type of trainer called Vibram Fivefingers and a book called “Born to Run“, both of which got me thinking that just going out and pounding the pavements in ‘traditional’ running shoes was something that people assumed was good for you. Reading the book (with more than a few pinches of salt) made me realise that there’s more to running than just going out and doing it, although in it’s simplest terms there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. I needed to get my head round the fact that if I was to hit my target of completing 10 miles in the Great South Run, I’d need to do so in a way that worked for me.

The more I read and researched about running, the more I realised those 10miles was just going to be the start. I’m now training for the Brighton Marathon for the second time in April with a 100km Ultramarathon scheduled for July.

This blog is hopefully to keep a track of that, share some of the cool things I’ve found out about running, and give me some of that ‘accountability’ I like and need. I will also share some of the stuff I’ve already done, including the training (and injury) of the Great South Run.