Saturday, 27 June 2015

Relishing the Pain and Darkness that Beckon

As I approached the finish line 5 years ago, I asked myself if I could cope with another 30 miles (3 laps). I wasn't sure in that early morning darkness, having covered 70 miles already. However, I smiled and told myself that I could have faced going out for another 10 mile lap. Now I get the opportunity to do so.

On 31st July 2015, I will line up for the Grim Reaper 100 mile Ultra. http://www.grimreaperultra.co.uk/race
Starting at 0930, I will live in every moment and stitch all of those moments together with relentless forward steps until I have come back to where I started 10 times.

Its not 100 miles, its 10 laps. In fact, I'm only focused on then final 3laps, as I completed 7 laps in the Grim Reaper 70 mile Ultra in 2010. Quite a lot has changed since then. I'm 5kg lighter, significantly more efficient and resilient, now a 2 54 marathon runner vs 3 14 in 2010. Most of all, I have failures and successes to learn from.

How and why are the two most common questions from those who know me less well. How is easy - just keep going, living in each moment as best I can and being relentlessly accepting. Why is potentially much more complex. At its heart, why is addressed by the compulsion to explore my capabilities in managing myself. Yes - its a management challenge first and foremost.

There is also an element of looking time in the eye and saying "you haven't got me yet". Its difficult to envisage being able to run quicker over marathon distances. James brought this home to me when he mentioned that 2 54 56 at age 50 is equivalent to a lifetime best of 2 36 based on WAVA data. I will take that and bow out of fast marathon running.

Taking the 7 years of work and training and learning and development and pain and joy and anguish and exhilaration and sharing and stretching out the distance a bit - all seems eminently sensible for me.

Therefore, on we go. Running without a watch, all that counts is the finish. My time will be the best I can achieve - and will be a function of how well I manage myself in the conditions. My physical fitness will take me through much of the first half. Thereafter, it will be my unrelenting pride and positivity and focus and acceptance and pain.

Yes - pain, a close friend now through many years of pushing through various limits and limitations. "Things live forever in the moment in which they are" - and pain is inevitably part of that eternity. Better that pain is my friend than my enemy when there's still 50 miles to run and darkness beckons.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

The Who (me - not the rock band)

In the aftermath of the 2015 London Marathon, I became really intrigued by Who it was that executed such a superb race.
It seemed to me there was a different or new or improved me out there, racing with such a positive and accepting and relentless approach.
Having had several weeks to mull this over, my initial reaction appears to be correct. There was a different me on display - more accurately, perhaps, a different version of me. The real, belief fuelled, ambitious, accepting, balanced and contented me.

I have focused on "being the best I can be" over my running years (all 7 of them). That best has been most often described in terms of performance - time and distance. Now I have a new way of describing it - the Who I am when racing that well. The qualities that served me so well in the race (and in reality in all of my preparation and training) are qualities that are so worthwhile in every day of life.

A few years ago, I wrote that running makes me a better human being. Updating this, running has helped me discover how to be a better human being and who that better human being is.
My new challenge is making the most of this.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

The Beaming Face 'neath the Blue Sky

I was asleep one week ago, sleeping well and waking just before my 0700 alarm on 26th April 2015. My waking was filled with great calm and purpose ahead of a race and a performance in the London Marathon that is secure for the ages.

The numbers - finish time of 2h 54m 56s, 2nd Hayes in the field, 28th Irish man, 49th in my age category (50-54). Splits of 1 26 25 and 1 28 31; I passed 141 runners in the last 7.2k and 22 passed me; picking up the final 2k to 4m 7s pace (6m 35s per mile) sealed the 4s I was inside the 2 55 target; needless to say, there was a sprint to the line.

Two images stand out above all others - Tania's beaming face popping out of the crowd on Tower Bridge as we planned, and her more than beaming beautiful self at the finish bringing me the official news of my time.

As I have digested and reflected and analysed this week, many aspects of the race have been fascinating and surprising - all in supremely positive ways. The "how" I executed in the race was filled with belief and calm and relentlessness and acceptance. Inextricably linked to this, the "who" has become more intriguing through the week and I will return to this in subsequent blogs.

I ran very steadily in the opening 2 miles - recording 6 48 and 6 42, laughing at my foolishness (as I deemed it) of 2014 when I scampered and jostled through the opening 2 miles in 6 24's. Purposeful and deliberate, yet calm and accepting, I was easing my way into the race. A quick next 3 miles took me through my first check point at 5 miles at an average of 6 30, gently ahead of my 6 36 average pace target to there. I was very comfortable, moving smoothly, and took huge confidence from hitting that first check point in such good condition. Game on.

Through to 10 miles still ahead of the 6 36 avg pace, I had filled up with faith and belief in myself. I maintained the smooth comfortable feeling for the most part - the only exception being an excitable 50m of high 5's with the crowd at Surrey Quays that got my heart rate racing a little. A funny and impromptu action in many ways - and a great insight into the positive mind set I had.

From there to Tower Bridge was very easy, as I looked forward to seeing Tania. Easing my way up the slope and down the far side, keeping to the left and Lo, The Fair and Beautiful face appears in shimmering glow. I smiled (probably an inane grin in reality), touched hands with Tania and bounded away with an overflow of energy and belief.

Moving through half way, happy with my effort to this point, I reflected quickly on how much better off I was vs 2014. I acknowledged to myself that it would be a long hard road to the finish, recognised that I had ran well to this point and was giving myself a chance. There was also a conscious switch of mind set as I approached the 2nd half. The faith and belief and calm of the first half were put on the back seat, and I focused on form as my priority in the passenger seat alongside me.

Ed and Gareth and a large Striders posse awaited on Narrow Street. Once I had my gels on board, seeing these guys and girls was a tremendous boost. Marathon running is hard work, and it is sapping mentally in particular. Support like that is powerful in so many ways.

I remember looking for the 15 mile marker to check my time, but don't recollect the exact time. I was still inside my 6 36 avg pace, which allowed me to "invest" in the tough miles ahead especially from 16 through to 20. Not yet digging in, my focus on running form (tall, pelvis forward) and Becca's advice about minimising swinging arms - imagine holding something between thumb and forefinger - were my mantra through to 20 miles.

Passing through 20 in  2 12 45 left 42 15 for 10k. I had delivered on the overall plan - get to 20 with a chance. A brief smile, inwardly, unnecessary expenditure of energy was out of the question. Now to take it home. With this came an adjustment to my mind set. I became very accepting of the reality that my performance would be the best it could possibly be. This had been building for several miles, now it came and sat up front beside me in the passenger seat alongside form. The effect was to liberate me to continue pushing, without fear of blowing or tiring or otherwise. I was utterly determined to take the sub 2 55 challenge all the way to the finish.

Those final miles blurred past. Gels on board again, a little water, energy from the crowd, form and acceptance working glove in hand with me. Nods and finger raises were as good as it got in acknowledgement of support from the crowd.

A loose and almost sub conscious monitoring of time at the mile markers from 21 to 23 indicated I was hanging on to the chance. At 24, I had a huge injection of belief (just 2 to go) and the finish plan emerged. I pushed as hard as I dared - maintaining pace in reality. The plan was "Get to 25, then its Parliament Square and the finish." That's when I need to pick it up with whatever is left and go for home.

Past 25, time to execute the finish plan - I don't recollect any calculations at this stage, just utter belief. Up the gentle slope (it seemed mountainous), turn for Parliament Square, I take momentum from everything around me. Careering down hill as Big Ben strikes 1 brings a big smile - I visualised this weeks ago as an indicator of having a chance. The statues in the square, inspired by them all - especially Mandela - and I'm motoring. Exiting the square, I pass Tracey McCartney - an injection of Nene Valley rivalry was another little boost to push me along.

800m to go, push with form and belief and everything else I can find. 600m and the pushing is seriously tough. I can see 400m ahead, then 200m and the roundabout and I see the race clock ticking towards and past 2 55. Instinctively, knowing I'm app 24s behind the race clock, the sprint unfolds for the last 150m. Searing hurt and effort, reminder of how it had been like that for much of the race, run for your life and time and everything that is worthwhile, and an image of Tania somewhere in the crowd.

Across the line, holding my own hands, press the button - 2 54 54 on my watch. Elation was a struggle as I was more crushed in those few post race moments than ever before in my entire life. Reaching into my goodie bag, I fall upon deodorant - where's the water! I drink whatever I find, try eating a protein bar and my jaws lock. Even my ears hurt. I come across Eve, Terry's Comrades running contact who he told me to look out for. Mingle with runners equally elated and devastated. Tumult in mind and body, where's A for Alan - it seems an eternity away. Praise and a big smile to the ladies on the luggage trailers for a great job, chatter to strangers, weak and somewhat disoriented, make progress and find the A for Alan place. James and Jim await, beaming faces and shattered bodies to share. Stunning runs from both.

Everything crystallises when Tania glides into view, beaming and bursting and bearing the news of 2 54 56 according to the official time from the marathon website. Job done. Smiles and hugs and photos and repeating ourselves, tackling the protein bar with little success again. Water, smiles, beams, pride and puffed chests midst all the pain - it had been a loyal friend throughout the race, joining me around half way and never leaving my side.

Blue skies indeed. The image from Headspace during the week had floated into my mind several times during the race, bringing a double smile beneath the deep & serious focus. Time for the rest of the blue sky day.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Dreams, Beliefs and Talismen

Dreaming is easy, especially for me. It starts in a beguilingly simple way with a hard nosed ambition - to be the best that I can be.
It builds, of course, into a voyage of discovering what "the best" actually is. And then I dream - what if I could be "that good"?
Fast forward through Paris 2011 (lessons) and 2012 (joy and lessons) to London 2014 (more lessons) and a new vision of "the best" has formed with the certainty that I can do it - run a sub 2 55 marathon in London 2015.
And it's on.
Form, weight and resulting speed - that's the formula. Add liberal amounts of visioning, discipline, intelligent adaptation of training and utter belief - and there it is.
Proof points are Nene Valley 10 in December (where I ran with belief and came home with a Good for Age % over 3% higher than my previous best ever), and Newton's Fraction last Sunday (running with utter belief again to bring home a PB on a hilly course - a better performance ).
Both races have two significant common denominators
1. They were led out for me by the talisman - James Skinner and Gareth Williams.
2. I trained, slept, woke and raced with absolute belief - fuelled from within and on going great support from Tania (racing on some beer & wine is not textbook, but when it is part of a gorgeous evening then it's good in my books)
Now it gets scary, as it is there to be done - and what a wonderful double edged feeling that is. Fuel for belief, and fuel for the nervous anticipation.
It will be a tumultuous next 5 weeks. Such is the stuff of iconic performances.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

A time of Sadness and Tributes

Peter's name appeared on the phone screen - 12:18 on Sat 29th November. It was the closest I have ever come to "Stop all the clocks ..."
I knew as I read the name on the screen what the call would tell me, and I was right. Peter's friend of decades, and my influential mentor for 10+ years - Tony Lomax - passed to a better world that morning.
Our last conversation was over a year ago - one of the rare moments of lucidity in Tony's post seizure world before he embarked on aggressive treatment for his brain tumour. Thoughts of Tony were never far away - a man of Scouse/Irish wit and intellect and passion and fierce loyalty. What a tremendous man to have learned from.
I agoinised for months about how to wish him well - what is well for a man with a terminal tumour and who lost his wife just over a year previously to cancer also?
Tears and beers - a good way to remember Tony. More of those next Friday when I attend his funeral and then fly to Kerry for a weekend with my family.
Then my good friend and fellow runner, Richard, loses his brother Chris - "expected but tough" is such an understatement from Richard, and a superb testament to the character he exudes.

The Joy of Old Technology

One of the most joyous experiences in life for me is when deeply held belief and conviction get a tangible reminder they may be founded on more than just vain hope.
Having spent much of the summer sorting out niggles, and working hard and moving house - taking on an Autumn marathon ceased to be a good idea. Therefore, I resolved to focus on London '15 and train with that in mind.
This brought the Great Eastern into focus, as I had 6 weeks or so to get into shape for a PB run and a good finish to the racing season. It was not to be, 2 weeks of running a temperature resulted in 2 weeks of lost training. I ran GER, pacing Matt & Ed to significant PB's of 1 36 - a great way to run with puropse and not race too hard when not fit to do so.
The only race left in the frame for a benchmark run was the Nene Valley 10 - flat, fast enough, a good test. Ok - lets put it in the brain plan, enter on the day, just like James was planning to do. The Gods smile in less than obvious ways.
On the Friday before the race, I broke the strap on my Polar - and I posted it back to Polar UK to fix it on Sat. That evening, I could not find my Garmin 305 - oops, no ability to set and monitor pace I thought.
Then, a cunning plan emerges as I find my 15 year old Casio sports wrist watch with timer. I think Gareth is running, so I could track him from a safe distance, then monitor my pace at Mile markers with my sports watch - Old Technology!
My, how well it worked. I used Gareth as my hare, found my rhythm after a while, never worried about pace bar checking at mile markers, and just ran smoothly & consistently hard.
I finished in 1 03 27, just 53 seconds behing Gareth. I could see him until just after half way, and by then I had warmed up and was in my rhythm. What a pacer.
I walked away, and cooled down with James Skinner - happy with a good run I thought. Then I remembered a warm up with Simn Fell & Philippa, and realised I was in one of my favourite places on a cold Sunday morning - in the company of runners who are rather good! I enjoy that, and I feed from their quality.
Fast forward to Thursday night. As we leave the Committee meeting, Brian congratulates me on a good run - 78.6% Good for Age. Hmmm, thats not bad I think. Brian mentions it may be one of my best runs. Hmmm, I think.
Analysis on Fetcheveryone reveals the best % run ever by 3% - 78.75% vs a previous best of 75.66% at Paris '12. Then, I get brave and check what that translates to as a marathon performance - app 2 55 30. Hmmm.
Here I am, in the depth of winter, running faster than I ever have. Why?
Many factors, yet 3 stand out. Long term focus on what it requires to improve; James dragging me to the 5k on Wed and guiding meto a few quality sessions in recent weeks; I am at my lightest ever racing weight - same as Paris '12. Each of these has been hard fought, and they are delivering results.
What next I ask. Thats easy. A drink, then a good sleep and some running tomorrow. And a big thank you to old technology, Gareth and James. See you both on Friday evening.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Belief Renewed

When I stood on the London Marathon start line - I believed. I set off, convinced that I could run the Utopian run that I have dreamed of and trained for. There is no other way to race, in my view. Doubt and uncertainty are inevitable along the marathon distance, and the journey to the start line is filled with both - but they have no place on the start line.

The public record shows a creditable run. My record, filled with a week of reflection and analysis, now shows a run filled with invaluable lessons. I ran hard, chased the belief fueled dream, and came up short against the dream. In doing so, I have demonstrated to myself a new performance capacity. And that is the most exciting outcome. I left another sub 3 run out there, but an incremental PB was only really a compromise of Plan B. While not caution to the wind, I tried to run hard and really test myself - and that I did, hence why it has been exciting.

I paid the price for hard running, coming to a virtual standstill 10 times in the last 7 miles. My physical conditioning held up, but my aerobic conditioning was not good enough on the day for the stuff of dreams. But it can be, and it will be next time.

Disappointment is inevitable when our belief is shown to be fallible. Dealing with that disappointment is a separate exercise, and it requires the restoration of perspective - that took a day or 2. Once dealt with, then belief came flooding back. Start line belief is focused on that event solely, and needs to be dispensed with immediately after the event. Holistic belief needs to take its place, as it now has. I believe I can, and that I will, run that iconic Utopian race in due course.

There are some hard lessons that I need to take on board from finding myself racing at a higher HR than I expected, and being unable to find the safe slower pace/lower HR place to recover in. That's why the last 10 miles were effectively run/walk and I came to a standstill so many times:
- my pace control could have been much better (when going well, I was fluctuating within a 30s window around my target pace on a flat course)
- there is still plenty of hard and intelligent work that I need to get through so that I can really chase the dream run (5S's and P - Julian Goater)
- even a belief fueled miracle run requires a good plan, born of rigorous analysis and evidence from training and racing

I will be on a marathon start line this Autumn, full of belief and fueled by even better training. Utopia - are you ready?