Just writing this sentence makes me sad, dear reader, but write it I must. The three words no runner, cyclist, swimmer, golfer, tiddlywinker or any other type of sportsman wants to say.
I AM INJURED
Sadly not just a little niggling injury. It appears to be an actual proper injury. Its my knee. My right knee to be more precise. As somebody messaged me the other day, “When you are in your 20’s you have a right knee and a left knee. When you are in your 40’s you have a good knee and a bad knee.”
Well in my case this is very true, and my bad knee is my right one.
I can run about 8km (5 miles), and then at that point my knee really starts to hurt. I was once told that on a scale of 1-10, pain above a 4 means you should stop. I am easily at a 7 by the time I have done 8km.
Being as incredibly stubborn as I am, I could probably keep going (all be it a bit slower) and run further on this bad knee. But I can’t escape the thought that I am probably doing it more damage than good by doing this.
This is all fairly disastrous news when it comes to the London Marathon in about 12 weeks time, but fear not dear reader, all is not lost. Cause when the chips are down, you need a crazy plan. And I am the KING of crazy plans.
Step up somebody who has featured on my blog before. Mr Trevor Payne. Trevor is an ex-professional Ironman, who is now one of the leading biometric coaches in the country. I am also proud to call Trevor a friend. I have attended countless training sessions with him, seen him for physio assessments in the past and there is nobodies judgement I trust more closely than his when it comes to all things endurance and physiological.
Limping back from a failed run recently, I gave Trevor a call. Realising I was not helping my knee one bit by carrying on running, I had already hatched a plan, but wanted his approval. The plan goes like this.
No more running for a while. Worst case scenario, one run a week of up to 8km (stopping before my knee really hurts)
Perform the majority of my marathon fitness work on my bike. Utilising the turbo trainer as much as possible with perhaps a long bike ride outside at the weekend.
Plenty of strength work (prescribed by Trevor) to work on stabilising this dodgy knee.
Keep up the yoga and flexibility work, cause this always helps.
Re-introduce some extra running closer to the marathon date and see how it feels.
Turn up on the day, man up more than you have ever manned up before, and get that marathon done.
Trevor has endorsed my plan with flying colours. So, the wheels have come off for “traditional” marathon training, which involves a lot of running, but the wheels are very much back on for this alternative marathon training plan.
So my friends, here we have it. I will still be at the start line of London Marathon. But I am very likely to be there having run less that I have ever done in preparation for a marathon before.
Many people, especially seasoned runners, would consider me insane for attempting to run a marathon with only a relatively small amount of running miles under my belt. Conventional wisdom has you running up to 20 miles on your longest run, with some running plans having literally 100’s of weekly miles required. But who cares about conventional wisdom? Not me!
I am very likely to turn up on the day having not even recently run a half marathon. But I will be in good shape by then. I am determined to get as much cardiovascular fitness as possible. And Trevor will make sure my knee is as well recovered as it can be.
Bloody mindedness and sheer determination will take care of the rest.
As a great endurance athlete once said “how hard can it be”.
City dweller, successful fella, thought to himself “whoops I’ve got a lot of money”……….
At this point, you have either been ear-wormed by the wonderful Country House by Blur, or you have absolutely no idea what the start of this post is all about.
Either way, my training has begun in earnest. Ran intervals yesterday. Out for a long hike early this morning with my mate Ant, and I have a 10 mile run scheduled for tomorrow. I will probably actually run about 14.5km (just over 9 miles), just because this is a nice route from my mother-in-law’s back home.
Combining running back from places I have been with the family is one of my little tricks for getting some decent long runs in, whilst not missing out on family time at the weekend. If you have gone further afield than your run dictates, just get dropped off at the right distance from home then run on back.
As the distance in marathon training increases, you start to face the quandary of fueling and hydrating yourself. As a rule of thumb, I tend to be able to run for about 90 minutes with no food or hydration at all (depending on the temperature). When we get up towards the 10 mile region, I am likely to be running about 2 hours as I will be going at a nice slow pace. This means I am likely to require both some fuel and some hydration.
Fuel is usually in the format of gels for training runs. If you are reading this and are a non-runner, these gels are essentially a thick sort of sugary paste in a handy foil pack. Nice and easy to carry and you can wedge a few in your pockets and don’t necessarily need to carry a backpack. Very good for fueling on the go.
Water is not so easy, as to carry a reasonable amount you need to either carry a bottle in your hand (it tends to get warm and not very palatable if you do this), carry it on some sort of waist belt (I have never gotten on with these) or carry a backpack with water in it.
My main issue with backpacks is that I find that they warm me up, a lot. Not being able to lose heat through my back means that I tend to run a lot hotter than I would like (one for the pun fans).
So essentially, for these “shorter” long runs (in my case ones under 2 hours), there is not really a good option for me. As it happens, I don’t have any gels and am not going to go out and buy any in the morning, so will probably just run carrying a bottle of water tomorrow and see if I can hang on with no fuel. It is only 10 miles, so should be possible.
At the same time as the marathon training, I am also trying to train for the 3 Peaks Challenge. For those of you not familiar with this, The 3 Peaks Challenge involves trying to summit the highest peaks in Scotland, England and Wales respectively. These are Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon. You have to try and do all this in 24 hours. Usually this is about 13 hours of hillwalking with 11 hours of driving in-between.
In my usual style, I have just decided to randomly do this with my mate Ant. Neither of us has any hill walking experience to speak of, but he is a fit fella and good company so we just decided to give it a go. I am far behind him on fitness, but reckon I should be able to keep up. We take on this challenge at the end of July.
I am hoping that the hiking and hill walking training for the 3 Peaks Challenge compliments the marathon training, but there is a real risk of me doing too much and getting injured if I push the training too far. On the other hand, if I do not do enough training and I get in trouble on one of these mountains due to a lack of fitness, that would also be bad.
I feel that as an endurance athlete (and it is a real stretch calling me any sort of athlete, but please just indulge me) this is the tightrope that you are always walking. You need to push hard enough so your body adapts, but if you push too hard you get injured.
The good news is that the human body is capable of some phenomenal things when needed. Training for a marathon is tough. Chucking in the 3 Peaks Challenge in the middle of this makes it tougher. Plus I have a 100KM through hike with my wife at the start of September.
If there is ever going to be a time that my body decides to be phenomenal, it needs to be over the next 14 weeks.
If you are not familiar with DEFCON statuses, then you have clearly not seem the 1983 film War Games. And if you have not seen the film War Games, then you should immediately stop what you are doing, go and watch War Games, then come back and read the rest of this. Because you clearly have not lived.
Now you have seen War Games and are familiar with the DEFCON statuses, you will understand that DEFCON 4 is not good. We are very close to full blown panic here people. And this is precisely where I find myself. Let me tell you a little story, dear reader.
So today is Good Friday. Which is something to do with Jesus. Anyway, it is a bank holiday which means that you don’t have to work. Except in my case I did do a bit of work this morning. Even though it is bank holiday. But that is not the point so I will shut up about it.
Anyway I woke up, did a bit of work, tidyed up the garden and got ready for our friends who were coming round for a BBQ. Now usually this would be a good opportunity for me to relax and have a few beers, but I wanted to go for a run, so no beers for me.
We had a lovely BBQ, the kids played in the garden, it was warm (but not too warm) and all was well.
After everybody had gone about 7.30pm it was time for my run. A simple 35 minute route that I have run 1000 times. I was happy with myself for eating well during the day and not having any drinks and was ready to run.
No sooner had I set out of the door and started running that my right hip flexor immediately screamed out in pain. Now I had warmed up properly and was running slowly, but it instantly hurt, a lot. Now this is nothing new for me. My hip flexors fail all the time and they hurt a lot when I run, but usually after about 20 miles or so, not 20 metres.
On I plodded, hip flexor screaming with every stride and then I started to feel like I was running through treacle. Like the air itself was thick. Like running in a swimming pool. Goodness me it was hard. My heart rate was way too high for the pace I was doing and I could not get any air in. I checked my watch, I had run 800 metres!
Slowing down, I kept on going, hoping these early run niggles would go away and I could get into my stride. How wrong I was. The hip pain was then joined by knee pain on the same side. I could not shake the thought in my head spinning round and round. “You are going to have to walk” it kept saying to me. Walk. Fecking Walk! I had done just over 1km and I was having to walk. But walk I did. I had absolutely nothing in the tank.
Now this was not a great situation to be in. I am not the best runner in the world, but I can run a bit. Under normal circumstances I can easily run for 35 minutes, but this is clearly not normal circumstances.
I was angry with myself. Angry that my lungs seem to have packed up and not get any air in. That my muscles and body seemed to be as tired as it would be at the end of an Ultra Marathon. Understandable in an Ultra Marathon. Not so understandable after 1km of running.
Now there is nothing wrong with walking. In fact, I walk a lot during my marathons, but this was not a marathon. This was a 35 minute run that there should be no walking. So I decided to run again. And run I did, slowly, for about 100 metres, and then I had to stop, again. And this is how it went for a while. Run for a bit, get exhausted, walk, run for a bit, get exhausted, you get the idea.
20 minutes into my “run” and I had covered just over 2km. Not good. I felt awful. I was very sad and angry and I did not understand. A mental checklist went through my mind.
Am I overtrained – No
Did I sleep well last night – Yes
Any boozing – No
Diet decent – Yes
Did I run recently and that is why I am struggling – No
There was no obvious reason. As the time wound on I was just getting more and more upset. I felt so sad I could cry. How the hell am I ever going to be able to run a marathon for Daisy’s Dream if I can’t even run for 35 minutes? I am a better runner than this. But clearly that is not the case.
40 minutes into the run and the 5km distance clocked up on my watch with a unceremonious beep. The beep almost felt like it was mocking me. Stupid watch. I was about 1km from home and it may as well have been 100. There I was, in my full run gear with running vest, cap, shorts and trainers walking down the main road back to my house. Like an overweight fella who thought he could run but clearly could not. Shuffling along like a useless blob. I was sad and angry in equal measure, so I forced myself to run. I can run 1km. Just run. Run Snooky, run.
So I ran, for about 200 metres and then my back started to hurt. So now I have the following things wrong with me.
My right hip flexor is agony each time my foot hits the groud
My right knee is hurting me
I cannot get any air into my lungs at all
I feel like I am running through treacle
My back hurts
All this after 5km of “running”. A marathon is 42km. I have done many of them. I quickly worked out that at the pace I had run I would be looking at a 6hr 30 minute marathon finishing time. You can walk one faster than that!
So I walked, again. All the way home. It took me 55 minutes to complete a loop that normally takes 35. For those mathemeticians amongst us, that is an increase of 57.14%.
And now I am sitting here, writing this blog. My hips are aching me. My shoulders ache. My left knee is now a bit sore. From a 6km walk with a bit of running. Absolutely and completely pathetic.
I know what I am going to do about this. The same thing that I always do. But I will tell you what that is another time.
Enjoy your Easter weekend people. Hope that the sun shines and you get lost of nice chocolate eggs to scoff down and that if you do go out running, it is better than mine. Though you would do well to make it worse.
So, only one week and one day later than planned, Project 80 launches today.
Project 80 is simple. I need to weight 80kg or less by the time I get to run London Marathon. Ideally, it could do with being closer to 75kg I think, but 80 is probably more realistic.
Before we get into why this is important, I am aware that some of you cannot figure out kilograms (kg) and may prefer weight measurements to be in stone and pounds (st, lbs) or just pounds (lbs). I will do my best to do the relevant conversions for you as we go though this.
So, a long time ago I wrote a blog post explaining why weight is particularly important in running. At the time I was training for a 100 mile ultra marathon (which I never even made the start line of) but if you want to read this you can find it here. Time to Address the Elephant in the Room
The basic premise is this.
When you run the ground force through your joints is 2 – 2.9 times your body weight each time your foot hits the ground
A marathon is 42,000 metres. Assuming I travel a metre per stride, that is 42,000 foot strikes
If I weight 100kg (15st 10lbs, 220lbs) then this is 100 x 2.5 (if we take the average from the first point) x 42,000 which equals 10,500,000kg of force my legs have to absorb over a marathon distance.
If I weigh 80 kg (12st 8lbs, 176lbs) this number reduces to 8,400,000kg of force, a reduction of 2.1 million kg of force my body has to absorb
The largest bull elephants weigh about 6000kg, so the reduction in impact force is around 350 elephants worth. Thats quite a lot.
Then things get even more interesting. According to a podcast I listened to a long time ago (which I now cannot find to reference) athetic performance increases roughly 5% for every 10% of bodyweight you drop, assuming that you only drop fat and maintain muscle. Now bearing in mind I want to drop about 20-25% bodyweight (I currently weight more than 100kg (220lbs or 15st 10lbs) I could be looking at a performance increase of 10% or more. This would mean that my current marathon speed of around 12.5 minute miles would improve to possibly sub 11 minute miles, which would improve my marathon finish time from 5hrs 30 minutes to around 4hrs 48 minutes.
Now all of the above is just based on weight alone. It does not factor in improvements in fitness that can be made from training. It is only taking into account my current level of fitness and my current weight vs my ideal racing weight. So if I get the training right and the weight loss right I could be closing in on 4hr 30min marathon, or perhaps less.
Whilst marathon running is not all about finishing times, believe me being out there for an hour less is a good thing. Marathons are hard. Really hard. You usually feel OK up to around mile 18-20, then you face 6-8 miles of pain and suffering to get over the line. If that pain and suffering can last a bit less time that can only be a good thing.
All things considered it is a good idea to weigh less than I do when running. Quite a lot less in fact. So, for the 133rd time of trying, I am going to have to lose weight. Something that is relatively easy to do in your 20’s, trickier in your 30’s and very hard to do in your 40’s. Combined with the fact that endurance exercise is not actually that good for weight loss (I will blog about this another time) and the fact that too much training tends to break my body anyway, basically I am just going to have to eat a lot less.
I really like food though. That is how I got into this position in the first place 🙂
Then again, if White Goodman can succeed on his weight loss journey and almost lead the Cobras to victory against Honest Joes in the American Dodgeball Association of America International Dodgeball Competition then I am sure I can do the same, and run London at a weight substantially less than I am right now.
So off we go. Not only do I need to train hard and rest and recover, but I will be needing to do this on a calorie deficit. Should be fun.
Next post will be about running and not about being overweight, I promise.
To track Project 80 and see how well (or not) I am getting on please use the Project 80 page
So here we go again. Another event signed up for, but this one is a biggun and it is VERY special to me.
I have been selected for a charity place for the London Marathon in October and I will be running for the wonderful Daisy’s Dream.
Daisy’s Dream specialise in supporting children through bereavement. I was asked to run for them by a lovely friend of mine called Michelle. Daisy’s Dream supported her son through some tough times after Michelle’s husband took his own life when her son was only small.
Michelle has been a long time supporter of Daisy’s Dream, and when they asked her if she knew anybody who might want to run the London Marathon and raise some money for the charity, I was delighted when Michelle thought of me.
Running London has been a dream of mine ever since I started all this running mullarkey about 9 years ago (at the ripe old age of 34)! The chances of getting a ballot place are now very slim (even though I have tried every year) so the opportunity to take on a rare charity spot for such a great charity is one I am truly honoured to have.
I will post more about Michelle’s story and the charity themselves as my training increases towards the race on the 2nd October this year. There is plenty of time for that. I know what you are really wanting to know about dear reader, and that is “what sort of condition are you in to even run a marathon Snooky?”
Well, as you asked, let me summarise my current level of fitness and general health below.
I am currently 20kg heavier than I have ever been when attempting a race like this.
My right knee is not in good condition. This is caused by my right leg being a lot weaker than my left for no obvious reason.
I had about 2 months off of any exercise over Christmas due to a back spasm caused by playing golf!
I can’t really run more than about 5km, and even if I do run 5km it is slower than I have ever been.
At the time of writing this, I am positive with Covid-19
Reading the above, you may well think to yourself that I have no right to be doing anything other than just sitting on the sofa and smashing out the Netflix documentaries. And you would probably be right. But there are a few things that you have probably not considered in all this. A few things that I should make you aware of so we can all start my new blogging journey off on the right foot.
I can and will lose the 20kg extra that I am carrying before I run London (see Project 80).
This right knee problem can be fixed. Losing the weight will massively help, plus I can work on strength and mobility to help with this.
The problematic back can be kept in check with Yoga and mobility work and perhaps playing less golf (though this last one is never going to happen)
5km is pretty good for somebody who doesn’t run much any more. Plus, I will get quicker and my endurance will improve with trianing
Covid will be gone soon.
The final thing to consider in all of this, and probably the most important one, is that my motivation to complete this race and raise money for Daisy’s Dream could not possibly be higher. With the right level of motivation, anything is possible.
I will be throwing absolutely everything into my training to get my body and mind into the best shape possible before the race in October.
It has been a long while since I have regularly blogged, so am committed to keeping this up to date once or twice a week right up to the race and beyond.
I do have some much bigger endurance racing goals for 2023 and beyond, but for the time being lets focus on the task in hand and get ready for London Marathon 2022.
Hope you are all safe and well out there in the world and managing to dodge Covid as best you can. Take care all and speak soon.
It’s 0700 on Sunday 30th April and my alarm has just gone off. Must be time for the Three Forts Challenge.
Those of you who regularly read my blog will already know, I was a bit nervous about this marathon. The Three Forts Challenge has the tagline of “the tough one”, and this is for good reason. With over 1000m of elevation over the marathon distance, this was going to be very hilly. Run amongst the beautiful South Downs, whilst being tough this marathon also had the added bonus of having a cut off time of 6 hours. Bearing in mind it takes me 5 hours to run a totally flat marathon, I was very concerned I would not make it through the course within the 6 hour time window.
Now the best advice is to always prepare your gear the night before a race and I would strongly recommend that anybody follow this advice. In my case though, I never ever do, so was scrambling around trying to find all the gear I wanted to take with me. Having eventually located it all and scoffed down a bowl of porridge, I bid a fond adieu to my wife and kids and headed off to Worthing, where the race would start.
Arriving at the race car park I was faced with the usual group of fellow runners. All whippet thin, with legs like gnarled tree trunks, my nerves were getting worse not better. I found a space on the grass to sit down and started to organise my race pack.
I was trying something new for this race. Having had a recommendation from an old golfing buddy turned ultra-runner, I was trying out Tailwind. You simply add a sachet of tailwind to your water bottle and there is no need to take on any additional food or electrolytes on your run. No gels, no sandwiches (a personal favourite of mine), no jelly babies. Nothing. Having used it on one training run with great success, I was keen to see what it could do during a long race.
Having sorted out my pack, I started upon my pre-race warm up routine when Bushy and Marie showed up. I knew they were coming to support me and it was great to see them. Both were very encouraging and said they had ultimate faith in me getting through the race before the 6 hour cut off. There were going to drive around the course and meet me at various points. It was brilliant to have some support along. Especially brilliant that it was Bushy, who was at my side for the vast majority of my Ironman race and without him I would never have finished it. Shame he was just at the sidelines rather than running with me, but he is joining me later in my 13 in 12 journey for the Midnight Man Marathon, so will look forward to running with him then.
After a few pre-race photos, it was time for the off. With the local town crier announcing the start of the race, we were away. I started a the back (as is my custom), and received hearty cheers from the crowd as we made our way out of the playing field and immediately started to climb up a wide dirt track. The first climb of the race took us to Cissbury Ring, one of the three Iron Age forts the Three Forts Challenge is named for. I felt my usual nerves at the start of the race, but quickly calmed down and concentrated on not tripping over as we made our way up single track alongside Hill Barn and Worthing golf courses. I have played both golf courses, and couldn’t help but think that perhaps I would be better with my 5 iron than my running shoes. Too late though, the race was on.
As the route continued to climb it opened out a bit, allowing the pack to spread out. Due to the undulating nature of the route, you could often see way into the distance and I was impressed to see runners already way ahead of me, despite being going only about 20 minutes. Just before the 5k mark we found ourselves on the top of the first hill next to Cissbury Ring. There is no fort there, just a circle of trees where the fort used to be, but it was cool to think of an ancient fort being there and I found my mind tracking back to what it must of been like 100’s of years ago. No road, no power lines, no fences. Just rolling hillside and probably a lot more trees.
Turning away from Cissbury, we were treated to a beautiful view of Lancing College, with its gothic architecture. I have always loved how Lancing College looks, but had never seen it from this vantage point.
The course then made its way down into the valley of the River Adur. This was the first point that Bushy and Marie were going to meet up with me and I knew it was at the 7 mile marker. To be on track for finishing in less than 6 hours, I would need to be at this point no more than 1hr 30 mins from race start. Amazingly, as I jogged towards the aide station after the river crossing, I was only at 1hr 5 mins of race time. 25 minutes ahead of schedule.
Emptying a package of Tailwind into my water bottle and filling it up from the aide station, I exchanged a few words with Bushy and Marie about how good I was feeling and how much I was enjoying the race and then I was off. Bushy kindly pointed out to me “the hill is that way”, gesturing towards the next challenge, the climb up to Devils Dyke.
I genuinely felt great at this point. I was consuming 500ml of water with Tailwind in it per hour and was bang on this schedule. I had died not to look at my heart rate whilst running this race and just run “on feel”. This is something that Tufty (triathlon coach who I owe a lot of my Ironman success to) had encouraged me to do on occasion. Don’t be slave to the gadgets, just run based on feel. If you feel good, keep going. If it gets tough, slow down a bit. Just keep going. I had been following this mantra and the race was unfolding nicely. That being said it was a long way to go still. The Three Forts Challenge is actually 1 mile longer than a normal marathon (27.2 miles rather than 26.2) so at the 7 mile marker I was only 1/4 distance into the race.
Making my way across a main road I was then on a steep single track towards Devils Dyke. Walking up this single track, it flattened out a bit into a field which then turned into a road. This road was fairly steep and most people around me were walking up it. I fell into step; however I felt good, so almost immediately decided to run. Starting running, I was overtaking a few people. This hill was relentless, going on and on and on and on, but I kept running and kept on overtaking others. I really was feeling strong. Far stronger than I expected to. I kept on sipping at my Tailwind and just kept on running. We then reached an undulating section, where I was confronted with a runner coming the other way. This was the race leader, who had already reached Devils Dyke (the race turning point) and was on his way back. I made mental note that this was after 1hr 40 minutes of running. I wanted to see what time it would be when I was at the same race point on the way back.
After the undulating section there was more climbing across fields where I managed to keep on running and quickly found myself at the turn around point, where once again, Bushy and Marie were waiting. They both commented about how good I looked. I must admit I felt great. No need to get anything from the aide station (due to the Tailwind) so I had a quick cup of water from a very friendly race marshall, bid Bushy and Marie farewell and was back off the way I had come.
I knew that Bushy and Marie would make their way back to the River Adur aide station to see me again, so I decided to try and beat them back. Other than the undulating big, it was almost entirely downhill and I wanted to try and run hard down this section. Making my way back towards the downhill, I noted the point where I had seen the first placed runner and I was 40 minutes behind him. “Not bad”, I thought to myself, though tis was less than halfway. Reaching the downhill I picked up my run pace and flew down the hill, again overtaking many fellow runners.
Picking my way down the final section of single track, my quads were on fire from running downhill for so long, but as I got to the aide station I was very happy to see I had beaten Bushy and Marie there. They had probably been for a coffee and a bacon sandwich in that period of time, so there was no real victory, but I had been quicker than they expected me to be which I was pleased about.
At this point in the race the route does not follow the same route we had run out, and diverts off into unknown territory. Finding yet more rolling hills, I once again was overtaking people on the uphill. Approaching 3 hours of running, I still felt great and was beyond the half way point. I decided to give Cat a ring at this point just to say hello and let her know I was getting on OK. I phoned her at the 26km point. I had been running for 3 hours at this point and had 18km to go. It was great to chat with her and she was delighted to hear that I was getting on well. After a quick chat, it was back on with the running.
Climbing again, at around the 28km mark my hip flexors started to really hurt me. This is common on my long runs and I knew I just had to keep going and it would hopefully pass. There were very few runners around me at this point. The race had really spread out and I seemed to be mostly on my own as I wound my way uphill, past a pig farm and onto yet more rolling Sussex hills. The route of the race is simply beautiful. I am lucky enough to have been brought up and lived the majority of my life close to the South Downs. Despite this, I am consistently overwhelmed by their beauty, and today was no different.
During this point in the race I was reflecting back to some chats I had had with other runners earlier on. People had noticed my Chestnut Tree House vest and asked me if I was fundraising for them. I mention my 13 in 12 challenge, which was met by all who had asked me with equal praise and admiration. To all of you who may be reading this who chatted with me about my fundraising, it was great to get your support out on the course and lovely to meet you.
The race climbed on and on up to Chanctonbury, the final of the three Iron Age forts and the highest point I the race. Reaching this was a great milestone and forcing myself to keep going had meant that I had pushed through my hip flexor pain and was once again feeling strong. I had kept up the regiment of Tailwind (one sachet in 500ml of water per hour) and I must admit that it seemed to be working an absolute charm. Having reached the top of Chanctonbury, it was downhill for a while, then we had to climb once again up to Cissbury Ring before dropping back dow to the finish.
At the 4 hour mark it had started to rain a bit. I didn’t mind. The fresh rain had that amazing smell that you get when it first starts raining. It wasn’t raining hard and I was enjoying the run so it took nothing away from the experience. Reaching the low point before the climb back to Cissbury, I was making my way along a farm side track where I saw Bushy and Marie huddling under an umbrella. This was totally unexpected as I thought I would see them again at the the finish. I stopped for a quick chat. As you can see from the photo, I look a bit the worse for wear, though I felt great. Hip Flexors were playing up a bit, but otherwise I was in very good spirits.
Saying goodbye to Bushy and Marie for the final time before the finish, I knew that I had only 8km to go. Once final climb and then it was mostly downhill to the finish. The climb up to Cissbury was steep and as usual I was walking it. It started to level off a bit and I started to run. My legs felt good. I was passing other runners again. This never happens to me, and especially not after being on my feet for over 4 hours. “This Tailwind really is magic stuff”, I was thinking to myself as I rounded the back of Cissbury and knew I had about 4-5km to go.
Unbelievably, I decided to run hard for this final stretch. My body felt willing and I had a chance of coming in at around the 5 hour mark which would be brilliant.
Running through the final undulating sections I eventually found myself on the single track past the golf courses towards the finish. Due to being within 2km of home, there were other runners around me who were also pushing themselves. I kicked hard and managed to pull away from them. All of them. I was flying as I went down the final hill, turned into the playing fields and crossed the line.
5hours and 5 minutes according to my watch. Far beyond my wildest expectations and also only 3 minutes off a marathon PB (set on a totally flat Brighton Marathon course). Hang on a minute. The Three Forts Challenge is 1 mile longer than a normal marathon. Looking back at the data from my running watch, I was through the marathon distance in 4hrs 55 minutes. So that is officially a marathon personal best on a super hilly course. I will take that any day of the week.
Finding Bushy and Marie straight after the race, I was simply delighted with my run. I loved every second of the Three Forts Challenge. The Tailwind I used for nutrition was excellent. The course was superb, all the marshals and volunteers were outstanding. My fellow competitors were friendly and supportive. All in all a brilliant event in simply stunning surroundings. I will definitely be running this one again.
One final thought from me before I sign off this blog post. For the first time ever, the first time in my life, I finally feel like a proper runner. I was able to enjoy and entire race. I got my nutrition right, my hydration right, my gear right and as a result I loved every second of this race. It may seem strange to some, but I had never thought of myself as a decent runner before this race.
There may be a bit more at play than this, and I am indebted to a college at work and his NLP (Neuro-Lingustic Programming) skills, but I will leave this for another blog post.
On Sunday 30th April I am running the Three Forts Challenge, a 27.2 mile off road marathon. The second of the thirteen marathons I have planned over the next twelve months. This is going to be a hilly one people!
From the title of this blog post, you would be right in thinking that I am a bit nervous about this race. This assumption would be perfectly valid. In fact, I had an anxiety dream about not finishing the race last night.
This is not due to the distance, or due to the hills. It is due to the cut off time. I did not check this when I booked; however upon reviewing the race website over the weekend I noticed that the race must be completed in 6 hours. That is 27.2 miles (or 43.5km) of tough hilly off road racing in 6 hours. Bearing in mind that it took me over 5 hours to complete the totally flat Brighton Marathon just 3 weeks ago, and you can start to see why I am feeling nervous.
Over the weekend I met up with my friend Tom, who is running the Race to the King (my 53 mile June Ultra-marathon) with me. We went out for a 3 hour run on the South Downs, starting and ending in Amberley. The terrain is extremely similar to what I will face at the marathon. The Three Forts Challenge has 1050 metres of elevation spread across the race distance. On Sunday, we covered 22.7km in 3 hours, with 554m of elevation.
Using simple mathematics (thank you Mr Hyden and GCSE Maths), we can work out that if I match the exact same pace I managed on Sunday at the Three Forts Challenge in 6 days time, I will cover 45.4 km in 6 hours (allowing for 1108 metres elevation).
So the race itself is 43.5km in 6 hours with 1050 metres of elevation, and I am theoretically capable of 45.4km in 6 hours with 1108 elevation. Easy, right? Nothing to worry about. I will be back with plenty of time to spare (well at least 10 minutes).
Except sadly there is plenty to worry about. I will need to stop at aide stations and get water and perhaps some food. Though this will not take long, it will eat into my time. As will the inevitability that I will not be able to maintain the same pace I would run for 3 hours over 6 hours. This is twice the distance, twice the hills and twice the time on my feet. Alas, I am more confident of returning from the race on Sunday with a DNF (Did Not Finish), than a medal.
This will mean two things. One, I will need to fit in another marathon over the next 12 months to make sure I hit my challenge of 13 marathons in 12 months. Two, the realisation of how far away I am from being able to run 53 miles non-stop (on the exact same type of terrain), will hit me like a tonne of bricks.
That’s it for this blog post. Very cheery I am sure you will agree. I am going to finish my glass of wine, watch a bit of TV and then go to bed. Perhaps overnight I will metamorphosize into Scott Jurek, or Charlie Engle, or one of my other ultra-running heroes? Or perhaps I will turn into somebody who simply doesn’t bite off more than he can chew and knows his limits.
Whilst both of these outcomes is equally unlikely as the other one, what I do know is that the human body is capable of some remarkable things when it is pushed. The Three Forts Challenge will push me, probably right to the edge, but one thing is for certain. If I don’t make the 6 hour cut off time, it will not be through a lack of effort!
I have read time and time again, that to get better as a long distance endurance athlete you need to run/cycle/swim more slowly.
The idea is that I should be exercising at an intensity that I could hold a conversation with somebody. That my heart rate is up, but not up too much. That I am in “Zone 2”, meaning that my heart rate is in that sweet spot for maximising aerobic capacity.
I usually run my training runs with a heart rate monitor, so keeping track of my heart rate is relatively easy. Using a calculation taken from the Don Fink book “Be Iron Fit’, and having achieved a maximum heart rate whilst running of 191bpm (just after crossing the line at the Great South Run following a sprint finish), I know that I need to keep my heart rate under 162bpm to stay in the magical “aerobic zone”.
Borrowing further from Rich Roll, who mentions in his excellent book “Finding Ultra” the need for him to slow down his training speed to get fitter for the mega endurance events, I have concentrated on keeping my heart rate at around the 140-145 mark. This feels about right to me. I am not out of breath, feel like I can run forever at this pace but am still getting a reasonable workout. At least I think I am. But there is one problem. I am getting slower.
Using good old Strava (click the link to follow me), I can keep an eye on my runs and track if I am getting quicker or not. Almost universally, I seem to be getting slower. Despite now running 5 days a week and concentrating on keeping in Zone 2, I am definitely getting slower.
I keep telling myself that perhaps this is not such a bad thing. Perhaps you have to get slower before you get quicker. After all, I am not trying to break any world records. That being said, it would be nice to at least feel that I am fitter and faster than I was two years ago. I simply must be fitter. There is no way you can do the amount of training I have done over the last two years and not get fitter. I have done an Ironman for God sakes. The problem is, the evidence just does not show this.
In April 2015 I was well over a stone (7kg) heavier than I am now, but I ran the Brighton Marathon in 2015 a full 4 minutes quicker than I ran it just a couple of weeks ago. I am lighter than I was in 2015 and am almost certainly fitter, but I am slower. All of my runs on Strava are tracking slower too.
If anybody out there is reading this and has experienced something similar, please get in touch and let me know. I am especially intrigued to know if you did eventually get faster, or if I am destined to be the slowest fit person in England.
It’s 4:30am and my alarm has just gone off. Must be time for the Brighton Marathon.
The first thing you might wonder is why the hell have I gotten up at 4.30am for a marathon that doesn’t start until 9.30am. Well I would like to say it is because I like to be super organised, but the real reason is a much longer story. To save you from all that, lets just say that I was supposed to stay locally to Brighton for the marathon, but due to one of my kids being ill and a few other unforeseen circumstances I had to stay at home in Portsmouth. So the early alarm call was to give me time to drive to Brighton and get parked before they shut the roads at 7am.
So following my drive to Brighton I was all parked up at 6.30am and meeting with Nicky from Chestnut Tree House for a taxi up to the marathon start, which is at Preston Park. Whilst loitering around on the street waiting for her, there was an unusual mix of people about. Littered amongst the lycra clad, bag carrying marathon runners were a few guys and girls who were just getting home from their night out. I fondly recalled that I used to be one of those revellers. Now I get my kicks from getting up early and running marathons. Funny how times change.
Anyway, soon enough I had met up with Nicky and some of the Chestnut volunteers and was on my way in a taxi to the start.
We were soon set up in our spot by the clock tower, and in dribs and drabs my fellow runners started to arrive. Some were running the 10k, with others running the marathon like me. As I watched everybody go about their pre-marathon rituals, pinning numbers to their vests and chatting about how much training they had done, I was delighted to see so many runners supporting the charity which I love. Chestnut and St Barnabas had over 300 runners this year, which is hugely impressive.
Soon I was deep into conversation (well mainly banter really) with Mark, Martin, Dave and Josh who I have all met through Chestnut. None of us are expert runners, but we are all equally dedicated to Chestnut / St Barnabas and fundraising for such a great cause. It was lovely to talk to them before the race. Martin was only supporting, as he has London Marathon in a couple of weeks. Mark was running the 10k with Dave, Josh and I all running the marathon.
Soon it was time to make our way down to the start corrals and await the off. There were a lot of people around. Having not run at Brighton in 2016 I was amazed how much more busy the event had got since 2015. There were literally 10’s of 1000’s of runners in all shapes and sizes. I said goodbye to Dave and Josh (who were in a different starting group to me) and made my way into the yellow starting wave. Each wave is seeded depending on your predicted finish time. I had gone for a very ambitious 4-4.30 finishing time group. A 4.30 marathon would probably be my best possible effort, but nothing ventured nothing gained……..right?
Once the white and green waves had gone, the yellow group shuffled slowly towards the starting line. There was a real buzz in the air, with people cheering and shouting. Despite this, I had an overwhelming sense of sadness wash over me. I run to raise money for Chestnut Tree House. Chestnut care for children with life shortening conditions. The children they care for rarely make it to adulthood. I was thinking about those kids, what their lives must be like and the wonderful work that Chestnut do to enrich them and a tear formed in the corner of my eye. It is an honour to run for Chestnut, and the weight of this honour fell deeply on my soul at this moment.
Slowly as we inched closer to the start it was time to start jogging and over the line I went. 2 years ago I started the marathon far too fast and paid the price, so I started nice and slowly at my target pace of 6:30 per km. We were off and running, and as we made our way round the park and off towards Brighton the sun was shining and it was a great day to be a runner. I felt fit (despite my lack of training) and was excited about the race.
Sticking closely to my pace through the first 5km, and then past 10km I was running well and feeling good. The crowd was noisy and all was well. Rather amusingly, due to wearing a back pack you could not quite see my name properly on my top. As you can see from the pictures, it looks like I have Nooky written on my top rather than Snooky. This lead to many smiles from me as the crowd shouted out “go on Nooky”. Some people were a bit quizzical about me having Nooky on my top, but never the less the crowd were cheering and shouting my name.
All of this was brilliant. All except for one thing. It was very very hot. For so early in the morning (around 10:30am at this point) it was really warm. The forecast had been for up to 23 degrees. I had no idea how hot it was, but it was easily 20 degrees at this point and was only going to get hotter.
As we proceeded out onto the seafront for the long slog towards Ovingdean, the heat became very real indeed. There was a light breeze blowing into our faces, but the sun was relentless and I was ploughing though my water bottle and topping it up at every aide station. Others were clearly suffering in the heat too, and you could hear the mutterings of other runners all around, all saying how hot it was. Having almost no experience of running marathons in the heat, I decided to keep my pace steady, concentrate on drinking a lots of water, and keep on going.
Turning around at Ovingdean and back towards the pier to complete the half marathon, I was still feeling good but was very worried about the heat and the impact it might be having on me. For the relevant pace I was going, my heart rate was about 15-20bpm higher than it should have been. I took this as a sure sign that the weather was taking it’s toll on me and was starting to fear that I was running into trouble. Sometimes, it sucks to be right.
Running relatively strongly past the 15 mile marker I started to suffer. I was so hot. Ridiculously hot. It must have been in the mid 20’s (or it certainly felt like it) and I was struggling. There was no choice but to start a walk/run strategy. Giving my heart rate a chance to slow down a bit whilst walking was a good idea, and God. knows I needed a bit of a rest. I continued this strategy through the 18 mile mark, started to feel a bit stronger and picked up the pace.
All the way round my friend Sarah (who was there supporting her girlfriend Liz) had been bumping into me and she gave me a little pep talk as I approached the dreaded power station section. My hip flexors had given up by this point (as they often do) and I lamented to her that perhaps one day I will get them sorted. Haven’t managed this yet in 3 years of endurance racing, but you never know.
As I got to the power station the heat started to become very real. There were fellow runners conking out everywhere. People were laid on the ground. Many were repeatedly being sick and there were St Johns Ambulance people all over the place. Those volunteers do a great job, but I definitely did not want to see one up close. I knew my wife would be worried about me running in the heat, so I gave her a call at this point. Usually I would not have my phone whilst running, but I have been practicing wearing my race backpack that I will use on the ultra marathon, so had my phone close at hand.
Cat was very glad to hear from me, and as I walked along talking to her she reminded me that this was my first marathon of 13 this year, and all I needed to do was finish not “kill myself” on the first one. I took her counsel well, and proceeded with my walk run strategy round the power station. As we got to mile 22, I tucked in behind a couple who were running together. The man had an M-dot tattoo on his left calf, meaning he had completed an Ironman triathlon in the past. I have a very similar tattoo myself, so decided that I would stick with him and he could pace me to the finish. Sticking close behind the couple for a couple more miles, I then walked the first half of mile 24 before deciding to run to the finish.
As the saying goes, “the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray”, and I could not maintain the run for that long. I was clearly way more dehydrated than I had thought, so after one more brief walk I ran the final mile and crossed the line in 5:07.
Bearing in mind the ridiculous heat, I was very pleased with the time. Sadly I felt absolutely awful when I stopped running and had to make my way to the Chestnut Tree House tent in the event village for a well earned packed of crisps and a nice cold coke. Following on from this I felt OK again, and reflected back on what I now consider to be my hardest ever marathon. I have run much hillier races, an also run a marathon at the end of an Ironman after swimming 2.4 miles and cycling 112, but Brighton this year was definitely physically my toughest.
I guess I just don’t do too well in the heat. Still I have learnt some valuable lessons from this marathon, and will take these with me into my next marathon, the Three Forts Challenge, on the 30th April (3 weeks time). This will pose a whole new set of problems, with over 1000 metres of climbing over the 27 mile course. Let’s hope it’s not so hot!
As always, I would like to say a massive thank you to the amazing Chestnut Tree House supporters who turned up in the heat to cheer us all on. Also a huge thanks to my wife Cat, who was busy spamming Facebook with updates as my race unfolded, trying to get the sponsorship money flowing.
So with one marathon under my belt, and 12 more to go (including two ultra marathons), it is time for me to sign off and get my head into gear for the next short burst of training before the 30th. Hope you are all well.
PS – if you can please share my website using the buttons below or in the column on the left I would be hugely grateful. I really want to raise as much money as I can for Chestnut and everybody who shares this on Facebook, Twitter or any other social media will be helping raise much needed money for this hugely deserving charity.
This morning I sent out my first Facebook post to start the ball rolling on my fundraising for my 13 marathons in 12 months challenge.
It is always strangely nerve wracking trying to raise money for charity. In 2015 I set a very ambition fundraising target and managed to hit it (see article here). This year I am trying for even more. To better what I achieved in 2015.
You never know whether people are going to be inspired to donate or not. You cannot tell whether your story is interesting enough, or people will care as much as you do about the charity you support.
All I want is to do Chestnut Tree House proud. It truly is an amazing place, full of inspirational people and some of the loveliest people I have ever met work for them. The care that they provide is second to none, and without them there would be 100’s of children with life limiting illnesses that would receive nothing. No care at all, during what must be an awful time in their lives.
Fingers crossed this fundraising goes well. Fingers crossed people are inspired. Fingers crossed that me, one man, can successfully run 13 marathons in 12 months and raise a bucket load of cash for a very deserving cause.
Follow the link below to see more about my fundraising, or click here to read about it on this website.