Total Pageviews

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Fifth and Final....London Marathon 2018

Never say never, but this year's race was not part of the season's plan which is to prepare for the European Duathlon Championships in October. As that's October, the 26.2 plod wouldn't really affect things that late in the year and so having qualified for this at last year's London marathon with a 'good for age' time, the honour of achieving that whilst so many runners face the frustration of missing out in the regular 'ballot', meant that i felt obliged....

It really is my last marathon though, honest, unless i rise to the challenge of unfinished business at Snowdon in the future. I have no beef with London. Four attempts so far, attempts at a sub 3 hour time. Two successful, two failures. A hat trick would be nice i guess. 

Training for a sub 3 for me, is pretty hard. I never manage huge mileage, due to both time and fatigue constraints - my body doesn't really like more than 35-40 mile weeks without some old war wounds rearing their heads, plus I'm not getting any younger. A couple of 20 milers bolted onto my duathlon schedule was about all i did to prep for London. I knew this wasn't enough, despite some assurances that I'd be good. 20 miles every Sunday in the winter we just had? No thanks!

The first 20 mile training run involved a 10 mile straight out the door - dead east, into the Beast of the East, at night, with snow and ice all around. My partner Theresa decided to bike along side me for company in that weather. Guess who was the colder at the end?! With 17 miles done, i was also getting cold and commanded Tez to ride on home, put the bath on and order a curry. That's what pretty much got me through the last 3 miles. The minute she left, my pace went from 7.30 to 9 minute miles. It's all in the head they say ;-)

Straight through the door, up the stairs and into a lovely warm bath, whilst eating Poppadoms with mint dip.. It doesn't get much better than that!

The second 20 went better. It was after a rough bout of flu and was one of my first runs back. The first 17 were a measured plod with a marathon pace final three. It felt good.

On race day, despite 6 months of continuous shite (i mean weather, the kind of weather Bishop had to deal with in Aliens in order to get a signal to the backup craft in orbit, to rescue Sigourney Weaver), the sun decided to come out on marathon week, and baked the country in a heatwave. This was mainly good, but nobody except those flush enough to afford multiple foreign training camps (cough 'Mo), had any time to acclimatise between British Winter 2018 and this instant 24 degree heat.

I spent a few days in London pre-race but stupidly left registration until the Saturday. It was a low point in my life, and also a kind of busmans holiday. I've spent many an expo working at Excel and now the shoe was on the other foot. It was super busy, busier than any show I'd worked at there, and it seems we caught the lunchtime rush. London was packed that weekend and after a busy morning of doing Highbury Parkrun and eating a fry up, it took the rest of the day to get to the expo on packed, hot trains, register, look around the expo and get back to central London. Lesson learned. I was ratty and had to take a siesta in the early evening and even then, the legs were heavy. Kids - don't leave it til Saturday to register for the London Marathon!

Worse still, i missed an invite for a curry on Oxford St with my training partner Ed Land, and back at Expo, I'd paid for some new gear but left it on the counter. Like i said - low point!

The race prep was fine. Another packed train ride to Maze Hill, but that was expected and the communal anticipation of all the competitors was great to be part of. I got to my start area with 30 mins to spare, and queued for the toilet before dropping my bag off (i hadn't forgotten anything). Actually i had forgotten something, the most important piece of race day kit that all athletes need (jointly holding the honour with safety pins) - BOG ROLL!! The portaloo was devoid of it. I looked at my spare Mavic socks in my bag (take note Anita Worthing - i do own more than one pair), they looked back at me. I took a minute to decide their fate. There was no bin in the loo... What to do? Luckily Tim Lawson of Secret Training (the nutrition brand) had sent me a race day bag at the start of the year, containing no toilet paper, but a host of products designed to help you at the races - Vaseline, pre-race rub, post-race wash, suncream, pins, flannels, moisturiser AND a pack of baby wipes. Tim, you are a saviour.

I quickly lined up for the start and we were off. I was in the first wave and so the road should have been easy to navigate. It wasn't, and as our green start merged with red and then blue, it became very cluttered and difficult to keep pace. I guess this is only going to get worse at major marathon events as they accept more and more competitors. The sub 3 hour pacer was ahead of me, but he'd started about a minute ahead and i was only about 20 seconds behind him. Whilst i physically couldn't move up to him without swiping vast swathes of runners out the way like a Giant Orc, i was in a fairly good place. Mile one was a tad slow, mile two was fast, mile three super fast (downhill) and then miles 4,5,6 were stable at 6.45 pace. I didn't feel as fluid or fresh as previous London races/ I put it down to the heat, age and my Saturday experience. 

Twice i spurted up to the pacer when the opportunity arose, using up valuable energy. 30 second surges helped me latch onto the group trying to stay with him, and as my watch verified but kept drifting back ever so slightly, to a more comfortable pace. I overheard someone discussing our pace, saying that we were 5 minutes up, and so heading for a 2.55. That also confirmed what my watch was telling me. I knew a 2.55 was not an option, but it was good to know i had the buffer, at least for a short while.

The first 10 miles seemed to go on for ever, and i was getting a tad bored waiting to hit the halfway mark. When it finally arrived, i was lagging a bit further back than I'd like, and i later found out that Mr Green pacer had pulled out with fatigue! The blue pacer came past a bit later and i had trouble latching on to him too, so the writing was on the wall. At 15 miles i saw Theresa, but she didn't see me. I could only muster one syllable and not the required three, and so "OOOiiii" it was.

By 16 miles my pace was fading into the 7.10's but i still had time in hand. Being honest, i didnt have the urge to hurt myself as much as in the past. My quads were tight and screaming. Other muscles were fine. My ankle joint has been a bit dodgy recently and it flared up again on the day. Mile 17 was 8 minutes and after that i stopped trying as the time was gone. I settled into a shorter stride that didn't hurt. My pulse immediatly got lower and i started to enjoy the last 10 miles, looking around the landmarks and taking in the atmosphere whilst being overtaken by a Camel, Penguin, a man on the toilet and numerous other Guinness world fancy dress record attempts. So I stopped to chat to Theresa at mile 20, yet she was shocked and told me to finish and not waste time!

The heat was well, hot, but it wasn't the reason for my demise. I reckon I'd have had a similar result in the cold - just lack of miles. I saw many people suffering and i started to pick a few off in the last 4 miles which made a change. I had drank well, and had had a couple of gels. My fueling was fine but the fish n chips and a couple of beers at the end were most welcome.

That's it for me in what was the busiest London Marathon I've done in terms of crowds & competitors. Next year I'll be supporting Theresa at the side of the road if she is lucky enough to get in. It's shorter races for me from now on with possibly another go at Snowdon one day.

London Marathon Summary
2011 - 3.12
2013 - 2.58
2016 - 2.56
2017 - 3.14
2018 - 3.25

Once again thank you to our Three_GB local sponsors Alexanders Estate Agents, Safety Net Services & Huw Lewis Tyres for their support in helping us get to Ibiza for the European Duathlon Championships later this year, also to Andrew Poole who looks after our social media activities for this.

The socks have been sealed for retirement.
Don't waste time at the bar, order two pints.


Saturday, 17 February 2018

On the road to Ibiza with Team GB

The blog is back, mainly due to a coming together of circumstances which has meant that I'm off to Ibiza in October to represent Team GB in Age-Group Multisport - the European Duathlon Championships!

Added to that, another two local lads from Ceredigion have also qualified, and so we've decided to group together to attract some sponsorship by branding up as 'three_GB' on social media. Enter Andrew Poole and Dylan Lewis, both far younger and more attractive than me, but together we intend to have an eight month journey through training, get togethers, blogs, kit reviews etc and share this via social media channels and to anyone who bumps into us along the way.

'Three_GB' - f.l.t.r Dylan Lews, Shelley Childs, Andrew Poole

Having worked at IronMan Wales for a few years, its always been a bug for me to get into multi-sport. Cue the kids, life, work balance and the time is just not there to get enough training into any given week. Alas I can go some weeks with only a couple of sessions done of one sport, never mind three! 

Fast forward to 2017 and it was time to give Duathlon a go, finally. Although smaller fry than triathlon, they have similar World and European championship structures, often sharing locations and dates with Tri. The UK has three events where you can qualify for your age group, with the top twenty, yes twenty (!) from each category getting the nod for the following years major event.

Let's be honest here, this is a completely accessible road for any serious amateur club athlete to represent their country at. It is not eilte level professional sport and for that reason, its really popular not to mention financially lucrative for the relevant governing bodies to organise. Everyone's a winner i guess?

So at the end of 2016, James Cracknell had run a cracking London Marathon that year, and up until that point, I'd been tracking him in terms of race times within a couple of minutes. I dug a bit deeper and found out that he'd also been down the Duathlon age-group route and had represented GB. I dug a little deeper and checked out the kind of times that were being recorded by others my age and realised that individually, i was (or at least had been) close to some of them. The seed was sewn and i checked out which event i could do. It would be the final qualifier of 2017 in Bedford, during mid-October, although judging from the dawn chorus shot below, you'd never had of imagined it.

Who knew Bedfordshire could look so good?
I ran an extra couple of hundred miles in 2017 (about 1300 in total), averaging 25 miles a week, and then fast tracked some cycling into the equation from mid-August, just as normal cycling folk were winding down from a hard season. My first attempt at joining with the local club chaingang resulted in a Johnny NoMates solo ride as the official rides had ended the week previously. I soon found the underground chaingang Thursday night movement, and got my arse handed to me on a plate for the eight weeks leading up to race day.

This was great training and i loved being back on the bike but i later found out that a weekly FTP test via the strength of others perhaps wasn't the best for specific solo time trial events. I'd done a couple of open TT's in July and loved them, but was evidently lacking in power and grace. I wasn't a million miles from where i wanted to be compared to my all-time strongest cycling times in the mid-nineties, but times had moved on and everyone had got faster and more aero, and so i was pretty much a million miles from where i needed to be!

The trusty steed. It may be 8 years old, but it still turns heads at races (when I'm not aboard)

Bedford came along and it was my first big Duathlon I've done, with only the Tregaron Duathlon for previous experience. For that reason i didn't even try to use elastic bands to create pre-attached easy-to-enter cycling shoes in transition, after a less than successful trial run at Tregaron a year earlier, neither had i bothered to learn how to since. These time saving transition processes will probably need some research for Ibiza.

The race went well, i just ran in cycling shoes through transition before mounting the bike. I was doing the Standard Distance event which is a 10k run, 40k bike and 5k run. There is a Sprint option at 5/20/2.5 but i thought for the distance from Aber to Bedford, it would be better value for money to do the longer one. That said, 'Pooley' and Dylan are putting me to shame by qualifying for the Half IronMan and Offroad versions of the championships respectively.

The first run - mixing it up with previous Team GB athletes, judging by their race kit

I was racing under the thinking that i was competing in the 40-44 category, which I was, but for qualifying for the Euro's, I would be considered under the 45-49 category - my age on race day later this year. When it came to check my results, confusion ensued and so i had to actually read the small print for once to get some clarity on what qualifying was looking like.

As it turned out, it made no difference. I was 5th old bloke in both categories, and with only the first 4 qualifying automatically, i had a nervous couple of weeks wait until i heard that my 'first loser' placing was actually 'fastest loser' out of all three qualifying events and therefore was fast enough to qualify.

Back to the drawing board and it was evident that it had been my cycling that had let me down, losing around 3 minutes to qualifier 4 over 40k, despite having what i felt was an ok ride within my current limits. I'd gained around two minutes back on the runs, but fell short of qualifying automatically due to the dodgy bike leg. My time was 1 hour three mins on a 3 mile circuit, compared to a 56 minute PB over the same distance on a dual carriageway course back in 2004 or 5...

Matt Botrill has since given me a more aero position. We'll see how it fairs in 2018!

The plan for 2018 is to ride more and have a bit of a racing season on the bike. I haven't started well, due to the god awful weather that we've had, which has resulted in me buying the indoor cycling software Zwift - a craze which is sweeping the annexes and sheds of every cycling enthusiasts household this winter. It has meant that I am riding more again, and so three rides a week are planned from March through to August, ramping it up a bit in September ready for the big day. I'm not sure a 56 minute time is again possible, but with some tips from multi-UK champion Matt Botrill, anything could happen!

Pooley has been busy and has taken the mantle of 'team' coordinator, gaining us valuable sponsorship from local businesses Safety Net Services, Alexanders and Huw Lewis Tyres. Ok, Huw is Dylan's dad, but nevertheless, Pooley will be looking for the credit for that one as well. I've chipped in with some fast racing rubber from my employer Cambrian Tyres, another perennial benefactor of local sportsmen and women representing the area.

The help will go towards making the trip a reality, with mutual friends / previous qualifiers stating that the trip will cost each of us in excess of £1500. I intend to use my share of the money to pay for my bike to be transported to Ibiza (and maybe back, see how it goes), plus the costs of training shoes never goes away..

Derek from Alexanders Estate Agents has kindly offered to pay for our GB Tri-suits. Yes, age-groupers do not receive free attire and all garments are only available to buy from the official supplier who i presume has the license from the governing body. This means that we'll all be racing in official Team GB kit on race day, plus a training / podium T-Shirt which will sport all contributors logos. I'm banking on the other two in terms of making any podium appearances but in all seriousness, i will be hoping to mix it up on race day and try to pull out PB's in both the 10k run and 40k bike before the much anticipated final 5k shuffle that every multisport athlete suffers with.

We'll keep the blogs going, and next time I'll talk about some of the new kit that I am starting to use for this 'bucket list' year of Championship Duathlon preparation!  

My latest race - the Welsh 10k Championships. 32nd overall and 7th over 40.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Euro16 - A dream come true

It started in Bordeaux

Sitting in the Stade de France, at the Euro16 final between France (the obvious hosts) and 'plucky' Portugal, I was feeling slightly....odd.

Having booked my ticket to the final way before the tournament started (via my job as a customer of Continental Tyres), I never once thought that Wales would be in with a shout of appearing in this very final. I still can't quite believe that i just typed the previous sentence to be honest.

Along with a fair few over-confident Germans, I saw a resilient Portugal, conquerors of Cymru in the semis, overcome the favourites France. This saved me what would have been a very long commute back into central Paris after the game amongst throngs of jubilant, intoxicated locals. As it was, the atmosphere was still great, but sensibly great.

The French were in good song. I dressed appropriately..
There were almost no Welsh fans in the stadium, contrasting to the Germans, our fellow losing semi finalists, who's fans being so used to perennial last four appearances, had pretentiously booked ahead meaning throngs of white shirts outside the stadium before the game. How we'd have loved to have been watching Wales v Germany. 

Final Match - Stade de France - Wales were there!

Winding back a month to June 10th, and Wales were about to start their first major tournament finals since 1958. 1958 to Wales is like England's 1966. Not in terms of success, but as a significant landmark, harked on about by every journalist, commentator, spectator and pub football expert since, er 1966 probably. This 'Wales have yet to qualify for a major football finals since 1958' line was made all the more worse, as i grew up seeing Scotland, Northern Ireland, England and the Republic of Ireland all have their time in the limelight at various finals during the 1980's & 90's. I kind of blame Gerry Armstrong for my love affair with the Welsh national team, as seeing his strike against Spain in the 1982 World Cup finals to put Northern Ireland through to the last 16 really got my imagination going as to what could be achieved by a nation like Wales (I was 8 at the time). 

England's path since '66 has been a frustrating one for their fans but the date is looked upon fondly for obvious reasons, only becoming a burden to some including David Baddiel & Frank Skinner since around 1996. Compare this to Wales, and we became frustrated many moons ago. One, because we didn't win the 1958 World Cup like England had in '66, and two, because unlike them we'd suffered 38 years of monumental (virtual mathematical impossibilities in some cases) qualification failures, usually between 8-12 years apart. 

Reading Phil Steads 'Chasing the Dragon' only goes to twist the knife, as he reminds us of the not so well known Euro 80, World Cup 82 and Euro 84 catastrophes which then marry up to '78, '86 '94 & '04 to pretty much finish you off before you've read the final chapter. But that was before... read that book now, and Welsh fans can release a small chuckle, not break into a sweat of bitterness and regret, finish that final chapter, lay the book down, and sleep easy..

The tram ride to that first game..a memory that won't die.
Without wanting to go into the details of the qualifying campaign, suffice to say that despite the tournament opening its doors to 24 teams, up from 16, Wales would no doubt have qualified regardless, thanks to a strong qualification campaign that saw only one loss, a major victory over Belgium at home, a draw away, some handy wins over all the banana skins and uncharacteristic resilience against the whipping boys Andorra. Bosnia's late slumber out of hibernation was too late in the campaign to pose any real threat.

We'd made it, with Gareth Bale playing a big part in scoring 7 of the 11 qualification goals and turning out for every game. This 'leading from the front' attitude from Bale, a star of world football, at the top of his game was unprecedented for Wales. We're used to lethargic commitment from some previous star players, usually pressed by their clubs into feigning an injury in the days before an important international game. Others treated Wales trips like lads weekends, if you believe all the stories on Twitter! Let's be honest, we'll only ever have 6-8 players who regularly play at the top club level at any one point in time, and in the past, the 'virus' of half heartedness by the few has probably led to some of our near misses with qualification. 

The Mark Hughes era brought in a new found togetherness, Toshack had to take a step back before the country could go forward due to a generation of players coming to the end under Hughes. To be fair we can now look back and say he was right, and he took all the criticism on the chin. Brian Flynn beavered away with the under 21's and took them from World beaters for all the wrong reasons, to a formidable unit that now presents itself as the squad you see before you in Euro16, nurtured along the way and given the drive to succeed by the late Gary Speed and now Chris Coleman.

Onto the tournament. It was to be in France. How handy was that!? France in June, what's not to like? Once the draw was made, my mind was also made and the Slovakia game was for me, the plum tie as it was our first game and all that, and it was in a lovely city too and on a weekend to put the icing on the cake. The midweek England game didn't appeal and i didn't want to gamble on waiting until game three against Russia in case that would've been a graveyard tie with us already out of the tournament.

The atmosphere leading up to Slovakia was purely lovely. Every team was at square one, at the very start of the tournament, all points to play for with no added stress of 'needing' to win to stay in the competition. The Welsh were in town, they emptied bars dry, sang many songs, entertained the locals to the point where Bordeaux's head of tourism personally thanked them for their behaviour and attitude once they'd left, hotel and bar coffers no doubt better off to the hundreds of thousands of euros. 

The splendid stadium in Bordeaux, with a handy Novotel bar open to non-residents just around the corner. SShhhhhh!
I flew into La Rochelle after a personal internet mission to beat the excessive travel fees imposed by most airlines and travel companies to cash in on the Euros. It meant a 190km drive south, but with hire cars available at 56 euros for all three days, it made sense. One of my best mates from childhood (Jam) called up a few days prior asking about travel and so he also took advantage of the still available La Rochelle flight and we set out on three days of schoolboy humour fuelled by French beer and great football.
Sheffield's finest Welshmen before the Slovakia game
Obligatory non-football related tourist shot
As with all three games that I went to see, Bordeaux was a blur that seemed to both go by in a flash, and last for days, depending on the individual memory in question. Jam chose the new age way of booking accommodation, via AirB&B, something I'd not heard of until meeting him at Birmingham airport. He struck gold via a top floor (see pic above) prestine city centre apartment, above a Tapas bar (he's a quarter Spanish or something). I had to make do with an Ibis Budget, a few km's south of the city, where I'd meet the rest of the ex-Aber Wales away crew, and their extended Welsh supporting families later that night.

A night spent managing to order octopus by accident from the Tapas bar, followed by France v Romania in a bar, followed by free shots in an empty nightclub ensued, followed by a two hour wait/walk for a taxi back to the Ibis.. Bordeaux does not do taxi's very well.

Some failed attempts at chatting up middle aged cleaning ladies finishing their night shifts into giving me a lift back meant a long walk and eventual taxi. Ade Colley had made it back first to our room, which would have lost out to a Tenko solitary confinement cell in terms of spaciousness. Rich Olyott was last man back having won the who can drink the most competition for the evening. The Aber old boys had landed at 11pm and commuted in, yet still managed to out drink everyone else on the night. Their hangovers the next day proved it.

The next day would be match day. I was raring to go, and with the game at 6pm, we had all day to chill, eat, chat & drink. Unfortunately, procrastination and hangovers caught us out, along with some rotten luck with bus timetables and Uber (again, new to me until this trip). 

We struggled to get into town, after a mammoth hotel breakfast for me, and a MacDonalds coffee, water, Fanta and Heineken hit for the headache crew. In the end we took the bus and ended up sitting with some of the few Slovakians that we saw in the city, until we got to the stadium where they were fairly well represented. The other group that we saw were insistent on swapping headgear. Caught in a moment of madness, not quite on a Ron Davies scale, but nonetheless regrettable soon after, Rich swapped his sacred Spiritof58 bucket hat for a Slovakian baseball cap ,with some friendly Slovaks. I photographed the moment to ensure he sees this and doesn't make the same mistake again, that is unless he finds some similar bucket hatted away fans in the future..

Rich 'losing' his bucket hat. Don't do it Rich
Game 1 - Hitting town pre-game

We reached a great bar after trekking past what seemed like every other in the city centre, and settled in with a few beers, although we only had an hour or so before the trek to the stadium would begin. The sea of red was getting bigger, and after a quick lunch in which Phil Olyott took as an opportunity to become cultured, maybe even a little 'French, his espresso and red wine chaser did look a bit out of place amongst the surrounding pintage..

Phil '3 beverages' Olyott

First Saturday beers - relaxed

So onto the stadium. The tram journey was something to remember, with songs all the way, passing throngs of bars and Welsh fans walking to the stadium. The riverside bars seemed to be the main hive of activity for Welsh fans and it was hard to comprehend how many were in Bordeaux, with not a hint of trouble. Arriving a tad early by my own standards, we looked for an opportunity to get a couple more beers in rather than get into the stadium early. Radio Cymru were recommending showing up 3 hours prior to kick-off. Despite the obvious worries of security in these worrying political times, the actual process of accessing our seats was smooth and there was no actual need to be super early in the end.

In what was an industrial area around the stadium, there were no obvious bars, but we walked against the flow after spotting a lone Novotel, gated for residents only. A few nice words to the security guard and we were in. The bar was perfect, not too busy, comfy seats and the TV on, we had landed on our feet. Next up was the tear jerking moment of getting in, taking our seats behind the goal (I'd managed to get a ticket from esteemed Wales fan and roommate for the weekend, Ade).

After 58 years, Wales were in tournament mode - emotional

Excitement turned to emotion as the anthem was sung. Why? Not hard to explain, and something pretty personal to any long term sufferer (I mean Wales fan)... As previously mentioned, the years of failure are what made the tears arrive, coupled with one of the best anthems in the world, therefore it was a very proud moment that will be savoured for ever!

We were still at base 1, not a ball had been kicked and the anticipation was off the scale. Some pundits had previously stated that Wales could go all the way, but in reality, our run in to the finals was pretty lame. We had lost 3-0 to Sweden the previous week, and soundly beaten. We'd actually not won in four and there were some worries amongst supporters that our rich vein of form had come to an end. Slovakia on the other hand had just beaten Germany, and so I think my personal feelings on the day were that we were going to go down fighting on the pitch, and singing in the bars...

Fears were almost confirmed when the Slovaks pressed and a great bit of skill in the meant a last gasp Ben Davies lunge was all that stopped them getting an early lead. Yet we too looked good on the ball. At the time of writing, the memory is already fading, but we seemed pretty confident not forgetting that these players had a bucket load of caps, and most also had a bucket load of Premiership or at least Championship appearances. There was no flustered, scrambled play, it was smooth close passing and when we lost possession, we were good at pressing and regaining possession. Was this really Wales?

No need for me to commentate on the whole game, we know that Gareth Bale's first free kick of the tournament resulted in a goal which was celebrated wildly, and that the persistent Slovaks came back before one of the stars of our tournament, Hal Robson, Hal Robson-Kanu scuffed a stumbling Aaron Ramsey pass into the net to bag us three points. We were in dreamland. I hugged Ade, I looked behind at the red wall and spotted the Olyotts crying. They were proper 'Wales Away', two decades worth of it, if not more, even travelling to Qatar in (circa '99) for a meaningless summer friendly amongst a dozen other fans on the same charter as the squad.. or so the rumour goes.

And so the story went on from Bordeaux, already told by thousands of other Welsh fans.. We beat the Slovaks here, lost to England but bounced back and trounced Russia to win the group and carried on winning, past Northern Ireland and Belgium in what was a surreal night in Lille for everyone associated with the Welsh football team. 

Mr Ronaldo finally put an end to our French adventure in the semi finals, much to the disappointment of Welsh fans yet relief for their bank managers.. To think the Northern Irish were skint after the second round, many Welsh fans are probably still paying for the summer of 2016, but it was so worth it :-)

Me & Rich Olyott after the game

Thursday, 17 March 2016

2016 - Still going...

A new approach to training and racing was required towards the end of 2015 as injuries in the last few races really took their toll on an ageing carcass, and time restraints due to family commitments made it pretty easy to decide to bin the marathon in 2016, and focus on some shorter stuff.

I can only admire from a distance, the fantastic commitment of a bunch of club mates this Spring, who to a tee, have ran seven days a week, from as far back as December, of distances of approximately ten miles per day as they build for their Spring marathons.

Pausing for thought here, i wonder how the body could handle such a volume. They all seem to be handling it well, albeit running on severely heavy legs most of the time, but nevertheless, completing training goals and racing well. For me, I know I'd struggle with the volume, as I struggle anyway with my current 4-5 runs a week. I do get purple patches but also some dark times where the legs don't want to work, plus a new gammy knee that keeps me company most of the time.

Maybe that incomprehensible overload is the key? Couple that with a decent taper and bingo, the lads are already showing some fantastic new race PB's.

I've decided on a different approach, a bit like less is more or 'normally aspirated versus turbo'. I have to be clever. Enter Adam Bitchell, a current Commonwealth Games 10,000 metres representative for Wales who is local despite now being based in the US. His email at Christmas, advertising his new coaching company made me decide to take a punt. I've coached myself for years, or scrounged bits and bobs from clubmates and peers and generally found my way, in a haze of poor nutrition, too much beer and a 'raise the bar' attitude on race day to surpass form book expectations...

I told Adam to target half marathon distances instead of the full 26.2, and so my annual guilt trip of not doing enough training mileage was curtailed due to the new weekly schedule that was more in keeping with my current lifestyle. Out went the 20 mile Sunday runs. I can get a couple of hours at best, with a mad one year old in the house, combined with an even madder three year old and I'm happy to admit that its the sensible thing to do, rather than be away on a Sunday for 3-4 hours doing the longer stuff. My new long day is 13 miles, with Saturdays usually run free! Thanks Adam.

I've tried to follow the programme as best as possible, and apart from two dodgy illness and 6-Nations fuelled weeks in early Feb, I have done so. I've raced only once, well, make that three times if you include club TT's and Parkruns with a hangover in Dublin...

My race was the Tregaron Half, which I've done three times previous but not for 3 years due to a clash with the Anglesey Half which is a toughie. My best Tregaron was a 1.26 whereas Ynys Mon saw a 1.31 and a 1.27 the last two years, nowt to cheer about really based on what I should be running a half in. Consider i ran a 1.24 for the first half of Snowdonia Marathon last year!

So back to Tregaron with my new slimline training regime that was similar to what i was doing previously in terms of tempo and speed, but slightly more structured, and more track and somehow Adam manages to give me target splits that are spot on for my current fitness, both being just about achievable whilst leaving me fit enough to run the following day.

I raced Tregaron like I've never raced before. I actually 'raced', as in it was not an individual time trial like most races end up being. I had the power to start fast, making the front group and then settling into a small group of 7 before we hit the hills. Most had overtaken me at this point but rather than panic, I got stuck in and like a silent assassin, I picked them off one by one until only three were left. These guys were good, they were on form, so was I. They were just a tad too fast for me on the flat, but i went with it, not worrying about the latter stages for once. I was stronger on the hills, but we formed a kind of allegiance which worked really well.

We hit the 'bog' at 8 miles, a three mile straight liner that kills you mentally before the fatal physical blow is given at around mile 11. Not this time. My friends fell back at mile 9. I was in 7th place, up from 13th in mile 3 and forged a gap of around 200 metres. Just 2 1/2 miles to go and back onto the road. I faltered, I heard the screams behind. The effort was resonating with them too, and the screams and shouts were getting louder. 1 mile to go, i felt like collapsing in the hedge and letting them through, but at the same point, i also had the idea of sprinting for a mile. If i could run a sub 6 last mile, they would have to run a 5.45 to beat me. I'm convinced these kinds of thoughts only appear in seasoned runners heads at this point in a race, and so i grabbed the thought and put it into action.

There was actually 1.1 miles to go, as half marathons have a distance of 13.1 and that last .1 was done on fumes. I'd sprinted to a sub 6 but still had some distance to go. I was out of power, with that 'I've crossed the finish line' feeling, except that I hadn't.... I crawled in, holding off my pursuiters by a good 30 seconds and so the job was in hand as i threw up as I crossed the line. Why oh why do we put ourselves through such harm?

That was the first time an effort had made me throw up. Maybe it was coincidence, and I actually have a new stomach condition, wouldn't be the first time.. I had won the over 40's shield which was a very grand trophy which I am proud of. Second place went to the guy just behind me and so i was so glad that the manning up process had kicked in at 12 miles.

Onto recent training and all is going well. My time at Tregaron was 1.23 - a PB on that course of 3 minutes which i can't quite comprehend, We've all come on so much at Aber AC and so now Adam is pushing me to do 1.21 at my goal race, the Cardiff Half in 2 weeks time.

Stay tuned.

Friday, 30 October 2015

Snowdon Marathon - Run Walk Crawl

So many memories from what was my third successive stab at Marathon Eryri, one of the toughest road marathons in Europe.

Usually, to run a road marathon you make a start and plod along at as sensible a pace as possible, taking your brain out along the way for three flattish hours as the legs get heavy and the mind wanders, with nothing much to focus on apart from the competitors around you and the crowds to cheer you on.

The difference with Snowdon? For a start, it's hilly, very hilly. Then there's the scenery, absolutely stunning. Then there's the weather, usually raining, which brings out some more stunning autumn colours from the surrounding landscape. Then there's the surface, which goes from road to track, back to road and finishing with another track and a steep grassy descent towards the finish. You can break the Snowdon marathon down into so many sectors that the miles literally fly by, even when your own body is failing miserable, as mine did during this 2015 edition.

There are also the pockets of crowds at the few villages en-route, and the organisation, which is mainly made up of volunteers which makes for a real sense of community and camaraderie from when you first park up in Llanberis, to when you hobble back to your car many hours later.

For me, I set myself up by ordering a large americano in the cafe opposite race HQ and made my way to my club's resident table which they seem to acquire each year. I was late, and so had to down the double shot drink in time to make the club photo call. As a cappuccino connoisseur, the hit from the heavily caffeinated water based coffee made me feel a tad alert and ready for anything, or so I thought..

Behind Ken at around 6 miles in.

The day was a rainy one, the first rain for 6 weeks after a gloriously dry autumn, but hey ho, it was fairly warm and there was no wind.

I hadn't raced much in August or September, in fact, not at all and so with retrospective regret, i decide to run the Aberystwyth Twin Peaks hill race, just 6 days before Snowdon, to get the engine into gear. The race went well, as well as the notoriously hard Twin Peaks can go, and I came away with a PB. Unfortunately, in the days after the race, my aches and pains were far worse than usual, and I even had a touch of DOMS. The hamstrings were tight and so ice baths and a pro massage were the order of the day. Looking back, the aches stemmed from a triathlon in late September that i hammered myself on, especially the run course which involved two steep descents. I remember feeling great around this time, with some fast splits on training runs being achieved and thinking at the time that i wished the races were earlier.

Two days out from Snowdon, and the legs felt recovered and I felt good as I warmed up before the start. Always a bad sign..
I started near the front of the race, just because seeing a zillion runners ahead of me in a race is always disheartening. The first mile was a tad too fast and so I wound my neck in and tried to settle into a sensible pace but the legs were feeling good.

Mile two was still faster than scheduled. An old steady state pace strategy for me would be to stick at 6.50 minute miles (sub 3 pace on a flat marathon), but having done this race twice previously and having had three strong & fast 20 mile training runs in the lead up, I was up for experiment.

As the story goes, I ran Llanberis pass at what seemed like a normal pace. I had very little knowledge that i was in fact in 30th position out of 2000 odd runners going over the summit, . My club mate Kenny Caulkett came past at the top and informed me of our position. To be with him should have sounded alarm bells, especially when he also told me that eventual 7th place man Dylan Lewis was behind us. 
We chatted for a bit and tumbled down the descent. It was half way down that the first twang of hamstring pain made it's entrance, oddly on the left, my 'good' leg.
I ignored this and ploughed on, knocking out stupidly fast mile splits for me. I'd have said prior to the race that 6.40 would be the fastest pace that I was prepared to go, but as it turned out, there were some 6.11, 6.26's and even a 6.13 at half distance. Despite a toilet stop that Paula Radcliffe would have been proud of (just ask witness, Dyl Lewis), i hit half distance with a half marathon PB. My previous half marathon PB was not fantastic, but it was done at Cardiff, not having via Llanberis pass!
The road inclines once again in Beddgelert, and this part of the course usually catches people out. I'd conked out badly here in 2013 and not done much better in 2014, but today I breezed up the hill, keeping equal distance to Ken, Dyl and Gancho up ahead as we'd all gone through half way within a minute of each other.

It would've been nice to get back to sub 7's after halfway's climb, but as the graph below shows, pace remained ok up until mile 21. Mile 21! That's only 5 miles to go right? If the graph showed heart rate, i pretty much died at 23 miles, which was to be fair, one of the steepest road climbs of any marathon out there. 

My calf's and hamstrings were now unresponsive and i was overusing the glutes and quads, calling on any other muscles that could help. I pretty much walk/jogged/crawled the remaining three miles and the pacing target got hammered as I lost over 60 places to the finish in Llanberis.
My final time was 3.17, which ain't too shabby to be fair, but the target had been a sub 3.10 before my fast start demons got the better of me.  
The next day, i woke up with a bad ankle and pulled calf on the left side, direct results of whatever niggle was caught at the triathlon. Prognosis - it's a scratch wound. Onwards and upwards to the Aber 10k in December before a spring marathon to prepare for. Surely i won't start too fast again, will I? 

A grimace for the camera.
Walking the final descent

Saturday, 25 July 2015

The Ystwyth 10

8 year old club 10mile TT record falls 
I went along to help marshal the Ystwyth 10 mile TT recently on the Lovesgrove course which is currently the faster of our two 10 mile distances, based on the then club record time by a member – 21.23 by Dafydd Dylan. That night, the record fell to Gruff Lewis.
The achievement was not struck on me until the next day when I actually thought about how many riders had ridden that race over the years. A very rough calculation tells me that it's approximately 16 events per year, so to take it back to 1955, that's 960 events in total. For arguments sake we'll round this down to 900 to allow for cancellations for road works and weather. An average turnout, despite a late noughties peak of 40 riders per week, was usually more like 8-10, and so based on 10 rides per week as a conservative estimation, the Ystwyth 10 has been 'time-trialled' at least 9000 times in its 60 year history. 8999 of those rides were slower than Gruff Lewis' ride that evening, some of which were his own attempts since around 2011 when he began to attack the previous record of 21.23, set by Dafydd Dylan, a school friend of Gruff's and also a former semi-pro who set that record in 2007.
The history of the record itself is sketchy before 1987, ironically the year that tri-bars first started to make their way into the sport, via triathlon. It was student Rick Morris, a popular and successful triathlete who broke the record with 22.53. How do I know? I spent three seasons with that time sellotaped to my stem, with splits for various locations on the course to  hit, to try and beat Ricks time. I can remember most of them : Lovesgrove junction (now a roundabout) - 3.55, or anything sub 4 minutes, Capel Bangor village sign (6.55), 5 mile turn (11.30), Capel Bangor sign on return (16.00 ), Lovesgrove roundabout (18.50), Finish (21.53).
The fatal error in my split calculations was that I only planned to match the course record, and so that is exactly what I did, twice, before finally breaking it with 22.46 in 1996. Gruff probably had a similar idea of splits and of course, expected power output these days, in his pursuit of Dafydd.
So Rick's time stood for 9 years, Dafydd's for 8 and mine, well only for one year, as another student, Arwel Davies came along in 1997 and rode what can only be described as 'the perfect 10' one summers night that year. The local scene was strong in 1997. Arwel was a fine tester and road man and still races to this day. Another two students, road racer Simon Owens, a Welsh International at the time, and Daniel Roberts who was possibly the most talented cyclist I had witnessed up to that point were also on the local scene at the time.
These three, coupled with locals like Alastair Rhodes, an international standard duathlete, Meirion Davies and myself, both second cat roadmen at the time meant that chaingangs were tough and thus the time trials became faster. That said, my record wasn't threatened until that night. A calm, non-existent wind, plenty of traffic, a hot but not too hot night and Arwel with his Jeff Bruce TT machine and Spinergy wheels had a flyer to record 21.57. He's knocked me out of the water and then some. He's even broken 22 minutes, something that only four riders have managed in history!
Poor Daniel Roberts. He rode to 22.01 on the same night, albeit after Arwel and so never actually held the record.
A 22 minute time has become a regular occurrence in recent times, none more so than Danny Thorogood, a regular at the time trials since the early 2000's and in a second coming after some rides at the distance during his student days in the 1980's. Both he and Paul Robinson of Felifach ruled the roost during the 2000's until the 'Penweddig' youngsters Dylan, Lewis and Williams came along with their regular forays into the sub 22's.
How long will the new record last? How long will the courses last, with all the new regulations regarding no dead turns and no right hand turns in any new time trial course, it seems Llety's days are numbered, although somehow, it seems to soldier on!

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Ynys Mon Hanner / Anglesey Half Marathon

The first race of 2015 and the first since the birth of yet another daughter. I say yet another, it's only two in total with the new arrival meaning, inevitably that since 29th December, running has taken a major back seat.

I entered this race as its on the outlaws doorstep. I say entered but I actually forgot. Maybe we think about races so much that we assume we've entered them and then after this self assurance, we spend the next few weeks training in the belief that we are about to pin a number on.

After 'booking' the weekend and driving the family north, I luckily decided to log on to the race website and for some reason, checked the 'am i in' page, mainly to see if any other Aber AC runners were coming. To my horror, my name didn't appear under C for Blimey Charley...

Panic set in but I calmed enough to send an email, leave an answer message to which none were replied to on the eve of the race. There was absolutely no entry on the day permitted and so I had to make a decision. Did I admit the error to the family or plod on and see if I could wing an entry. I decided on the latter and parked up in a grassy layby near the HQ and pleaded ignorance that I had definately entered online and couldn't understand why i wasn't showing on the entry list. This was all played out just 40 minutes before start time.

To be fair, the staff were great, and I was convinced that I'd spent a lazy Sunday morning entering on my phone a few weeks prior. They soon sorted me a number, T-Shirt and numerous freebies and I was on the way to the start line on Menai Bridge.

With a poor number of miles in the legs, i decided to go for a 6.30 pacing which would give a 1.26 time. Having done the race in 2014, i now respected it as a hilly, windy half marathon rather than one that a PB could be achieved on. I was just happy to be there.

The start was very picturesque, going over the famous bridge and onto the island of Anglesey on an out and back course along the Menai straights from Menai Bridge to Beaumaris and back.

Having done the race and crashing/burning in 2014, i now knew the hills and windy sections that would knock the stuffing out of all but the toughest of runners. I spotted Lauren on the start line and after her narrow victory over me at the Aber 10k, i wandered if revenge could be gained today?

The gun sounded and a mass of runners headed off on the largely downhill first mile. A zillion runners seemed to be ahead of me but i was running to pace and so didn't worry too much about this. As mile two and three came along, i felt a bit rough due to that lack of a run in the three days leading up to the race. At one point, I felt that it wasn't my day and decided to look for a place to stop, such was the lactic acid build up in the legs...!

As the course flattened out at around 5 miles, my legs came to and I was still hitting target pace and feeling better, decided to plow on.

Miles 6-9 were my best of the race. Despite the hills in these miles, and the turn into a block headwind, I'd passed numerous runners and was catching a group of Eryri Harriers, running a negative split. Maybe Lauren was in among them?

Unfortunately my lack of miles meant that by mile 10, i slowed a tad as we hit the climb out of Beaumaris. I didn't crack, but i was no longer gaining on group Eryri and footsteps behind were becoming louder.

The last three miles were tough but I knew that i was on a good time and at the line I scraped in under 1.27 (despite what the clock says in the picture!), for an improvement of over three minutes on 2014.

Happy with that, i chatted to Lauren at the finish to find that she had 1.23'd to which she wasn't very happy with!

I was very happy that despite a slow start to the year, I'd still improved and it gave some hope for the rest of the year.

I now await the clocks to change so that late evening runs do not seem so depressing!