I had a thought this morning that I actually had to double-check on my own blog to make sure that it was true and that I wasn’t just imagining things. It goes as follows:
My last triathlon was Ironman UK.
I had to view my own blog to double-check, but it is indeed true – the last triathlon that I did was Ironman UK in 2016. That was about 16 months, 30,000 PhD words, two jobs and one newborn son ago. In my defence, I had made a conscious decision in 2017 to step back from multi-sport (in order to do more PhD and to be more Dad) and chose running to focus on. As a result, I ran three half-marathons and two marathons this year; which I would argue is not too shabby an effort. Here is the thing though – I do enjoy doing triathlons. I had reached a stage late last year when I was probably starting to burn out a little, and the thought of heading down the swimming pool for a time trial filled me with dread (on second thoughts, that has not changed at all).
Now, every time I see a big hill when I am on a train or driving by, my first thought is ‘I wonder if there is a paved road up that hill that I could cycle?’. I’m moving to Glasgow in a couple of weeks, and in amongst all of the many, many, many emotions that I am feeling at the moment – I’ve enjoyed using Google Maps to scour local areas and find some beautiful cycling spots to explore over the upcoming Scottish winter. Long story short – my head is telling me that it is time to look back to triathlon.
This is not to say that everything else will fall by the wayside. I have children whom I adore spending time with and they (along with my immensely tolerant and loving partner) will always be my number one priority. I also still have a PhD to research and write. And I have a new job managing the training for the upcoming European Games in Glasgow taking place in August that I want to excel at. So the ever-present need to balance everything will be there – in fact in 2018 it will be harder as I am re-introducing triathlon. Fingers crossed I can pull it off.
My current first race of the year will be Ironman Edinburgh 70.3 in July. I am immediately nervous about the prospect of a bumpy swim, but the opportunity to do an M-Dot race an hour’s drive down the road was just far too tempting for me. The deal was sealed when I realised that I could drive to drop my kit off on Saturday and then come home to sleep in my own bed, before waking early on Sunday and driving back again to race. #win
I am a bit concerned that I will struggle to get cycling training in, given that it is the most time intensive of the three disciplines (and also, I’ve barely cycled in a year), but I have about seven months to get up to speed on this – and hopefully getting in with Glasgow Triathlon Club will help on that front.
The other race I have planned is Ironman Dún Laoghaire 70.3 – the race formerly known as Ironman Dublin 70.3 . So I’m targeting half ironmans for 2018, as I really do think its the ideal distance for me; its a distance I find challenging but without completely turning your life upside-down in terms of time commitments. I’ve never been to Ireland before, and I’d love to go – so that is pretty much it for the rationale behind that one! It looks like a hoot, and it also gives me a bit of a celtic vibe for the year, which will be fun.
I’m hoping to volunteer at some club races during the year, and perhaps even race in some shorter distance events to build towards the two ‘A’ races. The shortest triathlon I’ve ever done is Olympic distance, so perhaps in 2018 I can try my hand at some sprints or super-sprints – we’ll see what comes up over the summer depending on other priorities.
So there we are. 2018 feels a bit locked in at the moment, but I just can’t really see how I’m going to fit it all in. Short term goals are to get my running shoes on and get out and about – particularly when I start exploring my local neighbourhood once I move. I haven’t mentioned it, but I’m around 30km shy of having run 1000 miles for 2017…
*cue The Proclaimers music*
Listening To: ‘Bang Bang’ by Green Day
I passed the course marker ’36km’ and my eyes began to roll toward the sky once again. This was not necessarily a voluntary action, but rather a desperate bid for relief from the pain enveloping my body and my mind. As if I could simply scream up to the heavens and the difficulties of the previous hour would simply melt away. I felt myself looking forward in an unfocused manner, my mind in a constant conflict between two warring entities – one screaming ‘STOP!’ and the other screaming ‘KEEP GOING!’. I still had 6km to go, and it felt like it was going to be the longest 6km of my life. Except I had been here before. It wasn’t going to be the longest 6km of my life. Just bloody hard.
At the start of 2017 I set myself some goals for the upcoming year on the athletic front. These were supposed to meld with other things going on in my life – namely, the birth of my son in the summer, and a renewed focus on my PhD to a point where completion wasn’t quite so questionable (I’m not convinced that I won that particular battle). I decided that the area of triathlon that I could do that would retain the most base fitness while still generating a time saving was running, so I set about bettering my running marks across my main distances – 5km, 10km, half marathon and marathon. With this in mind, I signed myself up for the flattest marathons I could find. I balloted for Berlin and London, and when I was unsuccessful for those – signed up for Rotterdam and Frankfurt. Rotterdam didn’t go so well, owing to a lack of training (I was more focused on my PhD back then) so after bashing out a great personal best at the Ealing Half Marathon in September, I was optimistic that Frankfurt would be my time. If I could run a half marathon in 1:30, then surely a marathon in under 3:45 or even 3:30 was manageable.
If there is one thing I have learned in my journey through triathlon and distance running it is this – preparation matters. I am living proof that the approach of doing the bare minimum and then hoping to succeed is folly. Sometimes this failure is due to factors in my control; I am not motivated, or I feel lazy or whatever. Sometimes, as was the case with this marathon – there are other factors at play. At the risk of making excuses early on – I have a lot on my plate at the moment, and I don’t usually admit that. Some people use exercise as a release from stress and anxiety in their lives, and (I believe) there is science to back this up as a legitimate method. I find that I am able to turn virtually anything into a source of stress and anxiety, and running and triathlon are no different. For example, I worry that I am not running enough, and then because I’m so worried about it – get exhausted from the stress and worry and then…wait for it…don’t run enough, thus fuelling the cycle evermore. Throw on top of all of this stress and anxiety about other things in my life (ie. work, relationships, PhD) and while I need running to keep myself on an even keel, sometimes I just don’t have the space physically or mentally to make it happen.
And this is what happened with my training for the Frankfurt Marathon. I did some long runs (ie. 35km in Manchester two weeks prior to the race) and quite a bit of speed work (ref : Ealing Half Marathon), but my recurring issue tends to be muscular endurance, and I didn’t do enough long runs here to remedy that issue.
So when we hopped on our flight to Frankfurt from Heathrow at the absolutely ungodly hour of 7am on Saturday morning, it was more out of hope that I would run a good race than anything else. I had this thought ringing through my head again and again – I was able to run a 1:30 at Ealing Half a month and a bit ago; surely this means I can do this? Luckily for me, I had my cheer squad of Anna and my son coming along to watch the race, and we were pleasantly surprised to find one of the quietest flights I have ever seen in my life on the way over. It was spectacular, and it meant that my son could basically make as much noise as he wanted and it wouldn’t make a difference. He didn’t though – he saved that up for the full flight on the return home on Monday night…
So we landed in Frankfurt. Ahhh Frankfurt. Home of…banks. And…erm…it’s an airport hub for Europe. Look, what I’m trying to say here is that it isn’t exactly a tourist mecca. It’s no Paris, Rome or Bolton – ok? We did have a little wander around the red-light district though, which was perfectly delightful in the fading light of a Saturday night for your first evening in a country where you don’t speak the language. I did make my way to the marathon expo though, to go through the traditional ‘picking up of race numbers’ and ‘people trying to sell you shit you don’t need’. This was also my first opportunity to see if my periodic use of the word ‘danke’ would be enough to bluff the locals into thinking I wasn’t a tourist (spoiler : it wasn’t).
What it did give me the chance to do was the check out the amazing finish line that I had heard a little about – but hadn’t really considered when I was doing all of my pre-race preparation.
It looks like this:
What I did notice was the immense volume of triathlon club shirts that people were rocking at the pre-race expo. I had heard that triathlon was big in Germany, but I wasn’t prepared for the amount of tri-club kit. And Ironman branded bags! They were everywhere, and I have to admit the tiny pang of a blow to my ego as I realised how many people have done Ironman races. It was great to see though, and really made me want to come back to Germany to do a triathlon one day to experience what that local passion for the sport translates into event-wise.
With my race chip and number collected, shopping avoided (I never need anything at these things) and weather checked (it was going to be cold – my choice of singlet only was mitigated by receiving a long sleeved race top) I was off to the hotel to rest, feed and sleep. Thankfully for me, my son obliged by sleeping the whole night through (win!) and allowing me to get pre-race rest.
On race morning, the wind was whipping between the massive office
buildings and the rain was teeming down – which was a relative first for me, as I’ve not run an event in truly awful conditions before. I nervously ate my waffle with fruit salad for breakfast (nutrition = fail) with one eye at the leaves outside battering everything their respective paths. Thankfully the weather broke about 30 minutes before the race start, so we made our way down to the start line so that I could make my way to my pen and set about getting into the right head-space for my seventh marathon.
In the pen there were massive puddles of water from the aforementioned storm, so we all huddled together in the drier parts of the pavement, listening to 90s dance music and occasionally tuning into conversations from groups that I could understand the language of. I was nervous because I knew I wasn’t particularly well prepared, but I figured if I paced myself well I could make a good fist of it. I know I was nervous, because I heard a shout from the front of the race and started my Garmin to try and start to take off running. It took me a few minutes to realise that the pro runners had started, and that I was going nowhere fast. This is important information for later on. Eventually though, after lots of chilly jogging on the spot, the people in front of me started to move and I was able to re-start my Garmin and head out on to the streets of Frankfurt for yet another marathon adventure.
A great piece of advice that I have been following in races is to run at a pace slightly above what feels comfortable and try to hold that middling pace for as long as possible. In training runs, this is usually around the 4:50 per kilometre pace, which would result in a 3:23 marathon. I started out at a comfortable pace, and after a slow first kilometre, started knocking over approximately 5:00 kilometres. If I held that pace for the race, I would do a 3:30, which I felt was unrealistic, but I wanted to run to feel rather than to try and hold a pace (a mistake I had made at Rotterdam).
Two kilometres in I also managed to catch my Fan Club(TM) who I stopped in front of and gave a quick kiss to. This required me to then re-enter a big city marathon race on the run, which earned me a polite shove in the back to notify me that someone was behind me and was going fast(er than me). The first few kilometres wound their way through the shopping district (I think) which were nice enough, but not particularly picturesque. I went through the 5km mark in 25:19, feeling good and managing a comfortable pace.
Kilometres 5 to 10 also took in a lot of the north side of the river Main and the business districts around there. With little to look at in the way of scenery (except a dinosaur statue wearing a t-shirt – true story), I instead focused on my pacing and my race, which was probably not such a bad thing. I was probably at my strongest during these sections of the race, effortlessly ticking over those 5:00 kilometres, and my brain allowed me the opportunity to daydream about going under 3:30 for the race. At this point, a personal best seemed pretty assured – I mean – I felt good at this stage! I do tend to do this, getting ahead of myself when I still had 30 kilometres to go! I went through the 10km split in 50:17 – pretty much bang on target for a 3:30 and nicely ahead of the 5:20 pace that I needed for a personal best.
Kilometres 10 to 15 took us to the ‘south side’ where I thought things might look a little different, but in reality they didn’t really. It was just more of the same, though perhaps a little more residential this time. Frankfurt is a rather green city it must be said, with some lovely little forests and whatnot – as well as a guy randomly on a street corner with an air raid siren blaring. I can only assume that this is always the case, but then again, I have a small statistical sample to draw from. I started to feel a bit rubbish at this stage, which was when I knew things might be a bit troublesome for me down the line. I was telling myself an old marathon mantra of mine, which is words along the lines of ‘you do not have my permission to give up, legs, until at least kilometre 35’. How true this would turn out to be. The clock says I was strong though, even if the effort was starting to catch up with me, and I went through in 1:15:40 – 5:02 per kilometre and ticking over nicely, if a little sluggish.
Kilometres 15 to 20 were all along the south side, and things started to drift here as my stomach started to feel a bit nauseous and the fact that I was running a marathon started to catch up a little bit. I was still running good splits for my personal best chances, but as the pace started to nudge towards 5:15 per kilometre, the 3:30 marathon slipped away once again – early on in the piece though. The difference in mindset this time – as compared to Rotterdam – was in Rotterdam I doubled down and pushed the pace to try to get to 3:30. This time I relaxed a bit and tried to just run as fast as I could; trying to ensure the best result I could have. I went through the half marathon point in around 1:47:07 – a really good split for trying to knock over my personal best, if I could hold on.
Kilometres 20 to 25 were me telling myself to hold on for dear life, and this is the point in the race where I start to break things down, 5 kilometres at a time. That is usually a tell-tale sign that I am starting to struggle, and in this case it was my stomach that went first. I just didn’t feel well; I felt a mild nausea and started to dry reach a bit, which usually made me feel a bit better when it happened. My pace started to move towards the 5:25 area per kilometre, which at least I held consistently. I also made the same mistake at this point that I made in my first ever race – and I would have to deal with it for the remaining 20 kilometres I had to run. I poured energy drink all over my head! To be honest, I gave it a smell before tipping it on my head, and I swear it was water. Then again, in the state that I was in, I’m not surprised I got it wrong. So as it happened, I got to run the rest of the race sticky, but smelling rather citrus-y.
Kilometres 25 to 30 were not too bad, but I could feel everything start to get a bit blurry on the edges of my vision, and the voice that was telling me in whispers to stop and walk early on started to get a bit louder. The organisation of the race was fantastic though, and the consistent aid stations made for great targets to aim for. I didn’t walk at any of the aid stations, but rather kept an eye on my watch and aimed to keep ticking the kilometres over one-by-one, with a view to reassessing how I felt at the major 5km landmarks. I went through kilometre 30 in 2:36:44 – at 5:13 pace, I was still comfortably ahead of the pace needed for a personal best – but with 12 kilometres to go, I knew I was in trouble because of the way I felt.
Kilometres 30 to 35 – oh my word, the pain. The wheels really started to come off at this point, as my stomach felt awful, my calves were screaming at me (this is a flat course, mind you) and the desire to walk became close to overwhelming. The 5:00 kilometres were long a thing of the past, as they were replaced by 6:00 kilometres – and I watched my race pace figure creep ever upwards on my watch, bringing me down with every upwards tick. At this point my main focus was on getting to the finish, preferably without walking. These are usually the moments during marathons in which I most question why I sign up for these things, and the voices of the crowd saying things like ‘keep going’ become strangely irritating. I went through kilometre 35 in 3:06:18, and knowing that I would see the Fan Club (TM) in a couple of kilometres, I really grit my teeth and tried to hold on.
Kilometres 35 to 40 were where I relented, and sadly, started to walk/run. I started walking from kilometre 37, after I had seen Anna at the hotel, and she remarked later that seeing me in the state I was in made her reconsider coming to see me do these races. I may struggle to finish races and have to walk the latter stages, but you best believe that it’s not out of a sense of laziness or anything like that. I leave everything out on the course, every time. I took to walking 500m and running 500m to get through this incredibly tough period, even though these are the times that I
most want to crawl into a hole, lie down and sleep for a while. My splits started going northwards of 8:00 per kilometre here, as my personal best hopes went down the tubes, and I started reflecting back on my Rotterdam experience and how I had replicated it. All that was left now was to make it to the finish and to the sweet relief of lying down on the ground.
The last two kilometres were pretty horrible, as rain began to fall fairly heavily and was accompanied by a wind whipping between the buildings and pushing against all of the runners. I finished the 42.2km by my watch in 4:01:12, and managed to be happy enough with that to manage a smile.
It meant that I was able to walk the last 500 metres or so (once I hit 42.2km on my watch – I’m not running any more!) and video the finish line. Sadly, WordPress won’t let me upload the video, but the 90s dance music and the hall ambience was fantastic – and experience I won’t forget any time soon on what was otherwise a disappointing race day.
So 4:01:12 in the books – a disappointing result from a time perspective both for the day and for the season. It was my last race of 2017, so I immediately went into reflection mode and swiftly moved from there to thinking about what races to do next. Such is the life of a distance junkie – there is always another race to do.
After heading back to the hotel and sinking into one of the nicest warm baths I can remember having in some time – we relaxed downstairs in the hotel bar with a big hamburger dinner (Germany!) and tried to get off to bed early. Sadly, my son had other ideas, and instead he screamed for a few hours while I tried to distract him with the Mexican Grand Prix (with German commentary) on the television. Eventually he tired himself out and fell asleep, which was my prompt to do the same.
The next day, we went exploring a bit in Frankfurt – checking out the botanical gardens and wandering the north side shops. The highlight was amusing myself with puerile phrases taken from German that might be questionable if directly used in English. I am a child. I also tried to eat my body weight in meat, though it was a bit of a half-arsed attempt because I just couldn’t really do it. I’m a lightweight.
And thoughts turned quickly to 2018! I have a lot to do on a number of fronts before thinking about races, but initial thoughts are of more European races (Athens, Copenhagen are early thoughts) based on places to go and fun, rather than flat races chasing personal bests. If it is meant to be, then I will prepare properly and run a good race. If not – then I’m feeling that a good strategy is to have alternative goals in your back pocket.
I’m also pondering a return to the multi-sport world. My first thoughts are to go Celtic, and run through Ironman 70.3 Edinburgh and Dublin. This would result in 2018 being ‘the year I conquered my sea swimming fears’, but that might be something worth doing as well. At the moment I have many other priorities in life, so I’m not giving too much thought to it.
Today though is about resting from the race, and the seemingly insurmountable amount of admin I need to do to start moving house to Scotland!
Listening To: ‘Settle’ by Vera Blue
I’m still here. I’m still actually running, though not nearly as much as I would like to. My new road bike still lies in pieces on my balcony at home. I have the Frankfurt Marathon in just over a week – but to be honest, it is not really at the forefront of my mind at the moment. I have gotten some training in – in the last couple of weeks I’ve managed runs to both the red and sky blue sides of Manchester – which has been quite a lot of fun, even if I have found myself at 5:15am screaming at my Google Maps for sending me down roads that no longer exist in my quest to find the respective clubs. I’ve visited 2 Premier League club grounds – just 18 to go.
Oftentimes, training and racing has the opportunity to be a key focus of my life and I am able to come here and ruminate on the mental strategies for overcoming race failure, or to rattle off a half-marathon race report and bemoan going out too hard (again). None of these things are on my mind at the moment.
This is because I am planning a move, and it is a relatively big one. After months of thinking and planning, I will be moving to Glasgow in the next few weeks. It is an exciting opportunity for a number of reasons, but it comes with a lot of pain emotionally and I have invested a lot of energy – particularly over the last few days – in trying to manage that pain and to consider ways of overcoming it. If you’ve ever made a choice you knew was right in the long term, but came attached with downsides – you’ll know what I’m going through at the moment. All of the energy that I might have dedicated to the physical pursuits of running have been instead channeled into the mental exercise of dealing with these decisions.
This is not the forum for getting into the detail of it – but I know in my heart that it is the right move for the long term, and that on balance it is the right decision for my family and for me.
It means that my short and incredibly sporadic stint at Clapham Chasers is coming to an end, and I will make my swansong appearance for the club in Frankfurt. All I can say is that everyone I have met that is associated with the club has been phenomenal – particularly Messrs Bright and Spraggins who continue to be a source of inspiration for this mediocre runner and wannabe half-decent triathlete. I will report back to let everyone know if the Glasgow Triathlon Club can live up to the standards established.
So that’s where we are. It’s scary but I think it’s right. At least that’s what I keep telling myself. A long winter awaits me – full of fields of green and white, rolling hills and breath-seizing cold waters. Eyes wide open, from behind a rain speckled jacket – I hope to make the most of this new opportunity life has given me. Wish me luck.
Listening To: ‘How We Operate’ by Gomez thanks to my friend Nick who reminded me of how great this album is.
Following on that great tradition that I have started in my own mind, I have managed to get this race report written well within my self-imposed cut off time of ‘do my legs still hurt?’. Two days on, and I still have aches in my quadriceps, while I’m also generally stiff all over. Indicative of a well-run effort or an over-exertion in the face of under-preparedness? Read on to find out…
I signed up for Aberdeen what feels like a lifetime ago (literally it is – I signed up before my son was born) at the advice of Anna (the artist formerly known as ‘The Lady’. About time I actually named her I think.) It was a bit of an excuse to head up to see her parents, as when I signed up we knew that we would be +1, and that it would be nice to spend some time with family not long after the baby arrived. I saw it as a backup opportunity at running a sub 1:30 half marathon to my main tilt at Hampton Court, which then became my main effort given the 1:37 I ran there earlier this year. It also served the purpose of being a waypoint on the way to my second marathon of 2017, which is the as-yet –to-be-run Frankfurt Marathon in October. So in my mind I couldn’t really work out if this was an ‘A’ race or a ‘B’ race; I think it was more of a matter of seeing how the season went and then retrospectively assigning importance to the races depending on performance. I’m fairly sure that is not how the system is supposed to work.
The leadup to the race probably saw some of the best training that I have done in a long time, albeit for a few weeks rather than a sustained period of any kind. I managed to get 6 weeks or so of training in, with a nice balance (for once) of bits of speedwork with some small elements of endurance in there. I did quite a few 13km-14km efforts, as that is the distance between work and home – something I will hopefully continue to do in the leadup to Frankfurt. I peaked with a 29km long run in the weekend before the race, but I still felt that my change in approach (greater focus on speed and less focus on endurance) might leave me short in the back end of the race. I had to try something different though, as doing the same thing again and again wasn’t seeing any performance improvement strangely.
I flew up to Aberdeen after a week without either of the kids, or Anna (I spent it drinking with friends and catching up on a couple of films I had missed. Not PhD like I bloody well should have); getting in on the Friday before the race on the Sunday. Alistair (newest family addition) was spectacularly happy over the couple of days prior to the race, and his newly found ability to sleep more than a couple of hours in a row in the night was greatly welcomed. I spent the day before the race relaxing at home with family – preparing for what I knew was going to be a painful 90 minutes or so the following day. The butterflies fluttered, the mind raced and the muscles tensed up. Usual pre-race build up, naturally.
The morning of the race I woke with some porridge and a coffee, which then led to a further couple more coffees and a brief reconsideration of the diuretic effect of coffee. We (Anna, Alistair and Anna’s parents) drove on down to a park-and-ride before getting a bus into the middle of Aberdeen – where we were greeted by a seagull which can only be described as absolutely massive. I learned at that point that eating outside in Aberdeen was not done, as the seagulls there have a habit of aggressively stealing food from people. You could have convinced me that they might have taken limbs as well, given the size of the bloody thing. We headed for a(nother) coffee from a coffee shop, and then two nervous wees and a hug later, I wandered down to the start line of the race. Naturally, I needed yet another wee (three in 30 minutes pre race) so used it as an excuse to get a warm up jog in the side streets done, trying to shake some of the lethargy from my legs. They were feeling a bit heavy, and I wasn’t sure whether that was a good or bad thing pre race.
I found myself in one of the front groupings for the race, which I think was colour coded by expected finish time. This was quite bemusing, as someone (I won’t say who) described mine as the ‘elite’ group. There is a first for everything, and me being described as an elite runner was certainly one of them. It was nice to be in the first group to get away though, and a horn and gun blast later and the race had started. I self seeded towards the back of the front grouping, hoping not to get in the way and to find some space to get the legs going.
Around 400 metres in to the race I saw my jolly band of supporters by the side of the road, and in typical naff fashion blew them some kisses in a fit of adrenaline fuelled stupidity. I wasn’t so concerned with conserving energy at this point, but rather just enjoying the atmosphere. I put my head down after passing them though, and tried to settle into a comfortable rhythm that might be sustainable for 21.1km. The opening kilometre felt very downhill, and at least one section of it (down towards the harbour and the industrial area aside it) was a downhill drag. Neither of those things necessarily explain running a 3:49 opening kilometre, a time for me that I usually run for a kilometre when making an attempt at a 5km personal best. This persisted in fact, as I ran 21:21 for the opening 5km – which is in my top 10, if not top 5, fastest 5km runs ever. The opening 5km took us out of the centre of the city, down on to the coast of the North Sea and along the beach – replete with ships at sea and what looked to be wooden mooring posts of sorts. It was lovely to look upon, and it was only made better by feeling that I was running within myself, even if I was holding what felt like a pretty suicidal pace. I wanted to run by feel though, sticking to the mantra of running at a pace I felt I could hold until the end. As it happens, and I didn’t know it at the time, I was bang on track to run a 1:30 half marathon.
Things were always going to turn though, and the next 5km were a battle to try to hold on to the pace that I had set. I wasn’t too far off it, as we turned inland, up Ellon Road towards Bridge Of Don (I don’t know what these places are, I’m just reading my Garmin map) and then skirting by the university (they’re always lovely to run through). At the 10km split I was wondering to myself how I was going to hold on for another 11.1km, and with good reason. I hit the 10km split in 43:59, with a second 5km of 21:57. For reference, Strava tells me that my best 10km run ever is 43:25 – so once again I was within touching distance of an open PB within a longer race. Things were looking good, even if I didn’t feel it or for that matter, look it. This was despite the presence of cobble stones on the course at this point, which ever since the Rome Marathon have been cause for me to curse audibly and hop over to the footpath at every opportunity. Fucking cobble stones.
The drop off continued for kilometres 10-15, as we headed back towards the North Sea coast and a horrid headwind for the couple of kilometres there. Garmin tells me that I was only out on the coast for around 7-8 minutes, but it felt like an eternity as my legs left me and my breathing became laboured. I was finally paying for those early exertions, and other runners were starting to edge past me. Those shirts that I had been religiously following for the previous kilometres (including an Ealing Eagles one, as well as a most excellent Irn-Bru one) started to disappear into the distance. This is when the voices in my head started to niggle away, and the prospect of stopping for even a little walk appeared. These are the toughest times in a race for me; too far from the finish to contemplate hanging on, but close enough that walking would feel like a real cop out. I went through the 15km mark in 1:05:55; on track for a 1:32 finish and a new PB – if I could just hold on for the last 6km.
Thankfully, I got a bit of a second wind after we headed away from the coast and down into the relative shelter of the Aberdeen Football Club stadium. I managed to pull some time back on what I had lost out at sea, but was in preservation mode more than anything else at this stage. My main focus mentally was on keeping one foot in front of the other, knowing that I needed to hold as steady a pace as possible in order to secure the fastest possible time I could. I was still hopeful that I could grab a new PB, the only problem being that I couldn’t remember what pace I needed to run for that. It was probably a good thing, as I simply focused on running as fast I could rather than worrying about what pace I needed to run. Heading back into the city centre was a great buzz, as the crowds were growing and the noise was fantastic. There weren’t the usual irritating number of DJs and bands lining the route which was nice, just people cheering us on. I needed it – at this stage my head lolling on my shoulders, eyes raised to the sky in quiet desperation for the relief that only the finish line would bring. I had a couple of (relatively) catastrophic kilometres in here – kilometre 18 being in 4:49 and kilometre 20 in 4:47. I was struggling; and the demands to stop and walk from the voices in my head had grown from a whisper to a scream. My feet were blistered, ankles and calves pained, and my vision blurry. Somewhere in there I had taken on a bottle of water from an aid station and missed the bin with my throw. For some reason I felt compelled to stop and go back to put it in the bin (it might have been the police officers standing next to the bin that I must have nearly hit with my water) which gave me a brief moment to take stock. I then saw Anna and the support group down the road, so I put on my best brave race (not convincing apparently), gave my son a sweaty kiss on the head (I’ve now kissed both of my kids during half marathons this year – achievement unlocked) and took off for the finish line. The adrenaline lasted for a while, or at least it must have as I managed a 4:13 kilometre split for the last kilometre. Once again I proved to myself that I had more energy than I had thought available, pulling out a strong finish to ensure that I had left nothing out there. I stopped my watch some 400 metres short of the finish line, as I continued to refuse to run full course distances but rather run the advertised distance on my Garmin and then slow to enjoy the finish. This inevitably costs me finishing positions as people fly past me in the last few hundred metres, but, well…meh.
I finished with a final 6.1km split of 28:02, which was actually only 2 seconds per kilometre slower than the pace I had set for the 5km between 10km and 15kms – so I did manage to finish relatively strongly. Sadly though, not strong enough to manage a new personal best, as I crossed the line in 1:33:57 – 35 seconds slower than my personal best, but my second best time ever. I finished exactly 200th out of 3373 runners, which by my (poor) calculations put me in around the top 6% of runners for the race. Perhaps it was right for me to be seeded in that front pen at the start of the race after all.
Because I had eased up for the last 400 metres, I felt quite comfortable over the finishing line – it was only the blisters that were causing me grief. Anna surprised me with quite possibly the best post-race thing ever – a can of Irn Bru! The sugar was fantastic (33% of your RDA of sugar, kids), as was the fact that it was probably peak Scotland for me. This was my third race in Scotland – I love racing up north, especially if it ends with incredibly sugary drinks and family hugs at the end of it. We then hopped a bus back to the car before driving home – another race in the bag and some introspection ahead of me.
So what did we learn from the Great Aberdeen Run? Well, I can now say that my ability to run half-marathons at this pace is no fluke; given that it is my fourth half marathon finish under 1:40 (1:33, 1:33, 1:35 and 1:37). That being said, I really thought that a bit more focus on speed would be a bit more beneficial than it was; and if anything the race shows how much my development has stalled. 2017 was supposed to be a year of running gains, and at this point I have just the one personal best to my name – 5km. I also did think to myself that I ran my first sub 1:40 half marathon two years ago now, and I really would have thought that by this stage I would have gone under 1:30. I can’t beat myself up too much though; I simply don’t focus training or nutrition enough to justify the kinds of gains I am looking for. I have always had an attitude towards life of doing the bare minimum while hoping to extract the desired result out of a situation. There are some circumstances under which this can be ok, but trying to maximise performance is not one of them, and in this case I reap what I sow. I have said before that I know I spread myself too thin across things I want to be successful at, and running just cannot be the priority that I need it to be if my real goal is to become a faster runner. For the next few months in the least, being a runner falls well below being a Dad, partner, employee and PhD student; and that is a conscious choice on my part that I need to be more ok with. I would really like to adjust my expectations a bit more (starting with running a sub 3:30 marathon in Frankfurt) and just enjoy my running rather than defining success or failure by arbitrary time goals that may be unachievable given the time constraints that I have anyway.
My immediate goals are to get organised to take a holiday with the family (another one!), get on top of the stuff that is going on at work, get re-started on my PhD and try to wrap my head around everything that is going on. Running will help with that – as it always does. I love to run and I love the way that it makes me feel. Whether I will continue to worry so much about the goals (sub 20 minute 5km, sub 1:30 half, sub 3:30 marathon) – that one is open to debate.
A week or so off, and then its time to mach dich bereit für den Marathon meine Freunde. I didn’t even mention the sudden implosion of my fantasy football team (ugh – Harry Kane. I’m looking at you.), the lack of energy gels at half marathons, the Game of Thrones season finale, drunkenly singing early 2000s Something For Kate songs to no one in London, nor the bottomless pit that is my despair at the Melbourne Football Club. For another time perhaps.
Listening To: ‘Mr. Blue Sky’ by ELO