20 October 2013

The Immortal Story

If you run one Marathon a year, at most, you're condemned each time to commit the beginner's cardinal error. I am, anyway.  Out too fast, then struggle round the second half. Too fast means seeing sub-8 pace on the Watch (great! I'm really flying!), and struggle means discomfort walking, let alone doing the Old Man's Shuffle. But it's done, and it was number 13 so worth getting out of the way even if I claim not to be superstitious. And whichever way you look at it, a big improvement on last year's effort. Several minutes spent chatting to Mick and Phil provided a dose of inspiration - not enough, as it happened, to avoid a very ugly and extremely slow endgame. I hope I see them racing again soon, not just standing at the side of the road cheering on those of us who, although we don't appreciate it all the time, are so much more fortunate.

06 October 2013

Sunday morning

Time, I thought, for a long run - with the Abingdon Marathon coming up in about three weeks - oh, actually, exactly two weeks. The realisation came as a bit of a shock.

I ran to the field, where Hugo had gone on ahead to feed the horses (for which read, eat some carrots), and after a short pause to nail some rails to fenceposts we headed up to the Ridgeway.

I'd feared that it would be a mess, since it was only a week ago that the police were up there in force dispersing an illegal rave, but it was pretty litter-free and the only ruts were the ones that have been there for years - they took years to create, and I guess they will take even longer to fade away.

At the Bury Down car park we encountered a middle-aged couple (by which I mean they looked a little older than me) on what I can only describe as a recumbent tandem, a type of machine I have never seen before. I paused to admire it, and forgot to restart the Watch when we started again.

By the time we reached the turn-off back towards the village, where the plan was to go straight on to the Wantage Memorial, about three miles further along the Ridgeway, Hugo was lagging behind so much that I decided to head home. He needs a couch-to-seven miles training plan.

I had a recovery cappuccino and croissant and headed out again, unaccompanied. It was hard work to get started again, and a struggle after about three miles, but endurance is all about learning how to keep going when everything is screaming "stop", isn't  it? I'm afraid I did stop a few times, but even so my legs are strong (all that cycling to the station and home again, uphill, in the evening) and I'm not really tiring - helped, no doubt, by the chia iskiate I made up to keep me going on the planned long run. But my left foot is stiff and painful where I injured it in January: perhaps a spot of arthritis, which would not be surprising at my advanced age. It is certainly aggravated by barefoot shoes, so I'll be back in the marshmallow ones for a few days.

05 October 2013

Morning of our Lives

All the way round the Abingdon Parkrun course this morning I was kicking myself - figuratively, anyway. The chap on whose shoulder I was running as we rounded the farthest bend wasn't kicking me either, but he looked at his watch a couple of times and as he did so his elbow hit my chest - not painfully, not so as to slow me down, but it made me feel as if I was in a race. He accelerated away and beat me soundly.

I was kicking myself for wearing my Vivobarefoot Evo shoes - before I even reached the start I had discovered they had no traction on the wet grass, and round the meadow and along by the river there was an added problem with slippery bare earth. Breatho trail shoes are the right choice - how could I have forgotten?

I was kicking myself for wearing glasses. I have  never got used to the bifocals that I bought a year and a bit ago: where I want to plant my feet is out of focus, so staircases become a problem and running on a surface that demands attention is, too. And I guess that after the summer, the ground is especially uneven: it needs some moisture to soften it then a few Parkruns to smooth it out. Not being able to see where my feet were going, and slipping and sliding when I did plant them, was far from ideal.

On the other hand, I felt good: no niggling pains or injuries, for one thing. I have also been noticing recently that the action of running, just putting one foot in front of the other, has become deeply satisfying: I have had several moments of wishing it could go on for ever. I suspect that's a feeling that might wear off pretty quickly if I succumbed to the wish, but while it lasts it is inspiring. I have been using marshmallow shoes quite often in the past few weeks, and perhaps that has something to do with it - not only do the soles promote comfort, but I have gel pads under the balls of my feet too. I wonder how they would work in Vivobarefoot shoes?

I had lined up near the front of a field of at least 100, planning to keep ahead of the children and ear-phoneys (I just coined that - I wonder whether it's ever been used before?) until we'd negotiated the first couple of choke points, which meant I lined up with Pete, to whom I remarked that I was clearly not where I really belonged. But it worked, and I reached the lock without being seriously baulked.

At least a good proportion of the course is tarmac, and on those sections I felt as if I was making decent time. I was concentrating on my arms, making sure they did a fair share of the work: 22 years of serious running, and I think I have got to the point where my legs can be left to their own devices while I get my arms sorted.

One runner asked me about my PB as we started the second loop, but I was unable to give him much of an answer - first, because I had no breath available for speech, it was all being used for running, and second because that isn't information I carry in my head. What is in my head is targets: 20 minutes for 5K, 40 minutes for 10K, 1:30 for a half, 3:30 for a Marathon - all well beyond reach, as they have been since I first set them for myself at least 8 years ago.

I told him it was, oh, 22-something, but I assured him that I wasn't going to change it today.

For the last quarter of a mile or so the route is on a good metalled surface, though runners have to share it with cars as well as pedestrians. But there's a slight bend in it, so you can't see the point where you turn right and hurtle down a short slope to the funnel: how inspiring it would be if that were in sight earlier. As it is, that final near-straight comes in two stages: first you can see the marshal at the point where you make a sharp right on the first lap, then once you're past that point you can see the marshal at the final right turn. At least I believe that's how it works - but who knows, my memory might be playing tricks. Whatever, it's a small psychological battle to attack that last section because the targets aren't quite in view when you need them. I divided it mentally into two parts, made for the first marshal and once past her fixed my sights on the next and final one, upped my pace (or so I thought), pumped my arms and did my best to save a few more seconds.

For a change, I remembered to press the button on the Watch as I crossed the line. 22:20, it said, but all I knew was that in whole minutes that was consistent with recent times, and I was surprised. I hadn't hung around, but I certainly hadn't felt like I was pushing it - I lacked that near-death experience at the finish line that marks out a really hard effort. But it turns out I got nearly everything right: avoiding trouble in the first hundred yards, keeping my form, ensuring my head stayed in the right place (not so difficult when you only have to concentrate on running): now I check my records, that's a PB for this course, by an amazing 29 seconds, and even 12 seconds faster than I have managed at Newbury, which is a much faster course.

How many seconds did I waste with my feet slipping, I wonder? And stumbling on the uneven ground? 140? That would be nice ... Maybe next week I will take a trip to Newbury and see what I can do there.