Friday, 28 September 2012

Two More Sleeps

Just two more sleeps to the Bristol Half Marathon. Training is as tough as ever. Not the running itself, rather deciding what to do.

I rested Monday, the day after the TenTenTen. That was an easy enough decision: I’ve been resting on Mondays since scheduling my long runs on Sundays at the start of this month. Then Tuesday came around… and you know what, I could easily have stayed in bed when it was time for my run. I was still feeling good about Sunday, I felt I’d achieved what I’d set out to achieve (I had!) and… well, I just couldn’t be bothered. But got up I did and 12.5km I ran. 1h07’16”: not spectacular in post-TenTenTen currency, but faster than I’d ever run that route. The new tarmac they’ve laid out for me is obviously helping!

Then Wednesday morning came around, not with the nicest of weathers I should add. But a little shower never hurt anyone. Same 12.5km, only in a less spectacular 1h09’45”. Not a problem: I didn’t set out for a fast run, just wanted to keep the rhythm going. However, there cometh a time when that becomes detrimental: the problem is, I don’t know exactly where that point is. But I have learnt the rewarding nature of doing less, even that of doing nowt, and those are lessons I should not dismiss. Especially when I find myself in the office on just another Wednesday morning, three days after my first race (which, whilst short and on forgiving trail, may well have taken more out of me than a training run) and four days ahead of my second, and suddenly those quads are feeling tighter than usual. Nothing major, nothing concerning, but a warning nonetheless. I’d already decided to give Thursday a miss and this just ensured the decision was not up for debate.

Or did it?

There I was, in the office on just another Thursday afternoon, still feeling a little tenseness in my quads. It may well be nerves: I am a huge believer in psychogenic pain, in the fact that often what we think is a physical problem is just something in our heads. Either way, I decided to go for a run last night: not in search of speed or endurance, but to stretch my legs. To kick out those legs that had been stuck behind a desk for three days running. I’d avoid the hills and return to where this journey had begun, back and forth along the main road at the end of our estate. If you go towards the pub, to the bit where the road starts to descend, turn round, head back all the way to Roberto’s school, twice, that’s 5km. A nice enough stretch.

Hang on… 5km to stretch my legs?

Yes. A short 5km run. Nothing probing, just kickin’ out. Which I did, even treating myself to a bath once I’d got back – probably my first bath in five years! I’ll be having another one way before 2017, let me tell you – felt good, did that. But the 5k yes, just a short run. Just something for the legs, for the quads. Then it struck me…

… hey Squint, not that long ago you got really excited about your first 5k run. You got so excited you texted your Dad, you texted Cousin Nats (one of the two cousins who ran the TenTenTen with me), because you’d never run 5km without stopping before. It was May 6 – and my text is still on my phone:

“Just got back. 5.4k. Took me 34’, but 5.4k. Without stopping or walking. I have never run for 34’ in a row, Nats. That’s twice my previous best (Friday! Two days ago!), in that respect. The Salcombe debacle aside, I have never run 5k. You have a lot to answer for” & for that… I thank you! xxx”

In fact… I got so excited I wrote my shortest post ever about it!

34’… and 5k became my first long run! I was still clocking between 32’ and 38’ when I moved up to 8k. Then, on June 20, I went for it. 5.45k in 28’29”. I’d broken the 30’ mark! It didn’t become a regular occurrence, as I often strayed above that again but, more importantly, found myself running longer distances more frequently. But I still recall the effort and the relief that went into to managing 5.45k in 28’29” on June 20, 2012. I didn’t improve on that until August 17, when I ran 5.05k in 25’58”. After that, I didn’t run less than 6k… till last night.

Last night’s 5k took 26’13”. Fifteen seconds outside my PB, then – and 50m shorter, too. But that’s only half the story. The difference separating those forty-one days is actually an abyss – and a good one.

What the times don’t tell you is that, whereas in August I went out to record a fast time, last night I just wanted to kick out. Stretch those legs. I maintained a steady pace but ran within myself, not even bothering with a final sprint. I wanted to stretch those legs, not myself. I specifically left my stopwatch at home to ensure I didn’t push myself. Which is not to say I went slow, simply to say that I ran those 5km at a pace at which I felt comfortable and at which I could have carried on for longer. With that in mind, the perspective on those extra fifteen seconds changes dramatically. I could easily have shaved 3”/km, even more. But that was not my goal.

More importantly, I was around eight minutes beneath the time it had taken me in early May. Back then I was still keeping off the scales, waiting till I felt I was within a certain weight range before troubling them. Given that I was 84kg on June 25, in early May I was probably still around 94, which is twenty more than I am now. And let me tell you, carting around 44lbs less really does help!
8’ comprise of 480”. Over a 5k distance, that’s 1’36”/km that I’ve shaved off since early May. And that’s without feeling I even came out of third gear last night. Once I got home, my legs felt better. As did my mind, reassured that the legs do have a 21.0975km run in them come Sunday. Whether the legs helped the mind or the mind helped the legs, I don’t know. And I don’t care. They will continue to feed off each other to get me over the finish line on Sunday. Later that evening, I will devour a 12” pizza: stuff the sharing Mrs S and I usually go for, on Sunday I’m having one to mi’self and I’ll even finish anything she leaves on her plate! Then Monday is rest day, as always. As for Tuesday…

…well, let’s see. Besides, I will start cross-training a bit more next week: well, spending some time in the garage on weights and stuff, anyway. Can’t see the bike coming out any time soon, although it could be an option for pre-work exercise. But I’ll tell you this for nowt: whatever training I do or don’t do over the coming week or two, at some point I will go out for a 5k like last night’s. And I won’t run within myself as I did last night for my 26’13”. Sub 25’, anyone?

Truth be told, probably not. Not first time round, anyway. But I do need to work on speed a little, and this wouldn’t be a bad start before I contemplate something more structured. Oh, and for perspective… while I target sub-25”, let’s not forget that Mo Farah’s time to win Olympic gold was 13’41”66. Those guys are just freaks.

Anyway, that’s all next week. There’s the small matter of a half marathon in two days’ time to tackle first. Odds are this will be my last post before then. Resting today (well, not running, anyway!), then I’ll run another 5k tomorrow – just to loosen up, you know, no time target. So thanks for getting this far with me: it’s been one heck of a journey and I’ve been delighted to share it with you. I’m sure we’ll still find plenty to talk about after that.

Oh, the shirt’s ready, by the way. Same shirt as I wore in Sheffield. Same safety pins, for that matter thanks Uncle Rich! I’ll be wearing the same shorts and possibly the same socks, too. Superstitions? No, I just want to take something from Sheffield and from my first ever race with me as I step out for my first half-marathon. Oh, the shorts haven’t actually been washed, by the way. Which has been kind of intentional, even though it does sound gross, not least since they had to travel down from Sheffield stuffed away in my bag anyway, let’s not mention that, eh? Shhh

…which then reminds me about NouriSHMeNow. They gave me one of their t-shirts last week and I’ve been wearing it at home for the past couple of days, once I’d consigned the yellow TenTenTen shirt to the wash (I’m still to wear the white one!). Bearing in mind they ended up gifting me ten of their delicious drinks, by the time I’m wearing their t-shirt I feel like a sponsored athlete! In a week when I need all the help I can get, feeling like a sponsored athlete actually helps..!

Anyroad, I’ll leave you now. Two more sleeps heres hoping theyll be good ones. 16745 is ready.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Sheffield TenTenTen 2012: 50'38"

<written 24/09>

50’38”. Over nine minutes better than my target time. Can’t grumble with that.

Yup, that was my time for the Sheffield TenTenTen. It was a fabulous day – one that will live long in my memory. And not just because of those 3049 seconds. Everything about it was… well, fabulous. I’m somewhat concerned that, by writing a traditional blog post, I’ll take up pretty much the same number of precious seconds of yours to read it – and, quite frankly, it’s not worth that. So let me try to talk you through my weekend in a somewhat more succinct manner…

Got up and got to Bristol Temple Meads courtesy of Jon. It still sounds odd to suddenly find myself referring to someone whom I’ve known for six years as my “running partner” but I’ll make the most of it while I can!
Boarded the 8:30 to Sheffield. Soon regretted not getting myself a hot drink on the platform but made do with one of the over-priced, under-flavoured ones from the trolley. You feel odd without a hot drink on a morning train – everybody else is sipping one as they tuck in to their preferred reading… which, on this occasion, for me was Mark Radcliffe’s “Thank You For The Days”.
Pulled into Sheffield on time (11.17). Stepped out unto the majestic beauty of Sheffield Hallam University, my alma mater. Didn’t take any photos this time but it’s hardly changed since June. Walked to the leisure centre were Auntie Dawn was working. Exchanged texts. Within five minutes of her advising me she was heading out, she nearly headed off without me. She didn’t. Headed to leafy suburban Ecclesall – so leafy, in fact, it’s virtually Dore. Had a sarnie and a few drinks, then left Dawn to the housework and headed down to Jo & Roger’s house to find Uncle Chris. Uncle Chris lives in Thailand these days, so it’s nice to catch up with him once a year. Had SkySportsNews in the background for most of the afternoon and witnessed the videoprinter confirming the mighty Blades had won 1-0 at Yeovil – hooray! Cousin Joe had actually gone to the match, pretty much making the reverse trip to mine, chauffeured there and back by his girlfriend Steph. Tempting as it was to join them, it made sense for me to be in Sheffield today – for a number of reasons.
Greeted Oly back from Swillsborough, where Bolton had consigned the other lot to a 2-1 home defeat. Oly’d already been unwell whilst playing football in the morning and the surroundings of S6 clearly hadn’t helped. He announced he was pulling out of the TenTenTen, which was disappointing for all involved. But when your stomach says you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go… or not, as the case may be. So if you do see his name on the results page alongside a highly impressive 46’12”, coming in 119th out of 772, just bear this in mind: it wasn’t Oly. Oly was too busy cheering on the rest of us – and for that we are grateful!

Anyway – back to Dunkeld Road. Matches over. Time passes. 6pm approaches. Now come on people, what does 6pm on a Saturday mean when I’m in Sheffield?

Yup, it means Early Bar! Well, to be fair it means Early Bar every Saturday, just not for me. Went to The Hammer & Pincers with Rog and Chris; met Streetsy, Streetsy’s Mum and Dad, Jonah, Andy, Ian and Robin there. Was introduced at some point as “Gian’s son”, which feels wrong in Sheffield but actually makes perfect sense – the lucky beggar gets to spend more time there than I do, and it’s MY hometown! Lapped up comments about my weight loss as I supped five pre-race day J2Os, although it was pointed out to me by Andy that I now needed to bulk up a little. Which was always my Winter 2012 plan, as avid readers of this blog will know. I can’t recall meeting Andy before, but he’s right.

Walked back to Dawn and Richard’s, all five minutes of it… enjoyed a pre-race bowl of pasta, as kindly agreed by Dawn earlier; watched some TV with them; headed up for bed.

SUNDAY 23/09
Woke up from a good nights sleep. Faffed around with my running stuff, in spite of the fact I’d got it all ready the previous day. That’s what you should do: it says so in “Running For Beginners”, plus it makes perfect common sense. Had two slices of toast for breakfast. I never have toast for breakfast: I always have cereals. But “Running For Beginners” suggest you have toast no less than two hours before the race so that’s what I did.

8:30am: headed down nice and early to Endcliffe Park, where Sean (D&R’s foster son) had been entered in the 2.5k fun run. Exchanged memories of my 5k Salcombe “fun run” (apostrophes necessary as it was no blinkin’ fun for me) as Joe (‘Woody’) pointed out they were scarring him the way they’d scarred me 23 years earlier. Only Sean enjoyed it, to be fair.
Hung around… hugged Nats… chatted… loosened up, somewhat wondering why some people were spending half an hour doing so…

…spotted MazyMixer (that’s Simon W’s Twitter ID) who’d alerted me to his presence as his son was running the 2.5k. I hesitate to call it a ‘fun run’ for the lad because he came 6th in 12’27”, which is proper competitive stuff. Indeed, as a result of knowing where his son finished in the race and double-checking on LinkedIn I have satisfied my curiosity and established “Simon W”’s surname – but I won’t out him here. Hey, when your Granddad was a private investigator you feel compelled to figure out this kind of stuff! Then…

…went off to have a quiet moment to myself near the stepping stones. Nearly shed a tear but didn’t, mainly through fear that it may freeze. I just happened to think about my brothers, as I do at momentous moments in my life. And this, without being major in the great scheme of things (so keep those handkerchiefs in your pockets), was momentous: ten months after being put to (temporary) sleep and had a bit of brain removed, I was running a 10k race. Had things gone badly (highly unlikely but undoubtedly possible) back on November 22, I could have ended up joining them. As it happens, here we were ten months down the line and they were joining me to help me through Sheffield’s green and pleasant land. That may or may not make sense to you and, to be fair, it needn’t. So I won’t bore you further…

…pinned race number (59) to shirt, which only for me seemed to require taking off said shirt, thereby finding myself bare-chested in Sheffield in September… tried and failed to put shirt back on… took off shirt and adjusted one pin, which had gone through the front and the back of the shirt, thus making it impossible to wear…

…by the way, number 59 gives you an indication of how early on in the process I signed up for this… Nats and Joe were 593 and 594 respectively! So they got the first two digits right, anyway…

…rejoined the others, made small talk. Threw my legs around a bit more as I showed off my loosening-up skills. Joined the queue for the toilets. Ten minutes and little advance later, left queue for toilets. I didn’t actually need to go, I’d just read in “Running For Beginners” that you should go. More small talk and eventually Nats, Joe and I huddled together near the “40-50 minutes” group. In other words, Joe and I followed Nats to the group she belonged to and prepared to be overtaken by a few people…

…set off. Ran round the main Endcliffe Park field before exiting onto Rustlings Road. Natalie was long gone but I could make out Joe, what with him being tall, blonde, wearing a woolly hat and having a number 5 on the back of his shirt. Caught up with Joe… muttered “c’mon, Lad”… overtook Joe… kept going. Into Bingham Park, up the grass bank, through the woods and back out again, back towards Endcliffe Park, past the duck lake, all the way to The Monument at the front, back towards the main field, left. That was Lap 1 completed…

…looked at my watch for the first time. I’d been feeling good about myself and saw no benefit in finding out to what it equated in terms of time. At the halfway mark, though, I needed an indication as to where I stood vis-à-vis the half hour mark. I stood (well, ran) at 24 minutes summat. Blimey, that’s not bad goin’, Lad! Heard Oly cheer me on. Felt good about myself. Picked up a bottle of water from the drinks station because it’s what you do. Took a swig, rinsed mouth, spat out water. Repeated. Drank nothing and kept going. A lot of water was left undrunk or spat out by hundreds of people. Though about Bob Geldof and kept running.

…headed towards the Rustlings Road gate to hear Rog shout that Nats “wasn’t that far in front” of me. That meant I was doing OK but did nowt to make me want to catch up with Nats. Started to question whether I could sustain the pace. Kept going.

…got to the bottom of the grass bank. Took in encouragement from Dawn, Rich and Shawn. Headed up the grass bank. Overtook about four people on the short but steep climb.

…got to top of grass bank. Realised overtaking people up the grass bank had not been wise. Wished briefly that Dawn had not been in that particular spot, at the bottom of the hill she’d been warning me about since April. Wished that I had not felt obliged to step things up a notch as a consequence of that. Headed into woods. Felt a stitch. Slowed down. Was overtaken by far more than the four people I’d passed up the grass bank. Struggled for five, long minutes…

…felt my brothers lift me and carry me on as I made my way down the woods. Headed out of Forge Dam and back towards Rustlings Road. Found my rhythm, my pace again. Knew the end was in sight and kept going. Was no longer struggling as I ran into Endcliffe Park. Started to lengthen stride. Felt good.

…looked at watch. Given that I had been struggling in the third quarter of the course, was amazed to see I was around 46’. Briefly wondered whether a sub-50’ finish was feasible. This was the first time I’d asked myself this question – ever. Agreed with myself that I’d stick to the original plan: give it everything and see what time that gave me. Which, probably, won’t be sub-50’. But certainly felt comfortable about sub-60’. Indeed, knowing that I could have walked the rest and still clocked sub-60’ was helpful – and no, not tempting! Seriously!


…crossed the Porter Brook by the Monument and headed back for the finish. Upon reaching the main field and seeing the line, put in a sprint. Overtook a few people, all along with a warm, relieved feeling in my heart…

 …crossed the line clicking my stopwatch. Looked down: 50’29”. Looked up: blew my siblings a kiss, thanking them for getting me through the hardest part…

…headed to side of finishing line. Waited for Joe. Cheered him on. Hugged Joe. Hugged the rest of them. Went off to find my goodie bag. Went off to find my limited edition t-shirt for which I’d shelved out a tenner, not realising it was ‘merely’ a white version of the yellow race shirt – ah well! All charity, isn’t it?

…joined the rest of them outside the café. Drank my delicious NouriSH Me Now drink. Ate the cereals bar I’d been given. Chatted with family and assorted friends of. Felt bloody bleeding good at having recorded the time I had…

…went over to throw my chip into the appropriate bucket. Went back a few minutes later for a print-out of my official time. Said official time: 50’49”. Disappointed at extra twenty seconds added to my time. Relieved time still sub-51’. Ecstatic time still sub-59’59”. Continued feeling bloody bleeding good about myself…

…finally, headed off for the nouriSHmenow stand. Over the course of the previous few months I’d tried to buy some of their natural sports recovery drinks online but we hit a few snags so in the end they kindly offered to let me have them for nowt. Who am I to refuse?!? Very kind, those folk at nouriSHmenow. And top drinks they make, an’all. Don’t ask me how much credit they should get, but I did feel nourished after the drink and my bones don’t ache today. I do look forward to their drinks being available in Bristol stores! In fact, on that note, let me get back to you next week: if I feel nouriSHed and non-achy after the half marathon, I’ll give them all the credit in the world! And, regardless of how nouriSHed I feel, I wish them all the very best in their quest to get their business… er, up and running.

So, that was that, race-wise. Purely for the record, out of 772 Natalie came in 146th in 47’47”, I came in 228th in 50’38” (yes, bear with me) and Joe came in 339th in 54’20”. I am solely outlining these results for posterity, to save myself the hassle of looking them up on the results page should I ever wonder about them again. This was never a race for me: not a family race, not an all-out race. This was always about me proving to myself that I could do it, proving the training had been worthwhile: I was aiming for sub-60’ but I’d have not cried had I gone beyond the hour because I knew it’d done my best in preparing for race day. I’d trained hard, I’d turned down the bevvies… I’d given it my best shot and that’s all you can do. As for Nats and Joe, they were also pleased with their respective times (more Joe than Nats, mind) so everybody was happy.
What I have done, of course, is laid down a marker for myself. Because I do want to be back in 2013 when I will no longer enjoy the benefit of any time being a PB. Just like this year I wanted the first digit on my time to be a ‘5’, so next year it’d be nice for it to be a ‘4’.
Anyway – one race at a time! Back to this one: so, I’ve run, I’ve stopped, I’ve sat down – what did I do next?

Gone are the alcohol-swilling
days of May
…got a lift back to Dawn&Richard’s with Joe&Steph. Dad taught me from a very early stage that, after sport, you shower as soon as you can. Did what Dad had instilled in me. Spent a lifetime packing what actually wasn’t a lot of stuff, swapping it from one bag to another. Left race number on shirt…
…got a lift down to Jo&Rog’s with Dawn&Richard. Watched the end of the Liverpool-ManU game. Got a lift up to Midge&Albert’s with Jo. They’re Rog’s parents and I always have a lovely chat whenever I can make it there. Got a lift to Jo&Rog’s with Rog. Chatted some more, had a sarnie courtesy of Jo-Jo. Collected my belongings (including bag of Decathlon gear which Oly had gone out and sourced for me), including a packed lunch courtesy of Jo-Jo. Headed off towards train station with Rog. Stopped off at Decathlon for a couple of items Oly had inadvertently left off the list. Got to train station. Went to the nearby Sheffield Tap to meet up with Darren. Had two lovely pints of real ale and a really fantastic time with Darren. Walked over to Platform 6. Headed home. Booked a cab. Detoured via South Wales, making the return journey almost an hour longer than its Northbound counterpart. Waited for cab. Got into cab. Got out at home. Unpacked.

That’s as concise as I can be… not least because it’s hard to put into words how good it felt to record 50’49”. I’m still buzzing now. If you’ve ever run a race and exceeded your objectives, you know what and how I felt. If you haven’t, no essay of mine is going to convey that feeling.

But be not mistaken: the race was only one component of thirty fantastic hours in Sheffield. Truly, seeing Daz was the highlight. This is someone I’ve not seen in two and a half decades, since Dawn&Richard moved out of 43 Ranby Road. Daz and Andy lived at 47 and I spent many happy hours playing cricket, football or summat on the ZX48 with them. But we’re talking 1983 to 1985 here… yet, having finally found Daz (and subsequently Andy) online, we agreed to meet up and we picked up where we left. OK, so there was no ZX48, and any conversation related to such groundbreaking technology was replaced by chats about our kids. In Sheffield, just like in Santa Margherita, I actually can meet up with someone I’ve not seen in such a long time and just have an easy, free-flowing, heart-warming conversation, like friends do. That is a luxury the South does not afford me, for I have no connections here with whom I can start by saying: “Hey, remember thirty years ago…”. Anyway, on that note I… well, left Sheffield.

And headed back down here. Where friendships are younger, not steeped in anything like that history. At the cost of winding up half the global population, that kind of history matters more to blokes than lasses. But that’s OK: you’re allowed to hang on to the good things from the past whilst making new friends wherever you are. And I’m getting there, you know? I thought long and hard before and after publishing the post I published back in June. I still stand by what I wrote, but I also acknowledge that, as I share experiences with folk darn’ere, I will be able to use the F-word more freely. Just look at Jon, my running partner. For five years now I’ve known him, chatted, danced to his CD with the kids in our living room, stolen lifts… but there comes a point where you can only go to the next level by sharing something memorable. That 22km training run to Pill and back was a start… that high-five and manly hug at the end of it, those tangible gestures, did as much to strengthen our friendship (from my perspective, anyway – for this is how my heart and mind work) than any conversation we have ever had and just you wait till next Sunday and the real thing.

Hey, hang on… just checked… on the site it says that my “gun time” was 50’49” but my “chip time” was 50’38”… so 50’49” is from the moment the gun went, but 50’38” is from the moment I crossed the line… hey, then 50’38” it is!!! Seriously, that’s how it works!

So there you have it, good people of icantstandrunning. So much for the succinct manner promised, eh? Ah well sorry. And no, I can’t stand running: but I ran my first 10k yesterday and did so in 50’38”. It wasn’t fun, of course not. But I’ll admit this much: it felt bloody good. And it still does.