Sunday run, 25km

I’ve had my Vibrams for a week now, and as a consequence of dropping to the barefoot style shoe, I’ve had to limit my running. The strain on my calves has been much more than I anticipated – The transitional shoes only affected me for a day or two before I got used to them, whereas the Vibrams have had me in agony pretty much all week.

Alright, so it’s my fault. As I’ve previously said, I’m not someone to do things by halves, and I know I’m supposed to limit my mileage at first when going to the barefoot style, but I just get carried away.

After running a 10k the first day I got them, I ran 14km with Kasia on the Sunday. I was a little sore (understatement…) for a couple of days after this, and a new work schedule meant that I managed to get in a run on Wednesday morning, another 10k. This finished me again for a couple of days, and I didn’t run again until Friday night, which happened to be about 12km.

I was working on Saturday, and then meeting friends for drinks after. I don’t actually normally drink any more, but I bowed to peer pressure, and had a few beers. It was a good night, and I didn’t get to sleep until 4am.

I woke with a hangover on Sunday morning, determined to go running with the running club on their weekly long run. Some strong coffee, a wholewheat bagel (with nothing on it), a shower and about a litre of water, and I left the house a few minutes later than I planned. Kasia decided not to run, perhaps wisely, considering the very late night we’d had.

Arriving at the bus stop, I find that the next bus to where the running club meets won’t arrive for another ten minutes. I’m going to be late. But not if…

I break into a run. I know my times. I know I can run to where the club meets at the other side of tower bridge in exactly 35 minutes. The bus takes pretty much the same time, depending on traffic. The club leave for their run in 30. I put a little more speed into my run.

The pavements are busy, but not overly so. I manage to avoid the worst of the foot traffic, and get to Liverpool Street two minutes faster than normal. I’m at London Bridge in 27 minutes. A run down the stairs, and across the pedestrian section (which is already busy with tourists), and am frustrated every time I’m slowed to a walk. I end up sprinting the last section, and only slow as I see the club members still milling around.

I manage to catch my breath and have a couple of minutes to chat before the run gets under way.

Almost immediately, I find myself with the leaders of the group. There are about thirty runners today, and within a minute or two a pack of four of us break away from the others.

As we extend our lead I realise something – I’m not racing these guys, but I am frustrated by the slower pace. This is probably caused by faster run to get there on time, and I want to maintain that pace. I soon begin to break away on my own, only slightly worried that I don’t really know the route.

I shouldn’t have worried. I soon begin to tire, and the three others soon catch me again. I glance at my watch and realise once again that I’ve forgotten to press start on the stopwatch. This is a common occurrence, when I’m running with others.

The group of three keep a steady lead about 50 metres in front of me, and I’m happy for them to stay there. I’ve already decided that I’m going to run home too, and should probably conserve a little energy.

Another club member runs past me. I make a mental note that I’m now in ‘5th place’, and immediately try to ignore that. We’re not racing, and nobody feels that we are.

One thing I’ve not mentioned so far – The area around Tower Bridge where we run has many cobblestone paths. While I love running in my Vibrams (and I’ll even go as far as saying they’re the best running shoes I’ve ever tried), running on cobbles in them is not fun. Your feet feel every single edge of each stone as you run over them.

We hit the halfway point, the other four runners arriving not long before me. I think to myself that I’ve not done too bad. I’m ten years or thereabouts older than these guys, and I’d already run seven kilometres at a fairly brisk pace before we’d even started. I make another mental note, to run a little slower on the way back.

The rest of the club come in to the turnaround in clumps, often three or four at a time, and a few minutes later we’re assembled for our obligatory club photo.

(I used to find it frustrating, to start running again after such a stop, but now I just get on with it.)

We begin the 6.5km journey back to the start, and I purposefully hold back, and am the last to leave the turnaround. I run at a much slower pace, but still find myself near the front as we make our way through those horribly cobbled streets. The leaders are almost out of sight, and I make a point of not chasing them.

I’m with a pack of about four others, and reluctantly I pass them all and find myself running alone.

And then… I did what I do every time running this course. I take a wrong turn. You’d think that I would know it by now, but no. I always make the same mistake, end up in a dead end and have to retrace my steps. Back out on the right path, I find myself running alone again, as the pack that was behind me disappear in front of me.

I make it back to the start, some way behind the seven or eight others who finished before me, but for once, I’m not bothered. It’s rare that I’m not racing people, even  internally, and I soak up what has been a long run.

After some lengthy discussion about my choice of footwear, the group disbands slowly, and we go our separate ways. I begin the 7km run back home, smiling to myself.

So after the longest run I’ve completed since the marathon, and by far the longest I’ve run in the FiveFingers, I’m a happy man. My calves are only half as sore as I expected them to be, and perhaps that Ultra is not as impossible as I thought. I’ve just got to remember to fuel right. A single plain bagel is not sufficient to fuel that kind  of distance. I was starving when I got home, and pretty much cleared out the fridge.

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New Shoes. Again.

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Yes. No surprises here, I bought a new pair of shoes. My first pair of Vibram FiveFingers.

I’d decided to stay in the transitional shoes for the marathon, due to the problems I was having with blisters, but now I kind of see myself starting fresh, from zero, if you like.

I knew what going to barefoot shoes would do to my calves, however, I got a little carried away. I ran out of the door as soon as Kasia had left for work on Saturday evening, just for a quick jog around the block, which would have been my first run since the marathon.

Well, that quick jog turned into a full on 10k, which I found tough as I hit the turnaround. Any illusions of bouncing straight back after the marathon were quickly blown away. I was much more tired than I expected to be, and the cold was still lingering. I got back in around 50 minutes, which is much slower than I usually do, but nothing to do with the shoes – I hit the turnaround in 24 minutes, which is my standard time. Yes. read that again. My usual 5k split is 24 minutes, but 50 minutes for a 10k is much slower than I usually do. I normally run it with a huge negative split, only because I treat the first 5k as a warm up…

My calves ached, just as they had when I first dropped to transitional shoes, and although I was prepared for some discomfort, it still ached. It’s a good pain though – It’s one that means my legs are working as they should.

Sunday came, and I decided I would run again. I really had missed running quite badly over the week. Again, what started out as a quick jog with Kasia ended up being nearly 13k of canal routes as we explored the area around our place and got a little carried away. I’d even told her that I wasn’t going to run in the Vibrams because I wasn’t sure my calves would last the run. That changed as I saw them sitting looking at me as I was getting ready.

What can I say about them? They’re the most comfortable running shoes I’ve ever used. While the toe thing is weird when you’re sitting around the house looking at them, running in them feels the most natural thing. Also, no new blisters at all.

If you’re thinking of transitioning, make sure you go to a low drop shoe first, and slowly up your milage in a zero drop or barefoot shoe – running over 20k in your first weekend in them is not recommended, unless you’re some crazy near 40 year old who doesn’t know his own limits.

Like me.

After…

So where now? I am sure pretty much everyone asks themselves the same thing immediately after an event such as a marathon. My goal was always to use the 42km as a training run towards running ultras.

However, I don’t feel like I have conquered a marathon yet. Sure, I crossed the finish line, but the race didn’t go in any way as I planned.

One of the first things we did when we got back to London on Wednesday was talk through our running goals. Kasia wants to run a much faster marathon, as do I. We agreed to drop our plans for running ultras for now, and spend the next year training like never before.

We’ve pencilled in two marathons for next year, six months apart, and have already begun purchasing training equipment, and writing year long training plans.

The health checks we did prior to the race gave us both good news, and my metabolic age of 23 was the cause of much merriment (my cholesterol level of 118 actually made the doctor do a double take).

We’re both now following whole food plant based diets now, and our recovery times from the marathon were startling – we were both pain free within 48 hours, and have both been itching to run since Tuesday.

Eric Orton’s The Cool Impossible has been Kasia’s companion all week, and it’s going to be such an incredible journey, I might have to buy a video camera and make a movie…

Warsaw Marathon Review

It starts at kilometre 15. I decide that I can wait, and keep running. But the pain becomes worse. I need to go. I hold off until the next toilets at kilometre 20 (seriously – race organisers, please put the toilets AFTER the distance markers. It’s a psychological thing). I burst through the door of the portaloo. It’s not pretty. I lose a lot of liquid in various ways rapidly. ‘Immodium,’ I think to myself, ‘next time, pack Immodium.’
That’s it. My race is over. 15 minutes later I stumble back out into the daylight, unsure if the race is still going on. Technically, I cross the half marathon mark at 1h53m (this is what I was talking about. My half-marathon time was great up until the toilet break).
I soldier on. I’m dehydrated now. My mouth is dry. My hands have a strange tingly sensation, as if the circulation has been cut off. I pass the marker for the 22nd KM. And I throw up. The rest of my stomach contents now litters the side of a Warsaw motorway. I dry retch. There is literally nothing left. Someone hands me a bottle of water. I don’t know who. I don’t even look up to say thank you.
I swallow as much as I can, then bring it back up too. It mixes with the puddle already at my feet, and I fear, somewhat irrationally, that other runners will begin to run through it. A swarm of other thoughts go through my head, none of them good. I take the smallest sip of water from the bottle and limp on. Only another 20km to go.
Kasia was right. I was too ill to run. I’d gone to bed at 4pm the day before the race with head cold and a slight fever, and I’d woken up not any better. But the adrenalin had kicked in, and I’d convinced myself that I was fine, that I wasn’t going to throw away six months of training. Do or die time.
Another kilometre passes. Another dry retch, another tiny mouthful of water. My throat is red raw now. My insides hurt as much as my outsides. My head pounds with every step. Another runner sees I’m in trouble, and in Polish, offers to help me to the medical assistance. I wave him off. I make a little running sign with my fingers. I will finish this. Any medical assistance would mean I’d probably be pulled from the race, and that wasn’t a chance I wanted to take. No choice, but to keep going.
At the 23km I down an energy gel. I burns my throat. I look at the packet. Ginger? Why in God’s name would you make it with ginger? I grab my other energy gel and suck that dry too, just to remove the first flavour. It’s not much better, and I gulp water trying to preserve the skin in my throat. I throw up everything. I spit and curse along, running at the slowest pace I have in years.
Runners pass me on all sides. Well-wishers cheers us on with a chorus of “Bravo! Bravo!” from the sidelines. A few motion to me to keep going, shouting in a language that I barely understand. They have no idea of the pain I am in.
I see a sign for kilometre 33, and I brighten briefly. Hope has returned to my world, until I notice something else. Runners. Runners running in the opposite direction. They are at kilometre 33, not I. Turns out that I’m only a couple of hundred meters from kilometre 25. Hope dances off into the distance, gleefully unaware of how cruel she can be. I keep going.
Every few kilometres, water bearers and banana givers thrust their wares upon me. They don’t understand why I shun them. I’m running on empty, caught in a vicious trap; I need to fuel my muscles, but my body is rejecting all fuel. I begin to cramp shortly after, around kilometre 28. I want to cry. I even have a cramp in my ankle. I didn’t even know that was possible. I laugh at the new sensation of pain.
And then suddenly, Kasia is calling me. At first I don’t understand. I wonder if I have collapsed or lost consciousness. Perhaps, I’ve even died. I give my head a little shake, blocking out the thoughts. I look up. Kasia is on the overpass I’d run across half an hour before. She’s calling to me, smiling and waving. I laugh and smile back. I then make a ‘no’ sign with my arms, waving them across each other, telling her I’m finished. For added emphasis, I draw my thumb across my own throat. She laughs, and keeps running.
I press on, every step is like a punch to the head. No choice, but to keep going. Hitting kilometre 33, I’m surprised to see runners still going past in the opposite direction. Not many, but they’re still there. I’ve fallen way behind, but I’m still going. Less than 10k to go.
My mind plays cruel tricks on me at this point. I know I can run 10k in 40 minutes. It tries to convince me I can do it now. I can’t. Every ray of light my brain conjures casts shadows darker and longer than I thought possible. Slowly, so slowly, the kilometres tumble.
I’m on the approach to the stadium, so suddenly it almost takes me by surprise. Knowing I’m so close now, I speed up. I’m passing people. The cramps fall away. I’m running on fresh legs, desperate to get to the finish line, deep within the stadium.
Through the entrance tunnel, and into the arena. Crowds line the sides of the track. They’re all shouting. The atmosphere is crazy. I speed up further, passing people left and right. As I hurtle towards the line, I catch a blue blur to my right. A quick turn of the head, like I’ve done so many times when running. Someone is racing me. I smile, and go turbo.
I’m full on sprinting now. The last fifty meters. Blue is left in my wake. He can’t keep up. The crowd are roaring. Cameras flash. Little kids are jumping and pointing. I cross the line, and look back. Blue crosses the line a couple of seconds later, but doesn’t acknowledge me. I smile again. I wait for a few minutes, savouring this small victory on a day that ended in defeat.
My time hardly matters now. It’s much closer to five hours than I ever wanted to be.
But I have run my first marathon. I’ve lost three kilos in the process, and every part of my body hates me, but I’ve earned my first medal.
I’ve already signed up for two and three.

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Apologies for not looking our best. I’m sure you understand.