Sunday, 30 September 2012

A Family Affair

I had been disappointed to have to pull out of my Spring marathon due to injury, but know it was the right decision at the time, and hence I was really keen to get an Autumn marathon under my belt.

In front of the Zamek (castle)

The decision of which marathon to do was a tough one……..did I run Loch Ness for a position as it was the Scottish championship marathon?......did I opt for Berlin to try for  a fast time?.....or did I go elsewhere for personal reasons? I think I surprised a lot of people by opting for the Warsaw marathon, but it made perfect sense to me. My father grew up in Warsaw and the marathon date coincided with both school and university reunions that he was attending. His cousin Jurek has always been one of the biggest supporters of my running, following religiously online when it is possible to track my races, and so I really wanted to run in Poland so that he could be there too. My “Dumfries family” also came out to Warsaw and so it was lovely for my Durham family and my Polish family to show them round a beautiful city (all that was missing was the Basingstoke family, but they were with me in spirit)!

Team Durham

Team Poland

Team Dumfries


Warsaw's Nike

The Uprising Monument
After arriving, it was straight into immersing ourselves into Polish culture…..with local beer, pierogi (dumplings) and szarlotka (apple cake)….and then sightseeing the next morning. Well, when I say sightseeing……I really mean jogging the first part of the race route. It was amazing to see that we were going to race along Nowy Swiat (Warsaw’s most expensive street) and then Krakowskie Przedmiescie (the royal route that the kings used to travel to Cracow, the old capital) before detouring round to pass the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (though I’m not sure the soldiers guarding the eternal flame were that interested in runners). We passed Copernicus’ Memorial, the Grand Theatre, the Royal Castle, the Nike Statue (not the sportsbrand, the famous fighting lady which is a memorial to Warsaw's Heroes) and the Warsaw Uprising Monument before meeting Jurek who kindly drove us around the rest of the course. The only bit of the course I didn’t see was Natolin, which is a national park, only opened for the running of the marathon……but this may have been a blessing in disguise….more about that later!

1 of the kamikaze squirrels
The only things left to do in preparation for the race was some strides in Lazienki Park (next to the race hotel)……made all the more difficult by having to hurdle kamikaze red squirrels in the middle, a relaxing massage (where I desperately tried to remember my Polish for different parts of the body) and a trip to the National Stadium for the race briefing and to meet the cyclists. The stadium was built for the 2012 UEFA European Football Championship with the opening game being played there (a 1-1 draw between Poland and Greece).
We were given our numbers and our timing chips, and introduced to the cyclists who would be out on the course with us (mine was called Grzegorz…..making me “Gregory’s girl…..but due to my lack of Polish, I was slightly worried about communication as he spoke no English).

 After listening to the rain falling overnight, the Sunday morning dawned bright and sunny. It looked as it would be a perfect day for the running of the 34th Warsaw marathon - Poland's oldest roadrace. I was a bit perturbed by the wind that had appeared that morning, but hoped it would settle down as it had on other days.
I tried to introduce a Scottish influence to breakfast with my imported instant porridge, but everyone else seemed happier with their continental breakfasts and claimed that if they ate my "gloop" then they'd not be able to run!
After being driven to the stadium and handing a couple of gels to Grzegorz, we had a chance to warm up under cover in the outside ring of the stadium before being walked up to the start. My first drama happened here - the promised toilets did not exist  - and they my second drama was being stopped by a policeman when I tried to jog out along the course on the bridge. I nearly cried, but luckily a friendly Pole explained to the policeman that I was in the Elite starting corral so was allowed to cross the line to warm up....and then showed me a basket with my name on it, into which I could ditch my thermal top (well, it wasn't that warm per 9am!!).
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
The start didn't bode well for the rest of the race as we were straight into a fairly strong headwind as we crossed the Poniatowski bridge over the Vistula, but luckily we turned up towards the old town and were sheltered from it. I knew there were speedy ladies in the field, as two had said that they were aiming for 2:30 and 2:35 respectively, but the first mile seemed slow even for me. I decided that I should stick to my plan and so found myself heading out the female race as I passed my support crew just before turning towards the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Soon after that, the ladies came past me and I clocked their speed as being just over 5:30/mile so I guessed that would be the last I'd see of them. We completed a loop and came back to the Royal Route so I could smile briefly at the team again before heading towards the Royal Castle.
Beyond the old town we descended to the long road running alongside the Vistula. It was weird to be able to see the National Stadium across the river, knowing you'd started there 10K ago and wouldn't be back for another 30K. I delighted in the thought that the wind seemed to have disappeared now, anmd even managed to exchange a few words with a man who ran alongside me. I think that he wanted to use me to pace his run, so my feet pounded along as I tried to think of different numbers to describe my planned speed in Polish. My worry here was making sure that I didn't run too fast, as I felt good, even though the sun was beating down quite strongly.                                    I seemed to have been steadily closing up on the lady in front of me, and as we turned into Wilanowska Avenue I was back in second place. An Englishman who'd recently moved to Warsaw shouted encouragement to me as he waited for his wife running further back in the field. This made me pick my head up and smile, which was just what I needed as we closed down on the halfway point. This section of the route had 2 u-turns in it, and so you could see people ahead and behind you. I moved over to encourage the other lady to go past me, as I am not a fan of having someone running on my shoulder and I wanted to run my own race, knowing she was aiming for a much faster time than me. 
Ominously, we turned a corner after the halfway mat, and suddenly had a strong crosswind - so much so that you had to run away from the edge of the course to avoid the tape ballooning out in front of you. After a couple of Kms, we turned right onto the only section of the course unknown to me - the stretch through Natolin, which I found one of the hardest parts of the course.
Natolin itself is a beautiful park with a number of XVIII and XIX century buildings and sculptures, and ordinarily I would have loved running through the trees......but at this point in a marathon, a windy, twisty turny, undulating 2 mile stretch of rough cobbles is not very welcome. It was very quiet here as the park was not open to anyone except marathon runners. After struggling up the hill out of the park, it was a very welcome sight to see Jurek wearing the bright red cap I'd given him, holding a wet sponge so I could wipe my face down.
The next 12K were tough....and when I say tough, I mean really tough. The road is relatively straight so you can see every undulation coming from a long way off, there are no beautiful buildings to take your mind off the effort you are putting in as the route passes along big dual carriageways through residential areas, and more to the point, there is no respite from the strong headwind all the way. I am not sure how many times I asked myself what I was doing and vowed to never run again!
As I ran along this stretch, I knew that there was no way that I could achieve the time that I'd hoped to run, so I reset my goal to that of a position and not a time. I rooted round the back of my brain for some Polish and managed to ask Grzegorz where the 4th lady was, and the comedic sign language reply was that he couldn't see her (well, not without falling off his bike).

The best sight for me!
The last 4-5K of the race was probably my best 5K of the race......though I wouldn;t have told you that at the time. It was a beautiful part of the course as we passed the Belvedere (the home of the President of Poland), Łazienki Park with the Chopin Memorial, the Prime Minister's house, the embassies, and finally entered Three Crosses Square. A Polish runner had caught up with me as we turned out of the wind, and kept encouraging me with cries of "chodz" (come on). I managed to run alongside him until we got to the palm tree we'd seen such a long time ago (where we turned up towards the old town after the start), and then kept him in sight as we continued onto the Poniatowski Bridge towards the stadium. The bridge hadn't seemed so long at the start as we were just warming up, but it was interminable on tired legs. It crosses road and paths and parks before even getting to the Vistula, but finally you peel off it to the right, run round underneath it, and then up a ramp into the stadium. My word, that clock and the stadium entrance were a welcome were my family and friends there to cheer me in!

Not a bad day's work!

The ladies' podium
Ok, so it wasn't my fastest marathon, and m,aybe I didn't pace it correctly, but you cannot fight conditions on the day (the two ladies in front had both been slower than they'd hoped) and I'd managed to podium in the city where my father grew up, with him watching me run in.....and nothing beats that feeling!

Thursday, 27 September 2012

On The Bench......

Ready to start them off

Sometimes the "madness" of a taper brings its own benefits - for example I have managed to watch the whole of the first 2 series of Downton Abbey thanks to the DVDs of a friends - but also it means that you have time to give something back to the community that are there helping you out and supporting you when you need it.

Bet you didn't think I needed a megaphone!
Last Sunday was the 31st Dumfries Half Marathon, which is the flagship race of my club. The timing of it has been such that I have been able to help out rather than race it for the past few years. This year was no exception, and although I did jog up to the registration/start area to show the TV cameraman where to position himself, my main job for the day was doing as I was told, by both the Race Organiser and "he who must be obeyed" in charge of the finish area. It was ideal weather for running a fast time - cool (but not cold), no direct sun, and most of all, no in a way, it would have been nice to have taken part....but on the other hand it was good to watch others put the effort in and get their just rewards of shiny new PBs. My contribution was just starting the watches and then taking them down to the finish, where I announced and cheered people in with the megaphone - with as much gusto for the last runner as for the first home!

City (orange)vs Fortuna (green)

A few days later I was up in Glasgow - at Petershill Park - "working" as match doctor for the first leg of the UEFA Women's Champions League round of 32, between Glasgow City and Fortuna Hjorring (yes, from Denmark so no gags about the Scandinavian love for pickled fish in their diet). The home team were outplayed in the first half, though had been unlucky to go a goal down after only a few minutes, but they piled the pressure on in the second half to bring it back to a 2-1 loss. It was interesting to compare the ladies' play to runners I know. Glasgow City are Scotland's top women's football club and so usually win matches easily without having to play to the best of their ability. This can mean that they relax too much, so that when playing another high quality side, they can fall behind before getting onto their game. It appeared that this is what happened on the night, as the second half was dominated by the City ladies with some great plays and a new lease of life. I have seen this in runners, who only compete in local races which they can win without having to really push themselves. When they go to larger, competitive races, they find themselves much further back than they expect and then have to work hard to make up the deficit that has developed before they realised it. I guess it is a lesson that all of us can learn - never be off guard and never underestimate your cannot control their ability and performance, so all you can do is be the best you can be.

In City kit at the dugout

 On a more medical note, I learnt another lesson from Louise Duncan, the team physio. Again, the key is to be prepared.......I noticed that while we were sitting on the bench in the dugout, she always had a latex glove on her right hand. If anything happened she was ready to spring into action, be it a nose bleed or a hyperextension injury (both of which occurred on the night), and could then discard any clinical waste wrapped up in her used glove, while putting on another glove ready for the next casualty.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Age does bring its own rewards....

Everybody goes through spells of self-doubt - I am sure that people from all walks of life, whatever their goals and aims, still have times when they wonder if the effort is worth it, or doubt they can achieve what they have set out to do, but the thing to remember is that you do come through it. Those nearest and dearest will understand how you are feeling (and even expect it) and so make allowances for you, but it's only when you come out on the other side that you realise what a nightmare you  have been!

For me, it took a total break from the grind - a night out bowling with friends, a jog through the woods stopping to eat blackberries (and being gently chastised for eating all those in sight), and a road trip with friends, for me to get things back into perspective. Yes, I'd been tired; no, I hadn't met my times in track reps......but in the grand scheme of things, that didn't really matter as long as I still had the enjoyment in it.

A short fast race that focussed my mind was the final thing to lift the funk - and Stirling certainly did that.

The Wallace Monument (with turnaround point just below it)
Stirling 10K is known as a fast flat course (less than 90 feet gained and lost over the course) and so always attracts a high quality field, especially when it doubles as the Scottish championship race. There are always surprise roadworks when you drive north, so an early start was necessary.......but the road was relatively clear, hence there was lots of time for coffee before warming up.........and it was interesting that the first person I saw on getting out of the car  to register for the run, was a fellow D&G runner.
I hadn't been looking forward to the race, as I was worried about having lost leg-speed while doing distance training, but it turns out my fears were unfounded. Some judicious resting of my legs (and mind) meant that I could start at a decent pace in touch with some speedsters I recognised. Content in my usual mode of a slower start, picking up as I get into a race, I was surprised to have covered the first mile so fast, and indeed passed the 5K mark in my fastest ever 5K time. What was less impressive was the fact that we still seemed to be heading away from the start on the outward leg as we passed this marker. Instead of worrying about this, I focussed on watching the race leaders as they came flying past heading the other way.

The female leaders were a long way ahead making it look easy, but after turning round the cone in the road, I could see who was behind me and looking strong.

Proudly holding my Scottish Masters 10K gold medal

I worked my way up the field a bit further on the (obviously shorter) run back in, and even managed to get a sprint finish in to pass a man coming into the line......I was so proud of this as I've never been a sprinter and so would usually mentally hand a sprint victory to anyone else rather than go for it).

Not a bad 2 weeks' work!!
I knew Sarah McCormack was an amazing hill and trail runner (we shared a caravan down in Keswick for the International trail race), but she had a fantastic roadrun to finish in 33:33, over a minute ahead of the 2nd placed lady and take the national title. I was really pleased with my run, as clearly still have some speed in the old legs despite the mileage....and when I say "old legs", I mean "old legs" as an added bonus was finishing as first veteran and so winning the Scottish Masters 10K Title! A boon for the confidence and just what the doctor ordered!

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Never trust a pacemaker

The marble staircase (Glasgow City Chambers)

My clubmate Lisa and I travelled up to take part in the Great Scottish Run (Glasgow Half Marathon), with nine thousand other like-minded souls, but the comedy started almost as soon as we'd got out of the car....when I noticed that Lisa had got her club croptop on back to front. We wondered if it could catch on as a new look....or even a posture-corrector for the latter stages of a race, when you start to slump....but she decided that it would be better to change it than experiment.

It was like another world going into Glasgow City Chambers to pick up an elite wristband and race number - what an amazing building with its mosaic floors, granite columns and marble staircase. I was completely in awe.....and that was before I saw the Kenyan and Ethiopian runners bounding down the stairs. We met Avril and then went off to escape for a wee warm-up before "mustering". 
Lisa, myself and Avril after warming up

They called out names to ensure everyone was there before we were taken to the start, and it was one of the first times that my name had not sounded the strangest (though admittedly the pronounciation was still so unusual that I didn't realise they were looking for me - I thought that there must have been an African called Josiah that was late!!).
It felt very odd to be led through the assembled runners to the front "pen", but I should have savoured being in front of the diminutive Ethiopian Bezunesh Bekele (a 2:20 marathon runner who went on to win the ladies race) for the only time all day!

Scottish Half Marathon Championships podium

Almost as soon as we'd started I spotted the 80min pacer disappearing off into the distance with his high-viz t-shirt and yellow balloon, so I figured that I must have done my usual slow start and tried to chase him down as I hoped to run well under the 80mins. I thought my watch must have been playing up, as it felt like I was running way too fast, yet I still wasn't making any headway on that balloon.
After nearly running a 10K PB, a fellow runner saved me from a (more) massive detonation by reassuring me that the pacer was not running anything like 80min pace - in fact he was running 75-76min pace.
I still paid for the fast start in the latter stages of the race, but was happy enough to cross the line as 3rd British lady home. Not a PB but a good hard run. The 2 ladies in front of me were also Scots, and as it turned out that the race was the Scottish half marathon championships, we ended up being presented with surprise medals on a podium at the finish.

Lisa and I with our medals

More importantly, Lisa and Avril both had great runs, both running PBs (before their next meeting over a marathon distance) and Lisa and I were awarded the silver and bronze medals for the Scottish veteran half marathon championships. An impressive result for a small place like Dumfries, especially when you consider that Hayley Haining (1st Brit, 1st Scot and 1st Scottish vet) grew up in Dumfries!

Anyone who knows me, will be unsurprised to hear that the best part of the day was yet to come, as we all then got to have a buffet lunch consisting of large amounts of delicious seafood followed by a huge piece of sticky chocolate fudge carb replenishing is vital for recovery isn't it?