Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Barcelona Revisited

As it had only been 4 weeks since I ran the Barcelona Half Marathon, it didn't seem too daunting to be returning on my own for the Marathon.

DRC meeting in the pub
I was worried about my lack of conversational Spanish, but Gerardo (the race organiser) had arranged for me to be picked up at the airport and taken to the race hotel, which took a weight off my mind. It was really nice to be driven into the city in daylight, and then to be able to pop out and meet my DRC clubmates Seb and Craig for a beer before dinner.
I have to admit to feeling like a bit of an imposter at dinner, as when I looked around, almost every other runner was from East Africa. Still, maybe my half marathon position of "Fastest European" was still available for the full 26.2 miles.....

Saturday was a slightly odd day, as the Kenyans and Ethiopians had a "briefing" meeting at lunchtime so plan their pacing and discuss it with the pacemakers, and there was another meeting later on for the Spaniards/Moroccans, but I had the day to myself, apart from getting my number from Gerardo. Somehow I managed to fill it with incessant eating, relaxing and meeting up with friends in cafes.

I seemed to have shaken off most of the cold that had been pestering me all week - though a persistent headache was still nagging at me, but I hoped that when I started the next day, I'd forget about everything but the run ahead.

You worry about sleeping through breakfast when it's scheduled for 5:45am, but there's practically no chance of that, as most of the night before a big race is spent lying awake, fretting about the fact that you are still awake! Anyway, all too soon we were on the bus heading towards the start. I had a laugh with Edwin sitting next to me - he asked me how I was feeling and told me not to say what I "hoped to run" but to be confident and say what "I would run". What a nice young man.......and certainly one to watch in the future. He was going to pace the lead men up to the 35k mark, and is hoping to debut at the marathon later this year ("maybe 2:06 or 2:07") having run his last half marathon in 60:54!

As we shivered in the tents at the start, trying to dodge rain showers, I heard my name being shouted......it was Seb and Craig on their way to their start pen......lovely to see familiar faces amongst the 18,000 strong crowd!

After being allowed to warm up on the first couple of hundred metres of the course we were called back to the start line to clear the course so that the wheelchair race could begin. There was a good sized field consisting of racing chairs, hand cycles and "standard" wheelchairs being pushed by runners. A few minutes after that, there were a few announcements I didn't quite understand, and then everyone suddenly started running......so I guessed it must have been a countdown, and quickly switched my head into "race mode".

A lonely run (with 18000 others)...
Within 300m I was running alone. I could see some speedy packs of runners away in front of me, an Ethiopian lady not too far ahead, but apart from that there was no-one around. I had spoken to a lady on the start line who told me that she was only running the first 15k and so said she might be running a similar pace to me, but I didn't see her again after passing her 200m in. By the time I saw my friend Als cheering me on and blowing her samba whistle, I was frantically looking at my watch. I couldn't understand why I hadn't been surrounded by male club runners, and wondered if I'd set off at some ridiculous unsustainable pace. A check of my watch, at the 1k mark and again at the 5k mark showed that I was running exactly as planned, but it was eerily quiet as I'd now passed the Ethiopian lady and so could hardly see anyone ahead. Gradually, after about 6k, some of the men began to run past.......and I later worked out from seeing clocks registering times 2 minutes faster than my watch, that the first wave had started 2 mins after me. Unfortunately for me, this meant a very lonely race indeed, as those people running at about the same pace as me would be 2 minutes behind me, and all those passing me would be aiming for much faster times (though it meant that I could cheer a fellow Brit on as he ran past).

Whilst milling around before the start, another guy had mentioned that Barcelona was the only marathon in which he'd run a negative split, so I thought that the second half of the course might be faster than the first, so consciously steadied my pace so as not to get to the halfway point too quickly and have to pay for it later.
The race route
It was great to actually see the leading men running towards me just after they'd passed the halfway point, as the route briefly doubled back on itself. I waved at Tom who was pacing the leading lady and saw all 3 African ladies ahead of me. They were easy to spot as they'd spread out slightly and so each was accompanied by their own cyclist. A time check at halfway was reassuring......still on target pace......and I had the opportunity of then watching runners further back coming towards me, including the 2:45 and 3 hr pacemakers. I had tried to follow the blue line the road as far as possible ( though in places it did waver around as if painted by someone who'd had a few sangrias, but as this line went rather wide round many of the corners and hairpins, I realised it wasn't actually marking the optimum route.

There was an amazing amount of support en route........not just from Als (who did seem to pop up an amazing number of times, having usually asked a random stranger in the crowd near her to wave a saltire so that I could spot her with her camera and whistle) but from all the locals who lined the route despite the cold, wet conditions. It may be that I got extra support due to my position in the race, as everyone was very vocal and I heard "primera blanca" shouted many times, but whatever the reason, it was very welcome (though admittedly some people were so keen to offer support and spot loved ones that they actually caused obstructions to run round).

I have to say that I found the second half of the race rather tough, and it seems that I wasn't the only one. Looking at other people's 5k splits after the race, most of the field slowed down after halfway, so I actually maintained my position. A marathon is a long way to battle any wind, especially if you are not afforded shelter by other runners. The conditions were much more Scottish than Spanish, and I never once felt too warm while running. My shoes and socks became heavier and heavier as they got more sodden from the wet conditions, and I'm told that the strain was showing on everyone's faces as the race progressed. One of the toughest battles that I faced was with myself, as there was such a strong temptation to stop once I knew that I was no longer on target for the time I would have liked to run.
As an added sting in the tail of the race, the last few kms are uphill from the seafront, and you seem to be running up towards the columns of Plaza Espanya for a very long time without it ever getting any closer. I had remembered seeing the 42k sign as I was warming up, so I knew that when I turned that final corner, I still had a few hundred metres to go but eventually I made it, 86th overall and happily still as 4th lady.......1st European and 1st vet. I thought I was actually having auditory hallucinations when I finished, as they announced me as being Ukrainian, but I was back to being British in the results!

 DRC group hug
It looked like the Kenyan lady hadn't been that far ahead of me, as she was still being tended to by the paramedics just after the finish (she found the cold and wet a big difficulty), and I later found out (as friends at home had been tracking the race) that although I felt like I was running backwards in the latter stages, I had been closing her down. I have to take my hat off to the physio who was giving massages after the finish, as he didn't flinch in the slightest when removing my sodden shoe and socks so I could hop onto his table. I also discovered what a great changing room a saltire makes, so I was feeling more human again by the time I saw Seb and Craig for a group hug when they finished.

It was a tough run, but there is nothing you can do about the conditions, and although I was disappointed in myself, I can now see that it was still a performance to be proud of. I was closer to my target than most of the other runners that I started with, I can take comfort from the fact that I was a lot closer to 3rd than I was to 5th, and all the hard work that I've put in so far is still in the bank for the rest of the year. As Doug said in a text to me that evening, it's much better to have run well in those conditions and been close, than just missed it in ideal conditions!

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Taper Tantrums

Well, I've reached the hardest bit of the training cycle.........the taper.

For anyone who hasn't gone through it themselves, it would appear that this is the best time in your running calendar, as you cut back on mileage while trying to make sure that you eat and drink plenty. All the hard work of training has been done, and its time to let the body rest up so that you can arrive at the start line feeling refreshed, eager, and with a spring in your step ready to run your best.

In reality, it's a period when you have time to worry :
Have you done enough?
Have you done too much?
Are your times what they should be?
You don't feel that you're running well, or are you running so well that you're "overdue" an injury?
Will that twist of the trailing foot come and haunt you several miles into the race?
Are your shoes too old and so lack cushioning?
Are they too new and hence aren't fully broken in?
Have you learnt from what went well and what didn't go well last time?
Is that niggle an injury developing?
Is that sniffle heralding the 'flu?

These thoughts go through everyone's head.......in fact, you'd probably worry if they didn't......and in my case, I cannot help thinking back to my last big race - the 50k in Italy - and worrying that I'll have a similarly bad experience, but I know that certain circumstances surrounding that race have not been repeated this time.......and so I've managed to learn from the experience.

Glasgow Uni 5

The way I deal with this is to accept that such thoughts are normal and to accept them rather than worry about them, and think about the positives of the training cycle. While reducing the overall quantity of my running, I try to keep the quality there. I actually ran a 5mile PB at the start of my taper, and then threw in a parkrun the next weekend to get some quicker leg turnover. Apart from that, the "taper fortnight" is wonderful for my garden, as I actually have some motivation to dig it over the beds, and I also have much more time and energy to catch up with friends, go to the cinema, eat more cake and so on. Anyone who knows me, knows that eating is something I have never had a problem with, but I do love the "carb loading" excuse (though to be fair, eating the usual amount but running less does probably equate to "carb loading").

Perfect for carb-loading!

As a medic, I guess I'm exposed to more than my fair share of bugs.......but amazingly, I've managed to avoid them all....that is right up until 6 days before the marathon, when I developed the dreaded sore throat and blocked nose. Now it's just a question of time......nothing more I can do training-wise....nothing more I can do health-wise......but what I can do is hope that I have a short-lived cold which won't stop me having a good weekend (with a 26.2 mile run in it)!!

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Fun in The Sun

It was just what the doctor ordered.......some time to chill in the warmth and recover from the Barcelona Half, before picking up the training again. I had never been to Club La Santa before, and always thought of it a type of 18-25 holiday camp, but I figured that there must have been a reason why my clubmate Lisa had been there with her family 4years in a row.
Fun with a Fitball
Now that I've been, I can see the attraction and would love to go back.  Not only is it warm all year round, but the food is amazing, and you can do as much or as little as you like.....trying various different activities for free......and it's obvious how well it suits families with children, or families with different sporting interests. While we were there, we saw groups out for ballroom dancing weeks, triathlon training camps, swimming teams, and paralympic development squads, along with families and other holiday-makers.

Track running
It is easy to see how people do too much too soon (I don't mean just spending time in the sun, though there were some distinct lobster-tinges and interesting tan-lines wandering around) and spoil the rest of their trip by being knackered, as there is so much on offer, but luckily I needed some time to chill and recharge my batteries from the half marathon. A good way to start this was with a Pilates Reformer class in the sun on "the Lawn" and the next day, I ran a couple of laps of the 3-lap half marathon that Lisa was doing, at a nice sociable chatty pace.

Beach running

Lisa and I always joke that we feel like tyrannosaurus rexes in that we have strong legs and weedy arms, so while not having the pressure of work, it seemed an ideal opportunity to go to some full body conditioning classes over the week. The barefoot one also included balance exercises, the fitball class  was a giggle, going to my first ever Zumba class (in Danish no less) was comedy, and I actually woke myself up with a gentle snore in a "stretch and relax" class. It was nice to hang out with Lisa and the children while the guys were away cycling, but I also got some nice runs done (both on and off road) in the sun!

The most memorable run of the trip was suggested by Dave (Lisa's husband) as he'd been round the route on a bike - "a nice 10mile round trip to a village along the coast - go there on the trails and return via the road" - simple....or so I thought. The only problem was that after 6.5 miles of trying to run/scramble along v sandy paths and over volcanic rock, I had only come across a cove of nude sunbathers, followed by a cove of hoodie-wearing sunbathers......and no village. The "trail" rather reminded me of running across the Atacama. After eventually finding some houses and turning with relief onto the road home (whilst muttering some rude comments under my breath about never trusting an A&E doctor), I was then reminded of Comrades, as the tarmac road disappeared up a long hill into the heat and sun. I certainly earnt my ice cream that day!!

In the Greens' Cave

The Fire Mountains
After doing a particularly hot run (with a strong wind making me eat sand) it was almost surreal to read about friends at home running cross country races in the snow and mud, and also about the first sub-24 hour winter Ramsay Round. We also hired a car to see some more of the island, including the "Fire Mountains" and the "Greens' Cave", but I probably learnt more about Lanzarote than most people have forgotten, while on a trip to the police station in San Bartolome with Ana, a native Canarian Green team member (some missing money led to the discovery of the "mañana, mañana" way of the Spanish police).

 It was a great trip for some winter sun and warmth, and all in all I would definitely recommend Club La Santa to friends and family, but as soon as I was back to work, it all seemd like a distant memory ;-(