Thursday, 30 July 2009

California Dreamin'


First of all, a huge thank you to my coach, The Endurance Coach’s Marc Laithwaite (www.theendurancecoach.com), and my physio, Harris and Ross’ Alan Raw (www.harrisandross.co.uk). I finished Sunday’s San Francisco Marathon in 3 hours and 43 minutes, a full 14 minutes faster than my previous best of 3 hours 57 minutes in Barcelona on 1 March. That’s over 32 seconds a mile faster, every mile, for 26 miles. All of the credit for the improvement must go to Laith and Alan. When I started training with Laith, I had a personal best of 4 hours 52 minutes. To slice 1 hour and 9 minutes off my PB tells you just how good a coach Laith is. I wouldn’t even have been able to get to the start line without Alan’s hard work in sorting out my piriformis and plantar fascia problems, and his invaluable advice on avoiding further injuries. Most marathon runners wouldn’t run more than two races in a year, so with five marathons in eight months, Alan has had his work cut out for him from day one.


An hour to go until the race. See if you can spot who's unhappy at his 3.30am wake up call.

Sunday’s result was such a big relief. I thought that the mountaineering expedition to the Swiss Alps earlier this month had ruined my chances of a good performance. As it turned out, I arrived in the starting pen fully rested and ran smoothly for the full 26.2 miles. I achieved the negative split that I was looking for and kept an even pace throughout. My average minutes per mile in the first, second and third stages of the race were just 1 second apart.

With my Mum and Dad

Alameda turned out to be the perfect location for my training camp. Our house is right on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, and I can run straight from the front door along the coastline. Perhaps more importantly, it’s on the other side of the bay from San Francisco, so it manages to avoid the fog that sits over the city most days. Having said that, it has been quite chilly. Mark Twain is reputed to have said, "The coldest winter I ever saw was the summer I spent in San Francisco".

My cousin Melanie and Auntie June travelled from British Columbia and Alberta respectively to join us in California. It was really great to catch up with them and to have their support during the marathon. Many thanks to Mel for all of her help in the build up to the race. As well as joining me for my final training runs around the bay, Mel kindly prepared my meals. This was no mean feat and Mel was astonished at quite how much I was managing to eat. Apparently, the pasta that I ate on the day before the race would have easily fed her husband Ron, and their four boys. Those complex carbohydrates kept me moving at 18 miles, when my legs would have otherwise have gone bang.


The race itself was well organised and followed a fantastic, if hilly, route through the City By The Bay. The race starts near Fisherman’s Wharf, moves north to run forward and back across the Golden Gate Bridge, then descends into Golden Gate Park. You leave the park via the famed Haight Street, home of San Francisco’s flower children during the Summer of Love, before arriving back on the bay for the final few miles to the finish.

The support from the crowd was fantastic. Americans are so enthusiastic. In 1991, I spent the summer working in a pub in Cartmel, in the southern Lake District. On the Saturday of the Cartmel Races, a particularly friendly American chap came into the bar and chatted about how he loved English culture. Having ordered a ginger ale for his wife, he asked me to recommend a typically English drink for him. I suggested 18 pints of lager and received a stern dressing down from the pub landlord.

Three down, two to go. Training for Berlin begins on Monday and I can’t wait. Bring it on!

Barcelona, 1 March 2009
London, 26 April 2009
San Francisco, 26 July 2009
Berlin, 20 September 2009
New York, 1 November 2009

This week’s training schedule:

Monday, 27 July 2009 Rest
Tuesday, 28 July 2009 Rest
Wednesday, 29 July 2009 Rest
Thursday, 30 July 2009 Fly to Manchester
Friday, 31 July 2009 Arrive Manchester / Lakeland 100
Saturday, 1 August 2009 Lakeland 100
Sunday, 2 August 2009 Lakeland 100

Christies is the charity which provides funds for, and supports, the work of the world renowned specialist cancer centre, The Christie, in Manchester (see www.christies.org). Macmillan provides practical, medical, financial and emotional support for people affected by cancer and campaigns for better cancer care (see www.macmillan.org.uk).

www.justgiving.com/fivemarathonschristies

www.justgiving.com/fivemarathonsmacmillan

Visit us at http://www.fivemarathons.com

Join the fivemarathons Facebook Group

Check out The Endurance Coach’s detailed training plan at http://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=rAoVZM-fPWZYSSUSJwrmzWg. Join The Endurance Coach’s Facebook Group.

Monday, 27 July 2009

San Francisco Marathon

I'm relieved to tell you that yesterday's San Francisco Marathon went really well. Despite the hilly course, I finished in 3 hours 43 minutes - a full 14 minutes quicker than my previous personal best of 3 hours 57 minutes in Barcelona. Full details to follow in this week's blog.

Just over the line

After the race with my Mum, Mel, Dad and Auntie June

With Mel and Auntie June

Barcelona, 1 March 2009
London, 26 April 2009
San Francisco, 26 July 2009
Berlin, 20 September 2009
New York, 1 November 2009

Christies is the charity which provides funds for, and supports, the work of the world renowned specialist cancer centre, The Christie, in Manchester (see www.christies.org). Macmillan provides practical, medical, financial and emotional support for people affected by cancer and campaigns for better cancer care (see www.macmillan.org.uk).

www.justgiving.com/fivemarathonschristies

www.justgiving.com/fivemarathonsmacmillan

Visit us at http://www.fivemarathons.com

Join the fivemarathons Facebook Group

Check out The Endurance Coach’s detailed training plan at http://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=rAoVZM-fPWZYSSUSJwrmzWg. Join The Endurance Coach’s Facebook Group.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Bay City Rollers


Hello from fivemarathons’ training camp in Alameda, California! I arrived on Monday night after an impressively convoluted journey from Dublin via Liverpool, Manchester, Philadelphia and San Francisco. I’d been in Dublin for my Godson Monty’s christening. Fortunately, there was no repeat of last year’s fiasco at Seb’s christening, when the priest passed me the baby and invited me to make the sign of the cross with him. I didn’t quite understand what he expected me to do and assumed he expected me to make the sign of the cross while holding the baby. There was a collective gasp as I lifted Seb to head height, down to my waist, then side to side. It’s not every baptism where the Godfather decides to play Agadoo with the child.

With my Godsons, Monty and Seb. Check out the look of disbelief on Monty's face: "Don't tell me that eejit is my Godfather"

As always, Harris & Ross’ Alan Raw, my physio, has done a brilliant job in getting me ready to race. My niggling piriformis and plantar fascia are completely pain free. I really hope that lasts until after the race. I’ve been more nervous about this marathon than either Barcelona or London. While my mountaineering expedition to the Swiss Alps was fantastic, and I wouldn’t have missed it, it has really disrupted my training. Since I’ve been back, I’ve felt really tired. My running hasn’t been too bad, and last Sunday’s 15 mile run was smooth enough, but my legs have felt tired and I’ve been ready to fall asleep at a moment’s notice. After a rest day last Wednesday, I felt so much better for Thursday’s 6 mile run; I moved easily and I felt light and agile. On Sunday, as long as I can arrive in the starting pen fully rested and carbed up, experience and Voltarol (anti-inflammatories) should hopefully do the rest.

I’ll just need to keep my head for the first 18 miles, and then start to turn up the volume during the last 8.2 miles. The atmosphere in the starting pen is usually fantastic, and you’ve been focused on that moment for months, so it’s easy to get carried away and run too hard in the first half of the race. Ideally, you’re looking to run a negative split, where your time for the second half of the race is quicker than your time for the first half. Easier said than done: in London 2009, less than 1.9% managed it. I was lucky enough to be in that small percentage, but that had more to do with me getting stuck behind giraffes and rhinos in the first 13.1 miles than running an intelligent race.

On the plane to San Francisco, the chap sitting next to me asked me about the race and wondered how I’d got into running marathons. I explained that, starting in 1997, I played hockey for seven years for Ipswich and East Suffolk. My club’s annual report for the 2003 – 2004 season read “Goalkeeper Duncan Vaughan was ever present for the men’s team. Good isn’t the word to describe his performances”. I quickly got the message, hung up my pads, and threw myself into running. Soon afterwards, I signed up for the London and New York marathons. The managing partner of my then firm was interested in joining me in London and wanted us to run in fancy dress. In one memorably choice e-mail, he suggested: “Vaughan, let’s run London as a pantomime horse. I’ll be the front and you can just be yourself”. Needless to say, I declined, but I did complete both marathons and the rest is history.


Checking the route for Sunday: Golden Gate Bridge

My running top is back from the printers and looks great with the North Doodle logo on the right sleeve. As in London and Barcelona, my support team will be wearing identical tops for the race. Not only does it make them easy to spot in the crowd, it’s also a big boost to see them sporting your colours, urging you on. Most of all, making my Mum and Dad wear matching outfits has a neat symmetry about it. In 1975, on my first transatlantic trip, we flew to Canada to visit my Dad’s family, including my Auntie June and cousin Melanie, both of whom are with me in Alameda for Sunday’s race. To ensure we looked smart, my Mum bought matching outfits for my sister, my brother, and me. 1975 was the height of the Bay City Rollers’ reign of terror and our outfits were a nightmare of tartan edged denim – matching jeans and jackets. I’m amazed we ever got airborne. In any right-thinking country, the fashion police would have arrested us at airport security. I should explain that I’m the youngest of my siblings: my sister is four years older than me, and my brother is four years older than her. That meant that, as soon as I’d grown out of my denim suit, my sister’s was standing by, and my brother’s after that. Given that my Mum had cunningly ensured that there was plenty of growing room in each outfit, I was wearing one for the next decade. In 1985, relatives were still marvelling at how I could still fit into the same suit I’d first worn as a two year old. Less generous acquaintances queried why I couldn’t just accept that the era of Rollermania was long since gone and let it go. My Mum and Dad don’t know it yet, but I shall be insisting that they wear their fivemarathons tops until at least 2019. After all, it’s only fair.


Barcelona, 1 March 2009
London, 26 April 2009
San Francisco, 26 July 2009
Berlin, 20 September 2009
New York, 1 November 2009

This week’s training schedule:

Monday, 20 July 2009 Fly to San Francisco
Tuesday, 21 July 2009 30 minutes steady
Wednesday, 22 July 2009 20 minutes easy
Thursday, 23 July 2009 10 minutes jog, then 1 mile at race pace, then 5 minutes jog
Friday, 24 July 2009 Rest
Saturday, 25 July 2009 20 minutes jog, including a few strides
Sunday, 26 July 2009 San Francisco Marathon

Christies is the charity which provides funds for, and supports, the work of the world renowned specialist cancer centre, The Christie, in Manchester (see www.christies.org). Macmillan provides practical, medical, financial and emotional support for people affected by cancer and campaigns for better cancer care (see www.macmillan.org.uk).

www.justgiving.com/fivemarathonschristies

www.justgiving.com/fivemarathonsmacmillan

Visit us at http://www.fivemarathons.com

Join the fivemarathons Facebook Group

Check out The Endurance Coach’s detailed training plan at http://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=rAoVZM-fPWZYSSUSJwrmzWg. Join The Endurance Coach’s Facebook Group.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

The Devil Wears Puma

I’m now really looking forward to the San Francisco Marathon. Just a week left until I catch the flight to my training camp in Alameda, California. I’ve got my fingers crossed that my recent Swiss endeavours haven’t adversely affected my preparation. I unintentionally lost 8 pounds in the mountains and I just hope it didn’t come off my leg muscles. Getting enough to eat on a big mountain expedition is always problematic. Firstly, you’ve got to carry with you all of the food that you’re going to need for the whole trip; regrettably, there’s never a convenient Tesco (Wal-Mart, for the benefit of our growing North American readership) at 4,000 metres above sea level. Secondly, it can’t be fresh food because it’s got to last for days and possibly weeks, so you inevitably end up eating some processed rubbish, whether you like it or not. Even that is only half of the story: at high altitude, it’s too cold to stop for long lunchbreaks and you’re trying to keep moving while the weather holds, and before the dawn arrives, which melts the surface ice and makes steady progress impossible). As if that wasn’t enough, the altitude often means that you don’t have much appetite for the tasty eight day old sandwich that’s been festering in the top of your rucksack for the last week.


30 June 2009, 9.22am: summit of the Allalinhorn (4,027 metres)

As soon as I arrive back from California, I’ll be off to the Lakeland 100 mountain marathon (www.lakeland100.com), where I’ll be manning one of North Doodle’s (www.northdoodle.com) two checkpoints. Quite a refreshing change to watch a race for once. You can view the course on Google Maps at http://www.lakeland100.com/page.php/lakeland100_course. Over its 100 miles, the race takes in some of the Lakes’ most beautiful scenery: Eskdale, Wasdale, Buttermere, Matterdale, Haweswater, Kentmere, Elterwater and the stunning Langdale Valley.

Did I ever tell you about the time I spent as a priest in the Langdale Valley? While this may sound fantastical, it’s all absolutely true. After all, bearing false witness is number 8 on Moses’ top ten. In 2005, I interrupted my training for the Dublin Marathon to perform a wedding ceremony in Great Langdale. It all happened like this: a good friend of mine was getting married and had set his heart on a service in the Roman Catholic chapel attached to his climbing club in Great Langdale. The resident priest was keen to help, but couldn’t perform the service because neither my friend nor his fiancĂ© were catholic. He therefore suggested that my friend speak to the local Anglican (Episcopalian) vicar. The vicar was similarly keen to help, but couldn’t perform the ceremony in the RC chapel. The priest therefore suggested a civil registrar, but unfortunately they can’t perform ceremonies in a church or on other consecrated ground. When all else had failed, the priest kindly suggested that my friend could simply use the chapel for his own celebration. He hit upon a great plan: they’d secretly get married at the local Registry Office, and arrange their own ceremony at the chapel in the Langdales. Now all they needed was somebody responsible to perform the service. As it turned out, they had to make do with me. While I was honoured to be asked, I did have some understandable misgivings. Although I didn’t want to mislead anyone as to my priestly credentials, or lack thereof, it wasn’t up to me to ruin an otherwise idyllic service by announcing that I wasn’t actually a man of the cloth. So, everything proceeded without a hitch until, after the service, one of my flock came to congratulate me on an uplifting ceremony and to quiz me with some difficult theological questions. For a start, she wanted me to tell her more about the bronze Christ at the front of the chapel. Somewhat unconvincingly, I explained that it was a depiction of Christ, formed of bronze and located at the front of the chapel. Not easily satisfied, she asked what the Latin inscription underneath the bronze meant. At this point, I knew the game was up. So, you can imagine my surprise when I turned around to see that it said “Ad altiora”. With a due sense of relief, I confidently related that it means “To higher things” – a reference to the climbing club, and to the heavens to which we lift up our eyes and prayers. What a total stroke of luck: my school’s motto had been “Semper ad altiora” – “Always to higher things”. Despite five years of my school Latin teacher’s best efforts, I only remember three words in Latin, so you can imagine my elation when two of them were the ones I needed. My parishioner nodded approvingly, while I grew into my role.


1 July 2009: another day, another fine mess

I retired hurt to the wedding reception. To my horror, I was seated on the same table as the lady who had all of the questions. I’d detected that she had an interest in cycling, so I spent the next three hours spinning out the four facts I know about competitive cycling. If I’d let her get a word in edgeways, I’d have undoubtedly spent the entire reception facing impossible religious interrogation. At the end of the meal, I made my excuses and surfaced for some air. Just when I thought I was safe, I heard a voice calling “Father Dominic”. I realised that it could only mean me. The chap in question wanted my advice about the argument he'd just had with his girlfriend. I didn’t know whether to fob him off with a Hail Mary, or admit that I wasn’t the priest he assumed I was. Before I could own up, he told me that his girlfriend “twists around everything that I say – she’s just like a lawyer”. Given my day job as a lawyer, I considered it safer to maintain my priestly dignity on the subject. “Go on, my child….”.


2 July 2009, 7.54am: summit of the Weissmies (4,023 metres)

On my way to San Francisco, I’m stopping off in Dublin for my nephew Monty’s christening. Had I not been his godfather, I could have happily performed the service for him. Christenings must be easier than weddings, surely?


5 July 2009: job done, coming home. Virgin trains etc


Barcelona, 1 March 2009
London, 26 April 2009

San Francisco, 26 July 2009

Berlin, 20 September 2009

New York, 1 November 2009


This week’s training schedule:

Monday, 13 July 2009 6 miles easy
Tuesday, 14 July 2009 Speed work
Wednesday, 15 July 2009 Rest
Thursday, 16 July 2009 6 miles steady
Friday, 17 July 2009 6 miles easy / Fly to Dublin
Saturday, 18 July 2009 Warm-up, 3 miles race pace, warm-down
Sunday, 19 July 2009 10 miles steady / Return to Liverpool


Christies is the charity which provides funds for, and supports, the work of the world renowned specialist cancer centre, The Christie, in Manchester (see www.christies.org). Macmillan provides practical, medical, financial and emotional support for people affected by cancer and campaigns for better cancer care (see www.macmillan.org.uk).

www.justgiving.com/fivemarathonschristies

www.justgiving.com/fivemarathonsmacmillan

Visit us at http://www.fivemarathons.com

Join the fivemarathons Facebook Group

Check out The Endurance Coach’s detailed training plan at http://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=rAoVZM-fPWZYSSUSJwrmzWg. Join The Endurance Coach’s Facebook Group.

North Doodle


I'm delighted to announce that the Lakeland-based mountain guides, North Doodle (www.northdoodle.com), will be fivemarathons' Gold Sponsor for the San Francisco Marathon. Even as we speak, North Doodle's logos are being applied to my running top for San Francisco and TEAM fivemarathons' tops for the Berlin Marathon and the Great North Run. Many thanks to North Doodle's Jonathan Culley for his help in arranging their sponsorship. The money which North Doodle has kindly donated will help Christies and Macmillan in their invaluable work.

You may recognise North Doodle’s logo as being remarkably similar to fivemarathon’s own. North Doodle kindly allowed fivemarathons to use the North Doodle logo, meaning that the money saved on a designer could go straight into the collection for Christies and Macmillan.

North Doodle – making molehills out of mountains since 1999.

Barcelona, 1 March 2009
London, 26 April 2009
San Francisco, 26 July 2009
Berlin, 20 September 2009
New York, 1 November 2009

Christies is the charity which provides funds for, and supports, the work of the world renowned specialist cancer centre, The Christie, in Manchester (see www.christies.org). Macmillan provides practical, medical, financial and emotional support for people affected by cancer and campaigns for better cancer care (see www.macmillan.org.uk).

www.justgiving.com/fivemarathonschristies

www.justgiving.com/fivemarathonsmacmillan

Visit us at http://www.fivemarathons.com

Join the fivemarathons Facebook Group

Check out The Endurance Coach’s detailed training plan at http://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=rAoVZM-fPWZYSSUSJwrmzWg. Join The Endurance Coach’s Facebook Group

Monday, 6 July 2009

High Fidelity


29 June 2009, 7.31am: summit of the Strahlhorn (4,190 metres)

I’m just back from Saas Fee, high in the Swiss Alps at 1,800 metres above sea level. For the past ten days, TEAM fivemarathons’ Martin and I have been undertaking some serious high altitude marathon preparation on the 4,000 metre peaks around the Saas Valley. With overnight ascents of the Strahlhorn (4,190 metres), Allalinhorn (4,027 metres), Weissmies (4,023 metres) and Lagginhorn (4,010 metres), it was quite easily one of the toughest things I’ve ever done, but also definitely one of the most rewarding. It was the first time that our guide had had four successful attempts for these peaks, so Martin and I were very relieved. I can understand why it’s a rare occurrence; everything has to come together at once. You need good weather, reasonable snow conditions and you’ve got to hope that your fitness is up to it. Martin and I are both marathon-fit, but I still found it very hard work.

Without a common frame of reference, it’s quite difficult to explain why high altitude mountaineering is such an undertaking. Imagine being awoken at 2am every morning, to set out into the pitch black and freezing cold night, roped to two other people, ascending across a desolate wilderness, into increasingly thin air, towards a summit which is several hours away. Let me break it down for you: the regular and unwanted wake-up calls in the middle of the night must be like having a small child; the ice cold welcome as you set off is analogous to what you can expect when you tell your partner that you’re about to take yourself off to Switzerland for 10 days and they’re not invited; the being roped together is strikingly similar to the several weeks you are going to have to spend, upon your return, doting on the abovementioned partner, vainly seeking to earn forgiveness for your trip; the desolate wasteland is like a bad night out in Bolton; and the thin air / lack of atmosphere is like having a bag over your head / a season ticket at Old Trafford respectively.* Forgiveness for a mountain trip is a minefield which I have neither the diplomacy nor eloquence to negotiate. In 2004, when I announced a month long trip to the Andes, my then girlfriend declared that if I ever disappeared on another similar trip, she’d be gone, if and when I ever got home. I ill-advisedly quipped that it sounded like a “win-win” scenario and added aviation fuel to an already incendiary situation.

Climbing the Dri Horlini

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, I’m interested to see the difference that the altitude training makes to my running performance. The science is fairly straightforward: the body adapts to the relative lack of oxygen at high altitude by increasing the mass of red blood cells and haemoglobin, which means that the blood can carry more oxygen; upon your return to oxygen-rich sea level, you retain a higher concentration of red blood cells for 10-14 days, and this explains why you feel stronger: more red blood cells, coupled with higher oxygen density. Unfortunately, my training has been interrupted for a least a day or so, while I deal with an ear infection, which I managed to pick up just before Friday’s summit attempt on the Lagginhorn. It currently looks like a cauliflower has been clumsily selotaped to the side of my head. A problem with your ears can affect your balance, which is far from ideal when you’re 4,000 metres up, roped to two others, teetering on the edge of a 55 degree slope, trying to get your crampons to bite into the ice. Certainly, Martin and our guide wouldn’t have thanked me for losing my balance and towing the three of us down the mountainside towards a 500 feet drop.

3 July 2009, 7.33am: summit of the Lagginhorn (4,010 metres)

In many ways, the trip home was more difficult to negotiate than the Swiss 4,000ers. The flight from Geneva departed late, followed by an extended wait for our kit bags to arrive in Liverpool. In the arrivals hall, I noticed that John Lennon Airport has adopted a line from Lennon’s “Imagine” as its motto: “Above Us Only Sky”. As I grew more impatient, I wondered if the baggage handlers had adopted a different line from the same song: “Imagine No Possessions”. I applied the same thought process to my delayed Virgin Train back to the Lake District. A suitably light-hearted strapline could be just what they need. “Virgin: We Don’t Go All The Way”, or, my particular recommendation, “Virgin: You’d Think We’d Never Done This Before”.

More tales of mountainous derring-do next week. Only a week on Monday until I fly to San Francisco for the next marathon.

*Apologies to regular blog viewers, who may have seen the atmosphere gag before. Some things just get better with age.

Barcelona, 1 March 2009
London, 26 April 2009
San Francisco, 26 July 2009
Berlin, 20 September 2009
New York, 1 November 2009


This week’s training schedule:

Monday, 6 July 2009 Rest
Tuesday, 7 July 2009 Speed work
Wednesday, 8 July 2009 6 miles steady
Thursday, 9 July 2009 8 miles easy
Friday, 10 July 2009 Rest
Saturday, 11 July 2009 Warm up, then 5 miles at race pace, then warm down
Sunday, 12 July 2009 13 miles steady

Christies is the charity which provides funds for, and supports, the work of the world renowned specialist cancer centre, The Christie, in Manchester (see www.christies.org). Macmillan provides practical, medical, financial and emotional support for people affected by cancer and campaigns for better cancer care (see www.macmillan.org.uk).

www.justgiving.com/fivemarathonschristies

www.justgiving.com/fivemarathonsmacmillan

Visit us at http://www.fivemarathons.com

Join the fivemarathons Facebook Group

Check out The Endurance Coach’s detailed training plan at http://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=rAoVZM-fPWZYSSUSJwrmzWg. Join The Endurance Coach’s Facebook Group.

NYC Marathon, 2004

NYC Marathon, 2004
NYC Marathon, 2004