Sunday, 30 August 2009

Journey of a thousand miles


This week’s blog comes all of the way from Alberta, Canada. I invited my cousin, Melanie, to contribute a guest blog describing her experience at the San Francisco marathon, and how it has inspired her to get running.

Contemplating my trip to San Francisco a few weeks before the event I had thought about what it must be like to complete a marathon. I had come to the conclusion that running a marathon must be a most unsatisfying challenge. I had mental pictures of people labouring hard for every breath, staggering across the finish line and collapsing in a heap. No thanks, I thought, not for me.

With Dunk before the race

What brought me to those conclusions? Probably the fact that my personal running experience to that point was largely negative, limited to unwisely throwing myself unprepared into school races as a child, and trying valiantly to keep up with a stronger running partner during some of my university years.

Watching Duncan and the thousands of other runners participate in the San Francisco Marathon was inspiring beyond anything I could have anticipated. The day began very early. When my Mum and I signed on as part of the support team for San Francisco, Dunk wisely did not inform us that this particular marathon had a very early start. Rising at 3:30 a.m. to begin the trip into the city was only the first of many memorable moments! Accompanying Dunk to the start area, I was struck by how relaxed he was in the midst of the atmosphere there, which was charged with both tension and excitement. He was obviously experienced and well prepared. I could scarcely believe it when he handed me a mobile phone to stay in touch as he ran so he would know where to look for us along the race route. Who talks on a mobile phone when you can barely breathe, I thought? It turns out that Dunk regularly takes calls during the marathon – I have even heard a rumour of some text messaging during a prior race!

Down to business

Before we knew it he was off – and so were we. Our group began a series of trips that day on the spectator bus that moved us from miles 4, 13, and 22 to the finish line. At each stop we would phone Dunk and confirm our position. Each time he came by us smiling and strong. Even at mile 22. I soon began to catch a glimpse of his passion for running. And I could see this echoing on many of the faces of those running with him.

As we headed for the bus stop at mile 22 for the ride to the finish line I could hardly wait to get there. However, wait we would. When we arrived at the stop location we saw a small group had gathered. The shuttle had not arrived. We waited a bit longer – no shuttle. We began to panic a bit. How could we get this far and miss the finish? People began to talk of calling taxis, taxis arrived with drivers that did not understand the desired location, time was moving fast. I began to calculate how much time we actually had to reach the finish based on the fact that Dunk was running a solid 8:30 mile. We were cutting it close. To our great relief the shuttle finally came. As we darted on board we happily took our seats. Much to our dismay, the shuttle never moved. The driver obstinately stated that he wasn’t moving for another 20 minutes. He was sticking to his schedule. The spectators on the bus began to get a bit ugly shouting for the driver to go. He stubbornly said that if we wanted him to go, WE could call his supervisor for permission. He clearly did not expect that my 70 year old mother would jump to her feet, politely demand the phone number and then summon me from the back to make the call (remember I was the one with the mobile phone). I gulped, grabbed the number and pleaded our case with the marathon transportation supervisor. By stretching the truth somewhat – yes, the half-full bus was nearly full; yes, we were waiting a long time for the previous shuttle – I finally hit him with the big one: “My aunt and uncle are here from Ireland and will miss their son cross the finish line if you don’t tell this driver to move!” That did it. With a chorus of cheers from the rest of the passengers, we were finally underway.


To cut a long story short, we did not quite make the long anticipated finish line. As the youngest of the group, I became the designated runner and dashed to the finish from the final bus stop. As Dunk later told me, “You can tell people you began your running career running for the finish line at the San Francisco marathon”. I caught him just a fraction past the line, on the way to receiving his medal. It was an incredible moment. And to my great relief he looked just fine, actually much better, he looked exhilarated – just how I felt.

Next stop, Berlin

Nowadays, as I put my new running shoes on and take a jog down my rural country road, I think about San Francisco. Yes, it inspired me to give running one more chance. A particular run I’m looking forward to is a quick mile in New York’s Central Park with Dunk in November, the day before his final marathon for fivemarathons. It turns out our “ground team” from San Francisco is reconvening in New York City. Having missed the finish line in California I’m giving it another shot – just like running. If you’re wondering about the title – it begins with a single step. I ran mine in San Francisco.

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, 24 August 2009 Rest or short recovery run / Return to Liverpool
Tuesday, 25 August 2009 Speed work
Wednesday, 26 August 2009 6 miles easy
Thursday, 27 August 2009 Rest
Friday, 28 August 2009 8 miles steady
Saturday, 29 August 2009 3 miles easy
Sunday, 30 August 2009 14 miles steady - brisk

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

View fivemarathons photos at http://www.flickr.com/photos/fivemarathons/

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Après Moi, Le Déluge

Only four weeks today until race day in Berlin. This weekend I'm back in Ireland to see my family and to do my twenty mile run along the County Meath coast into County Dublin. I did my previous long runs in Ireland, which worked well. You start to get a little bit superstitious and want to keep the same routine. My Mum even insists on wearing the same trainers that she wore in Barcelona for each of the races. Hopefully they'll continue to bring me good luck. Since my last long run in Ireland, my nephew and Godson, Seb, has started to walk. I'm sure he'll be happy to guest on the first ten miles. He can carry my carb gels.

With Seb, my Dad and Monty. Check out the look of disbelief on Monty's face (again). Inexplicable sunglasses (again).


This week, my cousin Melanie and Auntie June confirmed their flights to join us again in New York for the marathon. I really enjoyed the time we spent together in California, so it's great that they'll be with us again in NYC. As long as I can stay injury-free between now and then, it should be a great finale to fivemarathons. There's always a buzz in the Big Apple but, when the marathon is on, the atmosphere is absolutely electric. That's why there wasn't much debate about where to run the final marathon: it had to be New York.

My Dad and Seb


In the meantime, I'm really looking forward to Berlin. It's a really flat course, and more marathon world records have been set there than on any other route. That should be a welcome change after the hills of San Francisco. The speed training I've been undertaking with Laith is aimed at ensuring that I can cruise smoothly and comfortably and derive maximum benefit from the fast course. To ensure that all of our hard work hasn't gone to waste, I need to get myself in a quicker starting pen. When I signed up for Berlin in December, I was allocated a pen based on my then personal best of 4 hours 52 minutes. Now that I'm running 3 hours 43 minutes, I need to get into a pen appropriate to that time (and avoid getting stuck behind runners dressed as giraffes for 18 miles, like in London). I've worked far too hard to have another wasted race like London - queuing in an almighty conga from Greenwich all of the way to Embankment. The Berlin race organisers have given me the details of what I need to do at the race Expo to change my pen. Let's hope it works. Being German, I'm sure they're very efficient. Stay tuned for even more lazy stereotyping, below.

This week, Berlin has been hosting the World Athletics Championships. I tuned in this morning to watch the marathon, which follows part of the route of the Berlin Marathon on 20 September. It takes in some fantastic landmarks and looks like a good course. Talk at TEAM fivemarathons’ HQ has inevitably turned to Caster Semenya, the South African athlete who won the women’s 800 metres in Berlin. Unfortunately, debate has arisen over whether Semenya is actually a man, and the IAAF has insisted that she take a gender determination test. We considered some straightforward tests which may assist. For example, you could drop her off in an unfamiliar town; if she’s prepared to ask for directions, it’s a safe bet that she’s not a man. Similarly, if she has the first clue how to operate a washing machine, you can be fairly confident that she can’t be a man. Alternatively, you might suggest that you want to talk about “feelings”; if she makes a run for it, quicker than her gold medal winning performance, you’ll have removed all doubt.

Monty, recovering after today's 20 mile run

I mentioned in an earlier blog (“New York, New York” on Thursday, 8 January 2009) about the British Airways flight which took me to New York for the marathon in 2004. As we landed at JFK, the Captain announced his best wishes and congratulations to all of the marathon runners onboard, which was met with a spontaneous round of applause from the other passengers. For that reason, I almost wish that I was flying with British Airways to Berlin next month. I once read a fantastic transcript of an exchange between a BA pilot and Berlin air traffic control in 1975. It went something like this:

Berlin: “BA786, upon landing, proceed immediately to stand 42”
BA Captain: “Thank you Berlin, where is stand 42?”
Berlin: “Between stands 41 and 43”
BA Captain: “I’m afraid that doesn’t assist us, Berlin. Where are stands 41 and 43?”
Berlin: “Have you never flown to Berlin before?”
BA Captain: “Yes, I have, but it was 30 years ago - we only circled overhead and didn’t land”.

Many congratulations to TEAM fivemarathons’ Martin, who finished yesterday’s Reykjavik marathon in a fantastic personal best time of 3 hours 24 minutes and 55 seconds! I hope that he’s fully recovered in time for Berlin.

Next week’s blog will be written by my cousin, Melanie. I’ve invited her to contribute a guest blog describing her experience at the San Francisco marathon, and how it has inspired her to get running. I’m going to enjoy a week off. More tall tales and tired clichés in a fortnight.

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, 17 August 2009 6 miles easy
Tuesday, 18 August 2009 Speed work
Wednesday, 19 August 2009 6 miles easy
Thursday, 20 August 2009 8 miles steady
Friday, 21 August 2009 Speed work / Fly to Dublin
Saturday, 22 August 2009 Rest
Sunday, 23 August 2009 20 mile endurance run

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.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Dunkin' Donuts



It feels great to be back into my running and preparing for Berlin. Having said that, I’m feeling a little bit heavy, which seems to be the pattern for me after a race. I suppose it’s not surprising really: you do very little training in the week before the race but you’re carbing like crazy. Then after the race, you do nothing for another week (and, in my case, I can’t resist eating a few of the things that I’ve denied myself during my training). My weight will drop again as I get closer to the race. I’ve even discussed with Laith some 3 mile runs first thing in the morning, in addition to my main training schedule. I don't want to eat less, so running slightly more is a perfect solution. I also prefer to exercise first thing in the morning, before my brain figures out what’s going on. The 3 mile runs would be slow and perfect for burning fat. The low intensity gives your body time to break down fat reserves into the glycogen fuel that it requires. During higher intensity runs, your body can’t wait to break down fat, and goes straight for the glycogen that’s stored in your muscles. That’s why slow, low intensity runs are such an important part of marathon preparation: they get your body used to turning fat into glycogen. Given that your body only stores about 15 miles’ worth of glycogen, being able to use fat reserves is really important.

Final warm-up in San Francisco - looking like an extra from Wilson, Keppel and Betty (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilson,_keppel_and_betty)

A few blog readers asked me about the title for last week's blog, "Ich bin ein Berliner". It's actually a quote from U.S. President John F. Kennedy. On 26 June 1963, JFK delivered a speech in West Berlin, in which he underlined the support of the United States for West Germany, 22 months after the Soviet-supported East Germany erected the Berlin Wall as a barrier to prevent movement between East and West. In a show of solidarity, JFK wanted to say "I am a citizen of Berlin", the correct German for which is "Ich bin Berliner". Instead, he said "Ich bin ein Berliner". Unluckily enough, "ein Berliner" is the name of a popular German snack, and to the crowd's bemusement, the President had just announced that he was a doughnut. Given the relatively undeveloped state of German comedy, that still has them rolling in the aisles 46 years later.

Running into Golden Gate Park

At least Kennedy had the excuse that he was speaking a foreign language. In 2004, my preparation for the New York Marathon was often delayed by protracted meetings with one particular client. He was a great guy, and a fellow long distance runner, but he wanted our constant attention. The long meetings were at least brightened by the client's unintentional use of mixed metaphors and malapropisms, some of which were absolute crackers. "We'll burn that bridge when we come to it" was a particular favourite of mine, as was "Don’t count your chickens before they cross the road". He also managed some complicated combinations, like "We need to take the bull by the balls before somebody pulls the rug out from under our noses" and "That's like a red rag to a bull in a china shop".

Just before I left for New York, the client called to wish me good luck and advised "Just remember, marathon running is 90% mental. The other half is physical". Even with the unorthodox delivery, you could understand what he was trying to say, which is more than you can say for some modern jargon, which doesn’t really mean anything. For example, as I left the office for last Wednesday’s 6 mile run, a colleague asked my advice on a tender for a new piece of work: "How will we stand out from the crowd and get above the noise? What do we know about their buying triggers and who pulls the gun?". Sorry, didn’t catch a word of that. The same chap wanted to gauge opinion on a particular point and suggested that we “run it up the flagpole and see who salutes”. Answers on a postcard, please.

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, 10 August 2009 6 miles easy
Tuesday, 11 August 2009 Speed work
Wednesday, 12 August 2009 6 miles steady
Thursday, 13 August 2009 8 miles steady
Friday, 14 August 2009 Speed work
Saturday, 15 August 2009 Rest
Sunday, 16 August 2009 14 miles

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.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Ich bin ein Berliner


Last weekend was the Lakeland 100 ultra marathon (www.lakeland100.com) and North Doodle was one of the principal sponsors. I manned the Wasdale Head and Mardale Head checkpoints with fellow guides, Martin and Tei. While it’s a fantastic event, through some of England’s finest countryside, I don’t think I’ll be signing up for next year’s race. Two days and 100 miles of non-stop fell running and navigation, through the pitch black night and whipping rain. Now, that’s a challenge. It was hard enough work handing out the flapjacks and pouring the drinks at the checkpoint.


With Tei and Martin at North Doodle’s Mardale Head checkpoint

Training for Berlin starts here. Monday’s 6 mile run felt great. After a week of enforced rest following the San Francisco Marathon, I was starting to go stir crazy. When you add the time you spend tapering down to the race, to the time you spend recovering afterwards, it’s at least a fortnight between proper runs, apart from the marathon itself. Tuesday’s speed work session at The Endurance Coach was particularly good. Marathons are all about discipline. It’s about moving smoothly and keeping in your rhythm, but ultimately it’s about holding yourself back and not pushing too hard in the first 18 miles. After the race is over, it’s such a relief to get into some speed work and let rip. It’s hard to explain the importance of speed work to marathon preparation. I mean, if marathons require you to run steadily, and slower than you can comfortably run, what’s the point of speed work? Let’s say you normally run comfortably at 8 minute 30 second miles. Speed work sessions could have you running at 6 minute mile pace (even though you might not complete a mile at that pace). After 6 minute miles, 8 minute miles feel like you’re cruising, and are much easier to maintain. So, by increasing the speed at which you can run before reaching your threshold, you inevitably also increase your cruising speed. This is the crux of Laith’s training strategy for the fivemarathons.

The traditional wisdom for marathon training is based on a pyramid. First you build the base of the pyramid by training to run the distance comfortably. Once the base is in place, you train towards quickening your pace, building the pyramid stage by stage. Laith’s approach is to invert that pyramid. We start at the summit of the pyramid, and train to run fast. When that’s in place, we stretch it out by training to maintain that pace for the whole of the race. It’s taken me from a 4 hour 52 marathon runner, to a 3 hour 43 marathon runner, so it’s hard to argue with the results. And who knows? Hopefully there’s more improvement to come.




In the build up to a marathon, you inevitably spend far too much time over-analysing your strategy for the race. Do you chase a personal best and risk your legs going bang at mile 20? Do you run more steadily, re-evaluate at half marathon distance, and hopefully wind up the pace in the latter stages? What if it’s particularly hot or cold on race day? You need to stay hydrated, but you don’t want to lose valuable minutes on toilet stops. Recently, I’ve been debating these issues as I drift off to sleep in the evenings. On several occasions, I’ve awoken in the small hours with the ideal strategy all worked out, with every last detail catered for perfectly. I’ve then gone back to sleep feeling smug. Unfortunately, when the alarm goes off, I can never remember a word of my perfect strategy and I’m back where I started. After this had happened on two or three occasions, my frustration got the better of me and I hit upon a plan. I would leave a pen and paper on the bedside cabinet and, the next time I awoke with a plan, I would scribble down every last detail. Last Wednesday, I awoke with my strategy worked out in microscopic detail and, as planned, I furiously noted it all down, writing what appeared to be pages. When the alarm went, I couldn’t remember any details, so I grabbed the pad, eager to view the masterplan. You can imagine my disappointment when all I’d written was “Vinyl Matt Emulsion. £15 for 5 litres at Homebase”.

Laith and I will sit down on Tuesday to finalise my training plan for Berlin. You can view the route of the marathon below (click on it), or download a copy from http://www.real-berlin-marathon.com/events/berlin_marathon/2009/strecke.en.php. Check out the name of the street for kilometres 10 to 11: Mollstraße (Moll Street). Both I and fivemarathons’ PR manager, Rob Ainscough, think it’s a good omen! See Rob’s blog, “For Moll”, from 14 February 2009 (you can navigate to past blogs using the links on the left hand side).


While I was living in Germany, my then girlfriend had her parents over to stay with her. When they visited Berlin, her Mum was tasked with noting down the name of the street where they parked, so that they wouldn’t have any difficulty finding their car. Her Mum located the street sign and wrote down the name. 8 hours later, my girlfriend asked her Mum for the name of the street where they’d parked. She was horrified when her Mum told her the sign said “Einbahnstraße”. Unluckily enough, Einbahnstraße means “one way street”. Still, only 50% of Berlin’s streets are one way, so her Mum had at least narrowed the search down for them.

This week, TEAM fivemarathons’ Amanda and I signed up for the Congleton Half Marathon on Sunday, 11 October 2009. This should fit in nicely with my training between Berlin and New York. The course is undulating, but not too hilly, so hopefully it’s a good opportunity for a personal best before the fivemarathons are complete. If I’m not too tired from Berlin, I’d love to get inside 1 hour 40 minutes.


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, 3 August 2009 6 miles steady
Tuesday, 4 August 2009 Speed work
Wednesday, 5 August 2009 6 miles quick
Thursday, 6 August 2009 8 miles steady
Friday, 7 August 2009 Rest
Saturday, 8 August 2009 4 miles easy
Sunday, 9 August 2009 18 mile training run

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