Monday, 12 October 2009

The Long And Winding Road

Sunday was a big race day for TEAM fivemarathons. While Lucy was in Peterborough running the Great Eastern Run half marathon, Amanda and I were in Congleton taming The Sting In The Tail race, over the same distance. Martin is currently on holiday in the USA, so he was excused racing duty on this occasion.

Lucy put down a fantastic new personal best, crossing the line in 2 hours 10 minutes. As I mentioned in my previous blog (Don’t Stop (Thinking About Tomorrow), 10 October 2009), all the signs were that Lucy was on for a great race and she more than delivered. Lucy ran with her friend Kylie from Stamford Striders running club. In her first half marathon, Kylie ran a blistering 1 hour 48 minutes, which is fantastic. Flushed with their success in Peterborough, Lucy and Kylie are now looking for a full marathon in April 2010. Paris might fit the bill (, Barcelona in March could be even better (

Lucy with Kylie (left) and Bryony (right) after their success in Peterborough
Amanda was tremendously brave to run in Congleton, given the knee injury she was carrying. After the race, the pain was causing Amanda to limp, which demonstrated how hard she’d worked to post 1 hour 51 minutes. On a more light-hearted level, Amanda’s knee injury was strangely ironic: you may remember that last weekend, Amanda’s husband Mike returned home with a knee injury and a pronounced limp from our whitewater canoeing expedition to the Scottish Highlands. Two weekends with me, two Howletts unable to walk. I may not be getting another invitation to dinner with Amanda and Mike for the forseeable future.

With Mike, before he was walking with a limp

Going into Sunday’s race, my personal best for the half marathon was 1 hour 40 minutes and 6 seconds. As I mentioned in a previous blog (Ich bin ein Berliner, 8 August 2009), I’d registered for Congleton with the hope of getting inside 1:40 before the end of the fivemarathons. Given the pain in my bruised ribs, my hopes for a quick time were not high. However, I prepared a 1:40 pace wristband, which sets out the timings you’ll need to hit for each of the 13 miles (get one at, and went to Congleton with a straightforward plan: run inside 1:40 pace and back off if my ribs became too painful. The race was very well organised and I got a quick getaway. This meant that I could get straight into my running and a comfortable sub-7 minute mile pace. I was a little nervous that this was too quick, but my heart rate was low, my ribs weren’t too bad, and it felt like an easy cruise. I planned to re-evaluate at 4 miles, but keep at it as long as it felt smooth. If I felt that I was chasing the race, or struggling to maintain the pace, I’d slacken off. As the miles went by, I began to entertain the idea that today might be my day.

With Amanda at Congleton Half Marathon, before she was walking with a limp

The course was reasonably hilly, with the big climbs at 10 miles and 12 miles (hence the race’s name, The Sting In The Tail). On the uphill sections, I made a conscious decision to get stuck in, and get them over without losing too much time. It’s a tactic that I’ve picked up from Martin during our training runs in Coniston and Shap. On the downhill sections, rather than try to brake (and potentially tire my legs out), I just tried to relax and let the gradient take me. Given the work I was putting in on the uphill sections, it seemed silly not to benefit from the gravity-assisted boost offered by the downhill. I continued to run smoothly and well inside the 7 minute 38 second miles which is 1 hour 40 pace. While I hoped my speed wouldn’t tail off, I at least felt that I was building a buffer which would allow me to slacken off towards the end if I needed to. Fortunately, I was able to keep it going and crossed the line in just over 1 hour 33, a full 7 minutes inside my PB. To put it into some perspective, that’s a mile quicker than my previous PB, which would have still been at 12.1 miles when I arrived at the finish yesterday.
With Amanda and Nick after The Sting In The Tail
I crossed the line with a mixture of relief and elation. I had expected things to be tailing off by this stage of the fivemarathons, especially only 3 weeks after Berlin, so I’m really pleased to be turning in a significant improvement to my PB and, more importantly, seeing the flow of donations to fivemarathons increase.

Before Sunday’s race, Laith and I had already discussed my training plan for marathons in 2010. In outline, we’ll focus on speed work: training to get as quick as possible over 5km and 10km then, 18 weeks before the marathon, work to maintain that pace over the full marathon distance. It’s simple really, if you imagine that you have four effort bands, 1 being easy cruising, through to 4, which is running flat out, giving it everything you’ve got. By increasing the speed of band 4, you automatically increase the speeds you can achieve in bands 1 to 3. It’s all about being able to cruise as quickly as possible, within effort bands 1 – 2. Our aim for 2010 is to get below 3 hours 30 minutes and the result in Congleton hopefully shows that we’re on our way. Your half marathon time should inform your time for the full marathon: as a rule of thumb, you double your half marathon time and add ten minutes. That would give me a marathon time of 3 hours 16 minutes. No pressure there, then.

Many thanks to Laith for his brilliant coaching and insightful guidance. Without his help, I’d still be fighting giraffes at the back of the race.

Barcelona, 1 March 2009
3 hrs 57 mins (new PB)
London, 26 April 2009 4 hrs 01 mins
San Francisco, 26 July 2009 3 hrs 43 mins (new PB)
Berlin, 20 September 2009 3 hrs 46 mins
New York, 1 November 2009

Coniston 14 (14 miles), 28 March 2009
1 hr 48
Humber Half Marathon, 15 June 2009 1 hr 40 (new PB)
Congleton Half Marathon, 11 October 2009 1 hr 33 (new PB)

This week’s training schedule:

Monday, 5 October 2009 10 miles steady
Tuesday, 6 October 2009 6 miles easy
Wednesday, 7 October 2009 6 miles brisk
Thursday, 8 October 2009 2 miles easy
Friday, 9 October 2009 Rest
Saturday, 10 October 2009 2.5 miles easy
Sunday, 11 October 2009 Congleton Half Marathon

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NYC Marathon, 2004

NYC Marathon, 2004
NYC Marathon, 2004