Thursday, 4 July 2013

San Francisco Marathon, 16th June 2013

Heading to the start
The alarm sounded – it was dark outside, that’s because it was 3:10am! The day was finally here, the day of the San Francisco Marathon! We ate our porridge pots (brought over from England) and tried for a few more minutes of sleep before setting off from our hotel for the 5:30am start!
Despite the early start I felt awake and raring to go – I think finally all the months of training were about to become a reality and I couldn’t wait to get started! Dan and I arrived in good time at the start, which meant we could drop off our bags and get to a queue free portaloo! A first for me at a marathon!! After dropping Dan’s kit off we said our goodbyes and wished each other luck. I was starting in Wave 1 at 5:32 (2 minutes after the elites) and Dan was in Wave 2 for his half marathon which started 10 minutes later. I got to my pen nice and early, and was having a chat with a few friendly Americans while we waited for the customary National Anthem and announcements. At 5:30am the elites were off. My heart was pounding, only 2 minutes to go – this was it!! I’d managed to get myself right to the front of the wave, so when the gun went I was on an open road! What struck me in the first few miles on this marathon was the peace and quiet. In London and Paris there is noise and hustle right from the start! Here, it wasn’t even light yet, there were a few supporters (but not many), and all the runners around me were ‘in the zone’. It was actually a really nice way to start a marathon, alone with your own thoughts, and preparing for what was to lie ahead.

 My aim was to run 3hr15 for this marathon. With a previous best of 3hr24 set the year before in London, I knew this was going to be a challenge, given the amount of elevation on this course. The majority of the climbing came in the first half, so I was under no illusions that in order to get my 3:15 I would need to go out slightly faster than this pace to start with, to take into account some slower miles up the hills.The first couple of miles were flat – then came a small hill followed by a downhill – no problems. It was then flat along the coast as we approached the Golden Gate Bridge. The approach to the bridge was beautiful. The sun was rising as we approached it. I remember thinking the bridge looked quite high up and that the climb to reach it would be steep. It was, but being only 6 miles in, it didn’t feel like it took much out of the legs, and looking over to the right I could see San Francisco in the distance, with a haze of cloud hanging over the top. It was quite simply…breath-taking. The next few miles were great – running over the Golden Gate Bridge was something else! I felt slightly emotional as I ran over the bridge, thinking that as a child I had been driven across it so many times with my family. But this time I was running over it! What a privilege! The course took us out over the bridge and then back again, so the elites were making their way back across. They were flying and the leading female was up there with the fast men – it was great to see them all glide past.
There was a water station at the end of the bridge before looping back to get back across. I was on 8 miles at this point and suddenly realised I’d forgotten to take my first energy gel! There had been too many amazing distractions. I started taking the first of my gels and continued round to get back on the bridge. I wondered whether I might be able to see Dan on the way back, so positioned myself to the left so I could see the oncoming runners. Dan had had the same thought. Just as I was reaching the crest of the bridge I saw a waving hand and smiling face, followed by ‘Jo!’. We gave eachother a wave and a smile and carried on. Dan was looking relaxed there I thought and I was happy thinking he’d surely be on for the PB he was after! After coming off the bridge I looked at my watch. I was aiming for an average pace of 7:20/mile which would bring me in under 3:15. I was just under this and felt good, so I was pleased with how this was going!

On leaving the bridge I thought there might be some downhill to come. I was wrong. We turned to the right and headed up the steepest climb so far. The 3:15 pacer and his followers came storming past me at this point. According to my watch they were going too fast, so I let them go. I made the right decision as caught them on the downhill which followed. But I was aware that this had been a steep climb and that the legs were feeling this one more! The course was approaching the Golden Gate Park – the finish area for the half marathon. As we entered the park; the half marathon and marathon runners split. Not long I thought, till Dan makes his way to the finish line. I was willing him on in my mind. As I went past the half finish line, I felt a surge of energy. Half way I told myself, and still feeling good – here we go! I took a gel, swig of water and carried on. However, a few miles later, this burst of energy disappeared. These miles were a gradual uphill and I was starting to feel it. The 3:15 pacer went past me again. However, this time I knew he was going at the right pace, and it was me who was slowing down. I watched the little sign he was holding saying ‘3:15’ disappear off round the corner. Had I gone off too fast in the earlier miles? Had I not controlled it up the hills? I had 10 miles to go and I felt rough – this was not a good sign. However, if there is one thing marathon training and racing in general has taught me, is that just because you feel rubbish at one point in the run, doesn’t mean that won’t change later on! I was telling myself that I’d done all that training and that I was stronger than that, and to just keep to my pace as best as I could!! Another gel later, and a bit more water, the feeling went, and once again I started to feel back in control.
We headed out of the park and into Downtown San Francisco. There was very little flat in this part of the course, just uphills followed by downhills. In many ways, I think I preferred this. I would push on the uphills knowing that there was a downhill coming and then relax into it. My watch was still giving me an average pace that would get me in for 3:15, but I’d become increasingly aware that my watch was not matching up with the mile markers, and my watch was 400m ahead. I knew therefore, that I could add on a couple of minutes to the time my watch was predicting me. I went through 24 miles in 3 hours according to the watch. All my miles had been under 8 minutes up until that point and I knew I could run another 2.2 at that pace, which would bring me in around the time I wanted. Despite being in a fair bit of pain at this point (some of the steep downhills had really taken it out of my quads!), I was thinking how strong I felt at this point in the race compared to previous marathons. Never in a marathon had I made it to 24 miles without a significant drop in pace. I knew 3:15 was going to be slightly out of reach, but my back up plan was sub 3:20, so I re-focused on this and pushed on! Knowing my family and friends were following me on the tracking device really helped me keep the pace!
The sun was starting to shine quite strongly now, and I was thinking a hat and sunglasses would be good at this point. I could see the SF Giants baseball stadium ahead, another spectacular sight! And then behind it, the Bay Bridge!! The finish line was under this – not far to go!! As all other marathon runners will relate to, the last few miles are just a matter of survival. Putting one foot in front of the other and willing the finish line to be there! I don’t remember a whole lot of detail!! The last 400m are a total daze. Dan had made it back from his half marathon race and was on the side lines cheering me on. Unfortunately in my marathon-induced state I didn’t see or hear him at this stage, but am so happy that he was there to share the moment.
I crossed the finish line in an official time of 3hr18.08. I instantly felt lightheaded and made my way through the various finish stands, collecting a medal, photo, bottle of water etc… I could see Dan stood at the end and I made my way over. We gave each other a massive hug. He told me my time and that he’d smashed his PB too (1hr44.18) – we’d done it!! Four months of preparation and here we were stood at the finish line in San Francisco having both achieved our goals!

One of the best days of my life!! And it wasn’t even 9am!!!
Crossing the finish line

Monday, 3 June 2013

Marathon Training - Weeks 9-14 (Lichfield Half and Silverstone 10k)

Team photo at end of Silverston 10k
The weeks are flying by and I can hardly believe how close the marathon is now! This week starts the beginning of my 2 week taper.

Other than a few ongoing issues with tight calves and Achilles, I appear to be keeping the injuries at bay (touch wood) and have got in a great 14 weeks of uninterrupted training. My weekend long runs have gone well - I’ve done two 18 milers, three 20 milers and one 22 miler in total. I managed all of my long runs in the approximate times that I wanted, so I feel confident that these are now behind me. The weekday training has gone well too, with lots of tempo, track and mid-week longer runs.

I’ve done a few races in the last couple of months, the first one being the Lichfield Half Marathon

With the half marathon barely out of my legs, and a 7 mile ‘slow’ training run on Tuesday, on Wednesday, 8th May I headed down to Silverstone with lots of other Striders to take on the Silverstone 10k. I didn’t have any expectations for this race. I was treating it as a training run, and would just see how it went. After the beautiful sunny weather of the bank holiday weekend, Wednesday night started off rather cold and damp. That didn’t put off all the Striders and other club runners there and we started on mass along the race track. Having run the half marathon there only 2 months previously, and having been there to watch actual motor racing the month before, I felt like I was getting to know the place pretty well! On this occasion it was a 2-lap loop. I set off at a good pace alongside Dawn. My legs felt tired but not as bad as I had expected. I maintained the pace and despite feeling like I was a bit fatigued from the weekend, I still felt strong. The advantage of marathon training is that 10km of running now feels short, and no sooner had I got into the flow of things, I was thinking the race only had a few kilometres to go. I felt strong in the last mile and where previously I may have slowed, felt I had the strength to carry on. I even managed a sprint finish and came through in a time of 40:49. Looking back at my times I think this is one of the quickest 10k’s I have run, and encourages me that I have some speed in my legs despite all the miles I’ve been putting in them. There was a good bunch of Spa Striders all finishing around me. We all went straight back to the finishing straight to cheer on the rest of the team. I was so pleased to see Dan coming in at a great time of 43:59 on his first 10k race – brilliant! A team photo was had and lots of fast times from the Striders, some PBs ahead for all this summer I feel!

A few weekends later was the Hilly 100. A fantastic day where a hilly 10 miles on leg 2, was great practice for the hills I will be experiencing in San Francisco. A win for our Ladies A team made it a fantastic day!

So now I'm in taper mode - easier training and I will be spending lots of time on the roller to keep my legs loose and some stretching. 12 miles this weekend as my last 'long' run. I can feel the anticipation of race day building.....

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

The Marathon Family (training weeks 5-8)

A lot has happened in the running community since my last blog update. The tragic scenes at the Boston marathon of course will be etched on everyone’s minds, but the coming together of runners and supporters alike has been amazing. I’ve felt inspired these last few weeks, watching my fellow ‘crazy’ friends take part in various marathons, with many raising money for important causes. There has been Stuart Lee running 3 marathons in 3 days along the Jurassic Coast, raising money and awareness for the Brain Foundation. Then Chris Hitchman ran sub-3 hours at Boston, who fortunately was through the finish line and safe before the devastating scenes later on. Caroline Whitehouse, not content with running Paris marathon in a fantastic time, went on to run the Brighton marathon the following weekend, putting in another sub 4-hour time! Respect! There were loads of Spa Striders at the Brighton marathon – we tracked them eagerly watching each one finish – such an achievement.  Then of course the London marathon last Sunday, which we went down to watch, and enjoyed seeing all the Striders, CAACers and other friends taking part! And there was Hamburg marathon on Sunday too, where Gareth Green made his marathon debut and went sub 3 hours! The charity close to my heart, Pancreatic Cancer UK raised an incredible amount of money at the London marathon – well done to all the PCUK runners!!

Part of me is excited having seen all the amazing marathon performances taking place, part of me is thinking of all the training left ahead of me as I enter the second half of my 16-week plan for San Francisco. I guess I am lucky, that while everyone so far has trained in some tough conditions – cold, dark nights and long runs in the snow, I’ve got spring and dare I say it, summer conditions to train in!
So the last 4 weeks have been good. I’ve been following my plan, and still keeping injuries at bay, thanks to massages, foam rollers and evil core conditioning routines instilled by Ben Parkinson! I did my first 20 miler a couple of weekends ago. I had a particular pace in mind and was determined to stick to it, which I did! But I think it took slightly more out of me than I had expected and the rest of the week I felt quite fatigued, and while I still managed to cross off all of my training sessions, they were on tired legs. It’s been really great having Dan do part of my longer runs with me as he trains hard for his half marathon and half ironman.
Coventry Parkrun

Last Saturday Dan and I decided to have a go at Coventry parkrun as a tester to see how our training was going. There are currently resurfacing works going on in the War Memorial park so the route was slightly different to usual (and about 160m over 5km according to Garmin!), but it was nice to have a different course. My legs were still feeling fatigued in the warm up and I wondered how fast/slow I might be. I wanted to run sub-20 minutes as haven’t run such a time since last year. I set off at the correct pace – first kilometre in 3:50, second in 3:55. Then the legs started to protest and the later kilometres slowed. According to the Garmin I went through 5km in 19:57, though my official parkrun time was 20:29. After slight disappointment I concentrated on the fact that my training is going well and that the speed will come later…

More importantly, Dan ran a massive PB, taking his official parkrun time down to 21:25, and his Garmin at 5km telling him he’d run 20:49! Amazing! The improvements are coming so fast – I’ll be watching my back on the next one for sure!

So I’m now entering week 8 of the marathon plan, and the excitement is building!! Next tester is the Lichfield Half Marathon on 5th May, which will really tell me how training is going.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

San Francisco Marathon Training: Weeks 2-4

After a good first week of marathon training, which ended with the Silverstone half marathon, the following three weeks have been good too. So far I am keeping all niggles and injuries away (I’m hoping this sentence won’t have tempted fate). I started seeing a chiropractor at the beginning of my training to sort out problems I was getting with my hip and back, and this seems to be paying off, as I feel so much better, both in my running and on a day-to-day basis. He even introduced me to a session of acupuncture in my lower back, which hurt a fair bit at the time but seems to have really helped.

So I’ve been following my Runners World 3:15 marathon plan, which consists of 6 sessions a week (rest day is Friday – I love Fridays!). The sessions are based on a short recovery run on Monday (4miles), a tempo run (Tuesday), a longish mid-week run or hills (Wednesday), a track session (Thursday), a long weekend run and a 5 mile weekend run. I’m in the very lucky position that the Spa Strider sessions seem to complement my training plan very well and I’ve been doing the majority of my runs with the club, which is a real help. I’m also trying to swap the odd session for some cross-training. On the weekends I have been able to do my long runs with Dan, who runs a large part of the distance with me. This is a real help as it breaks the distance up into two, somehow making it feel shorter. As Dan is training for the SF half marathon this works out really well distance wise as we push each other along…and it also means I have a cup of tea waiting for me when I get back…thank you Dan!!!! We’ve had some interesting runs so far, with last weekend being in the snow! Our ‘Dip and Dash’ aquathon which was scheduled for last weekend was cancelled. I have to say, given the conditions, I wasn’t relishing the thought of running 5km around a snowy field having just climbed out of a swimming pool. So perhaps a summer aquathon might be on the cards if we can find one.

So now I’m in the middle of Week 5 and this weekend will be a 16 miler, so I’m still just edging up the miles – still another few weeks until my first 20 miler. Unfortunately this one falls the weekend after London marathon, so I’m guessing I won’t have any takers from Spa Striders to cover the whole distance with me!

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Week 1 - marathon training and Silverstone Half

Week 1 of training was all about ‘building a base’. It consisted of lots of steady, regular runs to build up a bit of a base and get used to running most days. In a way it felt easier than a regular week, which normally includes track, hills or other nasty sessions. But with Silverstone Half marathon planned for the end of the week I thought I’d stick with what was on the plan. I did a couple of early morning (7am) runs around St Nicolas Park in Warwick which I really enjoyed. But otherwise, it was a fairly uneventful week.

However, on Sunday, it was the Silverstone Half Marathon which I’d been looking forward to for a while! I had no idea what kind of shape I’d be in for a half marathon, with no structured training as such in the build-up. Dan was also running and was set for a big PB, based on his recent improvements, and there was a handful of other Striders there too – Nick, Caroline, Hartwig and Greg.

I started in the 1:30 pen with Nick, Caroline and Greg. I set off at what felt a comfortable pace, and that seemed to be 6:52/mile. It felt fine, so I decided I would stick with this pace for as long as I could, as if I could keep it going this would bring me close to 1hr30, or even the elusive sub 1:30!? I caught up with the 1:30 pacer and stuck with him for a bit, later overtaking him. I felt good, and even at mile 7-8 where I would expect a dip to start I was still feeling good. At mile 9, I started to think that sub 1:30 might be on the cards!! However, a head wind and uphill section which followed soon shattered such hopes. The remaining 4 miles were tough, and despite my mile times getting slower, I felt strong. I crossed the line in 1hr32.11. Very pleased with this time at this stage in the marathon training schedule as I feel that is a good base to build on.

I saw Hartwig collecting his goody bag, he’d had a great run and had gone sub 1:30 again. Nick and Caroline also had great runs, with a PB for Caroline. It was great to spot Dan sprinting for the line and taking a huge chunk off his PB to finish in 1hr54 – brilliant!

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Return of the Blog...2013 awaits

My blog has been a bit sporadic recently, not due to a lack of activity, but rather a lack of time to write it. However, with so much to look forward to in 2013 and with being on the home straight of the PhD submission, I think it's time I get back to it!

The end of 2012 and beginning of 2013 has been exciting...both in the participating of events and the planning! Dan and I have been trying out a few parkruns, with Dan's times tumbling down since before Xmas. We've visited Walsall parkrun, Havant, Coventry and of course the local Leamington. 

At the end of Havant Parkrun (January 2013)
So tomorrow marks the start of my 16-week training plan for the San Francisco Marathon which takes place on Sunday, June 16th. I think the highlight of the race will be running across the Golden Gate Bridge! Lets hope the sun has come out by the time we get there, as the race starts at 5am! Dan will be running the SF half marathon (covering the first half of the course), and will too get to run over the bridge!

I will be documenting my training and racing in my blog along the way. This is how 2013 is shaping up so far:

3rd March - Silverstone Half Marathon (yep, we'll be zooming around the Grand Prix race track)
23rd March - Shipston Dip & Dash Aquathon (who will be victorious in Dan vs Jo when there is a 400m swim involved?)
5th May - Lichfield Half Marathon (hope to target a PB on this course if training is going well)
19th May - Hilly 100 (10 x 10 mile relay through the Cotswolds - Spa Strider ladies looking to retain the winners trophy).
16th June - San Francisco Marathon!!!

And post marathon...
4th August - Blithfield Triathlon (yes, Dan has talked me into donning a wetsuit and heading into Blithfield resevoir to swim 1500m, before cycling 40k and running 10k)

11th August - Help for Heroes Jurassic Coast Challenge (my yearly walking challenge with my Dad to raise money for Help for Heroes. This time it will be 26 miles of walking along the Jurassic Coast. A hilly one!)

31st August - Dan competing in 'The Vitruvian' - Half Ironman. I'll be supporting on this one, but looking forward to watching him complete this - amazing :-).

Right, I think that's all this space!!

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Spire to Spire Walk - Help for Heroes

Once again, I've been a bit behind on my blogging, as I'm just getting round to writing up the Spire to Spire walk which my Dad and I completed on 16th September, 2012.
After last year's challenge when we walked from Avebury to Stonehenge, we decided to try another walking challenge for Help for Heroes.
It was another early morning start, as we left Winchester Cathedral just after 8am on the Sunday morning. My Dad had been in some serious training this time, ready for the 25 miles of walking we had ahead of us.
We left as a large group, heading through the streets of Winchester, heading uphill almost straight away. We felt great at the first check point, at around 6 miles, where the H4H team were there dishing out snacks and drinks. The half way point was a village hall, where once again we were provided with lunch and a tasty cup of tea. At this point last year my Dad had been feeling a little tired, but this time, he was as fresh as a daisy! 
The route took us along bridleways and country paths. Not quite as scenic as the previous years' walk, but very pleasant nonetheless. A few more check points along the way, but we both felt great all along the way. The rain held off and it was ideal walking conditions.
With a couple of miles to go, we spotted a sign saying Catherdral viewing spot. We followed it and there it was - Salisbury Catherdral, our end point. We could see the spire all the way back and until we hit the streets of Salisbury. The walk into the grounds of the Cathedral were great, with people cheering us as we came in. My Dad crossed the line, looking like he'd barely broken a sweat and had no problems walking the 1 mile back to the car! A fantastic acheivement, with just over 25 miles covered in a much quicker time!

At the finish - Salisbury Cathedral with our medals

A really great day, and looking forward to hearing what next year's Help for Heroes Challenge will be!