Race Report – Birmingham International Marathon 15 October 2017

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I thought I’d better get this written down before I forgot it – I will forget to add some people’s names, and I’m sorry about that.

Yesterday, I completed the inaugural Birmingham International Marathon (there was a Birmingham marathon in the 1980s – more on that later). I had signed up for it a year in advance, then my training hit a bit of a rock in the road when I had to have some medical treatment this May. I knew that I hadn’t had enough time to get strength and conditioning training in as well as endurance running training in, and right up until the day, I wasn’t sure I had the physical resilience to complete it reasonably comfortably. I was prepared to take walk breaks and do what I needed to in order to get myself round in one piece.

Thanks here to all the people who kindly trained with me even though they don’t run so far (some of them) or so slowly (some of the same, and others). I did quite a few long runs with my friend Trudie and was thrilled to see her and so many others achieve their first marathons.

Before the race

I travelled to the race with my clubmate and neighbour Claire – I think I surprised her partner, who I’d never met before, by announcing “I’ve been to the loo enough times”. Runners are like this. We picked up Karen from nearby and drove to Alexander Stadium in Perry Barr – this was not as bad as at the start of the first Birmingham Half but needed some expert local knowledge. Thanks to Sam for the lift and pre-race photo: Karen, me and Claire. The halo effect is my hair – I had it dyed in orange stripes for the occasion as our running club colours are orange and black.

Claire’s amazing ability to find a nice loo worked really well, we found some good ones in the stadium and then hung out there, gathering other Lions as we went, and saying hello to friends from other clubs.

The start

The start was on the running track at the stadium – where amazing people like Mo Farah have run, what a privilege. We saw the Red start (fastest people, starting an hour earlier than us) go off as we arrived. When we went down to the start there were pens for your predicted finish; although this couldn’t be regulated it worked pretty well and I slotted into the 5:30-6:00 with some friends.

Trudie, Sam, me, Helen Claire at the start (Trudie’s photo)

View as we queued to start (Trudie’s photo)

We shuffled forward in that way that always reminds me of the digestive system, sets of us moving then stopping, we saw 106-year-old Fauja Singh BEM who was starting us off (the world’s oldest marathon runner) and we were off! The bit on the track led to a narrow part that was fine, then a weird side-sloping path down to the main road which was a bit tricky to navigate. 

Into town and out of town.

The first section undulated over a dual carriageway which made it really hard to judge pace. At one point I thought I’d gone too fast here but I think I judged it OK as you always slow in the second half and I had energy for a sprint finish. I was overtaken by Scott Lucas, who I’ve known for around 25 years (who’d have thought, 25 years ago etc) who must have got there late as should have started in front of me. I was thrilled to see my friend Gill at the Barton’s Arms pub in Newtown, waving my orange and black bobble hat and cheering us all on – the support was low along here so that was very welcome, as was seeing parkrun mate Feargal walking along the side of the road. I enjoy a weird road section so this was all OK. I also saw my friend Lesley, who’d done the Loch Ness Marathon a few weeks ago! She was running with a 100 Marathons Club person and had a whale of a time. We kept encountering each other for a few miles.

Mile 1 12:16

Mile 2 13:01

Mile 3 12:24

Once in town, we went through Aston University Campus; the cameras from the Made in Birmingham channel were there and I shamelessly showboated and shouted the club’s name. I met a nice couple of runners from the Shropshire Shufflers and ran with them for a bit; I’d lost Trudie and Sam slightly behind me but they caught up with me here and we ran together until Highgate.

Mile 4 12:47 (this had a horrible out and back to make up the distance but I saw Trudie and Sam)

Mile 5 12:25 (down under the bridge into Digbeth)

Digbeth and Highgate

This was not very International Marathon. There was little support, such that we got thrilled when a man gave us a thumbs-up. We ran round where the skips live – hooray! The course was very wiggly and it had been hard to work out it in training, so that was easier. There was no line marked on the road to follow, which was a bit weird.

Mile 6 12:14 (what? This was UP Digbeth High Street, but a drop in elevation in total!)

Mile 7 12:54

After Digbeth it was into Highgate / Balsall Heath – quite a lot more support especially on this first loop, with clubmates out in force on Willows Road. At this point, Duncan from club overtook us. I thought he had started late then realised he was lapping us! He got an under 3 hour marathon, so this was to be expected.

There was a water station before Willows Road – a lady shouting instructions called my by name (I had Elizabeth on my bib) and it was my old friend from the gym, Zippy! Lisa from running club was also at the water station, which I had expected, and it was lovely to see her, too.

Mile 8 12:48 (keeping nice and consistent to my 13:00 mm plan)

Cannon Hill Park and out past the cricket ground (1)

Coming into CHP I had lost touch with Trudie and Sam but could still see them. I knew the cheering station for KHRC was there, and also YES spotted my friends Ali and Meg outside the tea rooms! Fabulous and Ali took a lovely photo of me running through this park I seem to be always in. Then the cheer station – wonderful – a sea of faces so that I got anxious looking for Jenny and missed some people. Jenny had my fuel bag and got me gels and a bottle of lucozade sport out and took my salomon squash bottle off me.

Fuelling: I took a gel or food once every 45 minutes as planned. Around 400ml of squash in the first 8 miles then a 500ml bottle of lucozade sport that I topped up at water stations, and I also had a gulp of water at any water stations where I’d just had a gel. I didn’t use the loo or get dehydrated or thirsty, and, like last time, only hit mental, not physical walls.

Across the bridge and through the car park and then round the cricket ground car park … in last year’s half it was full of support and sound systems, this year, nothing. I tried to encourage someone from the red wave on who was suffering.

Mile 9 12:15 (Downhill and cheering station excitment!)

Coming out of the cricket ground, I was expecting more friends, I’d been chatting to a bloke running for John Taylor Hospice and telling him I was watching out for a daffodil, and just after a charity support bus there were Lis and Andy Yu, Welsh Lis resplendent in her daffodil hat. Andy took a great couple of pics of me here – thank you!

Mile 10 12:40

Now we were onto the Pershore Road and the real chance to see loads and loads of running friends, from club, other clubs and parkrun. This was wonderful and really gave me something to concentrate on. However, my bum and inner thighs were starting to pain me here. I did some extra hip stretches at yoga on Friday (entirely my decision) and I think this was a mistake. I started to drop speed from now.

Pershore Road Loop (1)

This was a hard part of the course. You ran all the way to Bournville down the Pershore Road (seeing other runners going back up the other side, until the zig-zag they took away from the road) then UP Mary Vale Road, down Linden Road, and down Bournville Lane, rejoining Pershore Road then going up the hill of Selly Park Road and down Kensington Road, rejoining Pershore Road (seeing fellow runners on their second loop) ALL THE WAY UP to nearly the ring road, then down through Highgate again.

But, I did see people I knew every half-mile or more. There were individuals outside houses, there were stray Bournville Harriers and Kings Heath Running Club folks, there were people from Run and Talk and parkrun, and this made it much more fun.

Mile 11 13:01

It got quite hard when there was no one going up the other side of the road. Still Up the hill towards Mary Vale then up Mary Vale. I told myself if I ran it this time, I could walk it next time. Fine. Made much better by seeing running club friend Sam yelling my name and encouraging me, then zipping back to Bournville Lane to cheer me again!maintaining my pace.

Mile 12 13:31 ()

Down Linden Road and Bournville Lane. This is where I saw a bevy of Kings Heath folks and Alan from Run and Talk which really spurred me on. It was much better supported here than other years, I felt. That was my last under 13:00 minute mile until Mile 22. I got to the 14 point (on my watch, which was out from the signs) in exactly 3 hours, so realised I had 3 hours to do 12 miles (15 minute miles) to get in under my PB. This seemed doable and it was easy to judge in 15-minute intervals how well I was doing against that.

Mile 13 12:33

There was a water table outside Masala Merchant along here. I asked the man serving people to pop some water in my lucozade bot

tle. All the while, my friend Louise was hopping up and down trying to get my attention. I turned, saw her: hooray!

Mile 14 13:31 (A mile of ups and downs, up Selly Park Road and down Kensington Road. See Mary Vale for my bargain with my future walking self. However, Bournville Harriers’ cheer station was at the top and my goodness they put on a good wall of sound, with cowbells and calling me by name – wonderful!)

Mile 15 13:19 (Picking it up again when I realised I was losing my pace, back onto Pershore and seeing others on their second loop.)

Mile 16 13:50 (Round again – we saw the sign, Marathon Loop or Finish, and obviously chose loop. Argh! A slightly dark moment.)

Cannon Hill Park and out by the cricket ground (2)

It was hard going round again. Although some families and kids were still out in Highgate, I saw Zippy and Lisa again at the water station and the lovely blokes from the fruiterers on Willows Road were there, the club supporters had gone into town to see people to the end (fair enough!) and when I got into Cannon Hill Park, it looked like Ali and Meg had also gone (they hadn’t, they had missed me by believing when I said I’d be coming through again. Finding out they did try to see me was a big boost, weirdly, afterwards). But I did see the Boldmere Bullets and Swifts cheering stations and had a sweet from Richard Swifts which helped get me to the KHRC cheering station.

At the cheering station, it was just as amazing, lots of people had gone to run the half marathon, others into town to catch people finishing, but one fast marathon man had come back to the park to cheer others on – how wonderful! Jenny leapt out at me as I shouted “Banana and hot cross bun!” She’d got the banana peeled by the time I reached her and although I had a horrible feeling I’d chomped it out of her hand, I did in fact break it off politely. Emma rushed up to check I was OK, I wailed, “I’ve lost my pace!” and pressed on.

Through the MAC car park, past people singing Crazy In Love which had to be joined in with, along by the abandoned ghostbusters car and I encountered my Shropshire Stumblers friends again. In the wastes of the cricket ground I came up behind an older chap in a “People’s Marathon 1982” vest – yes, he’d run the original Birmingham Marathon, how wonderful.

Mile 17 13:54 (Uphill, a bit lonely.)

Mile 18 13:39 (Downhill, a pause by the cheer station, then willed on by them.)

Pershore Road (2) and the half-marathon catches us

Onto the Pershore Road and bloody well along it again, however there was a couple singing an Erasure song which really cheered me. still seeing friends on the other side which was the lift I needed. Far fewer spectators now but as we were so spread out, a lot calling my name. This helps so much! I saw lovely Allie Livesley and husband Tim, who I’d cheered through the red start, which was a huge bonus.

Mile 19 13:55

I’d told myself I wasn’t allowed to walk until after I’d walked in the Reykjavik Marathon, which I thought was mile 14 and was actually Mile 12. Things were hurting now – bum, inner thighs, hams, calves – and when I got to the 19 mile marker I collapsed briefly into huge, racking sobs. I walked and two lovely ladies from Bromsgrove talked me through it. They were amazing and I am very grateful to them. I got going again, but that was hard as every single person in front of and behind me seemed to be walking. I tried to get people to run with me, to no avail, but set off again, slightly grimly.

Mile 20 15:12 (slowest mile. Slowest mile in Iceland was 15:38 and I had two over 15:00 minute miles.)

Then, two motorbikes zoomed past on almost the narrowest part of Pershore Road, flanking what looked like Will who often comes first at parkrun, the front runner in the half-marathon which started at 1.30. Then a bicycle with a rider shouting Keep Left. I immediately moved to the left and tried to tell other walkers / runners to do so, unfortunately many of them had headphones on. I was in marshal mode then I was all do your own race, Liz, so thought, but somehow shouted, “Not my circus: not my monkeys” and just carried on.

As we went round the Bournville Loop, the half-marathoners came thicker and faster. It was quite scary, and got more so as they rushed down Bournville Lane and onto Pershore Road. I want to emphasise here that it was not good for us OR them, and I felt for them as they had to negotiate people who were often right across the road, going slowly. Even people like me keeping well left could present an obstacle. But for me, I was running my race, trying hard and had people zooming past, almost running into me, and I was very scared at this point. Thank goodness, the lovely Becks from running club raced across the road, resplendent in her orange hoody, and ran beside me to keep me safe – she’d done this for a few of us who all came through one after the other. Amazingly timed and hugely appreciated.

Mile 21 14:31 (Up Mary Vale Road. But hooray, my friend (and fellow-runner) Daisy was on the corner with a cheerful shout!)

Mile 22 12:57 (Not bad for Mile 22! Down Bournville Lane. I was with a chap running for Macmillan who had a stress fracture: hope he did OK.)

Along Pershore again and Louise again – slightly less energetic this time:

Also, not many spectators!

Then it was up Selly Park Road – and BVH again, thank goodness. Stacey and Emma cheered me through and I ran up their bit of hill after walking up the main bit. Down again and more Pershore Road. But soon enough though we reached the split off point! I was however running in the left-hand gutter all the way, stepping into drains regularly, to keep out of the way of half-marathon runners. This took a real toll on my left knee and ankle. I did encourage (boss) half-marathoners who had stopped with a cheery, “I’ve run shedloads further than you and I’m old enough to be your MOTHER, come ON!” I was playing tag with a fellow KHRCer here (Ken?) who was working hard, too.

Mile 23 13:49 (Up and down, so not bad. At this point I knew I had my PB if nothing bad happened.)

Mile 24 13:33 (Last time, too, I felt stronger in the last miles, and enjoyed them. Apart from running in the gutter.)

Splitting off and the end game

Having seen the sweeper van going down Pershore Road (not on the same side as me), we pushed on to the gantry and this time took the Finish direction – straight on into town. This was a slower mile as I did tire a bit and was aching and still in the gutter. I kept saying it was OK to walk but I didn’t, I just kept trotting slowly on.

Mile 25 14:08 (This was slightly downhill so hm.)

Then it was time to finish! Well, I knew by now that my watch was coming up with the mile marker about 0.3-0.4 of a mile before each physical mile marker, so I’d be doing over 26.2 miles all told, so I kept pushing. Town came up fast, up through Digbeth and then eeeech up a tight slope by Selfridges onto Moor Street. I was gritting my teeth but enjoying it, big crowds, lots of shouts and I RAN up that bit, amazingly. Then there was a downhill and I was cry-laughing and got lots of shouts for being that kind of cry-laughing person finishing a marathon.

Except it didn’t finish. It went up again. My watch registered 26 miles. 26 miles showed up, still we went and went. I shouted “Where’s the effing finish?” sorry, I did. I think it might have moved on the map when they changed the route slightly at Balsall Heath Road. It went up. I checked my watch – coming up for 5:50:00 so all OK (previous PB was 6:01:12}. Push push, don’t cry, look for Matthew. I felt like I was flying and my last half-mile was a very good speed for me so I think I judged it OK in the end, even though I slowed for the second half. I saw Matthew, hooray, and didn’t shout any weird requests at him (last time, I asked him to take a photo of a random Alaskan … ). Couldn’t see the end, then there’s the end, showboat for cameras, look up as you come through the finish for the video, press the button on the watch, done!

Mile 26 13:47 (But a GAP of 12:50, a pace that allows for hills. Yo.)

Mile 26.4 11:57 (26.48 miles on the Garmin. Pleased I did have a kick at the end.)

You might be able to view a video replay of the route here.

Finish

The finish was quite well-organised. We were corralled into Marathon on the left, Half-Marathon on the right and I got my goody bag (plastic bag with water, Randoms sweets, a Trek bar, the usual leaflets and some seed cereal topping, a foil cape and a medal and tshirt). I then found Trudie, Dave, Sam and Helen, Trudie, Sam and Helen had come through together a few minutes before me. I went off to find Matthew and inhaled my banana and banana milk then we picked our way round the crowds (very tall man: “Did you do the full? Congratulations!”) and got the bus home.

There was a curry that night that we hobbled up to – lots of chat and “Did you see” and well dones. Everyone did so well and it was a privilege to see so many people achieve their first marathon. I have raised over £500 so far for the Birmingham Women’s Hospital charity which I’m very pleased about, too.

Result and thoughts

My time was 05:52:23 so an almost 9-minute Personal Best. I came in position 4769 out of 5203 marathon runners, which put me at the 91.65% of finishers (up from 1279 out of 1306 or 97.93% last time).

I had little chafing, thanks to the amazing product, Body Glide, and no blisters. My ankle and knee are a little sore, but not swollen or damaged as far as I can tell. I have inexplicable bicep and elbow pain in the arm that was not holding my drink.

Would I do another marathon? Yes. Would I do this one again? Not with this route or organisation between marathon and half-marathon.

It was MUCH easier doing my second marathon. I had my fuelling and hydration sorted out already and knew I could do it. I ran up more hills and did more yoga this time, and ran more in general, and all this served me well.

It was less scenic than Iceland of course, but the local support was aMAZing. Thanks to all who sponsored and supported me in whatever way. And sorry to anyone I’ve left out of this account!

 

 

Book reviews – Phil Hewitt – “Keep on Running”, Joel H. Cohen – “How to Lose a Marathon” and Lisa Jackson – “Your Pace or Mine?” #amreading #amrunning

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A little bit of a themed read and post today, and by the time this is published, I’ll have run and completed my second marathon, the Birmingham International Marathon [edited to add, I did it!]. This is the first time we’ve had a marathon in my home city since the 80s (some of my running friends ran those ones!) so it’s pretty special and exciting, and as a result of this, lots of my running pals have been inspired to run their first marathon, and someone’s worked out that over 1% of the whole field will be made up of our running club! I’ve been reading or re-reading a few marathon-themed books in the run-up (ha) to the event, so here’s a little cluster of reviews (two full, one re-read and a little mention, so hopefully not too much of a reading marathon (groan)).

Phil Hewitt – “Keep on Running”

(22 March 2017)

Subtitled “The Highs and Lows of a Marathon Addict”, this is the story of one man taking up (only) marathon running (I think he does one half), with a chapter each on some of the major and smaller races he’s taken part in. It does read like a series of race reports once he’s got the basic training in – because that’s what it essentially is – but they are interesting.

I loved the mentions of how the mass runners are racing with the elites, giving a real contrast as well with the fact that he usually trained alone. He talks of the anoraky way that you need to add up your timings in a race, and it was interesting to read about the usefulness but also joy-sapping nature of the Garmin GPS watch, which came in part way through his running career. I’ve gone from stopwatch to Garmin but I try to use the Garmin to keep a record and make sure I’m not overdoing it, but he becomes a bit addicted to watching his pace, one that’s very much faster than mine, I admit!

His notes on big city runs needing good quality routes hit home a bit when I thought of the somewhat “our industrial heritage gone to seed” and “here is this same stretch of road four times” nature of the Birmingham International Marathon: he definitely wouldn’t like our one! But I loved his different reactions to routes depending on his mood and the conditions going in – it’s very much a true and warts and all story.

Most of all, although he usually runs sub-4 hour marathons, I loved his sincere admiration for his father in law, Michael, and all the other runners who are out on the course for many more hours than he is (although he does talk about older or compromised runners which undermines that a little) and his description of Michael’s wonderfully supportive running club. His best race experience and the most heart-warming part of the book is when he witnesses Michael coming through the end of the Berlin marathon being interviewed by the press and to huge cheers from the crowd.

A bit blokey in parts and honest, but a decent read with a lot of recognisable stuff.

Joel H. Cohen – “How to Lose a Marathon”

(23 August 2017)

A book about another unfit man’s running journey and path to the New York Marathon, with the end of the book being devoted to the race report. The author is so self-deprecating about his “terrible” running and writing that it all gets a bit laboured, but there are genuinely funny moments, too. He says it’s the book he wanted to read when he started running and didn’t know what to do, and has useful explanations of terminology and some good points about training, although not set out in a way that would particularly help someone else (he records his own marathon training mileage with funny comments, but not really a standard one for someone to follow, for example, which is fine). I think basically he wanted a book that told him a real person could run, and this certainly does this (although his so slow he’s almost going backwards speed is actually the highest end of my speed spectrum with a fair wind and not for 26 miles). I do love that his main aim is to beat Oprah’s marathon time.

I liked his espousal of other running books, and the startling discovery, reading “Born to Run” (which I bought just the other week), that people actually enjoy running! And I loved his practice of popping some small mints into his pocket and bringing them out as “Hill Pills” that will magically help him up hills, something I might well try out. His nuggets of wisdom are great, too (you can’t run 5 miles until you’ve run 4, bad runs happen to good people, etc.) and he’s genuinely emotional and celebratory about the achievements of the people who come in behind him in the marathon: he’s at his best when he ditches the very silly stuff.

Lisa Jackson – “Your Pace or Mine?”

(25 July 2016)

A re-read of this excellent, wonderful book, which allayed my fears as a slow runner before my Reykjavik Marathon last year (with a much smaller field, I really could have come last; I didn’t) and was very helpful for calming any nerves this time round, too. I would recommend this to anyone who likes a running book. Sections on what running has taught Lisa about, for example, not giving up, lifesaving (but who saves whom?) and dreaming big are capped with other people’s real life stories, and there are laughs, tears and smiles of recognition throughout. I can’t think of a better book to re-read in the run-up to the big race.

A longer and more detailed review from last year’s first read can be found here.

The Dorling Kindersley Complete Running & Marathon

(some time earlier in the year)

Matthew picked this up for me from the Book People table at his work and I will admit to not having read all of it, but the section on marathon day was excellent, full of good, calm and sensible advice. I will go through all the stretching and other sections another time, but I do recommend this for newbie and experienced runners.

Book review – Simon Armitage – “Walking Away” plus as it’s about Cornwall … #books #amreading

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I took this book on holiday specifically to read in or coming out of Cornwall, as it’s set in Somerset, Devon and Cornwall, and in fact read it on the train home, going through those exact counties! A triumph of themed reading. And as he visits Godrevy, St Ives, Newlyn and Penzance in the book, I’ll share a few photos from our holiday after the book review.  There’s no sign of the reading / reviewing slacking off, by the way – it’s marathon time on Sunday and so I’m resting up as much as I can, and will have a v quiet Saturday, then I’ll be recovering from the big effort (I forgot to do that for a bit last time: big mistake), so I hope you all don’t mind almost-daily single-book posts as opposed to the doubles I used to do.

Simon Armitage – “Walking Away”

(21 January 2017 from Sian)

The follow-up to his wonderful “Walking Home“, but this time he walks the same distance around the South West Coast Path, starting in Minehead and doing the northern coast, giving poetry readings for whatever people feel they should pay as he goes along.

Full again of his laconic observations, people-avoiding and random poetry happenings, and with a new suitcase and old friends, this is a real joy to read – easy to read but not facile or shallow. I loved when the radar dishes he passes turn from menacing, sinister structures to white cereal bowls on the drainer after the washing up as he sees them from a different angle and in different weather conditions, and chuckled at his issues when presented with a special apple by an expert (he doesn’t like apples but when he goes to give it to a horse, remembers he doesn’t like horses much, either).

A few poems occur in the text (I think ones he wrote inspired by the journey) and more are mentioned – he does some Gawain and the Green Knight for some children at breakfast one morning, which was fun. Finding fewer birds inhabiting the cliffs than he’d expected, he treats us to a wonderful description of Bempton Cliffs, north of Bridlington, which we’ve visited a few years ago; it’s always lovely to find places you’ve been and things you know in a book, isn’t it (more of that later). He bemoans the up and down-ness of the endless river valleys working their way to the sea and longs for the moors, feeling ungrateful all the way – I love how he includes the bad as well as the good, or maybe I just like a moany traveller (cf. Paul Theroux).

The views of St Ives from Godrevy and visit to the seal beaches, with their charming signs asking people not to talk too loudly directly mirrored my experiences only that Wednesday, and it’s rounded off with a visit to the Scilly Isles, where I haven’t been yet (he doesn’t encourage me with his description of the boat over, although it’s lovely that he previously visited the shipyard where the Scillonian was built). A lovely and appropriate read.


A few photos that are appropriate for this post …

Mousehole in the sunshine, the furthest point from home on my 10-mile run on Tuesday. I banked lots of good memories and feelings for the marathon on this relaxed run which ended with a local friend joining me on her bike.

The Scillonian coming in to harbour:

Towards St Ives from Godrevy:

Godrevy Lighthouse (that’s Virginia Woolf’s lighthouse and I took the photo for Ali):

Godrevy seals. I heard them calling, too! A lovely friend took me there and it was magical.

Birds in Penzance, I love the fuzzy Ringed Plover in particular:

Reading on the prom: my happy place:

Sunrise from our holiday cottage:

Book review – Adharanand Finn – “The Way of the Runner” #amreading #books #running

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I’m hopefully caught up with the other book blogs I read by the time this comes out – I’d got really behind through a combination of working, running and reading, and felt bad. I hope my readers have stuck with me during this blog-reading rut!

Anyway, I read Finn’s book about running with the Kenyans recently and was a little unimpressed with his attitude to club runners / amateur runners / slow runners. But one commenter who has read both reassured me that he loses that attitude in this one, and I’d arranged a swap with a friend so we could both read both, so I decided to just go for it.

Adharanand Finn – “The Way of the Runner”

(borrowed from Jenny)

A little after his Kenyan adventure, Finn, about to hit 40, looks at how statistically good the Japanese are at marathons and moves there for six months to study their training and competitions. As you do. In particular he looks at – and tries to get into the world of – the immensely popular sport of ekiden, a long-distance relay competition that puts a high value on teamwork as well as individual performance and thus in some ways sums up how Japanese society works.

Finn handily runs into some Kenyans who have been recruited into company ekiden teams – because that’s how it works: people are paid a salary by the big companies to run for them, sometimes not even having to do any other work for the company. Like in Kenya, more than a couple of people at a time can actually make a living from running, and this is contrasted with the situation in the UK, which is fair enough. Meeting the Kenyan runners allows Finn to contrast the training methods used in the two countries – in Kenya based on the individual and their own motivation and involving running on trails and resting a lot more; in Japan based on teams being berated by a coach and running high volumes on hard surfaces (although this is beginning to change). There’s a concentration on high school and university competitions which Finn feels works towards a high burnout rate among young athletes, and he wonders how well Japanese runners could do with more trails and rest. He manages to talk to an independent runner (a rare thing) who backs some of this up.

Another aspect looked at is the fabled 1000-marathon monks. Do they really run 1000 marathons in 1000 days? (erm, you can probably guess the answer) It’s an interesting contrast with the ekiden runners.

Although Finn manages to join an older people’s running club (and meets another where many of the runners are over 70 – good for them!), his main effort is put into trying to break into bits of a notoriously closed society – and usually failing. This does lead to some interesting philosophical musings about training if there’s no race to do.

And, as promised, while it dwells on the decline in British fast long-distance running over the past few decades, it is not nearly as disparaging about club and amateur runners, and more self-critical about his need for records and times. So, a good read.

Book review – Adharanand Finn – “Running with the Kenyans”

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Look at this lovely set of almost completely random books I bought in Cornwall last October. A running book, a music bio, a school story and a Bloomsbury reprint. Anyway, today we have a running book that quite a lot of people I know have read and seemed keen on. I do like reading about other runners but I’m more used to them being a bit more understanding and supportive of other runners, something I loved about Jo Pavey‘s book, for example, where she shared how she loves taking part in mass participation races with all the club runners and other people who don’t run for a living, but for the love of it. This chap almost sees the point in a couple of places – maybe we are running for the joy of it, but is a bit more mean-spirited than I really like in my running books. Anyway, on with the review …

Adharanand Finn – “Running with the Kenyans”

(03 October 2016)

An interesting book in which the author ups sticks and moves himself and his wife and three children to Kenya in a last-ditch attempt to become a “proper” runner. His aim is to complete his first marathon in a few months’ time (a scary marathon where they have to clear lions off the course).

Training is very different there, with simple sessions involving effort but not as much constant recording of data on watches as you might think, but Finn is disappointed to see no evidence of the barefoot running he’s heard about and which the Kenyans are famous for (it turns out they build up stamina and toughness running to and from school etc. but are then put into trainers and taught how to negotiate races – I hope this isn’t too much of a spoiler and I won’t reveal the secret of their success, which Finn is obviously also looking for).

Running in Kenya is a way of life, you do it because you’re good at it and you have a chance of doing well for yourself. The only recreational runners are more well-off people who run in the city. And this is where the author loses me a bit, because even though he experiences what it’s like to run at the back of the pack over there, I didn’t feel he needed to be quite so disparaging and plain nasty about people who don’t run professionally in first world countries. I do understand that he’s contrasting the all-or-nothing world of living eating carbs and running training, hoping to be spotted and to win prize money with the life of a person who runs as a hobby, but he’s really pretty sneery about club runners (let alone non-club ones), grey-haired men with bandy legs doing the cross-country for the fun of it and – shock, horror – those people who can “only” run 10-minute miles. He also claims there are only a few dedicated club runners who turn out for races in all sorts of weather conditions, etc. Although, as I said, I do understand the contrast he’s highlighting, as someone who puts quite a lot of effort and energy into encouraging people along their beginner runner journey to the proven physical and mental health benefits of regular exercise, and someone who has gained those herself and is proud of her 6 hour 1 minute marathon, I think he could have been a little kinder.

I did enjoy the stories of the Kenyan runners and getting behind the scenes info on some of the people we’ve seen excelling in marathons etc. on our screens, and the description of the marathon as well as the way his children integrate into the village is very nicely done. I will be reading the next book, set in Japan. but with slight reservations.


Has a book annoyed you recently?

Race report – Reykjavik Marathon 2016

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I don’t do a report for every race, but this was my first marathon, so it seems relevant …

The training

I followed my own plan, doing a half marathon at least every month from September 2015 then building up my distances on my long runs each week, mile by mile. I was up to 16 miles on Easter Sunday when disaster struck and I fell over a dog, bruising and possibly cracking some ribs and getting a lot of scrapes and bruises. Six weeks off running, then 4 to 14 mile long runs in the next 6 weeks, followed by adding my yoga back in, and I was back on track. I added a bit to my long run every week, three weeks on, one week off, and did 2 hours of yoga per week. I had to train for endurance rather than speed, and would have added some track work, hill work and interval training had I not had the fall, but I did an 18 miler, two 20s and a 22.5 and felt ready.

The other important training was practising with the gear I was going to use – clothing, shoes, underwear, hair (I know, but a damp long ponytail end can give you a sore bit on your neck and anything else that can rub will), gels and food, drink, etc. I even set up a fuelling station in a bag in my recycling bin and went via the house at 13-16 miles to replicate that aspect.

This all paid off well.

The preparation

IMG_20160817_210431121Being a careful (or paranoid) person, I packed two lots of everything, wore my old trainers and made Matthew carry a pack of gels through security, too. But I did forget my water bottle! Fortunately, I had practised drinking Powerade out of their sports bottles, and was able to get that from the supermarket, so added my squash to that bottle for the first half of the race.

I also packed food for the night before – mixed beans, chopped tomatoes and a portion of brown pasta, plus Shreddies for the morning. I’d trained and raced with these foods, so went for it. My packing pile was a bit unusual, though …

The expo

I wasn’t nervous travelling and flying for once, which must have been because I was quite nervous about the event by this time. I’d had a long “taper”, which is where you conserve energy while keeping your legs ticking over, so as to reach a peak for the race, but a slightly misguided weekend in Cornwall followed by a frantic work week did for me a little.

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The Expo, where we picked up our numbers, was in a sports hall in Laugardalar. I’d never been to an expo before, and this was quite unnerving. I felt very small and old as seemed to be queuing up with a million tall young American boys.

IMG_20160819_155248128_HDRBut there it was done, number picked up, scanned for no apparent reason, Tshirt collected, exhibition looked round and done. Oh, I almost forgot to give in my pack of gels and food and drink which they were to give me at 21k. Oops. (Hollow laugh, see below). I checked with the info lady – yes, that would be there however long it took me to get round. Can you see where this is going?

We met up with the lovely Sushma from my running club and said hello – she was over for the half marathon with her whole family. Matthew then decided he needed to find the half-way point where he’d be waiting with my alternative fuelling pack. So he went off to do that and I settled down to some final training, drinking a choc milk and reading a running book.

IMG_20160819_163223232_HDRI actually ended up walking down this path to find Matthew as he’d discovered a nice shopping centre with a cafe. Very Icelandic it was, too, no menus in English, and Tonight With Jimmy Fallon on the telly with Icelandic subtitles – very good for my language learning! It was nice but scary walking down here, as I knew it was on the race route! Here’s the view, on a greyer, cooler day than it turned out to be on the day.

IMG_20160820_202651128We went back to the guesthouse we were staying in, on the bus, and I reaheated the meal I’d made for myself at lunchtime, and ate that fairly grimly, getting a bit nervous now but also excited. I accused a German couple of doing the marathon when I found them in the kitchen making pasta later – no, just Germans making pasta!

I settled down for an earlyish night – here are my essential pre-marathon supplies!

On the day

I got up at just before 6 and had a bowl of Shreddies and oats from the supplies brought with me. I was jittery but OK. Got dressed in all my kit and was ready to walk the 5 minutes to the start at just after 8am – the start was at 8.40. I got really emotional seeing all the people all ready and excited! Here’s a general view of the start, me indicating that I am a member of a running club, and my Before photo:

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I actually burst into tears at one point, but managed to say goodbye to Matthew, pull myself together, find the loos and get into my Purple Pen for the Slow, noting that “Slow” meant over 2:05 half-marathon so I’d have to be careful not to go out with them! I met a lady from nearby Telford Harriers and a lady from Essex doing her first half, and also ran into two American girls I’d met at the expo, one of whom had had her shoes stolen and was frantically looking for some to borrow! Oh no!

Lots of announcements in Icelandic and English (“a gun will be used to start the race” and it was) and we were off!

IMG_20160823_174246954_HDRWe started in central Reykjavik and ran across the lake and through a residential district where lots of people were out banging pots and pans and shouting encouragement. I yelled Goðan daginn to lots of them and got smiles, waves and laughs back. I also managed to have a conversation in Icelandic with two Icelandic runners, so that was one aim achieved right there! I also accidentally spoke wholly in Icelandic at a water station. There were quite a few half-marathoners with me, lots of nice Canadians. Water stations with water and powerade came quickly, and we were soon (dodging the traffic!) on the south coast of the peninsula, heading round there for the first time (so there was overlap but no laps as such). Memorable music from this part – “Love Will Tear us Apart” played by a live band, as well as the usual “Uptown Funk”. Hm. Not the first time I heard it, either. We took the shorter route across Seltjarnarnes this time, and the excitement and crowds started to diminish. Running up the north side of the city, along the coast, the views were AMAZING and made me well up – the view of all the mountains across the bay was exactly what I’d been looking forward to through all that training.

But. It was hot. Very hot. Reports say 16 – no way. I got sunburned and I never get sunburned. I realised it wasn’t going to be wonderful and I was going to have to look after myself.

As we approached the out and back you can see looping across the top, I got chatting to a lovely chap called Hardeep from Walsall, running in memory of his grandparents and for Stroke Association. We kept together for much of it, drawing apart then catching up, as happens. I also chatted on the way out with a lovely lady from a running club called Femirun in Norway. As I went, I told people about Lisa Jackson’s marvellous book and Ben the 401 marathons man (I was wearing a branded headscarf and Matthew had on the wristband I was given when I ran with Ben back in December). Going out, I spotted Sushma running back and we managed to shout to each other – hooray!

14054752_10154926782932119_647416405_nAfter the out and back was a nasty bit of hot road with no one else around me and I had a little “moment” here (OK, a cry). But I pushed on. That, at about mile 11 was the worst bit, I think. I had a little walk and told myself it was OK to walk-run from now on. So I did. Ran through Laugardalar and saw Matthew! Oh, the joy! See how much botter it was than in that photo from the previous day. This chap, from Hong Kong, there with his sister, was last finisher.

I then pushed on round the wiggly bit into the park you can see on the map. On my own but trotting along, found the 20k water station and had a banana segment, but where was my fuelling pack? They’re not here, they must be at the next one. OK. Round the wiggly bit and there’s Matthew, my hero, with my spare fuelling pack. No sign of any others so I took that, stopped for a chat and a hug, worried him by being quite warm, and pushed on. That was 14 miles and 3 hours in, so I had 3 hours to do 12 miles and not hit the cut-off time. Eeps!

I carried on through the parks – the next bit was where parkrun was run a few times and I remembered my friend Dave’s tales of getting lost there. I remembered his race position a bit wrong and it encouraged me to start picking off people. I was chasing a lady in pink for ages, then caught her, and that was the lovely Bente, from Norway again, who I ran with from about 16 miles to 24. She was brilliant, with her daughter on a bike riding up and down, and she was about my pace and level of exhaustion, so we encouraged each other along, round the big loop to the south, which ended up on the geothermal beach area – I knew this from a long walk with Matthew last time.

14088946_10154926774452119_1913275723_nBente and I picked off people as we ran, encouraging them to run with us and chatting about all sorts. We did the big loop round the Seltjarnarnes Peninsula – here’s me the next day in PERFECT running weather modelling an attractive green road arrow.

Matthew had manfully marched back across Reykjavik by now and was in Harpa, the opera house, sheltering from the sun and watching the tracking. We’d found there were timing mats every 10ish km and they updated to a page that recorded split times. All well and good, and he found there was a 37.2k one, i.e. 5k from the end (it was weird but nice having km markers, they come along a lot sooner than mile ones!).

By this time, Bente and I had tracked down “naked man” – a very nice Romanian chap called Adrian who was a little undertrained and deeply uncomfortable in the Tshirt from the Expo, so had taken it off – and Dave From Alaska, who was running this a second time. They were both run-walking too and we pulled them along with us so we were all together. But Bente wanted to hit that cut-off and could do it, whereas I knew I couldn’t (see below for Learning Point on this) and so she went on ahead.

14081471_10154926780842119_792852074_nThis pesky 37.2k mat then didn’t update online for 20 minutes! Matthew was doing his nut, knowing I’d finish if I’d done 32k and wondering where I had gone. Sushma was also tracking me, again with no luck. Here’s where it was, picture from the next day.

I was pleased to find that, although I was going slowly and was hot and tired, I didn’t hit the “wall” at all, keeping nicely fuelled, and I didn’t find the bit after 22.5 noticeably worse, so that shows I got my fuelling and training quite well arranged and was an achievement. Dave and I let Adrian go and he caught up with Bente. We plodded on, where’s Reykjavik, where, THERE it is, there’s the harbour. Here’s Icelandic Fish + Chips! Where are we going? What’s that truck doing? OK … one last walk for me and a run for Dave with a promise to photograph him at the end. And then I ran, not as emotional as I thought I’d be.

I ran up the finish straight, all alone! I could hear shouting from lots of people at a crossing all cheering me. I saw Matthew! I could hear Sushma, who had leapt the railings and got near the finish. Here I came …

14089351_981598105296749_1344752961_n (1)I crossed the finish with head held high – gun time of 6:04:54, chip time (start line to finish line) of 6:01:13 and time spent in motion around 5:53:00. I managed not to look at my watch as I crossed (for the photos) and had a hug from Sushma, babbling “Do I still get a medal?” which I did, then went up the funnel, found Dave From Alaska and was given my medal by a volunteer. I then found the promised pretzels, which I’d been excited about then forgot – v salty, no thanks!

Sushma took some After photos – behind me is Bente, who did make it in the cut-off time, hooray! She was absolutely fine, as we chatted to her after I’d gone up to the guesthouse, realised I hadn’t given in my timing chip off my shoe and come down again!

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So all was done, all was fairly good. I have to say I was NOT disappointed by my effort and achievement, but I was a b it disappointed that the weather was so different from what I’d expected, really like a June day here rather than the Octobery one I was expecting.

Learning points

I can do a marathon. Wow. And I didn’t really have any trouble with it apart from a few tears at desolate places. I was OK being on my own, but happy reacting to crowds. The big one for me was this, though: I cannot push myself. I have such a strong risk-avoidant personality and self-preservation strategy that if it comes to pushing it such that I might have to lie down afterwards or slightly hurt myself, I can’t make myself do it. I kind of knew this from parkrun and various races, and it does mean I don’t get hurt (I have been fine after the event), but it means I’ll never be much of a competitor. But I’m tough and determined and I’ve done a marathon.

Sponsorship

I didn’t ask for sponsorship before the run as I didn’t want the extra pressure.

I’ve since donated to four charities that mean a lot to me in celebration of completing the marathon – if you would have sponsored me if I’d asked for sponsorship, please do pop to one of them to make a donation (and mention it’s for this reason if you feel like doing that). The 401 Challenge,LUCIA (Life Uplifted by Change in Africa), Anawim and Gilgal Birmingham – links below if you’d like to donate.

The 401 Challenge is a guy running 401 marathons for Kidscape and Stonewall http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/…/showFundraiserPage.action…

LUCIA (Life Uplifted by Change in Africa) supports women and girls in Ethiopia http://www.luciacharity.org.uk/ (use the Donate Now button on this page). I’ve fun for LUCIA for years and years now!

Anawim – Women Working Together supports women and children in the West Midlands, especially women vulnerable to prostitutionhttp://anawim.co.uk/

Gilgal Birmingham is a refuge for women experiencing domestic violence http://www.gilgalbham.org.uk/ (donate under the fundraising tab)

Thanks

To the Kings Heath Running Club, Cannon Hill parkrun folks and all the rest of the running community who have supported, advised and encouraged me, Dave and Claire from yoga, 401 Marathons Ben for inspiration and author Lisa Jackson for last minute pep talks (emails). To Sushma and family for their support on the day – amazing. And to the wonderful Matthew for putting up with all the training, 3am breakfasts, moans, dirty running kit and stress on the day.

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The hardest run

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DSC_8400Running’s an odd thing. It’s at once intensely personal (even the most hardened club runner loves those solitary long runs) and intensely communal (the only sport in which complete beginners can run in the same race as elites – I’ve run in the footsteps of Haile Gebreselassie). Unless you’re at the top of your game, you compete against yourself – you celebrate a Personal Best not how many people you beat.

Running is also a community. I have gained great support from other runners, when learning to run, training, injured, running in races … When tragedy and horror struck the Boston Marathon yesterday, yes, I couldn’t help but be more shaken, overwhelmed and upset than I am by other acts of atrocity, other senseless violence across the globe. Because this was runners; worse, for me, this was runners at the back of the pack, my runners. So, sorry – I hate all acts of violence. I condemn all bombs and other devices. I would be horrified, personally, whatever country this was in.

I sought out other runners in the online community. Walkjogrun, an organisation I’ve known, followed and used to track my runs for years said on their Facebook and Twitter feeds “Today our love, our passion, our therapy was brutally attacked. Tomorrow, every runner should unite and run to show them they didn’t win”. Many people said they’d do it. Some people said there was a movement to run in a race shirt – any race shirt, if you had one. I thought this was a wonderful idea, and I did it. Even though I’m not doing a lot of running these days, even though I’m slow, even though some people would call it jogging, I identify as a runner, and I think I always will.

Today was the hardest run of my life. Harder than my five half-marathons. Harder than that day when I tore my calf muscle and nearly fainted on the pavement. It turns out to be difficult to run when you’re blinded by tears and choked by sobs. Yes, clichés: turns out they’re true.

I wore my hitherto unworn, unlaundered, keeping-it-as-a-mint-souvenir T-shirt from the first Birmingham Half Marathon. It has snot and tears on it now. I ran a beautiful route through my two favourite running parks and round my neighbourhood. I spoke to one other runner. A postman in a van and two cyclists gave me thumbs up.  A couple of cars bibbed their horns. Some walkers looked me in the eye and smiled. Two dog walkers stood aside respectfully as I wept in Highbury Park. I didn’t do it for that, obviously. I was pleased to be alone in the beautiful spring parks. I did it to honour the fallen, to honour those who might never run again, to honour the families and friends who support the community of runners. I did it to stand side by side with runners around the world. I feel I did something by doing that, something for myself, something for other runners, something to show those who visit atrocities upon the innocent that the running community will keep running, will keep strong.

There’s been so much opprobrium and criticism when I and others have expressed opinions in public recently, so I’m going to say this at the risk of looking defensive: I don’t want to make this political. It doesn’t much matter to me who did this. Yes, I care about other atrocities around the world, as I mention above. I also wrote this as a private meditation. It’s on my blog because I wanted to put it on record. This one’s not about the reader statistics.