Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Cleared for take-off

Wonderfully, terribly, thankfully and astoundingly, the San Francisco Marathon is very nearly upon us (me). This will probably be my last post before the race as we’re flying out tomorrow and will be cramming in as much of the city as we possibly can before the main event on Sunday (whilst, obviously, avoiding spending too much time on my feet...). So a very quick round-up of the last few bits and pieces I’ve been doing pre-marathon.

Re-reading all of my running books
If you haven’t already had your life changed by Christopher McDougall’s Born To Run, or had to pick your jaw off the floor at the exploits of Dean Karnazes, then I strongly recommend you give them a read when you next need some running inspiration. However, having ploughed through my (extensive) collection of these and other works,  I’ve promised myself that I’ll read something else in the next few days to let my mind relax a little.

Re-reading my marathon write-ups
I find strange comfort in re-reading the slightly mournful tomes I wrote after Paris 2009 and Brighton 2010. Perhaps it’s reassurance that if I could do it then, I can do it now. What I’m really looking for is an honest appraisal of the pain involved in the latter miles, which I’ve never really produced, too cowardly to write it down in case it puts me off forever. We shall see if this changes this time...

Watching all my favourite running clips on YouTube
There are far too many for me to include here, so I thought I’d just give you one link – this is a trailer for an upcoming feature-length film about the Western States Endurance Run (or Western States 100). I posted a video of this race a while ago but have been frustrated ever since that it didn’t really do the event justice (as I imagine it, anyway!). This one does, watch it right now:

Getting my gear in order
There’s a lot of it. My Union flag running vest (will this be a British record for the slowest marathon ever run in a GB vest?), shorts, cycling shorts, twin skin socks, running shoes with new, more-fun laces, energy belt loaded with gels, long-sleeved t-shirt to wear whilst warming up, gloves for same, sunglasses and back-up versions of everything just in case... Also, inevitably, packing for the rest of the holiday. I hate packing.

Yes, I know I won't be able to read it. 
I'll know it's there, though...

Sorting out insurance
I have worldwide annual travel insurance. It came with my bank account. After much hoo-ha I finally managed to establish that it doesn’t cover marathon running because it’s classed as an ‘event’ and I will be ‘competing’. The mindless drone on the phone was utterly certain that since it isn’t a charity event, it must be a competitive race. My endless protestations that it’s a recreational run and that this is, for want of a better word, my hobby, fell on deaf ears and I was cast aside. I called our travel agent, who was quite happy to provide cover, conversely, as long as it wasn’t a competitive race and I didn’t expect to win. Madness.

Back to the physio
I’ve been having some back and shoulder pain whilst running recently. Nothing debilitating and quite tolerable, but not ideal for a marathon run, so it was back to the physio for a full hour’s sports massage of ultimate megadeath. This is always a good idea and worth it for a pre-race tune-up, as the therapist also worked out the niggling pains in my ankles and freshened up my legs in the process. And of course, it hurt like hell. It feels like she has replaced my neck with someone else's.

A very small amount of running
I am doing my utmost to avoid ‘taper madness’, a condition used to describe runners who panic that their taper weeks are too light and feel like they have to go for long runs, partly as prep for the race itself but perhaps also to define themselves as runners/marathoners. Those who succumb sometimes take themselves out for long runs, tiring their legs before race day and negating all the benefits of the taper. I can’t say I’m desperate to go out for long runs, but I do feel quite compelled to go out and run hard for 10 miles or so of an evening. Must resist.

And I mean actually stretching, not just telling people that I do. OK I’ve only been stretching a bit. Alright I’ve stretched properly twice. And by ‘properly’ I mean a bit. A little bit.

...and relaxing
Other than eating, there's not much I can do to influence how my race goes on Sunday. My training is done, I'm reasonably fit and mostly not ill, everything else is up to race-day karma. PB or PW, I'm going to have a great race.

See you on the other side


2011 to date - miles: 789.29, parkruns: 6, races: 3, miles biked: 68.94, metres swum: 1225

P.S. For post-race updates, I'll post on twitter first, probably around 6pm GMT. Follow me @davidjhaines.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Why I love (and hate) going to the doctor

Earlier this week, during my traditional pre-marathon crazy hypochondriac freakout where every niggle and ache must be face cancer or bubonic plague or megadeath, I actually identified a genuine health concern that merited quite a swift trip to the doctor. Nothing major, just a stomach upset which persisted over a few days, but enough to push me towards the waiting room post haste.

Sparing you the details, the doctor was quite confident about the cause and prescribed some pills to settle my stomach. While I was there, in a killing-two-birds-with-one-stone mentality, I decided to mention the pains in my chest, which have been present in one form or another over the last two years but recently had something of a resurgence. It was at this point that I had to admit that I was planning to run a marathon in just a few day's time.
With thanks to www.savagechickens.com

I braced myself for the usual abuse. Doctors hate runners. We are terrible patients, refusing to rest, refusing to do anything which compromises our training. Most of our ailments are caused in some way by running, or could be cured by desisting from running, neither of which we are prepared to accept. Marathon runners in particular must be a nightmare to treat - why on earth are we planning to put ourselves through an ordeal which is guaranteed to put our bodies under excessive stress and trauma? The doctor draws in air through clenched teeth, like a builder sizing up a hefty quote for a small conservatory, and shakes his or her disapproving head, wishing that you stayed relatively fit but didn't go so far as to actually run races.

But nothing happened. My doctor smiled and nodded approvingly. She listened to my chest with a stethoscope, calmly remarking 'you've got a good slow heartbeat'. 'You're obviously very fit'. 'You'll be fine to run the marathon, you clearly know what you're doing.'

Silently I whooped and motionlessly I leapt around the room in joy. A medical professional was endorsing my fitness level and general lifestyle! I wasn't being told off for putting myself through a dangerous ordeal, I was being commended for my clean and healthy existence. I was completely made up.

Because of the chest pains, and just to be sure, my GP referred me to the hospital for an ECG. The process was fairly quick and ruthlessly efficient, and as the technician gazed approvingly at the machine's printout and told me all was well, I wondered whether my doctor had sent me here just to show off how fit and well her patients were. Fine by me.

For those reasons I truly love visiting my doctor. Her respect for amateur athletes is huge, and I feel vindicated and jolly when I see her. But I can't help but notice that she hasn't actually treated my chest pain, other than with compliments. To her, perhaps, because the cause isn't immediately evident and the authority of the ECG is reliable, there must be nothing wrong with me. Maybe she's right.


But what if it *is* megadeath?

Happy hypochondria.


2011 to date - miles: 774.37, parkruns: 6, races: 3, miles biked: 58.38, metres swum: 1225

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

The Blessed Taper

After six months of (quite) dedicated and (mostly) consistent training for the San Francisco Marathon, this week I have finally reached the blessed taper.  Those 27 weeks since January 3rd of gradually increasing mileage and diligently logging training sessions culminated in Saturday’s Last Long Run, a pleasing and relatively fast 20+ miler composed of consecutive 9 and 11 mile loops, briefly stopping off at home in between to enjoy my own personal aid station (wo-)manned by my long-suffering Crew Chief. Despite the heat, humidity and ever-present hills, which I had brutally decided to cover in the latter loop, I finished strong with a smile on my face and clicked off some pretty fast miles. Even accounting for the pit-stops, seemingly endless traffic lights and popping into a running shop to buy an energy gel, I managed to average 8:27 m/m, which, since you’re wondering, would equate to a 3:41 marathon were I able to sustain it for the last six miles.

Click to enlarge.
So now I’ve reached the taper, ready for the gentle cruise down to race day, focusing on stretching, hydrating, relaxing, sleeping and not running very much at all. Sounds great!

However, when still a little fuzzy in the post-run glow, I thought I’d better look up my plan for the taper as I don’t seem to remember what an optimum schedule would look like. I was aghast at what I discovered. Week one of the taper (this current week) is supposed to be 80% of my peak mileage. That means a 16 mile long run at the weekend and some pretty hefty outings on other days. Next week is 60% of the peak mileage, which still equates to a 12 mile long run – actually rather a long way in the real world. Sure, it’s a big reduction, but nothing like the walk in the park I had been picturing... In fact according to the plan I still have 70-80 miles to cover before race day, which is really quite a hefty distance. Sigh.

Then I made another, even more extraordinary discovery. I haven't actually left myself enough time to taper. Instead of leaving three weeks of training plus race week, I mistakenly have just left myself two weeks of training plus race week. Whoops.

But that’s OK. It’s less than three weeks to SF now, which surely means that my rest and relaxation period is right around the corner.


Because, like an arse, I have signed up for the Great North Run just seven weeks after ‘the race even marathoners fear’. Worse still, I seem to have set myself a ridiculous challenge and intend to run it barefoot in aid of the Alzheimer’s Society (FYI, if you haven’t already, now would be a good time to visit my justgiving page, make a donation and remind me why I agreed to this idea...). So it’s ten weeks until I can relax, right?


Two weeks after the GNR I am running the Loch Ness Marathon with my dear friend Mr Ben Nicholson. It will be rather fun, unless of course he’s in a hurry, in which case it might be quite difficult...

I’ve no idea what my training’s going to look like over the next twelve weeks, oddly there don’t appear to be many online training resources designed for people running two marathons and a barefoot half-marathon in the space of nine weeks. Perhaps I should corner the market and write my own? It’s unlikely to be a commercial success but maybe it will attract a cult following.

So 12 weeks. Just three short months and then I can relax properly, ease off the training, try to grow back some of the bits missing from my feet and generally attempt to restore myself to full working order. There’ll be no races in the calendar and I’ll be free to kick back and ignore the pestering of my running shoes. I definitely won’t be spontaneously signing up for anything else. No sir-ee. Not even one.


Happy running


2011 to date - miles: 741.32, parkruns: 6, races: 3, miles biked: 54.38, metres swum: 1225

P.S. I'm starting to panic a little bit.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

'Target Marathon pace'

I'm burnt out. Consecutive 40+ mile weeks, compounded by swims, bike miles, tennis and working full time have left me tired and feeling like I'm running on empty. Luckily, with just 3 weeks and 5 days to the San Francisco Marathon, this week is the last big training week before the taper. Right now, it feels like the taper can't come soon enough. I pounded out a quick 10 miles this evening, and before the week's out I'll run two 4 mile max efforts, one 8 mile fast run and 20 miles at the weekend at target marathon pace.

Target marathon pace. So easy to type, so difficult to define...

Because most people can't just run a marathon every day, it's hard to accurately gauge what you're capable of achieving and therefore what pace you should be aiming at. One way is to use a running calculator, like the one available on marathonguide.com. Unfortunately, I pretty much refuse to believe what they've predicted for me based on my half-marathon PB:

Screenshot from marathonguide.com, plus commentary...

3:18! Rubbish. There's absolutely no way I can run that time. 

Judging by my recent runs of 16-18 miles, I could be looking at 8:10 - 8:43 minutes a mile, which would equate to a marathon in 3:34 - 3:48. I would be utterly ecstatic with 3:48. I'd be incredibly happy with 3:59, to be honest. I'd be pleased to run a new PB, ie under 4:05. 

You know what?

I'm going to be happy to finish.

If the hills or the jetlag or the ridiculously early start conspire against me and I run some distinctly average time then who gives a damn? You? Probably not. If you do, I don't care. Me? Not a jot. I'm going to San Francisco, baby! I'm going to run 'the race even marathoners fear'. I'm going to run my third marathon in three years. It will be amazing if I run 3:34 or 4:33. 

I'm going to be very, very happy to finish. After years of fretting about cracking four hours, I can't tell you how much of a relief that is.

Happy running.


2011 to date - miles: 698.97, parkruns: 6, races: 3, miles biked: 54.38, metres swum: 1225

Friday, 1 July 2011

My Wimbledon wildcard looks unlikely

On Wednesday, when in a suggestible mood due to the cleansing afterglow of a run/swim/sauna session, I agreed to play tennis. Enthused by the annual scenes of glory and dismay at SW19, and encouraged by the suggestor’s promise that he’s rubbish at tennis, I leapt at the chance. Let’s examine the many ways in which this was ill-advised...

When I finally found my tennis racket, wedged underneath the wardrobe in the spare room and caked in dust, I struggled to remember when I last played a match. Well, we moved into this flat in March last year, which is when I must have stashed the racket under the wardrobe. No tennis since then. I went to Center Parcs in October 2009, but I think we only played badminton on that trip. I recall taking my racket to University in my first and second year, only to remark that the damn thing never left its case so I didn’t bother in third and fourth. In sixth form I played rugby in the winter and swam in the summer. Naturally, the further back I go in my mental diary the hazier things become, but one thing remains constant: a notable lack of tennis. It is entirely possible that I have not swung a racket in anger since it was mandatory at school. I think that was the summer of 2003, but it may even have been earlier.

Eight years. That is how long ago I can reliably determine that I might have played tennis. Oh dear.

Of course, as you might have surmised given that there are four weeks and two days to the San Francisco Marathon, running is still very much my priority. So I pounded out the planned seven miles this evening immediately after work, taking a lovely, almost entirely uninterrupted route along the canal and then the Water of Leith. On finishing I dashed into the flat, changed into some clean kit, grabbed the trusty dusty racket and bolted straight back out of the door. I arrived at the court a little burnt out, thirsty and sweaty, toting a racket that needed restringing back when Martin Johnson lifted the Rugby World Cup, eight years out of practice but quite keen for a knockabout.

Now I don’t know if you’re cleverer than me, but I’m guessing that you probably are. I imagine that if you were in my shoes you probably would have anticipated that about an hour after most people get off work on a sunny summer’s day, which also happens to be the second Thursday of Wimbledon, would be a stupid time to just turn up at public, free-to-play tennis courts hoping for a quick match. Well you would have been right. A gang of tennis-playing kids dominated two of the four courts, regularly rotating their annoyingly accomplished games between them. The other two courts had singles matches on them with varying degree of skill on show, and crucially both courts already had people waiting to use them.

Inverleith really is lovely.
James (whose idea this was in the first place) and I decided to ‘get our eye in’ by playing on the grass next to the court, using the area between try line and dead ball line of one of Inverleith’s rugby pitches. We should have used a much bigger, more open and less heavily-trafficked space, but our British queuing instincts told us that we needed to stay as close as possible to the tennis courts if we were to continue to assert our claim to one of them. ‘Getting our eye in’ involved a lot of swearing and the kind of play which would be great if the courts happened to have ping-pong nets installed, an over-ambitious attempt at a through-the-legs classic and a pleasing rebound off the posts. But not much promise...

After 20 minutes or so both of the grown-ups’ courts vacated and their new tenants took up residence, so we absorbed the primary queuing position and stretched off. On the left court were two young lads, probably aged 18 or 19, playing a fairly talented game punctuated by hilariously misplaced American sporting bravado. There were fist bumps and high-fives and the phrase ‘aawsum service’ bandied about. The less brash of the two jokingly replied ‘Hawkeye’ to a call of out, to which the more brash replied ‘Hawkeye says you’re gay in the face’. Brilliant.

On the right were another two chaps, probably more like 20 or 21, who had led childhoods far removed from the testosterone-fuelled sporting prowess of their neighbours on the left. We christened these two Tim and Andy. Tim had checked shorts, a football shirt and a pair of Vans trainers to complement his fluffy blonde hair and thick glasses, whilst Andy was sporting a beginner’s beard, suspicious haircut, calf-length cut off jeans and a studded belt. He went for plimsolls and mismatched socks as footwear, neatly topped off by an undecipherable tattoo on the back of his leg. Both played with wooden rackets and slightly emo expressions, to make it clear that they were only participating ironically, or somehow under duress. We were to witness hipster tennis.

You get the idea.
It transpires that hipster tennis is characterised by two things: complete lack of skill coupled with fascist adherence to the rules. So when Tim’s service game produced three consecutive double faults (serving at 7mph from four feet past the baseline), only to finally get one over the net but ever so slightly long, Andy refused to return it and instead bleated ‘Out!’. Tim was crestfallen and proceeded to complete the inevitable fourth double fault, conceding the least noteworthy game of tennis in the history of humankind. Andy’s service was no better. In fact it might even have been worse. These were monumental breaks of serve, where it was rare for either of them to win a point from anything other than a double fault or unforced error. Tim actually sighed at one point and said ‘I’m quite bored’. The crowd went mild.

James and I stretched, warmed up, heckled quietly and did other things to indicate that we thought they should hasten to the pub asap. It didn’t work.

If anything, Andy and Tim slowed down the pace of their already slothly game. Between points they would wander aimlessly around the court, wistfully collecting the many lost tennis balls, or exchanging a mournful word with one another about life and loss and other non-tennis related things. I think Andy even stopped for a few moments to see if he could hear his beard growing. Tim wrote a little poem in the interim. I may be exaggerating here, but you get the picture.

It was during one of these endless intervals that James and I simultaneously snapped. We stood up, stretched, and asserted as much manly sporting dominance as we could muster. We actually got as far as the baseline before the hipsters noticed. They promised they only had ‘one or two games’ to go, and with gentlemanly dignity and silent rage we let them play on. Needless to say, the two games took about six weeks to play, but at last, we were on.

Predictably, our one-set game was unremarkable. We were both hungry and tired, having waited an hour for a court. My post-run endorphins had worn off and I was flagging. James and I both had fairly atrocious service games, but James managed to convert most of my serves into thousand-mile-an-hour returns, which I could only really watch in admiration. A few interesting rallies punctuated the game, but in reality our play was probably only slightly more interesting than the hipsters’, and without the benefit of diverting tattoos. Our set finished 7-6 (7-4) to James – we reckon only two games actually went with serve. My Wimbeldon 2012 wildcard looks unlikely, but I could probably manage another set or two in the near future.

Nice to see you, tennis racket, I promise to use you again before 2019.

Happy Wimbledon.


P.S. My review of the Mull of Kintyre Half Marathon & 10k is out now in the August edition of Runner's World. Check it.

2011 to date - miles: 665.41, parkruns: 6, races: 3, miles biked: 53.38, metres swum: 1225