Tuesday, 22 January 2013

I'll pace YOUR race!

Excellent news! As I’ve been hinting rather explicitly for some time, I am delighted to say that I’m currently training for the Virgin London Marathon, which I will be running as part of Runner’s World’s pacing team. This means I will totally relinquish all interest in my own racing, and will instead be aiming to run at exactly 10 minutes per mile, wearing some sort of cumbersome marker to signify the same, and finish in exactly 4:22. The idea is that anyone looking to run at that pace or finish in that time will look for me and use my position as a benchmark for their own pace. Simples.

Now running a marathon in around 4:20ish shouldn’t be a problem from a sporting/challenge point of view. As you know, I’ve topped out at 3:49 and barring a small hernia-related hiccup, can usually be found completing 26.2 miles in around about 4 hours (there, there and there). Trying to run a marathon in precisely 4 hours and 22 minutes, however, is a different story.

Imagine the scope of this challenge. Every single mile has to be perfect, completed in bang-on 10 minutes. This means I will have to constantly adjust my effort to account for inclines, corners, wind, congestion of other runners and probably plenty of other factors I haven’t even considered, just to iron out crinkles in my pace that would otherwise characterise a ‘normal’ race. My pace will have to be metronomic, even if all around me are runners speeding up and slowing down as they find their natural rhythms. If I run a mile 30 seconds too fast or too slowly, I will have to adjust for that over subsequent miles. I will have to become a marathon running machine equipped with some pretty snazzy maths skills.

It’s a bit daunting, now I think about it.

But it’s also incredibly exciting. Not only do I get the privilege of running the Virgin London Marathon, probably the most iconic of all iconic sporting events in this country, but I get to run it in a unique and fascinating context. My assigned pace and finish time are likely to attract a large number of first-timers, which means I get the further privilege of meeting, chatting to and supporting scores of beginners to achieve success. I get to be part of the Runner’s World team, running the VLM in a network of the most prominent people in British distance running. What an incredible opportunity.

My training for this will be simple: a holistic marathon build-up in which every long run is done at 10 minute:miles, which should also produce a hearty base from which to plan for The Wall Run, my first ultra which is scheduled for June (more anon.).

I am ludicrously excited.

Happy running


2013 to date: miles run - 64.03, parkruns: 1, miles biked: 3

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Race Report - Hamilton Island Fun Run

It will not surprise you to learn that part of my pre-honeymoon planning was to find out if I could get into any races in the Whitsundays, Sydney or Queenstown during our three-week trot around Australia and New Zealand. Remarkably, the Crew Chief didn’t seem fazed by this suggestion – possibly because she had already done the same research and concluded, like me, that there were none going...

I had just missed a half marathon on Hamilton Island, our flight schedule didn’t allow for a trip to Sydney parkrun, and there was simply nothing in Queenstown to satisfy my racing needs. To be honest I didn’t really need to race. I’ve done plenty this year, but I like to boast about having crossed finish lines in England, Scotland, France and the USA, so adding Oz or NZ to that list would have been ace. But whatever, honeymoons aren’t for selfish things like racing.

So imagine my surprise and delight when I picked up the What’s On guide in our suite in the Whitsundays to discover the Hamilton Island Fun Run – Friday at 5.30pm. I’m up for that.

Obviously I had brought some running kit with me and so was totally ready. The 29 degree heat and warm breeze were still pretty significant in the early evening, and the beers I’d had with lunch may not have been a great idea, but this would probably be my only opportunity to race in this part of the world for years to come. I called the sports centre to try to suss the race out:

Me: How far is it?
Reception: It varies. Usually between 5k and 5 miles.
Me: Er, right. And how many people do it?
Reception: Oh quite a few. Somewhere between 5 and 15.

This last comment is indicative of how small Hamilton is. Clearly this was going to be a doddle.

There were 12 runners. I started chatting to one, a local resident of seven years and aspiring professional Ironman. Intimidated, I chatted to another, a tourist who had just run his first Boston Qualifier. Getting desperate, I spoke to a couple of girls, both staff members who had recently stepped up from half marathons to Olympic distance triathlons. Looking around, it dawned on me that I was clearly in for a kicking. Everyone here was some sort of hyper-serious athlete. Balls. Just before the off a retired couple arrived and I breathed a sigh of relief that I wouldn’t finish dead last. Then I noticed their lean, bronzed Aussie bodies and noted that they had spent all day hiking the island’s remote trails before hitting the gym. Hmm.

This wasn’t really a race. Three of the staff – Ironman and the triathlon girls – knew the route and would ‘guide’ the fun run around the island. No distance markers, no exact distance, no marshals, no water on the course, no worries. Very relaxed. Very Australian. I loved it already.

The pack shot off at a blistering pace. An Aussie tourist joined the race a hundred metres after the start, having missed the rendez-vous time, and he easily fell into step with the faster runners. A divide quickly emerged, around six of us pushing the lead with the triathletes, and the Ironman dropping back to guide the senior citizens. We hauled ourselves up hills, dripping with sweat within moments, before careering around the marina, past beaches and luxury yachts and palm trees and eucalypts. At one point a wallaby burst out of the bush and ran across the road directly in front of us. What a fantastic little event.
Hamilton Island: a bit of alright. Note the very strong, very warm breeze too!
 The lead group dropped two runners around halfway, leaving just four of us running in a square formation and pushing the pace – the triathlon girls, the Late Tourist and me. The girls repeatedly pulled away from us every time they swerved around corners, which Late Tourist and I overshot (not knowing the route) and had to backtrack.

With only the vaguest notion of how far we had run or how far we had to go, I was starting to flag until one of the girls allowed that there was less than a kilometre left, and that there were no more corners to take before the finish. She told us this, jokingly, ‘in case we couldn’t keep up and needed to walk’. Incensed, the pack gathered pace, and suddenly four became three as one of the girls dropped back. Sweating, lurching, panting heavily, the three of us jostled elbows in a classic finish that really should have been televised. We saw the finish line – or rather the STOP roadsign which served the same purpose – and the sprint was on.

I finished second. Late Tourist took the win by a nose, with triathlon girl a few seconds behind us. No medal, no number, no time, no crowds, no worries.

Very happy running indeed.


2013 to date: miles run - 19.98