A sort of homecoming

Just a few days ago I wrote that I pretty much couldn’t be bothered at the moment which very accurately summed up my level of motivation for training right now. I left it with a pretty open ended ‘what’s next…’.

The answer very obviously was the Manchester 10km last Sunday. This is Europe’s largest 10km which temporarily turns my local neighbourhood into a festival of running for a morning once a year. The city centre on race day is awash with slightly nervous looking people decked out in their finest Lycra. A start range of 09:55 to 12:30 gives some indication of the size of it and you really can’t walk around town without bumping into runners or their supporters. It also feels like Europe’s most expensive 10km (seriously for £38 I could get a taxi round the course and have change for a couple of beers and a bit of food at the finish), it’s too busy, the course isn’t that exciting and it’s one of my favourite events (I’ve only done the hellrunner events more). It’s the event that started me off running, my first real race and it started when I walked Pilla to the start of her first 10km here and thought ‘baaaahhhhhh I want a go!!!’. I have some great memories – from standing at the start line a couple of weeks after my first marathon to running round it twice with Nic last year just before the ironman.

Before I lined up on the Sunday I thought I should fit in another bike ride, and had a lovely 66 mile trundle through south manchester and Cheshire. It wasn’t very fast (it wasn’t fast at all) but I enjoyed it, the scenery was lovely and I got to nosey in quite a lot of fancy houses. The rolling countryside between manchester and Macclesfield is some of my favourite cycling ground. It’s somewhat undulating but not hilly, it’s quiet and rural and just very pleasant. Post ride we rushed off to the allotment to spend a few hours catching up before the holiday. After getting back and packing we were pretty beat, so given the lack of training and the tiredness I wasn’t expecting much the next day.

Here’s the thing though – I have done a crap-load of training. Yeah in the last 3 or 4 weeks it’s been pretty hard going/non-existent but that doesn’t take away from the 6 days a week none-stop effort since mid December. My head was doing it’s best to forget the training and just remember lazing so at about 10:40 on Sunday I really wasn’t sure what to expect.

42 minutes and 11 seconds later I had my answer, a PB by over two minutes. I didn’t really set out for a time just to run at a decent-ish pace. After a km at about 4:05 I figured I would try and keep that up which worked pretty well. I was a little in shock with the time as I crossed the line but it did make me wonder how fast I could go with a consistent block of speed training – I think sub 40 from here seems within reach.

This is another reason why I love running (number one obviously being all the food it lets me eat) when you train hard you get better and there are always new goals to set, whether it be longer races, faster races or just to do a race. The training can also mentally challenge you – and sometimes it’s that mental strength that gets you through races. And sometimes, like on Sunday, you and your legs just remember they really like running.

So….

It happened. I’m now nearly 2 weeks post Milton Keynes and my total running amounts to a whopping 14 minutes. I just can’t be bothered at the moment. Now normally that would be fine post marathon, you are totally allowed to take time off to recover and you can’t be on it all the time. It’s lovely taking a break to remember why you love it.

However, it’s not so lovely having your ‘can’t-be-arsed-right-now’ break when you have 2 weeks to go before a half ironman. Not only is my running bothersome and generally crappy, I have hardly been out on my bike – I’ve been outside on it twice in the last 6 months. On top of that my swimming hours have been almost nothing.

Brilliant!

Looking at the positives I get to go back to where the magic happened last summer which I’m dead excited about. I’m not excited about the actual race, but it should be a pretty good atmosphere. Last year this race was my absolute perfect race, lovely sunny day and each of the three events I smashed my expectations. After 25 weeks of solid training that I guess was to be expected. After some generally crappy training lately I know I wont be close to that.

After this I think I need some downtime to dream it all back up again…. What’s next….

Milton Keynes Marathon

So I talked about it a little in this post but until about two days ago I wasn’t really looking forward to the Milton Keynes Marathon. I was unprepared, I hadn’t taken it very seriously and if I hadn’t paid for the hotel in advance I probably would have called it off. I don’t know if it was the blog (it helped), the race mode you go into when you have an event coming up or the excellent support I got off Twitter but by Saturday I was looking forward to it and by Sunday night I was pretty excited.

And so it turned out that today was just about the most I’ve enjoyed an event since the outlaw half which was just about as prefect a race for me as you get. As I sit here stuffing my face with ice-cream after drinking beer I have a big smile and am currently on a massive race day high.  Why?

It was just a lovely day. We stayed in a nice hotel at the start/finish which made race morning pretty much zero effort and no stress. Then we met up with the best people on twitter before the race. We tried at Silverstone and failed, but I think today was the the perfect day for it (well it wasn’t freezing for a start, and the atmosphere was lovely) and it all worked really well. Hugs a plenty, lots of smiles and a nice reminder that twitter is amazing for meeting like minded people.

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The hour before the race went super quickly and before I could say ‘I’ve not run properly for weeks’ we were lining up at the start line. I haven’t run an actual race with headphones for years and it was kind of fun and kind of odd at the same time to do it today, but the Smiths coming on just before the start was ace. I’ll take your carnival race start atmosphere and raise it with a bit of Morrissey moaning. Perfect!

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The first few miles you run into MK central and its basically running on a dual carriageway. I’m ok with this, it’s never going to set the soul into overdrive but it’s nice enough running along tree lined roads. There were a few up and down loops on side roads which were fine, but it seemed like every road had a good downhill slope then up hill slope. Nothing major but I should have taken note because later in the race those things would look like nothing!

Anyway I was pootling along at just under 8 minute miles, and although my legs felt a little tight, it was much better than on the last few runs and I figured I’d just go with the flow until it started hurting. The worlds best support crew popped up with some serious volume at about 1.5 miles then at about 7 miles on the run back from MK. I probably should have some sort of mental strategy for marathons by now, but I basically just run until it hurts. Today I was thinking that if I was still running at 20 I would be in good shape for a PB.

Somewhere at about mile 12 I caught up with the 3:30 pace group, this was fun as I’ve never really run with one and for a while I was really thinking I could keep with them till the end. I was feeling pretty good at this point even if the endless ups and downs of underpasses were a bit grinding me down. It was pretty much exactly what I was looking for in a race: small field, pretty friendly local support and a nice day. It was just a run and I was definitely enjoying it.

The bit around a lake (Willan Lake) was pretty sweet as there was quite a bit of support and as I got through 16, 17, 18 miles I genuinely thought under 3:30 was possible. I shouldn’t have counted on this though because very quickly at about mile 20 I started struggling. I really wanted to stop and walk but every time I tried my flipping legs just kept moving. I kept moving to one side of the path and slowing right down but for a good 2 miles or so my legs just refused to stop moving. Weird? Yes. Responsible for my time today? Almost certainly.

There’s some really nice bits round here, along off road bits, along the canal, I just thought it was a really pleasant route. Anyway…

So I tried for as long as I could but somewhere at about mile 22, when rounding a corner and seeing a steep uphill after an underpass I had to. At about this time we got to a downhill section and just as I did the flipping london marathon theme came on. I forgot I bought this and put it on my running playlist but it brought a huge grin to my face. Downhill section? Check. Running a marathon? Check. 22 miles in and still enjoying it? Abso-flipping-lutley-check.

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On one of the many (many) downhill, into underpass, up again, I spotted (heard) Pilla, Lozza and Rae and as they spotted me at a good time I was running well and it gave me a massive boost. I knew 3:30 had gone at this point but I was not going to let 3:40 leave me again….

… well that lasted for about another half mile or so before more run-walking. I was only walking in really short sections, pretty much just the uphill bits but it did mean my time was clicking away. The last mile after 25 was a pretty desperate ‘arrrgh I need to speed the f*@!-up!!!’. The finish at MK is a pretty cool stadium finish. You go down the tunnel, loop around the pitch and cross the finish line with quite a decent crowd. I loved this bit too, and definitely enjoyed crossing the line!

After the race we all met up and went for chips and bad food and sat in the sun cheering the rest of the runners whilst eating it. It’s not often I’ll say that one of my best meals is from the golden arches but those chips were some of the best tasting things I’ve ever tasted.

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Well until I got home and had that beer.

So in summary. Met lovely people. Had some amazing support. Did a nice run. Got a pretty medal. All good. And to Pilla, Loz, Rae thank you. You were ace. Would I do the Milton Keynes Marathon again? Well, I think it might have been my favourite marathon to date..

Milton Keynes

After I got back from London three weeks ago it didn’t take me long to start thinking about entering another marathon. In fact it took me about as long as uploading the run onto garmin connect. The thing that really got me thinking was looking at my 20 mile time, which on the day in London was nearly 10 minutes slower than pretty much all my training 20 mile runs. That isn’t how it should be. I can get struggling in the last few miles but really I should have been good up to at least 20. I thought about all the training I’d done, all the early starts and long runs and the literally hundreds of miles I’ve run and thought that my time did not represent the work that I had put in.

I also got to thinking that the London marathon is just a total sensory overload. I didn’t feel like there was time or mental space to think, to zone out, to go to that funny sort of run thinking mode I go into. It’s so, well, intense that you just don’t have the ability to take it all in and in the attempt to do so I think I missed the whole enjoyment I get from running. It’s not that I have great big earth shattering thoughts but the feel is very different when the crowd is so loud you can’t hear yourself think for 20 miles. I sort of pined for a little race, like the ironman run in Nottingham where for long periods it’s just you, the geese and the padding footsteps of other worn out people around you (and pilla’s cowbell). I wanted a little race. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy London, it is an amazing experience, it’s just I don’t think I enjoyed it in the same way I normally enjoy my runs.

I thought I’d made some silly mistakes too. Things I should know by now but either forgot or thought I would get away with. Given it was warm and I’ve suffered before, I should have taken salt tablets. I should have run with my gels in a waist band rather than carry them and get annoyed with holding them. I should have worn sunglasses – on sunny warm days I find they give the illusion of it being cooler. I shouldn’t have had a non-carb dinner the night before. I should have sipped my gels and water over a long period rather than gulp them down. They are not major things, just silly little things that all add up. Little things I’d like to correct then have another go.

So I did the silly thing on the day after a marathon of signing up for the next one! And pretty much since then, as anyone that follows me on Twitter will already know, I have had a cold. My running has gone to crap, I feel unprepared, not ready and not very much looking forward to it.

This is crazy because really I have so much to be grateful for:

  1. I’m fit, injury free and am about to spend a weekend doing something I love
  2. The weather will be lovely
  3. I’m going to meet some friends
  4. I’m going to be paced for the first part of the run by the most handsome man on Twitter

I think in some way I’m trying to re-create what we did in Nottingham last year. A nice hotel, an italian meal the night before and quietly kicking the ass of a nice little run in the morning. When I asked for some positivity off Twitter on Friday I got some lovely responses plus proper actual running legend @sidowski just replied with ‘#outlaw’. This isn’t the first time something he’s said has made me want to do something stupid. I vividly remember reading his blog of the first outlaw he did and thinking ‘I want to do this’. Anyway back to my rambling story, not only have I been through more before but I love doing it. I want to do this and, as I have already paid for the hotel, am flipping well going to do this!

Obviously I couldn’t do it without @pilla_uk who is indulging my fascination with spending large parts of weekends trying to inflict as much pain as possible on my legs again and who I’m rewarding by treating her to a night away in Milton Keynes’ finest hotel (the fact that it’s exactly where the start of the race is has nothing to do with why I booked it of course!). It might not have the crowds of London but it’ll definitely have the noisiest and best spectator.

I’m pretty sure I’m going to have the best support crew on the day as I think she’ll be joined by Loz and Rae. Loz wrote a pretty brutal account of running last weekend (https://ironlozza.wordpress.com/2014/04/27/shoes-will-burn-and-blood-will-bubble/) and if it gets hard on Monday I’ll use some of that to get through it. Running isn’t always easy and it isn’t always fun but it almost always ends of being a positive experience whatever happens. If the worst thing that happens is that I plod through a marathon but have a lovely weekend, well that’s a big win in my book.

I’m pretty sure there will be chocolate milk and beer at the end. Both of which I love. Both of which taste at their absolute best after 26.2 miles. So throw your best at me Milton Keynes, I’m coming for you!

#VLM2014 – London Marathon

Oh London. London, London, London. It’s not really hard to say that the London Marathon is one of the best races in the world, it’s really quite an incredible experience. The noise, the crowd, the scale of it all. It’s almost a little, well, overwhelming if I’m honest. On Sunday I suffered a lot and I came out of it with a PB, a big smile and an even bigger medal. Before I go on to much to describe the day please sign up to do this event. Just once. It might not be the event for you, but seriously do it. You’ll never forget running this marathon.

It’s fair to say I was a little excited about this race. I was trying to keep it under control but the thing you forget is just how visible this race is. It’s on the radio, the TV, everyone knows it’s happening. This means you get a TON of support during the weekend from friends and family and twitter people and facebook people. It’s quite amazing. I love it.

I got to Blackheath good and early. I love pre-race build ups, so I just sat about and soaked up the atmosphere. I chatted to a few folk and spent a long time just lying about in the sun. I took a few pictures and generally had a fine time of it. After about an hour I strolled over to the pen and got chatting to a few folk in there. I knew it was going to be pretty warm, but looking around there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. I’m ginger, the sun is not my friend. After a few minutes the pen moved forward, the gun went off and we were over the line. I remembered getting annoyed at this stage in 2012 due to falling behind my time, this time I was loving it because it means you don’t go off too fast. The first few miles flew by and the 3 – 5 mile zone from the blue start where you go downhill and the crowd builds up is so much fun. I felt good and fast and was really holding back. I was ticking along quite nicely here at just about 7:20 pace – pretty much exactly what I was aiming for.

Just after the two starts combined I said hello and good luck to Michael Owen – it’s that kind of race. About 500m further on I spotted a running outfit I remembered from Twitter. I think it was the zig zag socks but I instantly knew somehow it was @mia79gbr. So I ran up, said hello (although I’m never very comfortable meeting people by saying “oh hello is it ‘x’ from twitter? I’m Neil… Neily Wilko…“). Bumping into a running legend was lovely and as Sarah had a garmin malfunction I handed over my spare 3:30 pace band. I wished her luck carried on and got chatting to another bloke about times and targets – we were both going for 3:15 ish. I was loving life at this point! Lots of people have mental strategies, mine was just to enjoy it for as long as I could. It was working. Greenwich is something else on the route with the noise and I saw my awesome support crew at about 10 miles. It’s always special seeing your family and friends on route and this was no exception.

Tower bridge rolled around and I loved it! It just looked so beautiful in the sun and as I ran over it I was just looking around, trying to take it all in. I hated this point last time. I loved it on Sunday. Absolutely loved it. Onto the dual carriageway and the halfway point. My time was 1:37:36. My target was 1:37:30. Absolutely nailing it. Onto narrow street where I stopped last time and down through the Isle of Dogs. I was starting to hurt a little here, and the 3:15 guy I was talking to early caught me up and gave me a good talking to which I really needed.

My legs were starting to hurt quite a bit here and I was starting to feel pretty sick. If it wasn’t for the crowds I’m fairly sure I would have vom’d. I was going into a dark place here because this is exactly like previous years. It was pretty hot and I’m not sure if I drank too much or not enough, or overdid it with the gels (although I only had three by this point). Whatever it was I was feeling rough. By the time I started getting close to Canary Wharf I knew I’d have to walk. My legs were killing and every time I ran a bit I felt like throwing up. This marathon running is pretty glamorous! So 8 miles out and I resigned myself to running/walking/running/walking. It hurt.

I knew it would hurt at some point but I wasn’t expecting it so early. I kept trying, kept running, kept feeling sick and then walking.  Then kept trying running. If you are going for a goal time that matches a pace group there is nothing sadder than seeing that pace runner disappear gradually into the distance. I saw my excellent support team at mile 22 which was a huge lift as I thought I’d missed them. I kept plodding on taking in the crowd, saying thank you to everyone who cheered and generally trying to do it with a smile. I ran/hobbled most of the last two miles. The crowd here is just so loud you really can’t stop and when I saw the 800 meter sign I knew I wouldn’t. I crossed the line in 3:45:44.

To be honest, it’s not the time I wanted but I’m very happy with it, it’s the first time since 2009 I’ve been able to claim a marathon PB. After I crossed the line I could hardly stand up. It took me an hour and a half to be able to stand up and walk, during which time I fell asleep/zonked out flat out on my back the mall. Fun times! My vision was a bit on the wonk when I figured it was probably a lack of salt that was getting to me, one huge bag of crisps later and I was feeling much better! Note to self here, not meeting with your support crew feels like a good idea when you are feeling fine, when you can hardly move it’s a pretty lonely experience!

I honestly couldn’t have pushed myself harder. Sometimes you can fail in your goals and still feel like you won. On Sunday I won.

VLM Training Week 19

VLM Training Week 19

Been a bit slack on the blog lately, I tried to write a few times but every time I loaded up the site I was just lacking inspiration. I guess there are only so many times you can say ‘the training is going pretty well but I’m quite tired’! Today we went out to cheer a couple of friends in the Manchester Marathon, plus as many of the runners we could. I love doing this, having been on the receiving end of a lot of support in the last few years it’s lovely to go out and make some noise for other people. It also properly got me in the mood for next weekend…

… which is good because this last week has been a bit of a weird one. Last Saturday I went on a work trip to Saudi Arabia for 6 days. As preparation for a marathon this is not ideal but I was trying to convince myself before hand it would be like a training camp. the good thing about Saudi is the zero alcohol rule so no temptations there and the hotel promised a pretty slick look gym to train in. Well, the work kind of took over and it was a pretty stressful trip leaving very little time for training, oh and it turns out the hotel didn’t have a gym after all. In the part of Saudi I was, running outside in shorts wouldn’t have been appropriate, so I had to make do with some hotel room circuit sessions. The amount of fitness you drop in 6 days isn’t that great and I’m sure the rest did me good but those first few runs after coming back were horrid. The 8 mile long run I didn’t yesterday was a proper shocker. Couldn’t get in a rhythm, heart rate was way too high – felt like I’d not been running in years! I’m sure all of this is in my head, but my legs were heavy, my right achilles was hurting and it was generally a bit rubbish.

Desert

Everyone fears picking up a cold or bug at this stage in the training so I spent a lot of the trip thinking ‘don’t eat anything weird or do anything stupid’ but I always forget my own rules and spent the entire week eating an absolute shed load of food (flat bread and humus is my drug) and at one stage drinking fresh camel milk, dates and arabic coffee in the desert.

Neil plus camel

So I’ve done the training now I just have a week to get my head in the right place! Supporting today definitely helped with that. There’s some pretty special about standing near the finish line of a marathon and I walked away thinking that in 7 days time it’d be me crossing that line and I cannot wait!

2 years ago I crossed the line being really disappointed in myself but this year it’s different. I couldn’t have done any more training. In this whole 20 weeks I’ve missed 10 running sessions. As I’m doing 6 runs a week, and half of those missed sessions came in this last week and were enforced I really couldn’t have done any more. In a way I’ve already achieved what I wanted to, I’ve done the training, I’ve hit the numbers. Whatever happens next Sunday will happen. Good or bad, fast or slow I’m taking part in the best race in the world. I’ve been pretty focussed on getting some times, and you often hear people describe ABC goals. C being your minimum, B being a good performance and A being that perfect day where everything goes to plan and the wind is behind you the whole way (those races do happen by the way, my half ironman last year was just perfect for me!). Well, I’m going to go a bit crazy with it, may I present my list of goals. If I do any of these things, I’ll be a happy bunny:

Goal Details
A To finish If I get to the line – I'll be happy. I'm healthy happy and fit enough to run a marathon.
B 4:39 My 2012 time
C 3:59:59 Standard sub 4 hour goal time
D 3:57:16 My current marathon PB
E 3:45 This was 2012s goal time
F 3:29:29 A PB of 27 minutes – I'd be ecstatic with this
G 3:22:59 Beating my Dad's 1990 time
H 3:19:19 I'd be amazed with this time
I 3:15 The time I've trained for
J Under 3:15 You'd have to slap me pretty hard to make believe I'd hit this time!
K To enjoy it. To appreciate the crowd and the race and high five as many people as I can
L To love that medal

So it’s pretty much feet up time now. Couple more light runs, one bike ride. I’m ready.

I have a Virgin Money site here: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/NeilWilkinson. I’m raising money for the MS Society and I’ll love you forever if you consider donating. Oh and extra finally, I added this thing on the blog that let’s you sign up for email updates if I add a post. If you want to you can sign up below. Thanks for reading!

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