Return to Cornwall: running up hills while water pours down them

After weeks of anticipation – and with some dread – last weekend it was finally time to head back down to Cornwall to take part in the Treggy 7 for the second year in a row.

Now, the dread, it must be noted, was not caused by visiting Cornwall. It’s a lovely place, tempered only by being a flipping long way from where I live in London. But Cornwall is, as previously noted, also quite a hilly place. And those hills are big. And steep. And Cornish race organisers seem to delight in coming up with routes that go up them.

The weekend followed the pattern of my previous trip: it started with the Lanhydrock Parkrun on Saturday, followed by the Treggy 7 the next morning. The Lanhydrock Parkrun, which takes place on the grounds of a beautiful National Trust property near Bodmin, also features a course dominated by hills.

Lanhydrock

It begins with a fast downhill sweep past Lanhydrock House, a castle-like Victorian mansion, before a short, steep climb uphill into the woods. Then the fun begins: a frankly terrifying, dizzying, steep descent on a bumpy, rock-strewn, tree root-lined dirt track. There’s a brief bit of flat at mid-distance, before the climbing begins: a series of steep, steep, steep uphill slogs across uneven fields and lanes. Finally, the race finishes with a final bit of steep downhill on grass to the finish.

It packs a lot of elevation change into 5k: 122 metres of elevation gain and 143 metres of elevation loss – reflecting the fact the finish is just past the start line.

Lanhydrock elevation

Still, on a fresh, clear, lovely Cornish morning it was worth the effort. When I first tackled Lanhydrock last year I stupidly forgot to take my Garmin, so perhaps mercifully I didn’t have any kilometre split times from then to try and compare my times to. But knowing the second half featured the bulk of the climbing, I realised the key to improving my form was to give myself plenty of wiggle room in the second half of the race. Having set a 22m 05s last year, I reckoned I needed to aim to complete the first 2.5k in 10m or so, giving me 12m to complete the second half.

Of course, the key to going fast in the first half was attacking that treacherous downhill, which was a big challenge in and of itself. I pushed as much as I dared, until I was at the limits of being in control. To paraphrase Buzz Lightyear, I wasn’t so much running as falling with style.

And, despite going as fast I dared – fearing that any quicker would likely pitch me rolling into the Cornish undergrowth – I was passed on all sides by fearsomely brave Cornish runners. I caught many of them on the flat bit – and then came the climbing.

It was tough. Seriously tough. Tougher than I remembered, in all honesty. It was a slog and I only just managed to run all of it. I say run, but on the steepest bit near the end it was more of a quick trudge.

Eventually, I crossed the line in 21m 55s, an improvement of 10 seconds on the previous year. A good result.

Now, my day of climbing hills wasn’t over. On a beautiful, clear day, my Cornish running buddy Matt decided we should do a spot of tourism and visit Rough Tor (pronounced like an internet router), which involved a somewhat hilly, but very pleasant walk.

Roughtor1

It was hilly, but far more relaxed than the parkrun and offered some lovely views of Cornish countryside, the Davidstow Cheddar creamery and Brown Willy. Which, as you all know, is the highest point in Cornwall.

Stop sniggering at the back there. You wouldn’t catch me laughing at a hill with ‘Willy’ in its title.

Roughtor2

Of course, the weather can change fast in Cornwall. And, sure enough, the clear skies clouded over late in the day and, late in the evening, it began to rain. A lot. And then it rained some more. A lot more.

It was still raining heavily on Sunday morning when it came time to leave for Launceston, the home of the Treggy 7. It was still raining when we got there. The rain eased up when we went to collect our race numbers an hour or so before the start. And then, when we returned to the car, it started to rain heavily again. And then it got heavier.

Rain Treggy

Around 15 minutes before the start it was raining faster than the drains could cope with. And harder than seemed at all sensible to go and do a seven-mile run in. But, displaying commitment that still seems questionable, we set off from the car and sprinted to the start. That involved descending a steep hill from Launceston’s car park to its town centre – and water was cascading down that hill at an alarming rate.

Mercifully, the rain actually eased up again as the runners assembled for the start – but it wasn’t long until it picked up again and, besides, by that point the roads were sodden. In places there were pools of water across the road; in others there were veritable streams running down the Tarmac. But it wasn’t cold and, in some ways, the conditions only added to the general merriment and challenge, even when the rain soon began to fall harder again.

Cornish rain

It also took my mind off the mighty hill that comes almost halfway through the Treggy 7, a monster slog that lasts for around a kilometre and feature 85 metres of climbing. But, once on that hill, there wasn’t much that was going to take my mind off it.

Having tackled it last year, I knew what I was in for – but strangely, unlike the previous day’s Lanhydrock hills, it wasn’t actually as bad as anticipated. I don’t quite know what that was. It was probably because it wasn’t as out and out steep in places as I’d remembered – it’s a fairly consistent climb, which meant I could lock into a pace and stick to it.

Bizarrely, as with last year, I also drew strength by seeing other people struggle. That’s not meant to sound cruel, honest. It’s just that every time I did think about walking I found myself catching a runner ahead of me who was already doing so – and the fact I had more energy than them gave me the strength to keep on going.

Once I’d finally crested the top of the hill I was in fine spirits. The hardest part of the run was done, and now I could press on. Well, that was the theory. Turns out the weather had other ideas. For a start, the rain got heavier, and predictably the roads became wetter. There was a stretch of around 20 metres or so when the road was flooded with ankle-deep water. There was no way round, so runners just had to plough through it. Of course, doing so gets your trainers soaked, and horribly squidgy for the rest of the race.

At the top of the hill the wind picked up too – an occasionally fierce headwind that slowed my significantly. Visibility was also an issue as well, with all that water splashing and smudging my glasses. That made it difficult to really push on the wet roads on the downhill run back into the town.

In the end, I reached the finish in the grounds of Launceston Castle in 49m 22s. That was nine seconds slower than I managed last year, although my 61st place was 17 positions higher (and it’s worth noting that, despite the conditions, more runners took part in the event this year).

As previously noted, the Treggy 7 organisers like to give out slightly unusual prizes – this year there was a metal Treggy 7 water flask and a four-pack of Ambrosia Rice Pudding. I will savour that rice pudding, for I definitely felt I earned it.

treggy prize

There was a weird lesson too: having been dreading the hill on the Treggy 7 course, it turned out to be the rain I should have been worried about all that time. It’s a lesson that, even when you go back to a race, the challenge is never the same twice.

* * *

Tackling a race on a particularly wet Cornish September day might not be pleasant, but recent events in Texas do give a sense of perspective. However wet I got, my temporary discomfort was absolutely nothing compared to what thousands of people in Texas went through with Tropical Storm Harvey recently.

Thanks to visiting my brother and his family living there for years, I know Houston very well – not least from tackling this year’s Chevron Houston Marathon. Seeing pictures of roads I ran along for that event transformed into rivers of deep water has been a surreal experience.

Texans are a tough bunch though, and I have no doubt the people of Houston will recover. This British runner will be thinking of them while they do.

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Hills in races: up then down, or down then up?

Spent a lot of my time recently thinking about hills. As you do. Running on hills, to be more specific.

There are several reasons for this. The biggest – in both a figurative and literal sense – is the fact that in a few weeks I’m due to head back to Cornwall to tackle the Treggy 7, a seven-mile race that includes a mighty, monstrous, massive, painful and intimidating hill. I competed in the event last year, and that hill remains perhaps the toughest I’ve faced while out on a run. I’m somehow both excited about and dreading the prospect of tackling it again.

treggy7elevation

Spot the Treggy 7 hill…

Of course, another reason for thinking about hills is that it’s only a few weeks since I tackled another contender for the toughest hill I’ve had to run up – while tackling a few of the Lone Star Running and Walking shop events in Fort Worth, Texas. And then this weekend I decided to forego my regular flat Kingston Parkrun in favour of contesting the far hillier Richmond Parkrun which takes place, funnily enough, in Richmond Park.

With a few minor differences, the Richmond Parkrun takes place over essentially the same course as the various Richmond Park 10k races I’ve done (the 10ks do two laps, obviously) – a route that runs on the parks’ trails up and down Sawyers Hill. But there’s one big difference: the Richmond Parkrun starts near the top of the hill, while the 10k races begin at the bottom.

Now, in theory, when a race takes place over a loop course it shouldn’t really matter where you start: the course remains the same wherever you do. But it does.

Richmond Parkrun

On the Richmond Parkrun course the first half of the race is, generally speaking, downhill, including one long, gentle stretch where, if you’re confident at descending, you can really relax into your stride and push a bit. The payoff, of course, is that the second half of the course involves running uphill. And if you push too hard and fast on the downhill section, those uphill bits can be a real struggle.

Richmond Parkrun elevation

Start at the bottom of the hill, and that course takes on a different character: you’re straight into the leg-hurting climbs for the first half of the race, with the descent coming in the second half. By tackling the hill at the start you’re fresher, but that also makes it easy to take too much out of yourself so that, by the time you get to the downhill you’re unable to get your legs working well enough to push to make up time.

And that’s a running dilemma I’m still trying to work out. If you’ve got a course with a big hill in, is it better to do the downhill or the uphill first? I honestly can’t decide…

On the one hand, doing the downhill first allows you to attack the fast bit while fresh, so when you get to the uphill you know how you’re feeling, what sort of shape you’re in and how much time you’ve got to play with if you’re aiming for a specific target.

But tackle the hill first, and you can attack the tough bit first, giving you a chance to recover a bit on the subsequent downhill. You’ll also know what time you’ve got to make up.

There’s another factor as well. Running up hills is, generally, harder than running down them. It can be a little intimidating. And if you know there’s a great big hill still to come in the run, it’s easy to get intimidated by the effort it’s going to take and back off a bit too much to save your energy in anticipation of the challenge.

For example, on my second week in Fort Worth I went back and took part in the Lone Star fun run for a second time. That course starts with a steep downhill, with the horrible uphill at the end. And, on the second occasion, by knowing that hill was coming I somehow found myself unable to push as much on the downhill bit at the start. So instead of going fast downhill to make up the time I was going to lose running uphill, I eased up a bit – and then found the uphill was just as tough, anyway.

So let’s get the hill out of the way first then, right? Get it done with, and then the mental elation will lift you through the rest of the race?

Well, maybe not. Because running up hills is tough, and it hurts your legs. And, sometimes, during a race your brain probably makes you think you’re hurting more than you really are. So you get tired and worn out running up the hill, and then you just can’t find the effort to push once you’re onto the flat and/or downhill section.

In other words, when it comes to the question of uphill then downhill, or downhill then uphill, I still don’t know the answer.

Which could mean one of a things. First – and this one is almost certainly true – I’m overthinking this massively. But, hey, overthinking things massively is what I do!

The fact I can’t decide could also mean that it actually isn’t that important which order the up and down bits come in: you’re going to have to run it all anyway.

Alternately, perhaps it signifies that I’d be better off sticking to nice, flat courses that don’t feature hills at all…

Taking medals on merit: on the podium in Texas (despite the heat)

Ac occupational hazard of taking part in lots of races is that you’ll inevitably collect a lot of medals. While a handful of races offer the likes of T-shirts, mugs or glasses as prizes for finishers, most still hand out a pleasing lump of metal attached to a ribbon.

The trouble with collecting loads of medals is trying to work out what to do with them. I’ve got a handful on display – both my London and Houston Marathon medals are framed with my race numbers, and a handful of the more distinctive or memorable ones are on show around my desk – but the bulk of them are shoved somewhat unglamorously into a pot.

IMG_4822

The vast majority of my medal collection are finisher’s medals – you get them, fairly obviously, for finishing a race. Now, that’s all very nice, but if I get the medal regardless of whether I set a PB or do my slowest race ever, the sense of accomplishment is separated from the lump of metal. It’s certainly not in keeping with how medals are dished out at top-level sporting events.

Now, of my not inconsiderable pile of bling (as I believe the kids call it), two of my medals were actually earned for performance reasons. And, curiously, I earned both of them in Texas.

The first came on New Year’s Day this year, when as part of my build-up to the Houston Marathon I competed in the Run Houston Race Series 10k event at Sam Houston Park – and promptly won the male 35-39 category.

The second came during my recent trip to Fort Worth. I was visiting in July, when the Texan weather is predictably hot – sorry, darn hot – and, as a result, not that many races take place. But after some web scouring I happened upon the Trinity 5000 Summer Series – a weekly series of 5k races held on 12 Thursday evenings during the summer.

It seemed perfect: the 7.30pm start time meant that, in theory, the intense heat should have subsided a bit, and the course was on the footpaths by the Trinity River – which meant it was pretty much flat. Having experienced Fort Worth’s surprisingly steep hills, this was a very good thing. So I signed up for one.

Now, the course was everything I’d hoped for: Fort Worth’s Trinity River trails system is utterly brilliant, creating a wonderful network of pleasant walking/running/cycling paths through the heart of the city. The section used by the Trinity 5000 events reminded me an awful lot of the paths that run alongside the River Thames near my house – albeit with a brilliant view of Fort Worth’s downtown.

The event was everything I’d hoped for too: it felt very much like a parkrun. Lots of the runners knew each other, and the organisers, and it was all very friendly and relaxed.

The weather, on the other hand, didn’t quite do what I expected. On the day of the race, the temperature in Fort Worth really built up – going some way past 100F (37.7C). And it kept on building, even into the late afternoon and early evening. According to my Garmin, which somehow keeps track of such things, it was 95F (35C) when the race started – although the heat index apparently took it over 100. At 7.30pm! It was ridiculous. Most of the Texans were struck by the evening heat – and if the locals reckon it was hot, imagine how it felt for the random British guy entered.

Trinity5000

The organisers went out of their way to help though. There was water available before the start, and they laid out an extra water station. That meant there were two on the out-and-back course, which meant there were four opportunities to grab water in a 5k race. Now, I wouldn’t normally dream of taking a drink on a 5k race usually. On this occasion, I grabbed water on three occasions – partly to drink, and partly to throw over myself in a desperate bid to limit the heat build-up.

The problem with running in such heat is that there’s just no way to cool down. There was only the merest of breezes and even the air was just plain hot, so even aiming for shade to get out of the sun didn’t really help.

Normally, a 5k wouldn’t really faze me at all – thanks to parkrun, I do one pretty much every weekend, and it’s the minimum distance I’d class as a good training run. But in such heat, working out how best to run 5k was a really tough challenge.

For one thing, I was sweating standing around before the start, let alone when I started running. Then, once I’d started, the challenge was trying to keep up a decent pace without overheating. Because once you got too hot to function, there was basically no way back. That meant I had to apply a much greater discipline than usual, trying to control my pace to ensure I didn’t just collapse into a red-faced, sweat-covered, pasty-faced British heap in the second half of the run.

That said, the usual excitement of taking part in a race, and the desire to find a bit of clear space, meant that my first kilometre was a 3m 57s – not quite on my 5k best pace, but definitely not steady by my standards. I calmed down a bit in the second k, running a more controlled 4m 10s, and pretty much settled into that pace for the rest of the run.

The plan was to stay at that relatively steady pace (compared to my 5k PB of 19m 26s), and then try and pick up the pace in the final kilometre, if I could.

Spoiler alert: I couldn’t.

Really, I couldn’t. As the heat built up, the challenge was just to maintain my pace. I was actually surprised when, looking at my split times later, I realised I hadn’t actually slowed dramatically in the final stages.

My eventual time was 20m 51s. Not slow, but nearly 90s down on my fastest-ever 5k – and yet, it felt like a major achievement in the circumstances. Then came the bonus surprise. I hung around at the finish for a while, mostly because I was too busy sweating to do much else, and was still there when the provisional results were posted. I’d finished 12th, which was a solid effort. And I’d also finished third in the male 35-39 class. I was on the class podium.

tinity5000medal

There wasn’t actually a podium to stand on, but there were medals for the top three in each class. Which meant, for the second time, I earned a medal on merit (let’s not mention the class winner doing an incredible job to finish more than three minutes ahead of me…). And, for the second time, it came in Texas. What are the odds?

Well, actually, there’s likely a fairly simple reason – classes. Most British runs I’ve done have a very limited number of classes, and I’m usually grouped into the ‘senior’ category which spans everyone between the ages of 18 and 39. The two Texas races I’ve taken class podiums in divide the classes into five-year age groups, making my route to the podium substantially easier. Yes, I’m a sort-of Texan running pothunter.

But, well, it would be churlish to hang on that technicality too much, because, well, medals! Shiny medals!

Of course, that still doesn’t quite answer the question of where to stash the things…

PerformanceMedals

Guess how fast you run: taking on an unusual (and hilly) Texan challenge

I’ve just returned from a holiday in Texas. The Lone Star State isn’t exactly a new destination for me – my brother and his family live there, and as a result I’ve spent plenty of time doing runs, races and marathons there.

But this year’s trip took me in a different direction: my brother has moved from The Woodlands, a slightly surreal town not far from Houston, to Forth Worth. And while I’ve passed through Cowtown before, spending some extended time there gave me a chance to really explore the city – both as a tourist and a runner.

First thing to note: Fort Worth is hot. Actually, that undersells it a bit.

Let’s try again. Fort Worth is hot. Actually, that still undersells it.

Let’s try again. Fort Worth is darn hot. There. There’s better.

For a good chunk of the time I was there, there were daytime highs above 100F (that’s 38 and up, Celsius fans). But it was the nature of the heat that struck: it built up and just stayed around – it could still be above 100F at 7pm or so, and would stay in the 80s well past 10pm. See, darn hot.

That said, it is, as the saying goes, a dry heat. The humidity is far lower than the Houston area. And, frankly, I’ll happily take 100F of dry heat in Fort Worth ahead of 90F of stick, sweaty, humid filled Houston heat.

Still, in such heat the trick to running was to go early, or go late. Especially when you’re a pasty-faced Brit who’s just arrived in the country. So on my first morning there, I went out for an early-ish run, and in doing so accidentally stumbled across a rather fantastic running store – which, in turn, led to one of the most interesting challenges I’ve encountered as a runner.

My brother lives close to Camp Bowie Boulevard, and it was running down there early on that Sunday morning that I passed the Lone Star Walking and Running Store. I can’t remember the exact time, but it was early enough that none of the shops were open. So it was with some confusion that I noticed a group of people – runners, clearly – outside the shop. There was a tin bath full of cold-looking water, too. Oh, and some of them were drinking beer, despite it being the hour of the day when coffee would be a more common drink.

Brilliantly, a few of the people milling around actually cheered me on as I ran past, looking all very confused. What was going on?

It took a quick search on Google to unearth the store’s website, and to determine that I’d accidentally stumbled across its ‘Sunday Funday’ event – a two-part group fun run that starts and finishes at the store. Finishers could enjoy free beer at the finish, along with an ice bath, if the mood took them.

It was also clear that, even by the high standards of many independent running stores, Lone Star Running was a little different. It offered free beer to shoppers every Friday, for one thing. And it also has a ‘City Titty Club’, where people who bring in dislodged examples of what I’d known until then as Cat’s Eyes get free energy gels.

As well as the Sunday Funday, there was another event: a weekly Wednesday evening ‘Running Man’, which took place on a 3.8-mile loop from the store. So, to reward them for cheering me on during my jetlag-shaking effort, I figured I’d go along that week, dragging my brother with me.

It turned out I picked a good week, because the Running Man event featured an innovative competition element. Anyone who ran the course was given the chance to guess their finishing time. The person who finished the run closest to their time would win a pair of New Balance shoes. Simple, right?

running-man-fort-worth

Actually, it was pretty difficult. For a start, a condition of entry meant running without my Garmin satnav – which would, fairly obviously, have made the whole thing a bit easy. The biggest challenge was trying to work out a tactic. Did I try and work out the fastest time I thought you could do on the course, and really attack it? Or should I pick a time well within my capability, and attempt to measure my pace?

Adding to the difficulty in predicting a time was the unusual distance – 3.8 miles is around 6k, not a distance I run with regularity – and a complete lack of course knowledge. There was a map, but that wasn’t much help since I’d only been in the city a few days. And there was talk of a steep downhill section at the start, and an even steeper uphill kick near the end.

Now, for the most part Texas is pretty flat. So, to try and glean some knowledge I asked Wayne, who owns the shop, whether ‘steep uphill’ meant steep by Texas standards, or just plain steep. He told me it was pretty steep by any standard. Followed by a laugh that suggested I was in for something tougher than I could imagine.

In the end, I stopped trying to overthink it and just plucked a time off the top of my head. I roughly worked out my max pace over 6k, then added in a bit of extra time to account for the hill and the darn hot Texan heat. I think I went for 26m 30s or so.

I encountered another challenge fairly early in proceedings: trying to work out where I was going. The course was unmarked, and I found my natural pace carried me into the front group – maybe because runners who would be quicker than me were trying to run at a steady, measured pace. But, unsure where to go and with the route taking in a maze of residential streets and river trails, I was sort of forced to back off and let someone who did know where they were going lead the way.

That meant I probably took things easier than I’d have chosen to on the downhill stretch, and that may have been a bit of a blessing. After all, Forth Worth is darn hot, and with little cooling breeze going too fast, too soon could easily have led to overheating.

Still, my natural pace did eventually take me to the front just past the halfway point, when the route was running along one of the many Trinity River trails in Fort Worth. Just before the climbing began.

Now, remember that mention of a steep uphill? Well, it definitely wasn’t just steep by Texan standards. It was steep. Really, it was steep. It was darn steep. It will definitely be a contender for the ‘Toughest Uphill’ prize should I reprise my 2016 Running Awards this year.

It started with a long, steady uphill stretch that was tough enough in the heat. Then there was a sharp left turn before the road suddenly ramped up with a brutally steep incline on a sharp right-hander. I just about reached the top of that and enjoyed a brief moment of gentle downhill before the road suddenly turned and rose up sharply again.

I just about reached the top still running, although such was the severity of the climb walking the last bit may have been easier and quicker. After that came the final flat run back to the running store, with the biggest challenge trying to find a clear moment to cross Camp Bowie Boulevard.

Another runner went past me on that final stretch, so I was the second to arrive back at the running shop, with absolutely no real idea how long I’d been running for. In between trying to stop myself sweating (a process that took the best part of an hour), I learned I’d completed the course 23 seconds slower than my predicted time. Which was… close. Impressively close.

Not prize-winningly close, however. Someone managed to complete the course within ten seconds of their estimated time. But, frankly, I really didn’t mind about missing out on the prize. I simply enjoyed the challenge of the competition: running without a Garmin and trying to work out my pace from pure gut feel. It was a fresh challenge, and a pleasant change from a straightforward race.

And, well, conquering that hill was reward enough. I returned to Lone Star’s Running Man the following Wednesday, even though the temperature had risen substantially and it was above 100F when the run started – yes, at 6.30pm. That’s darn hot. Why? Well, without a prize on offer I was able to run with my Garmin, and I wanted to do that simply so I could find out exactly how tough that hill had been.

The answer: 44 metres of uphill in the space of 0.56km. Ouch.

Running Man Course

And I ran that in 100F+ heat. I’m not ashamed to admit that I walked the last little bit of the hill on that second week…

The Yateley 10k Series and the joys of summer evening racing

Right, well, I started my last post with an apologetic ‘sorry for taking so long to write, won’t let it happen again’ intro. That post was on June 17. It’s August 5 today. So… that went well. Or not.

Tell you what, can I just cut and paste my intro from that last piece? It still applies. Hang on…

Okay, first off, an apology. It turns out to have been quite some time since I posted here. While I’m not presumptuous enough to think people have been hanging on my every word, since I’ve gone to the trouble of doing it for a few years now, the least I could do is post something on a fairly regular basis. I’ll try not to let it happen again.

Anyway, the same excuses largely apply as last time: busy new job, plenty of travel, lots of other stuff – and a family holiday, or which more soon (really!). But while I haven’t been writing about running, I’ve still done plenty of running.

In particular, the long evenings in the summer months not only make evening running far more pleasant, but they open the way for mid-week evening races. Which is why, for the last three years, I’ve been making semi-regular trips to Yateley in Hampshire on Wednesday evenings.

Yateley is a picturesque English town in very pleasant countryside – back in 2011, the district of Hart was apparently named the most desirable place to live in the UK – and, perhaps predictably, home to the Yateley 10k Series, which comprises three races held on the first Wednesdays in June, July and August.

Well, sort of. As an aside, for every one of the last three years availability issues at Yateley School, where the event is based, has meant that the July race has been held on the second Wednesday of the month. Although that’s really a minor technicality, I guess.

The Yateley races are hugely popular – all three usually sell out before the first is run, with the best part of 1000 runners taking part in each – and the field is largely packed with club runners. Which means that the standard is pretty high. That’s usually good news though: I often find having a bigger field packed with faster runners helps spur me to faster times.

The course is a classic Hampshire road race: there are definitely hills, but nothing too taxing. Yes, it’s time to break out everyone’s favourite running course description… it’s undulating!

Yateley undulate

Actually, the FAQ section on the Yateley website goes a step further:

Is it flat or hilly? Both, gently undulating

Now, I very much like the Yateley 10k Series, and think the organising team do a fantastic job, so I’m going to force the editor in me to stifle questions about how a course can be flat and hilly…

Yateley course map

What really helps make the Yateley 10k Series are some of the nice touches by the organisers. There’s a commentator at the start and finish, who talks the runners home. There’s a fun run for kids. They lay on a pre-event group warm-up which is well-intentioned, if not my sort of thing. There are two water stations and even, brilliantly, a sponge station. And let me tell you, 7k or so into a hot run a quick dabbing with a damp sponge is very welcome indeed.

Yateley also has a very nice curry house, which means that me and my running friend Matt – and, to be fair, several other runners – often undo all the good fitness work by popping across for a post-run jalfrezi. But hey, given the run starts at 7.30pm and it takes me about 40 minutes to drive home afterwards, I need to eat – and it’s definitely tastier than the McDonalds I had after one of my early Yateley races.

This year, for the first time, I actually made it to all three Yateley races – having ‘only’ managed two in both 2015 and 2016. It turned out to be a good year to do so, since the three medals this year were designed to link together like some weird Transformers toy to create a slightly odd display thing. Strange, but a nice touch.

Yateley medal

Racing seven times on the same course in three years is also an interesting test for comparison. Of course, the conditions are different every time – this year featured two unusually hot evening races, while the August event was a soggy affair after heavy rain – but you still get a feel for how you’ve fared and what form you’re in. It’s also interesting that you start to recognise a lot of the same runners, giving you some useful references for your form.

Speaking of form, it’s also interesting to compare my results over the last three years. Let’s see what progress has been made…

Race Time Finish position
June 2015 41m 25s 96
August 2015 42m 18s 119
July 2016 41m 12s 77
August 2016 42m 09s 84
June 2017 42m 00s 85
July 2017 41m 43s 78
August 2017 42m 14s 84

 

Okay, when I said ‘progress’ I really meant ‘let’s admire my good grouping’. Hmmm, should I have shown more improvement? Well, possibly, although those times disguise lots of variables. A simple list of times, for example, doesn’t indicate that my August 2017 time was set in wet conditions, or two days after getting off a plane from a two-week holiday in America, during which there was excess eating of burgers and smoked meats…

Anyway, I’m not that bothered if the times suggest a lack of progress. The enjoyment of the Yateley 10k Series is simply being out on a weekday evening doing something I enjoy, surrounded by plenty of likeminded people. And isn’t that the point of running, really?

Trail by fire: the ‘fun’ of running up and down hills in forests

Okay, first off, an apology. It turns out to have been quite some time since I posted here. While I’m not presumptuous enough to think people have been hanging on my every word, since I’ve gone to the trouble of doing it for a few years now, the least I could do is post something on a fairly regular basis. I’ll try not to let it happen again.

Anyway, I’ve got a vaguely good reasons for the long break: I got a new job (still within the same company), and making the switch has all been a bit manic.

My new job hasn’t just impacted on my efforts in finding posting here: it’s had quite an impact on my running and general exercise, in all sorts of ways. Let’s focus on one for now.

Long story (relatively) short: my new job involves driving cars. No, I’m not a chauffer, I don’t run a minicab, and I’m certainly not a professional getaway driver. I have a job that involves getting paid to write about cars (yes, they actually pay people to do that sort of thing). And to write about cars, I need to drive cars.

But there’s a problem. I live about a three-mile drive from my office, so my daily commute totals about six miles – and that’s six miles of slow, speed bump-strewn, traffic-filled London roads. Not exactly conducive to driving cars for long enough to write about them.

So, come weekends, I’ve started finding excuses to drive places away from London, in order to get some decent mileage in. And you know what a good excuse to head out of the M25 is? Running.

And it’s been fun. While I’m fortunate enough to live in a part of the Greater London area that is filled with lovely places to run, there are plenty of equally wonderful places further afield – and there are lots of races to choose from.

And that, in somewhat meandering form, explains how I recently (actually, thinking about it, it was some time ago, such has been my tardiness writing this) ended up competing in my first full-blown trail race.

I’ve actually had a hankering to try a trail race for some time, but have largely been put off because, well, they sound really hard. After all, they involve running along muddy and bumpy trails, usually up and down really steep hills. Now, I’m not exactly scared of bumpy surfaces – I actually run on plenty of trails – and I’ve never shied away from hills. But many trail runs courses are built to combine both in deliberately punishing fashion.

But hey, you’ve got to start something. Which is why I got up early on a Sunday in May, and headed out of London down the A3 to Godalming, home of the not-coincidentally named Godalming Run.

Now, the Godalming Run isn’t, it must be said, entirely a trail run. It starts near the town centre on closed Tarmac roads. But the 10k route soon hits the rolling Surrey hills, rising sharply through the town before reaching the grounds of a private school.

Godalming course

And then it turns off the road, and into the woods on the school ground. And as soon as it turns, it started to go up. Sharply up. And then down. Sharply down. And then sharply up again. And then even more sharply up. And then down a bit. And then up a lot more. And then up some more. And then – oh, flipping heck, my legs hurt.

This was not a course the organisers would dare term ‘undulating’. This would fall under the descriptive running category of tough. Or brutal. The moment I hit the first super-sharp uphill section on a soft, muddy trail, I realised what I was in for, and actually laughed to myself. Frankly, it was either that or cry.

The thing I could best compare the course to was Junior Kickstart, a not-entirely-helpful restaurant that will likely only resonate with British readers of a certain age. I’d suggest everyone else go and search for it on YouTube to experience some glorious TV nostalgia.

At times, the climbs were so steep, and the trails so uneven, that running in a normal fashion was impossible. I think I was more waddling at times. Whatever, it hurt in places running doesn’t normally make me hurt in.

Even when the route started to wind back down the very steep hill, it didn’t get any easier. The descents were treacherous on the uneven surface. There was no thought of making back the time spent slowly climbing uphill: the challenge was staying upright.

And when the run finally left the school grounds and rejoined (mostly) roads, it didn’t get much easier. The organisers had included one final hill in the final few kilometers, and it was a big ’un. In fact, it was so long and steep that the fact it was on a sealed surface was of little comfort.

In short, the Godalming Run was tough. Really tough. How tough? Well, my finish time of 46m 04s is officially the slowest I’ve ever closed for a 10k race – by several minutes. Yet, on that course, the time was an achievement up there with my first sub-40m 10k (set on a ridiculously flat and smooth course). That’s backed up by the fact I finished 18th out of 377 finishers which is… quite pleasing, really.

Trail running, then. It’s tough, but there’s a real sense of achievement to simply conquering the course that you don’t necessarily get with a ‘normal’ road race. I can see the appeal now.

I’m not going to make a full-time switch to off-road running, by any means. But I’ve now got a hankering to try a ‘full’ trail run, one that starts and finishes in a forest. It’s certainly an occasional challenge I’ll look to work into my racing schedule – especially since I’m looking for excuses to head out of London…

Be quiet achey legs: the challenge of back-to-back races

Late Spring into early Summer is probably peak running season, in Britain at least. It’s when the nights are getting longer and conditions are, in theory at least, just about perfect for running: not too cold, not too hot, and relatively dry.

That’s the idea, anyway. Britain being Britain, nothing is certain. This year the weather has alternated between unusually warm and unusually cold with seemingly reckless abandon. And, Britain being Britain, it’s usually ended in a dreary grey halfway house.

But I digress. The point is that this time of year is just about the best time of the year for running. And that means there’s no shortage of races to choose from. The challenge is deciding which ones to do.

Do you do a handful of long races, or a lot of short ones? Do you return to events you’ve done before and really enjoyed, or pick ones you haven’t done before? It’s such idle consideration and searching of running event websites that often leads me to sign up to races without full consideration to my calendar. Which explains how, earlier this week, I ended up running two 10k races in two days.

Here’s my excuse. Last weekend was a Bank Holiday in the UK, and it seemed a good idea to spend my Monday off work contesting an event near Reading called the Shinfield 10k. Also last week was the Silverstone 10k, an enjoyable event that takes pace on a weekday evening and features two laps of the British Grand Prix circuit. As a big motorsport fan, it’s hard to resist – hence why this was the third year in a row I’d entered it.

I hadn’t fully looked at the dates before signing up, then realised they were in the same week. Not too much to worry about though, since the Shinfield 10k was on Monday morning, and the Silverstone 10k was on Wednesday evening. Plenty of time. Until, the night before the Shinfield 10k, I realised I was wrong about something: the Silverstone 10k was on the Tuesday evening…

So, inadvertently I faced the challenge of running two 10k races in two days. And once I realised I’d signed up to do it, it was an interesting challenge. I knew I could cope with the distance – after all, 20k is just short of a half-marathon distance, and I’ve proven that I can run a full marathon in one go.

Still, it was hard to know how my legs would react to being pushed twice in the space of 36 hours or so. And what tactic should I adopt? Run as fast as I can on both? Use the Monday morning 10k was a warm-up, and save myself for Tuesday night’s outing? Or push on Monday, and be prepared to coast on Tuesday night? Hmmmmm.

In the end, my plan was to set off on Monday morning’s Shinfield 10k at a decent pace, and see how I felt. I didn’t know the course, so I wasn’t sure what hills or challenges it might offer that could prevent a quick time.

It was certainly an interesting run. Because while Shinfield seems to be a relatively small town, it won’t be for long. There’s a massive housing development going on there, which forced organisers to revise the route for this year’s rate. Curiously, it went right through the development. Which meant that, as well as undulating country lanes, a few kilometres near the start and finished involved running on a semi-finished path in the middle of a massive, flattened space that will shortly become a huge building site.

Slightly odd then, but it was still an enjoyable semi-rural run. And in a field of pretty competitive club runners, I was happy to cross the line in 58th place, with a time of 40m 48s. That worked out at an average pace of 4m 03s per km. Decent.

The Silverstone 10k course could also be described as slightly odd, in that it takes place entirely on the racing circuit. As mentioned, I’m a huge motorsport fan, and jump at any chance to run on a race track: as well as Silverstone, I’ve also done runs that have taken in Castle Combe and Goodwood (and I’ve already signed up for a race at Thruxton later this year).

The Silverstone route starts on the old finish straight, and covers two laps of the old grand prix circuit (it skips out the new ‘Arena’ section). And it’s always good fun, even if the weather is somewhat unpredictable.

The first time I did the race, it absolutely poured down and I got completely soaked. Last year’s run, by contrast, was held on one of those absolutely beautiful English summer evenings. This year   was a bit more mixed: while there was no rain, the grey clouds suggested it wasn’t far away, and there was a fairly stiff chilling breeze (a common hazard on Britain’s race circuits, given many are ex-World World Two airfields).

Again, I set off without really decided on a pace strategy, figuring I’d just see how my legs reacted – which turned out to be fairly well. While a bit achey before the start, once I was running they loosened up quickly, and for most of the run any effects of the previous day’s exertions didn’t figure.

That was until I turned onto the International pit straight on the second lap, with about 2km left to run. The wind had picked up by this stage, and I was running straight into it. I could feel it slow me down, and that extra effort seemed to prompt my legs to remember I’d run hard on them the day before. They suddenly began to feel very heavy.

Still, I tempered that slightly wobble, and managed to finish strong. Against a huge field of competitive club runners, I was pleased to come home 160th, with a time of 41m 14s.

Now, the 26s gap between my two finish times would suggest I was slower on the second half of my accidental back-to-back… but there’s a twist. Every time I’ve run it the Silverstone 10k course has, by measure of my Garmin GPS, been around 180 metres long. Sure enough, comparing the results on my watch suggests that the 26s difference was largely down to a longer course. In fact, my average pace per km on the Silverstone 10k turned out to be… 4m 03s. Exactly the same as I managed on the Shinfield 10k.

Now, does that suggest I pushed to the max on both races, or that I could have gone really fast if I’d focused on one? Hmmmmmm…

Anyway, the moral of those story? Well, it doesn’t really have one, to be honest. Other than this: it is possible to run two competitive 10k races on back-to-back days. But maybe it’s best to spread these things out a bit…

The pain of not running the London Marathon

Today’s lesson: it turns out that not running a marathon might actually be harder than running one.

Now, that statement is, of course, almost entirely untrue. There are very few things I’ve done that are harder than running a marathon. Running a marathon is physically and mentally demanding. It’s a personal, physical and psychological challenge. And even in this age of mass participation marathons, only a very small percentage of people have ever managed to run one.

Not running a marathon, by contrast, is easy. After all, millions of people don’t run a marathon every day.

Here’s the thing though: the Virgin Money London Marathon took place today, with more than 40,000 runners taking part. I wasn’t one of them. Last year, I was. And, frankly, I wanted to be out there again. Far more than I expected.

Now, I entered the ballot for this year’s race, but didn’t get in. I chose not to pursue a charity entry again, and since I’ve already run the Houston Marathon this year, I didn’t think I’d miss it that much. Sure, running last year’s London Marathon was a thrilling experience, but it’s an experience I now have and will never forget. But as this year’s marathon approached, my feelings began to change.

I’ve written before about the experience of running FOMO: the fear of missing out. Today was a bit different. It was, if such an acronym exists, a case of running KOMO: the knowledge of missing out. I knew exactly what I was missing out on. I knew the intoxicating concoction of emotions and sensations that you encounter running one of the world’s great marathons.

As this year’s marathon drew closer, even small events began to bring the amazing memories of last year’s race to the front of my mind. Every time a weather forecasters briefly mentioned the likely conditions for the race in their reports, I’d remember how obsessive I became with checking the forecast last year. Every time a news bulletin featured a story about a charity runner, I’d remember the joy of fundraising last year, and the honour I felt the first time I pulled on my South West Children’s Heart Circle running top (by the way, if you’re in the mood to donate, it’s still a very worthy cause…).

As mentioned previously, I did toy with the idea of going into London and watching this year’s marathon. But, in the end, I thought that might be too close. So I decided to revert to an old family tradition: watching the marathon while eating sausage sandwiches.

Sandwich

Yes, one year after I was pounding the streets of London, this year I watched the race from my living room while eating sausage sandwiches. And they were very tasty sausage sandwiches too (the secret ingredient: Gran Luchito smoked chilli mayonnaise. Seriously, it makes pretty much anything taste better…).

But while the sausage sandwiches and freshly brewed coffee tasted good, the more I watched the TV, the more I wished I could trade them in for a clutch of energy gels and a bottle of Lucozade Sport.

Almost every time I looked at the television, I saw something that reminded me of last year: whether it was the mass start in Greenwich Park, an images of runners rounding the Cutty Sark or just an otherwise innocuous street that I vividly remembered running down.

It brought all the emotions, all the sensations, flooding back. Watching the elite women and men race up a small rise on Embankment and then past the Palace of Westminster brought back memories of just how much I hurt near the end of last year’s race. Watching them sprint down The Mall made me reflect on trying to spot my mum and brother in the grandstand last year (I miserably failed: I made the amateur error of looking in the stands on the wrong side of the course…).

It was hard, it really was. So I eventually decided I needed to break myself away from it. So, naturally, I went for a run.

Although this was a run with a difference. There’s no shortage of beautiful places to run near where I live, but since I covered most of them during marathon training runs, I decided it was time to head further out of London. I hopped in my car and headed for Virginia Water, at the southern end of Windsor Great Park.

WGP

I’d never been running before, so it was a complete change. And on a pleasantly sunny Sunday, I carved out a lovely route around the lake and up past The Totem Pole (a gift to the Queen from Canada back in 1958).

totem

It was all really very lovely: a relaxing, stress-free, brilliant way to spend a Sunday afternoon. But it’s not where I’d really liked to have been running today…

In short, not running a marathon really is rather hard. But only because I know what I’m missing out on. And, frankly, it probably won’t seem so hard tomorrow when I wake up and my legs are working properly.

Because, clearly, running a marathon is absolutely, definitively, unarguably harder than running one. So if you were one of the 40,000 plus people who ran the London Marathon today, congratulations. You’ve just done something utterly amazing. Enjoy it.

Random running loves No. 4: pre-marathon carb-loading

Pop quiz: it’s the day before you run the London Marathon. What are you having to eat tonight? Chances are it’s pasta. Lots of pasta. All the pasta. And why? Because carbs.

If you know knowing at all about marathon preparation and diets, you probably know about carb-loading. Put simply, eating carbs before you take part in a long race is a good thing. And what’s a great source of carbs? Pasta. So the night before a marathon? Eat pasta.

The science, of course, isn’t quite that simple. Science rarely is. Now, I’m not a scientist or nutritionist, but here’s the basics: the energy in most food comes in the form of carbohydrates, sugar or fat. Carbs are slower to break down, and your body will store carbs in your muscles and liver as glycogen.

During a longer race – we’re talking a half-marathon or longer – your body needs extra energy, so it finds glycogen or fat to burn and turn into that energy. It’s harder to turn fat into energy, so when you run out of glycogen you can run low of energy. Yes, we’re talking hitting the wall here.

In short, if you’re doing a long run, carb-loading before the race builds up your glycogen levels, allowing you to run further without hitting the wall.

Still awake? Good. I’ll try not to delve into too much more science, especially since I’m clearly not an expert on such things.

So, the night before a marathon? I’ll have a big, steaming bowl of pasta please. Lots of pasta. Give me carbs!

Hold on a second though: it’s not quite that simple. First, lots of studies now suggest you should increase your carb intake steadily in the week or so leading up to a big race. And secondly, there are loads of foods other than pasta that can provide you with good carbs: rice, potatoes, whole grains, beans, that sort of thing.

But still, here’s the thing… the night before I do a half-marathon, marathon or other long race, there’s only one food I want: pasta. It’s become a tradition.

In fact, I’ve even got a specific dish that I cook. I had it before I ran last year’s London Marathon. I had it before I ran this year’s Houston Marathon. I call it my spicy pre-run paprika chicken pasta. I’d give you the recipe here, but frankly the title of the dish pretty much gives it away.

Basically, cut up some chicken and coat with some paprika and other spices. Then cook the chicken along with lots of vegetables (mix it up, but think onions, chilli, peppers, broccoli, spinach, that sort of thing). Add in a tin of chopped tomatoes, a bit of water or stock and allow to thicken a bit. Then season, and add some more spices if needed. Meanwhile, cook up some pasta. Mix the pasta into the sauce, and serve, topped with basil and a hint of cheese. Ta dah.

Does my spicy pre-run paprika chicken pasta help me run a marathon? Honestly, I don’t know. But it surely doesn’t hurt. It’s good carbs, along with some healthy chicken and veg. It’s freshly cooked, so I know exactly what I’m eating the night before a marathon (that’s important). And, most of all, it’s a great big, steaming bowl of pasta-based comfort that makes me believe I’m heading into the marathon suitably carb-loaded. That’s worth it for the confidence boost alone.

Also, I love my spicy pre-run chicken pasta because it feels like I’m taking part in a grand marathon tradition. If you polled the runners in the London Marathon – or any other marathon for that matter – I bet pasta is by far the most popular meal the night before the race.

And that’s why, if and when it’s time for my third marathon, or my next big race, I know exactly what I’m having to eat the night before.

Pasta. Lots of pasta. All the pasta. And why?

Because carbs.

Read more of my random running loves here.

An open letter to anyone running the London Marathon

Dear runner,

So you’re running the London Marathon. Good for you.

You’re about to do something incredible. Incredible, and painful. But mostly incredible. Although don’t forget painful.

Anyway, forget the pain for a moment. Really, forget the pain. Because you’re in for an utterly unforgettable experience. And I’m a little jealous. Okay, I’m a lot jealous.

I ran the London Marathon last year, raising money for the South West Children’s Heart Circle (a very worthy cause, which, if so minded, you could support by donating here). It was intense, exhilarating, exhausting, incredible, overwhelming, exciting, incomprehensible, enjoyable, unenjoyable, and a whole lot of other adjectives. But, above all else, it was brilliant.

And also painful. Let’s not forget the pain. I’m sorry to confirm this to you but, yes, running a marathon is going to hurt.

But let’s not dwell on the bad stuff. That whole thing about pain being temporary, and all that? It’s true. Honest. In the closing stages of last year’s London Marathon I was in pain. Serious pain. So much pain. I ached so much I swore I’d never run a marathon again. And I meant it.

I meant it when I crossed the finish line, more mentally and physically exhausted than I’d ever been. I meant it that evening, when my legs barely walked. I meant it in the following days, when I couldn’t walk in a straight line, or without feeling the dull ache in my legs. I was never, I told myself repeatedly, running a marathon again.

I lied to myself. Less than two weeks later, I’d entered the ballot to run this year’s London Marathon.

I didn’t get in. And while I’ve since run the Houston Marathon, I’m still gutted that I won’t be out on the streets of London on April 23. Which is why I’m jealous of you. Not in a bad way, you understand. I’m genuinely happy for you. I’d just love to be there with you. Because, genuinely, running the London Marathon is everything that you dream and hope it will be.

Here’s the thing: I could offer you some sage advice and marathon tips right now. But I’m not going to. If you’re like me, you’ll be sick of hearing advice about pacing, timing, running technique, hydration strategies and all that sort of stuff. And, if you’re not, you can easily find advice from plenty of people far more qualified than me to offer it.

So I want to say a few things to reassure you. Because, if you’re anything like me, right now you’re probably thinking of little else other than the London Marathon. It will be consuming your every thought, at the back of your mind no matter what you’re doing. You’ll be nervous. You’ll be excited. You’ll probably be a little bit scared.

That’s all okay. Keep this in mind: you got this.

Seriously, you’ve got this. You. Have. Got. This. Really, you have. Just keep those conflicting emotions in balance and you’ll be fine. Be excited, but don’t get carried away. And be nervous, but don’t let it scare you.

Plus, it might not seem like it with the race yet to be run, but you’ve already done the hard bit.

All those months of training? All those long, long runs on freezing cold mornings, with nothing but your own thoughts and a clutch of energy gels for company? That’s the hard stuff. You’ve done that now. You’ve only got 26.2 miles left to run. And it’s the fun 26.2 miles. Enjoy it.

It will be a lot of fun. Remember that when the nerves start to take over. Take a deep breath, forget the nerves and enjoy it. Enjoy going to the Expo to pick up your number. Enjoy the nervous trip to the start in Greenwich on an early morning train full of equally nervous fellow runners. Enjoy heading into the start zone, and realising just how big the London Marathon really is. Enjoy dropping off your bag, enjoy your final pre-race pee (actually, here’s my one bit of sage advice: don’t forget your final pre-race pee).

Enjoy lining up in the start zone. Enjoy trying to fathom how big the race is, and how many runners are ahead or behind of you. Enjoy the nervous anticipation before the start. Enjoy the moment when you cross that start line and realise, at the same time as everyone around you, that you’re actually running the London Marathon.

After that? Well, there are a whole host of things to enjoy. 26.2 miles worth, stretching out over the course of the next several hours. I won’t spoil all the surprises. There’ll be things you’ll expect – running over Tower Bridge really is as exciting as you’d anticipated – and things you won’t. The wafting smell from a nearby KFC, anyone?

Most of all, no matter how prepared you are, no matter how big a race you’ve done before, you’ll struggle to comprehend the scale of the marathon. It’s huge. There are so many runners. There’s so much organisation.

And then there the spectators. Lots of spectators. So many spectators. They form a virtually never-ending wall of noise, cheering, motions and support. Enjoy the spectators. Enjoy the support. It’s amazing. It’s inspiring. It’s, well, a little overwhelming. Sometimes, you’ll wish there were fewer spectators and fewer runners, a little more space so you could get away from the constant noise, and get back to running by yourself, just like you did on those long, cold training runs.

But try not to be overwhelmed by the spectators. Let them carry you along, but don’t let them push you into going too fast. High five kids when you want a distraction, read the signs people are holding up when you want to stop thinking about your pacing. Even chat to them if you want. But stick to your plan. When you need to, just focus on your running, your time, your pace plan, yourself. Head down, and picture what it will be like when you cross that finish line on The Mall. Picture being given that medal (actually, one other bit of sage advice: when they put the medal round your neck, be careful you don’t topple over with the extra weight when you’re in a post-marathon exhausted state. It’s a really heavy medal…).

IMG_4875

And remember, that’s what you’re aiming for: reaching the finish. Sure, set yourself a timing goal. I did. And push yourself to meet it. I did. I pushed myself harder than I thought possible. And, in doing so, I learned new things about myself.

Crucially, though, don’t let your target time consume you. If you miss it, you’ll be a bit disappointed. That’s natural. But don’t be upset: it’s okay. You’ll come to realise finishing is success in a marathon. The simple fact you’ll have done one is what will impress your friends and family.

And hey, if you really want to meet that target time, that can wait until the next marathon. Because, no matter how painful it is, no matter how much your legs hurt, no matter how much you doubt whether you’ll actually reach that finish, eventually you’ll want to do another one.

Honestly, you will. Running – well, limping, really – through the last few miles of last year’s London Marathon was the most painful, difficult, intense thing I’ve ever done. I still wince thinking of it now. It hurt. Lordy, it hurt.

But that hurt fades. Your legs will recover. You won’t forget the pain, but it will become part of the massive mix of emotions, feeling and experiences that make up the marathon experience. And you’ll look back at the whole event, on all those sensations, as one of the great experiences of your life.

That’s why I’m gutted I’m not running it again this weekend, and why I’m jealous that you are.

But I’m really happy for you. Your experience will be very different from mine, because every person’s marathon experience is different. A weird truth about a marathon is that, for such a big, communal event, it’s also an incredibly individual challenge. No two people will ever have the same experience. So go out there, and enjoy yours.

I’ll be cheering every single one of you on. Where I’ll be cheering from, I don’t know. I’m tempted to head into London, to join the crowds and cheers you on. But I’m not sure if I can. I’m not sure I could face being so close to it all, without getting really jealous that I wasn’t out there running myself.

But I’m happy you will be. Honest. So I’ll end with this: good luck. Enjoy it. Embrace it. Live it.

You’re about to run the London Marathon. The London Marathon! It’s going to be incredible.

And, yes, it’s going to hurt.

But it will be incredible.

And painful.

But mostly incredible.

Honest.

James

London Marathon 2016 runner 47812

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