Running a half marathon


A year ago today I ran the Hackney Half Marathon – my first race at that distance (actually only my second true race at any distance). I was fit – a week before I’d done the Finsbury Park Parkrun in 23 minutes and 17 seconds, a PB I am yet to beat. I felt great at the start and ran fast – too fast, as I even knew at the time but couldn’t get myself to slow down properly. I ran the first 10km in what was, until a month ago, my PB. If I had kept that up I’d have finished somewhere at around 1 hour 50 minutes.

By 15km I was slowly badly, by 17km I was desperate. By 19km I could run no more and was walking. I did run most of the last 1000 metres and I certainly ran over the line, but I was in a terrible state and nearly fainted. The finishing time – 2 hours 15 minutes – was a real disappointment, but at least I had done it. But never again, surely.

My second run at this distance was the Royal Parks Half Marathon last October. For the first 10km I followed the 1 hour 55 minutes pacer but after that I couldn’t keep up – I had not prepared as well for this race as the Hackney half and that fundamental lack of fitness had let me down, but still I wasn’t doing too badly.

Coming into the final mile both my legs buckled. I knew I had to walk. After a few hundred metres I tried running again only to get a very painful attack of cramp. I walked to about the 800 metres-to-go mark and started running again, slowly. I made it over the line. But whereas I’d got to 20k in 2 hours and a minute, it was 2 hours and 12 minutes before I finished.

And now I had really injured myself quite badly. Not badly as in get to hospital but badly as in blisters on both feet (don’t rely on Nike’s running socks), bad chafing – something like this – fixes that and most seriously of all, I had very painful Achilles’s Tendons. I didn’t run again at all for two weeks and, effectively, my 2014 running season was over.

Roll around 2015 and two big pieces of technology come into my life. Firstly the Garmin Forerunner 10 – a simple but very easy to use runners’ watch which meant I could really judge my pace properly and then, perhaps even more importantly, a Karrimor Roller which has worked wonders on my legs and hence my Achilles’s Tendons.

So, last week I ran the St. Albans Half Marathon. I had a realistic target – a 5′ 50″ per kilometre pace – and a means to judge whether I was hitting it or not. That wouldn’t take me under two hours, but it would take me close and it was realistic and achievable on what was a very tough course. I prepared properly – tapering even when I wanted to run. And I did it: 2 hours, 3 minutes and 34 seconds – a 5′ 50″ pace.

I still made mistakes – too fast (about 5′ 40″ pace) for much of the start and running the end in a semi-zombified state due to, fundamentally, mental weakness. But it was good.

Even better – I’ve run 30km in the last week – so no injuries.

All in the mind?


Running the Hackney half marathonFor the last 14 months running has been a big thing in my life – with the pinnacle (in distance, if not speed) being my completion of the Hackney half marathon in June (the picture is of me struggling to get through the 10th mile).

The core run each week has been the Finsbury (or occasionally some other) parkrun – an approximate 5km timed run.

The Finsbury Park course is famously tough – two laps of one long, relatively  gentle climb and one short, relatively steep hill.

Back in June, in heavy training for the Hackney half, I got my PB down to 23 minutes and 17 seconds on that course. Since then I have run it three times – every time worst than the last and every time above 25 minutes (today’s was a very bad 25’59”).

Training runs, too, have not been distinguished by speed (though I am gradually returning to longer distances as I train for the Royal Parks half marathon in October – sponsor me (for Oxfam) here) and two 10k races have shown me post times that were slower than the first 10k race I ran (which was in May).

What’s gone wrong? Running performance is pretty much all in the mind or at least it is about the mind’s tolerance of pain and discomfort – and I just do not want it badly enough, I think. Today I did a pretty decent first lap – the GPS on the phone is a bit iffy, typically reporting too fast a time/over-reporting the distance run, but I managed the first 2.5km in about 11’50” – not brilliant but not a million miles from that PB time, but then I effectively decided I didn’t like the discomfort much and so the second lap was in around 14’08”.

The thing is, I had gone out this morning with the intention of ending my run of worsening performances, but in the end just didn’t want that enough. I can try again next week, I suppose.

 

A vision in yellow


Some locations in the London Borough of Hackney.
Some locations in the London Borough of Hackney. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yesterday I ran in the Hackney Half Marathon – my first ever race at that distance. It was a very hot day and I ran a poor race – I had aimed to keep a 5’30” pace per kilometre but in fact ran the first 7km faster than that and ran the first 10km three seconds faster than the 10km I ran last month: not very clever.

I ended up paying the price – going into meltdown at about 11 miles, though I did finish and that’s something to be proud of.

But it is fair to say I was in something of a state by the time I crossed the line, in 2:15:45 (my hope had been for something around 1:55).

Desperate for some sort of energy restoring drink (I missed the energy drink handout on the way round, possibly because by that point – at 8 miles – I was already approaching zombie runner state) I flopped to the ground and drank the “energy” drink I’d been given (actually I think it had little calorific value and the energy it claimed verged on new age mysticism).

Only feeling slightly better I decided to head off to the bag collection point, knowing I had two genuinely sugary Lucozade bottles in my bag.

As I stood up I seemed to get cramp in every muscle in both legs and then – strangely – my vision was washed a sort of sepia yellow.

I didn’t feel faint – particularly (though it’s fair to say I wasn’t fully compos mentis either) – but I did think, “oh here we go”. But the moment passed quite quickly – especially as I knew I had to complete standing up to end the pain in the legs – and I staggered off.

Since then I have read that this is quite likely to be caused by low blood pressure – or, less likelier, by hypoglycaemia. Low blood pressure might seem an odd cause in that I’d just undertaken some extremely strenuous exercise – but I dare say blood pressure in my brain was quite low, with blood diverted to my limbs, and suddenly lowered further by the effort of standing.

It was a stark reminder, though, of the way that our vision of the world is completely internally created. “Colours” are purely perceptional, not real.