Tuesday 3 December 2019

Florence Marathon

It was a pretty much perfect race, but why am I not jumping for joy?

This race is a weird one for me. I had entered this in order to try to get a championship qualifying place for London next year. I already have a GFA place but I really want that extra step up. This would be either a sub 90 minute half marathon or a sub 3:15 marathon by the end of December.

So having had a wonderful summer of adventure - two self supported runs - one through Corsica and one across Scotland. I was fit and strong, but full of hills rather than fast and flat. I had entered Swindon half marathon at end of September and Valencia marathon at the end of November. Both with half an eye on the prize.

I had a few weeks of specific training before Swindon where I focussed on half marathon pacing, making a surprisingly good transition from scrambling up mountains and running over hills to the fun of flat roads. I love the structure of road training as much as I love the freedom of Mountain running, so I'm fortunate to switch between the two fairly seamlessly.

Something happened (I'm a moron) and it turned out I'd not paid for my Valencia marathon entry so a quick Google search and I found Florence the week before so got my entry into that.

Anyway, Swindon half marathon was brilliant. I ran a great race on an exceptionally soggy day, and got a 3 minute PB, even with having to stop twice to re-tie my shoelaces that didn't want to stay done up in the puddles. Yet I was still a couple of minutes shy of that sub 90 - I knew it would be a big ask to ask for 5 mins off my best on a course that has a bastard hill at mile 11 so I was very happy with the outcome. It was a solid effort and coming in 7th lady and 3rd in my AG I had nothing to complain about.


My recovery out of Swindon was surprisingly slow. I was really struggling with my mojo, all my training runs felt laboured a few weeks later even. I felt completely off form and Florence was already coming up fast. I was sending panicking texts to Robbie on a semi frequent basis, him doing his best to convince me that it would all come together on race day and with a good taper - blah blah...

I was doing my training runs with sub 3:15 in mind, but really not feeling confident that I would achieve it. Three weeks out and I really wasn't feeling it. Comparing to how I felt coming in to London, I was a different person. Not at all excited, no confidence, tired. always tired. I just wasn't looking forward to it. Neither was I dreading it. Just a bit "meh" I guess.

It's an unusual time for me to be training for a goal race, normally I'd have done my big race of the summer and be winding down before Christmas, so I put it down to this.

Anyway, I tapered well, signed off from work and me and my friend Issy headed off to Italy for the weekend of sight seeing, wine and all the carbs. We had a lovely night in Pisa, with lots of walking and wine and gorgeous food.

We then got a train to Florence on Saturday, checked into our hotel and had a walk around the city, picked up my race pack, ate THE MOST AMAZING PIZZA OF OUR LIVES. Honestly. There has been nothing like it. We did some sight seeing then went back to the hotel for a lay down, back out for more food and some wine, picked up a sandwich for breakfast and had an early night.

Race morning, I wasn't excited, I almost couldn't be bothered. I started to feel a bit of the usual nerves as we walked to the bag drop. I said goodbye to Issy and went to my pen to start. The start was beautiful, right in the centre next to the Cathedral. Weather wise it was perfect. No wind, cool and sunny. The race got off to a start, I was in one of the front pens that took a minute to get through the start line, it was very narrow to begin with and people were jogging. Fuckers. Get out the way. Honestly, how people position themselves in the front to then jog off at ten min mile pace boils my piss (don't I sound like an arsehole!?)

I spent the first kilometre getting myself past joggers, finding some space then setting into my stride.
I did have a plan in my head before the start which was to start out at 4:41 pace (PB pace) then try to build in the last 10k to 4:35. What actually happened was I found myself bobbing around 4:30 - 4:32 pace for the first 10k. I knew I was going faster than i intended but it felt really comfortable so i just went with it.

I stopped for a wee in a bush about mile 6 which brought my average back to around 4:35 which would have secured me a 3:13 ish time.

My ITB had been giving my some gyp the weeks running into the race and I could feel it bothering me from the start.

Weighing up what my excuse would be when either my wheels fell off or my ITB took me out over the next 20k.... neither of which happened. At some point I was convinced I would realised I'd written a cheque my legs couldn't cash. What started going through my head was not "if" i went under 3:15 but "how much".... this was a new place to be in, yet I still felt quite comfortable, if not a few seconds faster than I ever expected to be going at.

I passed through 30k in around 2:16 I knew that even if I ran my "easy" pace I could get in, in around an hour.

I knew that at my current pace, I had nowhere to go so any ideas of picking up the pace over the last 10k were gone, if I could maintain this pace I'd do amazing.
Coming into the last 8k, thinking whether I could be bothered or not....  I was getting a bit weary and the cobbles we were now running on were beginning to tire me out with concentration, running through the city was annoyingly winding, slowing things down when I was already starting to tire. I was going to do it though! I was going to get in, in around 3:13 by my calculations. I was constantly re-calibrating when I'd get through the line. I had this! But why was I still not feeling elation?

I came through 40k, still on 3:13 target. I was going to do it. Yet I still wasn't feeling the love. Very quickly - too quickly, the 41k marker appeared. I looked at my watch, I'd only covered 400m since the last marker. My guts skipped. My face dropped. The course was going to be short. I was already so, so disappointed because I knew the course would then be recorded as a "Short marathon" and therefore wouldn't count as my qualifying place. My time was 3:11:01 and I was 42nd woman of 1600. I should be jumping for joy. My pacing was amazing. I had such consistency - I mean isn't that what I've been training for, for the last 5 years?

Distance Pace
5K 04:30
10K 04:35
15K 04:32
Half Marathon 04:34
25K 04:33
30K 04:33
35K 04:34
40K 04:35
Arrivo 04:31

I came into the finish, not really feeling the joy I should have done. Not pushing for the line like I should have done. Just kind of rolling through the finish, getting my medal and wandering off to find Issy, having missed her screaming her throat raw as I past her at the finishing corner.

We went for a beer and for some more of THE MOST AMAZING PIZZA and then celebrated with a nap.I text Robbie and a couple of friends that I'd got the time but the course was short so it won't count. I was gutted. Even though I know in my heart that even on a full course I would have been safely under the time, but I just felt so flat. I know it's ridiculous, I know it's completely irrational and I should be so so happy, as if I'm honest with myself, I had a near perfect race. Yet I feel a little cheated.
To be fair to the organisers and a race of 10,000 - they did a brilliant job in circumstance that couldn't be foreseen. A gas leak on the course at KM 42 meant they had to act quickly to divert the course and reducing the official distance by 600m. So I'm not blaming them. It was unfortunate and I'm positive if I contact VLM with my time they would have no problems in extrapolating my time and letting me run in the Champs pen, but I would feel like a phony.
I have one last attempt to get a sub 90 half now before the end of the year, which as long as I'm recovered, I'll have a bash. If not, I'm confident in my ability for London next year. Issy was a wonderful support crew as ever and Robbie as always was right. I'm not a bad runner ;-) I've made my peace with it and I realise I sound like an ungrateful brat.

Wednesday 10 July 2019

London Marathon and my head up my arse.

(I wrote this months ago but for some reason never posted it)

As usual my posts seem to be quite few and far between with a collosal life update leading to the latest race. I'll try to keep it brief..... ha! yeah right.

I'll keep it to this year in the very least.

So, I've probably not made it a secret that London marathon has been my A race for the first part of this year. Last year, I bloody loved it! It didn't go to plan as it was about 4000 degress Fahrenheit but it was one of THE best experiences any runner could have.

April 28th has been a date in my diary for 4 months. It's been the focus of my training for this time, and something I've been thoroughly looking forward to.

As per some of my previous posts, work has been quite consuming. The beginning of the year was no different. I'm not going to lie, it got pretty bad. I was topping 80 hours a week plus travelling to Germany twice a month - sometimes more. I was drinking a little more than I should and I was occasionally secretly smoking again.

However, I was still trying to focus on getting my training in. For the most part, I was succeeding. If I hadn't, I think I would have spiralled a bit further than I did. Robbie was brilliant during this time. Something he always nails, is understanding the need to balance several spinning plates in his clients' lives and never ever making you feel like you're failing.

I had a skiing trip at the end of January, where I managed to run most days - not far, but keeping the legs ticking over- mostly up and down the pistes at 2000m altitude. Coming to the end of the trip, I felt the impending doom of work and a rising anxiety I'd not properly acknowledged as a real mental health problem before.

The following weeks, saw my mental health decline to a state that I've not seen for maybe 10 years. I was sat at my desk at 1am tears streaming down my face, sliding an unravelled paperclip up and down my arm until it drew blood. A security guard doing the rounds of the building stopped by, barely noticed my snivelling snotty face, walked back out.

I got home at 2am, to be up at 4.30am to get a flight to Germany.


Later that week, I went to my GP. In floods of tears, I explained how I was feeling. She told me she wanted sign me off work for a month. I stupidly negotiated that we reduce my hours.

She said. "OK - 3 days".
I said "OK, so 30 hours"
"Aren't your contracted hours 37.5 hours?"
"Yes, but nothing will get done in 24 hours"
"Anna. That's not your problem"

Diagnosis. Get some counselling. Get some sleep. Keep exercising. See people.

(She was amazing over the next couple of months, went way above her duty, calling me to check in if I couldn't make my check in appointments -well done NHS)

Right after my appointment, I had a short visit from my friend Charlie, who was passing through on his way back north after some trip to foreign parts as he does now and then, from what I understand he just runs all day and takes selfies with his top off. We went for cake and he made me question my life choices as he always does when we see each other, which was exactly what I needed right now.

I went in to work and gave my boss my Dr's note. To be fair, he's been amazing. I'm very lucky to have him, he really gives a shit and he completely facilitated a reduced working solution whilst I tried to sort my shit out.

Sort my shit out I have. It's been a pretty tough few months and some hefty life changes with on-going changes that I'm managing. I've been spending time with a life coach to help manage through these transitions and it's the best investment I've ever made. The most important thing here is that I've acknowledged, I'm part of the problem - if I want to change my path, I need to change my behaviours (but that is an entire volume of books).

Training wise - the main goal has been consistency.

I take the piss sometimes about Robbie and the "C" word and after 4 or 5 years of training together, I feel that this last few months has been the most consistent I've ever been.

Yes. I missed the odd session. Yes, I never lost the 2kg I planned to lose. Yes, I've had a few too many cigarettes. But, I cut myself some slack. I've been hitting the main sessions. I've been resting when I should as well as when I need to. I've had 3 trips to the alps in the snow (I know - boo hoo) but I've managed to keep things going.

I've been totally neurotic though. One day texting Robbie that I can't possibly manage my target. The next day, over confident. How he manages me is worthy of a medal. I'm sure I'm his most high maintenance clients at times, but he's always there reassuring me. 100% understanding the demands of a busy career, stressful personal life changes and everything else that comes with being a normal functioning human being.

I've been really fucking boring with my training. Laps of the local lake. Running next to the dual carriageway. But deep down I LOVE this sort of structure and discipline for a time. About 4 weeks out, I really started to feel my excitement building.

With a few months consistent training under my belt, and 3 weeks to race day, I pulled off a fantastic half marathon performance. Everything went as I set out -  on the day the weather was hotter than planned so I adjusted some timings a little.

Initial plan:

3 miles @ 4:35/km
3 miles@ 4.30 / km
3 miles @ 4.25 / km
final mile @ 4:20 / km

With the weather forecast a a toasty mid 20s I decided after the first kilometre to adjust this to:

4 miles @ 4:35/ km
4 miles @ 4:30/km
4 miles @4:25/km
final mile hold on for dear life

I went to Hannover with my friend Lyndon, who was carrying an injury and he was keen to follow my plan. We had a nice meal the night before and were suitably prepared.

We ran together, chatting at times. He stuck with me until mile 8, where we parted company. Slowly I pulled away, I missed the 4:25 pace slightly and really hurt the last mile, the heat was reasonably tough and I crossed the line with a PB of 1:35 and a fantastic negative split and progression run.

I was very please with this - a 4th place in my age category in a large international field (32nd woman of close to 3000!). I went home feeling confident and started flirting with the idea of time goals which Robbie and I discussed.

I had two goals in mind. 3:21 - because it's a good number and 3.15 which was my initial A goal that would get me a champs place for next year. Being honest with myself, 3:15 was a big ask, so I kept that in the back of my head with 3:21 as my main target.

I stopped the smokes a week before the race and focussed on getting some good sleep, keeping my stress down, which for various personal reasons didn't happen.

Race week was filled with the usual maranoia - niggles that weren't there, weird dreams. Is that a sore throat? Urgh, I feel sick - shit, am I pregnant? All madness. Get. A. Grip.

By Thursday, I was literally bouncing in my chair at work, grinning constantly. On Friday, my legs felt like they had an electric current running through them. I had heard of this but never experienced it. I met Doug at expo to get our numbers - he was running dressed as an Emoji poo for a great cause, Bowel Cancer awareness. We had a chilled evening and bit of a lie in.

I spent Saturday hydrating and met a friend for a beer then another for a coffee in London then Ellen (my number one fan) and John came up and joined us for the evening for a pint and a pizza and we all stayed with Doug.

Ellen has travelled to America, Spain, the lake district and others to support me at events and I love having her around. She's such a positive force of nature and life would be a sad existence without her.

Early night, alarms set, race day was here!!!!

I bounced out of bed like Tigger and made porridge - I was half way through before I raised my concerns that it tasted stale. I went to the kitchen to check the packaging - sure enough it was out of date. So I left the rest. Doug sadly had eaten all his. Ellen didn't even start hers. I packed some immodium for us in case.

Dressed and ready to go, some pre race pics and hugs and Doug and I headed off to Greenwich.

The trip was hilarious. People asking for selfies with the walking turd.

At Maze Hill we parted company for our respective start points.

The weather was pretty much perfect - a little windier than I had expected, but a cool 10 degrees or so - much different to last years 26 degrees.

I found a discarded poncho to wear once I'd handed in my drop bag and coat to keep warm for the next 20 mins. Some groovy tunes playing to make me dance to keep warm.

All too soon we were moved into the starting pens, held there for 10 mins, quick pee in someone's garden (sorry!) and then not long later the count down begun!

5....4.....3.....2....1.... Good luck everyone! Enjoy!

It took 90 secs to get through the start, even in the 2nd pen of the small green start, but it flowed well.

Earlier that morning I'd read an article Robbie wrote about pacing, holding back, the net descent in the first 4 miles of the course. All this in mind, I got to my target pace of 4:40 and stayed there. My legs wanted to go faster, but I wouldn't let them. I knew they could go faster but I wouldn't let them - how very boring and unlike me not to go off like a bat out of hell! Enjoy the easy pace, I kept telling myself. The race starts later. My goal was to build on this and get a negative split..... the dream for any runner.

My pace felt so controlled. I felt calm. I was enjoying the crowds. the silly fancy dress costumes. The man running in a tent that was taking off in the wind - he was ahead of me!! Thinking nothing more than this being a 3 or so hour run... I'm not racing yet.

By 4 miles, I needed a piss. How long could I hold it before I had to go? another 2 or 3? If I went too soon, I might need to go again, so worked on my pelvic floor.

I got as far as 11 before I found my opportunity. Fortunately there was no queue so it was a 30 second diversion I reckon.

Running over tower bridge was AMAZING! The roar of the crowds, the incredible view was emotional. I grinned so big and bounced over towards the 20k marker.

Still holding my pace of 4:40. Feeling strong, feeling bouncy. Feeling controlled.

Runing into the half way point I got a bit excited on the descent. passed through half way, still on 4:40 pace and hit my lap button. From here I would try to build on my pace.

I aimed at 4:38 (what a numbers bore - but hey, I'm an accountant!). My watch kept telling me I was averaging 4:36. "Too fast Anna. Chill out you dickhead"

I remember a massive hill at 18 miles from last year so wanted to keep something back.

18 miles came and went - I powered up the massive hill (a short flyover) I'd dreamed up last year in the sweltering heat. It was barely a lump this time.

I felt like the race was going by so quickly. Were my wheels about to fall off in a catastrophic way? (probably.....wait for it).

I reached 20 miles, it was still feeling comfortable. I was chatting briefly to a guy to my left, who asked how I was feeling. "Great. The race is about to start now" with a cockey half wink he probably didn't see.

My watch and the mile marker were out of line - I guess the high buildings, wider racing lines create differences, I think I passed through 20 in around 2.31 or so. I knew 3:15 was unlikely now, I'd need to do a sub 45 10k - this wasn't entirely out of reach but I didn't want to dig too deep too soon, so I held the pace at what felt manageable.

Mile 22 came and went, Lyndon was there yelling and cheering. I was waiting for my wheels to come clattering off. Still they were playing along. Throughout the next few miles, I saw lots of people I knew which was so lovely. The crowds along this stretch were incredible, it was impossible not to bounce along getting giddy.

I passed the second crew of St Albans Striders as I was next to one of the 3.15 pacers from the blue start (not mine sadly)

I heard her first - Ellen Screaming! AMAZING! I waved an blew her a kiss.

I heard Lisa screaming and waved.

40km  marker appeared. I could feel that I was starting to slow now, my calves were a bit tight. I knew from training I could turn on the pace late in a long run. But could I now? I hit the lap button again to track my average pace over the last 2k. I was unable to turn it on. I felt like I was too far from the finish to dig in just yet. I knew I would get in under 3:21, but how close to 3:15 could I get?

The last km sign appeared, I still didn't feel ready to dig in. 800m, there was Sarah and little Henry screaming at the top of her lungs.... 600m....400m...... come on Anna, give it a kick. 200m, I glanced at my watch and saw that 3:18 was coming round, I pushed on for the line in an attempt to get under. Boom! 3:17:59.

A 21 second negative split.

My only regret? I still had something in me.... I could have shaved a minute off that last 2k if only I'd had more guts. I need to learn when to push myself into the pain zone. I don't quite feel comforatable doing that yet. I'm still a bit of a rookie at marathons.

I hung around after and met Simon from work who had done a ridiculous 2.52 or something crazy. We chatted. A guy passed out. I ran over and shoved clothes under his bleeding head while St Johns came to the rescue.

Soon after Simon's wife appeared in tears. She'd had a tough race on little training (still sub 4 hours!)

I had my phone back so was tracking Doug. He was storming it. My Dad had sent me a text to say he'd seen Doug interviewed on BBC... talk about stealing my thunder.

Doug came in, in a brilliant 3.55 - surely the fastest turd (and biggest sandbagger) out there! (including stopping for a TV interview and apparently High Fiving everyone on the course watching) - total legend and raised a huge amount of money for an amazing charity.

We went off to meet Ellen, John and Doug's friend Sinead. Doug was the celebrity of the day in his outfit.

We enjoyed some beers and food and celebrated our achievements.

What a day. What a result. What a support crew.

Thank you London. See you next year!

Obviously my mind is already entertaining that elusive sub 3.15 ;-)

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This latest blog will be hopefully following my transwales experience. Enjoy with me :-)