2016 London Marathon Training – Week 8 (22-28 February)

Having enjoyed a near uninterrupted run of being able to train whenever I liked, Monday 22nd February brought an abrupt end to all that fun with a 5:45 am alarm call to see me at my desk a couple of minutes later. Formula One had lurched back into life with the opening test of 2016 and I was about to enjoy perhaps the busiest few hours work of the year as an F1 Picture Editor.

Thirteen or so hours later and I was able to let go of the mouse and consider the day’s exercise. The usual spin class had already commenced so I headed out for an easy paced run. The left hip grumbled for a mile or two, thereafter it was a mostly trouble free affair, albeit with a lengthy stop at the Meres for a pit stop and a natter with GRC runners who had just finished their run.

At eight and a bit miles I had the option of turning right to head straight home or carry on forwards for a two mile loop to conclude. The legs feeling good I opted for the latter. All felt good until I reached the same turning on my return when I just felt the outside of my right calf tighten. It grumbled for the final half mile, then on finishing tightened significantly all over the calf and high up in the hamstring. It was essentially a repeat of what first occurred at the Chester Marathon in last October and again on two or three occasions subsequently.

This put running out of the equation for a couple of days at least, although the continuing F1 test meant this was not too much of an issue. I’d always planned weeks 9 and 10 to be fairly minimal on the running front because of work and three races on consecutive weekends. On the Tuesday I was able, during quiet moments at the test, to put in two hours on the home elliptical trainer. The calf felt fine on the trainer, as it always seems to. The stop-start nature of putting in 10-20 minute efforts around work coming in made the session quite tiring, but it was better for the body and mind than dong nothing at all.

Wednesday turned out to be another really busy day at the Circuit de Catalunya so it turned out to be an enforced rest day. Thursday I was able to do an hour in the trainer during the morning in two chunks and I was just about able to finish work in time to head to the club for the marathon paced session I was due to take. As it turned out only two other runners turned up to run, my right calf had already begun to ache a fair but by the time we reached the club. Coming down the first hill of the run the calf began to tighten a lot and I decided to cut the run short when we ran past our house.

Disappointed to have only covered five miles I headed straight onto the elliptical trainer for quite a charged hour long session, pulling higher RPM on higher resistance levels than I had done previously on the relatively new machine. The calf ached a bit but as with previous occasions, it can’t be a pull or a tear as there is no real searing discomfort.

On Friday morning there was no test but I was in charge of looking after the family so I put in another fairly high intensity session on the elliptical trainer, this time for 90 minutes. The right calf was again a bit achy, but otherwise I felt fairly strong.

Saturday was the National Cross Country Championships which is covered in another piece on this website. Suffice to say that the effort had me fairly whacked on Saturday evening and I had no problems getting to sleep hopefully ready for Sunday morning’s bike ride.

Heading to Witham Wheelers for the eighth Reliability Ride of 2016 I could sense immediately that the body was still quite fatigued from Saturday’s race. The last group to set off was a Group 3, 4, and 5 combination. I put in a stint at the front from the off and I could feel that while I was okay on the flat stuff, the first hint of an incline and I was in trouble. This is the total opposite of what is normally the case when I am one of the stronger riders on the hills and struggle to keep up on the flat stuff.

I made it to Melton Mowbray okay but I was dropped on a climb out of Melton. I was able to get back onto the group but 20 minutes or so later there was the longest climb of the ride and I was out of the back door within seconds. There was simply nothing in the legs for me to be able to keep up with what was really quite a modest pace. I dug deep and was able to keep the group sufficiently close to be able to catch them back up once the climb’s summit had been passed.

I think the fact I was able to regroup when it seemed that all hope was lost helped me mentally for much of the rest of the ride as I felt more comfortable thereafter. A long fairly flat section certainly helped matters, as did two small packs of Haribo consumed during a brief stop. The group worked well together riding in and off as we battled with a headwind. It was only at the short sharp hill at Skillington did I once again lose contact with the group, although I was once more able to dig deep on the flat bit after the hill and catch up with the group. We then had a bit of fun on the closing section ramping up the pace and having a mini sprint finish which I opted not to take part in as there seemed little point.

This all meant that the 62 miles was covered in 19 mph, which was pleasing considering that at 25 miles I thought there was no way I was going to be able to finish the ride. I rode home after a quick hot cross bun break, and to my surprise was able to muster a 5k brick run. The right calf was aching a bit but bearable, the pace was very similar to the week before, where the legs felt fresh in the final mile to run 6:30 or so.

A bit of a frustrating week, but it was always going to be a compromise with the F1 test to be covered and if there was a week to suffer an injury that minimised running, then it was a good week to have. It is likely to be more of the same in week 9 with a four day F1 test, a calf which is still sub-par, and a race on the Saturday to consider and taper for.

2016 London Marathon Training – Week Two (11-17 January)

The week began waking in Camberley, tired, but thankfully without a hangover after a night out watching the World Darts final. As the world tried to cope with the news that David Bowie had died, I set out on a run revisiting old haunts. For the final year or so while at University I stayed with my Grandmother who lived in Sandhurst. It is just a couple of miles from Camberley to the famous army town, I set out on a run to try and reminisce on runs I must have done (but only vaguely remember). Sure enough some of the roads brought memories flooding back, the park was literally flooded and impossible to run in its entirety though. In conclusion I reckoned that my runs were very short (I seem to recall the longest run would be only around an hour or so) and that the most common run was one to Crowthorne, which I didn’t attempt.

A loop of Camberley town centre and it was another ten miles in the bag. I drove home later that morning, rested up in the afternoon before heading to the leisure center for the first spinning session of 2016. I warmed up for 20 minutes or so then operated at near full capacity for the session, pleased to average 258 watts, or 3.9 w/kg. A half hour warm down on the gym elliptical trainer and it was time for GRC’s committee meeting.

Tuesday was an emotional day of sorts as it was the last time the Kettler elliptical trainer was to be used. It had the usual hour session, alternating on 5 minute intervals between L5 and L7. The thing remained strong to the end despite being on the brink of falling apart. When it came to dismantling it the thing was far harder to break down than I had anticipated, the thing just didn’t want to go. It had to though, and as soon as the session was over I was helping the wife assemble the new one. My help consisted of taking the thing out of the box. The diagrams and instructions far beyond my comprehension. Thankfully she loves this sort of challenge and in a few hours the thing was up and ready to go. I had a quick spin – she was as steady as a rock and rode beautifully. She will be a great addition to the training family.

I was unsure what run to do in the evening. At the last moment I opted for the club intervals session as it was likely to be easier than running three miles at marathon pace, or so i figured. I wasn’t intending to push too hard. The initial 20 second sprints with 10 second recovery x 18 I treated as warm up strides. Next up was a relay hill session of sorts – around ten minutes of constant running up and down a shallow hill. I kept the effort at around marathon heart rate. To end the session was two one mile reps with three minutes recovery. The first was around 5:50, the last one 5:29 as I relaxed and pushed on a touch. Session over, I jogged home. Another ten miles in the bag.

Wednesday morning was an hour first on the new elliptical trainer, which was thankfully uneventful in the sense that everything felt sturdy and as it should with no dramas. Shortly after it was an easy ten mile run. I’d planned to stick the three miles at marathon pace in, but felt a little stiff after Tuesday’s intervals, so postponed those until Saturday. Otherwise everything felt good.

Thursday saw another hour on the elliptical trainer in the morning; then in the evening I was taking a new GRC evening session. To help prepare some of our runners for spring marathons I’m planning on taking a group on an eight mile town circuit, where a number of the miles are run at marathon pace, which I’ve set at 7:30 per mile. Runners are free to stick with it, or drift ahead or behind depending on feel. The first week we were to have three miles at marathon pace (MP), it will be increased by a mile each week until we are running eight miles at MP on a ten mile course, then after a brief cut back, working towards one or two sessions where there are ten miles at MP on a 12 mile circuit.

The first week saw an encouraging number turn up. After two miles of easy running we set off. Keeping pace wasn’t easy, especially as there was an icy cold wind blowing into our faces at times, then becoming a strong tail wind. Despite that and some hills to disrupt the pace, I managed to clock 7:30; 7:30 and 7:26. Mission accomplished. We jogged back to base then did some easy miles home with a runner who wanted to make it his long run for the week. I stuck at 12 miles.

Friday was again the rest day which had an hour on the elliptical trainer and some strength and conditioning beforehand. Saturday I had a long run of 16 miles planned which had Belton House parkrun bunged in somewhere in the middle. It was a crisp cold morning, well below freezing and with a fair amount of ice. That said, once warmed up, it was ideal for running, and I was able to put in 8 steady miles before the start of parkrun. I’d planned to do parkrun at marathon HR, when I found myself in the lead three minutes in with club mate Chris on my shoulder, that plan went a little out of the window, averaging instead something closer to half marathon HR.

We shared the lead for the first lap and a bit before Chris eased ahead and I let him pull away. 18:14 was just six seconds outside my course PB and I was pleased, although the left groin tightened a touch with the sub six minute miles. I jogged a few miles back into town with Chris before concluding with a quicker couple of miles. Sixteen and a half miles at 6:44 pace was pleasing.

Sunday did not go quite as well. I’d hoped to take part in the Witham Wheelers Reliability Ride, but that was cancelled first thing as snow had fallen overnight leaving some roads treacherous with ice. I opted to go instead for a run. After a stiff first mile things felt fine as I headed to the canal path. At around eight miles and out of the blue I felt my right calf tighten, in a manner almost identical to how it tightened in mid November last year at parkrun. Like that morning I was able to carry on with a moderate amount of discomfort, but shortly after finishing the 14 mile run the calf felt very sore and tight. Thankfully by the evening it had eased off  somewhat, the next morning I was able to cross train fine, but the calf feels although running might be off the agenda for a short while. I left it two weeks last November, hopefully I will be able to come back a little sooner, but time will tell.

A disappointing conclusion to what had been a very good week of training, more so as I was sure the calf problem had been fixed and that it struck again without warning. Hopefully it will be easy to treat (Massage and stretching fixed it last time) and I won’t be gone too long.

Race Report – 2015 Virgin London Marathon

Part 1 – Pre Race

Back in January when I was in full training and looking like I could make a serious stab at Sub-245 at London, I’d booked some train tickets to London on Saturday with the intention of sourcing accommodation overnight. With the fractured build up and last minute decision to actually take part, I found myself with nowhere to stay and devoid of actual train tickets, thanks to a succession of issues too mundane to report here.

Salvation came in the form of fellow Grantham Running Club member Rob and his partner Catherine, who were planning to travel down from Grantham on the morning via car and train. They kindly offered me a space in their car – they even pre-bought the train tickets from Stevenage to avoid any potential queues in the morning.

I was very pleased with this arrangement. When I lived in Coventry I always drove down on the morning of the race. The lure of a familiar bed and a familiar pre-race meal and routine outweighing the drag of an early wake up call on race day. Even that is arguably favourable – rising at 5am gives the body plenty of time to fully wake up before the race start at 10:10am.

We left Grantham at 6am and made good progress down a quiet A1 to arrive in Stevenage seventy five minutes later. The station was reasonably full with like-minded runners and spectators. The race fever began to kick in! We were on the 7:35 train into Kings Cross, which pulled into its destination just before 8 am. I wished good luck to Catherine as we split on to different underground trains thanks to starting in different Good For Age locations.

The rest of the journey to Blackheath could not have gone much smoother – the Northern Line to Euston, a switch of lines to head to Charing Cross, then making it just in time to catch the 8:30 to Blackheath. Walking along the platform I happened to spot old running friend Rob Thompson standing in one of the carriages. I think we last ran together at the 2006 London Marathon. He’s making a comeback of sorts to running after a spell away, and today he was tackling the course dressed as Freddy Mercury. “How did you recognise me?” he joked. He was fairly hard not to notice, even the BBC managed to later on in the day.

Rob Thompson – the fastest Freddy Mercury at 2015 VLM!

The train journey can best be described as intimate, as it fast became an exercise of just how many people you can fit on a train. It was a blessed relief when we arrived at Blackheath and could make the short walk across the common to the start area. I was there at 9am – plenty of time to prepare for the race. As I approached the Good for Age start and realised that we had been upgraded to now be known as Fast Good For Age, I couldn’t resist but attempt a selfie in front of the rather flattering banner. I’m not one for taking selfies, and my efforts showed as I struggled to even get myself in the picture let alone anything resembling the desired background. Fortunately salvation once again came in the form of a fellow runner wanting the same ego stroking photo opportunity but struggling with the practice of performing a self portrait. We used the tried and tested practice of exchanging cameras phones, and posing for a rather satisfying, if for 2015, technically incorrect in terms of being fast or good for age, photo. Thanks fellow runner!

Stretching the concept of ‘Fast’

Once inside the hallowed enclosure of the Fast Good For Age pen the preparations were rather condensed, having spent far too long on the photo above, but were smooth and stress free. I changed into my kit and promptly put my bag on the truck, much to the delight of the girl with the loudhailer, who amused and irritated in equal measures with her near hysterical demands to get your bag on the truck by 9:30. I joined a queue for the toilet, which although not exactly short, were not panic inducing like Nottingham last year nor when I’ve been on other starts at London. I chatted with a couple of runners, who it transpired lived with a couple of miles of each other – who knows if a future running partnership will ensue? The actual port of call at the Portaloo was uneventful save for the redistributing of the Powergels I’d fastened to the inside of my shorts which now had to be carefully moved again to avoid unwanted tickling of areas best tickled in situations which don’t involve running, let alone running a marathon. That mini-drama over, I joined the compact but clearly excited Fast Good For Age start pen exactly twenty minutes ahead of the start.

Part 2 – The ‘Race’

The weather was near perfect, early rain had passed and it was cloudy, fairly cool at 8°C, with a slightly chilly breeze. This made it rather unpleasant as we lined up – I was grateful for the bin bag I had packed and was now wearing, and grateful too for being again as condensed as sardines in a tin just behind the start line. There were random bursts of applause for no apparent reason, but generally the atmosphere at out start was fairly muted. Certainly nothing compared to the rousing rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone experienced at the Rotterdam Marathon last year.

With no countdown nor fanfare, at 10:10 the race began. We were into our running within seconds of starting, which is all you can ask for in a race and quite a feat of organisation with so many entrants of varying abilities. There was certainly no repeat of the fiasco a few years back when they stuck the celebrity runners in front of Good for Agers, which almost literally saw punches thrown, as a C-list wall of joggers blocked the path of runners pretty desperate to get into their (far, far quicker) running.

Right until the start I wasn’t totally sure how I was going to attack the race. I had originally intended to jog slowly, enjoy the atmosphere and be prepared to walk most of the way if necessary. Then, as I guess Paula must have felt, when you actually prepare to set your toe on the start line the racing instinct kicks in. The night before I harboured dreams of feeling so fresh I would be able to give it a full beans to marathon heart rate style attack. Once into my running I felt fine in the sense that everything appeared to work as it should be and I was comfortable running a 7:04 first mile, but aware that it didn’t feel like I could push on and sustain mile after mile at a pace the best part of a minute per mile quicker.

So it came to be that I settled on the plan I expected I would given the circumstances – treat it like a regular long run, so keeping broadly within the zone of my long runs (145-155 bpm) and see how long I could go before the wheels fell off. It wasn’t totally possible to stay within the zones, the opening three miles on the red start (which I don’t recall running before) had a couple of noticeable drags although overall downhill, but by and large I was running smoothly and to plan, clocking a pair of 6:45 miles through to the third mile where we joined the main start and the swarms of runners and masses of spectators. It was here I felt a little ache in the left hip and glute, but it soon passed and I don’t recall feeling it again, which was a blessed relief as the area had stopped me running altogether after just a few minutes nine days earlier.

I took my first of six gels at three miles, the rest consumed every four miles thereafter. I assume the joining of the two races and the significant drop in elevation spurred me on a touch as I ran what turned out to be my fastest mile (6:37) through mile four. The fifth mile passed with little incident at 6:50 and I began to envisage wild thoughts of sustaining this all the way to a sub-3 clocking. The sixth mile heading towards Greenwich and Cutty Sark has long been my favourite in the marathon. The drummers under the A102 bridge on the Woolwich road have never failed to send goose bumps down the arms – their intensity as impressive as the sheer volume of spectators lining the course a little further down the road.

It was at Cutty Sark where I felt the first twinge in my upper right thigh, close to the IT band. I could sense it was the very early onset of cramp. I knew that whilst the cardiovascular effort of running would not be too bad thanks to the hours spent on the elliptical trainer and bike, the sheer physical demands of running 26.2 miles with little in the way of running in the build up would more than likely take its toll. The intention now was just to keep calm, keep running smoothly and try and avoid the onset of cramp for as long as possible.

The sixth mile was 6:48, the seventh a little slower at 6:58, but there was a slight slowing through congestion at Cutty Sark. The slight drag leaving Cutty Sark has not been my favourite part of the course, so was pleased to clock a pair of 6:47 miles taking me to nine miles. It was at around eight miles that fellow Grantham Running Club of sorts (She was wearing a Nene Valley Harriers vest, and I was wearing the green of Kenilworth Runners) Abi Schofield came alongside. She commented she was a bit surprised to be running up where I was. After I explained my less than ideal build up to the race, she tried to look on the bright side and said perhaps the break from running would do me good. I knew that was wishful thinking. Had I have had another 3-4 weeks of running then perhaps I could have been in full shape. As it was I was hanging on and hoping for the best. I let her drift slowly into the distance en route to an excellent 3:07 PB.

It was around this stage I fancied a stop for a wee, the preferred option of a Portaloo was fruitless on a couple of occasions as they were fully occupied, so I took the less glamorous but equally popular option of using a building site entrance just shy of the 15km marker. This cost me forty odd seconds for mile 10, but according to my Garmin I was just about on sub-3 pace (Although the creep in disparity between the Garmin mile markers and the official ones was starting to grow).

The run towards London Bridge and halfway saw the slow onset of cramp begin to hit the legs. I was determined to save myself at least the ignominy of making it to halfway before having to stop so I tried my best to relax and put the pain messages coming from the legs to the back of my mind. It seemed to work, clocking 6:50, 6:48 and 6:50 miles through to halfway. The atmosphere before, during and just after London Bridge was simply stunning, another goose bump moment. I went through halfway in 1:31:04 (On my watch – the clock at halfway had malfunctioned) which confirmed that my Garmin was a little out by now (It had me going through a minute faster). On a good day I’d be confident that I would be able to negative split enough to come home sub-3. Today I knew that these comfortable miles were soon to be consigned to the past.

It was here where I was cheered on by the majority of the Kenilworth Runners support crew for the first time. I was smiling much of the way round, when I heard them call my name I was beaming. No matter what was going to happen this was definitely a most enjoyable marathon. Mile 14 despite feeling somewhat tired I managed a 6:52; the fifteenth I was hanging onto my legs for grim death, but churned out a 6:46.

I stopped for the first time just after 15 miles. It wasn’t a full blown bout of cramp in the right quad, but enough to make me want to stop and stretch it a couple of times. Despite the legs feeling fairly poor and a couple of stops, I managed a 7:36. I think I would have slowed even more but at 17 miles I was caught by a pair of Kenilworth Runners who were looking to run around 3:05. I originally told them I was going to drop back straight away, but from somewhere the legs appeared to improve for a couple of miles, so I tackled the twists and turns around Canary Wharf and other very tall buildings in 7:04 for miles 17 and 18 and pulled a now alarm bell ringing 6:51 for mile 19 (I do wonder if GPS accuracy is to account for this – it didn’t feel that quick at the time).

The wheels finally fell off at 20 miles, just as we tackled a rather curious loop back on the wide A1261 which I don’t recall having ever tackled before. Both pairs of quads cramped up, not in a searing outpouring of pain, but enough to leave no option but to stop and walk a while. In previous marathons this would have onset a spell of dejection as all hopes of setting a target time would be thrown out of the window. Today, I barely cared. I looked forward to being able to stop and chat to Tom and Pauline at 22 miles, which I did, taking 30-40 seconds to see how they were and how other Kenilworth Runners ahead of me had got on (And instinctively, I asked how Paula was doing). I would rather have not faced the final six miles with legs that hurt and resolutely did not want to cooperate, but at the same time they served to authenticate the genuine marathon experience of hitting the wall, yet battling on determined to the end.

Gingerly running along as the cramp sets in at c. 22 miles.

So mile 20 was 8:07. The next four miles I adopted an impromptu jog / walk strategy, stopping and walking when I felt a wave of cramp sear through my quads. This meant miles 21, 22  and 23 (which included a stop for a chat) took 8:32, 8:05, and 8:57 respectively. Every time I stopped and walked the crowd begged me to start running and cheered loudly when I did, fellow runners offered encouragement to keep it going to the finish.

The 24th mile was the hardest. I must have felt fairly bad as I decided to take one of the Luco*ade drinks just before the loneliness that is the long underpass approaching the Embankment. Despite having thrown up the contents during a race of this drink on previous occasions, I reckoned it wouldn’t be bad this time as I was running so slowly. It took the length of the tunnel for this theory to be proved wrong as the sickly orange liquid began to repeat on me. Thankfully I managed to keep the contents down.

It is at this point I was looking constantly at my Garmin to see how much longer I had to go. It was disappointing from a desperately wanting to finish point of view, that Garmin had me running around 0.6 mile further than I actually had. If anyone has any doubts over the validity of the distance of the course, then check out the route I supposedly took below. I know I was a bit wobbly on the legs at places, but I definitely did’t wander this much over the road (Nor turn back on myself) and I did manage to stick to the course rather than recklessly head through buildings. The moral is GPS watches are great as a guide to speed and distance, but they are no where near the last word in accuracy.

Wandering all over the place – according to my Garmin.

After my low point, just before the Luco*ade where I did actually stop briefly at the side of the road and was asked by a marshal if I was okay, coming out of the tunnel a determination came over me to run, or at least jog all the way to the finish. There was no shortage of encouragement from the crowds, and even if the waves of runners pouring past me, thanks to the large sub 3:15 groups on course to hit their target, was a touch disconcerting, I managed to find a shuffle that enabled me to keep on running. So after the low point of mile 24 (Which I have at 9:39, but may be a bit quicker than that (Strava has it at 8:54), the 25th mile was tackled in a better 8:34.

It was at the 26th mile I had my moment of TV time I’ve secretly been wanting since I first ran the London Marathon back in 2015. Unbeknownst to me, once I’d turned the right hand corner at Big Ben and headed on, what was today, the interminably long drag down Birdcage walk, the BBC cameraman began a long sweeping pan focusing on one runner among the hundreds on the road, which happened to be me! I imagine the cameraman chose me because I was clearly the slowest of the bunch. He / she probably reckoned on me pulling up in cramp filled agony at any point in his pan – the veritable money shot for any film crew working in the last couple of miles of a marathon. Fortunately I managed to keep it all together and plodded successfully slowly out of camera shot. I just wish that I could have been captured in another year (Ideally 2008) when I was storming along at this exact spot at something close to sub six minute miles, but, alas, that’s how things often turn out to be.

My Moment of Fame!

The last mile was painful but I was determined to run to the finish. Mile 26 (on my Garmin) saw a slight increase in pace (8:18). The final 0.7 mile – or so it was on the Garmin, saw me slow to 8:47 as I battled the worst cramps of the run. There was no sprint to the finish as it came into view. Just an absolute will to make it to the finish without stopping and to make it inside 3:20 – a goal I set myself in the final three miles as form of incentive to keep going. This I managed, coming home on the official timing in 3:17:44.

Part 3 – Post Race

The medal was as gratefully received as any I’ve had. The long, slow, painful walk to repatriate myself with my kit bag was almost as bad as running the last six miles of the race. I was happy to stop for at least five official post race photos. My bag was in the very last truck on The Mall, it had been tied up so efficiently by one of the baggage handlers on Blackheath, I had to ask one at the Mall if she could undo it. It took her a good couple of minutes. After letting nearest and dearest know I was okay, I began the painful and difficult task of changing into warm clothing – once sat on the floor it was very difficult to get up!

I’d arranged to meet up with some members of Grantham Running Club at a pub in Covent Garden. Apparently it would have been quicker for me to walk there, as it was I took a slow, lengthy walk to Westminster tube station (Diversions in place), then at least two trains and a walk to the pub. We enjoyed an hour or so of marathon recollections, before beginning our journey back home, which was as smooth and uneventful as the journey down. Back home before seven to a reception of sorts from the wife and kids, who were both thrilled to have seen me on TV and desperate to try on the medal.

The hour or so in the car had taken its toll and the legs were super stiff. The next day was hard going, especially getting out of bed, but I managed to just about walk the 3.5 mile school run in the afternoon. Proof it was just the effects of cramp hurting the legs was demonstrated on Tuesday evening when I took part in the Witham Wheelers Ten Mile TT . Despite cold windy conditions, I managed to beat my previous best by 22 seconds! A four mile run on the treadmill on Wednesday saw no ill effects other than a bit of tiredness.

It may have not have been my quickest marathon, but the 2015 London Marathon will live long in the memory as one of the most enjoyable, not just because I got to enjoy the legendary atmosphere, but because I defied the odds and made it round reasonably quickly despite a build up that really shouldn’t have seen me run at all. And, more importantly and as long as something untoward occurs in the next week or two, I escaped without damage to the body.




Matthew Kingston-Lee: My Journey to My Latest London Marathon

It’s time for do or die. Matthew Kingston-Lee will carry his broken body another time this Sunday, praying to a perhaps non-existent God that this distance, that shouldn’t really pose too many issues for a fit and healthy athlete, will be tolerable for one who is totally under prepared for the demands running a fair long way presents. Like all slightly stupid ideas, his latest London Marathon adventure is bound to be painful and probably soul destroying as he sets out to do what surely every other average athlete is hoping to do and that is beat Paula Radcliffe.

Here I ramble on pretending I am being interviewed when it is just the figment of my bored imagination. I make a mountain out of a molehill and reminisce on events that are significant probably only to myself and of little or no interest to anyone.

April 2010 – The Last Time I Ran (The London Marathon).

A Blister I Once Had

2010 was the last time Matthew ran the London Marathon. It was an event he really shouldn’t have made. In great shape (But with a bad hip…) he found himself stuck in Shanghai after the Grand Prix there because of the Icelandic ash cloud.

Via an unplanned visit to a Vietnamese prison, the seemingly impossible mission to make it to Blackheath in time culminated in a last minute rescue trip courtesy of a (very expensive and paid for) first class trip home via Moscow with Aeroflot. Fourty eight hours earlier he was being told by a jobsworth at Hanoi airport there was no way he was flying until Monday at the earliest. Now he stood (a little way behind) the start line of the only marathon anyone really cares about.

His story of how he got to the London marathon could be the stuff of a (really bad) Hollywood movie. At the very least it should have filled some airtime on one of those BBC life story clips that interrupt the pictures of people running in the race itself. Instead his marathon became better known for the infamous trip to the blue portaloo at 14 miles, from which he reappeared 88 seconds later and a couple of pounds lighter. Now one of the most unwatched athletics clips not available on YouTube, his brave battle to the finish with a hip that really wasn’t happy in a time of 2:55 was largely forgotten. What was not forgotten by his wife was being unable to walk for the next four days, especially as they were meant to be on a walking holiday.

Little did Matthew know that he wouldn’t be able to run London again for another five years – a combination of injury, clashes with F1 races or simply not bothering to enter put pay to that fun day out on the streets of the capital.

October 2014 – Whoops! How Did That Happen?

The end of September 2014 saw him in the running form of Matthew’s life clocking 1:15:29 at the Robin Hood Half Marathon, as frustratingly close to just missing out on securing an elite start at the London Marathon as it was when he ran 2:46 at Rotterdam earlier in the year. Still, he had the knowledge that his entry to the 2015 London Marathon was secured, and as it didn’t clash with an F1 event, sub 2:45 looked a formality.

Nike Free 4.0 V2 (Grey and Yellow)
Some Nike trainers, placed into the article, in no way trying to endorse Nike

Two weeks later and he was almost literally unable to walk with what transpired to be a fractured sacrum. Matthew, a man who is happy to not have gravel in his guts, was as stubborn as ever when it came to resting up. He took all of three days off, reuniting himself with the bicycle he had ridden on other occasions when he was too injured to run, and taking up a second residence in the shed – home of his faithful elliptical trainer.

December 2014 – Hitting the Pavement For a Sixty Second Hobble

Eight weeks after the sacrum fracture occurred and bored witless by the hours spent on the elliptical trainer, Matthew headed nervously out on Christmas Eve for a one minute jog. Forever the rebel he defied the recommendation of his physiotherapist and ran for one minute and four seconds. “It felt great!” said Matthew, “the best early Christmas present ever… Well except for the 42″ TV I bought myself a few years back as an early Christmas present. And the Garmin 910XT I bought myself too as an an early combined birthday and Christmas present. It was the third best early Christmas present ever.”

The rest of December was an embarrassment as far as running was concerned. Drinking too much alcohol, he could barely muster more than a couple of miles before repeatedly doubling up in agony with cramp. “I was scared I’d never be able to drink again. Luckily I can!” confided Matthew candidly. Every night after the kids had gone to bed, Matthew’s wife, Emily, would serve up a large glass of white wine, which he would drink in about five minutes or so. “It did nothing for my running, but it tasted fantastic.”

January 2015 – Four Months to Go – Back on the Streets.

With memories of a Christmas spent travelling from one set of relatives to another, Matthew winces as he remembers he only actually ran for two minutes on Christmas Day.

January though was another matter and enjoying the freedom of being able to run and not hobbling like someone very, very overweight, Matthew got back into the regular routine of sometimes picking the kids up from school and getting out for a run whenever he could. He found a new training partner in the form of former Latvian international Janis, who soon had Matthew running far faster than he should have. Rejuvenated by his new training partner, who spoke not much in the way of coherent English but could happily communicate in the language of running, Matthew found time to talk to his daughter.

Nike Air Pegasus 29 (Turquoise)
Some more Nike trainers, almost subliminally selling the swoosh to you.

“I said to my daughter ‘this might be the last time I can train to try and beat 2:45 over the marathon, a time that holds little significance to anyone other than those who understand it to be the qualifying time for the national marathon championships, which are actually just the London Marathon, but you get to start somewhere a bit posher,’ and she said ‘Dad, can I play games on the tablet?’ I hope to God London won’t be my last marathon, but it will be the last London Marathon I will run in 2015.

February 2015 – Heartbreak (Nearly on) Valentine’s Day.

Things were looking so promising for Matthew, he actually began running with his club mates again. Disaster would strike though on a (nearly) Valentine’s Day club run when an ominous pain crept up and through deep into his left glute. Barely able to walk by the run’s end, the pain was all too familiar. “I didn’t need any X-Rays or MRI scans to tell me I’d gone and fractured my sacrum again – albeit this time on the left side.”

Despite this boast of not needing an X-Ray or MRI, Matthew called upon the stretched resources of the NHS with firstly a an X-ray and then an MRI scan to confirm it was indeed a near mirror image fracture of the left sacrum. Whilst running on the potholed streets of Grantham his sacrum had again become the first port of call to surrender.

And with ten weeks to go until he was set to run the streets of London, Matthew went from running about 51.3 miles a week to none. His Latvian training partner, with no-one to run with, left for Norway. The lure of a better paying job with better working conditions and hours had nothing to do with it.

With no miles being run for seven weeks, help was sought from his GP who, after establishing it could be a Vitamin D deficiency causing the unwelcome fractures, suggested reserving a large patch of skin on his back to become permanently burnt to a crisp to help get his Vitamin D dose.

Finishing the 2008 London Marathon

April 2015 – One Week to Go – Disaster, Shit!

After waiting precisely seven weeks to allow the fracture to heal and with not that much help from anyone really, Matthew takes his daughter to a park in the near redundant village of Manthorpe, on the outskirts of Grantham. He doesn’t manage to run a step – his daughter is two and cannot be left alone whilst he galavants across the grass. He heads home, dumps her with her mother, and heads out for a run which lasts all of three minutes before he is forced to stop in agony.

Thanks to modern technology, Matthew was able to make this run literally not happen by making it a Private Run on Strava. There is pain, he can barely walk, let alone run. But the marathon has been paid for and the train tickets already bought. Someone has even gone and got his number for him. Deferring his entry is tactically not a good idea as he can guarantee entry until 2017 by not doing so. The marathon is on.

April 22 – Three Days To Go – Irrelavent Filler

In the shadow of the valley of death, Kingston-Lee walks towards a bunch of kids shouting what he now recognises as his name. “Dad! Dad!” they cry, in a variety of voices that confirm 90% of the children are not actually his.

He scowls back at them, ignoring their requests for sweets, ice cream, money and drugs. If his barely healed sacrum isn’t filling his mind with fear, he must just be permanently miserable.

Kingston-Lee’s wife, children, 1 & 2, and Mum and Dad, will not be watching Kingston-Lee run on Sunday

“It definitely better than it was a few weeks ago, but then again it couldn’t get much worse. I’ve run a few times since Easter but every time I’ve thought, bugger this, it’s too painful, and got back on the bike or the elliptical trainer instead. I’m ill prepared to run a marathon, but chances are if I make it I’ll likely finish in the top 25% of the field, which doesn’t say much for the state of running nowadays. I better had anyway as I’ve booked my train back to Grantham for 3pm”

As he runs walks hobbles around the course for what he sincerely hopes will not be the final time, some random memories may or may not flash before him. His father, who never carried any desire to run a marathon; failing miserably in 1998; definitely not running it under an assumed name in 2000; failing again in 2005; doing quite well in 2006; and 2007; and 2008; and 2010; and the stench from that blue portaloo which probably hung around for quite a few runners after him.

“I’ll just be trying to finish, in one piece” he says, “I’ve paid up for the Woodhall Spa Triathlon and I don’t want to lose my entry fee money again.”


If I Could Offer You Only One Tip For The Future…

Fast approaching the seventh week of cross training, the novelty of run-free exercise has definitely passed its best before date. Maintaining a diet rich on elliptical trainer, the highlight of the past couple of weeks was an impromptu 105 mile bike ride this Sunday just gone. In looking for somewhere to ride early in the morning, I stumbled upon a load of cyclists following orange signs out of Grantham. It dawned slowly on me that were taking part in the cycle event I’d seen signs for in the past week or so apologising for any inconvenience that may be caused.

I thought I’d go along for the ride, making sure I didn’t interfere with anyone actually taking part in the event nor partaking in any of the refreshment stops. At around 20 miles I was given the option of continuing over a 100 or 160 km route. The furthest I’ve ridden in the past five years is just over 100 km; for reasons unknown I opted for the longer ride. Despite the hills and lack of nutrition and liquid (I’d only taken enough food for a 50-60 mile ride) it was a great ride over a hilly route in gorgeous weather – not warm, but sunny and still. Six hours or so after setting off I got back home – 106 miles in the legs. A day or three later I finally got over my efforts.

The cause of the reason for the cross training  – a second stress fracture of the sacrum – has been something of a mystery. I returned yesterday to the doctors to discuss the results of a blood test I had last week. It revealed that I had a Vitamin D deficiency – not urgently low, but low enough to merit the attention of the doctor to take action to correct the deficit.

Vitamin D is the one you can get in a few foods, but typically get your supply of from the UV radiation in sunlight. It is believed to have several roles, including the regulation of calcium and phosphate, necessary nutrients to keep bones healthy. Recent studies  have suggested that a Vitamin D deficiency could increase the risk of stress fractures in athletes. Kudos to my GP for being alert to this and testing me!

If this ‘D’eficiency is the principal cause of the stress fractures (It may be something else, this may just be a coincidence) I could accept my Vitamin D levels being low in February after months of weak winter sunshine (If we had any sunshine at all) but I didn’t think it explained the October fracture which came after a spell of being exposed to a very sunny summer.

… Sunscreen would be it….

As Baz Luhrmann eulogised (courtesy of profound words penned by Mary Schmich) sunscreen is a wonderful thing. It allows me to go out in the summer months and not be burned to a crisp in a worryingly short period of time. The benefits of preventing skin cancer and premature skin ageing have been proven. I tend to slap Factor 50 on first thing in the morning and in so doing not really have to be worried about getting burned for the rest of the day.

Unfortunately a side affect of wearing sun screen (or sun block, or sun cream or whatever it is called) is that in blocking out the UV radiation it prevents the body absorbing what it requires to have enough stores of Vitamin D. So, as I pointed out to my GP, I have a dilemma, get burned or get deficient, what is it to be? He couldn’t really answer that one. He’s not alone, most literature I’ve read on the matter can’t properly address how you avoid the damaging rays of the summer sun yet get enough exposure to top up Vitamin D supplies.

In the meantime I’m to take six months supply of Vitamin D with blood tests along the way to make sure my levels rise adequately. I hope they do and that this has been the cause of my woes. Answers which have a fairly simple resolution are nearly always preferable to unresolved mysteries.

In terms of running, it is six weeks ago today that the fracture occurred. In theory it could be healed, but the putting on my trousers easily whilst standing up test makes me believe I am a few days away from being able to test the waters and try a little trot. It does though continue to improve every day – so much that, apart from the aforementioned balance test, I now have full and normal use of my left leg.

And as for Luhrmann / Schmich: they may have been spot on with their advice on getting plenty of calcium, but to be so confident about the merits of using sun screen….

Can I sue?!