Archive | April 2018

The marathon: unrelenting beast

Watching some athletes I coach, and some that are good friends, running the London Marathon was tough. Now don’t get me wrong, I was sitting on the sofa at home watching the TV coverage and tracking them online, while they were negotiating the warmest day ever for a London marathon.

But before looking at yesterday though, I would like to reflect back to the other two big marathons this week. Firstly the Commonwealth Games marathon which took place in the Gold Coast on 15 Apr 2018, and was notable for temperatures around 27c with the men’s race hotter, as it was later in the morning. As the race panned out Callum Hawkins kept chipping away at the lead pack, which included several East Africans (admittedly second or third tier ones as big city marathons are often a money magnet for the very best). Eventually he pulled away strongly and looked set for a clear win, so I went to bed as it was very late and I was sure he would get it.

callumhawkinsFor some reason I was still awake at the time it should be finishing so I turned my phone on and started watching under the bedclothes, like some rebellious schoolboy. Just then the whole thing unwound with the wobble, the fall, the carrying on and finally his collapse, hitting the barrier. It was distressing seeing no water being offered him by the crowd, and even worse no first aid arriving for ages, as he was obviously experiencing considerable distress.

An ambulance came and he was eventually looked after, but not before several other runners had come past him lying forlorn in the side of the road. Just as the winner Michael Shelley came by Hawkins’ arm symbolically had reached out and Shelley almost had to jump over it. I was interested to see if Hawkins had taken adequate water on board, so the next day I re-ran the TV coverage and watched closely at the water stations. He seemed to take loads of water both to drink and to cool himself, and also had a novel plan to be given an ice-cooled baseball cap at each drink station which he replaced the one he was wearing with. Without further info it is difficult to say exactly what happened, but let’s hope Callum can learn from the event, and never experience that again.

SteveJonesI do wonder, given that he had a 2 minute lead with 2 km to go, if he had not pushed on so hard and instead relied on outrunning the other leading contenders in those last couple of kilometres, whether things might have panned out differently. Having said that there is a certain similarity in race approach between Hawkins and Steve Jones, who is now ‘advising’ Callum apparently, and it wasn’t unknown for Jones to set an unbelievable pace, which he couldn’t always sustain. Just saying.

Side note: when I was training hard and was having a good run, I used to imagine I WAS Steve Jones! I admired his work ethic.

20180416_150457Move on a day and we come to the Boston Marathon. As I was sofa-bound rehabbing a new knee I was able to watch that on the Red Button, and boy was that a contrast to the Gold Coast. Temperatures were just above freezing and driving rain in Hopkinton saw the elite athletes wrapped in waterproofs, hats, buffs and gloves, and not just warming up but DURING the race.

There was a strong field in both the women’s and the men’s races and large lead packs set out at a cautious pace in both categories. Mamitu Daska was leading the women’s field after Shalane Flanagan peeled off for what the (very poor) American commentators called a ‘potty stop’.

LindenI didn’t notice at the time but later found out that fellow American Desi Linden had slowed and stopped when she saw this, then helped Flanagan back to the lead pack, in a similar way that a domestique will do for their team leader in cycling Grand Tour races. Eventually this domestique went on to win the race though as others faded or lost interest in running in the atrocious conditions. Linden was quoted afterwards as saying that she held back to help her team-mate because she was thinking of dropping out herself, but revived to finish strongly, and win by 4-10 in a slow time of 2-39-54.

kawauchiIn the men’s race Geoffrey Kirui seemed to have the race won as he took a big lead, but in a parallel to the ladies race he faded, was overtaken and came in 2-25 later. The strong man that overtook him turned out to be Yuki Kawauchi (whom the commentators had dissed for having the nerve to test the field early on by twice taking the race on), who strode on through the sodden roads to win in a slow 2-15-58. In his post-race interview he came up with the classic tough-guy line that the weather was just perfect!

IMG-20180422-WA0006Ever since I stopped running I have watched the London Marathon live (ie on the streets). We have evolved a plan to move to multiple watching points, which currently are 9m, 15m and 20m with a one-stop tube ride from Canada Water to Canary Wharf (and jog) for the first move, and a swift walk/jog for the second. This year though I was housebound, so was setup with TV on, App loaded and a personalised chart to track friends and their predicted finish times. The forecasters had been saying it was going to be a hot day and it was, reaching around 24c. The App gives times for each 5k section for the athletes you have loaded, in my case nine of them. This was supplemented by comments, photos and videos from our WhatsApp group dedicated to the day. We watched Mo Farah having his drink bottle issues, and the 5k splits were rattling in to the App. By the time folk went through 10k we had a reasonable idea who had a chance of achieving their ambitions and who might well be destined for a very tough trip.

maraAppSome people handle heat better than others, and some cope with setbacks better than others. On this day ‘my’ nine athletes suffered varying degrees of pain and pleasure. One pulled out at 15m as it ‘just wasn’t his day’, and he wanted to be able to take his big training to another marathon later in the year as he coveted a sub 2-30 time. Others stuck to pre-determined targets, which in some cases were ‘on’ nicely until after halfway, but drifted away from them. Of the eight who finished, none had negative splits – I wonder who did in the ever-increasing temperatures? Their first half to second half differentials ranged from 2m 23s to 35m 29s. That last one was an athlete who had trained really hard, yet suffered from about 5 miles in, and who finished some 90 minutes or more later than I had expected. The decreasing pace is clearly shown in the splits, and the athlete showed HUGE strength and determination to guts it out and finish the race.

The two who probably had the best experience had both had disrupted training builds and had decided that a PB was not on, lowered their target, set a pace that was sustainable and came through relatively unscathed and in one case admitting to having:

 Really enjoyed the day, high fives and hugs with family en route included.

marathonmanIn my marathon days I had a range of experiences: a dropout in Sheffield, also a mega-hot day elsewhere that did not go well, one where everything seemed to go perfectly, and a PB one which I remain proud of to this day (which actually wasn’t perfect, as it was slipping away towards the end, and took some serious hard graft to complete). So, I feel I know what these guys were going through, and can appreciate the ups and downs they will have experienced, and the massive achievement dragging a screaming body over that line must have been.

[Image: first London Marathon 1981]

What is particularly pleasing is that having spoken to several of them, their spirits remain high, and I am sure they will all learn from the day. One has for a while now had an ambition to beat my 2-34-53 PB, and surely will be back, and is eminently capable of doing so. Another, who probably had the toughest day of all (on their debut marathon too), which could have put them right off the event, sent a message to me after the event, saying:

Proud of myself for finishing but obviously not a good day. Time for a break and then I’ll be back. Next year! Unfinished business.

I will be there to support them both, work with them on their training, and hopefully be on the streets of London to witness the personal triumph that I so hope they achieve. What all the above does show is the marathon is a tough event, even when it goes well. When it doesn’t it is an unrelenting beast.

Upcoming: evening with Billy Bland

Billy Bland does not do many events, and even less often outside of his native Lake District. So, the ‘Conversation with Billy Bland’ event in Skipton on Friday 11 May 2018 is a fantastic opportunity to meet and hear the views of this outstanding sportsman, and fell legend.

1982 billybob3

Billy and some of support (including some other fell legends) celebrating his 13 hrs 53 mins Bob Graham Round record outside the Moot Hall in 1982. [For full story see: The Round: in Bob Graham’s footsteps]

This type of event depends for its success on two things: the personality of the speaker; and the involvement of the audience. Billy has specifically asked for an unscripted evening, so come along and ask him some challenging and searching questions. What is a given is that Billy’s personality will shine through, and that he will both entertain and educate the audience.

IMG_5356Billy did just that at the gig that Due North Events held in Keswick back in February. For a flavour of that event have a look at my report entitled: ‘I wasn’t the best, but I was a tryer’. The questions from the floor, and a few prompts thrown in by me (as MC on the night), were wide-ranging and meant that Billy covered topics such as his background, training, rivals (with some exquisite put-downs, including some of his own family!) and current lifestyle. Billy also spent ages talking to people after the formal part of the gig.

One not to miss, so book your tickets today.

They are likely to sell out (the Keswick gig did). [Advert: I will be MC again, and copies of all three of my books will be available to buy at the event, at discounted rates]