Category Archives: Marathons

The gym, the Queen and another endurance sport

Representation of the weekend – but no, top hats are not worn for croquet

If this blog’s about anything, it’s about the pleasure to be found in taking on challenges in endurance sports, most notable cycling (eg, an ‘everest’ and a solo ride out to the Alps) and running (most recently April’s Rotterdam Marathon).

Just now, with the running on hold because of the pulled calf and dodgy Achilles tendons, I should be doing more cycling in preparation for this year’s (imminent) trip to the Alps. It looks like weight loss might be my best bet (or perhaps that should be ‘last resort’).

While I’m rather lacking in the cycling for one reason or other, I’ve found a bit of a love for the gym (another hour on Thursday) and a daily plank session. They would be good additions to some serious cycling – but are a poor replacement for it.

Our sons came back for the weekend (one with his girlfriend) and we had a trip to Ascot on Saturday for the Royal race meeting (the Queen is in attendance each day and arrives in a carriage procession down the course). I’m not really a horse person but we tend to go every third year or so – and do it ‘properly’ with morning suit, top hat and a good picnic. No success with the (very modest) betting but an excellent day out.

On Sunday we had a few games of another extreme and rigorous endurance sport that offers thrills and a high-intensity cardio workout – croquet. I don’t know if croquet is a world-wide sport but it was very entertaining, even though the lawn is more suitable for crazy golf.

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Back to real life – will the gym be a tonic?

With the running on a back burner for a bit it looks like the gym and the bike for the next couple of months – not much of a hardship

I had a gentle run with my wife on Sunday morning – about 2.8m (4.6km), in glorious sunshine, and with her muscle strain improving. In the afternoon we went to London and had supper with our sons. It was a really nice family occasion and, extra good news, both sons are, in principle, up for the Berlin Marathon in 2020.

Alex, who ran Rotterdam marathon with me two weeks ago, is now off to Peru for a month – brilliant for him and I’m 100% behind the trip, but I’ll still be worried until his return.

We stayed over for the night and I couldn’t resist getting out in the morning, even though I know that the master plan is to go easy on the running to let the knee and Achilles tendons recover. I ran about 4miles (6.4km) down the Thames Path and back through Hammersmith – delightful.

I need to cut down on my running as I doubt that I have any more marathons to enter for a year, perhaps 18 months. At the same time I’d like to avoid having to start from too low a level when I come to pick up distance running again. Accordingly, I was wondering what running is necessary to just maintain fitness, without risking burning out with over-training. It looks like the answer could be something like 20-25 miles a week at normal intensity, with a longest run of about 12 miles.

That’s a bit more than I wanted the answer to be – but I think it’s purely academic as anything close to that isn’t going to get my knee and ATs better. Having taken liberties with the ATs during the marathon training, I owe it to them to sort them out – even though it may take a few months from what I read.

I’ll try running just twice a week (and only short distances) for a while to see if everything heals – if the ATs recover, restarting running from a low fitness base will be a small price to pay.

Tuesday was spent on the de-cluttering in Oxfordshire and Wednesday I went down to Bournemouth to mow and, surprise, surprise, de-clutter. The garage there is full of overflow rubbish from here. How have we accumulated so much stuff? In fact, I think I know the answer to that – I’ve simply been bad at throwing it out over the course of many years.

Back to the gym on Thursday with Ian, my usual gym companion, for a very good session. Protecting the tendons, the knee and the shoulder takes a bit of imagination but I think I could get into rowing (on the machine, not the water) which, happily, doesn’t trouble the shoulder at all. I’ll look at some stuff on technique (I am currently a technique-free zone) and then set a 2000m time next week and see how much I can lower it over the coming months.

The next challenge is the White Horse Challenge on Sunday. I think I’ve written it off as a proper attempt to set a good time as I’ve only ridden outside twice this year which is not perfect training for 90 miles on the bike at any sort of speed. Truth be told, I’m a bit nervous for my backside with that distance and so little toughening up.

Next challenges – mountains, marathons and a cunning plan

Ventoux. One of three ascents in 2015 – could it be one of six in 2020?

Spring has arrived. In fact, perhaps we’ve gone straight into summer. After months of complaining about training in the cold and wind, how long should I wait before complaining about the heat?

Since I turned 60, nearly 4 years ago, I’ve become a bit of a challenge junkie. ‘Old enough to know better’ comes to mind but while I can do these things, I will continue to do just that.

In that time I’ve joined the Club des Cinglés du Mont-Ventoux (ride up Ventoux three times in a day), ‘Everested’ (ride up and down one hill, in one ride, until you climb the height of Everest), ridden 550 miles (880km) out to the alps, solo and unsupported in 84 elapsed hours, and run a marathon (Rotterdam, 7th April 2019).

With the running shoes barely cooled down, I’ve turned my thoughts to ‘what next?’

I’ve got the White Horse Challenge later this month (but I don’t think the elusive sub 5 hours for the c.90 miles is in me this year and I’m lacking a bit of motivation at the moment), I have the yearly trip out to ride in the alps in July and I have a place in the Prudential ‘Ride London’ 100 mile sportive in August. All very good and I’m looking forward to them – but not quite what I need to focus on as a major challenge.

So, here’s the plan:

As marathon running is physically tough and the training is so time consuming, I don’t plan to do another this year but will try to get into the Berlin Marathon in September 2020 and will have a real go at running under 4 hours. As the race in Berlin takes place late in the year, I’ll be 65 by the time that comes round so that would be sort of cool. I think I’ll go for a place in the London marathon too but I’ve never been lucky in the ballot before.

Of course, having failed to run sub 4 at the age of 63, sub 4 at 64 or 65 might be a bit of a stretch but I have a cunning plan for this ………. I will run faster.

OK, not very cunning but if I can do it, I have high hopes that it will work.

I’ll train harder, with speed, interval and hill sessions. The main things that will be key to putting the plan into action are my Achilles tendons which have been sore every morning for about 6 months and prevented the intervals and hills this time around. I need to get them sorted but I hope rest and stretching will do the trick. I’ve rather abused them this year and perhaps need to be a bit kinder to them if they are going to last me into my (even more) old age.

If I can’t get a place for London or Berlin (quite likely), I will go for one of the Abingdon, Bournemouth or Richmond Marathons – they are all in September or October, it should be possible to get in to any of them and they are all very accessible for me. Admittedly, they are all events on a rather different scale to Berlin but, supposedly, all have fairly fast courses.

If the shoulder that I hurt skiing (more tendon issues) mends completely, I will get back in the pool and see if I can improve my swimming enough to take on more than another triathlon. If it holds me back I’ll do a duathlon.

On the bike, I want to have a crack at the Bicinglette (two Cinglés – six times up Ventoux in a day) or the Galerian (four times up, including once by the forest road). The biggest problem with these is that they can only be done in Provence – at least the everesting could be done anywhere. To date, fewer than 256 people have done the bicinglette – and none over 65 so there’s a real challenge. Logistics are my real enemy here, coupled with the fact that, having failed to persuade any of my friends of the wisdom of the everest or the ride out to the alps, my chances of getting any company are slim.

More domestically, there is the Fred Whitton challenge in the Lake District in May next year – it’s now a sportive with 114 miles and 3,900m (12,795feet) of climbing. One to consider perhaps but possibly too much of a challenge?

Getting back to normal – but starting to plan the abnormal

‘The Indians send signals from the rocks above the pass, the cowboys take positions in the bushes and the grass’. Why ‘cowboys’ and not ‘soldiers’ as the next line is ‘The squaw is with the corporal …’? So many questions …

I ran a very gentle 2.7m (4.5km) with my wife on Monday, testing the progress of the muscle pull that was giving her ITB issues. I wonder if my Achilles rehabilitation requires no running, or whether easy runs are OK?

As the tendons weren’t getting any worse with all the marathon training, I’ll carry on running gently (even if that slows down their recovery a bit) – with a lot of stretches and heel drops.

Garden and bonfire on Tuesday (lovely, as the birds are out in force and the woodpecker is back); Bournemouth on Wednesday doing the (almost) proper fix on the fence that blew down and which I bodged a couple of weeks ago; gym on Thursday followed by a very enjoyable lunch with friends.

Hmm ……. that says it all really, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with normal but, let’s be honest, it doesn’t exactly set the pulse racing with excitement.

Last year the big challenge was riding to the alps – a solo, unsupported, 550 miles (880km) in 84 elapsed hours. I loved it but it meant that the challenge highlight of the year was over in July. I certainly suffered a bit of a post-event dip – I’m coming to realise that I’ve become a bit of a challenge junkie in my old age.

This year, the big challenge was the Rotterdam marathon – and that was on 7th April so the dip merely starts earlier.

Already I’m struggling to get myself motivated for the White Horse Challenge next weekend. It’s 90 miles (c150km) around Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire visiting the White Horses at Broad Town, Hackpen, Cherill and Uffington with climbing anywhere between 1400m and 1750m (4600-5750ft depending who you believe). Sure, the cardio side should be OK but the leg muscles work a bit differently cycling compared to running – just think of the amount of extra flex at the hip and knee when cycling – and I’ve had just the one ride outside in over 3 months.

I promised my wife no crazy solo challenges this year and a promise is a promise, so I’ll have to deal with it (and it’s time to build up the brownie points again by playing my part in the de-cluttering process that’s been going on around me for a few months).

For a bit of a vicarious challenge, I’m looking forward to following some other folks on their challenges this summer but mainly I’ll have to entertain myself with some planning for next year.

I’ll be 65 in July 2020 so that might have a bit of a potential ….

Physical stocktake

  • Muscles: modest in amount but all working as they should, no issues in the training for, or running of, the marathon
  • Achilles tendons (ATs): Improving slowly
  • Left shoulder: a bit sore still after the fall (I was knocked over, honestly) skiing in January
  • Left knee: a bit sore – no issues in the training for, or running of, the marathon but a bit painful since
  • Resting heart rate: 49 (odd as it was mid 50s during marathon training and low 40s last year during cycle training)
  • Weight: 66.5kg (c.147 pounds, 10 stone 7)

Back to the bike (but with the running shoes close by)

Needs new bar tape!

With the marathon training taking up so much time recently, it’s been quite a while since I got on the bike – any bike – it’s a month since I used the turbo and 3 months since I rode outside. Disgraceful!

Even more disgraceful were the cobwebs on the Rose when I brought it out of the bike shed.

So, it was ‘start to prepare’ time on Friday. The last time I rode outside I ripped the sidewall of the front tyre (a Conti 4000sii) so I’ve changed that and now have Michelin Pros front and rear (having put a tear in the sidewall of the rear Conti 4000sii when cycling out to the alps last July). Is that just me with the Continentals, or are their sidewalls not very clever?

I’ve also put on a new rear mech hanger having slightly bent the original falling off on the ride out to the alps (not associated with the destruction of the tyre). It was a slow speed fall on gravel within 50 yards of my accommodation for the second night, having ridden an incident-free 310 miles in the previous two days. More embarrassing than anything.

With a bit of a clean and a minor fettle I was ready to go – but dipped out of the club red ride on Saturday as it was cold (and I’m still a wimp) and I want to get a few bike miles in my legs to find out how all the running has affected my cycling.

It warmed a little as Saturday wore on so I headed out in the afternoon to take a book to a friend and did just under 30km (18.4 miles) to test the legs and the restored bike. With youthful exuberance I went out at an average of 18mph (29kph) but with increasing maturity and a freshening headwind I came back rather more sedately.

The Achilles tendons are improving slowly thanks to the break from running (weird to think that, exactly a week ago as I write this, I was running the Rotterdam Marathon) so it will be more cycling and less running for a while to see if they will repair properly.

My first ride outside for 3 months but enjoyable – this cycling lark could catch on.

Rotterdam Marathon: short review of training, injury, highs and lows – what I learnt in the process

I am a purely recreational runner – and not a particularly good one. I have no great expertise or knowledge so this is certainly not a ‘how to ..’ post – at best it might be a ‘how I ..’ review.

I ran the Rotterdam Marathon on 7th April 2019, aged 63. I’d run two previous marathons (London) in 1998 and 1999, just breaking 4 hours both times. After that I did relatively little in the way of sport until I started road cycling about 10 years ago so, if I’ve been anything it’s been a cyclist and very occasional runner to keep my wife company.

Our younger son ran the Brighton Marathon in 2017 – 4h 06m on a blistering hot day and he decided he wanted to run another to break the 4 hour barrier. He chose the Rotterdam Marathon because it was easy to get a place and it is said to be both a flat and fast course. Foolishly I decided to run it with him.

Training plan

I chose a 20 week plan because of my age, its simplicity and because of the fact that it had two rest days a week. I didn’t want to train more than 5 days a week. Also I knew I’d be unlikely to stick to it over Christmas – and I had nearly three weeks booked for skiing in January. I guessed that, on a longer plan, I’d be better able to cope with the occasional lapse or problem.

It required one long slow run, two normal runs, a session of speed work and a cross-training session per week. I stuck to it better than I’d expected (subject to the issues covered later) – but 20 weeks is a long time and I was certainly pretty weary of it all by the end. I think it was the right choice – but I’d have been attracted by something shorter if I’d been younger.

I ran what seemed to me to be a lot of miles (450 of them – 725km) in training. That was many more than I did for either the 1998 or 1999 marathons. Partly I was able to, being retired, but mainly it was fear that the day itself would be very painful if I didn’t train properly. I did 14 runs over 10 miles (16km) this time (I did only 4 when preparing for each of the previous marathons). My longest training run was 22 miles (35.5km) but I did two others of over 20 miles.

If I ran an average of 10 mins per mile, with the race itself, that’s about 80 hours of running on top of more than 50 hours of cross-training and time on the turbo trainer. You need to be committed to the project and a supportive partner/family will come in handy too.

Injuries and illness

I was very lucky not to be ill during the training and I didn’t get very injured either. The exception was Achilles tendon issues – they had begun to hurt every morning, even before I got to the start of the training. I guess that was just age related but I did aggravate the problem by doing calf raises with too much weight in the gym early on in the training.

Speed and endurance

I kept to the training plan quite well – except for the speed/hill work which I was sure would finish off my Achilles Tendons. Accordingly the endurance was OK but I was always off the pace for speed. The hope at the start had been to run sub 4 hours but it became clear that was not going to happen as I failed to run any significant distance at the required pace for that (5.41min per km or 9.09 per mile).

No doubt the lack of interval and speed sessions didn’t help – but I’m sure that was also down to age which shortens the stride, and a general lack of athletic ability.

Weight

I’m 5 feet 10 (just under 178cm) and when I’ve done silly cycling challenges in the past I’ve not found it too hard to get under 65kg (143 lbs). This time, my weight was more resistant and stuck around the 68-69kg for much of the training. eventually I got it down to nearer 66.5kg (147 lbs). I don’t know if that was due to putting on some muscle (unlikely as it’s hard to put on muscle as you get older) or me being less disciplined with the food intake. Happily, running is a less sensitive to extra weight than cycling up mountains.

General preparation

Marathon wisdom is that everything you do on the run itself should have been well tried and tested in advance. I tried to do that as far as possible but with a run abroad there is a limit – I did not know what breakfast would be available in the hotel and discovered that the energy drink served on the course was not available in the UK (so I stuck to water on the run). I took some breakfast oat bars, energy bars and gels with me to Rotterdam and stuck with them.

The weather throughout the training was pretty poor so I hadn’t tested warm weather running gear as well as I’d have liked. Right at the last minute, it turned on its head and we got a very warm day for the race itself, such that I got tan lines in just a few hours. I’d only worn the lycra shorts once in training – they were fine on the day but proper running shorts would have been a good idea if I’d been able to test them in advance.

I thoroughly enjoyed the trip to Rotterdam and the experience of running a marathon abroad but the travel does make things a little more complicated – not a reason to avoid a run abroad but certainly something to think about.

The run itself

I went out with the 4 hour pacers and kept with them beyond half way before dropping off the pace and finishing in 4h 11m. More importantly, our son beat his 4 hour target. We didn’t try to run together which was a good decision – it could have ruined both our runs.

It is important to remember to enjoy the day itself. If you train, and choose your marathon well, it should be a great experience and the crowds can make a big difference. You may be lucky (or gifted) and sail around without any problem but I guess that would put you in a small minority. Despite the training, I found a few miles around the 22-25 mile marks (35-40km) to be pretty tough. At this point a lot of it is in the head – it would be easy to give up but sheer bloody-mindedness is a useful attribute.

The future

I remember the ‘never again’ feeling at the toughest point in the run but now, a few days later, I haven’t ruled out another. Our older son would have run this time but for being a passenger in a motor accident last summer – if he decides to give a marathon a go, how could I resist the chance to run with him?

It would be great (ridiculous?) to see if I could go under 4 hours at 65 – perhaps there is an appropriate race late in 2020? The main factor will be the state of the Achilles’ – after 6 months of soreness every morning, I need to find a way to keep them happier.

So, I’ll carry on running which will be a good addition to getting back to cycling – and who knows, if the shoulder I hurt skiing gets back to 100%, perhaps I can improve my swimming enough to have a go at something more than a sprint triathlon?

This week

I went to the gym on Thursday – light weights and a 2km run (just over a mile). Strangely, I didn’t feel the need to do the other 40kms (25miles).

Rotterdam Marathon 7 April 2019: denouemont

Rotterdam Marathon. Been there, done that, got the T shirt

Small Spoiler Alert: we survived the Rotterdam Marathon, despite the surprising heat.

After I completed the training, my wife and I drove to London on Thursday to make the trip to the channel tunnel shorter on Friday.

Alex, our younger son, came to the flat and we left at about 8.30am – the drive out of London to the M25 was a bit of an unknown but worked well. Even the M25 behaved reasonably (for those who don’t know it, the M25 is, allegedly, a motorway encircling London – sadly, with road works, accidents and volume of traffic it often makes a passible impersonation of an orbital car park).

Having made good time to the tunnel we were put on an earlier crossing and then appear to have been sneaked on to the train before that. It was helpful as the drive to Rotterdam involved a few slow bits but we still arrived late afternoon (their time). We unpacked and went to the marathon Expo where we registered and collected our bibs.

The textbooks say stay off your feet on the day before a marathon but none of us had ever been to Rotterdam before so we spent much of Saturday wandering round a really lovely city. It doesn’t have the quaint old buildings of Amsterdam (the city was largely flattened in WWII) but has a really nice relaxed feel to it and it seems to be full of hospitable and charming people. There were also a number of runs for children and a ‘city run’ in the centre of the city – they were great to watch and contributed to the ‘running festival’ feel of the whole weekend.

I have to disagree with the second part of Michael Caine’s (excellent) line in Goldmember when he said “There are only two things I can’t stand in this world. People who are intolerant of other people’s cultures… and the Dutch”.

The Dutch are very nice people (my only complaint is that the indigenous Dutch are a bit too tall – reportedly the world’s tallest nation).

The weather had been forecast to be fairly cool – about 9℃ at the start and 13℃ at the finish (48 and 57℉) and that was how the weather was right up to Saturday. However, on Friday we’d started to receive messages from the organisers warning about very warm weather for the marathon itself on Sunday. Suddenly the temperature range had shifted to around 15℃ at the start and 20℃ at the finish (59 and 68℉). Not stupidly hot but way beyond anything we’d trained in.

After pasta for lunch and supper on Saturday we had a reasonably early night – I didn’t sleep particularly well (typical for the night before a marathon) but I was at least well rested by 7am when the alarm rang for breakfast, followed by another 45 minutes snooze before having to get up. The Marathon starts at a civilised 10am so we walked in to the city centre and found our starting pen very easily.

It was clear that the warm weather warnings were right and so we were pleased that we’d adjusted our clothing choices – I ran in lycra shorts and a fairly lightweight long sleeved running shirt (sleeves pushed up within a few miles).

Our wave was away by about 10.14 and I tucked in behind the 4 hour pacers (Alex went on ahead). The course is pretty flat – the ‘hills’ were really only the Erasmus Bridge (twice) and two underpasses – and I hit a fairly comfortable rhythm as the pacers did a great job taking us through the half way mark in exactly 2 hours.

The whole event was very well supported with good crowds all the way around and the usual array of bands and music. The whole event had a very good feel to it.

By just after half way I began to feel the pace a bit as that was a good 5 minutes faster than any half marathon distance I’d run throughout my training. The predictors available on the internet suggest that a 2:05 half marathon indicates a marathon of over 4:30 and although I hung on for another few kms I knew that I wasn’t going to run the second half in two hours in the increasing heat.

At around 28km (18 miles) the route went close to the finish area but then veered off for a loop towards the north east – that’s always a bit disheartening but I saw my wife just before that point which was really good and she was able to confirm that Alex was still running strongly about a kilometre ahead of me.

I never hit anything like ‘the wall’ – I had kept reasonably hydrated, had used the three gels I’d taken with me and and had made the most of the cooling sponges that were available – but it got harder from there. By 35km (c. 22 miles) I most certainly had a bit of the ‘running in treacle’ syndrome when the breathing is fine, none of the muscles hurts particularly but the legs simply don’t take you as fast as they did previously.

I resisted the temptation to walk (a surprising number were walking by now) and eventually everything improved and I felt reasonably good coming into the finish (but no, I did not manage anything resembling a sprint to the line). What I did manage in just a few hours was tan lines on my legs and arms – it was much warmer than expected.

So, I hit my C goal of a safe marathon, running all the way. I hit my B goal of going under 4:30 and managed a time of 4hours 11minutes which was inside my A goal of 4:15. In the male 60+ category I came 98th out of 326. I was inside the top half of finishers too.

More significantly, our son Alex ran sub 4 hours (a finely judged 3:58) – which was the most important goal of the whole weekend.

Apart from the usual transient twinges while running, I had relatively few problems (other than the distance and the heat) but the Achilles tendons were very unhappy as soon as I stopped running.

We met up and walked back to the hotel (as a cool down) and found a lovely little restaurant in a (happily nearby) back street alongside a canal where we sat outside for supper.

The knees were a little sore that night but by Monday morning both Alex and I were surprisingly mobile – and my Achilles’ were probably better than most mornings over the last 5 months, which is quite beyond me. I drove us back to London by mid afternoon, in cool weather (both in the UK and Holland) that would have been very suitable for running a marathon!

So, a really excellent experience and a thoroughly enjoyable long weekend. I’d certainly recommend the Rotterdam Marathon to anyone.

I’m sure I’ll reflect on it all over the next few days – in the meantime, remind me what I used to do before marathon training …