Category Archives: Rotterdam

Walk (x3), gym, (plus faster ultras, more AI and custody of the alligator)

I took Monday very easily with more cleaning and some time spent sorting out the bike ridden by the son of some neighbours – luckily, that meant missing the swim doctor session.

One of our sons came home on Tuesday and the other (newly back from his sabbatical travels) on Wednesday – that was lovely but, coupled with a bit of an injury for my wife, not a help with the exercise. We took a walk up to the old hill fort to enjoy the last of the bluebells. On the way I checked the village defibrillator which seemed to be very happy.

I acquired a stone chip on the car windscreen on the way to the picking up our son from the station on Wednesday so Thursday morning was taken up getting that fixed. Later we went for a great walk across the fields to Coleshill and back – 10km (6.2 miles).

On the way past the defibrillator I checked it again for some reason – I don’t know if I hadn’t done a good job the day before or if it had just become unhappy but it was flashing red, not green. I couldn’t find an operating manual online so put out a SOS to the others who have volunteered to help look after it – but then remembered an email from 6 months ago talking about a periodic battery check process.

With a certain amount of alarm ringing and authoritative directions from the machine, to my relief, I managed the reset. There was a workman in the village hall where the defibrillator is located – rather disappointingly he declined to be the subject of a real-life test. Younger son back to London later and older son’s girlfriend replaced him in the evening.

An hour in the gym on Friday morning followed by the usual bike shop stint, happily renovating a donated Trek mountain bike and a donated single speed folder.

Another great walk on Saturday with older son and his girlfriend – another loop via Coleshill and taking in Strattenborough Castle, for 12.5km (7.8 miles). I’ve only lived here 31 years but never knew it existed even though it’s less than 4 miles away. Mind you, it’s a castle in name only as it’s really a house with a ‘folly’ castle facade, built in 1792 … charmingly weird.

Today (Sunday) is the White Horse Challenge sportive – only the second time I’ve not taken part in a dozen years or so. This year our younger son had a place in the London marathon (also today) so we thought we’d be supporting him – but he has had to postpone his place to next year. It’s a day to be spent watching the marathon on TV – and remembering how great the experience was running it in 1998 and 1999 (and Rotterdam in 2019).

Best of luck to everyone taking part.

Interesting stuff this week

1. African wise words: Every kind of love is love, but self-love is supreme among them

2. BBC News website: How to make ultra marathons easier – go by car

A Scottish ultra marathon runner has been disqualified from a race for doing some of the course by car.

She said she had become lost around the half-way mark when her leg began to feel sore and she started to limp. She saw a friend and accepted a lift in his car for about 2.5 miles to the next checkpoint to tell marshals she was pulling out of the race. They said she would hate herself if she stopped so she agreed to carry on in a non-competitive way.

When she crossed the finish line she was given a medal and a third place wooden trophy and posed for pictures. She said: “I made a massive error accepting the trophy and should have handed it back …. and not had pictures done but I was feeling unwell and spaced out and not thinking clearly.”


3. BBC News website: … and take your alligator with you …

An 8-foot alligator named ‘Big Mack’ has been removed from the basement of a Philadelphia house where it had been living for over a decade. After the couple had separated the woman wanted him out of there.

I’m not surprised that she wanted it out – I’m more surprised that anyone would want it there in the first place. I’m not exactly an alligator expert – but that seems so cruel to the alligator

4. BBC News website: Simple mistakes should never prove so costly

In just a few days, in the USA, an 18-year-old cheerleader was shot and seriously injured after she mistakenly tried to enter the wrong vehicle in a parking lot near Austin, Texas.

In New York state, 20-year-old Kaylin Gillis was shot and killed on Saturday after a friend drove their car down the wrong driveway.

In Missouri, a 16-year-old was shot in the head and arm when he rang the doorbell at the wrong address.

Police in North Carolina are now searching for a man accused of shooting, and seriously injuring, a 6-year-old girl and her father after their basketball rolled into the suspect’s yard. Two others were shot and injured.

5. BBC News website: More AI issues

The editor of a German magazine that published an artificial intelligence-generated ‘interview’ with Michael Schumacher has been sacked.

Schumacher, a seven-time world champion, suffered severe head injuries in a skiing accident in December 2013 and has not been seen in public since. Die Aktuelle ran a front cover with a headline of “Michael Schumacher, the first interview” but the article was produced using an AI programme which artificially generated Schumacher ‘quotes’ about his health and family.

Just because it can produce this sort of stuff doesn’t mean it should

6. BBC News website: Best cleaning company name?

A firm in Brighton is called ‘Spruce Springclean’. 

Gym (x3), swim, run (x2), ride (plus super-yachts, avocados and another tennis rumpus)

Back to the bike!

No stretching after Sunday’s run so I woke feeling a bit stiff on Monday. An hour in the gym made it no better. The swim doctor session in the evening was a hard 800m, after a day of domestic chores.

In 2019 a friend and I drove back from the cycling week in the alps and he left his passport in my car, necessitating a hasty dash to get it back to him as he realised the mistake as he was about to fly on holiday. This year we were careful to part with a passport each. Luckily, I checked ‘my’ passport a few days ago – only to discover that I had his and he had mine.

He and his wife drove down from the midlands on Tuesday and we took a trip up to the Uffington White Horse, had a walk along the Ridgeway and a pub lunch … and we even remembered to exchange passports.

I ran with my wife on Wednesday – a bit over 5.6km (3.3 miles) and, with my friend and training partner, ran to and from the gym on Thursday morning with a weights session sandwiched in between. I guess that makes a very good blend of exercise types but it did seem to make the weights harder – unless that was just the legacy of Monday’s visit.

Back to the gym on Friday morning – a rarity to go three times in a week but I enjoyed the session with nobody else there. Later came the usual session in the bike shop and a trip up to London later in the day.

The four of us went for a terrific trip to Hampton Court on Saturday as part of my wife’s birthday celebration and our sons came back with us for the weekend to celebrate mine and our older son’s (the ultra rather got in the way of my birthday – I started the run aged 66 and finished aged 67 – and our older son was at a wedding for his).

Back to Oxfordshire Saturday afternoon and I rode with our older son on Sunday. I lent him a bike (adequate but nothing fancy) a couple of years ago – he was never really a keen cyclist but he uses it to get in to work a couple of days a week – about 23km each way.

This time he was on my old Giant TCR2 composite (a lovely bike at about 8kg – but now 16 years old) and although I took the lead all the way, I couldn’t have shifted him from my rear wheel if I’d tried. A lovely ride on a great morning for a bit over 50km (30 miles) with over 200m (660 feet) of ascent at an average of 28.6kph (17.8mph).

Although I’ve run quite a bit in recent years, the only running races I’ve done in more than 10 years have been this year’s 100km, last year’s 50km and the Rotterdam Marathon in 2019 – and the word ‘race’ doesn’t really describe those as far as I was concerned.

Following the cancellation of next month’s triathlon, I (together with our younger son who will be here for a wedding on the previous day) have entered a local 10km race. I’ll admit to some nerves about it as it’s multi-terrain, has a big hill, a relatively small entry and seems to mostly attract club runners. Coupled with the fact that I haven’t tried to run fast for a long time (and in any event my ‘fast’ isn’t fast by normal standards), there is a distinct possibility that this may not go well.

Interesting stuff this week

1. African wise words: One who plants grapes by the roadside, and one who marries a pretty woman, share the same problem

2. BBC News website: $75m Russian super-yacht to be auctioned

The yacht was seized in Gibraltar in March after US bank JP Morgan claimed its owner had not paid a £17m ($20m) loan. The 72.5m vessel is being auctioned and, because it is listed for one day only, it is expected to go for less than its estimated value.

The boat can sleep 12 people in six cabins and boasts a swimming pool, jacuzzi, spa, 3D cinema, jet skis and scuba diving equipment. It has space for 20 crew.

I’m not sure I’d be perfectly happy owning a yacht repossessed from a Russian oligarch (but the issue won’t arise as my bid of £2.50 isn’t likely to win).

3. BBC News website: Spectator sues Nick Kyrgios for alleged Wimbledon final slur

During the match Kyrgios complained to the umpire: “She is distracting me when I am serving in a Wimbledon final… she is drunk out of her mind in the first row speaking to me in the middle of the game, so kick her out … I know which one she is, it’s the one who looks like she has had about 700 drinks … she is talking to me in the middle of the point every time I get the ball.”

The spectator, Anna Palus has now instructed solicitors to bring defamation proceedings against Kyrgios.

4. BBC News website: Hot and dry weather sees more exotic plants in the UK

Exotic plants including figs and avocados are now growing in the UK as part of a trend of Mediterranean and sub-tropical plants thriving here in recent years.

Some varieties previously thought of as houseplants are now growing successfully outside, while traditional British garden varieties struggle – and scientists are warning that a lack of water in the future could be a threat.

A sad lack of green fingers is a bigger threat to my garden

How (not) to recover from an Ultra: 1. Ride up mountains!

The cirque at Sixt Fer-a-Cheval (with my bike on the grass in front of the restaurant)

My birthday on Sunday was a reasonably low-key affair after Saturday’s very tough ultra, moving slowly but improving through a day spent rehydrating and packing.

A friend arrived on Monday morning and we set off for the Haute Savoie in the French alps for a few days cycling. The journey was uneventful and we shared the driving although I was walking very slowly and stiffly when we stopped but I managed to extract myself from the car.

We arrived at midnight, joining the three others who had arrived at the apartment on Saturday. I certainly felt better on Tuesday morning but dipped out of the planned ride which would have taken me up the Joux Plane.

It’s a climb described in my Tour Climbs book as ‘hard as nails’ and one which famously gave Armstrong one of his toughest ever days on the bike in the 2000 Tour. I’ve ridden it three times before but this didn’t feel like the right day for attempting my fourth ascent.

Instead, I did domestic stuff around the apartment in the morning and sat on the balcony in the sun, drinking a cold beer and watching a dozen swifts feeding on the wing in front of me. Dirty work but someone has to do it.

I got on the bike later and thought of riding down the mountain to see if I could watch Le Tour come past up the Cote de Châtillon, just above Cluses. I decided that cycling down would be burning my bridges and the day would not end well if I couldn’t ride back up.

Instead I rode up to the top of the Col de Pierre Carrée – just about 12km (7.5 miles) of ‘up’ with 743m (2,440 feet) of climbing. I reckoned that at least I’d be able to coast back down to the apartment if my legs failed on the way up. I was happily surprised at how well they responded but it did leave me wondering how I managed 12 reps of that route when I ‘everested’ it in 2017.

On Wednesday we drove to Flumet and did a pretty demanding loop (in 33℃ – 91℉) which my Garmin recorded at only 44km (27 miles) but with over 1350m (over 4400 feet) of climbing. The legs don’t feel at all powerful but are holding up reasonably well.

Thursday was even hotter and harder. We rode to Le Bettex – there’s a particularly nice restaurant at the top – and it was OK until we turned off the main road above St Gervais and hit a forestry type road with several long sections at 20%. My out-of-power legs had been struggling manfully and managed to put up with the first section (standing on the pedals in bottom gear) but then downed tools and, for the first time in recent years, I walked for a bit.

When we regrouped I discovered I was not alone and only one of the 5 of us had ridden the route without stopping – pretty well unheard of … but it was a hell of a stretch of road. It was a short day with only 59km (37 miles) but packing in 1150m of climbing (3,800 feet).

Friday was the traditional visit to the Cirque at Sixt Fer-a-Cheval for a great lunch looking out at the spectacular cliff face running around, I guess, about 270°. It’s not a hard ride out there but the return requires a climb back to Les Carroz – about 72km with 950m of climbing, in about 35℃ (45 miles and over 3,100 feet in 95℉).

I was the slowest up all the climbs and that’s a bit of a theme in the recent years that we’ve been able to get out to the alps. I have handicapped myself very effectively after I everested in 2017, rode 880km (550 miles) out to there in 2018 and had ridden little after 2019’s Rotterdam marathon. I expected to have little in my legs this year after the ultra – but I made it up all the climbs and am more than happy to settle for that.

Before I went out I’d ridden only 550km this year – much of it on the turbo trainer. I only added 200km but I guess that’s another reason for a very modest cycling performance on my part, to be added to the effects of the ultra. One other effect of having done little cycling – my backside was not well hardened to the carbon fibre saddle.

We drove back on Saturday arriving late at night – a shorter trip than usual but great fun with a lot of food and drink and a very sociable group of friends.

Interesting stuff this week

1. African wise words: Even as the archer loves the arrow that flies, so too he loves the bow that remains constant in his hands

2. BBC News website: Smart mouthguards

Players at this year’s women’s Rugby World Cup will be offered the use of ‘smart’ mouthguards to help monitor the risk of head injury. The microchipped protective shield measures head impacts to assist with diagnosis of things like potential concussions.

Apposite with the horrible news just released that former Wales’ captain Ryan Jones (at only 41) has been diagnosed with early onset dementia. My very best wishes to him and his family

3. BBC News website: Wrapping the bridge

I’ve included pictures of Hammersmith Bridge on many occasions as it’s part of one of my favourite runs in London. Currently its chains are wrapped in silver foil insulation to reflect the sun and stop them overheating.

The chains are anchored to the river bed and regulated to be kept under 13C (55.4F) in the summer. If any of them reach 18C (64.4 F), safety engineers will shut the bridge.

The foil and a £420,000 cooling system, installed following the 2020 heatwave, are being used to keep the pedestals safe so it remains open to pedestrians and cyclists (it is still shut to vehicles because of other structural issues).

4. BBC News website: More about petrol shortages in Sri Lanka

I’ve previously mentioned the temporary ban on petrol sales for non-emergency vehicles in Sri Lanka.

Huge queues of vehicles waiting for fuel have become a common sight, with one queue, beginning in the commercial heart of the capital Colombo, and snaking round alongside a seaside strip of road, stretching for 5km (over 3 miles). The driver of a minibus close to the front has been queueing for 10 days. He said “I’ve been sleeping in the car since last Thursday. It’s so hard but what can I do… I won’t even get a full tank.”

Run (x4), swim, gym (plus radioactive fruit and a radio monopoly)

I went for a run on Monday – 13.7km (8.5 miles). The weather has changed and it was bordering on warm, although I suppose it is too early to start complaining about the heat.

Monday evening saw me miss the swim doctor class for the first time in 7 weeks – it was the cycle club AGM and I always help out by taking minutes and trying to ensure we follow the company’s rules.

The regular 8 hill reps on Tuesday morning were, rather depressingly, even harder than usual – one of those days when you wonder if the effort is worth it and whether you’re making any progress at all. Just over 9km and 289m of ascent (5.7 miles and 948 feet). Getting them done was good – but doing them was a real slog.

I felt better than expected on Wednesday but I think I should avoid running three days in a row so I constructed a third raised vegetable bed and started to remove a sizeable mound of soil and rubble at the end of the garden.

Having missed the lesson on Monday I knew I should keep the swimming going so I went in the evening. I didn’t try swimming any faster but wanted to know if a kilometre would be any easier than it was before the lessons – and I think it was. I’m nervous about trying to do it faster – it would be depressing if I couldn’t. The nasal spray is doing a good job on my sinus’ reaction to the chlorine.

Thursday was warm and bright so I fitted in the week’s long run of 22.2km (13.8 miles). First time this year wearing lycra running shorts and no compression top under the shirt. It was sufficiently warm that I ran two different loops so I could get a slurp of water half way round from the bottle I left outside the house – but I still lost over 1kg (just under 2.5lbs) during the run and caught a bit of sun.

Gym on Friday morning, going easy on the tired legs and concentrating on arms, shoulders and core – if I’m going to swim faster, I think I need to pull harder in the water.

Friday afternoon we drove up to London and had a very good Turkish meal in the evening near the flat. On Saturday we ran across Hammersmith Bridge, down the Thames Path, over Putney Bridge and back. In all 10.3km (6.4 miles) in lovely weather with the added bonus of the Head of the River race on the Thames – the best part of 300 eights racing on the Boat Race course.

Later we went to Kew Gardens to initiate the membership my wife bought me for Christmas – it was glorious apart from the tube line we needed to use being shut for maintenance work which led to a slow and painful journey and another 8km (5 miles) walking by the time we’d been to a very good gastro pub in the evening.

Mother’s Day on Sunday so our sons entertained us at a brasserie in Putney – great to see them, as always. Then back to Oxfordshire for a rest. Another week with no turbo trainer session. Big sportive coming very soon and I still haven’t been out on the bike this year – big mistake, I fear.

Just over 55km of running this week – and (say it quietly) still feeling pretty good.

Interesting stuff this week

1. African wise words: If you think you’re too small to make a difference, try spending the night with a mosquito

2. BBC News website: Crops grown in the Chernobyl exclusion zone used to produce alcohol to benefit Ukrainian refugees

Originally, the aim was to show that slightly radioactive fruit, grown in orchards in or near the contaminated exclusion zone that surrounds Chernobyl’s nuclear power plant, could be distilled into a spirit that was no more radioactive than any other. Profits were channelled into communities that live in deprived areas close to the zone.

Now, as Russian troops occupy the land where that fruit is grown and harvested, this unusual company is making a defiant marketing move by releasing two more “premium drinks” and donating profits to help Ukraine’s refugees.

3. BBC News website: Spotify paid $7bn to music industry rights holders last year, accounting for almost 25% of the industry’s total revenues

The streaming giant said 52,600 artists earned more than $10,000 (£7,500) from Spotify in 2021. Of those, 130 were paid more than $5m (£3.8m) over the last 12 months.

4. BBC News website: Hospital capacity to be assessed before racing at this year’s TT races can go ahead

Due to the creation of a dedicated Covid ward, the number of beds available for orthopaedic trauma patients has been reduced. Two wards were usually kept free for dealing with trauma patients capacity was reduced from 31 beds to just 16.

All elective orthopaedic surgery would also be cancelled during the period as was the case in previous years, he added.

The TT races are in June – really exciting to watch but so, so dangerous that even the hospital has to make special preparations

5. BBC News website: More must be done to recover unpaid taxes due to Covid

The Public Accounts Committee said the total UK tax debt was £39bn – more than double the amount at the start of 2020. It said HM Revenue and Customs must pursue businesses and individuals who were choosing not to pay their taxes while supporting those still struggling with the impact of the pandemic.

After the UK first entered lockdown, HMRC paused most debt collection activity. The move, along with the wider economic impact of the pandemic, saw the number of taxpayers in debt rise from about 3.8 million in January 2020 to 6.2 million in September 2021.

6. BBC News website: Some Mazda drivers in Washington State unable to retune from National Public Radio network

Owners of 2014-17 Mazdas, in the Puget Sound area, contacted KUOW to report their infotainment systems were permanently locked in to the network. Missing file extensions in album images sent with its digital-radio broadcast reportedly triggered the glitch.

The fix, according to Mazda, requires the replacement of the $1,500 connectivity master unit but Mazda said customers could apply for a free “goodwill” replacement.

That’s big of Mazda

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.


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 hurt 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 …

Marathon training week 19.5/20: Run, run, run – training complete. Apparently, I now have to run a marathon.

Next stop Rotterdam

That’s it for the training. Three runs this week: Monday, Tuesday (with gloves, hat and stinging hailstones) and Wednesday (wait for the hailstones to finish, go out and get caught in more of them).

In all, only 10 miles (16km) but getting faster – Tuesday’s was a p.b. at 5.23 per km (8.37 per mile). Wednesday’s was faster still at 5.13 per km (8.24 per mile).

I seem to have managed not to twist an ankle, break a leg, pull a muscle or tear a cartilage in these last few days so it’s off to Rotterdam to see what awaits on the run itself.

It feels like I’ve done a lot of training over the 20 weeks – exactly 450 miles of running (a pleasingly round number) with – I think – 14 runs over 10 miles, including 3 over 20 miles. I have missed out on what would have been really helpful interval and hill sessions because I’m pretty sure my Achilles tendons would not have been able to withstand the extra stresses those would have caused. If I’d have done them I might now be more hopeful of a decent time – but I’d have risked not being able to run at all.

I’ve been a little tempted to go out for one more longer run – but I appreciate that is likely to be counter-productive so I’ll resist. Instead I’ll just go through the normal process of worrying if I’ve done enough training. Happily there are plenty of other things to agonise over too – what do I wear, what do I eat the night before, what do I have for breakfast, what do I eat on the run, do I try to go with the 4 hour pacemaker? It’s an angst-fest.

The rest of the preparation hasn’t been too difficult so far – I don’t drink alcohol Monday to Thursday (and will go very easy on Friday and Saturday this week, if I have any at all) and eat a lot of fruit and vegetables anyway. I’ve cut down on the coffee a little in favour of water and green tea and always sleep more than 8 hours so I’ve not had to change too much.

Without trying to diet, my weight is down to 66.5kg (a fraction under 147 pounds, 10.5 stone) but I won’t track that from here – it’s more important to eat the right stuff in the last few days than think about weight.

The weather forecasts started to to converge and are now diverging again. On average, Sunday in Rotterdam looks likely to be dry, not too windy and reasonably cool – perhaps around 9℃ (48℉) at the start, warming to about 13℃ (55℉) by a likely finish time. I’ll settle for that.

Although I’m now running faster, it’s over short distances and I don’t see any reason to assume I can now run under 4 hours (I think 4 hours would be my qualifying time for this year’s Chicago Marathon so it’s not surprising that it’s tough). Conventional wisdom says a sub 4 hour marathoner should post a 1h 50 half in the training – my best has been 2h 05.

For me, the most important outcome from the marathon is for my son, Alex, to break 4 hours.

After that, in ascending order of ambition, my targets are to get around:

  • safely, running all the way
  • sub 4h 30min
  • sub 4h 15min.
Week Run Cycle X-train
1 16m  (26km) 10m  (16 km) 2:00
2 19m  (30km) 13m  (22km) 2:00
3 21m  ( 66m (106km) 1:00
4 22m  (36km) 14m (22km) 1:00
5 24m (39km) 13m (21km) 1:00
6 (Christmas) 13m (21km)    
7 26m (41km) 63m (101km) 3:00
8 14m (24km) 13m (21km) 7:00
9 (Skiing) 16m (25km)   12:00
10 (Skiing)     12:00
11 (Skiing) 7m (11km)   6:00
12 34m  (55km) 35m (56km) 1:00
13 38m (60km) 14m (22km) 1:00
14 38m (60km) 30m (48km) 1:00
15 39m (63km) 14m (22km)  
16 42m (67km) 10m (16km) 1:00
17 33m (53km) 9m (15km)  
18 (New York) 20m (31km)   4:00
19 19m (30km)   1:00
19.5 10m (16km)    
‘Running’ totals 450m  (724km)   290m (466km)   56:00

Marathon training 19/20: Run, walk, run, run, run. Well into the taper and neurosis sets in.

The Thames, not looking its best on a cool and dull Sunday morning, from the Thames Path near Craven Cottage (the home of Fulham Football Club). Hammersmith Bridge in the background. By the light blue bibs they were wearing, I’m wondering if the rowing 8 were one of the Cambridge ladies’ crews practising for next week’s boat race.

My marathon entry confirmation has arrived and will get me my bib. Eerily, I entered from here in Oxfordshire, my son signed up from London – and our start numbers are within 5 of each other.

On Monday I did the long slow run from week 18 that I couldn’t get myself motivated for the previous day. I did 13.22m (21.3km). That’s the last training run over 10 miles. It was OK and felt quicker but it wasn’t much faster and was still too slow to suggest that I can go sub-4 hours.

The week 19 runs ware 3×3 miles and an 8 miler. It all seemed quite appealing and easy but I woke on Tuesday with painful Achilles tendons and some tightness in the calf muscles (I wonder if that’s a cause of the Achilles issue or a result of it?).

Does that mean I should stop now to avoid making it worse for the marathon itself? Based on previous experience I don’t need to do that but I’ll keep it up my sleeve as a last resort if they don’t get better. Yet more stretching needed, I guess.

I spent the morning hobbling around at a local infant school helping to run a ‘balanceability’ session. That’s starting to ride on bikes with no pedals, which is the new method of learning to ride properly – steady wheels are very outdated, apparently. The children were 3 year-olds, and it was good fun as they enjoyed it so much and put such effort into it. My wife and I walked for an hour in the afternoon in very pleasant early spring sunshine.

I did the final long run on Wednesday afternoon – my normal 8 miler. To my surprise, I managed my best time (just one sec/km inside sub 4hour pace) which is encouraging – but I had to push pretty hard to do it and it was just less than one third marathon distance.

I read that a key difference in running as you get older is a shortening stride length – I guess that’s down to the strength and spring in pushing off the ground. Any spring I might have ever had has certainly sprung.

Thursday I did 3.3miles (5.3km) at a very similar pace – wearing lycra shorts and no compression top beneath the running shirt … for the first time in the whole of the training! I did the same run on Friday, 11 sec/km faster (although the Garmin recorded it as being further so that might account for some of the apparent speed).

The main problem now is neurosis about even the slightest twinge while running. I’m sure that I’m not alone in having a broad range of pains (knees, feet, ankles, quads, thighs, calves, hips, etc) that come and go whenever I run. Normally I ignore them but now I find myself wondering which of them will develop into something serious that stops me running in the marathon.

Time to get a grip.

We went up to London on Friday afternoon for three social meals over the weekend. I ran along the Thames Path Sunday morning which was delightful – 6.7km (4 miles) @5.27 per km. It had turned cool again after a warmer end to the week but I ran with a short sleeved top for the first time in all the marathon training over the last 6 months.

A bit more food discipline this week and I managed to get down from a post New York high of 68.5kg. Weight isn’t the most important factor now but every little helps. The week ended with me around 67kg (about 148 pounds).

I’ve rejigged the mileage chart from the previous post to put Monday’s run into week 18, where it should have been – it’s only one day’s difference but looks more sensible in relation to the taper.

At the start of the week I (foolishly) looked at weather forecasts for Rotterdam for the marathon. It did not look very good: fairly cold and quite possibly wet, with a stiff breeze. One forecast even mentioned snow. By the end of the week the consensus was for slightly milder weather and a reduced possibility of rain. Oh well, plenty of time for that to change again (for better or worse).

Looking on the bright side, at least my lack of warm weather training isn’t going to be an issue.

Week Run Cycle X-train
1 16m  (26km) 10m  (16 km) 2:00
2 19m  (30km) 13m  (22km) 2:00
3 21m  ( 66m (106km) 1:00
4 22m (36km) 14m (22km) 1:00
5 24m (39km) 13m  (21km) 1:00
6 (Christmas) 13m (21km)    
7 26m (41km) 63m (101km) 3:00
8 14m (24km) 13m (21km) 7:00
9 (Skiing) 16m (25km)   12:00
10 (Skiing)     12:00
11 (Skiing) 7m (11km)   6:00
12 34m  (55km) 35m (56km) 1:00
13 38m (60km) 14m (22km) 1:00
14 38m (60km) 30m (48km) 1:00
15 39m (63km) 14m (  
16 42m (67km) 10m (16km) 1:00
17 33m (53km) 9m (15km)  
18 (New York) 20m (31.2km)   4:00
19 19m (30km)   1:00
‘Running’ totals 440m (707km)   290m (466km)   56:00

Marathon training 17/20: run, run, turbo, run. Blown away (sadly, by the wind and not the quality of the running).

Some signs of spring but it’s still fairly chilly and very windy

Week 17 of the 20 week training plan started cool and windy – a bit of a theme developing here over the last week or so.

Happily, I’m into the taper after last week’s 21 mile run, the longest long run of the training plan. The three runs this week (excluding the speed work session) are 15, and 2×5. Based on an almost complete lack of knowledge, it feels a bit too early to taper quite so much so I’ll do more than that this week and taper afterwards. The upshot was that, on Monday, I went for the required 15 miler.

The recent training theme has been that my endurance is not too bad (for an old bloke) but the speed is a problem. I started this process thinking that a sensible paced run/jog would get me round in 4 hours and the training would be all about maintaining that speed – but my sensible run/jog speed is nowhere near as fast as it was 20 years ago when I ran my only two marathons.

The result is that I plan to dedicate the last four weeks of training to trying to get faster. That means I tried to push on for Monday’s run – even though it was a ‘long slow run’ I hoped not to make it quite as slow as most i’ve done in the programme to date. It felt very hard but turned out to be 16.3 miles at just over 6 min/km which is faster than recent long runs (but still not fast enough!).

Being a wimp, I’m still running in a long sleeved top over a compression top and running tights. As yet, no tried and tested plan for kit to wear if it’s hot for the marathon itself – and long runs to test it out on are now in short supply.

On Tuesday I drove down to Bournemouth to re-erect a fence panel that had blown down in the weekend’s gales. More of a bodge than a repair as I discovered two rotted fence posts that will need some concrete breaking up to be replaced. Oh the joys of property ownership!

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Wednesday was cool and very windy. I forced myself out for another in the recent string of ‘I don’t really want to do this’ runs. I managed the normal 8 miler a little slower than recently but I’m hoping that the real benefit was getting the running shoes on and getting out of the door.

After a hard 15.4km (9.5miles) in 30 minutes on the turbo on Thursday it was back out for the 8 miler on Friday.

It was another reluctant run, owing more to obligation than enthusiasm in the now regular high wind but with a bit of drizzle to liven things up. Much to my surprise, I did my best recorded pace for the route – just 4 seconds per km outside 4 hour marathon pace – even though I’ve once done the identical run slightly faster when the Garmin recorded it as being 0.1 mile shorter.

That leaves me generally confused – the auspices were not good today and I’ve done slower runs that felt faster. I’ll just accept it for what it is – 33 miles (53km) in the week against a plan requirement of 25. I’ve also clicked through the 400 mile mark since the start of the plan back in November.

It’s going in the right direction but there’s a very long way to go for me to have any hope of a 4 hour run in Rotterdam. I’ve read that a good taper can take 5-10 minutes off the run itself – I fear that I need four or five good tapers.

That’s it for the week except for a long walk tomorrow.

Week Run Cycle X-train
1 16m  (26km) 10m  (16 km) 2:00
2 19m  (30km) 13m  (22km) 2:00
3 21m  ( 66m (106km) 1:00
4 22m  (36km) 14m (22km) 1:00
5 24m (39km) 13m  (21km) 1:00
6 (Christmas) 13m (21km)    
7 26m (41km) 63m (101km) 3:00
8 14m (24km) 13m (21km) 7:00
9 (Skiing) 16m (25km)   12:00
10 (Skiing)     12:00
11 (Skiing) 7m (11km)   6:00
12 34m  (55km) 35m (56km) 1:00
13 38m (60km) 14m (22km) 1:00
14 38m (60km) 30m (48km) 1:00
15 39m (63km) 14m (  
16 42m (67km) 10m (16km) 1:00
17 33m (53km) 9m (15km)  
‘Running’ totals 402m  (646km)   290m (466km)   50:00

Daring to look beyond the end of the training?

A small selection of the running kit

As the marathon gets closer, I’ve started to think about more than just training and wondering what to do on the day itself (apart from the obvious: run, sweat, gasp, agonise, hurt, etc).

Established wisdom says that the key to marathon day is to do nothing that you haven’t tried and tested in the lead up to it – no new routines, shoes, clothing, nutrition, warm-up etc.

That’s not entirely easy when the run is in another country and you will be staying in a hotel. I have no idea what breakfast will be available and I understand that the energy drink available at feed stations is not sold in the UK. We won’t be the only ones facing these issues so it will simply be a case of controlling what can be controlled and not worrying too much about the rest.

I’ve tried different approaches to the pre-run breakfast (none, porridge, toast, oat bars, fruit) and in-run nutrition (none, water, electrolyte, isotonic gels, jelly babies, oat bars, energy gels, cereal bars, dextrose tablets etc).

I’ve run in a variety of kit so I’ll have a tried and tested range of options on the day itself. So far I’ve tried out:

  • four pairs of running shoes
  • four long sleeved running shirts
  • a gilet
  • two pairs of running tights and three shorts for underneath
  • a wide range of socks (running socks, warm woolly socks, long compression socks, sports socks, double layer marathon socks)
  • many compression and thermal tops, long and short sleeved
  • a headband and several different hats and gloves
  • a running belt and an arm pouch.

Almost everything has performed well (apart from one pair of shoes that come up higher in the heel and rub my Achilles tendons), but almost all combinations used so far are more suitable for cold or cool weather. I need to try out short sleeves and a running vest (I still have the one I used in 1998 and 1999), lycra shorts without the tights and ‘normal’ running shorts – if only it would get warm enough for a wimp like me to bare some skin.

Learning so far:

  • Zips on the running shirts are good when zipped up but the neck flaps annoyingly when the zip is lowered
  • I hate carrying water, even in my running belt’s bottle holder
  • Whatever I eat when running, some of it goes down my airways
  • If I start out at a slow plod, that’s the way it carries on
  • The first mile is always horrid until my breathing stabilises
  • Every run from home starts off up a small hill – I hate that hill
  • I hate running into the wind
  • If it’s cool, I don’t need to worry about drink up to about 15 miles
  • I don’t need to worry about food up to about 15 miles
  • I’ve had no blisters but the compression socks rubbed once
  • I like running – but marathon training requires rather a lot of it
  • I love a compression top as a base layer – if it’s warm, could I run in one, without a running shirt, or is a looser fit better in the heat?

A big unknown is the time I should aim for. When I ran my two marathons in the 1990’s, each time I did only four runs over 10 miles in training – 1x20miles, 1×16, 2×13. I’ve done many more runs over 10 miles this time – 1×22 (yesterday!), 2×20, 1×17, 1×15, 1×14, 1×13, 1×12, 1×11 (and two more still to come) – but I’m 20 years older, and 20 years slower.

I suppose I’ll know more in 4 weeks time at the end of the training, but I fear that I will kid myself that I can break 4 hours, go out too fast and blow up spectacularly.

I read that losing one pound of weight means running 2 seconds per mile faster. If I could get down to 84 pounds (6 stone – 38kg) I’d be OK ……