Wednesday, October 29, 2008
In the two weeks I was in Canada the seasons turned. When I arrived most of the leaves were still green but in a short time there was a wide spectrum of greens, yellows, browns and reds. It was spectacular, everyday you could look out and see the change. That is why the headline picture for these posts about the Victoria Marathon happens to be leaves that are about to turn. Nothing to do with running, but everything to do with my basic belief that running gets you out into the landscape and gives you an opportunity to see and feel it more closely. In other words it is an excuse to pay attention.
The report will be in two parts: the first describes the event itself, whilst the second is about how we all did.
I am rather sad about a complete absence of photos from the race or even of Victoria. I didn't take my camera on the race as it didn't seem appropriate to stop to take pictures (though I'm not sure it would have made much difference to my time). In the bright autumn light the course was wonderful and I thought I would return the following day just to record some of the views. Unfortunately the weather closed in and Monday was just cloud and rain – a complete wash out.
So you will just have to take my word for it that the course was beautiful and that if you want to run a marathon anywhere in North America, you couldn't do better than Victoria (unless,of course, you want the buzz of a big city race).
We were very lucky this year in that the weather was perfect – light was clear, air was still and temperature crisp. The course could not have been presented any better and a naturally beautiful location was lifted. At times you could look out over the flat ocean with its gradations of blue merging into the sky and feel a wave of contentment, even when your body was complaining of abuse.
You can see from the map that the route takes full advantage of Victoria's sea bound location, with its natural harbour and a series of bays and inlets. Most of the time it follows the coastal roads, with many views over the sea. My clearest visual memories of the course are these views, especially as the water was still and offered a glimpse of serenity. Amongst those snapshots are a bay full of yachts and a golf course overlooking the ocean. As I was returning through the golf course a couple crossed the road, pulling their trolleys, chatting and looking very relaxed. I contrasted their pastime with mine. I was aching and trying to remember the reasons for running long, whereas they were at their ease. They even had great scenery to appreciate. Damn I thought there must be some way my game is better than theirs (but at this stage I could even see the attractions of fishing so I knew my thought processes weren't right). Then I went to the next view and the next and I remembered the satisfaction of being physically challenged and doing something that feels hard. The golf course was left well behind.
It route also went through parkland and some interesting housing, which towards the top was quite swanky. In other words there was no dead patch, no stretches of featureless streets or repetitive buildings that make the mental battle just that little bit harder. This is quite a feat for 26 miles of city running.
The support along the way was fun. The volunteers were very good at cheering and clacking us on and there were plenty other people out along the way, some of them sitting outside their houses in their camping seats. Amongst the supporters I remember an old Chinese guy slowly shaking a water bottle half full of rice, almost as if he was doing tai chi. If only I had thought about him a bit more I could have taken the lesson that you can get there more effectively with a with a steady easy rhythm. Later on there was a woman beating with a stick on an empty plastic tub shouting “ You can do it. Attain your dreams. Remember you decided to do this thing.” She made me laugh as I remembered this actually was my choice. But all along the course people offered support. My race number also had my name printed on it and when someone shouted out “Looking strong David, when I felt anything but strong, it actually made me feel better.
Instead of carrying a sign the pace bunnies just wore rabbit ears. They could get away with such a relatively discrete indicator because the field wasn't that large at something over 2,000 people. This is a good size, large enough to stop it getting lonely yet small enough to allow everyone to run their own race unimpeded
At the end there was a food alley where you could load up with apples, bananas, muffins, bagels, cookies, doughnuts and chocolate milk. I came out with my hands overflowing with carbohydrate goodness.
Overall it felt like a friendly, civilised race. All the way round I kept on thinking how much I liked the place but the impression was cemented at the end when, after I had crossed the line, the race organiser shook my hand and thanked me for coming to Victoria. He did this for everybody and I found it an overwhelming decent gesture. Somehow it made the whole race seem personal.
This was a family run. My wife and niece ran the 8k, my sister and brother in law the half marathon and I ran the marathon. The performances ranged from better than hoped, on schedule, and a bit behind the curve.
The triumph was the 8k. This was my wife's first race and she had trained for it very conscientiously. On the kitchen noticeboard was a schedule from Runners World with every session ticked off (I am full of admiration of her ability to decide on a course of action and then keep to it). Even so she was nervous and not sure what to expect. My niece on the other hand has previously run races but had done no training. As she is young a generally fit this was not too much of a problem and they went round the course together 6 minutes faster than target time. A big hurrah that got bigger when we found out my wife finished 10th in her age category.
The Half marathon was pretty much to plan (again my sister and brother-in-law are also pretty good at keeping to a schedule). It was their first race at this distance and ran together. Their aim was 2 hours and they achieved 2.01, which is just about spot on. I actually saw them on the run at a point where the marathon and half marathon met, going in opposite directions. They looked to be running strongly and I am sure their next race will see their time drop.
My race was slower than I wanted but as I did not have any great expectations I felt quite satisfied. A persistent ankle problem meant my training had been more about keeping going rather than pushing things too hard and so I knew I did not have the endurance for a strong race. I started with three possible outcomes in mind; If everything went super well 4.15 might be possible, the realistic target was somewhere around 4.30,but the main objective was to keep going. So coming in at 4.38 was OK, actually it was better than that as I felt very happy that I had completed, even if I had been outrun by an eighty year old woman (side note: Betty Jean McHugh set a world record for her age category by finishing in 4.36).
More than getting round I thought I had learnt a number of lessons:
The first was that run/walk (10 minutes run, one minute walk) is a good strategy, which helped, at the very least, to make the first half comparatively comfortable. It seems to be more common in Canada than back home and so it was easy to take the breaks as there were lots of us doing it. When you are fresh it feels like a slightly unwelcome interruption because you feel good and don't want to break-up the rhythm but as you go on you appreciate the breaks and look forward to the change. Dividing the race up into small chunks of time is also a good mental strategy as you can focus on getting to the next break rather than looking at the number of miles till the end. The major problem I had was with the water stations. They did not fit the time schedule. I took them as extra breaks because I am not very good with paper cups but I was always slightly confused by what to do.
So lesson number two is to run with my own drinks. On long runs I normal use a Camelback and find it relatively comfortable. In no way would it slow me down and it would mean I could timetable my own breaks. Using drinks for fuel would also overcome lesson number three: I do not like gels. Because my training runs were not that long I didn't practice with gels enough and the extra I had to take for a marathon were distinctly unappetising.
Lesson number four was about my running style. I observed two distinct ways of moving. My normal style is fairly relaxed, with a forefoot/midfoot landing and looking ahead. The more tired I get the more my stride shortens and I stiffen up until I am shuffling along, striking with my heel, and looking at the ground, which is uncomfortable as well as slow but don't feel I can do anything else. The lesson is to work systematically on extending the time I can run normally in training. When things start to go bad I will have to use a mantra of saying “Relax, relax, ease out” and also “Look up”.
Lesson five is about music – it helped. I used my Ipod from 1 hour 45 and found it a good distraction. I had it on shuffle (which was quite appropriate given my running style) so I didn't know what was coming next and I liked the surprises – who knew that Tom Waites could make you feel good when running?
Lesson six was a reinforcement of something I usually try to do: look around and appreciate the surroundings. In this race looking at the sea made me feel happy and I had no need of the mental trick I sometimes use, which is to picture my home run and imagine the familiar sights of the canal.
The final lesson was about accepting your own performance. Towards the end someone shouted out “You're nearly there now , you can start to feel good” “Not if you have a target” someone muttered to herself rather bleakly. I wanted to try to talk her round but I knew it was futile but anyway she was ahead of me and I did not feel motivated enough to catch her up. But she made me realise that although I was not going to be proud of my time I was going to be proud of having done the race and to me that felt important.
Wednesday, October 08, 2008
I am posting this picture as a reminder.
Tomorrow I fly off for my marathon and this and similar images will be important. When things get tough and the road ahead seems endless I will picture myself running by the Canal. In my head I will run my favourite sections and feel at home and comfortable – well that is the theory.
I will not be posting for a couple of weeks, so in that time good running everybody.
Who knows if I have put enough endurance in my legs? Although I fell short on my long runs I have been fairly consistent in my pattern of exercise, despite some injury gaps. I might be able to hang on – well that is what I am hoping; that is what I keep telling myself. However there is no margin for error. The cut-off time is 5 hours, so if I blow up and have to walk for long periods it could be touch and go as to whether I am allowed to finish.
Now I know that a pop psychologist will say that you should dismiss all such negative thoughts and just concentrate on succeeding, just picture yourself crossing that finishing line, just imagine running comfortably. That all makes sense and positive visualisation is quite enjoyable, in a daydreamy sort of way. I like doing that. However I can’t get too carried away because my default mental setting is pessimism about my own abilities, which has a tendency to corrode any rah-rah thinking. Instead I have to acknowledge my fears and work them through. I can’t wish them away.
The fears are largely based on the Amsterdam marathon last year, where I walked over a third of the course and finished a few seconds inside 5 hours. I have to convince myself that there were particular reasons for that and I am fitter and stronger this time. Although my head knows those reasons (I had picked up a virus and was not very well) my body still holds the memory of utter exhaustion. Because it was in my last marathon that memory looms large and a nasty voice in my head taunts me by saying ‘you’re only making excuses; maybe you can never last more than 15 miles’.
I have to be able to silence that voice and for this I have a number of strategies:
1) Letting go of the idea of failure. If it falls apart again, it is not a disaster. It is just another chapter in my running story – something I have to learn from. All that matters is that I do as well as I can on the day and then look upon it dispassionately, with the eyes of an outsider.
2) Turn Amsterdam around and look at it positively, as I was actually quite proud of myself. I kept going and finished. I think that was some sort of achievement.
3) Look at the positives of this years training – some sessions have been quite good. Overall I have enjoyed my running.
4) Feel the body getting stronger during this taper period and trust that feeling. I can believe that I will feel quite well rested at the start (even if I don’t know what time zone I am in).
5) Use the anxiety positively, to keep me cautious in the early stages . Just hold back and then hold back some more.