mundane adventures in running
Well I did it. I ran and stumbled 50km in one go before I hit 40. It was both amazing and disappointing. I’ve ticked it off on the great to do list of my life (which is a half arsed thing which only exists in my mind), but can’t help but feel I haven’t really done it.
I set out from home on Saturday at about 9, nervous and repeating the mantra of “just another long run”. I started well, but immediately changed my plans. Rather than start with a train ride, I set off
running, through Clapham to Battersea and along the river. The weather was beautiful, radiantly sunny, hot but not too hot. I was wearing tried and tested clothes (except for a new running belt my wife and kids gave me as an early birthday present); I’d cued up a few albums on Spotify to see me through; I had water and a couple of packets of skittles and had a belly full of Shreddies to see me through; it felt as though I was ready and immediately started thinking about aiming for 65km, a comfortable marathon and a half.
The revised route seemed OK at first, and I was doing well, but the stretch of path alongside Kew gardens was my un-doing. The ground underfoot was littered with small, sharp stones I could feel through my shoes. Super minimalist shoes were a mistake; I had to adjust my stride, and after a couple of kilometres I was starting to feel an ache in my knee. By 30km I was suffering, and headed off the path over Richmond Park, hoping that a change in surfaces would give me a bit of relief and let me find my stride again. By 40km I was really suffering. A few wrong turns and unexpected hills left me aching and useless. Running stopped feeling like a matter of mind over body, and started to feel like a full on assault on my body. I started to worry that my arches might be about to collapse, or my knee buckle permanently.
I needed a strategy. I thought about aborting, but decided I’d already come too far. Plus this was my only opportunity to do this. I couldn’t fit in another long run before my birthday on the 14th, and besides was in so much pain that I wasn’t sure I’d recover before the week was out. I decided to yomp a final 10k, to get me to 50k and let me feel like I had accomplished what I set out to. It was a painful walk and trot through Clapham. My breathing felt short even when I was walking. My legs were screaming at me to stop. Every green patch of ground or bench was crying out to be lied down on.
Towards the end I felt like an outsider. There were so many people in the parks, relaxing, drinking, picnicking, I was completely out of place: disheveled, salty tide marks on my shirt, dressed to go running but limping pointlessly, walking and occasionally bursting into a molasses slow. At some point children in a passing car jeered at me. Mostly though, I was really aware of the agony and extreme emotions that I was going through, and how distance and different that was to how the people around me where experiencing each moment.
I was too slow, I walked too much of it, but I gave it my best shot. So, done. 50k in 6 hours. Not life changing in itself, but enough to give me an epiphany: I should have been able to run all of this, and need to train to try it again and do better next time. So, rather than give me a real sense of relief, completion but with sense of failure has completely resolved me to do this again, but to nail it next time.
And I know how…
Better prep. I need to regularly be running 35-45km. This run was a bigger jump than I expected. I’d trained to a point where I could comfortably run 30k. I only did one 35k. That’s not enough, especially when in this run I started hurting way before that. I think need to up my training so that I’m doing more long runs, perhaps a 20-25 and a 35-40 every week.
Better tapering. I tapered because I had a cold and it was convenient, not because I was ready to. I think I tapered for too long a time (about 2 weeks), and did too much exercise in that time (I cycled 18km the day before). Next time, I’ll taper for about ten days, be far less active, stretch much more, sleep more, oh, and drink less.
Better food. I ate cheese sandwiches for dinner the night before, and my breakfast swilled around in my stomach a bit. Rubbish. I’ll look into better pre run nutrition
Better shoes. I wore Vivo road shoes. They weren’t up to the course.. the soles are quite minimal for really rocky trails, and I found the stones really started to do a number on my feet. Next time I’ll wear more cushioned, protected shoes.
More varied course. The course started flat, which I thought would be an advantage. Now I realise that a couple of hills would at least have mixed things up, and would mean I was using different muscles. I might try the same course again but in reverse, so I start with the hills and end with the river.
Better pacing. It was disappointing to walk the last bit. I think starting with 5k of walking to limber up and get everything working, then set off at a 10kmph or so speed would have been more satisfying and would have improved my performance substantially.
So now I have a new challenge slowly materialising in my mind: a couple of months of hard training ahead of me and I will nail this.