On Saturday I ran (and won) my 100th marathon. Full blog post is HERE but in meantime here’s the photos!
Final week of training ahead of taper before marathon 100 and the award of the 100 Marathon Club shirt!
Monday – 3.5m gentle dog jog to loosen legs from the 18 mile the day before.
Tuesday – 6:40 session with Redway. Low numbers, just me and Will. Downside is less chatting, upside is a guaranteed second position back to base. 4 miles at 6:52 average.
Tuesday Again – 20x1min intervals with 1 min recovery. Downside of the legendary Chris being back from his Lakeland 100 stint is he’s there to shout encouragement. Upside is fastest and most consistent intervals ever. 20 minutes of speed work at average 6:00 pace was agony.
Wednesday – Bow Brickhill – up again for the 5am session and could feel the speed work in the hills. 9 miles at 7:59 average.
Thursday – child care issues so missed club run. Lap of Caldecotte in dark 10k at 7:35 pace.
Friday – early morning start for a daylight lap of Caldecotte, 10k at 7:30 pace.
Saturday – parkrun with the dog, 5k at 7:30 pace. Bella was employing the three stop strategy, one poop, one paddle, one sniff at a tree. First dog home.
Sunday – final long steady run (LSR). Planning about 2hrs, but good company meant I ran on with others and finished 18.5 miles at 7:56. Ran fasted, and with just water (dash of squash) and felt strong throughout, none of the usual fade at the end. Feeling positive for marathon 100!
Total weekly mileage – 60 miles. Fairly high ahead of taper next week.
The tour is one of those under publicised but amazing local races. 6 races over 6 days in and around MK. Everything from a track mile to a 5 mile cross country.
You can enter individual days but real attraction is entering the full tour and competing against each other over the course of the tour and getting to know each other in a (friendly) competitive spirit. Nothing will propel you onwards at the end of a hard race as much as ‘Bob’ who is level pegging with you on cumulative time, trying to slip past on the last bend.
Day 1 – Tattenhoe 11km (more like 10.8k)
The first day and probably one of the hardest. It’s a three lap course around Tattenhoe, a mixture of wide redway footpath alongside the dual carriageway and narrower footpaths around the park. It’s predominantly flat but with some gentle ups and downs for underpasses. Those that are in for the full tour know they need to get a good start so everyone goes hard and whilst not much longer than a 10k, that extra section takes it from ‘ouch this is hurting’ to ‘for the love of deity when will it end’. My breathing felt fine but quads in particular were doing their best to remind me it was only a week since they were asked to push my weighty self around a marathon course and that they would really appreciate a longer rest.
The end comes just after a bend as you turn off from the park so if like me you’re not paying attention (and arguing with your legs) suddenly you’re in the final sprint to the finish and not realising it until people start to pass. For the first two laps you make a hard left and start your next lap, for the final lap you need to run on and under an underpass for the finish line. I saw a fair few people stop just before the bend thinking they’d finished and lose precious time.
My own loss of time came by daydreaming in the final lap. I was struggling to keep up with those in front and lost sight of them. My mind then wandered to thinking how good it would be to stop and if it was going to be dry enough to cut the lawn when I got back, and unconsciously I started to slow. Only a chance check of watch reminded me I was meant to be racing and not out for a jog.
Note to self – when the body is complaining and wants you to slow, that is the time to push harder.
Pleased with 46.03 at the end, an improvement on the previous two attempts.
Day 2 – Potterspury Cross Country 5 mile (more like 4.86 mile)
Day two and its race over after work to a small village outside of MK. This route starts in a farmers field for a mini lap before starting two main laps.
Although there is only 134ft of elevation gain the course never feels especially flat and the stream crossings (five in total) and stiles to climb (four of them) combine with the ascents across ploughed fields combine to give the course the cross country name. Most years someone arrives to be flabbergasted at the streams they need to cross and weep openly for their sodden trainers at the end.
The route is very runnable and the narrow footpaths through fields give an interesting tactical element where overtakes need to be planned and benefit of getting ahead of someone before the next stile weighed against the extra effort needed to run off path through long grass and nettles to achieve it.
The final few hundred metres takes you out of the stream crossing (mid-shin most years) to lap the playing fields. Once again I’m outsprinted and lose several places in the final section from lack of fast finish as I started far too late. Finishing in 35:04 is an improvement on previous years though.
Note to self – pick a landmark to start the finish spurt and stick to it. It will hurt but it will be over quickly!
Day 3 – Stantonbury Track Mile (an actual 1 mile)
Yep, an actual time mile on the track. Like a proper runner. Intimidating.
Based on current tour standings the runners are split into groups of similar ability to avoid a 4 minute athlete having to lap someone far slower. This also aids competition as you should be able to keep up with those in your group so can work off each other and properly race.
For anyone that hasn’t raced a track mile before, its approximately 1.6km or four and a tiny bit laps of the 400 metre track. Unlike Usain Bolt in the 100 metres there are no assigned lanes or starting blocks. Instead there is a gently curved line across the track just before the finish line that equates to one mile. Runners assemble on the line, standing shoulder to shoulder and await the start gun. Depending on the experience of runners there is something between an orderly fast procession as you funnel to the first bend or a mass scrum.
For most recreational runners without a track background a stand alone mile is ridiculously hard to pace. Start off at a sprint and you soon realise a mile is a long way when you’re slowing down on the first lap and being passed for three more laps. If you go off too slow and get stuck behind other runners then it’s frustratingly short. You’re not at the Olympics so finish position doesn’t count but you need to make the best of what little speed your legs have and avoid being held up by other runners. Running the shortest route in the quickest time requires some thought and practice which you don’t yet have. It’s surprising how congested a track can feel with just a handful of runners.
Overtaking on the bends requires you to run wide and cover more ground at a quicker pace. Mo Farah can do this. I hate to break it to you but you’re not Mo Farah. Realistically you need to keep overtakes for the straights. Given the final straight will be a lung busting everything-you’ve-got sprint finish that really leaves only seven opportunities to move up the pack if needed and you’ll likely waste the first couple trying to work out how to run the track and avoid being tripped or tripping someone as you try and slot in.
On the bends tuck in behind the runner in front and aim to hammer past coming out. The bad news is the runner behind you has the same plan (and likely the one behind him too) so you end up in a three way sprint for the next bend all trying to beat the runner who came out the bend in front and has a straight line to the next bend so far less to do. If you’re still alongside them come the curve it’s either pull in behind having wasted the opportunity and the energy or push on wide around and hope to still be alongside come the next straight. For the stats nerds going wide on the bend add arounds three metres to the 100 metre length. It’s not a lot but get stuck on the outside of the curve for every lap and you’ve added considerably to your race.
All the while you’re cutting in and out trying to pass someone you’re depleting energy reserves at a rate you’re not used to and your fast twitch muscle fibres that have been largely dormant for marathon training are wondering what the hell is happening.
Finally after four laps it’s the sprint finish for the line. Typically someone you fought to pass will glide ahead like an athletic puma, displaying perfect running form and poise, head held high, and attracting admiring glances from the spectators. You will swing arms wildly around in a vain hope they will motivate your protesting legs to move faster, gurning like a cow sucking a lemon and collapse over the line with as much grace as a sofa falling out of a tree.
Run the mile well and get a time you hitherto can’t even comprehend you were capable of. Run it badly and it’s marginally faster than your average mile time for a parkrun.
With all this in mind I lined up for the start, went like a bat out of hell for the first bend and ended up in the front group. Regret instantly kicked in as people caught and passed me on both sides whilst making it impossible to get back on the inside. If you drive on the motorway at all you’ll doubtless have come across a car labouring in the middle lane, unable to keep up with flow of traffic and being undertaken and overtaken by streams of traffic blaring their horns. That was me. I eventually ran out of people to be overtaken by and got over then spent two laps keeping my ill-advised last minute Red Bull down before a final lap of trying to close the gap before the finish line. My Garmin beeped somewhere on the final bend having over read the distance and I forgot to stop the watch so only later did I learn my finish time of 5:56. Better than I’ve managed before but given a 6:05 first mile for my last half marathon hardly a massive leap.
Day 4 – Campbell Park 5 mile (more like 4.2 miles)
Legs recovered from the fastest mile they’ve ever done? No? Too bad it’s time for day 4 anyway. Race starts by the MK Rose (a weird sculpture sun dial installation) and is two laps. The first section takes you across the grass and down beacon hill in Campbell Park. The downhill feels glorious but your brain will remind you the finish is now a long way above you and you have two laps to go. The route is redway down to the Grand Union canal and along the towpath before climbing back up through Downs Barn on a long slow climb ready for lap 2 to start again. Repeat the route, divert off the path for the finish arch and finish triumphant and drenched in sweat.
Pacing is hard as it’s effectively a mile downhill and a mile uphill. You don’t want to leave yourself nothing for the ups but take it too easy on the downs and you’ll lose position. Being on the ‘husky’ side I went as fast as possible on the downs to gain some advantage. It probably wasn’t the best move as my final mile was awful and I was passed multiple times. The runner next to me in the tour standings planned his race better and opened his 1 seconds advantage to well over a minute as I collapse over the line in 29:35.
Day 5 – Brickhill Woods Hill Race (2.1 miles)
A two mile run in the woods sounds pleasant. Don’t be fooled. The route twists and turns around trees, up and down inclines, taking in some lovely off-camber sandy stretches that are either clinging muck or shifting dust depending on recent weather. There is little point in studying the route, just follow the runner in front and pay attention to the marshals and markings. Even if asked to run the route again immediately after the finish I doubt I’d be able to follow it without help. Run hard throughout, overtake if you dare and be prepared to finish a mere 2 miles feeling broken. It’s brilliant.
Timekeeping not being my best I arrived later than planned, parked further away than I liked and had a fast warmup run to reach the start. The runners were assembled on the wide (in comparison to the rest of the route) footpath but shoulder to shoulder and I had to employ my best jungle skills to weave my way up and almost to where I expected to finish in the pack. As we set off it was a scrum and a tight right turn up a hill so I dived in the undergrowth and through bracken to try and gain a few spots and avoid being held up on the twisty sections. The rest of the race there is little room for tactics and it becomes a mad scramble up, down and across the hills and ditches.
Competitors have no sense of how far they’ve run and no opportunity to check watch as seemingly every step needs concentration to avoid tripping, head butting or impaling yourself on some nature. The few sections that do open up you’re too busy trying to make up ground to waste time on your Garmin. Other events I tend to get distracted by my own thoughts, assessing how my legs feel, calculating distance to finish and hence the pace required to reach the end. There’s none of that on here.
It’s my favourite race of the tour as it doesn’t feel like a race, more akin to a full effort sprint from zombies or a deranged serial killer. It’s not that you want to pass the runner in front but the more people between you and the pursuing beast monster the increased likelihood their out of control blood lust will be sated before they reach you. Finally without warning after an innumerable descent runners burst out of the undergrowth onto a tight left turn and the sprint down the narrow path to the finish. It’s all over and the nightmare pursuer has been evaded for another year.
I managed 16:16, again an improvement on previous attempts. Probably the best performance of the series so far as I passed runners throughout and finished ahead of many that had consistently trounced me all week. I’d like to think this is due to athletic ability but can accept it’s more to do with gravity.
On the tour standings I had two runners within a minute ahead of me and three within a minute behind. Objectively after five races the standings will have evened out any inconsistencies so I likely very few runners are going to be gaining or losing on their rivals by more than a minute on a (slightly long) 10k for the final day. Mostly I’m hoping years of longer endurance based races and stubborn refusal to take rest days will give me some edge.
Day 6 – Willen Lake 6 mile (more like 6.4 mile)
The final day of the tour. By now you know who’s in competition with your on overall standings (or if you’re really good, in contention for a position or age category award) and will be desperate to stay ahead. That gap you built up over 5 races could be wiped out if you have a bad day. Conversely the lead the runner ahead of you has seems unassailable and not worth even trying to close the gap. It’s probably the closest you’ll get to being a Tour De France rider.
The race starts and finishes at the Woughton Sports Pavilion. It’s an out and back route to Willen lake along the Ouzel valley park (a linear park following the river Ouzel between Willen and Caldecotte lakes). One side of the river has wide uninterrupted footpaths (and passes by my house). The other side has livestock grazing and multiple cattle gates. For some reason the route follows the later path. Some of these gates are tied back for the race, some are held open by volunteers (who may not be there on the way back), some it’s up to you to open as you approach at collision speed, praying the catch is oiled and free to open. For the adventurous who don’t wish to use their ankles anytime soon there is always the option of attempting to leap the cattle grid in a single bound. An option probably best suited to long jump champs, but careful stepping across can be used if you’re sure footed.
The gates all have their own quirks. Some if pushed hard will open wide and slowly close, allowing your fellow runner to nip through behind in a show of sportsmanship. Others when pushed with the same force and intention will instead bounce off the post and hammer back towards the runner behind at wrist-snapping speed and he or she will likely think of you as a total arse and contemplate pushing you in as you lap Willen lake before returning the same way.
The best bit about the approaching the finish today is the knowledge that it’s done and dusted and a buffet and tour t-shirt awaits.
Although I found the route OK the earlier rain had made the paths slippery for my poor trainer choice and despite road shoes I found better grip on the grass alongside the path. Heading out I stuck in a nice pack and the gates were easy. Heading back I was blowing out my arse and mostly left to flounder at the gates on my own. Finally finishing in 44:32 for the 6.4 miles and finishing 38th out of 105 tour entrants.
The total mileage for the series is 25.26 so for many actually a low week but made up by all being hard. I ran the usual 9 miles 5am run on Wednesday as well at a gentle pace as I felt I needed it.
For anyone intrigued to try themselves it’s typically the first full week of September and recently has alternated between a Sunday or Monday start. Most races start at 7pm but first and last race can be different (10am Sunday and 6pm Friday this year). There is a great atmosphere at all races and for £30 for the series (with a tech tee) or £5 per race they are great value. No medals, no sports drink, no faff. Just run hard and drink water at the end.
Despite having run a ridiculous number of marathons at Caldecotte and having acheived a fairly average time at marathon 99 last weekend it has taken a massive toll on my legs and general flexibility. I started the week feeling like I’d been hit by a bus. I felt better after my first 50 miler!
Considering I’d actually tapered and run relatively sensibly I wasn’t expecting to be hobbling and even the wife has commented I look broken and “not right”. Not ideal confidence boost ahead of marathon 100.
Monday – Rest Day – I skipped my usual recovery run as even walking was not fun and felt very ‘off’ so stuck to dog walks instead.
Tuesday – Having not done a recovery run it probably wasn’t the best idea to try and make the 6:40 paced session with Redway. Managed to do the four miles at average 7:04 so not as bad as expected and I trotted off to do intervals with Lakeside. This is where my legs in particular had enough and I struggled to even get moving. What should have been 16x2min with 1 min recovery went steadily downhill and barely broke into 8min pace for the fast sections, accompanied by excessive sweating and what I can only liken to a fever. As much as it pains me to admit it, I’d come back too soon and eventually common sense prevailed, I binned the session off and went home. 4.7 miles at 9:30 pace, probably my slowest run in a long while….
Wednesday – Awoke feeling better for a rest, decided to risk the 5am Bow Brickhill run. Shocked to find the summer is waning and needed a headtorch. Despressing to realise you’re stuck with this for the next 6 months. Winter is coming! Managed 9 miles at 7:46 so happy that the awful run the night before was a blip.
Thursday – Final day of August. Needed 5 miles to hit my 200 mile monthly target for 20th consecutive month. Managed 10.6 at 7:47 pace on a hilly club route that seemed to take in every ascent in MK.
Saturday – MK parkrun with Bella – highlight of run is being the first runner to the canal. Thanks entirely to the 4wd of the dog I was dragged along to lead the parkrun for 200 metres! She then promptly stopped for a call of nature and two further paddles in the lake but still came home a respectable 23:04 at 7:21 pace.
Sunday – Tour of MK Day 1 – Tattenhoe. The tour is one of those under publicised but amazing local races. 6 races over 6 days in and around MK. Everything from a track mile to a 5 mile cross country. You can enter individual days but real attraction is entering the full tour and competing against each other over the course of the tour and getting to know each other in a (friendly) competitive spirit. Nothing will propel you onwards at the end of a hard race as much as ‘Bob’ who is level pegging with you on cumulative time, trying to slip past on the last bend. For day 1 I managed 6.7 miles at 6:52 pace. 90 second improvement on my last attempt in 2015.
Weekly total – 42.8 miles