Leaving the house at 07:30 on a Sunday morning is no fun. What’s worse is when the car registers 7 degrees as you leave and falls to 3.5 by the time you hit the fog on the M25. At this point I started to worry about the t-shirt and shorts choice I’d made for running the Luton marathon today. I didn’t bother to bring anything else, I was reliably informed that 12 degrees and dry would be the likely conditions on the day.

As we got within about 5 miles of our destination, the fog lifted and so did the temperature. Phew!

Following the sat nav took us to the right place. Pity the car park signage didn’t. It was terribly confusing and not least of all for the car park attendants themselves who seemed to have little clue what they should be doing!

Eventually parked, I headed into the sports centre to find a toilet. More confusing signage that pointed you in one direction and then just disappeared.

We spotted Lawrence from BVR in the sports hall where a few hundred runners were huddled, in from the still reasonably cold conditions outside.

The Luton marathon has a longer official title. ‘The Luton marathon and relays’ is actually two events in one. It’s a marathon consisting of three laps for those of us mad enough (with a 3h20m time limit to start your last lap) or a three leg relay for a team of up to three runners. Thankfully those people taking part in the relay have to wear a label on their backs with ‘Relay’ on it. Presumably this is so that those of us in for the full event don’t feel so bad when we’re overtaken by one of the short distance runners at a rate of knots!

As it happens, it actually worked the other way round more of the time. I overtook a lot of people who had relay labels on. That felt pretty good!

Anyway, back to the race. The field sports a strong representation by club runners. For this reason, and the strict 5 hour limit, it’s a fast kick off from the line.

The route is described as undulating. I’d agree with that assessment. I’d also agree with the approximation of the elevation profile on the event website, though it looks almost hand drawn! There are a couple of hills of the long and drawn out variety, though neither are very steep, and one short steep climb at about 6 miles. Oh, and on the second and third lap there is a short and very steep climb up through a cul-de-sac which, by lap three is less than welcome!

The route can only be described as far from picturesque. In fact ‘dangerous’ is my favourite appropriate word for the course, in my humble opinion. There’s a stretch at about 5 miles where you climb a long hill, arrive at the top a bit knackered and turn a sharp left bend to foind yourself on an open road with cars whizzing past and a very narrow and poorly maintained footpath (which also does not cover the whole stretch of this half mile section!). This is downright dangerous in my opinion. The marshall on that corner didn’t seem all to interested in what was going on either. Very poor form.

The water stops were done really well and having a choice of water or isotonic was great. The marshals were generally really encouraging and the route marking was fine. It’s just the racing traffic on a relatively busy road that made me feel the event wasn’t quite as well thought through as it should have been.

I had intended to run around 3:45, maybe a bit closer to 3:30 if I felt good. That all went out of the window and I came home in 3h21m, 95th of 480 people who finished the full marathon. I was also incredibly pleased to find that, of the 65 teams of people who took on thre relay, I beat all but the first 17!

So, marathon number two is done. Roll on marathon three, Lisbon in just two weeks time!

Andy.

It’s 4:45. Early. Cold. It’s marathon day.

I get up, the shirt is laid out downstairs, number pinned low, just as I like it. Kettle on, coffee will get me going. Focus. Time to get ready. The year starts here. This year starts here!

Click. What’s that?

That’ll be the kettle. Brain not in gear. I’m not a morning person. Pour. Steaming hot coffee. On with the computer, I forgot to check a) the elevation for today and b) where we’re going!

The elevation looks ‘undulating’ as they say in race speak. In fact I’d personally call it ‘consistently undulating’. No matter, I’m not setting a world record, just a good PB today hopefully.

The other half has been up for ages. No sign of Damian though. I knock. He pretends to be awake. I need time to be ready. He doesn’t!

More coffee. I cook breakfast. Down a pint of water, some juice and start clock watching. 2 hours before is the deadline. No fluid after the two hours to go mark.

Into the car. I’ll drive!

As we get closer to Chester we start spotting runners in cars. Chester itself is rammed. A bit of google mapping and we find a back route in. We park in a muddy field with everyone else.

Next the obligatory queue for the toilet. The gents is full but a kind lady advises me there are about 20 free cubicles in the ladies. I’m not shy. ;-)

It’s still a cool morning. The Roman Centurions have turned out in force and do a good job of marching around in circles until they’re allowed to get to the line. I spot Chris, the guy I’ve met a few times, he organised this. In a little over three hours (hopefully) we’ll see if I’m thanking him or cursing!

I head into the sub 3 pen. Not to the front, about a third of the way back. You just can’t gauge what others’ abilities are until they hit the road. I’m not entirely sure of my own to be honest. One thing I do know though; I don’t want to be carried along with the tide of speedy runners, I’m going to run my own run I tell myself.

The start time comes and goes. Apparently the roads are still blocked with traffic. A few minutes late and the gun goes. We’re off!

The first couple of hundred yards are on a muddy track which is reinforced with a sort of plastic grid. And it’s horrible. It’s just not flat at all and gives the ankles an early bashing. Then out onto the road and into Chester. Before I know it we’ve passed under the arch that you see in all of the photos and Chester has gone. The first mile was 6:21, way too fast, the second a more reasonable twenty or so seconds slower.

Despite the field only being about 3000 runners, there’s some serious jostling. I’ve never really worked that out, aside from being confident that the people who are causing it have never run a marathon before and so haven’t the first idea that it’s a longer game than they could ever imagine. I prefer to relax and just keep a pace. No rushing to get ahead, that only takes it’s toll in 20 miles time and hurts! Or ruins you altogether.

The following few miles are countryside. Which I ignore. I’m focused and have my game plan sorted. Stick to 7 min/mile as best I can until I think I’m in danger of blowing up later. Probably 6-7 miles and then take it a bit easier unless I suddenly find I’m having a really good day.

I’m not. Four weeks of injury and pain and three weeks of hardly any mileage see to that. Take it easy and finish. That’s all I need to do.

3h10m may be possible and qualifies me for London 2013 so will be an incredible achievement if I can do it. I calculate the revised target at about 6 miles as I know later on my brain won’t be able to do the maths at all. I’m well on target, but I know I’ll tire later and slow down. I work out how much contingency I have and settle on a 7:15 average being a good balance between pace and endurance.

I don’t remember any flat sections yet. Just uphill or downhill gently. Nothing else. At around 8 miles I hear a high tempo tap, tap, tap, tap coming up behind me. It turns out to be a lady of probably well under five feet, tiny tiny shoes, with the shortest stride and highest turnover rate I’ve ever seen. She overtakes me. Easily. I can see her knees rubbing together with each tiny stride. I figure I’ll see her again at some point (but never did!).

The next few miles pass without incident. At 16 miles some really athletic looking club runners start to blow up. They’re walking, struggling to jog a bit and then giving up again. I feel ok, not great, but certainly ok. As I pass 18, I start to see a lot of people by the side of the road. Some with injuries, some just clearly went out too fast. I pass them, feeling bad for them having messed up the big day, but in a selfish sense, it makes me feel a lot better!

By 23 miles I still don’t remember a flat bit, just gentle up and gentle down. I try and do the maths and come to the wonky conclusion that I’m going to miss 3h10m unless I speed up. 3×7 is difficult maths to do if you’re 23 miles into a marathon. Truly. The brain is broken and I panic a little. I continue at 7ish minutes a mile. All is ok as I approach 24 miles. My brain realises that if I can keep the 7 min/mile I’ll come in a little under my 3h10m target. Then I get to the only flat bit of the course. We descend steeply down to the riverside (the descent, so far into the race hurts, it burns in my quads and my legs feel like they’re going to give out) and then hit a 200 yard section of flat scenic riverside where the crowds have turned out in force. Finally, just shy of 26 miles the route wiggles back onto the race course itself. Horrible soft ground to run on. We swerve right to join a different lane into the finish gantry and the guy in front of me sees a 26 mile sign ahead and can’t work out whether to go left or right. I overtake and head left towards the finish. I push as hard as I can for the last 200m. I cross the line to see Chris shaking hands with many of the runners. I head towards him and thank him for the event. He points up to the gantry and says “sub 3h10m, that’s New York qualified for!” I smile and proceed to try and walk through the finish.

A very small kid offers me my medal and I gingerly kneel to accept it. It hurts but I’m proud of my time and my morning has gone pretty well.

Another hundred yards of walking and I have to stop. My legs start to quiver and hurt so much I feel like crying! I just stand and try and hold myself up. Finally I manage to walk over to a chair and sit down, whereupon my legs begin to cramp and spasm worse than I’ve ever felt before. I’m confident I’ve run the absolute best I could today, my body is telling me so.

Chester is a good one, it has to be said and all credit to Chris and Andy for their super effort in organising a great event.

Time to rest now…

Andy.

Tomorrow we travel to Luton. I spend around three hours and forty five minutes running laps of the place and marathon number two is done.

I have the strong impression that doing laps of a course is going to be extremely tedious, but having never done so, I just don’t know, I’ll try (just about) anything once.

Anyway, today I decided I’d run four miles. I’ve been horrendously busy at work for the last few days which has sort of given me no choice but to take a good few days rest before the marathon. This isn’t a bad thing and I feel good that for once I’ve taken it easy. I do feel a bit like I should have run at least once in the last three days though. Three days off is highly unusual for me.

I managed to keep a steady and gentle pace for the first three and a half and then pushed a little for the last bit. A good warm up for tomorrow.

Off to Brighton for the day now. Many more miles tomorrow…

Andy.

Today’s shoes: NEW Blue and White Kayano 17s
Mileage today: 4.00
Training mileage so far: 205.59
Marathon mileage so far: 26.25

…but it got a bit quick!

Four days shy of a marathon just isn’t the time to be racing yourself, but 7.3 miles in 50 minutes isn’t bad at all. If you’re not about to run a marathon this week, of course ;-)

I’ve been full of a cold for days now. I just don’t seem to be shaking it but it doesn’t affect me very much on a run. Hopefully Sunday will be ok and the game plan is to take it easy anyway.

That’s it now for a few days. One last ‘keeping the legs moving’ run planned for Saturday and then the Luton Marathon on Sunday. I’ll follow that with two weeks of taking it (relatively) easy before Lisbon.

I’m off to hide in the office for a few days. Back shortly!

Andy.

Today’s shoes: NEW Blue and White Kayano 17s
Mileage today: 7.33
Training mileage so far: 201.59
Marathon mileage so far: 26.25

Having unintentionally taken three days out, today had to be a quick one to get the legs moving again. The marathon approaches and so I wasn’t too worried about the time off, but it’s not a great policy so shortly before an event.

This evening my Dad joined me, cycling beside as best he could whilst I weaved from pavement to pavement around Aldershot. It was a pretty flat run, with only one significant hill down near the Police Station (I ran down it the other day with BVR, this evening we went up) which allowed me to catch up with my Dad as he slowed down a bit to climb up it.

12 miles done in 1h25m means I’m well off the pace of a month ago, but I’m not trying to set the world alight this weekend. This one is just getting round and Lisbon will be a bit quicker hopefully.
Right, another day off tomorrow and then maybe six on Tuesday. Work gets busy after that so I have little choice but to rest up as I have no time for running Wed/Thu/Fri. A short jog around the block on Saturday and then up early for Sunday’s marathon should do it.

More in a couple of days…

Andy.

Today’s shoes: NEW Blue and White Kayano 17s
Mileage today: 12.00
Training mileage so far: 194.26
Marathon mileage so far: 26.25

Tonight’s club run was good. We saw quite a few of last week’s new recruits which is always good, it means we didn’t scare too many people away! We headed out around Ash, not quite past my house (always annoying to do so, thankful we didn’t!) and out to North Camp and Farnborough.

A nice run despite feeling terrible beforehand and good to chat to some new people again.

Not long until Luton. Lawrence from the club is running it too. Probably time to start the ‘taper’, or a with this one, a lazy period beforehand. I’m not going for anything special, just getting round. Gotta shake this damn cold off though…

Andy.

Today’s shoes: Blue and White Kayano 17s
Mileage today: 9.93
Training mileage so far: 182.26
Marathon mileage so far: 26.25

I woke up this morning feeling shocking. I’ve been feeling rough all day, full of a cold and horrible. Dehydrated and a bit sick actually.

‘What’s the worst thing you could do off the back of a day like that?’ I hear you ask.

In a word, RUN.

Despite feeling truly horrible, I managed four miles in just over 27 minutes, which is just under a 6:50 pace. Not bad at all.

I’ve decided that the route I took today has a nice bit of a [prolonged] climb at about a mile in, a relatively steep (for the area) downhill and is reasonably well lit most of the way round. I think this might become my ‘standard’ 4 miler during the darker winter months.

I’m off to try and sleep off this horribleness.

Andy.

Today’s shoes: Blue and White Kayano 17s
Mileage today: 4.00
Training mileage so far: 172.33
Marathon mileage so far: 26.25

You guessed it, the butt of many a joke and a huge number of impersonations. The guy who fixed it for many a kid of my generation and beyond. The legend you could hear jangling from some distance away, Sir Jimmy Savile OBE sadly passed away just a few days ago.

Now, I say this because I had little idea about the man, aside from his image and all the jokes made of him until today. I knew he was famous for running marathons and for fundraising, but I didn’t have any idea of the scale of his success.

In 1981 he first ran the London marathon and his last was at the ripe old age of 79, just five years ago. If I can run a marathon at 79, I’ll think myself a very lucky man!

But that’s not the best of it. In his life he managed to raise a colossal £40 million for charity. The sheer scale of this is mind boggling don’t you think?

All this from a man famous for wearing shiny gold shell suits, jingly jangly jewellery and running with a cigar in his mouth. Legend!

In honour I dug out the most garish attire I could for my run today. I don’t happen to own a shiny gold shell suit would you believe so had to make do with some new Skins running tights with bright yellow seams down them. I hope Jimmy would have been proud ;-)

Jangle on Jimmy!

Andy.

Today’s shoes: Silver and Yellow Kayano 17s
Mileage today: 8.68
Training mileage so far: 168.33
Marathon mileage so far: 26.25

This week has been very busy, very long and very frustrating. I haven’t run in days, I’m tired and haven’t been sleeping well. I have a lot on my mind.

I set off today aiming to cover between 14 and 16 miles. I need the long miles before I get any closer to Luton, it’s only 15 days away now.

I managed 7. Rubbish. I just couldn’t focus on the running, instead choosing to mull over a meeting I had yesterday afternoon which has got to me a bit. My mind wants to keep running through what was said and the context of my actions some time ago. I feel it’s unfinished and I’m not sure I got my side of the story over effectively enough. Anyway, it’s done. I will have to get out tomorrow, alongside sorting the plumbing problems under the kitchen sink!

It’s a bit of a blow, but I found out yesterday that the Wilmslow Half is unfortunately taking place on the same day as the Barcelona Marathon next year, 25th March 2012. I’m actually really disappointed about this. The Wilmslow half is a really good event and I wanted to return in 2012 (Here’s my race report from earlier this year). I would recommend it if you’re up that way as a proper race, not a fun run. It says on the website “It’s a race not a run!” and they’re right. It is a really good half, well organised but with that little village community feel to it too. Get yourself a place NOW, it fills up very very quickly but is a superb event.

Hopefully more tomorrow and then get myself back on the mileage this week now ‘life’ has died down a bit.

Andy.

Today’s shoes: Silver and Yellow Kayano 17s
Mileage today: 7.00
Training mileage so far: 159.65
Marathon mileage so far: 26.25

I woke up this morning, a bit late, very tired. I’ve been working on one of those ‘personal admin’ type tasks for the last few days and it’s taking up a lot of my time. It’ll be over soon. Phew.

I hopped on the bike as usual. Except it wasn’t. Somehow between last night and this morning I’ve developed a painful sensation in both shins when I pedal! Every time I push down with my foot, I get a pain in the upper part of my shins, same on both legs. When does the discomfort end?!?!

I’ve recently ordered two more pairs of Kayano 17s. I have three pairs on the go at present, two of them are knocking on the door of 300 miles though and the other ‘good’ pair have done 180! Time for some new ones. I’ll need to break a pair in and have them ready for Luton in just over a fortnight.

I wore a new pair this evening. Black ones. Finally a pair of runners that don’t turn brown within three club runs. Why didn’t I do this before?!?

This evening was the newbies club run (first Wednesday of the month) at Blackwater Valley Runners and I arrived to find we were inundated with new people. It was raining and I’d say the club was 50% down on the usual suspects, but surprisingly this didn’t matter as about a third of the group this evening were new additional people. Lovely to see so many new people and good to get out as a huge group.

We had a wide range of runners this evening meaning I played messenger, sprinting from the front runner to the back one, repeatedly. At times, this was getting on for a half mile! It was a good workout for me, I can tell you! After about a mile or so we regrouped (it all got a bit British Military Fitness as Dave stalled the front runners by doing reps up and down Redan hill!) and eventually split the group off into two. I joined the back group and we took a fairly direct route back along North Lane to the club.

It’s interesting to hear why people join a club. We had a lot of ladies join us for the first time this evening. The nights are drawing in and so they want other people to run with to feel safer. I’d thought about being safe before, but not clicked that the dark nights (and the clocks having changed just last Sunday) make it literally impossible for people to run on their own. Welcome to the club one and all and I hope we see as many of you as possible next week and in the future.

What was really good was to arrive back at the club and tell everyone we’d covered three miles. It came as a surprise to most and for some was the longest run they had done. Nice to share that achievement with people and emphasises the fact that running socially takes your mind off the time and distance, before you know it you’ve covered a good few miles. I recall Nick saying that it’s often difficult for those of us who have been running for a while to remember how far three miles actually is. It’s a long way! I know only too well how far it is, having run 3 miles a day for the year. On a bad day it seems like your climbing a mountain!

We arrived back at the club and then Nick, Alan, Steve B and I headed off for a brisk couple of miles. The first was a good pace, the last was really quick! All in, six miles done this evening and a quick beer or two after.

Oh, and I’ve had to change the ‘Who am I?’ section. I’ve made it to my mid-thirties today ;-)

Andy.

Today’s shoes: Black Kayano 17s
Mileage today: 5.86
Training mileage so far: 152.65
Marathon mileage so far: 26.25