As part of my running training for the Marathon I have signed up to a few races to make sure I stay on track. I work better with smaller and more frequent deadlines in all parts of my life. The London Marathon is quite a big goal – so in order to keep on track so that I don’t rock on up on Marathon Day completely unprepared I have set a few mile stones along the way.
Some races are milestones. For example some half marathons along the way to keep the distance in the forefront of my mind. Some are just for fun because once you have race fever signing up for races just becomes a bit irresistible, especially when you know people running.
My Dad was signed up for this one. I think he does most of the Plymouth Running Festivals, mainly the 10k and half marathon each year. He offered for me to do it with him, and what better way to have some father daughter bonding time than plodding through a 10k together? I love running races with other people – this is a form of socialising that I can get on board with.
The day before I was worried the race was going to be a DNS or DNF for me. I felt really unwell. I was hot and cold, I was stumbling around a bit and losing my balance. I was feeling fuzzy headed – so much so it took me longer than usual to read the menu at the smoothie bar and understand what was in each one. It all seemed a bit like a blur to me. Stacey helped pick one for me. In fact, getting a smoothie was her idea and it worked. It transformed me – I can’t remember what was in it exactly; some spinach, some fruits, frozen yogurt and perhaps some other bits and bobs that escape my memory right now.
Before hand I was saying it would be a miracle if I got around the course without tripping over my feet because just walking around town on that Saturday I was tripping, falling and generally a bit of an uncoordinated mess. It wasn’t an ideal state to find myself in the day before race day.
I tried a few things, and they all seemed to add up to work: I had some re-hydration formula, I had a smoothie, I ate some carbs then at 9.30pm that night I crashed out for sleep. I think a combination of factors from the previous week led to that place – I had done a 2 hour cycle and not been able to refuel afterwards because I was scraping being on time for my lecture (I got lost, a lot. It should have been a 70 minute ride). I didn’t rehydrate with anything other than water and remained in a semi permanent state of feeling dehydrated no matter how much water I drank. I didn’t even have a Lucozade sport, which is often my go to. I kept making myself get up early and was refusing to go to sleep when I needed to because I wanted more hours from my days.
There’s a few lessons in there:
– if you’re feeling really tired, just go to sleep no matter how short changed you feel from your evening
– smoothies are a great way of getting in bunch of nutrients when used in moderation.
– always refuel after a lot of exertion with some carbs and protein and a little bit of some good fats.
Theoretically, I know all of this. Practically I wasn’t following my own advice or knowledge and chose to ignore my body begging for rest and salts. Lesson = use your knowledge of nutrition to help you and listen to your body Monica. It knows what it needs and you can’t out do your body’s needs with your mental desires to do otherwise.
Race day I had my usual breakfast of porridge and banana. This is a staple pre-race breakfast for me. It always works and doesn’t come right through me. I stomach this meal well despite what gastric issues I may have. The race start pen was around the corner from where my Dad lives, which reduced the travel nerves and stress of missing the start wave. This was a luxury that I quite enjoyed on the day.
When we were in the pen we acknowledged a minute of silence for everyone who couldn’t be with us today. It was honoured well and I imagine that for a lot of people running for causes related to any losses they may have experienced this will have been a really important minute to clarify the why of their race that day. I think it was also important because Plymouth is a Naval town. Growing up I knew more families with ties to the MOD than not – and this will have been of importance to everyone for whom their partners, brothers, sisters may be currently deployed – or may have lost someone during a deployment.
In the starting pen I needed the obligatory third wee that happens every time I go for a race. I haven’t decided if this is nerves, because I drink too much due to dehydration anxieties, or if it’s because races start so early in the morning. I was getting nervous because I needed a wee. I thought there may be toilets on course, which is what I had to have in mind to stop getting anxious about it. I decided to run and see how I went – and secretly hoping that somehow I could perspire from my bladder.
Once I started running and got into the stride of it I was fine. So there is another lesson learned – sometimes a wee can wait and your body will prioritise running. I just don’t want a Paula Radcliffe moment because I don’t think I would get away with that seeing as I’m not Paula Radcliffe. There were no toilets on course but I made it anyway.
When looking at where we ought to start within the crowd because people who start farther forward with people much faster them are quite annoying, we kept an eye out for the pacers. I was aiming for a PB, which would mean getting anything less than 69 minutes. Ideally, I wanted to be between the 60 minute and 70 minute pacer. We set off and the crowds were quite thick until ~3 Km in.
The crowds began to thin out slightly on the first long and gentle gradient. I say gentle, in terms of running it is gentle but when you’re running it always feel like much more. The course was a very simple loop to 5km away and then back again. Along the embankment road the scenery was good as the misty fog hung over the water as the sun began to get brighter throughout the race. I didn’t take any pictures because I was very busy chasing that PB. I started the race with my Dad and near the 6 Km mark he told me to run on and chase it. I asked if he was sure because normally I’m all for sticking together and finishing together. He’s no novice to races and has smashed more 10 Ks and half marathons than me – so when he said he was sure I agreed to run on.
We had set out quite fast chasing the time in the first half of the race – this meant that the second half of the race was much more tiresome and it became harder to maintain pace and push on. between 8 and 9 Km the 70 minute pacer caught up with me as I had slowed down quite a lot, so I kept my eye on her. At times I was watching her flag bob up and down just ahead of me, like when your tour guide on holidays abroad has a colourful umbrella they stick in the air for you to follow as your guide, her flag was my guide and I had to keep up.
I made it. I managed 1:10:50 – it’s within the minute of 10 so I’m going to count it. I’m not a pro so every millisecond isn’t too important to me. Even though I achieved my goal time I decided to maintain my ‘time is largely irrelevant’ philosophy on running. I found it quite stressful chasing that time and I had to really push myself to achieve it. Yeah I felt proud but no, I won’t do it again on a regular basis. I was pleased with myself but adding such an unnecessary stress onto it was as it says on the tin, stressful. Instead I’m going to focus again more on how my body feels when I do my running.
Was it enjoyable? If not, why not? Are there any lessons to be learned? Do I have niggles that need stretching out in stretch class or yoga or even a sports massage? As long as I’m improving over time as I have done from where I was to where I am, and from where I am to a new place in the future that is what matters. I think I’m going to maintain the philosophy of trying to be a better version of myself for me, of trying to improve on what I am whilst appreciating what and where I currently am, and on enjoying progress in ways that may be difficult to measure – but you know what? I don’t need to measure everything in my life. This is a difficult life lesson for me but micro-managing and quantifying everything in my life to justify, understand and realise where I’m at isn’t always necessary.
So lessons learned: no chasing times on a frequent basis, smoothies are great for nutrients if you’re feeling all over, plan for your wee’s right up to the race pen, listen to your body about sleep and rest, refuel after 30+ minutes of exercise, and stay hydrated all the time even if that means chugging more rehydration salts than you’d like because lets face it, they taste iffy, then do it. That’s a lot of learning from one day.
It was also a lot of happiness in one day. S came out to support us, I ran with my Dad which I have never done before, and we had a small family gathering in Costa after the race. It was a bloody good Sunday – and that’s not even mentioning the afternoons activities.