Monday, 24 April 2017

So, What Now?

I know what happens next. And so do/will the people close to me but right now let's focus on what happened yesterday.
Before I get into it I'd like to say that I simply wasn't good enough on the day. There are many factors that contributed to that which I will go into shortly but that's marathon running for you. I accept that the current record holder who ran the VMLM in 2015 had many of the same issues to deal with and I HAD enormous respect for him and his achievement. So to the race:
I've been under huge self inflicted mental pressure leading up to race day. As you may know, my training programme didn't go entirely to plan and the closer you get to race day the less you can do about it until finally all you can do is think about it. It is a huge mind game.
There's a lot to get down so I'll try to condense it so as not to lose you. It may get a bit disjointed as I remember different bits of the day.
I kept waking the night before, dripping with sweat, clearly anxious about race day. When I got to the Green start and checked in with Guinness, they were branding all the record attempts with GWR logos - easy if you have a large silly costume, not so easy on me. I was asked "Do you mind if we put some stickers on your balls?" to which I replied "Yes! Yes I do. That's not going to work". In the end I had a little logo pinned to the front of my shorts. There was a lot of hanging about at the start. Guinness took pre-race pictures of all the record attemptees and a big group shot just before the start. There were lots of cameras about taking pictures and videos of some of the other record attemepts but as I didn't have a silly costume and largely kept my balls tucked away I looked just like any other runner so nobody bothered me. I practised a little up and down the start and decided to let just a little air out of the balls having put more in them the day before.
Once the race started it was time to get on with the job. I'm always nervous for the first mile or two until I find my rhythm. I had covered the entire course on Monday so I knew the state of the roads but with that many people about there really wasn't a lot I could do to avoid the bad patches. It gets particularly tricky where one bit of road is scuffed and worn and there's a join where a repair has been made and you find yourself walking the line between the two different surfaces and then perhaps there's a camber to deal with too. The worst bits of road where undoubtedly through Docklands where there were some really shocking bits for a basketball player to deal with. There were also man-hole covers, drains bollards and of course lots of course litter to deal with (bottles, gel sachets etc). I managed to avoid all the bottles but every so often bounced a ball in some gel which affects how my hand interacts with the ball as it dries out. As my hands and the balls get covered in dirt again I get a more normal touch back. The on course showers were another tricky area as the water often spread right across the course. Initially I had to avoid obvious puddles but any thin layer of water takes some of the bounce from the balls. The water also rehydrates the gel residues on my hands and the balls and I have to go through that drying out process again.
I wanted to keep the 4 hour pacer in sight for as long as possible, given that the next pacer was 04:15 and that was too slow. I was doing OK to begin with but realised I'd lost him around mile 7. One problem I found was that every time a slower runner held me up, three other runners would overtake me because it takes me longer to negotiate slower runners as I need a lot more space to do so. This problem got worse from Docklands onwards as more and more people were walking.
I was wearing my hydration pack with 1000ml of Torq energy drink in and 26 jelly babies in the pockets. I had practiced drinking and eating on the run but it involves letting one ball take a free bounce while I put the drink pipe or a jelly baby in my mouth (I had made certain Guinness were happy with this). The trouble was that it was so congested I didn't feel safe allowing that free bounce anywhere in case someone knocked the ball. As a consequence, my 'little and often' drinks strategy didn't work. I have just emptied my pack and discovered that I finished with 400ml of liquid and 19 jelly babies - all weight I didn't need to be carrying. Although I was stopping at water stations in the latter stages I realised that I must have been severely dehydrated when I got home at about 22:00 and realised that despite having drank a bottle of water, a bottle of Lucozade, a pint of coke and two bottles of beer, I hadn't been for a wee since before the race. I'm now wondering if I would do better to ditch the back pack and just stop at water stations.
I lost a ball a few times. I think the first was at Cutty Sark as we came into Greenwich and turned the corner. Corners are a nightmare as unless I can get to the outside edge (almost impossible to arrange in those crowds) I get squashed as the whole pack tries (quite legitimately) to take the shortest line. I remember a couple of other wobbles as I tried to negotiate my way to the edge to take a break and I remember a woman knocking a ball out of my hand as she tried to squeeze past me as we exited the underpass in Docklands. Further into the race (and fortunately after I'd written off the record attempt) some idiot came up behind me and tried to steal one of the balls from me. I managed to fend him off and offered him a few choice words I won't repeat here but that could've mattered.
There's so much more I could write but I knew it probably wasn't going to be my day by the time I got to Tower Bridge and it was mile 15 where I dropped below the average pace I needed to secure the record and there was no way I was going to recover that time I was continuing to lose. I was OK when the sun went in and in fact had a nice spurt through part of Docklands in the shade but as soon as I hit the sun it just sapped the energy from me.
I had a lot of time on the course to come to terms with the fact I wasn't going to beat the record but still had to concentrate. There was no question that I wouldn't finish but as I came past the Tower of London again and being mentally beaten I began to look up and enjoy the crowds. I would look for people that had spotted me and that had two free hands and I would stop for a while, ask them to hold the balls while I blew my nose and had a little drink and a rest. So I would like to thank all the supporters on the marathon course that held my balls while I got my breath back. You were a great comfort!
I was determined to finish strong so had one more rest on Birdcage Walk before passing Buckingham Palace and storming up The Mall. I was a long way short of the record but the urgency had gone by mile 16. A good finish was all that was needed now. I crossed the line and laid down in the first gutter I could find. An official brought me some water and shortly after another insisted I get up so he could look at me. Worried about my health he called over a St John's ambulance person but she and I both knew the only real damage was to my pride. I made my way through the finish area and met my wife and then caught up with a few of my club friends. Eventually I made it to The Crown and Anchor in Drummond St where one of my charities (Orchid Cancer) had a reception and a masseur lined up. She set to work on me and absolutely pummelled me. I was literally crying in pain and she said to me "Don't be a baby! You're a man not a mouse! I haven't started yet, I'm just warming you up". By the time she'd finished I didn't know whether to thank her or file an assault charge. I'm sure it's done me some good in the long term though.
There are so many people to thank. My wife first for putting up with me and my training and organising all the family support on the day including making t-shirts for the children. Everyone at Petts Wood Runners (surely the best running club in the world?) especially Karen Barritt and the rest of the Committee who very kindly gave me a club place for my record attempt. I'm just sorry it didn't work out. Special thanks to Mike Reeves, who everybody loves, for his track sessions and words of wisdom and thanks to every PWR who contributes to making the club the positive, loving and supportive place that it is. Thanks also to Jess and Collette at Carshalton Osteopaths who fixed me and reassured me after Toby punched me in the ribs (see earlier post!) and to Minni Gupta at Bromley Physiotherapy for all the exercises and work she did on me to get and keep me fit. Thanks to everyone else who supported me through sponsorship, messages, cheering on the day or just watching the race on the telly and thinking of me. And finally Thanks to my parents for coming down to support me and most importantly teaching me the importance of being a two handed player as a child.
The only picture of me after the race. I wasn't really in the mood for photos. 

Monday, 10 April 2017

Brighton Marathon

I was watching it not running it. But because of that I had to get my longish run in on Saturday morning before a family engagement. Not only that but I had to be finished before the Parkrunners needed the park which meant I had to be running by 6:45am. I am happy with the state of my race balls and having put a few miles on them I want to preserve them for race day now, so I got out an old leathery pair to parade around the park with Saturday. It was a lovely morning but very cold. I think the car said it was just 4 degrees. This is not good for my hands and I ended up splitting the index finger on my left hand, having split the one on my right hand at Bluewater a week earlier which had mostly healed in the following week.
I ran deliberately slowly this week as the plan I'm loosely following said I should be doing a 2 hour easy run. So off I went, round and round, overtaken a couple of times by fellow Petts Wood Runner Martin Cunningham who was obviously getting a few miles in before performing his Parkrun Run Director duties that morning. It was a fairly uneventful run. I saw a few familiar faces as people began to arrive for Parkrun but I covered 12.38 miles in a few seconds over 2 hours which was a slow pace of 9:43 per mile. I'm happy with that as I still wasn't over all the snottyness and grogginess I'd been suffering from since last weekend. It's still hanging in there now but clearly on its way out.
Sunday was another early start to catch the coach to Brighton to support my fellow Petts Wood Runners in the marathon. It left at 6:30am. The weather was bonkers for marathon running - far too hot. I'm really glad I wasn't running and sincerely hope it's cooler in London on the 23rd. It was actually 9 degrees warmer in London than Brighton which doesn't bear thinking about.
We must've had about 30 runners at Brighton and pretty nearly all of them suffered in the heat. In fact I've no doubt they all suffered but some more than others. Not everyone finished and many of the others would rather not talk about their time. It was a lovely day for the spectators though but not nice to watch your friends struggling in the heat like that.
I was supposed to be doing some filming with Guinness this Wednesday but having arranged the day off (not easy to do at short notice when you look after other people's children as I do) they decided at the end of last week that they were going to put a hold on it! I don't know if that will get rescheduled.
I won't run with balls this coming weekend in order to preserve my hands and I'm taking the family to see the Harlem Globetrotters on Sunday to get in the basketball mood. On Easter Monday I'm going to walk parts of the Marathon course to look out for manhole covers, poor road surfaces and traffic islands etc. It's getting very close now (but there's still time to send me a good luck message along with a few quid for the charities I'm running for - www.virginmoneygiving.com/kevhowarth )

Thirsty work watching the Brighton Marathon

Monday, 3 April 2017

20 Miles Around Bluewater

No. I wasn't shopping with the wife.
But lets just get the excuses out the way before we carry on. If you're up to speed you'll know that I hadn't been able to run for 3 weeks. I did a Parkrun then went out and did 19 miles the next day. That was last weekend so I've had this week to get back on track. I was in bed before 10pm this Friday, feeling really tired and was up at 05:30 feeling ill on the Saturday. I spent most of Saturday sleeping in the beanbags or in bed and taking the maximum dose of paracetamol and ibuprofen. Naturally, when I wasn't asleep I was worrying about whether or not I'd be able to run 20 miles with basketballs the next day. Somehow I managed to convince myself that I was well enough to do this. I couldn't put it off. This was the last weekend before taper and even if I could postpone it the chances were that my friend from Petts Wood Runners, Paul Haylock, wouldn't be able to make the following weekend anyway (Paul was the only person I managed to convince to join me in the end). It had to be done this weekend and I think I just managed to convince my system to give me a few hours sabbatical to get this done.

I woke up at 03:58 on Sunday, two minutes before my alarm was due to go off. Still not feeling brilliant but convinced I was well enough to give it a go, I fueled up (had some breakfast - and another couple of paracetamol) and picked Paul up at 04:50. We made our base at Costa and got ready to start. A quick 'before' picture and we set off at 05:28.



Just before we started


I had my Garmin tied to my waist and Paul had a Garmin and his phone timing/tracking us. I had been to Bluewater earlier in the week to collect security passes and measure the circuit we'd be running accurately. A lap around the outside edge of the upper floor was 787 metres - just under half a mile. I discovered from looking at the data from a previous visit I had made with my Garmin that it didn't provide accurate enough results due to being indoors.

So we were off. And as I had Paul with me and I had given him a sheet of splits to tell us how we were doing compared to the 9 minutes per mile pace I wanted to run, I didn't worry about looking at my Garmin which was just running as a stopwatch. Paul would keep track of the laps with a clicker and tell me how we were doing for pace each lap. We started off way too quick, then eased off a little. After a few laps a security man tried to stop me bouncing the balls "because of the shop windows". Without actually stopping I told him we had permission from Rob (the security manager) and that I had passes in my pack if he wanted me to stop and get them out. It seems he didn't so we carried on.

Somewhere around 14 laps, according to Paul, we were a few minutes up so it was looking good that we'd be able to keep a 9mpm overall pace. By lap 27 we were apparently around 5 minutes up - Cruising! But then at lap 28 Paul looked at his watch and there were some worrying noises, most notably "That can't be right?!". It turns out that Paul's watch had made a flimsy satellite link and he had it set up to auto-pause, so every time it lost the link it thought we had stopped and so it stopped the timer. So as it happens, we worked out that at around 14 miles we weren't 5 minutes up, we were around 7 minutes down! quite a mental blow to deal with. We may have recovered a little of that time in the next lap or two but we never got it back entirely and actually ended up losing a bit more. I had to stop a few times to blow my nose and several times had to discretely hoik up some nastiness from the back of my throat. Also in the final few laps my left shoulder was really aching. We finished our 41 laps much slower than we started but we did it.

I was a little disheartened that this hadn't turned out to be quite the final confidence booster I had planned. But then I had to remind myself how ill I'd felt just the day before and how if this hadn't been the last hard training weekend of the most important race of my life I should've probably spent the day at home in bed again. We dumped our stuff in the car and I bought the two of us breakfast, however, I couldn't eat much of it. I dropped Paul home and went straight back to bed - which in fairness isn't unusual for me after a long run but I wasn't just tired this time, I was ill. So ill in fact that I couldn't even be bothered to get up and write this. It's Monday afternoon now and I'm still feeling shabby and have very little appetite. If I wasn't self employed I'd've probably quite legitimately taken the day off. BUT! I am now convinced that if I can do 20 miles under those conditions, I can certainly still break this record on the day. As with any race for any runner it all depends on how you feel on the day.

In other news, Guinness World Records emailed me this morning asking if I would take part in some filming next week. They said (amongst other things): "The video gives you the chance to talk about your GWR attempt at London and your training and impact it's had on fundraising etc". This is probably going to happen next Wednesday so it would be great if I could say what a marvellous flood of generous sponsorship I've had in the last week! I'll just leave this here:
www.virginmoneygiving.com/kevhowarth

Paul Haylock who was mad enough to get up at silly o'clock and run with me is also running the VMLM for a great cause - Cardiomyopathy UK. You can find out more here:
https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Paul-Haylock2

Oh! and I nearly forgot. I'm in the latest edition of Runner's World. P41.

Paul's gadgets got a bit confused!

The grey dots represent each time it thinks we stopped!

 
The 'after' shot


Sunday, 26 March 2017

19 Miles after 3Wks Out

I'm finally running again. I went to the gym on Tuesday and did an hour on an elliptical trainer and then went back on Thursday with the intention of trying out a treadmill to see if that cushioned my ribs sufficiently for a run. It didn't and I was frightened that the pain would be doing me damage so I did an hour on a bike instead. So I was able to do a good bit of CV work this week but it's no substitute for running. Still concerned about the pain the impact of running was giving me, I called my osteopath on Friday for some reassurance. She agreed to squeeze me in at the end of the day for another check. The upshot of that was that it's ok to run on the pain I'm experiencing. I won't be doing any further damage but I could still be feeling it for another couple of weeks. With this confidence I did Parkrun on Saturday morning. I started slowly but as I got into it the pain eased as my osteopath said it would and I was able to lengthen my stride and finish at a good pace. Happy I was running again I needed to get a good long run in today. Having had three weeks out from running I decided not to take the balls out and just get a solid 19 miles in the bank this morning. Of course this Sunday was Mother's Day so I had to drag one child out of bed and the other away from his Xbox to give Tara her presents and breakfast in bed. Following that I had to spend all morning unblocking the kitchen sink which involved emptying out cupboards, removing the dishwasher and washing machine and ultimately took a good couple of hours to fix.
Finally at 13:00 I got out of the house to run. It was very sunny today. A nice spring day but too warm for my liking (for running in anyway) but if it can do this in March it could certainly be like this in April. Personally I'm hoping for a traditional grey London day on 23rd April.
I did three loops local to my house so I wasn't too far from home if anything went wrong. It took me 02:52:00 to do 19 miles and I was barely out of breath at the end but my legs were not too happy about it. I need to whip them into shape in the coming week. They need to wake up and understand we're not done yet!
I think I saw three fellow PWRs whilst out today, who tooted, waved and pretended to dribble basketballs respectively. It does give me a little boost.
Next Sunday is my last long run at Bluewater that I'll be doing with the balls. A couple of Petts Wood Runners are coming with me and I'm going to have to get up at 4am for the 05:30 start so this week I'm going to try to get to bed earlier and get up earlier to adjust my body clock a bit so that 4am on Sunday is less of a shock.
I got my Final Instructions magazine and notification of my running number from VMLM this week. My running number is 55748 which indicates I should be at the Red Start but after a quick exchange of emails with my VMLM contact he was able to confirm that I will be moved to the Green Start. I'm not sure if that means I will get a different number but I should be getting another letter about it soon.
Now it's lighter in the evenings I should be able to get out into the park after work to do some ball skills which is relaxing after a day of looking after other people's children, and of course, this Friday I'm in Runner's World!

Hot & sunny today (the weather, not me)

Monday, 20 March 2017

Walking & Cycling

I had hoped to be able to run 18 miles this last weekend, preferably with the balls but that didn't happen. My ribs are being sooooo slooooow to recover. I tested them out with a very cautious lap of the park behind my house on Friday night. I managed to complete the half mile loop without the pain making me stop, which is progress but it confirmed for me that a long run is still out of the question. So I went to watch my son play rugby on Sunday whilst many of my fellow Petts Wood Runners were putting in between 18 and 22 miles. Some of them even ran 20 miles of the VMLM course (cutting out Docklands). I would've loved to do that.
So, a little depressed on the way back from rugby it suddenly occurred to me that I can still walk! It's the jarring of running that's hurting my ribs. Surely it would be better for me to do a fast walk and be on my feet for three hours than to just go home for an afternoon nap in the beanbag? Now enthused at the prospect of being able to do something, I got changed and set off for a walk in my new Brooks Glycerin 14s that I didn't get to wear at Silverstone! Now I'm not used to going out for this sort of walk and I overdid the layers. I very quickly had to put my waterproof jacket in the backpack and remove my hat and gloves. I covered 12.53 miles in 03:00:26 which is an average of 14:24 per mile. Not the sort of stats I wanted to be writing about at this stage but at least I was out there. However, walking creates a very different footstrike to running and my heels didn't like it much. Too much heel in a walk.
Having had a bit of a chat on Facebook with our track coach at PWR (thanks Mike), he suggested I could get on a bike at the gym and to a bit of HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training). So I made enquiries this afternoon and tonight I've been at the gym! Something I haven't done for years. I thought I was going to have to sign up for a month (or until the end of April as we're past the 14th of the month) but when I got there it seems you can just pay your money and get on with it. Things have changed since I worked in the leisure industry. You used to have to fill out a health questionnaire and book an appointment with a fitness instructor for a 40 minute induction to show you how to use everything. Not these days it seems: '£8.75 please. Off you go!' (not her exact words but that's essentially what happened). That's great but you then have to walk into a gym full of much younger and better looking people and pretend that you know what you're doing. The machines have changed a lot too. I managed to get my recumbent bike working without looking like a numpty and did a 3 minute warmup. I then did 20 sets of 60 seconds hard peddling at high resistance followed by 60 seconds of recovery peddling at low resistance. This became 50 seconds hard and 70 seconds recovery after about 10 minutes but I was pleased to be able to do something. I admit I was feeling a little wobbly when I got off the bike. This is all new stuff to me. I'd much rather be pounding the pavement but before I left I had a little go on an elliptical trainer to see if that would bother my ribs. It didn't, so I might go back tomorrow for a session on one of those.
I don't have any pictures of this walking and cycling so this weeks image is me on a bike when I was two.

Cycling 43 years ago.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

PB at Silverstone Half

Well, that's what I should be writing about today. Instead, all I have to report is that I haven't been able to run since my last post. I was on top of the world last Saturday following the fast time I put in around the park. I was feeling great and full of confidence that I had a very good chance of putting in a sub 01:50:00 finish at Silverstone. Then Sunday night happened. A bit of horseplay before bed with my 9 year old son and out of nowhere he punched me in the side with such force he sublaxed a rib causing two ribs to cross over, pinching a nerve. I had the rib put back on Monday by my osteopath and she said I should be ok to run on Wednesday - so not such a huge problem then. However, come Wednesday there was no way I could run and I was still in significant pain on Thursday. I went back to the osteopath Thursday night and although all my ribs were where they should be, a bit of light poking and prodding revealed bruising of the intercostal muscles, diaphragm and abs. I've been icing them every hour since where possible but on Saturday night I had to admit to myself that there was no way I was going to be able to run at Silverstone today. Gutted does not begin to describe it. Guinness were there taking publicity shots ahead of the marathon and I really wanted to put on a show in my final race before the big day. However, my osteopath was very clear that if it was hurting and I ran on it I would be delaying my ultimate recovery. As much as it hurt to let go of todays race, I have to consider the bigger picture. Hopefully I'll be running again in the coming week and able to put in 18 miles around the park with the balls next weekend, although I'm currently living in fear of the next sneeze as they're still causing me terrible pain.
Rest is quite possibly the hardest part of training.



He tests my love sometimes

Saturday, 4 March 2017

New Unofficial PB

The hamstring feels good. I've been exercising & stretching it and today I ran for the first time with out bandaging it - and to be honest, I didn't even think about it until I was on my walk home.
I was contacted this week via Twitter by a Runner's World editor who wanted more info about my record attempt for a feature in the next edition of RW. I sent her some stuff, she sent me a draft, I filled in the gaps and edited it and I'm going to be in the May edition (UK) which is out on 31st March. It's going to be 200 words and a photo. I might have to renew my subscription! We have left a gap in the article to put in my PB for a half marathon with the balls as I'm running the Silverstone Half next weekend. So naturally I want to put in a good time. With this in mind I went out today round Norman Park to see how long I could maintain a 08:30 mpm pace. It turns out I can do a whole half marathon at that pace which I did in 01:51:16 - averaging exactly 08:30 minutes per mile. My fastest miles were one and two which were both 08:19 and my slowest was mile ten 08:42. Mile ten could have been one of the ones where a dog tried to tackle me. Two dogs had a go today which delayed me slightly.
Around mile 12 I caught up with another runner who said "Hello Kev!" when I pulled alongside him. I confess I didn't know who he was and wasn't able to get a good look at him as I was concentrating on the balls. My running club, Petts Wood Runners, has got so big recently I assumed it must've been another PWR but it turns out it was Robert Elbourn, the stranger I overtook a few weeks ago who took the trouble to find me online and sponsor me. Thanks again Robert and good luck with the Brighton Marathon. I hope the 18 miles you were running today went well. On the subject of sponsorship, if you would like to send me a good luck message with a few quid for my charities (Orchid Cancer and Demelza House Children's Hospice) feel free to follow this link! www.virginmoneygiving.com/kevhowarth
So I left Robert and powered up the final straight to finish the 13.1 miles I wanted to run today. I still had enough for a good sprint finish and felt pretty good at the end. Dare I try to go sub 01:50:00 next weekend? We'll see. Should be safe for a sub 01:55:00 though.
I walked home thinking about Silverstone and found my new race shoes (Brooks Glycerin 14s) waiting for me in the porch. Happy days!

Happy with that. Even though I don't look it.