Sunday, October 28, 2007


It's coming to something when one of the many reasons I'm looking forward to New York is because I'll get a whole seven consecutive nights in the same bed. Seven! That's a luxury I haven't enjoyed for quite some time.

I'm spending my time travelling from place to place. Committed to races I signed up for months ago, squeezing in trips over to St Annes, staying away for work from time to time, and generally forgetting what my house looks like. My house is turning into a collection of piles of suitcase explosions, from when it's hastily emptied but not packed away so that I have room in the case to start packing for the next trip.

I feel like I'm being stretched in all sorts of ways I'm not elastic enough to deal with. This weekend I came home from St Annes on Saturday because I needed to go into work to finish some stuff off before New York on Sunday, and because I needed to wash, and pack, ready to leave again first thing on Tuesday morning (and I'll probably be out Monday night too). You could tell that my grandparents were disappointed, and thought that I was staying for the whole weekend (not sure why my mother didn't tell them what my plan was, though), but I just can't live without at least a tiny bit of breathing space. Last weekend I left for Amsterdam straight from work, then got home at 10.30pm on the night before I needed to go back, and I just couldn't do that again this weekend before New York.

I'm actually almost liking travelling on the train though. It might take a bit longer, but it's time when I can sit and read, when I'm not responsible for getting me from A to B, and when I can relax for just a little while.

Meanwhile, my legs have recovered from Amsterdam far more quickly than I expected - I've been running decently this week, up to 8.5 miles, and at a pretty normal training pace, so hopefully the running part of New York won't be too much of an issue.

And I seem to have discovered a work ethic. I'm not sure whether the promotion has settled me a bit, giving me a bit more belief that it's worthwhile sticking on the career path I'm on and trying to make a success of it, but it seems to be coming together quite nicely at the moment. Well, if it wasn't for the sudden rush of work that's come in just before my holidays, and which I don't really want to pass to Joanne for fear of not getting it back.

Anyway, I'm currently sitting here waiting for my washing to finish then it can dry while I go into town to get some last minute New York supplies, check on the availability of a frontrunner for the position of bridesmaid dress at the wedding, go into work, send a couple of emails, then come back and pack the hopefully, by then, dry clothes.

Am I the first person to ever think of going to New York to run a marathon as a chance to relax and slow down a bit?!


Meanwhile, a couple of notes on wedding preparations. The date has been set, and the venue is chosen, we spent yesterday looking for bridesmaid dresses (after the big reveal of the dress to my mum and grandparents - thankfully they liked it so that's a load off my mind). If I had the time I'd rant about sizing. The woman in the dress shop measured me for bridesmaid dresses and wrote my measurements down next to my sisters. Our hips are the same, my waist is an inch bigger and her bust measurement is an inch bigger. So I'm basically straighter, she's curvier, but there's not much in it. But the sizing for the wedding dresses puts her as a 10, whereas the sizing for the bridesmaid dress she liked put me as a 12-14. That makes no sense whatsoever. (Although if it was me who came up as the 10 I wouldn't have been complaining, obviously...)

The other reason for coming back yesterday was that today my sister was dragging my mother to church to pay the deposit for the ceremony. I wouldn't say that I'm completely irreligious or anything like that, but as a family we've never exactly been churchgoers. I would struggle to tell you what my last church service that wasn't a carol service was (and the last carol service was probably 1998 in New York). I don't necessarily reject the idea of religion, I just don't feel the need to practise it...

Anyway, Annette was going to have a civil ceremony, but my grandmother was all in favour of a church service at a particular church she has always loved, and at the moment what she wants tends to happen (as with the tiara we chose yesterday - she liked one, my mum liked another, when I was given the casting vote I felt obliged to keep her happy...) So it will be a proper church wedding, and apparently my sister wasn't very subtle when she asked whether that meant she'd actually have to go to church in the build up. Actually, this is a whole subject that probably deserves a bit more time to talk about it, but for now let's just say that I'd rather spend that hour or two on a Sunday morning running and doing something good for my body than taking out an insurance policy on my soul.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Amsterdam, the gory details


I've never been so unfocussed before a marathon. Before Berlin I was obsessively writing lists, checking every detail of what I needed to do, following guides of what to do in the week before to the letter ("Tuesday - cut toe nails"). Before Edinburgh the administrative side of it wasn't as obsessive, but I was writing long detailed race plans ("keep HR steady, take first 6 miles gently, speed up when you get to the sea front, aim to get to half way in about 1:52"). I worked out what pace per mile I needed to do for 3:45, 3:50, 3:55 and so on. I had a pile of pace bands so I could decide which combination to wear on the day. Before Amsterdam I chucked my stuff into a case on Thursday night, didn't print off any pace bands, and couldn't tell you what pace I needed to do to hit any particular time.

I've had other things on my mind, and it came up quite quickly. I'd done the training in a more disjointed way than normal, and while I'd got enough long runs in, I'd barely raced since Edinburgh. Before Edinburgh I watched my half marathon time drop, and used that to get a realistic idea of what time I was looking for. My only half marathon since then was the Great North Run (2:58) which wasn't exactly a guide to what I expected to achieve running for myself. I knew that I was in sub-4 form, but didn't think that I was in a position to push for 3:45 this time round (although I wanted to give that pace a go at the start of the race to see how it felt), and my main plan for the race was to just run to how I felt. Stick with the pacers if I felt good, otherwise just concentrate on getting round and leave any ambitions of a good for age time another day. I just wanted to finish in a sub 4 hour time rather than making an effort to beat my PB or get GFA (I've missed this year's deadline anyway, so have another chance to make it before I need to apply for 2009).


The morning was sunny, and warmer than I expected. After breakfast in the apartment (which had been stocked with my pre-race breakfast foods of choice), we set off for the start at the Olympic Stadium. When I got there I decided that it was warm enough to change from capris to shorts, so did that during one of only two loo visits. I handed my bag in and used a foil blanket to keep myself warm until the start. I was in the 3:30 - 4:00 start, so tried to position myself towards the back of it so I didn't get drawn off too fast. I found the balloons of the 3:45 pacers so decided to start near them. I did wonder what I was doing there, because I haven't really focussed on Amsterdam as such it was a bit of a shock to the system to find myself on the start line of a marathon, and for the first time I managed to summon up some excitement about it.

Start - 5k (26:22)

I started off with the 3:45 pacers, and found it quite crowded at the start. I tried to make sure I didn't go off too fast, and was into a nice rhythm quite early. I nearly tripped over a bollard after 3k, and at this point realised that I hadn't taken any energy tablets (I usually take them every mile, but without mile markers - only kms - I decided to take them every 2k, which was a bit longer between tablets but easier than working out a more complicated plan - particularly given that I only realised about the lack of mile markers the day before the race) so decided to take them on odd kms rather than even ones. At about this time I also decided to get out from behind the pacers because it was too crowded, and I tried to keep up a similar pace but just in front of them. It's nice to have them set the pace, but there's so much jostling and elbowing that it's harder to run, and takes more energy than running a similar pace alone.

5k - 10k (25:44)

My fastest 5k of the race. The end of the last stretch and the start of this one involved running the last few miles of the course, I was feeling pretty good and trying to convince myself that it was nice, easy and flat, because I knew I would be dreading doing it the second time round. I have bad memories of that last stretch from last year's half, which is along the same route at the end. We went past the stadium, and out onto the main loop. I was still sitting in front of the pacers but not killing myself. There were water stations every 5k or so, and they were only giving out cups rather than bottles, so I got into the habit of running 5k at a time, walking through the water station and then setting out to run another 5k. Breaking it down into manageable chunks helped. I stuck to my Edinburgh technique of having dextrose tablets and water rather than sports drinks, as I find I can stomach it easier.

10k - 15k (26:48)

A bit slower along this spell. We got onto the banks of the Amstel which made up quite a large portion of the race. As we got onto the river we could see the leading men coming up the other side many, many miles ahead. There was a particularly evil bit where I could see a water station just ahead (the one which was just after the 15k point). I thought to myself that it was a bit early as we'd only just passed the 14k marker - and then noticed that we got taken off the banks of the river and round an extra little loop before rejoining the river and getting to that drinks station. Still, at least I knew that it was there and it gave me something to aim for, with a little walk break when I got there.

15k - 20k (26:11)

I picked up a bit of speed again. Running along the river was quite easy for me, I do a lot of my long training runs alongside rivers, canals and sea fronts, so it felt very familiar, even if it was a different river. I could see people coming the other way ahead of me, then got my own back after the turn at about 19k when I saw everyone who was still behind me. I was still just ahead of the 3:45 pacers, and keeping a fairly consistent speed.

20k - 25k (26:22)

I got past the half marathon point in 1:50:56, and started to relax a bit knowing that I could start counting down the miles instead of up. However, this is the point where my mind starts to play tricks on me. Not having had a clear idea before the race of what time I wanted to achieve, I started to tell myself that I could do the second half in about 2:09 and still break 4 hours. This was a bad thing, because it put 4 hours in my head as the time I wanted to beat rather than, for example, deciding to try to break 3:50 or even 3:45. Should I have been trying to think about doing the second half in 1:55 instead, and focussing on a faster time? I don't know. But I was still going pretty well and keeping the speed fairly consistent.

25k - 30k (27:05)

This is where I started to slow down. Not too much at first, but you can see it starting. 5k took over 27 minutes for the first time. It became more and more of a struggle to get to each km marker. Instead of breaking it down into chunks of 5k, I had to break each chunk of 5k down into smaller stretches, just telling myself to get to the next energy tablet, or even the next km.

30k - 35k (27:57)

More of the same. The critical point came just before 35k. The 3:45 pace group caught up with me at about 34k, and I started getting jostled and elbowed because of the mass of runners. It reminded me why I don't like running with the pacers. I made a decision to fall a little behind them because I couldn't face the elbowing and trying to avoid people's legs which was taking up too much energy, but realised that they would start gaining ground on me, and that I probably wouldn't be able to keep up. At the water station at 35k I stopped for my normal walk and drink, while they carried on ahead. At that point I gave up any thoughts of keeping up with them. I was still focussing on breaking 4 hours, and I started to relax as that meant that I had 55 minutes to cover 7k.

35k - 40k (31:02)

Here comes the crash. Having given myself a 4 hour target I started focussing on New York and adopted a walk run strategy. With hindsight, I could have run more than I did. My legs weren't too sore, and I still had energy - my issues were more mental. Because I'd given myself loads of time in my head to finish, I started finding that I was taking advantage of it. I was thinking "I can walk for a while here and keep my legs a bit fresher for New York" rather than "if I carry on running I can break 3:50". I wasn't actually aiming for a PB at this point, just to get to the end comfortably and within 4 hours. I just didn't have the willpower to force myself to carry on running. I struggled through the Vondelpark (where my half marathon last year came off the rails), and was very relieved when I got to 40k, because that was near the end of the park and I'd told myself that whatever happened between 35 and 40, I'd make myself from the end of the park to the finish. I couldn't face any more dextrose tablets after 37k, and my problem wasn't energy anyway, so I stopped taking them in an attempt not to feel ill.

40k - 42.195k (13:04)

I ran most of it. I definitely ran the last 1k, and a bit before that, but might have had a bit of a walk break between 40k and the end of Vondelpark. Because I'd been walking when I probably didn't need to I actually found the energy for a bit of a burst of speed once I got onto the track in the stadium and overtook a few people. Well, when I say speed it's all relative. Coming into the stadium I was a bit disappointed to be so close to going sub 3:50 and missing out. I realised that with a bit more commitment through Vondelpark I could have done it, but I was still pleased to finish in 3:50:35 and take 90 seconds or so off my PB, which I hadn't really expected to do until very close to the end.

Post race

I got my medal, took my chip off and got my bag back. I cooled down very quickly, and was ravenous (it's always a good sign in my experience when you finish a marathon still able to stomach solid food) so dived into the goodies I'd packed in my bag and the stuff from the goodie bag. Sometimes I find there are only certain foods I can face after a long run, this time round I just wanted food and wasn't at all fussy! I gave the gatorade a miss though, I'd been avoiding the sports drinks all the way round after my experiences of them in Berlin, and didn't want to mess my stomach up at this point. I considered waiting for Jen to finish, but started feeling too cold so decided to head back into town, stopping for a sandwich and a hot chocolate on the way before braving the stairs up to the apartment (for those who have visited Amsterdam, the very steep stairs might be familiar, for those who haven't, imagine something not much more sloped than a ladder...). I had a shower and a bit of a nap before Jen got back, complete with finishers medal (but I'll let her write about the rest of her day). A bit more of a nap followed before heading out to get takeaway pizza because no-one particularly fancied leaving the apartment, but I was still hungry and needed feeding! I slapped some freebie samples of muscle rubs onto my hamstrings, and felt my legs feeling happier and happier by the minute.

Post Mortem

I think that if it hadn't been for New York I might have been able to manage about 3:48ish, as I wouldn't have had that thought in the back of my mind that I needed to keep something in reserve. I also think that next time I need to forget setting myself a fall back target of sub-4 and make that target a bit tougher - maybe aim for 3:40 with a fall back target of 3:50. Had I told myself I wanted to beat 3:50 when I got to about 35k I think that I could have done, but because I didn't focus on it I let it slip way a bit.

On the other hand, a PB is a PB and it gives me something to aim at next time, without making New York more of a challenge than it already is. Given my lack of focus coming into the race, to get a PB at all is an achievement I didn't really expect, so I'm not going to spend too much time thinking of what might have been, other than to the extent that it will help me prepare better next time. I think what I need is mental tricks as much as anything physical to get me through the 35 - 40k section. I always struggle there, and it's increasingly mental rather than physical - because I've never run through it, I don't expect to be able to.

On the other hand, it says something that I think of a 31 minute 5k between 35 and 40k as a "crash". To put that into perspective, in Berlin I think that my fastest 5k might have been about 30 minutes, and my slowest nearer 45, and that was only just over a year ago. Last year in the Amsterdam half, I clocked 2:00:29. I did the second half this year faster than that, and the first half faster still. Back to back.

And if you write a list of all the women at running club who have run a marathon this year, you will find that I have the two fastest times on it, even though I still feel like I could run faster in the future. Not bad at all.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

A quick plug...

...for a XIII Heroes fundraiser if you happen to be in the Manchester area next week.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Ups and Downs

It didn't take long for the promotion pleasure to wear off. When I got home from running club last night there was a flurry of messages on the answerphone. Looks like the rollercoaster is running again.

It seems that the plan a wedding as fast as you plan approach might not be enough. My grandmother saw the oncologist yesterday, and the general gist of it (filtered through various re-tellings) is that the time periods they're talking about are measured in terms of weeks instead of months. She's having some radiotherapy on Thursday in an attempt to delay things a bit, and there's an outside chance of her making the wedding, but we're not holding our breath.

To be honest, it's come as a bit of a shock. She is looking far better than she has done at any point in the past 10 years. The doctors are amazed by how well she is feeling, and say that quite simply she shouldn't be feeling so well at her stage of the disease. For years while she's been suffering from various ailments she's become more cantankerous, argumentative and difficult, but when I was there over the weekend she'd gone back to the sweet, caring Grandma I remember from when I was little. She was chatty and cheerful, and entirely at ease with everything. It made me realise that I've missed the real her, and I just wish we'd have her back for longer than we will.

The whole thing is giving rise to a huge dilemma in my head though. Do I go to New York. On the one hand I have a once in a lifetime experience I've been looking forward to for months. I have a team who need me, to get Matt round the course safely. I have people who have sponsored me and who I don't want to disappoint.

On the other hand, I have a few more precious moments with someone I love. If we're talking in terms of weeks, do I want to spend one of them on a different continent? What if something happens and I can't get back in time?

If things are as they are today, I'll go. I've spoken to mum, and she agrees with that (she raised it before I did - I'd been thinking about it, but unsure how to raise it) But things can change quickly, and there is a line somewhere beyond which I might want to stay. At the moment I don't know where that is, maybe I'll know when I cross it.

I'm making contingency plans. Today I went and sorted out a new mobile phone - the one I had won't work in America, and if I'm not going to be there in person I at least want to be contactable without having to check emails or pick up messages at a hotel reception desk. So now at least I can be kept up to date with what's happening. I'm wondering whether I could go, and get a last minute flight back on the Monday if necessary. I've warned the organiser about the situation, and emphasised that I'm not trying to back out, and that no-one would be more disappointed than me if I have to, but sometimes life, and death, get in the way.

At the moment I'm definitely planning on going to Amsterdam. Unless something goes badly wrong during the radiotherapy, my thinking is that the trip is short enough, it is close enough, and there are enough flights, that it won't be much harder to get over there than it would be from Leeds. But at the moment it seems like plans can change in an instant, so watch this space. I have to say that I've barely thought about the race, which isn't perhaps the best preparation (what has happened to the obsessive list making? Putting together piles for weeks before the race? Writing long complicated pacing plans so I can ignore them on the day?). I guess I'll just have to wait and see what happens.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Does anyone need a parking space in LS1?

This was tagged on the end of yesterday's post, but deserves expanding a bit.
I've owned a car since I was 22, and before that I shared with my sister. At one point I had exclusive use of three cars (my own, my sister's which I was trying to sell, and my mother's, because she had a broken leg and couldn't drive it, then moved to Spain). Every morning I'd have to decide which one I felt like driving before I left the house. Eventually I sold my sister's and my own, and kept my mother's, making that pact that I'd probably keep it until my sister came home and then pass it on to her.
Which is what I did at the weekend. I drove it over to Blackpool, handed over the keys and got the train back home. And, surprisingly, I didn't feel any pangs of loss or regret, and I don't feel like my horizons have been limited, I feel free to explore and discover things.
Even though running or cycling through dark, cold streets on the way to work might not be everyone's idea of fun, I love the things you notice when you're doing it, and the feeling that you're somehow closer to the city. You notice when new shops open on your route, you explore parks you'd otherwise speed past, and you find the hidden corners that are off the beaten path. You don't have that insulating shell of car, tinted windows, air conditioning and radio protecting you from the world outside and stopping it getting in, instead you're part of it.
I'm starting to feel a sense of place, and rootedness, like this is my city rather than simply a city I'm living in for the time being. Maybe some of it is running races with my club name on my vest, and getting cheered on with shouts of "come on Kirkstall", and maybe some of it is that I know the city far better now than when I only ever travelled the same route to work every day, and then back home again. Maybe it's just that I've been here so long now.
I don't feel like I need to travel to far flung places to find something new. Sometimes you can have just as much fun exploring what's on your own doorstep. There are plenty of places in Leeds I've never visited, let alone places I can get to on a metrocard. And if I need to go further afield we have trains, and an airport, and I have the money to hire a car if I need one (the car club's good for short journeys, but for longer periods a hire car will probably work out better). I can hire a car that suits the mood I'm in and what I want to do with it.
So far, it's going smoothly. I got the train back from Blackpool, and I've been using the bus today. Normally I'd cycle, but with Amsterdam days away I don't want to either overdo the exercise or, possibly more importantly, get knocked off the bike by a lorry. I don't need the car during the week, and at the weekend I'll get the bus to the airport and the plane to Amsterdam (I'm clearly not doing this out of concern for my carbon footprint...). I need a car next Thursday to go to a New York fundraiser over in Manchester, so I'll book one. Simple.
But oh, the irony. I got a decision on the promotion/regrading application, and the verdict was good. That's put me in a good mood. After all the indecision about whether it was worth applying, persuading myself to do it at the last minute even if it was just to put a marker down for next year, and then pouncing on every email arriving in my inbox just in case it was a decision, the waiting is over. I'd actually managed to persuade myself that I was good enough to get it (we have some progress on the self-esteem front!), but that I might have jeopardised my chances with my hastily scribbled application, but it turns out that everything was OK after all. It just leaves me wondering what to do with the free parking I'm now entitled to...
(But shh, don't tell anyone, it's only being announced officially later in the month).

Sunday, October 14, 2007

This weekend probably wasn't what I'd have chosen for myself, but I had a surprisingly good time. I spent most of it in Blackpool, doing a combination of wedding preparation stuff and grandparent visiting.

First the wedding. In my defence, I haven't been to a wedding since 1995, I've never been a bridesmaid, and I've never paid much attention to such matters. This kind of led me to underestimate the degree to which I'd be dragged into the planning of the wedding. Annette phoned on Friday saying she wanted to make an appointment at a dress shop, and wanted to know what time I'd be over on Saturday. I asked whether it was so she could make sure she was finished, or so I could go with her. Silly question... But it was quite fun in the end, although I didn't get to play with the big dressing up box. I was amazed that she actually made a decision in the first shop, having tried on a mere three dresses (this is a girl who'd drag us round towns for hours before deciding what she wanted to buy when she was younger), and put a deposit down on the spot. Admittedly it might have been because the timescales involved (as it is, it will only be delivered a month before the wedding and then needs to be altered), but I am feeling the strain - what if the rest of the family don't like it and blame it on me!!! Actually, it's fairly inoffensive and more traditional than I thought she'd go for, so it should be OK.

The second part of wedding preparations was the bridal fair visit this morning. Again, it's pretty much my idea of hell but it was actually lovely to spend some time with her doing girly stuff, and she's clearly so excited about it all that it's rubbing off a bit. For so long I've only really seen her when I've been visiting with my parents, rather than just us, it was surprisingly bearable. Not that I'm planning making it my Sunday morning activity of choice (and I did feel a pang of jealousy for the people running in a race as we drove up to the hotel where the fair was...)

The other part of the weekend was visiting my grandmother. I can't believe how much better she is than before she went into hospital, how cheerful she is, and how matter of fact she is about the whole dying thing. I had more fun visiting her than I have had for a long time, now she actually has the energy to hold a conversation, and isn't constantly complaining about how ill she feels.

And boy can she talk. Recently I've noticed a theme in my visits to both sets of grandparents. I don't know whether it's age, or impending weddings, but everyone seems to be really opening up and trying to pass on long-forgotten family history. We've been going through wedding albums with both sets of grandparents, and other long forgotten photographs, and I've been finding out things I never knew before.

On my dad's side there was a fantastic set of photos from India at around the time of the first world war, there some interesting snippets about people I've never met, and a sense of place from seeing the photos of my grandparents wedding reception in the garden of the house they still live in. On my mum's side, I found out more about her dad's family than I had ever known, and of course there were plenty of stories from grandma about her multitude of brothers and sisters.

But one thing that I hadn't realised is that not only did her mother come from Yorkshire originally, but I actually run past her birthplace from time to time. Apparently she was born in a cottage on the towpath in Shipley, which is somewhere I often run through, along the canal, on my long runs. It's funny that I have run past it without a clue that my great grandmother was born there. I'm sure the cottage is long gone, but next time I run out that way I'll keep an eye out for it.

My grandma's side of the family was very much based round the canal. I knew that her father had a dockyard, and transported coal along the canals. I knew that there had been a falling out about the business when he died, and that one of the boats is in the Boat Museum at Ellesmere Port (which I must get round to visiting soon). I remember when I was little, having the canal to Leeds pointed out to me, connecting the two halves of my family as effectively as the M62. This photograph is one of the family's boats.

But I hadn't realised that her mum must already have been connected to boats and canals before marrying her dad, or presumably so anyway if she was born in a towpath cottage. Maybe something to dig into a bit deeper.

I've never been one for family history, but I suppose you get to a stage where you realise that if you don't do it now, all those stories might be lost forever. So there may well be more visits to find out about the past, while she's in the mood to do it.

It's also given me an idea for something I'd like to do next summer. A while ago at work, some people did a charity bike ride from Liverpool back to Leeds along the canal. Given that the canal seems so ingrained into who I am, from the family heritage to where I do a lot of my running today, I'm getting quite taken with the idea of doing the same, and trying to explore where my family came from in the process.


I realise that I haven't written for a while, so by means of a brief update on what I've been up to - my boss is (finally) back at work after a year on maternity leave, and I'm feeling a bit funny about it. I enjoy working with her, it's just I have been working quite happily on my own and find myself getting surprisingly defensive when she asks to look at stuff I've been doing, or suggests arranging a meeting with clients I've come to think of as my own.

I haven't heard anything about the promotion application, but it can't be far off now.

I've got rid of my car and joined Whizzgo. I was always going to get rid of it at the end of the month, but Annette's plans changed so I got rid of it this weekend instead. I've actually bought a bus pass for this week because I'm meant to be tapering for Amsterdam, but I'm hoping that most of my transport round Leeds will be self-propelled, either running or on the bike, and the car club is more for emergencies and when I need to move something bulky, but we'll see how it goes.

I'm running a marathon next week. Eek! With all the family stuff that's been going on it's been hard to fit in decent long runs, and I haven't raced properly for an age so I'm not making any predictions or targets about what's going to happen. I'll turn up and see how I feel on the day, and then I've got two weeks to recover for New York. Double eek!