Always Learning

This week’s blog was inspired in part by a cardboard box delivered to my place of work, I kid you not. The box came from a well known publisher and printed on the side of the box were the words I have used as the title for this week’s piece, “always learning”.

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I have spent large parts of my working life in education establishments of various sorts and in various roles and I genuinely value the power of learning. Life has taught me though that learning doesn’t just happen in those formal educational settings, we are constantly surrounded by learning opportunities and filtering them and getting the most of them are really important for how we develop as people. I can learn as much from my children as I do from reading and likewise a casual conversation can really hit the spot and help me to tap into a whole new world of knowledge.

In terms of running I have learned so much this year and I feel like I have only really started to scratch the surface. Earlier in the year I posted a blog about running terminology and whilst some of it was tongue in cheek just getting your head around some of the jargon used in the sport is quite an effort in itself. Apart from a general awareness of what constituted healthy eating I was totally ignorant about proper fuelling, nutrition and hydration too, don’t get me wrong I am still no expert on the subject but just knowing what is out there and when it’s best to consume various things has given me greater energy and helped me to lose weight to the point where my body has now found a happy equilibrium between what is going in and what I am expending with exercise. An added bonus is that my skin feels and looks better and I am happier with my body now as I approach 40 than I have been at any point in my life.

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My learning doesn’t stop there, I have developed my mental and physical stamina through a number of techniques, some simple, some more complex, my understanding of how to pace myself has also grown and the stats I get from my Garmin have helped me to learn about how my body performs and how best to harness that.

I’m not putting myself on a pedestal here as some sort of oracle though. I am more than willing to offer an opinion, share my limited experience and maybe help to plant a seed for others to grow and learn from but I know that I have so far yet to go. My technique is questionable and possibly linked to some of the niggles I suffer from. I know that I need to learn more about where my limits are and how I can safely push them without risking injury and I need to continue to work on pretty much every other aspect of my running as complacency will get me nowhere.

Thanks to everyone who has shared an opinion, some advice or some encouragement with me, I am truly grateful and with your help I have become more than I ever realised I could be.

A quick reminder that you can vote for me in the 2018 Running Awards, just click here to register and find Marathonbore in the blogs section, if you vote in 5 different categories you’ll receive a 10% discount with the top Online Running Retailer of 2017! Thank you.

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The Come Down

Well that’s it marathon done, it’s been 11 days now and physically I’m doing well. I had an hour long deep sports massage on the Monday after and whilst it was an education in pain it helped to work out the aftermath of 26.2 miles in my legs. I have so far managed four recovery runs and actually getting back out running has done my legs the world of good. I have read various tweets and blogs from people who run a marathon and then do little or nothing often for months after. The way I approached this though it was a bit like having an operation, the sooner you are up and mobile, the sooner your body recovers. Whilst I wouldn’t say I am anywhere near my peak I feel like I have retained a good level of fitness and the plan is to push my distances out again in the next couple of weeks.

Unfortunately the same can’t be said about my mental recovery. I have discovered the hard way that training for and running a marathon takes a huge amount out of you mentally. I feel like the bride who spent months planning a wedding, sorting all the fine details out and now is just left with a nice photo album, a dress that she doesn’t know what to do with and some nice bling, hopefully you understand the parallels I am trying to draw here.

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Essentially I feel like my head is wrecked. Although I have signed up for some races next year and I am going to attempt REDDecember I feel lost and lacking in focus. I have become the old me; short tempered, grumpy, not fun to be around and frankly I don’t like myself. I get that this must be something to do with my body and all the chemicals in it re-balancing themselves or something biological that I wouldn’t understand but can they hurry up please so that I can start to be me again!

I need to bottle the feeling of crossing the finish line, the euphoria, the sense of pride and achievement and to let it out slowly so that I can continue to enjoy it and bask in it a little longer until I am ready to let go and move on. At the moment the sense is very much one of, “after the Lord Mayor’s show”, I need to rediscover some head space and perspective, to get back to enjoying running rather than it being a process and I need to listen to my own advice and find some bouncebackability.

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A quick reminder that you can vote for me in the 2018 Running Awards, just click here to register and find Marathonbore in the blogs section, if you vote in 5 different categories you’ll receive a 10% discount with the top Online Running Retailer of 2017! Thank you.

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York Marathon – Race Review

I’ve been looking forward to writing this blog almost as much as I’ve been looking forward to running the marathon itself, forgive me if I go on a bit in this post but for a near 40 year old running your first marathon is a bit of a big deal.

Having stayed over with friends near Malton the night before I woke bright and early as expected on Sunday morning, sleeping in a child’s bunk bed wasn’t as bad as I expected and I did actually manage what felt like some decent sleep. I got myself ready, checked I hadn’t left anything, at least twice, then pulled over after I’d set off just to check again. The drive to the park and ride was simple and I was soon on one of the fleet of coaches taking many slightly anxious looking runners and some clearly more relaxed spectators to the start of race at York University. Before the coach had left Elvington Airfield though panic set in, fortunately not for me but for the chap who realised he had left his running shoes in the boot of his car! Cue everyone else on the bus looking down and checking they hadn’t made the same mistake!

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I had arranged to meet various running friends at the bag drop and I soon found some familiar faces which helped to calm the nerves, a couple were with me in the marathon but the majority were doing the popular 10 miler which started slightly later. Group photos and selfies followed and then it was time to head down to the start. If I’m honest the organisation here was disappointing. Signs were limited and despite following the only sign I did see for the zone 2 start area I ended up at zone 5 and had to scramble over a wall and through some undergrowth to get back to where I needed to be.

I reached the zone 2 start area eventually and there was just time for a quick stretch. Then we were almost ready for the off, after a few words of encouragement from starter and legendary Yorkshireman Dickie Bird the field moved forward and it was too late to turn back, I was doing this, it was now or never.

The first couple of miles led us down to and through York city centre. Some of the roads here were narrow and the field almost came to a halt at one point, one runner pulled over to the side and I noticed that his flip flop had come off, yes flip flop!! It wasn’t long before we reached the key photo opportunity at York Minister and still feeling fresh I made sure I smiled for the various cameras, hopefully one will have come out well. The route then took us out of York passing large crowds and into the small villages and country lanes that characterise most of this course.

I was looking forward to the 6 mile point as we reached the village of Stockton on the Forest simply for the fact that this is the home of the high fiving vicar. I remembered that on the videos I’d seen he was on the right hand side of the road and so I made sure I was in position early to get some skin! Beyond the village the route took on a very rural feel and I don’t recall coming across anyone apart from the odd marshal until we arrived at mile 11 where the Macmillan cheering point was based. I received fantastic support from them and the other Macmillan volunteers en route and want to take this opportunity to thank them all for their encouragement, a group of other runners commented to me that it was like I had my own cheer squad. Having passed through half way it wasn’t far before my actual cheer squad of my wife and two children came in to view in Stamford Bridge. It was such a boost to see them and the crowd at this point felt huge and the noise was amazing with so many people cheering, family, friends and strangers.

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Stamford Bridge was just before mile 14 and from then on there was what felt like a very long stretch through the back of beyond up to Dunnington. The course is known for being pretty flat and it was but this section was a long, slow drag and really started to mess with my head. Just after mile 16 I started to see runners coming the other way but knew I still had over 2 miles to go until I hit the top of the road where the loop was. I looked some of these people in the eye and they were flagging, it did make me feel slightly better that one of the runners I saw was former Leeds Rhino and England rugby league star Kevin Sinfield so I tried not to feel too bad about myself.

I was keeping decent time and hitting miles in around 8 mins 30 secs which was in line with my plan, the battle at this point was mental and I was drawing on all my strategies to keep it together. I had been due to see my family again at Dunnington which was miles 17 and 19 on the out and back but the spectator bus hadn’t got them there on time so I made do with another high five this time from the Archbishop of York, small guy, strong arm! Not long after seeing him I glimpsed a vision in pink heading towards me, it was Caterina who I’d met at the start, I made sure I shouted over and high fived her too.

By mile 20 the out and back had ended and I had turned for home but I was struggling, the sun was in my face and cramp was setting in in both my calf muscles and my left foot. I carried on for a mile or so with all sorts of things running through my head. I had been determined to run the whole 26.2 miles but eventually sense prevailed and I joined many others at this point who had decided that alternating running with walking was the best strategy, I knew that if I stopped dead my legs were likely to seize up and I walk pretty fast anyway so decided this was the best course of action to get me to the finish. Caterina came by me not long after I’d started walking and she turned to make sure I was ok, the supportive spirit of the running community summed up in an instant.

At this stage we were back in more residential areas and the support from the crowd who could clearly see me flagging was superb. Eventually I made it to the bottom of the hill that we had run down shortly after the start. It wasn’t long, it wasn’t steep but it felt like Everest. I managed to run half way up and then shuffled to the top and the descent to the finish. People were shouting from every angle and I managed to catch sight of local York residents and fellow runners Luke and Tristan, thanks for the cheers lads. Slightly further down the hill were more friends who’d run the 10 miler, plus injured VIP Caroline, who had all stayed on to cheer me, I bribed them with cake but what the hell you guys were immense, thanks for the support and the video.

A quick pose for the cameras and I was through the line, my wife and kids raced down off the grass bank for hugs and I broke down in tears, I also made the schoolboy error of not stopping my Garmin! I quickly checked my phone and the finish time text was already there waiting, 4 hours 1 minute 58 seconds. I was thrilled, yes sub 4 hours would have been nice but this was my first attempt at a marathon so any thoughts of disappointment were swiftly banished.

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Celebratory drinks, cake and more hugs followed. By now I was starting to flag though and in the queue for the medal engraving I felt rough. I tried to get some chocolate milkshake down me but couldn’t stomach more than a mouthful. This feeling stayed with me until I’d set off on the drive home at which point I had to pull over into a layby on the side of the A64 to puke, sorry to anyone who witnessed it. To be honest it was probably the best chunder of all time, I instantly felt better.

Writing this the day after has given me time to reflect and have a much needed massage. Did I learn much for yesterday? Absolutely. Will I run another marathon? Possibly. Am I proud of myself. Hell yeah!! The whole experience was amazing and one that will live long in the memory for many, many reasons. I have been blessed with amazing support and want to thank anyone and everyone who got behind me in any way whether with a cheer, a donation to my fundraising or a word of encouragement on social media.

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Whilst this feels like a natural end I really want it to be just the beginning, I already have plans for the rest of this year, some races and events booked for next year and some goals to achieve. I’ve started something and I don’t want it to stop.

If you have enjoyed reading any of my blog then I would love you to vote for me in the 2018 Running Awards, just click here, register and find Marathonbore in the blogs section, if you vote in 5 different categories you’ll receive a 10% discount with the top Online Running Retailer of 2017! Thank you.

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And so it has come to this…

Wednesday 8th February 2017, for most a pretty unremarkable day, for me it was the day that I signed up for the York Marathon, a day that has shaped the last 8 months of my life, dominated my thoughts and inspired me to write this blog.

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At that time I considered myself an “advanced jogger”, I wanted to give my training a focus and during a run the previous Friday night I had started to think about what to do next, a marathon seemed like a logical aim but the how and when was the quandary. Initially I had the idea of running from my home in East Lancashire to West Yorkshire, and more particularly to Valley Parade, home of my team Bradford City and handily just over 26 miles away. I casually floated this idea to my wife that weekend, thankfully she quickly talked me out of it, doing an unsupported first marathon distance was really not a good idea, although it is still an ambition I harbour. I searched for northern marathons on Google but all the Spring ones came up and there was no way I’d be ready.  The following day though good old internet cookies played a blinder and an advert popped up on my Facebook feed for the York Marathon 2017. Yorkshire tick, scenic flat course tick, time to train tick, booked it, packed it, trained my arse off.

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The rest is history, well recent history, which if you have been keeping up I have detailed in my posts up to now. And now the big day is nearly here. “Are you ready?”; “how are you feeling?” and “when is your run again?”, questions which have pretty much been in every conversation over the last couple of weeks. For the record, yes I am; nervously excited and it’s a fricking marathon it’s not a run! (that’s the answer in my head), it’s Sunday 8th October thanks for asking, is the polite response.

I genuinely can’t wait for Sunday for so many reasons. I am really looking forward to running past the iconic York Minster, high fiving a vicar and hopefully the Archbishop of York en route, if there isn’t enough divine intervention there for me then I really have been a bad boy!

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The course itself is pretty circular starting and ending at the University. There are a couple of out and back sections in the second half of the race and the sentiment from those who have entered the race previously is that mentally they are the hardest part. The finish has also been described as a hill, now I run hills all the time and can handle them but I’m hoping the finish line is on an incline as I’m not sure my calf muscles will ever forgive me if I try to push them up a hill after 26 miles!!

I have done the hard miles, I have prepared myself as well as I can, I know that I need to relax physically and mentally and let the race take care of itself, easier said than done but by this time next week I hope, no I am determined, to be part of the 1% club.

I’ll see you on the other side.