Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Conquering demons in Paris

Bravo! Bravo!

So my last blog was 18 months ago about the disappointment of crashing and burning at the New York Marathon. And in that blog I said: “I want to remember how I feel now so I can savour my next marathon success.”

Well I’m pleased to say that that day has come. Two weeks ago, I completed the Paris Marathon in 3:34 – exactly an hour quicker than New York!

And just as I captured the disappointment of New York, I thought I better savour the success this time round.

Never again?
Going back 18 months - by the time I travelled to New York for a second time, I was a bit marathoned out. I had been continuously training for marathons for two years (4 marathons) and I was far less motivated training for the (second) New York Marathon than for my previous attempts.

But a year later, and with the usual ‘I’m past it’ crisis on my 31st birthday, I was ready to have another go.

I had kept reasonably fit after doing my first triathlon in the summer (great fun), and started running again in December. I 'got more structured after the New Year and started doing three runs a week including one threshold run.

Jenna had preached the benefit of threshold running after going on a BHF training course, and I put the 7 minutes I gained in Paris purely down to doing these runs.

I was much more motivated to do the training as well – apart from 10 days off to recover from an injured foot – I think I missed one run in the whole of the training phase.

With four weeks to go, I clocked up 22 miles with some left in the tank. And with three weeks to go I did the Reading Half Marathon in 1:34. I knew I was as fit as I had ever been before a marathon.

Paris and prep
In Paris, we stayed in a lovely Bed and Breakfast run by a retired Parisian man called Emmanuel. He had done the marathon a few times in the early 1980s and said he was living through me in spirit as a fellow runner.

Such was his enthusiasm, he got up at 6am to put on a breakfast of coffee, cereal, French bread, fruit and yogurt on race day. I was well prepared.

Down at the start, the set-up was so much simpler than New York, despite around 50,000 people taking part. I showed up about 30 mins before the start, dropped my bag off easily and trotted up to the start – no 5 hours of waiting at the start line.

The marathon route is great as well – I feel like European marathons have the most interesting routes. The route starts in front of the Arc De Triomphe on the Champs Elysees, running past the Place de la Concorde and the Louvre and in to a park to the East of the City.

It then turns back on itself, and goes along the Seine taking in views of the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame and finishes on the other side of the Arc De Triomphe. The atmosphere feels quite relaxed – many areas don’t have barriers and people are shouting “Aller, Aller, Bravo, Bravo.” It felt much gentler on my ears than some of the loud cheer-leading I’ve heard elsewhere, but equally as encouraging.

On your marks
In terms of the run itself, I actually felt awful in the days leading up to the marathon – really breathless. But by the time I got to the start line I was feeling much better and felt good for the first 10k – which I passed at about 3:30 pace.

I passed halfway in just shy of 1:47 and entered in to what I think is the most important part of the marathon – miles 13-18. I always feel like it’s in these miles that you will find out whether you’ve misjudged your pace and you’re going to crash or if you’re going to have enough in your legs to maintain your pace.

I felt like my legs were getting heavier but got a second wind around mile 18 at which point I knew I could keep going until the end. I actually sustained the same pace for the last 30 kms, which I think is the most satisfying part of a good marathon.

The one thing that might have slowed me down slightly was the weather – it had been gloriously hot in Paris in the week of the marathon and by the end I was getting thirsty well before the water stations. I also got some nasty sunburn across my shoulders.

I was able to maintain my pace from mile 18-24 and even finish with a bit of a flourish in the last couple of miles, cheered on by the biggest crowds of the day through the last bend.

I wouldn’t say I crossed the line in frenzied joy – more relieved that I had been able to run it in a time I thought I deserved. Even though I was disappointed with my first marathon, I still think there is no way of re-creating the feeling of finishing your first one.  

As soon as I did cross the line though, the pain set in. I literally hobbled through the finish area, picking up my medal, an orange and a bottle of water and moving at snail’s pace to meet Jenna under the Arc De Triomphe.

So, what are my thoughts a few weeks on?
Now is the time for reflection, and it's much more positive than 18 months ago... 
  • I want to do the London Marathon and have already entered the ballot for next year. Having watched it for so many years, if I could only do one marathon for the rest of my life, it would be London 
  • If I do another marathon, I want it to be under 3:30. I feel like I’ve got about as fast as I can using my rule of 3 runs a week, so next time I will make sure I feel fresh enough to commit to upping that a bit and putting in the work to break the 3:30 mark. Having an 18 month break between this marathon and the last definitely made the training easier mentally, so a bit of a break is no bad thing. 
  • Threshold running is extremely valuable. Again, I think there is only so far you can get if you do 3 runs a week, and this time I definitely used these runs more effectively. I felt the benefit of the threshold running almost immediately.
  • Doing the Paris Marathon has definitely put to bed some of the demons of the New York Marathon, and I’m actually starting to feel a bit more proud of completing it. The time sounds a lot worse in my head then it is in reality
  • And following on from that, I’ve learnt that whatever time I do, I’ll never be satisfied. I look at the numbers afterwards willing them to be lower and it always seems like the majority of people I see have run quicker. I just think this is the way that I’m wired – at least I wasn’t devastatingly disappointed this time, which I think means it was a success. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The New York Marathon

After 18 months of anticipation, two trips to America, $600 in registration fees and more than 100 training runs, I finally crossed the finish line of the New York Marathon on Sunday.

But it wasn’t with the result I wanted. My time was 4:34 – nearly an hour slower than my best marathon. And so rather than feeling the elation that I was promised in the hype – “this is payback for all your training (in an American accent)” - I felt disappointed and even slightly embarrassed.

However, three days later I’m starting to feel a little better. I’m even taking some pride in finishing the marathon in such difficult circumstances and I’m looking back on parts of it fondly.

The disappointment hasn’t gone, that’s for sure. But I do want to remember how I feel now so I can savour my next marathon success, whenever that may be!

The journey to the start line
The journey to the start line began in mid-2012. I had entered the ballot for the New York marathon in the lead-up to my first marathon in Brighton. I was enjoying the training so much I thought I would enter the NY ballot, just on the 10-1 off chance.

But remarkably, I got in.

The training went well. Compared to Brighton, for which I only spent about 3 months training, I always seemed to be ahead of my plan. With six weeks to go I had done 22 miles. I just remember thinking about the marathon constantly in the weeks leading up to it.

I headed to New York in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy with my girlfriend and two friends. I was actually at the Expo picking up my number when the marathon was cancelled.

I was devastated. I went back to my apartment with the intention of lying in bed feeling sorry for myself. But I found myself looking for an immediate replacement. I signed-up to the Florence marathon that very night.

Florence was three weeks after New York. It was beautiful. And despite some asthma problems along the way I finished in 3:41- more than 20 mins faster than Brighton. New York would wait until next year.  

The journey to the start line – part 2
This year, my training was less structured. Having done it before, I decided I didn’t need a training plan and would just build up the miles as fast as I could.

Whereas before I had been disciplined in doing three runs a week supplemented by football, this time it was more difficult and I found myself doing fewer runs but with more middle distances.

It didn’t seem to have an effect on my overall fitness. The half marathons I did were all a few seconds faster than the year before and I felt good apart from a few stomach cramps on my last long run.

The race
The race started OK, if not a little fast. The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge is a lovely start and it was fantastic to hit the crowds and the bands in Brooklyn. But after about five miles I started to get stomach cramps and some pain up my left side. It wasn’t affecting my pace and I assumed it would pass as I warmed up. It was just uncomfortable.

However, at mile 8 and 9, it still hadn’t passed. So, ahead of pace, I decided to take a quick comfort break in the hope that would fix it. However, if anything, it got worse and I was finding it difficult to take on water. Gels were out of the question.

I passed the half way point in 1:47, slightly too fast especially considering the visit to the loo. But I was feeling awful. I just couldn’t shift the cramps and by mile 17 as I ran in to Manhattan it was getting difficult to run through the discomfort.

In mile 18, I took a walking break to have some water. It felt like maintaining my pace was going to be too difficult now, but I said to myself if I could finish the second half in 2:10 I would still come in under 4 hours which would be fine.

But things just seemed to get worse. From mile 18-22 I visited every set of portaloos, even turning back on myself once. I knew my hopes of a good marathon time were over and it was just a case of getting to the end. By this time, my legs had seized up too. I was in a bad place.

My stomach did improve slightly towards the end and I was able to run through Central Park for the last couple of miles, which was electric. But at the finish I was just shattered and so disappointed in what seemed like a crowd of thousands of ecstatic people. I just wanted to get away.

I was late meeting my girlfriend because it had taken so much longer than expected and I just headed back to my apartment alone where I ended up sitting outside for 20 mins because I didn’t have a key. It wasn’t the finish I imagined.

What have I learnt?
But like I said, I’m starting to feel a little different now. Although the marathon didn’t go as I expected, I want to feel proud that I finished and I’m desperate to remember New York as fondly as I do some of my other marathons, especially after everything I put into it. So here goes…

1)    I’m lucky to have done the New York marathon
The New York Marathon is the biggest road race in the world. Hundreds of thousands of people apply every year and don’t get in. I applied once and got a place. I’m incredibly lucky to have experienced the whole event – from the expo and build-up to the bands in Brooklyn and deafening noise in Central Park. The disappointment of not being able to do it last year was far greater than the disappointment of a bad race this year.

Also, you need to put it in perspective. Thousands of people lost their homes last year in Hurricane Sandy. My Dad died earlier this year. I’ve just had a lovely holiday in New York – my second in a year. It really isn’t that bad.

2)    One bad run doesn’t make me a bad runner
The New York marathon didn’t go as I had planned. But the Florence marathon did. As a result, l know I am capable of running a marathon well under 4 hours. Just because I didn’t run New York in this time doesn’t change this. If anything, I have greater appreciation for my run in Florence now and will cherish that memory more.

3)    Finishing is an achievement worthy of my medal
I’m quickly forgetting how awful I felt on the day. If it was a training run or maybe even another marathon I wouldn’t have continued past 8-9 miles. The thought of not finishing did cross my mind when I was at my worst, but I couldn’t bare the thought of not finishing after two years of build up.

So, although this was my slowest marathon by some distance, it was also the hardest one to finish. I want to remember that. It’s not like I didn’t earn my medal. In fact, I probably earned it more than I have some of the others.

4)    Don’t change things on race day
In my first couple of marathons, I got into a rigid regime for my training runs. I would eat the same breakfast, drink the same energy drinks and use the same gels. However, I wasn’t organised enough to do this, this time. In fact I barely used gels or energy drinks in any of my training.

This meant that when I was in New York I stocked-up on gels and energy drinks I had never used before. I drank more than a litre of Gatorade at the start line. Although I think I have some long standing stomach issues, I’m sure this didn’t help my cause.

Next time I will heed the advice – don’t make changes on race day!

5)    Don’t go off too fast
In hindsight, I also think I went off too fast. My first half would have been close to 1:45 without the toilet stop and I’m sure I wouldn’t have been able to sustain this if I had carried on. I hadn’t timed any of my training runs and wasn’t used to running race pace.

When I next train for a marathon, I want to have a far better idea of my race pace going in to the race so I can plan it properly. I was too cavalier this time and a marathon will eat you up and spit you out if you don’t give it the respect it deserves.

What next?
I don’t know. I originally thought I would have a year break from marathons as I had found motivation for training so much more difficult this time. However, with wanting to avenge this run, my head has been turned by the Paris marathon early next year. I’m going to give myself a week to decide. If you have any suggestions on how best to react, I’m on andrewbenjaminwebster@gmail.com

Other than that, I want to try a Triathlon. I can’t swim any where near well enough to complete one at the moment, so that will be a completely different challenge in itself.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Review of 2012 - the Olympic year

Review of 2012
Better late than never as they say. And besides, I’ve still not seen Nida Rasheed’s review of 2012 which is usually what prompts me to write mine – I hope she is not breaking what has now become a time honoured tradition.

So 2012, you weren’t too bad all in all. Looking back at last year’s review, it seems like I was a little unfulfilled at the end of 2011. But 2012 has been better – I’m fitter, I’m happier, the Olympics were on my doorstep and there are about to be some big changes in my life. Hopefully things will continue in the same vein. But we shall see.

Make my relationship work
Be there for my friends and family
Establish myself quickly in my new job
Have an opinion and share it
Get out of debt and start saving
Pass my photography diploma
 Run the New York Marathon in 3:30
 Become a single figure golfer again
Write more than 30 blogs
 Learn to play 100 songs on the guitar


1.    What did you do in 2012 that you’d never done before?
-          Ran a marathon – 3 marathons in fact
-          Gambled in Vegas
-          Saw the Olympics
-          Went to Lords to watch a Test Match

2.    Did you keep your New Year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
After having the same resolutions for about the last ten years, I finally made a bit of progress this year – a bit being the operative word. I don’t think this was because I had an especially productive year, but more was the result of ten years of trying.

So to summarise…

1) Run a marathon – I did run the Brighton Marathon….and the Milton Keynes and Florence marathons… and the Stroud, Ealing and Isle of Wight half marathons…. And the London 10K…..and the London duathlon. I spent a lot of time running last year, and feel much better for it.
2) Pass my driving test – I did finally pass my driving test in May of this year despite an emergency stop by the instructor and an incident with a hedge as I reversed around a corner. The next step is to actually drive.
3) Get promoted – I did. But I’m not that proud of that – it took way too long. Hopefully I can start a little faster in my new job.
4) Break 76 – I can only think I played golf a couple of times this year. I want to prioritise this, this year – it’s about time I returned to something that I really love.
5) Become a photographer – I wouldn’t say I’m a photographer, but I did go on a professional course at the London School of Photography and I am in the middle of completing an online diploma – whether I will pass it or not hangs in the balance. That’s definitely a priority for the first few months of 2013.
6) Go on an adventure – I have been on a couple of trips to the USA – but I think an adventure meant go and live in Australia. That’s not going to happen now, at least for another year. But I do want to go on an adventure within the next couple of years before I get too old for one.
7) Blog and tweet – Blogging has fallen by the wayside a bit in 2012. And judging by the length of time it has taken for me to post this, it’s something I need to pull my socks up on. Hopefully I will have more time for it in 2013.
8) Learn to play 100 new songs on the guitar – Fits and starts on the guitar. I definitely haven’t learnt 100 songs.
9) Save money – I’m getting better at this and am definitely better at managing my cash. But two trips to the US including the most expensive couple of days of my life in Vegas means I haven’t saved much!
10) Have a better work/life balance – I definitely improved my work / life balance, but still finished the year spending too much time working and not enough time doing other important things to me. Hopefully, in my new job, I will find a better balance.

3.    Did anyone close to you give birth?
-          No

4.    Did anyone close to you die?
-          No

5.    What countries did you visit?
-          USA – I went twice, visiting Tallahassee, San Francisco, New York, Washington and Miami.

-          I also went to Wales.

6.    What would you like to have in 2013 that you lacked in 2012? 
-          A healthier diet
-          Better control of my finances
-          Sky Sports – still unlikely, but it’s an aspiration

7.    What date from 2012 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
I never remember the dates, but three good ones were….
-          All of the marathon dates. Brighton was great because it was my first marathon and all of my family were there. Milton Keynes was dark, because of the appalling weather, but I’m still so pleased that I finished. And Florence was brilliant because it was beautiful and it was my best time!
-          Super Saturday and Super Sunday from the Olympics – I was watching Team GB lose in the football to South Korea when Farah, Rutherford and Ennis took gold but followed every minute with my pocket radio. And then I was at my grandparents when Murray smashed Federer and Ainslie smashed ‘The Dane’
-          26th December – Because Jenna came home and she was so happy and it was a great family Christmas day, which I cherish more as I get older.

8.     What was your biggest achievement of the year?
-          Definitely the marathons – not really in running them, but in how disciplined I was in training for them.
-          I’m also pleased that I managed to get my new job

9.    What was your biggest failure?
-          Again, I always think I should be moving faster at work, although I am a little happier with where I am this year compared to last year
-          My main failure is still eating too much rubbish and not being able to cook. At 29, I need to get that part of my life in order.

10.  Did you suffer illness or injury?
-          Nothing major….thank goodness

11.  What was the best thing you bought?
-          Again, as I get older the joy of giving has started to outweigh the joy of receiving….so I would say the pink pyjamas that I bought Jenna are my best purchase. I also discovered Curb Your Enthusiasm through an impromptu which is nothing short of outstanding!

12.  Whose behaviour merited celebration?
-          Emad Nadim’s general behaviour always warrants celebration. I will miss that BC when I move
-          Loads of Olympians, especially the cyclists.

13.  Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?
-          Lance Armstrong – such a shame that what seemed like a perfect story was in fact pure fabrication.

14.  Where did most of your money go?
-          Vegas…..worth it though.

15.  What did you get really, really, really excited about?
-          Both of my trips to the USA to see Jenna
-          The New York Marathon, which is a shame as it didn’t happen. But I did look forward to that for weeks
-          Christmas….obviously.  

16.  What song will always remind you of 2012?
-          I found Biffy Clyro this year. I was a bit late to that party, but their songs are probably the ones I associate most with 2012 – The Captain.

17.  Compared to this time last year…
I. are you happier or sadder?


II. thinner or fatter?
Thinner (although fatter than 3 months ago)

III. richer or poorer?
Very slightly richer.

18.   What do you wish you’d done more of?
-          Played golf
-          Eaten green things
-          Saved my money
-          Blogged
-          Been on time

19.   What do you wish you’d done less of?
-          Worked

20.  Did you fall in love in 2012?
-          No need.

21.  How many one-night stands?
-          None

22.  Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
-          No

23.  What was the best book you read?
-          Difficult to say – I really enjoyed Steve Jobs’ autobiography. As it was written by a third party who had unique access to him it was amazing honest both about his qualities and his downfalls. Great story
-          I’ve also just finished Chavs by Owen Jones. I do agree with the sentiment (if not everything he says), but the great thing about it is how passionate and angry he is about issues that define our society – which really comes across from the book.

24.  What was your greatest musical discovery?
-          Biffy Clyro… I think I’m about to properly discover Fleetwood Mac also.

25.   What did you want and get?
-          A place in the New York Marathon

26.   What did you want and not get?
-          Sky Sports 

27.  What was your favorite film of this year?
-          Cloud Atlas

28.  What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
-          I flew home from Miami on my birthday and then went out on the town with all of my St Neots friends. It was a fun affair. I couldn’t keep my bacon sandwich down the morning after.

29.  What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
-          More time…

30.  How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2010?
-          Moving in to middle age. I walk into TopMan these days and I can’t relate to any of it. I walk into House of Fraser or Aldo and I feel much more at home.
-          I still don’t buy anything that’s not in a sale.

31.  What kept you sane?
-          Emad Nadim. I couldn’t go on without him.

32.  Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
-          No idea.

33.  What political issue stirred you the most?
-          I’m getting more apathetic about political issues as opposed to stirred. The one I remember most is the Government’s Chief Whip calling a police officer a pleb. I think this was the perfect example of as much as David Cameron tells people that the Tory party aren’t the party of the privileged and are progressive and respectful of the working class, that for the majority of the party this simply isn’t true.

34.  Who did you miss?
-          The Pakistani family
-          Some members of my family – Mandy Head

35.  Who was the best new person you met?
-          Some good people have joined Blue Rubicon – that’s the only place I seem to meet new people these days.

36.   Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2012  
-          Make the most of the good times…because a bad time could always be around the corner.