Washington DC running 1

Well, as promised, here is the first of several catch up posts.

It has been a pretty full on week or so. I haven’t had time to blog at all really. We flew out to Washington DC a week ago – I think. Though I have lost track. I am writing this on Wednesday 5thJune but I am not sure when I am going to get chance to upload it as I am currently in Shenandoah National Park at Big Meadows Lodge and the wifi is intermittent (I am surprised there is any at all). So DC.

DC was hot and humid and I wasn’t at all sure about running but I wanted to. I am beginning to think that tourist running is just the best way to see a place and get a feel for it. So the first morning, with the time difference on our side, we headed out early – before sunrise although there was plenty of light. We ran up the hill from the hotel towards the Capitol Building and then turned right from there towards the National Mall. We ran, stopping at the crossings – this is rather a thing in DC, the traffic lights seem to take forever to change for the pedestrian signal. On this occasion though it was a welcome break. It wasn’t yet hot or that humid but enough for a film of sweat to form – the kind that makes you feel slightly smug.

The path on the National Mall is pleasant to run on and we took in the sights as we went, trying to get a sense for where things were as we passed museum after museum – the Capitol behind us and a seemingly endless stretch of path with grass on one side and Madison Avenue on the other with Constitution Avenue another block over. After a little while we crossed another road and headed left into the middle of the Mall so we were right in the middle and could, for the first time, see the Washington Monument spiking the sky. It really looks quite striking in a slightly odd sort of way. We stopped and took some pictures and then carried on running round the back of the Monument and towards the World War 2 Memorial. We turned left and looped round the other side of the Washington Memorial and made our way back towards the Capitol on the other side of the Mall passing the Smithsonian Castle. Now beginning to feel the heat we put a couple of walk breaks in and stopped to have a chat with a police officer and taking a picture with his bike. Bizarrely the thing he was most interested in was how to make good Yorkshire puddings (Lots of beating of the batter and hot hot hot oven and oil is the answer in case you were wondering). Then we were back. A great 4 and a bit mile loop to start getting a sense of the city. Later that day we covered some of the same route on a Segway which was more fun than I thought it might be and also much easier to ride than I had feared.

Day two in DC also started with a run. A short 2 mile loop round the Capitol Building and past the Supreme Court and Library of Congress. I’d seen the US Supreme Court from the inside the previous afternoon on a tour which was a bit crap. The guide just didn’t react to his audience and spent rather a long time explaining what a dissenting judgment is to an audience of academic lawyers. I enjoyed running past it again though with no people there and just thinking about some of the big decisions of our time that were argued and made in that building. Just a few steps further along the road is the Library of Congress. I hadn’t been in it yet but I could still sense the impressive nature of the building and I was instinctively drawn to it for some reason. I stopped and stared at it for a bit before running on to come down the opposite side of the Capitol.

I then looped right to head back towards the hotel and Kath went onwards down the Mall and towards the tidal basin. I was just going to go back up the path but as I crossed in front of the Capitol I looked up and thought that running up the steps towards it woud actually be quite fun and might make for a good photo or two. So I did that instead and once finished with that headed back towards the hotel, passed the hotel and to Starbucks which I hit at bang on two miles. 

Then it was time for some pretty serious conferencing before escaping later in the afternoon for a Capitol Tour and some time in the Library of Congress.

Tired, Humid, Grumpy

I have some catching up to do! I have several posts drafted but not edited and no photos in yet. I will sort them when I have finished this post. We are currently staying at the Hyatt Regency Golf Resort and Spa on Chesapeake Bay. It’s posh which on the one hand is nice because the service is fabulous (apart from chaos kitchen it seems), the facilities great and it’s just an all round nice place to be. On the other hand it’s full of the sort of posh people who play golf and know what to do with a marina. It is also one of the main hotels for the Eagleman Ironman race which was on today so it is full of triathletes and I am finding them rather intimidating. It’s pushing my already over sensitive buttons to see all these super fit people who not only run but also bike and swim. Honestly I think they are a bit mad – there is not enough body glide in the world to make me cycle and then run in a wet swimming costume even if it is one of those with shorts.

Anyway this post is not about triathletes and how I think they are weird. We are at the end of our holiday and I am still a bit bemused by how tired I am. But maybe that’s obvious, we have put an awful lot into not quite two weeks. That tiredness is impacting on running, as are heat and humidity. If I am honest, I am not loving the running. I haven’t really enjoyed a run since before the London Marathon. I do enjoy what running gives me though. I was thinking about that earlier today as I plodded away from Kath after having had a ‘disagreement’ about running during which I decided I would just go back to the room and hide under the duvet. I didn’t though and instead just kept putting one foot in front of the other.

It was humid and breathing seemed hard. My calf muscles were complaining, my right quad was almost as grumpy as I was and my achilles is still being a selfish whingey little fucker and of course, because I was grumpy, that’s what I focused on: How it was all so hard and miserable. Then I saw a heron fly into the rookery ahead and I smiled. Then I saw another follow. Just a few steps further along there were birds of prey circling overhead. I am not good at recognising birds of prey and am not even sure what sort would be here. I do know they have ospreys and I saw one a little further along. More smiles. Then a little rabbit shot across my path and fled. As I watched it go, my eyes were drawn to the edge of the golf course where I saw a deer disappear into the distance.

Kath caught up with me and we ran another mile or so together leaving our grumpiness behind and running along the marina to take some silly selfies. As we left the marina to finish our loop I realised that I was no longer focusing on how hard things were. It was still humid, my body was still complaining a bit but I was thinking more about how running allowed me to see all these things and be out in some beautiful places watching wildlife in a way that I would just never otherwise experience. I’d just never get up and go for a walk in the same way and neither would I cover the distance I do when running. I see more and I see it differently. When I run my focus is different. People often ask me why I don’t simply walk and enjoy seeing the wildlife etc and whether I miss things when running. Well interestingly I see more when I run. When I walk I get lost in thoughts about, say, my endless to do list, a session I am teaching the next day, a paper I am writing… I’m rarely in the moment. When I run I am right there with me and that means that my focus is on what is right there with me and as a result I get to see things I wouldn’t otherwise. So while I am not really looking forward to running again tomorrow, I am really looking forward to running again tomorrow!

‘Everyone is at exactly the pace they are meant to be’

Well, honestly, I have been struggling a little with running post marathon. It feels like a huge effort and while it has sort of been nice to be out, I haven’t massively enjoyed it either. This morning was gorgeous though and it seemed like a good day to head to Bolton Abbey and do a little loop. Kath went further to get her miles in (she has a half marathon in mid June which I am not running) and I decided I would do the Barden Bridge loop using run/walk. I wanted to enjoy it and not worry about huffing and puffing my way around.

Bolton Abbey was perfect for running this morning. It was warm enough to be comfortable in short sleeves but the trees provided cover from the sun. It was also very very quiet. After the usual pee stop I said bye to Kath as she set off in the opposite directions and plodded my first 2 minutes. That felt a bit like hard work. I was grateful for the walk break. I tried to consciously look around, note the green ground cover from the wild garlic, the odd patches of blue from the bluebells, now at the end of their glory and the comings and goings of lots and lots of little birds. I tried not to think, just react to the beep of my watch – run – walk – run. Don’t think, just be.

I watched the river gently make her way, nudging the ducks to where she wanted them and giggling softly as the ducklings tried to resist. I felt content. I hit a mile and glanced at my watch. Wowsers I was going super slow. It felt like I was working so much harder than the pace would suggest. I felt disappointed. I carried on. I was now conscious of my breathing, I seemed loud, I seemed heavy footed, I could hear my heart beat and the blood rushing round. I could also hear the negative chatter. For the next mile I concentrated hard on ignoring the noise, on watching a dipper and a wagtail and on putting one foot in front of the other: Beep – walk, beep-run, beep-walk…

I briefly stopped at 2 miles – on Barden Bridge where I saw the first human since leaving the Cavendish Pavilion. I let two cars cross the bridge, took a couple of photos and continued, feeling slightly grumpy about being slow and now struggling to enjoy the run. It felt like all I could hear was my running noise and chatter about how crap I was. I don’t know what drew my attention but it suddenly occurred to me that there were so many far more positive noises I could be tuning into. Whatever it was, it made me listen and suddenly the bird song grew louder, the gentle breeze was singing in the trees and next to me the river was gurgling and sounding content.

‘Hello’, the river goddess Verbia whispered to me ‘how’s the running love?’ I don’t know why she has an accent like my grandma’s but she does – very West Yorkshire with slight hints of Lancashire in the vowel sounds from living so close to the border all her life. ‘Oh, it’s nice but it’s slow and feels so hard’ I said – not out loud I don’t think. ‘Oh, but why rush?’ She gurgled. It was rhetorical of course ‘ Look around, everybody is just at the pace they are meant to be’. She was gently teasing me I think. Nudging me along, letting me know that I was ok but as with any goddess, you just never quite know, there’s always a mystery, always an edge. She seemed all knowing and a bit bemused by me as she made her way slowly along the familiar path. But I did look around, I saw the cows in the field lazily chewing the grass, I watched some sand martins (I think) play around me seemingly flying high, swooping down and looping round for the pure joy of it. I giggled, Verbia gurgled back.

I saw a very speedy runner with a dog come towards me. She was past in a flash and briefly I felt crap about being slow and so laboured. ‘But you’re not her’, I glanced at the river and understood. Me and the other runner were each running our own run, with our own thoughts and our own battles. I smiled, I was enjoying the run again, the pace seemed unimportant now. I nodded a thank you towards the Wharfe as I turned very slightly left to go past the aqueduct steps and onwards into the woods.

I saw Kath. We stopped briefly for a quick chat and then continued on our ways. I had about 1.5 miles to go now, she had about 3. There were a few more people about on this stretch, not many though and mostly I ran in glorious solitude with time and space to notice the different greens, the changing feel of the footpath, the nobblyness of the tree roots. I ran the intervals as they fell, no cheating and it felt hard but my head was in the right place. It wasn’t even that I used mantras or tried to drown out the negative with positive chatter. It was just that after my little ‘chat’ with Verbia it felt like I was doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing this morning. Like this was my time to run, my time to be at each point along the way exactly at the time I got there. Just as the Wharfe meandered along with a calm inevitability, so did I. I felt slightly disappointed when it was over. I even briefly considered going on in spite of feeling physically quite tired and being a bit of a sweaty mess but arriving at a gate and the bridge back across the Wharfe to the Cavendish Pavilion which seemed busy with people had broken the spell. The magic had gone even if some of it has lingered all day.

London Marathon 2019 – 3: Reflections

In my last post I shared the run pretty much as I experienced it as I was running it yesterday. In this post I want to share a few thoughts now that running the damn thing is in the past and emotions and thoughts have had time to settle.

People have been gently taking the piss whenever I have said that this is my last marathon. But I was being serious and the experience yesterday just confirms that decision. It just wasn’t fun. And doing it on my own was just horrible. So on reflection there are a number of things I learned yesterday.

  1. There are no shortcuts in a marathon. You can’t wing it. If you haven’t trained enough it’s not going to go very well. I was undertrained. I knew that. I tried to follow a plan that was actually too hard for me. I couldn’t sustain the weekly miles and therefore ended up missing some runs – usually the speed or strength runs and I didn’t have the miles in my legs to reach my A Goal (which was 5.45 if anyone cares)
  2. Even if you are completely marathon fit and physically everything holds up over the distance, marathons are mental. You have to really want it. You have to have a reason. Without that reason it is almost completely impossible.
  3. Kath is my reason. I see no point in running 26.2 miles if she isn’t doing it with me. I mean there’s just is no point. It’s just a long lonely fucking boring run. I didn’t have anyone to share my thoughts, to laugh at things, to cry with and to share the whole experience with.
  4. Marathons are partly about how much pain you are prepared to tolerate. That means that you have to want it, really want it which takes us back to 2 above. I was in a fair amount of pain and I didn’t want it enough to push through that pain barrier.

I was ok until about 9 miles. I struggled a bit after seeing Dad at the cheer station because it was emotional but I settled again. Then the tummy cramps started. With hindsight it is blindly obvious that they were the beginning of period cramps. A week early but period cramps they were. I’m sort of pleased really because it means that I ran a 6.28 marathon on day 1 of my period. Some months I barely crawl out of bed on day 1!

My head went when I lost all the time in the toilet queue. My confidence went when I realised that rather than being ahead of pace I was now behind and the minute that happened I lost the chance of a sub six hour finish. I can blame the fall all I want, that’s not what did it. Losing confidence and letting the loss of time get to me is what lost me the 6 hour finish. That’s just the way it goes.

The fall was just one of those things. The pain will go. I walked almost all of it from the mile 15 marker where I fell with very few runs but I can’t honestly say how much of that was physical and how much of it was mental. I am glad I finished. I do think that long term I will look back at the grit and determination it took with pride. Right now I am just glad it is over.

I’m sore today. We both are. I must have been compensating to protect my knee because my right ankle and lower leg are tight and sore. My hamstrings are very very very tight. My hip is stiff and feels bruised as does my knee. My left knee keeps twinging and my lower back is grumpy. I am tired. We woke up early, really early and sat in bed with a cuppa and a piece of flapjack before going for a walk round the Serpentine (our Hotel was just opposite Hyde Park). We walked very slowly and for about 3/4 of the walk it felt good and felt to be loosening things but it was perhaps just a little too far and pain crept in again towards the end. Flat and straight is fine, any camber and going round tighter bends is awkward, uphill uncomfortable and downhill just evil. Stair are a bit hit and miss so there’s lots of wincing because the pain comes as a surprise. Up is better than down.

After the busyness and noise of Sunday it was lovely to watch herons fly across the Serpentine, see geese and their goslings, moorhens, ducks, swans and all manner of birds including what we both think might have been a reed warbler. It’s what we needed and it was in such stark contrast to the marathon. We need green and air and creatures and natural noises. That’s where we thrive and that’s where we need our adventures to be. And most of all we need to be together.

We’re home now after a relatively easy journey and it’s nice to be back, to have the cats around us and to just relax completely. Work tomorrow but I won’t be going anywhere fast! The heron card Kath made me which I mentioned in the last post survived the run and I need to decide if I want to frame it or if I want to keep it with me. It’s something really special, so special that I was initially reluctant to share it – but here it is.

London Marathon 2019 – 2: The Run

Can I be honest? Please don’t hate me. The thing is, I don’t actually like the London Marathon. Oh undoubtedly it’s a great city marathon and I like watching it on TV and maybe if you can whizz through at 5 miles a minute or less it’s a nice course but otherwise it’s not much to write home about. And yes the crowds are plenty and loud but nonetheless, I don’t really like it. It’s just iconic and somehow a bit special but no.

Anyway, we had porridge and then slowly got sorted. Then we got the tube,IMG_5092 then another tube and then a train to Greenwich to get Kath to the red start area. As I left her to continue on to the blue start we were both quite emotional and for the first time the reality of us running this thing separately dawned on me. I walked away with tears streaming. By the time I got to the start area I felt better, back to settled. I handed my bag in and found somewhere to just sit for a while. I had my wholemeal roll with peanut butter and then I lay back on the grass just drifting. After a while I thought maybe I should go for a pee. I headed over to the toilets, looked at the queues and instead decided to brave the female urinals. Let’s just say it involve cardboard devices and an ability to be fairly accurate. It was an experience. Just before I entered the start zone I went to the proper toilets which were almost queueless by then. I was ready to get going now. I chatted to a couple of runner’s around me for a bit, everyone playing it all down and just being there to finish etc. I don’t buy it. I know they have a time in mind and I know they are here to race – themselves if nothing else.

Then we are off. I set my watch to go and settle in. I’m going too fast as I am keeping pace with the 5.15 pacers. Let them go. I keep repeating that over and over. Just let them go and slow down. Just coming up to a mile I drop into run/walk. I felt ok. Not great but ok. I’m still going too fast. I spend the next few miles telling myself to slow down. I am still going too fast when I pass someone I know and say a quick Hi and tell her I’m feeling good and strong and urge her to keep going. I’m 5 miles in and everything is ok. I’ve let the pacers go and I am closer to the pace I should be at. By mile 6 ish I’ve got there. This is the right sort of pace to get me under 6 hours. I get to the Cutty Sark and gently run my way round the bend and wave at the camera. It’s all good. I’m beginning to think ahead. Only about 2 miles until I see Dad. I look forward to that. I keep plodding. I do a mental form check. I’m doing well. I see the Mind cheer station and get a really loud cheer and I see Dad at the end of the line. I run along it and high five everyone and give Dad a hug. As I run on and turn away from the cheer station I struggle to keep the emotion in check. I take some deep breaths and run on.

Mile 9 and a bit. There should be a cheer station by someone I know somewhere here. About ten miles I think. I look for it but I miss it. I notice that my tummy is crampy. I decide not to ignore it but stop at toilets. At just after mile 11 I see a short queue and join it. I check the tracker and Kath has gone through half way and shows on the map as around 26km. The woman in front of me goes into the toilet. She takes forever and comes out 7 58384116_10157239650874721_2171688099405365248_nminutes after in completely new kit. Something was wrong there, some sort of cheating but there’s nothing I can do and I have lost all the time I was up on my six hour goal. I set off again but I miss Kath. I have a little cry. My head is slipping. My six hour marathon is slipping away. I don’t like doing it without her. It feels wrong and I feel very very alone.

Twelve miles done. I keep plodding. The odd extra walk sneaks in and I am getting slower. I’m lonely. I try and get a grip. Tower Bridge. I wanted to run Tower Bridge because I felt too poorly to last time. I set off and then I stop. I want to enjoy it, take it in. I run a bit and walk a bit. I smile and I look around but it just isn’t the same. I miss Kath. I come off the bridge and turn right. I run a bit and walk a bit. I keep looking at the faster runners on the other side of the road. I don’t think I can get there but remind myself that I always think that. I keep hoping I might see Kath. I cry a bit more. I don’t want to do this without her next to me. I don’t see her. I keep plodding.

I come up to mile fifteen. I can see the marker on my right and  have just come through a Lucozade station. ‘Shit that tarmac is slippery’ pops into my head as i find myself hurtling to the floor. I don’t remember much, just hitting my right knee and hip hard as I do a sort of undignified roll and bounce action and push off my left hand to get back up. Nobody stops, nobody helps me, nobody asks if I am ok. It hurts. I want to stop, just walk away, just fuck the fucking marathon. I don’t need to finish four. Three is just fine. It fucking hurts. I keep moving with tears streaming. I don’t really know why. Forward motion seems the best thing to do. No point in standing still. Nowhere else to go. I check my phone and the tracker. Kath hasn’t moved. I suppressed the panic. SHE HASN’T MOVED.

I keep moving though. I don’t want to do this. I want to stop. Mile 16 comes and I’m still walking. I don’t even remember seeing Mile 18 to 21. It’s all a blur of missing Kath, trying to run just little bits and keep putting one foot in front of the other. In the previous three marathons I have doubted my ability to finish. It never occurred to me to drop out but the possibility of not making the cut off time or being pulled for medical reasons was always there. This time I knew that if I wanted to I would get to the finish. I just wasn’t sure I wanted it enough to keep going. BUT KATH HASN’T MOVED. Logistically, though, I think, the easiest way to get to find out what is going on is to finish this bloody marathon. I keep trying to convince myself that it is just the tracker, that Kath is probably fine.

Somewhere on that stretch the 6.15 pacers from my start come past and I try to stick with them for a bit. They had started not far behind me and I think that maybe, just maybe if I can go with them I could still get a marathon PB. But I can’t hold on. Or maybe I just don’t want to enough. I’ve had enough of the crowds now too. Yes the support is loud and people shout your name but somehow it felt edgy. Some of it was alcohol fuelled and aggressive. At one point I had a brat of a lad pint in one hand and megaphone in the other running backwards in front of me shouting encouragement. I didn’t have the energy to sidestep or comment so I just had to wait until he stopped and picked his next victim. The support at the Disney races felt somehow more real, more genuine, less of a game. There were exceptions to this. Somehow it felt like I knew when the shouts of encouragement came from other runners, there is a tone, an understanding, a real empathy that comes through. It says ‘I know that everything hurts, I know right now you don’t believe so let me believe in you for you’. Most of the support just sounded hollow to me. Like being loud and shouting supportive phrases was just some kind of sport in itself.

I pass Mile 22. I miss Kath more than ever.  ‘Well you didn’t think you’d gt here, yet here you are, I think. I keep touching my tinker bell necklace and the little heron card Kath made for me so she could be with me in spirit. I know I can walk 4 miles. I know I can finish. I still don’t know if I want it enough though. Just 3 miles to the Embankment cheer station where Kath might be but I try not to think about seeing her. I try to go faster but I’m not sure I actually do. I get the the Embankment. I am hoping it will give me a boost. I feel nothing. I feel like I am done. A guy wearing a finisher medal walks along side me on the other side of the barricade. He is being lovely and genuine and I hate him. ‘Don’t give up now. You are so close, don’t you dare give up now’. He was of course right. Giving up now makes no sense. I’d have to cover the same distance to recover my bag – might as well do it along the proper route. My watch beeps for 25 miles. I am about half a mile up on the official markers so half a mile until I might see Kath. She’s not there. The Mind team gives me a little boost though. I run a few steps.

The last bit. I don’t know exactly when I start running but I suddenly realise that I could get round in under 6 hours 30 minutes if I push just a little. I tap the heron for power and set off. Everything feels like it might snap. ‘No faster’ I tell myself ‘just nurse it home’. I turn alongside Buckingham Palace. I keep my eye on the crowd. Dad will be somewhere on my right as I turn for home. I don’t see him. I must have missed him. Disappointment hits like a punch to the stomach. And then I decide I really have had enough of this marathon. I want it to be over. I don’t feel like I can run any further and the pain in my right hip and ankle are outrageous so I fix my eyes on the finish line and run. Not fast, not sprinting but gently speeding up with every step just willing the finish to come to me. That last hundred metres is probably the hardest fought 100 metres I have every run. And then it’s over.

IMG_5102I stop my watch. Under 6.30. I get my medal. I take a selfie and start the long walk to get my bag. I look at my phone. Kath had obviously tracked me and had sent me a text. I ring her. She’s waiting for me where I exit the runners only area. I mix my recovery drink and walk to find her. Only when I see her do I find out that she had finished. She’d completed in under 5 hours in spite of also having a pretty rough time. Our adventures are better when they are together sort of adventures. This was not a good adventure.

We worked out where the meeting point was where Dad would be together and made our way to meet him. We posed for a couple of pictures and then made our way to the restaurant by our hotel again. We wanted to be away from crowds and noise. We had a nice meal and re-lived bits of the race and chatted. Then we went to the hotel for a bath and bed.

And that was my 2019 London Marathon. I’m glad it’s over.