Sunday, June 5, 2016

2016 - Newry Marathon via Omagh HM

The plan at the start of 2016 was to aim for Newry Marathon with maybe a couple of races in the build-up. As it turned out, I only managed to run in the Omagh HM but that was a huge success and the rest of my training went to plan, so no real complaints.
Saturday 26th March: Good to see the organisers had listened to feedback from last year with regards the start and set the walkers and 5k runners off after the HM; this made the start a lot less congested and easier to find the pacers.
Mt finish time was 1:41:19 and was 1 minute quicker than last year (not quite a PB) and nothing negative to say about the whole event (oh, it rained and it was windy). I love the route out into the Co Tyrone countryside, which made me feel like it was just one of my regular long runs back home. The run itself went so smoothly; no flat spots, a negative split and pure enjoyment from start to finish...and yes I wore the yellow tutu. Almost, caught a fellow Dromore runner (Andrea) on the line; although my chip-time was a few seconds quicker than her. so that was a win for me! Big thank-you to the organisers, marshalls and volunteers for running such a brilliant event and the food at the end was amazing. Disappointed that I didn't get a finish-line photo (finished at the same time as a runner from Lifford and he blocked me out completely!) but got a photo at the start with Patricia from NCR.

NEWRY MARATHON - Sunday 29th May - my 10th marathon
So my 20 weeks or so of training leading up to the marathon, went smoothly with a great run at Omagh HM and a mixed schedule of club sessions, LSR, tempo's and hills. With a couple of months of training to go, I bought a new pair of Brooks (Vapor as opposed to Ravenna) and started to build up the mileage in them; all was going fine until I ran my first 20 miler in them and ended up with a very bruised and purple left big toe nail. I took a few days off and reverted back to my Ravenna's and whilst the nail remained purple, there was no lasting damage and I completed my training without any further problems. I was feeling confident of a running a good time with a goal of sub 3:45; many of my runs had been at marathon pace (8:30) and such a pace didn't faze me.
Lovely, bright sunny morning as I parked up in Newry to prepare for the marathon but I'd only gone and forgotten my iPod which meant I would be running my first marathon without music. My iPod also acted as my stopwatch and as I don't own a Garmin (or similar), how was I going to know my splits? I had no choice really but run with 3:45 pacer group and see how that worked out. With around 200 runners it was easy enough to find a decent spot on the start line and catch the 3:45 pacer within the first mile. The route had slightly changed this year with a straight run out of Newry to Scarva without a detour along the tow-path and some steep hills; this was well received! There was a group of 10 us running with the pacer and I found the pace very comfortable, which filled me with confidence. The negative thing was the weather as it was getting warmer by the minute and the route didn't really have much cover. Thankfully, there were plenty of water stations and I carried my own bottle; so I made sure I sipped at regular intervals. I kept to my plan of fuelling every 4 miles (jelly beans mainly) and making regular checks of my form whilst at the same time taking in the scenes around me. The pacer kept us updated on projected finish time and around mile 8 he said that we were on for a 3:43 finish.
A couple of small inclines took us closer to halfway and then around mile 11, I started to feel a twinge in my right knee; nothing major but enough of a twinge to set alarm bells off. By now one or two runners had dropped off the pace and even the pacer stopped for a few moments to stretch. I got to halfway (1:51:23) at exactly 8:30 pace but was still ahead of the pacer. Thankfully, he soon caught me up but the group had dwindled to just myself and one other runner. The heat was really beginning to affect people and even though the last 13.1 miles were on flat tow-path, it was going to be tough. The knee was getting worse and although my pace hadn't dropped dramatically, I found myself about 30 paces behind the pacer at mile 17. My stride pattern had become more pitter-patter style and a couple of times the knee almost went from under me - this is what happened at Belfast Marathon in 2011 - I didn't want to do any lasting damage so when I got to mile 20, I put aside sub 3:45 finish and concentrated on looking after myself and finishing in one piece somewhere around the 4 hour mark.
I had plenty of opportunity along the tow-path to take in the wildlife - 2 swans and 9 cygnets, swallows overhead, mooing cows, chickens clucking and even at one point a pussy cat crossed my path!
The camaraderie over the last 6 miles was amazing, I caught up with a couple of running friends - Colm (& Team Kerr) and James whilst the support at the final 3 water stations was brilliant. Although, my pace dropped significantly, I never walked (aside from at the water stations) and by leaning forward slightly and not bending the right knee too much, the pain was easing. A fellow runner passed me a jelly baby which I ate (as a vegetarian, this was a sin as it probably contained gelatine) and there were marshalls on bikes coming towards us offering water and gels. The last few miles weren't as lonely this year and despite the knee, I didn't actually feel like I was sapped of all energy. The crowds had filled the streets of Newry and with less than a mile to go, I was determined to finish with a flourish, the crowds cheered as I headed towards the line and yes the clock had gone past 4 hours but I was pleased as anything to cross the line and receive my medal. OK, 4:01:58 was what I had hoped for but in light of my knee and the heat, I was very pleased and actually felt that this was one of my best executed marathons and on another day I would have got the sub 3:45 time I know I am capable of. Felt a little dizzy and the knee was pretty sore but I looked up and saw the smiling faces of Patricia and SJ from NCR who congratulated me on a job well done.
HUGE THANKS must go to the organisers, marshalls, volunteers at the water stations, the cyclists with water/gels and the crowds for a fantastic event.
Big shout-out to the 3:45 pacer who got me to mile 17 and made me realise that 8:30 pace is certainly achievable. Not sure if he finished though...
On the way to the finish line...

So, I finished with a sore knee and some sunburn but I am very proud to have finished my 10th marathon and will be back in Newry in 2017 as I feel I have some unfinished business.

My recovery went really well; I had a few aches and pains on the Monday but with plenty of walking and work with the band (crab-walks), felt good enough to run 2 recovery miles. The knee? Well, it's as if nothing actually happened. Here's to my next marathon down in Monaghan in 17 weeks.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Review of 2015 - Cookstown to Monaghan

Just realised I never reported on my remaining races of 2015; so here's a quick snapshot of what I got up to after the Newry Marathon; with most reports having been taken from my Daily Mile entries.
All my fears were unfounded and only went and got another HM PB by nearly 30 secs - 1:41:49. The rain stayed away BUT the course was undulating after mile 1 until mile 11. The wind was strongish but not as bad as Omagh in March, so felt confident that I would run a decent race. Got into a good pace and took the hills steady and made up time on the flat. First time check was mile 8 - 1:03 slightly outside 1:40 pace BUT this gave me confidence that a PB was on the cards especially as the last 2 miles were flat and downhill. I really picked up the pace after mile 10 and I hit mile 12 at 1:33. I was flying at the finish and got the PB that to be honest I thought was out of my grasp today.
At the finish line...

FAN-BLOODY-TASTIC just smashed my previous best 10 mile time by about 5 mins - 1:13:41 - not only that but recorded a second PB during the race - under 60 mins for 8 miles!!
Brilliantly run event by Monaghan Town Runners (thanks JAMES CAMPBELL and others), yes there were a few undulations but the course was fantastic and support was amazing. Big shout out to Patricia Brown from Newry City Runners who acted indirectly as my pacemaker today; wouldn't have got that PB if it wasn't for you.
Early on in the race (with Cathal and Patricia from NCR)

This race came shortly after we had lost Gizmo and I really think he was with me in some way over the 13.1 miles...
As for the race - Adrenaline, emotion, fear, loss...all joined me on the start line today at Belfast HM. Personalised my number, tied some of Gizmo's 'play' red material to my belt and pinned one of his collar tags too. I knew physically I was in good shape but if I was to falter today, it would be emotions that would get the better of me. Yes, tears welled up on many occasions but I held it together; thinking Giz would want me to do the best I could do. This was a different way of running for me, setting off fast and hoping I could maintain to the finish. Things were going great as I got another sub 1 hour 8 mile, miles 10 & 11 were the hardest and I did feel my pace was dropping slightly but at mile 12 i was around 1:29 mark; so unless I did something stupid, my first sub 1:40 HM was on the cards. And there it was a 1:37:53 finish time and if it hadn't been for a couple of running buddies congratulating me as I collected my medal, I think I would have just burst into tears. Gizmo, miss you buddy. Even got a photo in the NI edition of the Daily Mirror!

HUGE THANKS TO LESLIE CRAWFORD for organising this event.
I am thrilled to have finished my first trail marathon in under 4 hours...well 75% was trail. The whole experience was amazing, on the Sunday, there was a HM, the marathon and Back2Back marathon runners. Yes it was low-key BUT organised by a local club in a brilliant way. I knew I was stepping into unknown territory having never run trails before but I wanted to give it my best shot. The day began chilly with fog but this soon cleared and the sun came out; no wind either meant it was perfect conditions. First 5 miles or so we're ran through the town on the roads, so I found a good pace early on and was probably sub 8:30 pace by the time I headed into the forest park for the first time. The final 21 miles consisted of 4 loops of the park (with small section of road). I soon realised that running trails is so different to running on the road...but I felt I mastered the technique quite quickly. The sights through the park were amazing; the sunlight through the canopy of the trees, the leaves gently falling from above, the haze above the lakes, the little brooks with shimmering water, the birdsong, butterflies and dragonflies. Even after 1 park loop and was beginning to realise that this wasn't going to be a PB marathon, so quickly set my goal to be enjoyment and possibly a sub 4 hour time. I was still fairly even paced by mile 15 but started to struggle halfway through the penultimate loop, my right knee was jarring a little and my left hip was aching...the small climbs in the park now seemed like hills but I was still passing more people than were passing me. Final 5 miles or so and my pace was nearer 10:00 min mile pace but I vowed to enjoy every step and as I came out of the park for the final time I had a huge smile on my face and cheers of Mr Chicken from the crowd pushed me over the finish and yes I got under 4 hours - 3:55:59 - and pretty damned pleased about that. The organisers had laid on sandwiches, soup, tea/coffee and 2 full tables of cake! I may have done the big marathons in London and Dublin but this probably rates as one of my best ever experiences...the volunteers were brill, the course tough but fair, medal was amazing...I have not one bad word to say about the event and would thoroughly recommend it to anyone looking to run a marathon in Ireland in 2016. I am one very happy Mr Chicken...
Pics from the day...

Oh and then in November, I was in NY to celebrate my wife's birthday and managed a short run in Central Park and here's the proof -