Tag Archives: Running

Race recap (long overdue): Reykjavik Marathon 2016

So a little while (in August. Wow.) ago I ran my second marathon in Reykjavik, Iceland. This was to date the most enjoyable race I’ve done though I did not smash my PB of 3 hrs 49 mins achieved in Edinburgh in 2015. In the end, that didn’t matter one bit, and has helped my mindset to improve around times and races and the pressure I put on myself to finish in good time is slightly lessened as a result. This is quite a long race recap so settle in!

Pre-race organisation

I flew into Reykjavik the day before the marathon, arriving mid afternoon. I deliberately avoided the early morning cheap Easyjet flight as I knew I wanted to be well rested. Two friends and I rented an Air Bnb which meant that we could buy and cook our own food – very welcome in advance of a marathon abroad.

However I was slightly too relaxed about getting to the race Expo, located in the large sports complex a couple of miles east of the city centre. If you’re staying in the campsite or big youth hostel it’s super convenient, but for me, at the opposite end of the city, getting there required a taxi ride.

I’m not going to whine about the cost of this trip – but suffice to say, it was expensive. Iceland is normally quite a pricey place to visit and Brexit has pushed the pound right down. Things that cost £5 in 2012 now cost £7. So taking taxis was far from idea!

Race morning

2016-08-20-08-22-08We could not have had better weather! 17 degrees celsius, beautiful sunshine and absolutely no wind. This never happens in Iceland! It was almost too warm for some people. There were a stream of runners walking down to the start line which was easy to find and not very crowded. This is a small race, and so they allow the marathoners, half marathoners and 10K runners to start together, meaning the atmosphere for the first 10K is really energising.

Having my support crew of two in tow was a new experience for me and one that I loved. To have someone to laugh with at the start line was a really positive experience for me. 

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The only critique of the start was that the timing pens were not clearly marked. Pacers carried balloons with times written on them, but it was confusing for a first timer here what they referred to and I worried I was in the wrong pen / place. I should have just relaxed, as things made much more sense later.

During the race

The first 10K were incredible. So many Icelanders came out of their houses to cheer, and it was clear that many runners were personally recognised by family and friends. This made for a very happy and relaxed atmosphere – there were few clock watchers here. A series of live bands played a good range of music – traditional stuff and covers – and many people handed out cupcakes, sweets and drinks. The aid stations were well set up using cups of water rather than bottles (and the cups did make it slippy underfoot). Most stations had a mix of energy drink and water. The food offer was limited though – mostly just bananas which I don’t like – so I carried my own gels for the whole race.

Note to runners going abroad for marathons: I recommend carrying your gels for the race in your carry on plastic bag – just in case your hold luggage gets lost and you need your race fuel to be just right!

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To begin with the streets were quite crowded with runners, though nothing too difficult to navigate, but this quickly thinned out once the 10K runners peeled away. At half time, the field really thinned out as the majority went on to complete the half marathon. The rest of us turned left to finish the full 42km by heading south of the city. This was probably the prettiest part of the race. As we headed south and then west again, we were running through suburban Reykjavik, filled with interesting architecture, and lit up in splendid sunshine. We then ran south of the domestic airport, which serves flights to other parts of the country, and ran alongside the sea for ages. An arctic tern flew beside me, and the sunshine was warm on my legs and shoulders.

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I was glad to have my own hydration pack with me (I wasn’t sure if I would need it, having not used one in Edinburgh) but the combination of only cups to drink from, and a lack of water stations for the second half of the race meant that I was really relieved to have my own water supply. In fact I even had to top it up at the penultimate aid station as I’d run out. This obviously lost me some time, but hey, did I mention the arctic tern?!

Also, though the field was much slimmer and supporters were fewer, there were still fantastic people cheering us on, smiling and clapping. Favourite Iceland expressions of encouragement include:

“You are good!” (succinct and to the point)

“Keep up!” (I think this would be better as “keep it up” as it sounded a bit like they were chiding my speed!).

The other runners were also super friendly and I chatted to a number of different people around the course. Towards the end, we were right out on the grassy headlands to the west of Reykjavik – I would never have visited these without this race – and stopping briefly because of some pain in my leg, I was encouraged by a Dutch girl who told me to start again and that she would help me back. I was grateful to Aukje as she saw that I really needed a kick up the backside to get running again!

As the race came to a close, I was a little perturbed to see that roads had been reopened, even with tons of runners coming in on the 5 hour mark. This meant you had to dodge traffic a bit – hardly ideal when you’re knackered.

The final few kilometres were tough, especially as you’re running along the sea front on the north side this time, and you can see runners streaming ahead of you for a mile or two, but no finish line. However, as we approached the looming darkness of the opera house, I heard someone say it was just around the corner. My favourite song came on in my headphones and I pummelled my way to a sprint finish with a huge smile on my face.

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For the supporters

The experience for those watching the race was immeasurably better because of the good weather. The course is also set up in such a way that spectator spots are a short walk from each other but well distributed across the race. My friends were able to see me off, cheer me at 10 miles and 15 miles, and watch me cross the finish without too much hassle.

Post race

The medal and the T-shirts we were given were pretty standard – nothing too special. Post race food was below average though – a kind of hotdog was the only food on offer, which was not what I wanted at all! However, we did get a free ticket to the thermal baths in the city which was definitely put to good use at Vesterbaerlaug. I even got to spend a few minutes in the same hot tub as Björk!

The night after the marathon is Reykjavik’s culture night – a music-filled street party where everyone turns up in their traditional sweaters and drinks and watches fireworks. We found a great little bar called Vinyl who had a fantastic live DJ outside, and started dancing. We began as three, but ended as a street party of 40+ people dancing away. I seemed to have tons of energy despite the marathon and got very tipsy on one delicious Icelandic beer.

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I ran in…

  • Cheap Sportsdirect vest top (unbranded)
  • Sports bra (unbranded – elastic crop top style)
  • Sweaty Betty marathon shorts
  • Sweaty Betty technical socks (highly recommended)
  • Asics Gel Lyte 33.3 trainers (no longer made)
  • Ultimate Direction Scott Jurek vest with platypus hydration system

I ate…

  • 4x SIS gels (lemon and mint are a new favourite)
  • Cliff Bloks

I drank…

  • water

Would I do it again?

I’m heading back to Iceland for a different run next year – but I’d never say no to more street dancing in Reykjavik (look at those jazz hands)!

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Finally… running for the run

Finally!!! I ran a long run that didn’t feel like an elephant was sitting on my chest or my thighs or my shoulder. I’ve been waiting for this moment all through training for Marathon No. 2, and it’s taken a little while to feel good.  

After a week of squally wet weather and irritably low temperatures (England, you really can’t do summer), last Sunday was actually pretty hot. I actually loathe running in heat. I perform on average 20-30 second worse per mile, my stomach rebels because of the extra fluids I’m drinking, I feel like I need more gels, and it just feels haaaaard. The only thing that’s nice is the immediate aftermath, which can usually be characterised as lying horizontally in grass with beer and a lot of bread.

Sunday began brightly, and initially the temperatures looked as if they were going to peak over 20ºC, but thankfully the clouds came back and the day cooled down into the afternoon. I set off at around 3pm and decided I’d do an urban run for a change. Usually I trot off down the canals or head to Epping Forest, Wanstead Flats or the Isle of Dogs for my long runs, but this time I thought I’d correct the shameful fact that I’d lived in London for nearly 7 years and had only once run in Hyde Park.

I set off westwards, winding my way through Finsbury Park down to Kings Cross before dropping down onto a familiar cycle cut-through past UCL and into Marylebone. I came across two street festivals going on – Cally Festival, on Caledonian Road, where I witnessed an adult dance group moving to Benjamin Britten’s Sea Interludes; and then the Marylebone Summer Fayre, featuring salsa dance from London Salsa. Each time I took a moment to stop, stretch and enjoy what I was seeing. The endorphins were pumping so hard that I cried a bit with the Sea Interludes (it is some of my favourite music – listen here), and couldn’t help dancing discretely to the salsa.  

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Then on around Hyde Park, through tourists and joggers and kids on bicycles and scooters. A trio of boys were racing up the Broad Walk and that made me smile. Everyone seemed very happy to be out even in the cloudy warm weather.

From there I headed south through Chelsea navigating the lovely red-brick Victorian streets, dodging overgrown roses and small dogs. When I reached the Thames, I crossed Albert Bridge, which I’ve never set foot on before, and then explored Battersea Park a bit – also a new haunt. The area around Battersea Power Station meant the river path was interrupted by private developments and building works, and I had to head into Vauxhall via Nine Elms Road – an unpleasant trafficky mess but made slightly more interesting by the presence of the new Covent Garden Market and new skyscrapers. I don’t like the look of most new developments but at least the visuals on the hoardings give me something to focus on (and get angry about).

I was feeling the distance by this point, but as soon as I hit the river path at Lambeth and Westminster, my energy levels perked up. Running past the Houses of Parliament at such a politically sensitive time felt tremendously uplifting (VOTE REMAIN!), and I picked up the pace for the home stretch back to the Southbank Centre and Waterloo Bridge. At this point the music from all the street performers gave me an extra boost, as did crowd dodging. I sometimes feel a bit self conscious with my running rucksack on (I’ve got a Scott Jurek Ultimate Direction) as more than a couple of people have commented that it looks like a suicide bomber vest. But by the time I got onto Waterloo Bridge I couldn’t care less. The wind was blowing hard, music was filling my ears and I was grinning madly at my personal finish line. (Speaking of which, wouldn’t it be amazing to finish a race crossing Waterloo Bridge going south, with the iMax and Southbank Centre and National Theatre in view?!)

As I pulled up on the Strand I realised  Runkeeper had paused  four miles back, which was a bit annoying, but I knew I’d covered approximately 15 miles in no more than 2.5 hours, including stops and street-party watching. And it had felt really, really good.

Yesterday I read a piece in an old Runner’s World (February 2016) about the psychology of celebrating success vs. striving to do better. “You need to shift from outcome-oriented thinking to mastery-oriented thinking” – in other words, run for the run, not the time. My speed might not have been race pace throughout. But the reason it felt so good was that I ran it for the experience – seeing new places, stopping to take in the atmosphere, crossing a new bridge, and finishing in a place I love.

[RW mentioned keeping race diaries as part of the article. Do you do this? This is my first attempt at writing down a long run. It’s surprisingly difficult to remember even 2 days afterwards!]

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Second Marathon: Losing the Fear, Losing the Plot?

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Dundas Aqueduct, Bath

Oh the perils of running a second long-distance race. Has this happened to anyone else? The first time I do something I’ve not done before, e.g. running a marathon, I prepare like crazy. I’m so scared that I won’t be able to manage it that if anything I over do it. For example, I started training 8 months before the race, I ran 5-6 times a week almost without fail, I cried when I got so busy at work that I couldn’t run, I got my mile-per-minute time below 7:20/7:30 for short excursions and comfortably ran a half marathon at just under an 8-minute-mile clip.

Take two. Reykjavik Marathon 2016, and I’ve kind of been taking it easy. I’m not afraid I won’t finish. I’m hoping to better my time, but I’m not filled with the same kind of dread that really really motivates me. And so I have actually done LESS. Much much much less, and now I’m starting to panic!

This happened to me before when I did half marathon distances – I ran Royal Parks Half in 2009, scored an okay PB of 1hr 57 mins (not so bad for someone who did not think of themselves as a runner at all), and then completely ballsed up the Windsor Half the following year. The course is certainly more undulating at Windsor, and the day was pretty hot, but if I’m honest with myself I just didn’t train enough, because I’d done it before. I lost the fear.

It helps that I wasn’t starting from scratch this time around, and that I’d been running pretty consistently throughout the winter and spring. I’m about 4 kilos lighter and my feet have now fully recovered from lost toenail and blood blister hell. My core strength is better having taken up a package at 1Rebel (I ration my sessions to one per week, and that seems to sort me out). I’ve been trying to run more varied terrain – hills, trails, fun runs – and get lost whilst running. And I’ve flirted with the Maffetone method – sadly having to give up before the benefits could really pay off in order to switch gears for the pacier training the marathon requires of me.

Excuses, excuses. Enough! Begone! Now is the hard graft. Now is the getting up at 6am or earlier for the 5 miles before breakfast, which shouldn’t feel as hard as they currently do. Now’s the time to ramp up from my 14 miler down in Bath over the bank holiday to the steady and exhausting 16, 18, 22 mile weekends ahead. I’ve got about 11 weeks to finesse the raw material of my muscle memory and cardio conditioning. Perhaps the fear of not having trained enough will be sufficient motivation!

Has this happened to you? What do you do people to get through this idiotic barrier? How can I find the fear again?? Help!

(A few pics from the weekend below… amazing bank holiday weather!)

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From Dundas Aqueduct, Bath

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Top of Lansdown Hill, Bath

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Stretching on the steps at home afterwards

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Slowly goes the Maffetone

 

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Image via Island Midwife

I always thought the best way to train was to push the heart beyond its comfort zone on a regular basis because only that way would it get larger and more efficient. So my previous training plans looked largely like this:

Mon: rest day
Tues: easy run
Weds: fartlek
Thurs: hills / strength session
Fri: rest day
Sat: easy run
Sun: long run

And in reality, this kind of system worked for me. I got fitter, I ran faster, and I could fit it in around my daily working life. The short-fast ones on work days, the longer ones at the weekend. And I was really happy with my marathon time. BUT I was still in a lot of pain at the end of the race last year (especially lower back pain… grrr….) and now I’m thinking of stretching myself, I’m wondering how I will ever manage an ultra.

However, I’ve been reading Primal Endurance by Mark Sisson, (prizes for the most off-putting subtitle. It reads: “how to be a fat burning beast”). So I’m experimenting with the 80/20 rule – 80% slow and long, 20% fast, which is almost the inverse of every training rule I’ve followed so far.  I’m running with a heart rate monitor. And I’m not allowing my heart rate to get above 180 MINUS my age. According to Mark, who is influenced by ultra runner coach Phil Maffetone, I need to be running at a speed that pushes my heart rate no higher than 151 beats per minute.

Initially, I thought this sounded decent. Given my low resting heart rate of sub-50 bpm, I thought, “Oh yeah, I’ll be able to run and stay in that general region”. But oh no. Keeping my heartbeat that low makes me sloooooooooow. 11-minute-mile slow. So slow that I have to walk up all stairs I encounter on my run and sometimes even gentle inclines. Like road bridges, famed for their gentle slopes. The other night I ran home along the southbank and there was a race for testicular cancer going on, and I was literally lapped by everyone.

In essence, the Maffetone method is intended to help you build a really strong aerobic base to burn all your body fat, rather than consistently stressing your anaerobic system, which should be reserved for all-out sessions. It’s in line with a lot of the ‘primal’ thinking out there, where humans should only eat meat, fish, fruit, veg, nuts and seeds, and follow imaginative training regimes that suggest you could race your friend to a ‘mammoth leg’ (read a heavy log lying in the field) and then have a game of tag while one of you runs around with the log.

Now I do like the primal way of eating. One summer I took the Whole 30 challenge, which was pretty tough but most certainly worth it, and it changed my eating habits for good. And usually I don’t mind looking stupid when I run. But this slow running? It’s almost boring, and I never thought I’d say that about long distance running. So we shall see what benefits it brings, though I’m aware that with August only 3 months away, speed running is right around the corner. I think I might have to go back to Maffetone in the autumn in preparation for the ultras next year.

What do you think? Could you take the Maffetone test? For 2-3 months, you can test your progress every four weeks by running 5 miles at the heart rate of 180 bpm minus your age. (You can add 5 if you’ve been training regularly for 2 years without injury). Each time you do the test you should see your times (slow though they may be) drop gradually. Crucially you are not supposed to do any training above this heart rate during this period. This, apparently, will build your aerobic base, which will ensure you are, ahem, a fat burning beast. (Or a lazybones. I’m not sure 🙂

 

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1Rebel: pretentious but effective

Okay, I’m in love. It’s thrilling, it’s energetic and it’s killing my bank balance. It’s making me develop ABS and CALVES and BICEPS for the first time in my life. No it isn’t what you think… it’s 1Rebel.  

In case you’ve been living under a fitness rock (or perhaps you don’t live in London, which is totally acceptable), then you’ve probably heard of 1Rebel, notorious for being the most pretentious gym around with its oh-so-beautiful Lyrca-clad attendees, its smoothies named for the instructors, and its dark nightclub-esque interior. It’s got all that, sure, but the workouts truly deliver on the promises they makes.

So what makes 1Rebel so good?

– The instructors who steer a fine line between personal shaming and group motivation. This really works for me, but being singled out for burpee technique is not everybody’s favourite way to work out. Different instructors have different styles, and you will always see who is leading the session before you book.

The workouts: these are challenging, full stop. You’ll work with big weights, fast speeds and tough inclines. These routines will leave you so sweaty, but there will be muscles, promise.

– The changing rooms: shiny copper lockers, exposed piping, subway-tiled showers, heated benches, yum yum yum…

– The showers: enough that you rarely have to wait longer than a couple of minutes (at least at St Mary Axe). Occasionally they have problems with the hot water. Very occasionally. 

– The smoothies. Basically a meal-in-a-bottle for when you emerge pink-faced and pulsing with blood from the darkened training room of flashing lights.

– The darkness. I loathe white shiny gyms where it’s really hard to focus. Not 1Rebel. It’s like being in a nightclub in the 90s but the music is faster. (And it’s 7am).

1Rebel offer 3 types of class (and a few combinations of these three) – Reshape, which is HIIT strength/cardio class, Rumble, which is a boxing/cardio class, and Ride, which is spinning with weights. I’ve only tried Reshape as I don’t get on too well with spinning, and I’ve not found a good slot for the boxing yet.  

The catch: it’s probably the most expensive workout experience you’ll find. Yes the towels are included, yes the changing rooms are filled with lovely products (body and face moisturizer, toner, free kirby grips, hair straighteners and dryers etc.), but classes range from £14 to £20 depending on what package you buy.

And how does it fit with the marathon running? Well seeing as Reshape is intense cardio and weights it’s like doing a sprint/hills session and a strength session together. It is fantastic for kickstarting your fitness if you’ve had a few months off, or for topping up once a week or fortnight to complement your other runs. For example, after only four sessions in January, I went for a 4 miler intending to run a slow steady pace and ended up doing incredibly fast bursts of speed from lamp post to lamp post and sustained sprints up Clissold Park hill, running 7.30min/miles for the first time in months. My legs felt stronger, my heart and breathing were working in sync, and I had barely run since last September. 1Rebel paid off.

Verdict: 1Rebel isn’t for the frugal or the faint-hearted, but it’s addictive and the results far exceed expectations.

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