Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Back into the routine.....

.......and back with the pack! The Paras'10 at Colly was my 5th in all since the first in Catterick in September 2012, in fact I've only missed one since then and that was because Charlie was born. It was my third at Colchester and seemed to come around very quickly after the marathon, especially as I hadn't been able to train with the same intensity or regularity I had for the marathon. That was to be expected as my body needed a rest after running well over 500 miles in as little as 10 weeks, but the rest was almost forced upon me due to a very severe stomach bug that wiped out all three of us for well over a week, the week before the event, so the first time I managed to get a pack on for a proper tab was the Monday before Colly. I just broke myself in gently with a 7miler and 30lb and ridiculously despite not being able to train for the whole of the week before, I still cracked out nearly 7.5miles in 1:07. My only other tab before that I'd bagged at the end of April, just a 5miler, and that day got it done in 48mins, so it was and is very apparent that the marathon training had made a massive difference to my training and my fitness levels. So despite not carrying the full load and not even lacing up the boots, I felt that I could put in a pretty decent performance and probably for the first time, had a decent chance of breaking the 1:50.

Kit and bergen was packed, checked and double checked two nights before as always, and as always the nerves set in. I don't know what it is about doing the events with the pack on, but no matter how much I train, I'm always worrying I'm not prepared enough.......Certainly I wasn't last year, but for good reason, but with all the marathon training behind me, I'm now in better shape, fitness wise than I have been for some years.

Sunday morning we managed to get out the door when I said we needed to, which anyone with a small child will understand and know to be a feat of epic proportions. The journey was easy until we got just outside 'Shitham', traffic was at a standstill at Rivenhall, so I had to try and negotiate the back roads through Rivenhall, Kelvedon and Tiptree, we arrived at about 10, with me flapping, still wearing my flip flops and in desperate need of the facilities and I was well behind on my pre-event prep! 

Facilities frequented, registered and bergen weighed, I began to relax, among some of my favourite people, who had begun to arrive thick and fast. Chia downed, boots laced up and after taking myself off to give myself the rubber glove treatment with the Vas, I returned to the group and settled into the pre-event banter. There is no doubt that the before and after bit is far more agreeable than the bit of torture in between. I get a massive kick out the preamble, it's even better now that to Caz, the friends I do these events with aren't just names to her any more, but friends too, and Charlie, well he just loves the limelight! 

Loving the limelight....
Future tabbing machine.....
Pre-event photocall....
Just before the shout at about 1045, my Aunt and Uncle and Cousins turn up to see me off, which gives me a massive lift. The shout is given to get loaded up and in to the pen for the off, goodbyes to loved ones, and man hugs all round, off we trot, in anticipation of what will be a fantastic day, as it always is. It's also becoming the norm, that when we do these events, it's in the most trying conditions possible. It was already warm and just like Paras'10 Colly last year, we'd be doing this event on the hottest day of the year so far! 

I settled in alongside Skipper, if truth be told I was aiming to tab with him, but I just remember that when the gun went off, just putting my head down and settling into a rhythm. I don't remember much other than as we're going through the garrison heading towards Friday Woods, going past Limby and Nick Hore. That was the last I saw of any of our group until I was making my way out of the 'new' sand bowl at 7 miles. The first real tough moment came as it did last year at 3 miles just after the river crossing. I'd settled into a decent tab at that point, averaging 10min/miles and feeling comfortable, however, immediately after dragging yourself out of the water you are confronted with a swamp/bog that reeks like the garrison have been using it as a latrine for ever and a day. Instead of keeping moving, people seem intent on stopping and sinking, making progress slow and tricky, all the while the swamp is trying to consume your boots, honestly feeling like something is grabbing at them and trying to remove them from your feet. Once your out of there you have a little climb up a grassy slope which after being bogged down, feels like you're trying to negotiate Jacobs Ladder.

Swamp action shot....
The miles between 3 and 5 are by far the toughest on the Colly course, after 5 up the hill, it's then just a 5 mile slog back to Abbey Field (or used to be until the added sickener this year), and in the heat, much like I did last year, I suffered a bit in those miles, but I can't imagine I was alone in that. I was popping my Torq gels about every 20mins, and was getting plenty of water in me, so my energy levels didn't really dip too much, but those miles take it out of you and for me I definitely didn't feel like I recovered until about 6, at which point I managed to settle back into a decent rhythm. 

Getting up the hill.....
There isn't much respite out on that course when it's blazing out there. After 5 miles you're back in the woods for a while and get a chance to cool down a bit. Just as I'm settling down into a decent pace for the slog back, at 7 miles I notice a few tabbers on what looks like a loop. Having done the Colly event twice before, I knew whatever was coming, was new.

As I turned at the top of the path I saw what awaited us, a proper sickener in the shape of a sand bowl dug out of the ground with two sapping downs and ups, and although you're thinking 'really?' actually it's breaks up the monotony of those miles back, welcome or not! Just as I'm making my way out the sand bowl, I notice Limby and Nick making there way into it. At that point I remembered I hadn't really noticed many of my friends out there, and if I knew Limby, I knew that he would be gunning for me if he'd spotted me ahead. Part of me wanted to slow down enough to wait and finish with them, the other part of me, wanted to just get finished and just stick with the target I'd set myself. The target first and foremost was to beat my previous best time of 1:58, that was the time I achieved the first year at Colly, the day before Caz and I flew out to Cyprus to get married. 

After the sand bowl and buoyed by knowing I must have been going ok if Limby was behind me, 
I just got my head down and tabbed on.  I put in a decent mile, but then slowed massively as I hit the sticky stuff coming up to 8 miles. Once through that it's then out of Friday Woods and the slog through the Garrison and back on to Abbey Fields , those last two miles feel like a very long two miles. Just as I hit Abbey Field I'm already over the 1:58, so getting in on the 2 hours became the target. As I make my way down the finishing straight I hear my friends and family cheering me on, so I put in the customary dash to finish. I stop the garmin at 2:00:24! Caz greets me and as usual it's the best part of the event, her smile is just what I need to lift me and it never fails.

I drop my pack off after its weighed in, and wait for the guys to finish. It's pretty evident how tough it was out there as everyone looks like they've put in a serious shift. Again we're all standing together as we had about two hours previously, albeit sweatier, but feeling triumphant, after the fatigue has given way to the banter any way. It was also very nice to share a post-event moment with Sean Edwards and Paul Lee, two guys who were very important people in Lloydys life, they were there to celebrate Lloydy too that day, by putting themselves through the rigours of the Paras'10 for the first time, it's hard not to imagine Lloydy laughing his head off at the efforts but by the same token be proud of them too.

Post-event sweaty photocall......
With Sea and Paul....
A chance to say thanks.......with Stephen Cooper
Caz and I often talk about how many of the Paras'10 events I'll do, and I often reply "once I've got the 1:50 in the bag, that'll be it", but the truth is, I don't think I could give this event up. The people, my friends and everyone associated with this event makes it a truly special day, and it makes me proud to be there for the reason I am. Doing the Paras'10 events has given me a chance to do something positive in Lloydy's memory, it's also given me focus to keep putting my running trainers on, to keep myself fit and it's given me a group of friends that enrich mine and my little family's life. Paras'10 is in the blood.....and for that I'll always be thankful to my group of friends, those that I have the fortune of doing these events with and those that make these events happen. 

"You're all awesome, seriously, keep that sh*t up!"

As is customary I must reserve special mention for my wife, without whom, things would be a lot tougher and for my little boy, who brings me more joy than I ever knew possible xxxx. And of course my little brother, whos example drives me on, always a little further, big love lil bro xxx

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Post-VMLM, huge thanks, lots of kisses and big love......... that the dust has settled on my Brooks Ghost (well that's not strictly true, I'm once again a marathon runner after all), and I'm able to just 'relax' a little, I can now reflect on what was truly (after marrying my gorgeous wife and her giving birth to my wonderful boy of course), one of the most incredible experiences of my life.

However, with a fortnight to go and once the first picture of the VMLM2014 medal went live, it was at that point, the significant doubts set in. I was beginning to wonder, beginning to worry, despite the miles and the hours, that I would fail. After all, the 'medal' would be the symbol of my achievement, the months of lonely miles in preparation and the culmination of that effort in the event itself. That was compounded further by turning up at the Expo to collect my race number and believing that everyone bar myself looked like a marathon runner!

Despite that though, walking through into the Expo with 'The Trap' playing on loop made the hairs stand up on end. I'm sure, like many, I had downloaded the Marathon Theme Tune in the build up, just to keep reminding myself of the sense of achievement I would feel on crossing the finish line. At that moment, it felt like I was involved in something very special. All those lonely miles don't really prepare you for the enormity of the event, "I'm running the marathon", is a lot easier to say than do, however with the buzz surrounding the event, the doing, is bar far the best bit and that's even before you've made it to the start line!

On the Friday evening before the marathon, like an excited child, I got my kit ready and checked it at least twice, those that know me, know I love a list, 'twas a big list! It was like a military affair, every detail was meticulously planned from travel through to nutrition. I had also set out when I 'expected' to be at the cheer points along the route at 6.5/18 & 25.5m. I was travelling down on my own, with Caz travelling down later with Charlie, so I had everything I needed with me, including post-race kit (as Caz had Charlies kit to deal with), covering every eventuality! With my runners bag brimming like a Christmas sack it was gonna be a work out just making it to Greenwich Park.....

Friday evening prep.....pride and honour
.......the morning of the marathon the alarm went off at 0515 and I guess like thousands of others didn't sleep well, due to a mixture of excitement and nerves. I'd done all my prep on Saturday evening ready for Sunday morning, so the time between waking and my cab turning up, to take me to the station passed relatively hiccup free. When I arrived at Central MK Station I was amazed by how many other marathon runners there appeared to be, however, one thing was runners bag was bulging a lot more than any other! At every station along the route into Euston the train became ever more swollen with #VMLM2014 kit, excitement and nerves and sitting next to the WC, that was very evident! I must admit I expected the runners to be one great big happy family, hoping a smile exchanged would engage conversation, sadly it was difficult to even get a smile exchanged from some, I guess for most, this was all too serious........For me, it was the first time I felt completely relaxed, I was on the way to the marathon start, soaking up the atmosphere and comfortable in my prep.

Arriving at Greenwich Park and making my way to the Red Start area was just mind-blowing. I was met with a wall of enthusiasm and a waft of 'deepheat', runners catching up on a few zzzzzzzzz's and those limbering up like you used to back in PE class. I was tempted to join the 'sleepers', it was an early start for me and at guess for most others too, for me having a snooze seemed like a better use of the time! I found a tree that was all my own so I could go through the potentially embarrassing task of liberally applying vaseline and talc to the bit's that needed liberal application. Kitted up, chia seeds consumed and banana in gob I then tried to track down my truck to dispense of my bag until the finish, it was a tougher task than trying to apply vaseline to my private pasts without them flopping out everywhere. Truck located and panic over I then decided I would head straight to my starting pen, it was 0915 and they were beginning to fill up quickly. Luckily there were loos right by my pen, thankfully because at 0958 after 10 minutes of deliberation I finally decided it would be a good idea to go again, although by the time I was done, the pens were beginning to move and head towards the start........

In the Start Pen.....'blue skies!'
Shuffling towards the start was a relatively quiet affair, but as we got through the park gates and headed towards the start gate the noise level lifted hugely, the spectators from the word go and those very first strides, gave noticeable lifts to all, myself included, so with chest puffed out and through the gate at just after 1008, I concentrated on getting myself into a decent comfortable stride. There are so many factors that make the London Marathon such an incredible event, but the biggest of those by far are the spectators, the miles just seem to fly by in a wave of cheering, fist bumping and hand slapping, there is nothing more incredible than hearing your name shouted as encouragement, and I guess like all, every time I heard my name it gave me a massive lift. However that lift was greater still at the 6.5/18 & 25.5 mile marks as I was greeted to massive support from the ABF Cheer points and my incredible private cheer squad, headed up by my beautiful wife and little man (although he spent most of it asleep apparently, but I'll forgive him that, he's only 8 months old after all)!

I pretty much hit the cheer points at the times I expected too which was a massive boost, because I knew then I was running well and my race strategy was working. At 6.5 I felt fantastic, I was greeted to a massive chorus of cheers from my cheer squad, a kiss from my wife and a bag of jelly babies, but I was dealing with a sore calf by then, thankfully it wasn't really playing too much havoc. By the time I passed them at 18, again to massive cheers, I was feeling great, the calf pain had subsided and I was running at well under sub 4 pace, my splits were consistent at around 27mins/5k (up to about 30k) and I was managing my nutrition and water intake well. However, for some inexplicable reason at 21 miles I decided to take on some Lucozade, I'd convinced myself I needed it. Within minutes I developed a tremendous stomach cramp and instantly regretted taking it on, knowing I hadn't used it throughout my training and cursing myself for being so stupid. I then spent about 3 miles fighting it and digging in and by that time my average pace had increased by about a minute a mile, making a big difference to my last 10k. By the time I had passed my cheer squad at 25.5 miles and received a massive boost of morale and turned into The Mall, I saw the timing clock and obviously remembering that I'd gone through the start at 1008, the clock was on 1408, so I knew it was touch and go that I'd break 4 hours. Somehow I managed to block that out, put on a little spurt to finish well and as I crossed the finish line, resorted to very tired stumble just like every one else.

Timing chip removed and finishers medal around my neck, I remember being ushered towards a photographer for my finishers photo, receiving my finishers bag, greedily draining the contents of a Lucozade bottle, before searching out my bag, which if luck would have it searched me out and was ready and waiting for me by the time I approached the truck. Wearily I slowly or as quickly as I could manage, made my way to pre-designated point where I would meet Caz in Horse Guards Parade. I spent about 10 minutes frantically trying to call her, but I guess just like thousands of others, who were unable to get through to loved ones just stood there resigning myself to the idea  that I'll be standing there for a while. After a short while my angel appears with the biggest smile on her face. For me it was the best moment of the day and just in that moment seeing her smile helped me realise what I'd achieved, that smile made me feel a 100' tall.

She guided me back to where the rest of the cheer squad were assembled and I must admit I was a little emotional, although I think somehow I managed to keep it locked up, big hugs were gratefully received. I basked in the adulation for a bit before we broached the 'time' subject. I'd said during the week that I'd rather run 4:15 than 4:01. Caz says to me "do you know what you did", to which I replied "not 4:01", Skipper just nodded in affirmation. I knew when I crossed the line it was tight, but hey I said from the outset a 4 hour marathon was the target, anything better was a bonus, I hit my target, albeit 1 min 20 secs shy of it, I can live with that!
Approaching the finish line.......


Of course none of this would have been possible without the constant love and support I have received throughout and obviously my biggest supporters in all of this have been my amazing wife and beautiful boy. Doing them proud was as important to me as it was doing Lloydy proud. They have been and continue to be the brightest light in my life and I couldn't have achieved this without them. They truly are my everything, I couldn't love them any more if I tried, to the depths of forever xxxxx.

My amazing Cheer Squad.........
At 6.5/18 and 25.5 miles I was met with the biggest smiles and loudest cheers, from some of the most wonderful people I have in my life. I really can't begin to explain what that meant to me and how much pride those moments filled me with. I truly am blessed and no words can do do justice to the impact my personal cheer squad made to my marathon. I love you all guys xxx.
Wearing daddy's medal with pride.......
I shall sign off by saying a massive thank you to each and everyone of you that contributed to me not only reaching my target but smashing through it. As I write, you all managed to get me to £2695.93 and for that I will always be eternally grateful, so from the bottom of my heart, thank you again. I must reserve special mention for two incredible friends who went just a little further in helping me reach that total, Gerald McCarthy and Neil Anderson, you know what you did and you know how humbled I am by your individual gestures. I have also received constant support from friends throughout my training and that has been priceless and again you all made a massive difference, without that support those 26.2 miles would have been a lot lot tougher. Big love to you all xx.

Obviously I signed up for the marathon to support ABF The Soldiers Charity, a charity I am very proud and honoured to support. If any of my like minded friends get the opportunity to work with them, do. What they do is amazing and they are fantastic people. They certainly made a big difference to my marathon experience and I'm glad I was able to make a small difference with the money you all helped me raise.

Ultimately I entered the marathon to pay tribute to my wonderful little brother, a man that walked in the land of giants, a man I shall always be proud of, not just for his achievements, but the way he lived his life. I looked up to him as much as he did to me, I'm sure he knows I did this for him, I know he was there because at 24 miles just as I'm making my way on to embankment "Don't stop me now" begins to play through the tunnel. Those that knew Lloydy know the significance of that song, hasten to say it gave me that little extra lift to get it done and do him proud. Blue Skies little brother for you I'll always go a little further, keep shining bright, big love xxx.