Race Review: The Nearly But Not Quite London Marathon 2023

Bit of a long story behind doing this event. After deciding to defer Manchester Marathon to 2024, Geth and I were looking around for a replacement spring event (as he was still planning on doing a full marathon). We selected the Saturn Running ‘Nearly But Not Quite London Marathon’ event in Durham, as it’s an eight-hour lapped event where you can do as many laps as you want. This meant that Geth could still run his marathon (six laps) and I could do as many as I was able to on the day, dependent on spondylitis flare-up level etc.

Following Geth’s injury and cessation of marathon training, it gradually became apparent that I’d be doing the event on my own (originally we’d thought that he might be able to plod round at my speed to keep me company, but it wasn’t to be). My strict rolling/stretching/S&C routine has largely kept my flare-ups away for the last month, so I was hopeful that I’d at least be able to do a slow half, even though I’d not done any long run training for the last month or two.

After a very early start to get to Durham, I was glad that bag drop was just a groundsheet at the start/finish area so I was able to keep my coat on until the last minute! It was still pretty chilly at that point. After the local junior parkrun had packed up and left the area, we were off, and I settled into practice marathon pace, which for me at the moment is a slow jog with a walk break once per mile.

The route was beautiful but not fast (a few traily/muddy sections, uneven bridges and gentle inclines) so it’s probably for the best that Geth didn’t end up attempting a sub-four marathon there – he’d have been disappointed I think. Despite the forecast rain, it ended up being a lovely sunny morning and a great day for a gentle run!

Unfortunately the spondylitis pain descended during lap two – a sharp, persistent ache in the small of my back and the gradual onset of stiffness around it. I really, really wanted to push on for a third lap to finish a half marathon, but I think I would have been crawling home and possibly risking not recovering in time for next week’s 10k. As such, I reluctantly called it after two laps and nine miles. No half marathon pin for my medal ribbon, but at least I still got the medal! You only need to do one lap to get it.

Post-race medal
Despite the disappointment I was a lot happier than I look in this post-race photo!

Geth is wondering, given that I haven’t had any problems during shorter faster efforts in recent weeks, whether my form when I’m doing plod pace is part of the problem (in terms of aggravating my spondylitis). I’m not even sure where to start with my form (as it’s pretty awful at all paces) but part of the ongoing strategy for this year is to build up long runs at a faster pace, so we’ll see if that makes a difference.

Silver linings for this run: no foot pain (due to wearing my comfiest shoes), no feeling sick (as the Clif Bloks are working better for me than gels) and plenty of energy (Clif Bloks again).

I really loved the event – pretty route, well organised, nice medal and lots of chocolate goodies to take away at the end. I will absolutely be back for another Saturn event in Durham – I want that half marathon pin next time!

parkrunday: Pendle #394

Tail end of a visit to the in-laws this morning so I did Pendle parkrun for the tenth time. I hoped for a Pendle PB as I seem to be on relatively good form at the moment, but it wasn’t to be – 27 seconds slower than last September. Still very pleased with my result!

The tail walker was celebrating a milestone birthday, a run milestone and a volunteer milestone today, so there was lots of cake in the clubhouse afterwards.

Carrot cake

It was lovely to get a run in for the first time since January! Back to volunteering next week but I’ll be doing the odd run again starting in May.

Race Review: North Tyneside 10k 2023

I’m in a bit of shock and still processing this one, really!

Bag drop for this point-to-point race has to be done and dusted a full 45 minutes before the race start, so I was up early and at the race start early in order to get my bag on the van. This meant a bit of hanging about, but gradually other folks from my running group started to arrive so there were lots of people to talk to. Last time I did the race, in October 2021, runners weren’t allowed to congregate inside the sports centre due to COVID restrictions – I’m so glad this has changed, because it was a chilly morning and I was cold after putting all my warm stuff away in the bag!

I hoped to average 10:30-minute miles, as that’s the faster end of the pace I’ve been doing with the group recently. The aim was to get well under 1:10:00 and close to my PB, as on paper that was the expected result based on my recent training. However, none of my races were as they should have been on paper last year, so I was incredibly nervous (see yesterday’s blog post). I felt a brief spondylitis twinge on my left side as we were walking to the start line, which didn’t help! But the calm side of my brain reminded me that these twinges while doing warm-up walks hadn’t continued into my runs recently.

First mile was 9:54. Too fast! I managed to settle into a more sensible pace after that, probably helped by the big hills in mile 2. One of my major worries was just not being able to find the speed on the day, but the race atmosphere was a huge motivator, as were my race shoes (Saucony Endorphin Speed; I only ever wear them for faster efforts).

North Tyneside 10k
With one of the many North Tyneside lighthouses in the background. Photo from Coastal Portraits by John Fatkin.

Issues that cropped up during the run:

  • That weird shoulder stitch (which tends to happen if I’ve eaten less than 12 hours before the run)
  • The beginnings of an actual stitch that didn’t quite develop into a full-blown one (ditto)
  • My standard-issue foot pain (I’ve accepted that this is inevitable in the later stages of a race when I wear my speedy race shoes, as they’re not wide enough for my mile-wide flippers; I can put up with it for distances up to 10k, as the extra speed they give me is more than enough of a tradeoff)

Issues that did not crop up during the run:

  • Anything spondylitis-related. Score!

Running at under 10:30-minute mile pace (10:24-minute mile average pace, to be precise) for 10k was definitely a harder effort than I’m used to at the moment, but it was manageable. I did think from my on-the-spot maths during the race that I might be on for a PB, but it wasn’t quite to be. However, I was only 26 seconds slower than my PB (1:05:07 today), and prior to the race I didn’t think I’d get anywhere near it – so I can’t be anything other than thrilled. Training has not been at all ideal for the last few months, so I’m hopeful I’ve still got a bit of room for improvement in the 10k. I still want that sub-hour one day and I still believe I can do it in the right circumstances.

A few more 10ks booked for this spring/summer. Fingers crossed I might see that improvement soon.

Race eve and general health/fitness update

I’ve been a bit too busy recently to blog about things beyond my weekly phone boxes, largely because the first quarter of the year has been taken up with game-making. There has also been a lot of health and fitness stuff going on behind the scenes, though, and I’m in a very different place to where I was after the Winter Warmer half in early February.

Spring blossom

Spondylitis-wise: the flare-up lasted about another five or six weeks after the half and only really subsided in mid-March. This meant that I couldn’t really follow the 10k training plan I’d hoped to do after deferring Manchester Marathon and giving up on my marathon training plan. During that time I just muddled through, did what I could do and didn’t push through the pain. Over the last two or three weeks, though, I’ve been able to run completely without pain and to keep up with others (just about!) when I go to the TMBR social runs. Running is feeling really enjoyable again and I hope that continues.

Part of the reason the condition has largely retreated for now, I think, is because I’ve been absolutely religious about doing all the strength and conditioning recommended by my physio. I have a set of exercises I do before every run, a set of exercises I do after, and a rehab-focused set that I do every evening. I’ve made it a real priority and it is working, so I need to make sure these habits don’t slip away again.

In terms of medical treatment, I’ve been to see the hospital consultants and have agreed to start biological therapy. This is a bit of a lifestyle change as it means I’ll have to start being much more careful about my immune system, watching out for infections, protecting my skin etc. I am nervous about it. But if it can help with the spondylitis to the extent that I’m not stiffening up painfully during long runs anymore, it’ll be worth it. There’s also a likelihood that it could help control my chronic uveitis, which would be a real bonus.

I have a race tomorrow – the North Tyneside 10k. The last time I ran it, in October 2021, my then-undiagnosed spondylitis kicked in about two miles after the start and I was dragging a dead leg by the end. The pattern of my current running, with everything I’ve described above, suggests that this should not happen again – but I’m still really anxious that it will. I haven’t run a spondylitis-unaffected race since London Marathon 2021 (with the possible exception of the Blaydon Race last year, but I had a ton of other issues going on in that one!). It always shows up at the worst possible time – even if I’ve been pain-free for weeks leading up to the race. I am scared. We’ll have to see.

Putting the spondylitis aside (because, as ever, it’s out of my control), I shall set some goals:

  • Goal A: 59:59 (this is completely pie in the sky. I’ve wanted a sub-hour 10k since I started running eight years ago. I’d love to get it this season and will be entering every 10k I can… but I know I won’t get it tomorrow. I’m not there yet)
  • Goal B: 1:03:29 (this would beat my fastest 10k split ever – again, this is perhaps a bit ambitious at the moment)
  • Goal C: 1:04:40 (this would beat my fastest 10k race result ever – again, not hopeful)
  • Goal D: 1:09:09 (I’d be happy with sub-1:10 tomorrow)
  • Goal E: 1:20:17 (this would be a course PB due to the disaster in 2021. I should be well within this unless I have another disaster)
  • Goal F: finish (I really hope things do not come down to this)

Despite my nerves about this race, I am generally in a happy running place at the moment. In general I feel hopeful for the first time in ages. I hope tomorrow doesn’t do anything to spoil that.

Geth’s injury saga has rumbled on for a few weeks now but we’re hoping he’s at a turnaround point. We don’t know 100% what the injury actually is (different professionals are of different opinions), but it’s a metatarsal problem, possibly a fracture. The instigating factor was a bad fall when he was still marathon training (he gave up on the marathon plan once the issue became apparent). The pain got a lot worse this last Tuesday – to me it’s clear that this was because he’d spent a week on his feet walking back and forth to work. The GP had told him not to run for 4-6 weeks but he felt he could still walk! He’s now on enforced total rest and it is working. The question is how we get him back on his feet without it flaring up again, and also how he’s going to keep his fitness up in the interim.

I’ll try and get the race review blog up in the next few days. I’ll also try and keep up with posting life updates a bit more frequently!

parkrunday: Jesmond Dene #102

It’s finally starting to feel more springlike…

parkrun volunteering
The hat is starting to become more aesthetic than functional now.

I always find there’s one day in spring when Jesmond Dene starts to look a bit tropical in the sunshine if you squint. Today was that day.

Marshalling today for the first time since January. I have enjoyed the variety of doing different roles over the past few months, but it was also nice to get out on the course again. Meant I was finished a bit earlier too!

An actual run at parkrun next week. I’ve almost forgotten how to do that!