Friday, 15 March 2013

Two beautiful days... I didn't let them get away!

Just over seven weeks to go… Nervous? Qui,  moi? Absolument!

As in, “absolument oui”, that is. Nervous, excited… you know the range. But confident. Confident that, seven weeks out, I’m on track. I’m putting in the hours and feeling good: the body’s responding well to the long runs and that’s all I can ask of it right now. In fact, it responded particularly well to Tuesday’s 21.3-miler

…and that’s because it was a lovely day for a run!

It wasn’t meant to be. On Monday we had snow and one heck of a wind, which saw fit to carry on through most of the night into Tuesday morning. It kept waking me up, seemingly questioning my wisdom as it sought to make me see sense, turn off the alarm and indulge in an extra couple of hours’ sleep.

However, it failed. Come 5:05, I was up as planned, getting ready to hit the road. Admittedly I got as far as pulling on my running tights, but I promptly took them off, fearing they might cramp my style, and folded them away. I’ve had them since May and am yet to run in them. I’m saving them for a cold day… Karen believed Monday was “now or never” time, so I’m guessing I shall never wear them!

What I did wear was my “windproof running jacket” – another of my Decathlon bargains! As much as anything, I wore it because it had pockets. I came under fire on Twitter last week for admitting to not drinking water on my 20-miler, which wasn’t an act of stubborn defiance on my part but simply an acknowledgement that I don’t like carting water around with me. The stupidity of my approach swiftly dawned on me and this week I remedied with jacket pockets, which I also lined with Clif Blok Shots – my first experience of gels. And, at 5:41, off I went…

…on what turned out to the longest and one of the most beautiful runs I’ve completed!

My previous long runs had been fairly monotonous affairs, my focus set on keeping on the flat. And for the first 4mi I replicated that, just running in between two landmarks on nearby Down Road beyond which it heads downwards. I then took in one of my Police HQ Laps before heading down to the Portishead Lake Grounds and from there to the Marina, the Nature Reserve, coming back up along the Coast Path to Charlcombe Rise and finally… home!

I don’t expect the names to mean owt to thee, unless you’re one of the few people around here who reads my warblings. Suffice to say that it’s not a flat route… so, whilst on March 6 I’d gained 305ft over 20mi, on March 12 I gained 820 over 21.3 (34.2km). The gradient got as steep as 15.6% at mile 20 – perfect timing, eh? Ah, the joys of living on top of a hill and always having to run uphill at the end… although that was virgin territory for me and I have no shame in admitting I slowed down. (OK, I walked!)

However, not only is the route not flat – it’s also scenic, as for a lot of the time I had the Bristol Channel in sight. There is something primordial about our fascination with water that still rings true today, especially if you’re a primordial Yorkshireman like I am. Sure, the West Riding is nowhere near the blinkin’ sea (there are some claims even we can’t lay): but the ‘primordial’ component rings true!

I will forever remember standing on one of the hills behind Rapallo, in the area where I was born, back in 1993, looking onto the Ligurian Sea and my good friend Mauro Schiaffino commenting that he could never live away from the sea. He’s in Rome now, not sure how much of the Tyrrhenian he sees… but the principle struck a chord with me and has stayed with me since.

The Evangelical Runner, moi?

The scenery went a long way in helping the legs up some of the hills. Hillage and sections of trail presented a different challenge to the monotony of previous long runs: this time it was physical rather than mental. On the whole, the trade-off was for the better. Not from a statistical perspective, you understand: I’d run three 20-milers previously, on February 12, 19 and March 6, and done so at 8’44”/mi, 8’16”/mi and 8’35”/mi respectively, whereas on Tuesday my pace dropped to 9’07”/mi. Instinctively, I found that disappointing: but when I factor in the hillage and the trail sections, it’s actually not that bad. I’m not sure where it leaves me in terms of target pace and time for Manchester, which is of particular relevance in terms of finalising which pace group to join, but I’m sure I’ll work something out between now and the end of April… (OK, ‘hopeful’, anyway)

It was the first time I’d run along the Coast Path this year. Darkness and slippery mud are not that appealing when it comes to a rocky section along the Bristol Channel – not even for a nutter like me! When dry, bright and safe, however, it is a highly enjoyable section – only about a mile and a half long, but a welcome change from the tarmac of Nore Road, weaving in and out of the woods with the channel as the one constant companion.

(I only discovered the Coast Path route last August, thirteen years after moving to Portishead, and soon made it a ‘treat’ for me, using it as part of a 10k route when time and weather permitted. Sadly, by then the days were already getting shorter, so my fling was short-lived… one winter later and it was part of a 34k run. How times have changed!)

So that was Tuesday. Having run a short recovery run on Wednesday, yesterday I treated myself to a
Half Marathon route!

I returned to most of the ground covered two days earlier, just without additional laps and the initial session along flat Down Road, thus shaving off seven and a half miles. I also brought forward my exiting of the Coast Path, saving myself the 15% incline. ‘Soldiers’, ‘game’ and ‘stuff’ are words that come to mind!

It was good to run 13.8mi forty-eight hours after running 21.3. Elevation was a healthy 842ft, giving a greater elevation:distance ratio than Tuesday (61ft/mi to 47, since you ask). A beautiful, clear day – hard to imagine a better way of spending 2h00’13”!

Last but not least: yesterday’s 13.8mi route via the Lake Grounds, the Nature Reserve and the Coast Path is now officially called
“The Alwyn Lloyd Half Marathon”. Shortly after I got in from it, I received a text from my good, indeed excellent friend, Richard Lloyd, a ‘maratoneta’ in his own right who’s now scheming a cycle up the Alp D’Huez in three years’ time. In the text, Richard announced the birth of his second child, Aldwyn Lloyd. When I head out on morning runs, I often try to fathom if it’s anyone’s birthday, but I drew (as I usually do) a blank yesterday. Two hours later, however, and I had an answer. So Aldwyn, this course is for you. Maybe you’d like to join your old man and me in running it in, say, a dozen years’ time? Although by that time your Dad and I may see fit to stop at a least one of the three pubs it takes in..!

(Sorry, Rich – no offence intended, I know you’d already happily stop at the three of them now)

So there you have it – that’s where I’m at 44 days before the Greater Manchester Marathon and 155 days into my runstreak. Will there be a day 200?
(Do some maths, folk… then wish me luck!)

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