Sunday, October 27, 2019

Amsterdam Half Marathon

Amsterdam Half Marathon - October 2019

Finish of Amsterdam Half Marathon 2019

It's taken me a few days to really process this race and how I feel about it afterwards, so hopefully I can translate this reflection into something that makes sense!

The race itself was great - well organised, almost totally flat and the Olympic Stadium finish was amazing. Certainly a good value race and there is plenty of potential for it to be a fast course if things go your way.

But let's get straight to it - I was disappointed with how it turned out. That doesn't take away from the fact that I enjoyed the experience of travelling abroad for a race or stop me from acknowledging that a time of 1:44:35 is still a time I can be pleased with, but it's the truth. If you're going to race with goals and ambitions, accepting disappointment some of the time is just part of the game.

Something that has helped me deal with this is realising that actually there were many, many different factors at play which is helpful as it's easier to accept than just one little thing going wrong. 

1. Leg cramps
This was probably the main reason why I struggled with this run. From the middle of the third mile I was feeling my outer thighs seize up and it just got worse the further I ran. The cramped muscles were painful and my movement was restricted so even when I tried to run faster I physically couldn't. In some ways I'm kind of grateful it happened so early on because it meant I could just call it a bad run from the beginning, rather than be so close only to have it go wrong at the end.

I don't really know why I got such bad cramps and muscle pains, but I do know that I got the same at Ealing Half Marathon a few weeks earlier, although much later on in the race that time. Between the two I had a sports massage which did highlight a lot of tight muscles around my quads and hamstrings so I'm sure that's part of what's going on.

Following the race I'm taking a period of time to reduce the running I'm doing for a while, to focus on stretching and recovering my muscles and give it all time to settle down again.

Runner at Amsterdam Half Marathon 2019

2. Night shifts
Despite contact my rota co-ordinator well in advance, I still ended up being rota'd to work night shifts the week of the race. I had two options - either find a swap for the week, or work Monday to Wednesday night shifts, finishing at 9am on Thursday, and have a locum cover the final one for me (actually a pretty generous offer from the rota coordinator). I went with the second option because it could be guaranteed immediately, rather than having to deal with the stress of trying to find someone happy to swap with me. 

My first two night shifts were reasonably ok, but the final one was incredibly busy. I don't sleep especially well in the day between shifts, and although I can generally get some rest on the nights it's never quite the same as proper sleep in my own bed. These coupled with a 5am wake-up on the Friday morning meant I was probably still very sleep deprived at the weekend rather than having the restful taper week I'd have liked.

I've learned for the future that working night shifts in the week of a major race just doesn't work well for me. Shift work is going to be part of my life for a few more years to come, that's unavoidable, but I can plan around it as best I can - whether that's swapping shifts, or deciding how to treat a race depending on how my rota fits around it.

3. Illness
Two weeks out from the race I managed to pick up that cold that seems to be going round. I'm rarely unwell, so to be ill enough to take two days off work was pretty significant. Although by race day all that was left was a bit of a lingering cough, I think the recent illness coupled with sleep deprivation probably affected how well prepared I was to race.

I'm not sure there's anything I can really do about changing this for the future! Sometimes we get ill with terrible timing, but that's just life...

Running on road at Amsterdam Half Marathon

4. Loss of training routine
I'd had a really solid training block up until the last few weeks where work patterns and the above illness kind of threw everything up in the air a bit. Runs were being missed and rescheduled and I think that probably knocked my confidence and focus. 

As I said regarding night shifts, there's not much I can do about the fact I sometimes need to work irregular hours. As much as I'd love to put it the other way round sometimes, my job does have to take priority over running. But I can do whatever I can to try and maintain the best routine and structure I can manage, and to make sure there's flexibility in my training plans to do this.

5. The mental game
I entered this race with no goals at all, but early during the training block began to quietly aim for something around 1:35. The sessions I was doing in training were suggestive of that being achievable but in the final weeks I lost confidence in that and settled for just getting a PB (sub 1:38). In the days leading up to the race, sleep-deprivation related anxiety really took hold and I no longer even really believed I could run a PB and was nervous about going out to run hard.

I think this could be somewhere to make significant changes. I've struggled since Brighton Marathon to run races I'm happy with so there's definitely room for changing my approach. My plan for now is to relax for a bit, take the pressure off and just enjoy a few cross country races and parkruns until my marathon training plan gets underway. I know I'm the kind of person who loves a challenge and will be keen to start setting goals again, so hopefully I can find the right balance next time around.

Working hard to finish the race

6. Change of environment
I've stayed away from home for races before with mixed results. I think on this occasion I missed a lot of my home comforts and routines - particularly things like food. The apartment we stayed in didn't have much in the way of a kitchen which definitely made it tricky. In hindsight I should probably have thought more about my food before the race, particularly with it being an afternoon start which is a bit unusual for me. More research and planning next time! I know I like to eat porridge pre-race so it would have been sensible to just take some pots with me like I did for Brighton.

If you've stuck with me this far, thank you! That may have read like a long list of excuses but I prefer to see them as learning points about explaining why the race went how it did and thinking about what I can control for future races. It's never going to be possible to get everything perfect every time, and I know full well that there will be more tough races ahead of me - hopefully many because that means I'll be running for years to come.

And it wasn't all bad, there were plenty of positives I can take from it:

1. I finished the race
Because at times I could have given up, sulked that I wasn't getting the time I wanted and stopped. My legs hurt, I was tired and upset that it wasn't going to plan but I still pushed on and finished 13.1 miles. I even managed to sprint down the final 100m on the track and smile as I crossed the line!

Final sprint at Amsterdam Half Marathon

2. I enjoyed the training
Immediately after the race I felt I'd wasted three months of training, but that couldn't be further from the truth. I really enjoyed that training - those track sessions when everything came together and I felt strong, the easy long runs as I built the distance back up, the 21-something parkruns I had found impossible at the start, the strength and conditioning sessions. There's so much more to take from a training block than just the final race, and what I've gained over the last three months is a fantastic base to launch into marathon training come December.

3. The first two miles were great!
I was relaxed and confident in the first two miles, holding a comfortable pace and stopping myself from going off too fast. I have a tendency to get caught up in the excitement of a race environment and dash off far too quickly, paying for it in the latter stages of the race, so being able to contain this was an achievement. 

4. I ran somewhere new
I've never raced abroad before, so it was fun to travel and make it into something of a running holiday. A change of scenery is always appreciated.

Bikes on bridge over canals in Amsterdam

5. Progression through the training
I started the training block having only just returned to anything resembling full fitness after taking much longer than anticipated to get over Brighton Marathon. Completing the training block and improving that fitness is certainly something I can be pleased about.

Sprint finish

All in all, it wasn't my finest race but it was still a good experience, nowhere close to my slowest half marathon and one of my strongest training blocks so far. Time to reset now, enjoy a bit of running down-time and prepare for my Manchester Marathon 2020 training!

Runners before race

Mizuno Amsterdam half marathon medal 2019


Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Ealing Half Marathon - Race Report

Ealing Half Marathon - September 2019

Finishing Ealing Half Marathon

 I ran this race for the first time in 2018, shortly after moving back to London for work. I still have wonderful memories of that run: grinning from ear to ear on a downhill stretch shortly after halfway, grabbing a jelly baby from an enthusiastic supporter at the roadside, sprinting over the finish line and sharing my joy at a new PB with a stranger waiting for her own relative to finish. No great surprise then that by January I'd already signed myself up to run it all over again.

Not longer after I'd signed up however, I'd also decided to enter Amsterdam Half and race that as a serious PB attempt thanks to the flat and potentially fast course. Suddenly I wasn't quite so sure where Ealing Half was going to sit in my priorities and training plan seeing as Amsterdam would be just three weeks later.

As it turned out, Ealing ended up being my first proper chance to race a half marathon after post-marathon injuries and loss of fitness. I went into it with hopes of a course PB (sub 1:40:50), and having had a good training block so far perhaps even a half marathon PB if things really went well. I was mindful that I didn't want to tire myself too much before Amsterdam, but was feeling fairly fit.

Race kit for half marathon
A change of kit this year, wearing my Harrow AC vest instead of Cherwell Runners

With heavy rain and potential thunderstorms forecast I avoided arriving at the race village too early and thankfully I had Dylan along to support me so I didn't even have to worry about bag drop queues! A brief warm up and then I headed down to the start area with about ten or fifteen minutes to wait for the 9am start. As we gathered behind the start line the rain began - a lovely, cooling shower if you want to put a positive spin on it! Happily it didn't actually last very long at all and the weather for the race was nowhere near as bad as predicted.

It took me nearly a minute to cross the start line - not an issue at all thanks to the chip timing - but the first half a mile felt very crowded. It did thin out quite quickly as we got onto wider roads, but there were a lot of corners early on and too many people trying to run tightly to the inside of the turns which meant even if you were trying to take a "racing line" in order to keep up momentum, the whole pack of people tended to slow right down.

My first three miles all felt really comfortable, just a tiny bit slower than PB pace, and then I made the most of a mainly downhill fourth mile for a faster one. I knew the course had some hills, but I think I'd somehow forgotten quite what they were like! I don't mind a few short, steep hills but some of these were longer inclines which I don't love quite so much. Although I was keeping up a decent pace, by mile six I was just starting to feel perhaps it wasn't as comfortable as it could have been. I passed the halfway mat and was still on for a course PB but by this point I was already starting to lose interest in that target and instead distracted myself by looking out for other people I knew on the sections of course with runners going in both directions. 

As I climbed, slowly, up another hill I made the conscious decision that I really wasn't going to push for a particular time anymore. At this point I was still feeling alright in my running and could have pushed harder but I thought it would definitely cost me in recovery time afterwards and I didn't want that to impact my training for Amsterdam. The course continued to wind its way through the roads and parks of Ealing and there was great support from the marshals and spectators out along the roads. 

In the final four or five miles though I was really starting to tire and struggle. The fact that I hadn't rested or tapered at all coming into this race was showing as my legs got heavier and heavier. The support and encouragement between runners was excellent though with plenty of people sharing water and someone who kindly told me that there would be no more inclines!

Sprint finish at Ealing Half marathon

I was delighted to reach the last mile and I actually rather enjoyed the last section of the course as we looped round the park. Despite my legs having felt really tired, I managed to pick up the pace right at the end and there really was no stopping me once I had the finish line in my sights - forget distance runner, I turned full-on 100m sprinter once my feet hit the finishing straight! All in all I'd only finished 20 seconds over the time I ran a year ago so I was pretty pleased with my time considering how tired I'd felt at times during the race.

Another race done, more lessons learned and I can be grateful for that. I always knew I was going into this race a bit tired due to a normal week of training in the days leading up to it, but it's definitely made me take note of just how crucial that taper and rest is.

Sprinting to race finish

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