Monday, July 27, 2015

VO2 Max

The other day a colleague came up to me and asked me what my VO2 Max was. I couldn't remember whether it was just under 60 or just under 70 - but 70 sounded too high to me. It turned out to be 69 - although I've always felt that this was unrealistic - and he immediately responded by sending me back an excerpt from a Wikipedia article which put me on a par with Ron Hill, the second man to ever break 2:10 in the Marathon. But he reminded me that I last did that test 2 years ago, when I considered myself to be in such good shape that I wanted to take a "photo" of how I was for later comparison. How opportune because that was the same year I last ran the New York Marathon, so it seemed like a good idea to do another one to see how much of my perceived decline lately was in my head, and how much was in my lungs.

Strictly speaking, the lungs are only one part of what goes to determine your VO2 Max. Specifically, it measures how much oxygen (O2) per kilo of body mass you use to metabolize (burn) carbohydrates and fat when exercising, and this in turn depends on how much muscle mass with aerobic fibers you have, how many capillaries you have to transport the oxygen there and, of course, your lung capacity. It seems that these things are largely determined genetically - or at least your max VO2Max might be - and that training can only bring you closer to your max max. Having said that, only 6 months after giving up smoking and taking up running instead, I also recorded a VO2 Max of 68 (slightly less only because I weighed a bit more then) which was a factor in encouraging me to take it a bit more seriously.

Having said that, when I did start to take it more seriously, training with a coach, whenever I did VO2 Max tests with him, the number came out much lower - the best I got was 61 if I remember right. Of course, I find it hard to remember because I prefer to keep the 69 number in my head.

This time I expected to get a lower score but I specifically wanted to go back to the Reebok Sports Club where it might be exaggeratedly high but it would at least be a good reference relative to the score I got two years ago. It's true that I am not at the same point in a training cycle nor am I training as intensively right now, but I didn't expect to get 59 - 20% lower than last time. To make it even worse, I was about 3 kilos lighter so my VO2 Max would have been 3% bigger, all other considerations being equal. Maybe they have re-calibrated the machine or bought a new one? Or maybe its just not a very reliable test.

Another thing to look at is the maximum heart rate. This tends to drift downwards with age (I suppose in part because you tend to lose muscle mass and therefore have less to "feed" with oxygen) but as much as the commonly reported 1 bpm per year I have not experienced. Its true that I tend to avoid situations that take my heart to its limit as much as possible but I had it in my head that it must be around 190 bpm. In the test (which was supposed to take me to my maximum everything) I only got to 180 bpm! To be fair, this needs to be verified by looking at the electrocardiogram in detail - as usual, my profuse sweating through the machines off and the assistant had to keep adjusting the electrodes while I was running. At 21 kph!

That was the other surprising thing about the test. If my VO2 Max has gone down by 20%, how come I was running faster on less oxygen? The maximal velocity is called vVO2 Max and some people think it is more interesting that VO2 Max. Last year I did an experiment of hardcore interval training at my then vVO2 Max of 20 kph. Maybe that helped because it doesn't seem to have helped with anything else: I ended up breaking the board of my brand new treadmill in less than 5 months and I suspect that it has something to do with the appearance of my Morton's Neuromas, although the doctor in the Reebok Sports Club told me that it didn't necessarily have anything to do with it. So it would seem as though my running economy has improved by a factor of 120% * 105% (20% less oxygen/kilo for 5% more speed) - sounds good, right? What makes more sense is that my VO2 Max is right now and was significantly overstated before.

Well, I think it is important to look beyond the numbers, to what they are trying to tell you. Nobody ever won a race on their VO2 Max. (By the way, my new Fenix 2 watch has estimated based on a few easy runs that my VO2 Max is  - wait for it - 59 ml/kg/min! According to the watch, this corresponds to a Half Marathon in 1:21 and a Marathon in 2:49, times I would be happy to see again.). My conclusions are:

My maximum heart rate is not what it used to be. I will wait for the final report from Reebok but I may repeat the test (without the VO2 measurement) to see whether I can get up to 190 again (don't worry, I will stop before I literally kill myself). I should adjust the heart rate at which I plan to run my races - particularly the New York Marathon in November - accordingly. It might help explain why I have been going off way too fast (both in terms of pace and heart rate) and finishing disappointingly lately.

I should do more strength training. I stopped doing weight training a couple of years ago, thinking that it was better to do specific strength building exercises such as plyometrics, hill sprints and the like. It reminds me a bit of when, years ago, I decided it made much more sense to stop paying for Spanish lessons to instead practice Spanish with my then girlfriend (now wife) - of course, we never did... Now I don't do anything in the way of strength training. One thing about getting older that seems inevitable is that there is a tendency to lose muscle mass which you have to fight against. I guess the body needs more and more proof that you really need to carry around and feed all that bulk (shame it doesn't need the same amount of convincing when it comes to fat). (Actually, the doctor told me that I should consider increasing my fat as my level of 11% was considered to be on the low side, and that fat helped protect against illness among other things.) As New York is a relatively hilly Marathon, I will certainly do some hilly runs and hill sprints etc, but I think it is a good idea to do some work in the gym always being careful not to "bulk up" too much of course.

Apparently Red Bull is not good for you. It makes sense, I suppose, as it seems to good to be true. I had always thought that just as sex is not as bad for you as drugs or indeed rock 'n' roll, Red Bull didn't have to be bad for you. I remember once a friend forwarding an article from the British Journal of Medicine which  proved scientifically that Red Bull was bade for you - the only hitch being that it was faked. The doctor at the Reebok Sports Club wasn't worried about my one-glass-of-red-wine-a-day regime or for that matter the 4 espressos I have everyday, but she did balk when I confessed about taking one Red Bull every other day. Apparently Red Bull is not good for you, so I will stick to my promise and cut down drastically.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Retail therapy

There's nothing quite like buying a new sporting gadget to inject a bit of enthusiasm back into your training. The other day I was hovering on the Amazon website when I spotted an offer for the Fenix 2 GPS watch that was about to expire as soon as they had enough takers. I couldn't see any harm in just putting it in my shopping basket before someone else snatched the offer away from me: I could still decide not to buy it. I now had 15 minutes to decide whether I "needed" it, in which time I broke out into a guilty sweat and rang my wife, hoping she would absolve me by saying something like "you deserve it" or simply just talk me out of it. She just said she didn't know whether I needed it or not - neither did I but I soon came up with a convoluted set of reasons why I couldn't live without one.
Just as well I only had 15 minutes to decide because, after committing to buy (yes, I did buy it in the end, surprise, surprise), I read a whole load of complaints about it crashing, resetting during workouts and suffering from "GPS drift". I hope that these have been ironed out in the year since its launch as there is now a Fenix 3 available.

The reasons I came up with were that my trusty 310 XT was not so trusty any more, it often corrupted the workout data and was very touch and go when it came to downloading courses or uploading workouts; also having Bluetooth connectivity would make all this so much easier. The discount price was 240€ (without Heart Rate Monitor) which put it in close contention with the 910 XT (also recently superseded by a newer model: the 920 XT) but this does not have Bluetooth, nor does it have some of the fancy new analytics that are probably a load of nonsense but are irresistibly attractive to us running geeks. Like VO2Max which tells you how fast it reckons you would run a 5K, 10K, Half Marathon or Marathon: in just three days I have reduced my predicted Marathon time from 3:03 to 2:49! All without having run further than 10K or faster than 13:5 kph! If I later decide to buy a new HRM, then I can have it also calculate vertical oscillation and ground contact time - whoohoo! For those kind of geek-stats, I'm still waiting on the runScribe device I backed on Kickstarter last year. Another thing I like about the new watch is that it has a built in accelerometer which means that (a) it incorporates all the functionality of the Garmin Swim watch and (b) it makes a reasonable attempt to guess how fast I am running on the treadmill based on a surprisingly accurate cadence measurement, which helps me keep track of all the kilometerage I am doing both on and off-road. Lastly, I appreciate the temperature sensor that it has built in which works quite well considering that it is biased by my skin temperature. It seems to start of way too high, come down to a realistic temperature as it is cooled by the wind and then starts to creep back up again as I get hotter and sweatier.

The downside of the Fenix series compared to the triathlon watches is that there is no quick release kit to allow you to transfer it to your bike easily. However, I've come up with a rubber band solution to attach it to my aero water bottle which appears to work well. The upside is that it is not fugly, and can be worn as a normal watch. The inverted screen looks cool but is difficult to read; Garmin appears to have realized that this was too much of a case of form over functionality and has incorporated a colour screen into the Fenix 3. I don't plan to wear it as a daytime watch as I already have my Casio Rangeman G-Shock which makes even the Fenix 2 look diminutive. I noticed that the large buttons with the little spikes are the same on both watches so I'm guessing that Garmin took some design cues from Casio here.

The only other features a triathlete or serious runner might miss from the 310 XT that I have noticed are that there is no ability to set heart rate zones per sport - the zones are very different between cycling and running, but not everybody cares about that. The other slight niggle is a bit specific and it comes about due to how the menus are organized: if you want to follow a prerecorded track you choose the "navigate" activity which, as it doesn't know whether you are running or cycling, does not record your running cadence if you have previously linked a bike cadence sensor. Anyway, so far I'm happy in spite of it already locking up once on me. You kinda get used to the odd glitch with Garmin watches (I think they must have pretty poor programmers working there) but you sort of grow to forgive them as the watches are so cool when they actually work. On the other end of the spectrum, when an Apple product fails you tend to have zero tolerance because you get accustomed to such a high standard. Like when we tried to get an old iPhone working this weekend, we were greeted with this message

iPhone is blocked, try again in 23,758,096 minutes
My guess is that on the 4th of March 2015 at around 4:11 PM, we typed in the wrong PIN too many times and blocked the phone until 5 minutes later at 4:16 PM. We then took so long to get around to buying a new SIM card (the phone was given too us so we had to buy another line) that it ran out of batteries and went into such a profound sleep that it forgot the date and thought it was the 1st of January 1970 again: 23,758,096 minutes before 4:16 PM on the 4th of March 2015...

Monday, June 22, 2015

Spiritually, emotionally and physically...

..exhausting! I was going to write "satisfying", which the weekend was, on all accounts but the last one. I guess it was a bit too ambitious to expect to do a good time in the 10K on Sunday, when I had to get up at the same time as I had gone to bed the night (morning) before. That was because on Friday I briefly came out of retirement as a DJ, blew the dust off my favourite vinyl records and got behind the decks once more.

The crowd at Marula were great and, once I had warmed them up with some slow burning funk I was able to take them to more challenging territory like this trio of tunes I played around 3am:

So that was the spiritual part of the weekend (some physical, too, having to lug my box of records up several flights of stairs).

Then we drove down to Ciudad Real for my father in law's 80th birthday where my wife did a "This is your life..." on him, complete with book and presentation. That, of course, was very emotional not just for her father but for everyone.

The race on Sunday promised to be a fast one as it was more or less downhill all the way. My objective was to get back a bit of confidence after what has been a patchy season. Had it been the weekend before, it might have worked out differently, but the summer had decided to turn up in a big way and it meant business. I can't really blame anyone but myself for turning out a time that I might have been happy with 4 years ago, but was far from anything I had done since. It wasn't much faster than a typical training run and maybe that is part of the problem. I'm starting to think that I need to go back to the polarized training Jonathan used to bang on about, which I have never fully accepted. If I keep training at moderate paces of 15 kph (4:00 /km) for 40 minutes then I suppose I will become good at running at a moderate pace of 15 kph for 40 minutes. I have, of course, been doing interval training but probably not pushing myself enough on the high intensities. My main quibble with the whole 80/20 training idea (80 easy, 20 hard) is that the arguments for it seem to fall flat if your main constraint is time and not energy. I can appreciate that it is better to substitute moderately hard training for easy training if you then employ that liberated energy in high intensity training, but if you are already doing 20% at a very high intensity, surely it is better to do the 80% as hard as you reasonably can? I've bought Matt Fitzgerald's latest book "80/20 Run Stronger and Race Faster" in an attempt to convince myself. The other thing that Jonathan used to say was that I shouldn't abuse the treadmill too often. For sure, if I were to do more runs at an easier pace, it would by correspondingly easier to run outside and perhaps for longer. But there is a simpler explanation for the disappointment on Sunday: as I have been doing lately, I set off far too fast for my current level of fitness and the particular conditions, even considering the downhill advantage (I ran the first kilometer in 3:19 and the second in 3:29). Then the rest of the race was the usual revising downwards of projected finish times, which is always a motivation killer. At one point I thought I might just conceivably be able to break 35 minutes; at another, the balloon marking the 38 minute pace overtook me and I was unable to respond. Note to self: next race, start off slow and get faster.

If all that wasn't enough to fill a weekend, we also brought back a litter of 5 puppies from Ciudad Real, of which my wife managed to place all but one. Unfortunately our boxer, Ema, is extremely jealous and antisocial when it comes to members of her own race, so we had to be careful to keep them apart. It remains to be seen whether we can awaken her motherly instincts and keep the puppy... otherwise a home for her will have to be found.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Let's try that again...

After my failed attempt to run a 10K race ("run" being the operative word) a few weeks ago, I decided to enter another one this coming weekend. It is quite a popular one as it is run from point to point, over a course which has a negative gradient and yet has been "homologated" by the relevant authorities and thus serves as a fast qualifying race for the San Silvestre 10K on New Year's Eve.

It's not the best weekend for it though. On Friday I am deejaying again for the first time in about 8 years, since I started this whole running lark, and that will be from 1am to 6am!

That's me, Rob Smith (a.k.a Heavy Üsker)
Then, on Saturday, it is my father-in-law's 80th birthday - which I wouldn't miss for anything - and then, on Sunday, the race itself. If only the cool weather we have right now holds out! We were in Asturias over the weekend and it hailed!

The previous weekend, we were in Tétouan in Morocco and I found it to be surprisingly runner-friendly (outside of the medina, of course). As well as it being cool for this time of year, I found a long flat stretch with wide pavements (in better condition than those in London) to run along.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Yo Dona Run the Night 10K (5K?)

...or, as the webpage says, "Run the Nigth".

This really promised to be a great race. Everything was lined up perfectly: an early evening start to miss the brunt of the heat, a flat course near my house (a horse racetrack no less) and taking place the day before the Liberty Seguros 10K so that the best runners would be absent. The date also happened to coincide with my parents being here. The last time they saw me compete in anything was probably some rowing race in Cambridge when I was 17.

A not much fun queue for a fun run
What I didn't reckon on was it being the worst organized race I have ever taken part in - something of a feat considering how many I have done over the last 7 years. Admittedly, if it hadn't been for dragging my kids, my parents and my wife (who was running the 5K) along, I would have got there much earlier, but I didn't expect it to take ONE WHOLE HOUR to pick up the race number, by which time the race had already started. Also, rather than just giving the number and chip, they gave you the goodie bag with the commemorative t-shirt, so then you had to find somewhere to dump it before the race. It would have been much more sensible to give that to people as they finished, like they do in most races.

I've been living in Spain for 14 years now, but some things are so culturally embedded that they will never change - I'm referring to myself more than to the country. One of those things is how people go around roundabouts - something that still irritates me on a daily basis - but the other is how people queue. The queues were quite sensibly organized by race number but, unless you were at least as tall as me, there was no way of knowing that until you approached the desk as the signs were hard to see. But I think the real problem was that people were picking up numbers for themselves and all their friends who didn't necessarily have numbers corresponding to that queue, causing all kinds of chaos. There was a much higher proportion of people just running for fun than usual - at least, that was the impression I got from appearance and what people chose to run in - so I was very tempted to push to the front as it would make a big difference to me getting a good position at the start but I just couldn't bring myself to do something so un-English. To be fair, queue jumping is frowned upon in Spain, but its close relative - that of queuing for a large number of people - is not. I am perhaps a little bit extreme about this. My wife still laughs about the time I went to take out money from a cash point with my card and she asked me to take some out for her with her card (this was before we had a joint account). I felt bad about "having two goes" on the machine - I could imagine people who had based their queue calculation on just one turn tutting behind me - so I took the money out with my card and went to the back of the queue again. The funny thing is, this was in Spain, so everyone found my behaviour a bit bizarre (and perhaps they would have done in England too - I've yet to meet someone who does the same).

The setting for the race was ideal: it was the unused Hipodrome so the spectators could watch from the stands. They had gone to town with the audiovisuals, beaming live coverage of the race from drones and various cameramen to a huge screen. To cater for those who had been unable to get their numbers in time, there were several staggered starts. I might just have been able to salvage the situation if I had managed to get to the front of my wave, but I couldn't find my parents to give my bag to so in the end I had to leave it with a friend who I happened to spot. After all the faffing about, I just managed to get back to my wife as the gun went off (so to speak). I made a valiant but short lived attempt to get to the front but the course was very narrow and I ended up slowing to a walk. I decided instead to run the 5K "tranquilamente" with my wife.

I took up running initially as a way to channel my frustrations. The danger is that, if things go wrong, then it can end up compounding my frustration (like the lamppost incident in the Madrid Marathon). After training for this event and spending the day psyching myself up for it, not to mention loading myself up with energy in the form of cereal bars, M&Ms and red bull, it was extremely frustrating to spend an hour on a Saturday evening queuing up and then not even to have to chance to release all that pent up energy. It was the athletic equivalent of coitus interuptus. I had also looked forward to the idea of being able to run well in front of my parents. Anyway, I did my best to handle it with good grace and, even though the pace was easy for me, I tried to remember that it was a struggle for my wife. When my kids congratulated us, I didn't say anything about it not having been a challenge for me because, in some sense, it was a challenge to keep my cool (even though there were no lampposts to punch along the course).

Looking at the results, I think I would have had a good chance of a podium finish (out of 2,000 runners!). That would have been so cool in front of my family, with all the fancy media coverage. The course may have been flat, but it was quite sandy and it was a bit hot even at 9 pm, so I can't expect to have run a best time. Having said that, the third placed runner did a time of 37:21 (and the winner 36:30) which looks pretty attainable. It seems like it was more of a race to get the race number than a race to the finish line. On the other hand, another of the aspects of the race that was poorly thought out was that the 10K was two laps of the same circuit as the 5K, so the front runners undoubtedly ran into the slowest of the 5K runners. It may be that their times were relatively slow as a result, because the winner of the 5K race (an ex-Spanish Marathon champion) did a time of 16:45 which would have certainly been out of my reach.

Anyway, a bit of a shame because it was so promising. I'll give it another shot next year - if they decide to repeat the experience - and I'll pick up the race numbers during the day to avoid the crowd. Maybe they will have learnt from their mistakes too but I expect that it will attract more middling competitive runners like myself, when people see the results from the previous year.

Monday, May 18, 2015

III Carrera Popular Cuidad de Pozuelo (5K)

After my underwhelming performance (behaviour) in the Madrid Half (Full) Marathon and with just under 6 months to go befoer the New York Marathon, I thought it was a good moment to build up my confidence again, starting with a local 5K race. I ran the first edition a couple of years ago so I knew what to expect: hot weather and "annoying" hills (well, I live in Pozuelo so them thar hils I know well). This time I managed to convince the whole family to take part: my wife and I would be doing the 5K and the kids a 900m circuit. While the grownups were running, the eldest (12) could be looking after the youngest (10).

In the end, it didn't work out quite so smoothly as the eldest had other plans. It turned out that he had a birthday party to attend at the same time as the race, so I was left with the problem of finding a "babysitter" for Adrian. I say "I" because Ana was going to run the race sí o sí (yes or yes) so I would be the babysitter by default. I was pretty confident I would know someone running the race as it was near both where I live and where I work, as well as there being a chance that some of my running friends took part (in the 2013 edition, a friend who lives 265 kilometers away took part!). The challenge was to find someone who was accompanied by a significant other because it would be no use if they were also running the race. Just at the last minute I spotted a friend of my wife who had the whole family in tow, so problem solved. Ana and I went off to the start line of the 5K, which started 25 minutes after the 10K so that the two races would more or less finish at the same time. I wished Ana good luck and recommended that she didn't start as far forward as me for risk of being trampled by faster runners.

As seems to always happen when I run 5Ks, the initial pace seems to be surprisingly slow and I start to fantasize about finishing in a high position but then my lungs start to hurt, my legs feel heavy and the leaders start to drift away. I suppose I am used to running longer races and I think that I have to start off very explosively, but 5K is still 5K. When I think back to my rowing days, the standard competition distance was 2,000m (in about 6 minutes) and the Boat Race, that was considered to be an endurance event, lasted about the same time as it would take me to run 5K. There was someone who was having a harder time of it than me, who I managed to overtake, but I was passed by a couple of youngsters and their coach (on a bike).

I ran in a vaccuum pretty much all the way, to the point that I had to ask directions from a friendly policeman who told me that it was all downhill from there onward. Just as well. I looked back to see if anyone was following me and the same policeman told me not to worry, that there was no-one behind. I was surprised to see in the final results that there were a couple of people only a few seconds slower than me. As I hadn't bothered to record my time myself, I thought that perhaps my chip hadn't registered the time and someone had just assigned me one that respected the finishing order. But the video showed that I was indeed being hotly pursued to the line.

Just as two years ago, I was "pipped" to the podium (by decent margin, mind) and was the 4th "veteran", finishing 11th overall. It would have been really cool to be on the podium in front of my son, but I can't say that I really deserved it this time. Then it was the turn of Adrian to take part in his race. The starter counted down from 3 and half of the kids anticipated the start, half of them stopped and looked questioningly at the starter who waved them on - in short, a disaster. A girl fell over in front of Adrian and so he didn't get off to a good start. By the end of the second lap, he was making a big effort and it made me proud just to see that. As I said in the last post, the important thing is not winning, nor even taking part in my opinion, it is trying to do your best.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Madrid Half(?) Marathon report

Waiting for the train back home after the race, I overheard someone saying that he'd seen some people finishing with lots of gas in the tank ("sobrados") but that he had left everything out there on the course. This was the same advice I gave to my ten year old in preparation for a triathlon which he is taking part in at school this week. His mum tells him that the "taking part is much more important than the winning" but I put a little "twist" on this by saying that "it doesn't matter where he finishes relative to everyone else, but that he should feel that he has tried his absolute best". The face of concentration and suffering he wore when he ran a race last year made me much prouder than I would have been if he had finished first with a smile on his face.

So this advice was what came to mind when I did something I have never done before: I pulled out of the Half Marathon after only 4 kilometers. In spite of knowing that the first few kilometers were uphill, it felt far too much like hard work for the disappointing splits I was turning out. I remember thinking that there was no way I'd be able to maintain that pace for another 17 kilometers and that, even if I had, I wouldn't feel proud of having done so. I looked for something or someone other than myself to blame - not having trained for it specifically, having gone out on a "bender" on Friday night (as well as Thursday - something extraordinary for me these days) or just having turned 43. My head was so full of all these negative thoughts that I started to slow down and eventually stopped. I was so angry with myself that I did something I am even more ashamed of: I punched a lamp post making my knuckles bleed. I had such a bad attitude that I thought of titling this post "Growing Old Disgracefully". I sat by the road for a while, wondering what to do - do I get the metro back home, should I just finish the damn thing anyway, etc - when I had what turned out to be a brilliant idea. I remembered that a friend was running the Marathon which had set off in parallel with the Half, and I thought I could run with him for a while and try to help him pace himself.

Luckily Alessandro is quite a big chap with a beard which made him easy to spot, and I also knew that he'd be running with the 3:30 pace setter. He looked pretty relaxed and was able to keep a good conversation going without any difficulty, so this helped take my mind of things as well, I suppose, as his. At the 14 kilometer marker, the Half Marathon veered off to the left but I kept going with Alessandro to the right. A couple of race officials came chasing after me and I thought I that they were concerned about the fact that I had only paid for the Half Marathon inscription - actually, it turned out they were just worried that I had made a mistake and that my times wouldn't register.

It was a pretty horrible day but fairly good conditions for running as far as I am concerned - no wind, cool with a bit of drizzle. I didn't feel the need to drink anything the whole way and I'd already thrown away my gels (near the famous lamp post) as I wouldn't be needing them. The pleasant drizzle soon became a quite insistent downpour, however, and the puddles turned into small lagoons that were almost impossible to avoid: after stepping in a few of these it became pointless to try to avoid them anyway. We decided we would stop chatting and take things seriously at the 30 kilometer mark, just after coming out of the Casa del Campo. After this, there were several stretches that were quite narrow and where it was difficult to keep up a good rhythm, especially with people falling like flies around us.

There were a lot of supporters in spite of the rain. A major Marathon is different from any other competition in this respect: the whole city gets involved. Any shorter races don't really capture people's imagination in the same way and longer races are generally the reserve of "freakies" who are spread out much more sparsely along remote routes. At one point I saw a runner in front of us stop briefly to give his mum a kiss and I turned to watch her wiping tears of pride as I ran past. I love the emotion of Marathons - all the human stories unfolding before your eyes - it really makes the admission price of my own personal suffering all the more worthwhile.

I hadn't really planned to run the full distance nor was I even sure that I could, not having trained for it, but I felt good, and Alessandro's own story of wanting to finish without "hitting the wall" like he had last year motivated me to carry on. Of course, finishing a Marathon would take some of the poison out of the injury sustained to my self confidence by wimping out of the Half Marathon. I wondered if I would be able to get a medal for my efforts and therefore be able to say that this was the 9th Marathon I had completed - making New York this year the 10th. I thought that I would try to blag my way through the finish line and, if anyone noticed that my race number was the wrong colour, I would try to convince them by telling my story (and potentially offering to pay the difference in race fees).

Alessandro was going well but I could hear his breathing getting more laboured and saw that he was gritting his teeth with the effort. He complained suddenly of cramp in his hamstrings but was able to run through it for the last couple of kilometers. When I saw the finish line come into view I gave in to the irresistible urge to sprint for the line. More than anything else, I still needed to vent my frustration. Alessandro finished in 3:30 and change and was deservedly very happy with his race. The splits were very even and, given how easily he was able to talk during most of it, I'm sure he can knock a good chunk out of that, now that he has a solid reference time to judge himself by.

I got my medal without any difficulties but I did have to turn away suddenly to avoid detection by one of the race officials. Luckily the guy handing out the medals was none the wiser. I didn't get one of those plastic shawls they hand you to help keep you warm, though, and I really could have done with one.

By now it was really raining, even by English standards. I hadn't bothered to leave anything at the baggage check because it was situated at the finish line, about 2 kilometers from the start, which would have meant an extra 4 kilometers in my legs before even starting the race. I had turned up with a t-shirt that I had bought for 3 euros the day before from Decathlon and a waterproof poncho from a Chinese shop, both of which I had no qualms about chucking. Making my way back to the start from where I had to catch the train home was quite unpleasant. A guy working for the Metro made a gesture to say that it was crazy to go outside dressed as I was, in a vest and shorts, and said he would have offered me something to wear if he had anything.

By the time I got back home, the day was starting to brighten up significantly. In fact, the only time that it rained the whole weekend was during the Marathon itself. I weighed myself and I had lost so much weight that my scales didn't recognize me (I mean this literally). We went for lunch at an Indian restaurant where I ordered a Vindaloo with extra fresh chili, but even so I continued to shiver for at least an hour after getting indoors. I know that they say that you should try to keep warm after exercise - something which I have always found amusing as I tend to be literally steaming afterwards - but this time I went a little too far. Even though running the Marathon made me get home a bit late, my wife would have preferred that over me coming home pissed off with myself. In the end I managed to turn a bad situation into a good one, but I shouldn't let myself forget that - for all the Marathons I may have run - the Half Marathon commands a respect of its own.

Looking over the results, I saw that I was one of the last people to finish the Half Marathon, in a time of 3:31. Not a bad time for a Marathon considering I had not trained for it and that I had run the first 4 kilometers in 15-16 minutes before sitting around for another 7 or so - not exactly what you would call "even pacing". But when I looked at the overall results, I realized that, had I run the 1:20 or so that I had been hoping for, I would have finished about 35th out of 7,000, so it was clearly an unrealistic goal for my current state of fitness and preparation. Had I just run at a slightly more realistic pace with more realistic expectations, I would have done a fine time (not a personal best, obviously) and finished in a good position. Lesson learnt. I'm pleased to finally have been able to run the Madrid Marathon given that I actually live in Madrid. It's a bit like saying that I haven't been to the Prado Museum because I can go any time (I haven't been yet). I've always shied away from it because of the hills getting in the way of a fast time, but it didn't seem any more difficult than the New York Marathon to be honest. I'm thinking now of entering every year and taking it in the same spirit I did yesterday. It may seem to contradict my philosophy of always doing the best I possibly can but I don't see why I can't enjoy the privilege of having the whole city to myself (and the other 20,000 runners).