|Thanks to http://www.fotosjjvicoatletismo.es|
I dropped my wife down by the start - she was running the popular edition which started at various times from 5:30 up to 6:15, depending on your qualifying time (if any). This year there was a special corral just for women. The other slightly less welcome innovation was that there was no cloakroom at the start - you had to have already left your warm clothes at least the day before, so that they would transport them to the finish. This meant that any clothes you took to the start, you either ran with them or you left them there. Luckily for me, the international edition still had a cloakroom service.
After leaving my wife, I drove down to the finish line in Vallecas and tried to park the car. I say tried not because I tried and failed but because it was a very trying experience. Cars were parked everywhere imaginable and there were lots of people waiting double-parked for a space to become available. I ended up having to park about one and a half kilometres away from the finish line. It is at times like this that I give thanks to Steve Jobs for the iPhone - I don't know how I would have ever found the car again myself otherwise, let alone explain to my wife where to find it after the race.
Then I took the Metro back to the start line. There was a great atmosphere on the Metro in spite of the fact that most of the people on it were running the popular edition and were surely going to arrive late. I did see one guy who was running the international edition - he was standing on the platform in a pair of shorts and vest, obviously unaware that there would be a cloakroom; everyone else was sensibly dressed for the 5 degree temperatures outside, in spite of the lack of one in their case. Eighteen stops and a 12 minute wait for a connecting train later, I arrived at around 6:30 at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium with the cheering crowds that were still in time to join on to the end of the runners funnelling through the start line. Now the question was, what to do for an hour and a half and, more importantly, where to find a toilet.
Here is where the Corte Inglés came in handy. The Corte Inglés is undoubtedly the best known and most upmarket chain store in Spain. At least I was wearing a pair of track suit bottoms and a fleece (that I had picked up in Decathlon for a total of about 10 euros with the idea of jettisoning them at the start of the New York Marathon) on top of my skin suit. But I couldn't help being reminded of the first time I ever went to that particular Corte Inglés, or any Corte Inglés for that matter, some 13 years ago. I had arrived in Madrid the evening before with my now wife and we had been out literally all night clubbing so, by the time we went shopping after breakfast, I was starting to feel quite tired already. I decided to lie down on the floor in the middle of the department store and have a little siesta. A security guard came up to me, of course, and started to say something to me but, at that point, I knew nothing more than the few words of Spanish (agua, sí, no) I had picked up from Sesame Street, so I mimed that I was sorry but I had been feeling very tired and started to get up. He waved to say that it was fine, I could go back to sleep there if I wanted. Little does he know but that simple act of generosity has been the reason why I have spent untold amounts of money in that store ever since.
Anyway, back to the race report. I found that the Gourmet food section was a good place to lose a little bit of weight before the race after which I spent a bit of time browsing through the book section to pass the rest of the time. I heard some other similarly dressed guys (sans skin suit) say that they were going to make their way up to the start so I joined them.
The start of the international edition is quite different form the popular one: it feels a little bit like arriving at a party at the stage when there are only empty cans and full ashtrays and a few random people left hungover in the corner. On the other hand, it was really easy to meet up with other people I knew who were also running and I finally got the chance to meet Javi Triatleti who is a regular follower of this blog. Amongst others I also bumped into Alejandro Gómez who has by some fate of coincidence run in all the same races as me for the last couple of years (probably because he runs those and some others too). Most of the other runners were far too focussed on their own pre-race preparations to pay much heed to my "just flayed" look but I did attract some attention from the official photographers and the few curious members of the public hanging around at the start.
I haven't felt so intimidated by the other compact, hungry looking athletes since I ran the Amsterdam Marathon (my first) four years ago. In fact, I have never started so far back in a race (I was in the very last row). Bearing in mind that all the male athletes had to have qualified in a time of less than 38 minutes (and the female athletes were serious) - only 25 seconds slower than my best ever 10K time - this wasn't such a bad idea. Nevertheless, it is perhaps surprising the number of people who run the international edition in over 38 minutes...
The gun went off and I soon lost sight of Alejandro with his distinctive orange hat but I ran more or less with Javi - him overtaking me on the uphill stretches and me overtaking him back on the downhill ones. It was quite different running with such a relatively high level of other runners - there was very little jostling and most people ran with a compact stride which made it easier to squeeze past. As I had been suffering from this DAMN cold for the last 3 weeks, I really didn't know what to expect. I decided to run to my pulse rate trusting that it would reign me in if I was not in a condition to perform at my best.
It felt really good running in the Vibram SeeYas - I'm convinced at least psychologically that they have some kind of advantage at higher speeds over my Vivobarefoot Ultras in spite of weighing 40 grammes more per shoe. Perhaps it is their harder sole or their springy flexibility that returns ever so slightly more energy or allows me to run more naturally. To make my outfit as authentic as possible I had rather unwisely decided not to wear any socks based on the fact that I had been able to run in them for 40 minutes sockless (much more slowly) a couple of days before. I had also taken the preemptive measure of putting some plasters over the parts on the top of my feet that I knew were susceptible to rubbing. I felt the plasters come off and the skin start to sting after about 5 kilometres. Needless to say, they were raw by the end and the side of my left shoe was no longer fluorescent yellow but dark red. There's nothing that any amount of hard skin or vaseline can do against that kind of onslaught so never again will I try to go sockless in these shoes. By the way, my costume was perfect for running in - not too hot and not too cold and no rubbing either.
The first few kilometres of the race were predominantly downhill and I knew that it was important to get seconds in the bank. I'm quite good at running downhill thanks to my weight and my running technique, so I made up a lot of ground although I did notice my calf muscles starting to complain. I went through the halfway mark in just under 18 minutes which would have been a personal best 5K time if it were not for the difference in altitude.
I was very focussed on my running but I was aware of people in the crowd laughing as they realised that I was not in fact running naked and I heard comments like "Esos músculos!", "Se te ve el culo!" and "Vamos cuerpazo!" which - even though I didn't show it - helped spur me on. As usual, the crowds were fantastic, even though it was quite a miserable cold, dark and wet evening. I believe that this is partly because the race finishes in an otherwise forgotten about barrio of Madrid. Over the last few kilometres the crowds line both sides of the street and the course becomes narrower and narrower as a result. I actually found myself ever so slightly held back at this point by not being able to ease past some of the runners in front of me. Even so, we were going at a good pace and soon the killer hills were to come.
The international edition is run over a slightly different course to the popular edition. In particular, we turned right just after the start of that absolute bastard of a hill at the 8th kilometre. Having said that, we still had to climb the same number of metres over the same distance only that the doses were meted out slightly differently. Either it was due to this or to the fact that I was well prepared, but I felt very strong and able to keep pace with the other runners who weighed 25-30 kilos less than me.
The other difference is that the international edition has a stadium finish. I remember the first 10K race I did: I gave my all just to arrive in the stadium only to discover that there was still a lap around the track to go. Now I relish that lap, especially if there is a crowd supporting. They had laid down some kind of material over the track, presumably to stop us from slipping in the wet conditions, but it was narrow in parts and difficult to overtake anybody - not that I was in much of a position to do any overtaking. I think that I could have pushed it just a tiny bit extra to save - what, 5 seconds, and at the cost of ruining my New Year's Eve dinner? - but I knew that I was going to cross the line safely under 37 minutes which had been my goal (before I got this head cold). Alejandro finished about 15 seconds in front of me which was a good result for me and Javi just 10 seconds or so behind. My final time of 36:44 meant that the hills had only cost me a positive split of a second half 45 seconds slower than the first half, compared to the average split difference of 1:25 for runners of my ability from previous years. I was very pleased with my result, a perfect way to round off the year.
My coach Jonathan set himself a goal at the end of what were probably his best years of competitive running, to get a personal best in 10K, the Half Marathon and the Marathon all in the same season - this he called "la triple corona" or triple crown. Well, I got my triple crown just 3 and a half hours before the end of the year (actually, strictly speaking, I already had it in the bag but only by five seconds in the 10K). New personal best times from 2012:
10K - 36:44 (VDOT 57)
Half Marathon - 1:19:37 (VDOT 58)
Marathon: 2:54:44 (VDOT 55)
I've noticed that a great majority of my personal best times have been around X:XX:45 which tells me something. I think it shows that I usually have a goal of breaking X:XX+1 minutes and that I manage to do it with 15 seconds or so to spare and I think that it means that I could probably eek out a few extra seconds if I believed in myself and my abilities more. Even now I look at my personal best times above and they don't seem like they belong to me. It is too recent in my memory the awe I felt when I asked someone else their best time for a distance and they replied with a similar time. (I'm not trying to say that I am awesome, by the way, just that we don't realise how much we hold ourselves back.)
So, on that positive note, here's to 2013!! Races on the horizon:
27th January - Getafe Half Marathon
24th February - Seville Marathon
4th May - Lisbon Half Ironman
November - New York Marathon
31st December - San Silvestre Internacional
Hope to see some of you there! Until then, happy holidays...