Sunday, February 24, 2013

Seville - here I go!!

After being fairly careful about my diet for the last couple of months, I decided to go freestyle on Thursday, Friday and Saturday (a euphemism for eating whatever the hell I felt like). I took the day off on Friday to spend some time with my family as I would be going away for the weekend and we had lunch at a place I hadn’t been to in over ten years – probably the best arrocería I know, in the centre of Madrid called “La Bahia” (don’t be put off by the severely understated and outdated decoration). Other than that, it was a chance to eat chocolate bars, drink fizzy drinks and, of course, stock up on pasta.

After all this, I was feeling really bloated by Saturday. In fact, I woke up very early still in the process of digesting the feast from the day before. I weighed myself at over five kilos more than I had been earlier in the week and started to wonder if, perhaps, I had gone too far with my “carbo loading”. I still had a day to clear my system…

I felt pretty bad about going to a Marathon on the day of my wife’s 45th birthday, especially it being in Seville where we got married, but I did check it with her first and the offer was open for her and the kids to join me. I did, however, choose a very late departing Ave high speed train so that we would be able to have lunch (albeit of pasta) together as a family. Unfortunately, my wife had to go (with the kids) to Valencia anyway, so I spent the day alone watching videos (and eating pasta).

As I boarded the train bound for Seville, I remembered that the year before I had had seat 7a in coach 7, departing from platform 7. This is not as much of an autistic feat as it might sound: I had recently re-read my own blog to remind myself of the experience of running this Marathon a year ago. This year the only difference was that the coach was number 6 instead of number 7.

I got chatting with the taxi driver on the way to the disused Olympic stadium where both my hotel and the finish of the Marathon were. I asked him if he was working on the Sunday, in case he would run into problems with the traffic in the whole city being diverted.  He told me that no, he wasn’t working and that tonight he was going to a hotel with his girlfriend for some “fooky fooky” (as he pronounced it).

I got to the expo just as most of the stands were packing up which was just as well because I really didn’t need to buy anything and this removed the temptation. I got the last room in the conveniently located Eurostars Isla Cartuja hotel. I know this because I first sent an email inquiring about a room and then, when I initially received no answer, I rang and they said they would investigate and contact me via email. I then received two replies: one saying that they had reserved me a room (that turned out to be room 101) and a second one saying that they were very sorry but the hotel was fully booked.

On the day of the Marathon itself, I got up to have breakfast at 6:30 with the guys from my bank running for corrre 1km+. Everyone has their own particular pre-Marathon routine and mine involves drinking a can of Red Bull at breakfast before going back to my room to watch TV or read a book. Unfortunately I had forgotten to buy one in Madrid and the hotel didn’t have any; we were in the middle of nowhere and I would have to do without. Would my performance be negatively affected as a result? Instead I drank the equivalent of about three cups of expresso. After all, caffeine is the only drug that has both been demonstrated beyond any doubt to enhance performance as well as being competition legal (below some obscenely high dosage that even I didn’t reach).

It was as if the organizers of the Marathon had read my blog from last year and made an effort to rectify my only two complaints. Firstly, there were corrals (cajones, not to be confused with cojones) for runners of different speeds to help reduce the congestion at the start and secondly, they ensured that we were given the exact same t-shirt size we had specified on our entry forms (which, believe it or not, was the first time I had ever seen this implemented so strictly in any race). The course had also been modified slightly and was even more picturesque this year – definitely the nicest route I have ever run in competition. If that wasn’t enough, the weather managed somehow to be very sunny and also perfectly cold for running. Just in case the organizers do in fact take heed of my comments, I will say that the cloakroom was pretty badly organized being too far from the start and having massive queues. I rolled up there with a full 30 minutes to go, thinking that I would be cold if I gave up so soon my raincoat (I lied: I did buy something in the expo but it only cost 10€) and realized that I would risk a good starting spot if I waited in line. As I had my hotel just around the corner, I left my newly cherished raincoat there.

The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plane
I didn't see anyone I knew amongst the more than 7,000 runners (I had bib number 7122, one of the highest). I did my warm-up and squeezed into the sub 3 hour corral. Other than the usual contingent of extraordinary African runners, we had three of the most well known Spanish Marathon runners of all time: Chema Martínez, Abel Antón (not Antón Abel as I keep calling him) and Martín Fíz who was also supporting the corre 1km+ charity. In fact, if you had been aiming for a sub 3 and a half hour time, you would have had the luxury of running with Abel Antón as pacemaker.

I set off at a sub 4 minute per mile pace and quickly realized that my heart rate was not going to hit the levels that I had written on the back of my hand to pace myself. Perhaps it was because of the extra few degrees of cold or perhaps it was because I was fitter. Or maybe it’s just because I am getting older and eventually my maximum heart rate will drop.  Whatever the case, I decided to keep on at that pace as long as I could: either I would “blow up” in which case I would have no real idea why, or possibly I would run slower than my optimal pace which, if that was faster than 4 min/km, I could live with that.

As I was running, I thought of something that a friend, Emilio, had said to me at breakfast about some other guy dissociating himself from his pain. I played this game of staring into the middle distance and pretending that I was watching the Marathon unfold on television. It worked very well and I think that one of the reasons it worked so well is that I didn't allow myself to be distracted by things in my peripheral vision (on TV, you can’t control the camera) and I didn't waste precious mental energy on watching where I was stepping or worrying if I was going to knock into someone. Which did mean that I stepped badly (only once) and briefly hurt the big toe that had been giving me problems since I tripped a month or so ago. It also meant that I did bump into other runners sometimes – on one occasion I very nearly lost my Garmin watch which got knocked out of its quick release strap.

Another thing that I thought about was using my arms to run with rather than waiting until the end of the Marathon when it would be too late. I think that a more punchy movement adds maybe, a fraction of a centimetre to every stride which, over 40,000 steps adds up to what? 400 meters or a couple of minutes. Also, some of that glycogen I had been storing up over the previous days would have been in my arms, surely.

As I passed the 10k mark in less than 40 minutes I thought that it wasn't all that long ago that breaking the 40 minute mark in a 10k race was for me a goal in itself and, here I was, about to do that four times in a row – at least in theory.

Along the way I was struck (not literally) by a blind man from Portugal running with a guide. It wasn't so much the fact he was blind but that he was groaning with anguish at every step he took, and we had still got half the course to run. Imagining being locked up in his dark world with his personal suffering while being pulled along if not physically but mentally by his guide choked me up emotionally and made me gasp for breath. I suppose you had to be there really, and to have heard it.

The kilometres kept on ticking by without much difficulty but I couldn't help wondering what this Marathon would have in store for me. I just never know what to expect after my random experiences in the other 6 Marathons I have run to date. My heart rate stubbornly refused to rise and stayed around the 161 bpm mark, even lower than it was by the second or third kilometre of the same race last year, run somewhat more slowly. Between the 34th and 35th kilometre markers I had my answer and it wasn't too bad. I figured my body must be switching over to using those rapid twitch muscle fibres that are less efficient and thus poorly suited to distance running but I also knew that, this time, I had specifically trained these fibres in my long runs.

I perhaps shouldn't write what came into my head as motivation as my fellow colleagues will no doubt rip the piss out of me as a result, but I will. That morning I had spoken to José Luis Gómez Alciturri who was also running the Marathon as part of his preparation for the Maraton des Sables and he had asked me whether I thought I would manage to get my target time of 2 hours and 50 minutes. I thought that I couldn't possibly say to the Head of Human Resources of my entire bank (which has something like 200,000 employees so he’s a pretty big cheese there) that I had failed. So I dug deep and got on with what would only amount to just under half an hour of discomfort all told – not very much really when you consider what it means to run a Marathon.

These last kilometres required total focus and determination so, when a boy suddenly shot out of the crowd on his bike right in front of me, I just threw my arms out in front of me instinctively and shoved the poor sod to the ground and jumped over him without even looking back to see if he was OK. There were lots of people around to help and I didn't hear anyone shouting after me but, even so, I didn't feel too proud about what I had just done. And also, I had stubbed my bastard toe again in the process.

With now only just over a kilometre to go I had a surprising sight: what was Santi doing by the side of the road dressed in civilian clothing? He would have had to won the thing to be able to change and get back here in time. It turned out that he had been sick most of the week and had had to pull out. That is about the only downside of this Marathon: that it is held at a time when everyone around seems to have some kind of virus or another. He did take this picture of me as I ran past though:

Only one to go...
Literally in the last few hundred meters, a guy just in front of me collapsed spectacularly. I didn't stop to help him either (there were other people around). I could feel my Karma account getting overdrawn by the minute but what could go wrong now to even up the scores?

One lap of the impressive stadium and I roared (this time literally) across the finish line. I was so exuberant that I jumped up and high fived the sign bearing the words “29th Seville Marathon” hanging under the clock. I had done it – not only had I broken 2 hours and 50 minutes but I had done it convincingly (I still have to keep checking the time because I think that I must have remembered it wrong*): 2:47:53. Just as I was catching my breath someone said to me – very amicably (the Sevillians are a very amiable people) – that I had left the sign hanging down dangerously to one side and had nearly knocked the head off the guy behind me! Now my Karma account was about to be repossessed and perhaps I would have to think twice about returning to Seville… Still, I hope they managed to get a good photo and video of it! (By the way, I just checked out the results and, for some reason, the guy behind me must have started right at the back because he actually beat me by about 6 minutes, so he must have been catching right up with me, only to be clobbered over the head by a sign - if you read this then "sorry!")

A number of people asked me if I had “really” run in my Vibram Five Fingers – something which I found funny, especially as several people ran in Tarahumara style sandals or even completely barefoot. What strikes me is that no one ever really remarked on my running a Marathon in Vivobarefoot Ultras which are lighter and I think even less protective. Perhaps it was more of a question of style – You ran in those? The experience was very positive. I had been wondering whether to race the Marathon in the VFFs or the Ultras and had even thought that I could try running with one of each to see whether I veered off to the left or to the right (ho ho). I'm fairly convinced that the harder sole on the VFFs is both better for ground feel and energy return. Also, I didn't get a single blister – not one!

I did, however, get lots of rubbing from my clothes, especially my fuel belt which slipped down as I ran and cut the back of my legs. As far as fueling goes, the 7 High Five Isogels which I carried in the little bottles of my fuel belt were enough and I didn't need to stop once for water on the whole course. In fact, I didn't even feel like drinking anything until well after the race (and that was a beer). I did make use of all the sponge stations, though, and, in one case, I poured a whole bottle of water over my head to the surprise of the person who handed it to me.

Finally, looking at my splits, I noticed that I ran the second half of the Marathon faster than the first half and, not only that, but those last 7 kilometres were the fastest of the whole race. Room for improvement for next year maybe?

My apparently random progression in Marathon times (excluding Ironman Brazil Marathon)
* Thanks to Pablo for pointing out that I did in fact write the wrong time (2:57)!

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