Monday, October 5, 2015

New York City Marathon 2015 Week 7/11

The main event this week was the XIX Mariano Rivas Rojano Memorial Half Marathon in Alcázar de San Juan. Someone asked me what time I was aiming for and I said that if I did 1:19 I'd be really happy but if I did 1:21 I'd be pissed off - this just shows how much pressure I was putting on myself.

The weekend didn't get off to a very good start because on Friday afternoon I did something to my upper back and neck which made it very painful to turn my head. I don't remember anything specific but I guess it is one of the occupational hazards of a sedentary job. There is a pilot to try "standing desks" at work - something that I think is a great idea - but it would just make me look too weird I think. A friend of mine who unfortunately seriously injured his back under the influence now finds its so painful to spend time sitting down that he has a standing desk. The difference is that he lives and works in Brooklyn where anything goes. Anyway, I did everything I could on Saturday to make it better - from a very hot bath to massages - even the 20' run helped a little, but it was uncomfortable to the point of putting me in a foul mood. I am not very good at dealing with pain unless I actually put my mind to it.

We arrived at Alcázar de San Juan in the early evening and went for a little walk, before heading to nearby Tomelloso to meet some of my wife's cousins for dinner. Bizarrely enough, the best pizza restaurant in Spain is in Tomelloso (which is where my wife was born) and boasts having won the prize for the best pizza in the world (in Rome, no less) an impressive 4 times! They also held the record for the longest pizza in the world at over a kilometre. In case you are interested, the restaurant is called Marquinetti. I had to try one of the world champion pizzas, but I mainly stuck to pasta. In any case, I had had a pretty substantial lunch in our local Asturian restaurant before heading south.

Last time I ran this race, we stayed with my in-laws and I had to drive 100 kms to the start (and back again). This time we stayed in a very reasonably priced and comfortable little hotel in the town centre so I only had to jog a kilometre down to the start, which served as a perfect warm up.

The start was a bit better organized that last time I ran it, when a lot of people who were still warming up minutes before the gun, squeezed in at the front at the last minute. I overheard one of them saying to his friend "Better not push in in front of these guys because they'll get pissed off; we'll just overtake them later". This piqued my competitive spirit.

The gun went off and I settled into a rhythm I hoped I'd be able to maintain for the following 21 kilometres. I checked my watch to see what pace I was putting down but noticed that I had failed to press the start button. At the first marker I heard somebody call out his split and calculated that I would have to add about 15 seconds to my watch time, Another of my pet irritations in races is when people around me are talking or joking around. I can't help thinking of those kids at my school who would say before an exam that they hadn't really studied that hard. I always saw it as an excuse, something to point to if you got a disappointing mark. For me, the whole point of a race (or an exam, for that matter) is to do the very best you can. Of course, it shouldn't bother me what other people do and, if I'm honest, what is probably most annoying is that these guys are fit enough to run as fast as me and talk easily.

Around about the 12th kilometre mark, after a slight incline, a couple of guys edged past me and I started to feel weak. Just as well that shortly after I saw my family and some friends there to support me and, almost immediately, I got my legs back again.

Partly in practice for the Marathon and partly because I think it helps, I carried about 4 and a half gels (High5 Isogel) in a little hip flask. I'd sip these every 5 kilometres or so and after any hills. The Fuelbelt and bottle was actually brand new as my previous one had worn out. They say never to use anything for the first time in race conditions and this proved to be no exception: on one occasion I pulled a little too enthusiastically at the "nipple" of the bottle and it came off in my mouth, covering me with sticky gel and causing me to cough and splutter! I'd previously taken my rings off my fingers so that my hands would be more relaxed, not having to curl my fingers to stop the rings flying off, and now I had to carry this nipple to the finish line.

The other nipple related problem was one from which I hadn't suffered for I don't know how many years: the classic runner's nipple. My wife had given me an outfit as a present and had my name and "Witness the Fitness" emblazoned on the back. I don't think she realized it at the time, but the phrase comes from one of my favourite tracks by Roots Manuva, so it was quite fitting. I would have liked for this to be my Marathon outfit but I'm afraid that it failed the test.

The last 8 kilometres were, as you might expect, hard work. I thought I might try my hand at "Mindfulness" or Mindful Running - something that I have yet to know much about but have had a curiosity about for some time, especially now it seems to be going viral. As this excellent article (which I read afterwards) explains, a common trick is to try to disassociate yourself from the pain by thinking of something else. Counter-intuitively, the idea of running with Mindfulness is to own and fully experience your pain but to stem the negative back chat that tends to follow (I can't keep up this pace, I want to stop, etc.) by focusing on the state of all the intervening systems in your body: listening to your breathing, monitoring muscle fatigue, etc. The definition that Jon Kabat-Zinn, the creator of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) uses is
Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally"
It may seem a bit wordy at first glance, but every word in there is important. In particular "non-judgementally" is what stops the thoughts running away into dangerous territory. I cannot pretend to be an expert on Mindfulness or even meditation in general, but I remember using a trick in the New York Marathon which worked well for me, that of imagining that I was watching the race unfold on TV. Perhaps this was too much like the "disassociation" but, having that slight distance, I was able to be more analytical and non-judgemental. So, in the race yesterday, I tried to examine my pain and ask myself questions like, "Should I push the pace a bit?" or "Is there some way I can alleviate my fatigue like using my arms more, running more upright or increasing my cadence?". I also remember thinking very clearly, "It's taken a lot of work to get to this point, 13 kilometres into a Half Marathon and these last 8 kilometres are going to be the most important ones I run in the whole training cycle so let's make them count.". Even so, I had a bit of a fade but nothing out of the ordinary. The fact that my heart rate got up to 175 and that my watch awarded me with a "Training Effect" of 5.0 (the maximum possible) confirmed that I had, at least, done my best. The photos belie the fact that it was actually 20 degrees - not exactly hot but far from cold either.

So, as you can see, I crossed the line in 1:20:23 - 30 seconds slower than my time 2 years ago but within my range of 1:19 (happy) - 1:21 (pissed off). In some ways it was probably a good thing not to do too well as I might have approached the Marathon with too much complacency. As it is, as long as nothing goes wrong between now and then, I will go for a fast time, if not aim to beat my best time.

Not a pretty sight, I'm afraid
Woah, déjà vu or what
As usual, the goody bag did not disappoint. Included was this curious bottle of wine. I'd never actually stopped to think about the Mariano Rivas Rojano in memorial of whom the race (now in its 19th year) was established. I'd assumed he was just a popular runner from the area - in fact I saw his runner cross the line a few minutes after me. Seeing this photo on the wine label with the message from Helsinki, written in Spanish, to his son made me think for a minute that perhaps he had been an internationally acclaimed athlete but, of course, that photo is of Emil Zapotek and the message is from the 1952 Helsinki Olympic Games where he won gold in the 5,000m, 10,000m and Marathon. Still, it left me curious about who the real Mariano Rivas Rojano was but searching for him on the internet only throws up references to the race in his name.

Back home I looked up how I had done in the overall rankings and was pleased to see that I had come in 30th place out of 880 runners, 7th in my age group. Two years ago I finished 30 seconds faster but in 35th place and 11th in my age group: it's true that the winner was the very same and he also finished in a slower time this year. Well, there's no point getting obsessed with the time - the real test is in just under a month's time and there is no way to be sure until I cross that line in Central Park. In the meantime, I can be pleased that I have put in a performance which is "up there" with my previous races. Most importantly, it erases the bad taste of my recent failed attempt at the distance (which ended up turning into a full Marathon)...

Monday: 4 x 8 x 70% weights + core
Tuesday: 2 x 1'-2'-3'-2'-1'-2'-3' @ 3:25 w/ 4.5%-2.5%-1% gradient
Wednesday: 60' @ 4:08
Thursday: 3 x 15' @ 3:45
Friday: 40' @ 4:04
Saturday: 20' @ 4:27
Sunday: Alcázar de San Juan Half Marathon in 1:20.23

Total kilometres: 68

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