running blog

Clive Whaley


The End or The Beginning?

2 Days after the Marathon - Walk to West Bay

"At any point in our lives we find ourselves somewhere between the beginning and the end … the charm of the game of life is that we never know where we are along that voyage."*

The whole body is stiff and sore. My legs are particularly bad but it did help to walk and the further I walked the more they freed up. I walked down to West Bay, one of my favourite training grounds and, although dressed in my 'civvies' this time, recreated 'that pose' for one last photograph. And I also spent time reflecting on the marathon experience.
I got round in 3 hours 33 minutes. I managed to hold roughly 8 minute mile pace for the whole course until about 20 miles but I just couldn't maintain it right to the finish. I was slipping to 8 and a half minute miles and, although I was working much much harder and digging in all that I could, it wasn't having much effect. Of course it is in those last few miles that you find out what the marathon is all about. I DID find out what it is all about and, although it hurt, I'm sort of glad that I did. I was tested like never before and yet… I got through it and I'm SO proud of how hard I was able to run right to the end. With so much unfinished business at stake, it put a lot of pressure on me but I was able to handle it … just. (End of "I'm so proud" section.)

I experienced very little euphoria or joy on crossing the finish line - just a minor wave of relief that it was over and then major waves of pain - pain that somehow I had held back for the previous 3 hours or so. I staggered through a group of well meaning officials and volunteers who gently steered me in the right direction and one of them smiled and put a medal round my neck. I think some of them said, "Well done".

And then I headed for the medical tent.

The tent ran for what seemed like half a mile and was staffed by vast numbers of young men and women in green uniforms. The environment was not far off what I imagine a field hospital in a war zone to look like. I was led past other suffering runners, either laid out on stretchers or vomiting into bags. I then spent the next 20 minutes or so having two extremely painful toenails patched up. The fourth toe on each foot was a funny mix of red, purple and black colouring and the toenails were excruciating to the touch. They padded and patched them up so that I could hobble away to find my family.

I didn't think that my surname would add in any way to the pain of taking part in the marathon but it did. Having a name beginning with 'W' meant that I had the maximum distance to stagger and limp towards the family and friends meet and greet area in St James' Park. I had agreed to meet my wife Maia, and youngest daughter, Hannah by the letter 'W' but it felt like a letter too far. After leaving the medical tent, my feet were so sore I was not able to pull the laces tight on my trainers. This meant that amongst the throng of runners shuffling towards their loved ones, someone inadvertently stepped on the back of my right running shoe and flipped it off. I couldn't bend in any normal way to put it back on and I half collapsed onto the tarmac path, with people stepping over me, while I struggled on the ground to get it back on again. I honestly don't know how I got back up again without any help, but I do know that the effort involved set off the worst cramps I have ever experienced all down one side of my abdominal muscles - the weirdest and most intense pain. I just stood there in agony, breathing deeply and bending in different ways until eventually it subsided. This whole performance took place only centimetres away from a large crowd of anonymous (to me) friend and family supporters who were the other side of a temporary barrier. I didn't get any offers of support, thank god … I was embarrassed by my agony and just wanted to get away.

I wanted, more than anything, to see Maia, Rebecca and Hannah - to put my arms around them, to gain their approval and then I could allow myself to say I had finished.

And at that point I started to get emotional, very emotional. I knew that I wanted to share it with them. The whole stupid venture is absolutely pointless if you have no-one to share it with. What if I had crossed that line after ALL that training and ALL that hard work during the run itself and I was on my own. I would have felt suddenly very lonely and thought 'What the **** was all that about?'.
"Once we have built our secure egos, we have to learn to dissolve them and live from deeper selves"*

I think I have deluded myself for months now that this is a little story of personal pride and unfinished business and it is … but crossing the line just put the whole thing into perspective. The pointlessness and selfishness of it all came home to me in the recognition that all I really wanted was to have the respect and love of those closest to me and then to lie down and somebody say, "Rest now … it's all over."

I hugged them both and had a small sob. Maia had even bought me a present of a specially wrapped Mars Bar - something I had been denied by the sponsors in 1986 when I failed to cross the finish line. And now, 31 years later - a finisher's medal and a Mars Bar - life doesn't get much better than that!
Later that evening we met up with Rebecca too (my eldest daughter) and enjoyed a lovely family meal and the most amazing cold beer I have ever tasted. I ran a long way for that one.

Marathon Pace
Nobody but me cares about this stuff. My dream target of 3 hours 30 minutes would have meant eight successive 5K splits of 25 minutes plus a final 10 minutes of running. (A marathon is 42K). My actual 5K splits were:

The last tick on the 'To Do' list
I have put the final tick of 'Done' on my Training Plan but contrary to my blog entry of 6 Feb, I did not savour the moment at all. In fact I had to make a real effort to go back to the damn thing and do it. My 16 week spreadsheet suddenly had no meaning to me and I just opened it up and put in the last tick, simply because I said I would. It really worked for me while I was training; It was interesting and motivational but now … now I don't care.
Having studied the Guinness World Records that were set on the day, I feel somewhat ashamed that Mr Potato Head was nearly 10 minutes ahead of me. Although I am mightily relieved that Ben Blowes (great name) who broke the record for "Fastest Marathon carrying a Household Appliance" - was over 2 hours behind me. It did set me thinking, if I was anywhere near him as he approached the finish on The Mall and his legs started to give way - would I have been noble and selfless enough to help him carry his Tumble Dryer across the line? I hope I would do the right thing but until you are actually at that moment - faced with an exhausted man and his appliance, I don't think any of us can honestly answer what we would do.

*Quotes above from Anthony Seldon, "Beyond Happiness" published by Yellow Kite.

Half Pace

Day 76 - 'Race' a Half Marathon

The training plan called for practising race day preparation by entering a Half Marathon. Well I didn't actually enter one but ran my own race! I ran for 13.1 miles on undulating roads through the Bride Valley.

I had contacted other running club members to see if they wanted to join me in this venture and that I planned to run it as a 'pacing exercise' at 8 minute per mile pace the whole way if I could manage it. It didn't prove to be a very popular suggestion and only my good friend Hagen joined me on this blustery Sunday morning challenge.

Hagen stuck with me for the first 3 miles and then did his own thing, which is not surprising given that he was still tired from an 18 mile run only a couple of days ago. For the remaining 10 miles I was on my own.

I ran really strongly and was so pleased to keep at, or just under, 8 min/mile pace for the first 9 miles and then I actually pushed it even harder over the last few. My average pace over the last 4 miles was about 7:30. My average pace over the whole run was approx 7:50 - completing the Half Marathon in around 1 hour 42:30.

The knee held together, I felt fairly strong and the miles seemed to tick away quite quickly. I do think I am using a slightly quicker cadence than I used to do on a run like this and I consciously worked on pumping my arms a little harder and bringing those 'zippy feet' into play over the last few miles.

Tired and stiff as soon as I stopped but I expected that. All in all a very good and reassuring test at this stage in the training. I am proud of myself.

Half Way There

Day 56 - Marathon Training - 20 miles steady (last 4 at marathon pace)
End of Week 8

Quite a milestone today and the sheer exhaustion in the photo says it all. The completion of 8 weeks of training as part of a 16 week programme - so I'm half way there. It was also the longest and toughest run so far. 20 miles, with the aim of running the last 4 at 'marathon pace'.
It's debateable what 'marathon pace' is for me but I know I'm aiming for somewhere between 8 minute miles (the dream) and 8 and a half minute miles (the realistic target). So, when it got to the end of mile 16, I went for it and pushed my legs to do things they really didn't want to do.

I ran the next 3 miles (miles 17, 18 and 19) at a pace of 7 mins 50 seconds per mile and then part hobbled and part winced my way over the last mile back to the car. Most of the miles were run on the road in the good old Bride Valley, the same venue as last Monday's long run. It was much colder, wetter and windier than last Monday, so I had to contend with running long stretches into the wind, where even the flat sections felt like a tough climb. I was even more tired this week than last and after only about 6 miles it felt like really hard work. It was so much more about mind over matter but I guess I'm quite pleased that I was able to keep going, and as an exercise in mental toughness for the marathon, it was probably more useful than the physical effort involved.

In order to ration my time on the hard road surface, I did run the first 4 miles or so off road on the coast path and, although this is always much slower per mile, it's far more enjoyable and provides better views and photo opportunities. However, by the time I got to the end of the run, these scenes of soft ground, wind swept beaches and dramatic grey skies were completely forgotten.

I find it amazing that I can run constantly for 3 hours and then seconds after I have said 'stop, you've done the distance' - I am struggling even to walk. It's like a sudden injection of lead into the lower half of my body. It's heavy, unbending and painful. I sometimes laugh out loud with a sort of mixture of pain and hysterical laughter. Although I'm unbelievably stiff and sore, I'm sufficiently objective to see the comedy in the situation. While running, I am imitating someone 20 years younger and then I stop, and in the space of 20 seconds or so, I experience the feeling of someone 20 years older. It's the laughter of wisdom over foolish youth.

Still that's 8 weeks of hard training complete. I'm half way there. Half way to madness? Probably.

Run Steady

Day 46 - Marathon Training - 65 mins 'steady'

Today my training plan called for a 65 minute run at 'steady' pace. What does 'steady' mean? Well in the pacing jargon it falls between 'easy' and 'tempo' - or another way of putting it, in effort scores - Easy is classed as 5 out of 10, steady is 6 and tempo is 7. (It carries on upwards to 'threshold' being 8 out of 10 and 'hard' being a 9.)

If there is such a thing, I classify 'steady' as your 'normal' running pace, the one you can sustain for a long time and long distance, whilst genuinely putting in the effort to run. I'm not sure whether it also corresponds with what should be my 'target marathon pace' but I guess it has to be there or thereabouts. Well my target marathon pace is somewhere between 8 minute miles (probably optimistic) and 8:30 minute miles, which I'm pretty sure I'm capable of. That means finishing somewhere between 3 and a half hours and 3 hours 45 minutes. To be sensible I should probably be aiming for the latter or I risk going too hard and really suffering and slowing down in the second half … even dropping out altogether … now we don't want that again do we?

I did this ordinary training run today in almost exactly 8 minute mile pace and it felt fairly comfortable so that's encouraging. At about mile 3, I could see I was running quite a bit faster than this, so I actually consciously slowed down a bit so that I didn't overdo it. In the hour I covered almost exactly 7.5 miles (8 min/mile pace or 5 min/km pace) and then slowed down a little at the end. Of course there's a big difference in doing that for an hour or for about 8 miles, as opposed to doing it for 3 or 4 hours and covering 26 miles, but I'll take it as a good sign for now.

I'm not a very fast runner and I'm not technically brilliant but if there's one thing I'm quite good at, it's pace judgement. I can shift between say 7 minute mile pace and 9 minute mile pace, probably without the aid of a watch, and my actual speed would be within a few seconds of my perceived speed. I guess this is a skill that is important in marathon running. Although technology can now assist pacing to quite a sophisticated level (with GPS watches on most runner's wrists) the best way to do it is still by instinctive feel.

If you can run for miles and miles and miles at the same steady pace and feel comfortable and in control, that's a pretty good feeling. And it's a pretty good way of getting you to the marathon finish line with body and mind still intact.