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.

Finished Business

Day 111 - THE LONDON MARATHON - 26.2 miles

3 hours 33 minutes 41 seconds



My Home Town

Day 108 Marathon Training - 15 mins 'easy' - THE LAST TRAINING RUN

I was born in Stockton-on-Tees in the North East of England and I am proud of those roots. However, for the last 26 years I have lived in or near Bridport in Dorset. That is actually much longer than I lived in Stockton and is nearly half my lifetime. So I am equally proud to call Bridport my home and to wear the vest of the town running club on London Marathon day.
It seemed appropriate on my final training run to do a celebratory lap of the town - a 'goodbye' Bridport and wish me luck you quirky, crazy, funny, lovely little old town. I also did it first thing in the morning to allow me the luxury of having South Street to myself.

It's funny that this should be a relatively 'urban' run compared to the fields, coastal paths and deserted valley roads that have been the 'training avenues' for most of my marathon preparation. But in comparison to London it is not remotely urban and I think there will be something like five times my home town population taking part in the run!
It felt odd to go running for only 15 minutes or approximately 2 miles and this last run was one of the shortest of my whole training programme. But I have stuck to my plan for the whole 16 weeks, so I might as well fit in this final little jog. Everything is feeling fine - apart from my left shoulder. I've got some annoying pain and discomfort in what they call the rotator cuff. It's not going to stop me running but it might hurt a bit and restrict my running style. It's just so frustrating to have this 'eleventh hour' problem, just when I thought I was going to arrive at the start line injury free. Another couple of days for it to heal up - we'll see.

I'lll end this last blog entry before the main event with a few summary stats from the training:

481 miles run
68 runs
22 speed or interval sessions
15 gym sessions
22 miles - longest run
1.2 miles - shortest run (stopped with knee pain)
3 injuries (lower back, right knee, left shoulder)
7 runs missed through injury
111 days from the first day of training to the London Marathon.

Here's to Day 111 being the best one of the lot …

Costume Ready

Day 107 - Marathon Training - Rest & Kit Preparation

Laid out my marathon race kit, double checked accommodation and train times and half packed a bag of stuff I need for Sunday.

My kit looks quite comical when laid out on the floor like this. It's very light and minimal - you would think a really tough challenge would require something more. When our ancestors took on their most demanding physical tests they probably wore half a ton of armour and carried a large sword and a heavy bottle of dragon poison. I am hoping to get by with:
  • Faded Bridport Runner's vest - to be worn with pride;
  • Ron Hill shorts - light as tissue paper;
  • Hilly Socks - labelled with Left and Right of course, so that I know which foot to put them on;
  • Saucony running shoes - a size bigger than they used to be.

Regarding the latter, I was most excited to discover the real reason why I needed to purchase shoes that were half a size bigger than I have done before. In Runners World (April 2017) I found this, "If you're over 40 and feel like your running shoes don't fit like they used to, it's not your mind playing tricks - they don't. Your feet widen with age … some runners will need shoes two sizes bigger at 60 than they did at 40."

This information is both reassuring and worrying in equal measure. It's good to know that my mind is not playing tricks and this 'growth spurt' happens to many older runners. However, what happens if the rate of growth is such that I need a larger pair of shoes at the end of the marathon than at the start? My minimal kit approach goes out the window if I have to carry an extra pair of running shoes to change into at mile 14!

If I had considered running in more elaborate kit i.e. a superhero costume, gigantic pair of nappies or rhino suit (as you do) I could have gained the additional motivation of going for a world record. Inside the booklet supplied to all marathon competitors, one of the most informative sections is the article which outlines the Guiness World Record breakers in the marathon. Apparently 32 world records were set last year in London, in some truly breathtaking 'costume' and 'speed' combinations. I am full of admiration for Greg Trevelyan who holds the record for Fastest Marathon dressed as a Crustacean - he finished in a very tidy 3 hours and 17 minutes. I am equally impressed with Dave Cooke (although he finished nearly 2 and a half hours after Greg) who crossed the line in 5 hours 45 minutes and is the World's Fastest Marathon runner wearing Chainmail. I would be delighted to finish in a time that would have been somewhere between the two of them in 2016. I have to say one of the best ways to help me speed up in the later stages of the 2017 event, would be to respond to the sound of rapidly approaching chainmail from behind me.

No, I'm going to keep the costume simple. Guinness World Record adjudicators please note, I am going for …

World Record for 56 year old male from Bridport, who gets round the course on his second attempt (31 years after the first), with ever growing feet - wearing faded club vest, 'left' and 'right' labelled socks and an expression of hope.

Fit for a Marathon?

Day 102 - Marathon Training - mixed 'tempo' intervals and 'marathon pace' session
Fitness Assessment on Boditrax Machine

Before I did my training run this evening, I walked back to the gym at the Leisure Centre in order to stand barefoot on the mystical Boditrax machine. Under Dan's guidance again, I wanted to see if there had been any noticeable or interesting changes since I first did this way back on 30 December 2016 - before I had started my marathon training programme.

Talk about an anti-climax. Hardly anything had changed. Now there are two ways of looking at this - I have just slogged my guts out for 15 weeks with no noticeable improvement in my health, fitness or physique - in other words it was a complete waste of time … OR (and you can sense which I might prefer here), I was already such a supremely fit human being and let's face it, it is difficult to add anything to perfection …

OK I will highlight the tiny changes and find some significance there. My weight fell from the giddy heights of 69.4 kilos to 69.1 kilos. It certainly wasn't any goal of mine to lose weight so that doesn't matter either way, although my fat mass has also dropped from 11.1kg to 10.9kg. So you could say I have lost a tiny bit of weight and that has all been fat.

It also records my 'degree of obesity' as falling from 1.9% to 1.5%, so I won't be graduating with that 'degree' anytime soon. In similar territory it says that my BMR 'score' has risen from 15 out of 24 to 17 out of 24. Apparently the higher the BMR score, the higher the body's ability to burn any calories or 'fuel' consumed. And finally my Impedance score has risen from 472.1 to 484.2. I think this is good but, as I've no idea what it means, it might be better kept to myself. I was thinking of having it printed on my running shirt for the marathon "HEY my Impedance is 484 and rising - WATCH OUT YOU LOSERS!" but if I later discover it is to do with reduced control over bowel movements, it may not be so wise to advertise it to fellow runners - especially if it was printed on the back of my shirt.

Overall, I just have to have faith that all the training I have done over the last three and a half months has been worthwhile and I am sure it has. Even though I ran regularly before, I am much more capable of running stronger and further than I was at the tail end of last year. Only in the last four to six miles next Sunday will I know if it has been enough.

How Far I've Travelled

Day 100 - Marathon Training - Mixed intervals & Marathon Pace session
Plus Beard Removal and Haircut

YES - you read it correctly - DAY ONE HUNDRED of training so I thought it should be marked by a more significant event than just another training run. The beard has gone and the hair has been scalped. For athletes like myself - where the results are measured in 100th's of a second - the more streamlined contents of my head may make all the difference on the marathon course.
I don't normally have a beard. It somehow seemed the 'right look' for the training programme and now it's nearly over I've had enough of it.

The milestone of 100 days since I started training for the marathon has also got me thinking about how far I've come, not so much in miles of training over the last few months but in terms of mood, outlook, attitude to life and my place in the world since 2010. I may have run over 450 miles in training since 3 January this year but in recent years I have travelled thousands upon thousands of miles along the road from utter despair to the dawning of hope and have reached a slightly unnerving place called contentment every now and then.

Weds 24 November 2010:
"I sort of knew. I just knew that I was going to wallow in it today. That I was going to have a broken moment. That I was going to cry. But at this stage in the depression, when you have more awareness of what’s going on, you can almost plan for it. You can hold it off, almost schedule it, like an appointment or an exercise session - 'I’ll go for a run between 9 and 10' - 'I’ll have a mini breakdown between 9 and 10'.

And that makes it seem fraudulent. As though it’s on tap and you’re not experiencing it as some uncontrollable and awful condition. It’s a bit of play acting isn’t it? Something to make yourself feel a level of ‘controlled miserableness’ and to discretely let others know around you, just how bad things are. Like a child seeking attention, only because you’re an adult you do it in a slightly more subtle way.

It does feel a bit like this. But I don’t think it is fraudulent or contrived. I think in my case it’s due to ‘bottling up’ and ‘hiding’. For days and weeks I ‘bottle up’ an almost constant but nagging sense of shame and unhappiness and of life not being good – not being how it should be (Hah! I wear a t-shirt occasionally with the slogan ‘Life is good’). And the hiding is still mainly about keeping it from my daughters and to some extent my wife but the level of hiding to the outside world is almost total.

You can only bottle up and hide for so long before the low shaking and lurking in dark corners causes the cork to pop. I can hold the cork on the top while there is some fizzing and leaking until the girls have gone to school and I can sneak up to the bedroom and lie on the bed and then let it go.

I lie on the bed with my arms folded tightly across my chest. I feel shivery but I will not get under the covers. I have NEVER EVER got back into bed this whole time and it is a barrier that I do not want to cross. Laid out as though I’ve crawled into my own coffin I begin to silently cry. A trickle out of each eye. Two tiny streams competing to drip onto the duvet. I never actually fall fully asleep but partially doze my way through almost an hour before forcing myself to get up.

I would pay a lot of money for a Pull Myself Together switch. A little device that, with one press of a simple button, sends you out into a brave new world of opportunity where everyone is just waiting for you to walk by ‘Clive come here … you are just the man we need to take us in exciting new directions. We’ll pay you ridiculous amounts of money just to be yourself and to lead us to the promised land. No more worries for you my friend, come on down today’.

I knew I hadn’t had the full works. I hadn’t had the full wallow. I came down to the garden office. As soon as I had closed the door behind me it started. I sat on the office sofa with obligatory head in hands. Elbows resting on knees. I sobbed and sobbed. I wrenched it out. I not only need to cry. I need to make a sound. I need to produce a sort of rhythmic blub ‘huh, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh… Huh, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh …’ It is not at all therapeutic at the time but I think perhaps there is just a tiny smidgeon of help in the process a bit later. (I am writing this barely an hour after the event. Perhaps the small feeling of therapy is coming from this writing rather than the completion of the event.)

I have a desperate need to blow my nose. The ‘Mansize’ (Hah!) tissue in my pocket is already dirty and sodden so I pick up a bit of paper towel that was used yesterday as a ‘plate’ for a piece of cake. I tip nostril rivers of dribble and snot into the paper towel, scrunch it up and throw it in the bin. I sit back on the sofa. Silent now. Not better. Just blank. Or almost blank. I can feel the crusty dry stains of tears around my eyes on every slight movement of my face. Then I make exaggerated movements just to feel it again. To try and judge whether I can risk anyone seeing me without washing my face.

I almost feel nothing. But feeling nothing would be quite nice. There’s always a feeling of something. Something that you wish would go away."

I haven't over analysed it or over thought it but I guess running the London Marathon this year will be about so much more than completing 26 miles and 385 yards.

There will be the physical satisfaction, as a runner, in completing the ultimate challenge. There will be the banishing of demons that have been with me for more than 30 years - having started, but not finished, the race in 1986. There will be the pride that comes from representing my club (Bridport Runners) and from raising money to tackle the stigma attached to mental illness (for the charity Heads Together). There will be the even bigger pride of running for my family (my wife and both daughters are going to be there). But more than anything it feels like I am closing a chapter in my life in order to move on to a new and more deeply satisfying one - maybe several new chapters!

So the finish line in London, will be the start line of my new life - older, wiser, more accepting, more content, more optimistic, more hopeful, more loving … with knackered legs, a raging thirst and a medal round my neck.

Tough 10K Test

Day 96 - Marathon Training - 10K Race - Exmoor - Coastal Trail Series

I drove 80 miles today to take part in a gruelling 10K race - in fact probably the toughest 10K I have ever done. To start with it was actually 7.3 miles long (not 6.2 which it should be!) and it included a mere 1,200 feet of climbing. It was part of what's called the Coastal Trail Series run by Endurance Life. I've done a few of their events and I 'enjoy' the challenges they put on. They are always well organised and in the most remote and rugged and vertical places you can find along the UK coastline.

I was reasonably pleased to finish 12th out of about 150 competitors and to win my age group (male vet 55+) - to be honest there were hardly any other old geezers like me taking part! The photo here was taken about 4 miles into the race and you can see on my face how hard it was. Nearly all of those first 4 miles involved climbing up and along incredibly steep and narrow coastal paths and then the remaining 3 miles were a scramble downwards over rocks, branches and through wooded paths back to the finish. There wasn't a level patch on the whole course and there wasn't a bruise free part of my body by the time I had pummelled it to bits over the complete circuit.

The start and finish were near a pub called The Hunters Inn - part of the Heddon Valley - a lovely spot and the course itself was rugged and spectacular and wild. The trouble is, when you do an event like this, it is so punishing that you fail to really take in the beauty of it all. I would love to come back sometime and maybe just walk the same route and then 'see it' properly for the first time.

The event is full of young, trendy types wearing the latest running and adventure sports kit, usually in the brightest of colours and just before I left the event, I spotted this guy, Mr P Cock, wearing one of the most lurid outfits of all.

Exe Rated

Day 91 - Marathon Training - 19 miles

My best decision yet! For a complete change of scene and a flat course, I drove over 40 miles, parked at Exeter Quay and ran for 9.5 miles along the western edge of the Exe Estuary, turned around and ran back. It was wonderful!

Here are my photo postcards from the run.
1 - The start point - Swans at Exeter Quay
There are a lot of swans at the Quay. They look so pretty but they seem so bad tempered. Anytime I went near one, it hissed at me - maybe they don't like runners.
2 - Along the Canal
Within a mile or so of leaving the centre of Exeter, everything changes and it is so refreshing to run along a pancake flat path by the tree lined canal.
3 - Bye Bye M5
The real change in environment came when I ran under the M5 Motorway and left the urban world behind. The motorway emits a consistent roar which made me appreciate the relative peace on 'the other side'. Once I could no longer hear the traffic, I tuned in to purity of the birdsong and the wind in my ears and most things were right in the world.
4 - Hugging the Estuary
It was not long before I was then running tight alongside the Estuary proper - a pretty wide expanse of water and I assume it was close to high tide as I ran south.
5 - The Railway Bridge
A rather striking footbridge takes you over the railway and then along a roadway by the estate of Powderham Castle. This is interesting but it seems a shame that you lose sight of the water for the first time since leaving Exeter. The trains get the best view along this section of the Estuary.
6 - Cockwood - the Turning Point
Hey, what a pose! Smiling for a pic at a little place called Cockwood (no comments please) before turning to run back. The task on my training plan today was to run 80 mins in one direction and then return quicker. I did do that and got back about 2 mins quicker than on the way out, although I did forget to stop my watch when I was messing about taking the next picture! (It felt like I ran back a lot quicker than that!)
7 - Headless Swans
I spent a fair amount of time taking pictures on the way out and I wasn't going to stop on the way back but I couldn't resist this moment. I have to say that it was a great day and a really refreshing environment but also strange in places. This picture showing the Estuary as home to old warships and headless swans is for interest and discussion. Please begin. In your own time.

I enjoyed exploring this new territory and I will be back. I would like to run the full 16 miles from Exeter to Teignmouth and then catch the train back. One day, after the Marathon, maybe.