Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Part 2: The Malta Half Marathon (or, the Running Gods laugh some more)

Right.  So.  The last post saw me feeling a bit better and ready to take on 13.1 miles.  Any strategies that I had planned - and that includes pacing, refueling, and attitude - now had to be completely revised.  Because I no longer had a time goal, and the refueling would depend on how my stomach and bowels felt, all that was left was to adjust my attitude.  I spent some time telling myself that all that I could do was see how it went, that at least I was at the start line, that it was a beautiful day, that I could finish.  That would have to be enough.

The start gate seems to be just for appearance.
The race was meant to start at 9:20 but at 9:10, there was an announcement saying that it was starting in three minutes.  Cue a mad dash by lots of people to find a place in the starting area, which was just a car park and didn't have pens or even indicators of where the different pacing groups should position themselves.  This meant that the people doing the walkathon (half-marathon distance) were interspersed with the people doing the running version.  It also meant that, within a couple of minutes of setting off, several walkathoners were knocked over by half-marathoners trying to get by them.  It was interesting to see that Maltese runners run like they drive - elbows flying, pushing, and cutting in as though they are the only people on the road.

My SENSIBLE pacing strategy was to run whatever felt comfortable, even if that meant walking.  However, my feverish, dehydrated, ILL pacing strategy was to run as though I hadn't just spent hours purging my system of toxins.  I know, what was I thinking???  Anyway, that's how I started out.  And the first four miles felt fine.  My breathing was controlled, my legs felt fresh, and I thought, 'I really might be able to do this!'  My splits for the first four miles were 10:08, 9:45, 10:12, and 10:04, and I was pleased with this.  I had a bit of water at mile 3 and a couple of sips of Powerade at Mile 4 to test out my tummy - no immediate issues were apparent.

Towards the end of mile 4, we came around a bend and there was the first of what turned out to be many hills on this 'almost flat' course.  (FFS, could race organisers PLEASE stop advertising their courses as almost flat when they blatantly ARE NOT???  I don't mind hills; I just like to know what to expect.)  I slowed my pace but kept running and made it three-quarters of the way up before my body very clearly said, 'Enough.'  This wasn't exactly Hitting the Wall but, all of a sudden, as though a switch had been turned off, I had absolutely no more energy left.  Zero.  So I walked.  And as soon as I slowed down, I felt sick.  As in, really sick.  As in, 'looking around to find some bushes to empty my guts into if necessary' sick.  The urge passed with some deep breathing and focusing on the scenery rather than on my roiling innards, and I was able to run again, although the time spent running decreased and the time spent walking increased for the rest of the race. 

I had a bit more water at mile 6 with no ill effects and decided to chance my luck with an energy gel as well.  At approximately mile 6.5, and for the next mile or so, the route went through an industrial estate.  The narrow corridors acted like a wind tunnel (for yes, there was definitely a stiff breeze blowing, as I had feared might be the case) and the lack of any spectators aside from some bemused-looking mechanics made this a difficult section.  I got through it with what felt like lots of walking but which, looking at my splits for miles 5 through 8 (10:29, 11:44, 11:24, and 11:23), probably was less than I thought at the time.

I puked.  Damn.  I could have stopped.

We came out of the industrial estate onto one of the main motorways.  There were huge queues of traffic on the other side of the motorway with a corresponding miasma of petrol and diesel fumes.  Not good for my dodgy tummy at all.  Unfortunately, the unbreathable air made me feel sicker and sicker until, at mile 8.5, I had to dash to the dividing barrier between the lanes of the motorway to do a spectacular, multi-coloured spew into the small decorative bushes that were planted there.  I hadn't realised that a stomach could hold that much liquid.  In other circumstances, I might have been quite impressed with myself.

And that was kind of the end of the race for me.  Although I felt much better for having emptied my system, I simply did not have anything left in my legs and no way of reliably getting any hydration or nutrition into myself.  I was hot, thirsty, dizzy, queasy, and crampy.  I briefly thought about quitting but, when I saw one of the marathon runners limping along in front of me - obviously in pain, unable to run - and saw him hobble on past one of the support ambulances without even slowing down...well, if he wasn't quitting, I wasn't either.

About 1 mile from the end.
From mile 9 onwards, I walked up every hill and, even on the flat and on the downhills, only was able to manage running for what felt like a couple of minutes at a time.  From mile 10 onwards, the course turned so that it was heading into the wind and stayed that way until the end.  If I had had any moisture left in my body, I would have cried.  But I didn't.  I kept on with my little run/longer walk sequences and finally, finally I saw the Finish Line around the next bend.

I might have puked into the bushes in front of hundreds of strangers but I still have some pride.  I WAS going to run the last half-mile.  And I did.  My head was spinning and my guts were rumbling, but I averaged an 8:41 pace for the last quarter-mile.  In your face, gastroenteritis! 

And then it was over.  Bassman found me, got me back to the flat, bought me some icy cold Coke (which I promptly threw up but it was worth it), and I slept for 15 hours.  We're back home now and I'm still recovering but at least I'm keeping liquids down again...and I'm pleased to report that my legs don't hurt at all.

My stats?  I finished in 2:32:18.  I was 652nd out of 1246 women, and 43rd out of 108 women in my age group.  Definitely not last, and very solidly middle of the pack.

I will never be a fast runner.  I will never be a Good for Age runner.  Even at my best, I'm still middle of the pack, so I try not to judge whether or not I've had a successful race by my time or by where I fall in the rankings.  To me, if I finish a race feeling that I have given it my all and that I have run to the absolute best of my ability on that day, then that's enough.

And for this race, on this particular day, I couldn't have done any more.

Everyone gets the same medal.  Very egalitarian.

Part 1: The Malta Half Marathon (or, the Running Gods have the last laugh)

Bassman and I left for Malta on the 20th, with me possessed of optimistic expectations for the race on the 23rd.  My training had gone well, with no injuries, only minor niggles, and a successful 13-mile run only two weeks previously.  Yes, I had come down with a stonking cold the week before we left but hey, that was a taper week anyway so there wasn't anything to be lost by missing out on a few runs.  And although I was still fairly sniffly by the time we left for the airport, it was clear that I was in the last stages of the cold and that it wouldn't be a problem come race day.  All that was left was to relax, enjoy the Maltese sunshine, and have a fun run.

Ah, the best laid plans...

We overnighted at one of the large, anonymous, but relatively comfortable hotels at Gatwick airport and arrived in Malta at noon on the 21st.  After a wild taxi ride to our hotel (the Pebbles Boutique Aparthotel) - everyone drives in their own bubble and acts as though they are the only car on the road but, somehow, it seems to work - we were pleasantly surprised to find that we had been upgraded from the studio flat that I had originally booked to a 2-bedroom, 2-bathroom flat with a balcony that overlooked the harbour.  It was perfect, aside from the raucous laughter and karaoke that pumped out of the restaurant/nightclub on the ground floor until 2am most nights.  But I always travel with my trusty earplugs, so even being above Party Central wasn't enough to daunt my optimism.

Bassman has written about our touristy activities on his blog, so anyone who is interested can read about them there.  Instead, I am going to move on to the night before the race.  WARNING:  If you have an aversion to hearing about bodily functions, you might want to read the next bit with one eye closed.

We had had huge pizzas for dinner (I couldn't finish mine, which should tell you something about how huge it was) and I was feeling uncomfortably full, even a bit unwell, when we went to bed.  I woke up at 2am feeling REALLY unwell - nauseated and stomach and intestinal cramps - and spent the next four hours tossing and turning, but telling myself that this was just a reaction to having eaten too much.  At 5:45am - an hour before the alarm was due to go off - I flung myself from the bed and barely made to the loo in time.  Oh my.  As Bassman so delicately put it in his blog, evacuations from both ends.  Big time.

In between trips to the loo, I carried on with my race preparations just in case this was something that would work itself out of my system in the next hour.  I tried to eat a bit of banana, but that came straight back up.  I tried to drink a bit of water - same reaction.  No way was I going to try the porridge!  Instead, in my (with hindsight) dehydrated, feverish, and ILL state, I decided that I would take four energy gels with me instead of the two that I had planned - because these would of course make up for the complete lack of food in my body - as well as an energy bar and some sport jelly beans.  No, I don't know what I was thinking, either.

At 7:30am, I tried to get out the door but had to detour into the loo at the last minute.  Fortunately, by this point, the diarrhea had pretty much finished (mainly because there wasn't anything left to be gotten rid of) and I decided that I wasn't feeling too bad, so I tucked a 20 Euro note into my SpiBelt just in case I had to get a taxi back to the flat and scuttled off to the bus.  After a twisty, turny, bumpy ride to the start in Mdina, I was feeling well enough to sip and keep down some water.  I tried a nibble of the energy bar but that CLEARLY was not a good idea.  However, although I felt queasy and crampy and light headed, I wasn't in urgent need of the facilities.  Maybe the worst had passed and now, as they say, adrenaline would carry me around the course.

Ah, the best laid plans indeed...

Friday, 7 February 2014

Tired, but not from running

Today I:
  • Took my car in for its MOT at 9.30am.
  • Was asked if I wanted to have it serviced at the same time, as the next service is due at the end of the month anyway.  Said yes.
  • Went for a 7 mile run along the Caledonian Canal while I was waiting for the results.
Caledonian Canal: flat, but windy

  • Really enjoyed the run.  One mile each of warm-up and cool-down, with five miles at a 9:45 to 10:00/mile pace in between which, for me, is a Really Good Thing.  Nothing hurt.  And none of the dogs that I passed tried to bite me.
  • Took a phone call from the dealership.  Car failed its MOT because it needs a new tyre.  I had feared that it would need four, so this was good news.  What wasn't good news was that the dealership doesn't carry tyres so would have to source one from somewhere else, and the MOT guy could only do the retest at the end of the day.  Was asked to phone them back later in the afternoon to make sure that they could get me another tyre.  Sigh.
  • Managed to cope with the poor changing room and shower facilities at the Aquadome with only minimal cursing.  Having to keep pushing the button in the shower to keep the water flowing?  Doable.  Having to keep dodging around the other patrons of the changing room because it is TOO SMALL for more than a few people at a time?  I was gracious.  Having to spend £1 for 3 minutes of hair dryer time because there wasn't an electrical outlet to plug in my own hair dryer, and then to find that the cord for the hair dryer wasn't long enough for me to see myself in the mirror so that I had to dry my hair by feel, and then to find that I only had enough change for one go at the hair dryer so my hair was still wet when I left the building?  FFS.
  • Phoned the dealership but no one knew what was going on because the service department were all at lunch.  Agreed that I would collect the car tomorrow rather than live in hope that I would be able to collect it by the end of the day.
  • Had to shlep my heavy gym bag and even heavier Fossil bag 1.5 miles from the Aquadome to the High Street.  (I hadn't factored needing to shlep into my packing calculations.  I assumed that I would have had my car by this point.)  My right shoulder seized up but my legs enjoyed the walk.
Stylish, but deadly

  • Had a lovely lunch of pasta salad with sundried tomatoes, courgettes, and feta cheese.  And churros with dark chocolate dipping sauce.  And a huge cappuccino.  Was tempted to have a nap at the table after that.
  • Made my way to the bus depot so that I could get home.  Listened to an underdressed young woman have a very loud conversation via her mobile about how LIKE, UTTERLY OFFENDED, LIKE REALLY UPSET, YOU KNOW? she was at having been accused of flirting with someone else's boyfriend.  LIKE, WE'RE JUST FRIENDS, RIGHT?  AND I WAS, LIKE, HIS FRIEND BEFORE HE STARTED WITH HER, RIGHT?  IT, LIKE, DIDN'T MEAN ANYTHING, YOU KNOW?  I WAS, LIKE, JUST BEING FRIENDLY, RIGHT?
  • Listened to more SHOUTING one-sided conversations from her on the way back home - because of course she sat in the seat behind me on the bus - because three different people phoned her to update her with what The Girlfriend had been saying about her behaviour. BUT I'M, LIKE, INNOCENT, RIGHT?  IT DIDN'T, LIKE, MEAN ANYTHING, RIGHT?  Sheesh. 
  • Was very very glad to get home.  Many thanks to Bassman for collecting me at the bus stop so that I didn't have to drag my bags home on foot, and for making me a medicinal Blackwood's Superior Strength Gin & Tonic.
Many good things come from Shetland.

And now?  My legs feel surprisingly relaxed, but I am finding it increasingly difficult to move my shoulder and neck.  A handbag-induced injury?  Oh, the shame.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Almost there...

I kind of lost interest in blogging over the last month because I was dealing with a litany of 'ooh, I'm injured,' 'phew, no, I'm not injured,' 'ooh, I'm afraid that I might be developing an injury,' and so on.  It's irritating enough to have to live through it and probably even more irritating to read about it.  However, now that there's a bit less than three weeks to go until the Malta Half Marathon, it's time for a recap (complete, of course, with some whingeing; otherwise, how could you ever be sure that it was me writing this?). 

Last week's runs, including one of 6 miles (with 4 miles of intervals) and an 11 mile long run, went well.   This triggered a 'phew, I'm not injured' reaction because the week before that - which was a reduced mileage week and therefore meant to be EASY and RELAXING - was SO HARD and made my legs feel SO HORRIBLE that I was convinced that I would never make it to the Malta start line.  My left leg hurt and ached from the hip flexor ('oh no, it's my marathon injury returned to haunt me!') to the ankle.  My calf cramped up so tight on one of the easy runs that I had visions of it tearing again.  Both ankles ached as though they had been sprained.  The only thing that felt good was my plantar fascia.

I'm still not sure what that week was all about, unless it was my legs really really wanting a week off and me not listening.

Regardless of what the issue was, I seem to be fine now.  Last week's runs felt good with only very minor and very fleeting niggles.  I had my pre-race massage and MOT with Adam this afternoon (brought forward by me after panicking about my calf) and was a bit embarrassed as he couldn't find anything wrong with my legs at all.  There was some residual tightness in my hamstrings and calves, but that was a reflection of usage, not injury.  The conclusion?  A clean bill of running health.

I'm feeling so superstitious about getting to the start line injury-free that I'm not allowing myself to feel excited about it in case I draw the attention of the Running Gods.  And yet, when I see pictures like this...

Sliema, the city where we are staying & where the race ends

Or this...
Valletta, across the water from where we are staying
Or this...
Mdina, where the Half Marathon starts
what can I say except, 'Yes, I am mega-thrilled!'