Two Sundays ago I was up in Newcastle taking part in the Great North Run. I say “taking part” as, whilst I did my best, the time I put in doesn’t quite do for the verb “ran”. It’s not the most visually stunning route, but 50,000-odd people and 25 years of history say far more than the view from the road.
Running from roundabout to roundabout before, finally, descending to the beach isn’t energising, but then nor was being overtaken by everyone and their dog/banana/sunflower costume for the first 8 miles. It was as the 8 mile point came up that I thought about quitting – that idea never even crossed my mind in the London Marathon, not even at the 18 mile point, but then London is pretty flat. The GNR, on the other hand, climbs 2000′ and then loses about the same distance over its length. You really feel those hills, every last bloody yard of them. Finally, after 8 miles, I started to overtake people, even though I was running more slowly than I had in the first part. Maybe everyone else was feeling it more than I was.
I’d set myself a goal of 1h 50m and was hoping, really, to do 1h 44m or so. I ran the first 5k in 24 mins, perhaps a little fast; 10k came up in 51m (that was 10k according to my GPS watch – the road marker came up about 30 seconds later). From then on, it was downhill – for my running, but not for the course. The back 11k took 1h 8m – slower than my slowest ever, marathons notwithstanding. I just couldn’t make it happen.
The stats (from my watch, see below) say it’s 37% climbing, 37% descending and the rest on the flat. The bulk of the descent comes right near the end when you think you’re done, but you find there’s a mile to go still. They make that bit worse by letting you know, when you feel like you’ve run most of it, that there’s still 800m to go, then 400m and then, just as you see the end, they make you turn right and go to a different end (the first one is for the elite runners I guess). As I jogged that last bit, there were many people by the side of the road, clearly suffering – some with O2 masks, some in the recovery position and, possibly, one or two not moving (after the race I heard that at least 4 people didn’t make it).
Organising 50,000 people is an incredible feat, but there were perhaps some mistakes made – the first water stop was, I think, between 4 and 5 miles. If you were at the back of the line, spent 2 hours waiting to start, 40 mins shuffling forward to get over the start line and then still had to run 5 miles, you were going to suffer, no matter the weather. Given it was 20 degrees, almost no wind and no clouds by 30 mins before the start, it was going to be ugly. Could the organisers have seen that? Probably, but it’s a tough call – after all, the Americans didn’t see a 400 mile hurricane coming towards New Orleans until it was too late. I think the organisers did a great job herding that many people through a 13 mile course, next year, I imagine they’ll take some more steps towards making sure everyone is ok. Odds are, perhaps, that in any crowd of 50,000 people, some will die and if they have to run 13 miles too, then the odds head rapidly towards the reaper winning. Moral, if you’re going to go, probably don’t do it when you’re running, there are far better ways to go.
I’ve been using a new gadget to help with my training – a Garmin Forerunner 301. I’ve linked it with MotionBased, thanks to an idea from Brad Feld (who founded/worked at the Feld Group with Charlie Feld, who I’ve met once). Brad’s comment below explains how to paste in the run picture and the elevation – Thanks Brad – I’ve put a photo version in here, but it could just as easily be a street or satellite map. Pretty cool.
If you’re a runner (or even a cyclist), the 301 is much better than the previous gadget I used, from Timex. Why? Well, the Timex comes in two units (a watch and a GPS tracker – great if you just want to wear the watch sometimes, but I have enough watches and I hated strapping the other thing to my arm and if I put it in a pouch it seemed to lose connection more often); the Garmin unit allows you to load up workouts (e.g. alternate fast/slow or different out and back times), set target pace and heart rate zones and, best of all, use a virtual assistant to track your pace and see how far ahead or behind (in my case in the GNR) you are.
MotionBased then lets you port your data into its site so that you can easily compare all runs, get splits by mile or km and even take a look at your run in Google Earth and Google Maps.
I haven’t beaten the shin splints as 7 days of pain since the GNR have told me, but there must be a way through those if only I can find it. I have a foot doctor appointment in 10 days or so and I’m hoping for some serious illumination. There’s no way I’m going to get in shape for a 3h 45m marathon if I can’t train more than once every couple of weeks.
I’ve been studying up on shin splints. There’s lots of theory but not much solid data. I can’t find any studies. In the 70s, if you hurt between the ankle and the hip, you had shin splints. Now, at least, they have compartmentalised the problem and I can see exactly the problem I have described in several books (notably the Lore of Running, which is a great book). There are, it seems, many causes – including that I’m going through the menopause and suffering from low calcium, that I’m wearing the wrong shoes, that I have stiff calves, that I haven’t developed my front calves enough, that I’ve started training too hard without enough build up etc.
Whilst there are many causes, there aren’t many fixes. I haven’t been able to run since the GNR – 8 days now; I’ve tried ice, pain killers, massage, MBT shoes and pretty much everything else. I’m visiting the foot doctor next week to see if I can get it all fixed. The Lore says that 75-95% of running problems can be fixed with orthotics. For once, I hope I’m in the majority.