Past glories and finding a new addiction

LtW_tshirt_photoToday is London marathon day and whether I like it or not, this is the day that reminds me that I’m not really a runner any more – not in the way that I once was and not in a way that I can feel proud of. I go out a couple or a few times per week, but I don’t really train – I don’t have anything to train for. No races in the diary this year. None.

One there was a time when I built my entire year around the races I had in the diary. Everything made way for them – holidays, social life, work. Everything.

But today, as I sit in the kitchen, rubbing the sleep out of my eyes, waiting for the tea to brew, there are thousands of people on Blackheath or making their way there, ready to run 26.2 miles in pursuit of their dreams. Obviously there are races all over the world, every day. But the London has a special meaning for me. Not only is it my home town race and one that I consider to be amongst the best I have ever tackled. But it is also where I ran my PB three years ago. So when the London comes around, I get a greater twang of… I guess it is regret or sadness or loss, than on the day of any other marathon.

So, I know what I need to do. When I stopped smoking, drinking too much and eating badly and I started running, people wondered how I had made the transformation I did. The answer, in my mind, was the transfer of addictions.

Me being very, VERY happy!
London 2013 and 2:37:07 on the clock

From fags to miles. Now I need to do the same thing – find my new addiction and embrace it 100%. The only candidate – the only thing that gets me fired up and means that I am happy to put myself in difficult and uncomfortable places, is Freestak and building a business. The problem is that building a business doesn’t have the additional benefits to health and well-being that running does. But there are other benefits – building Freestak means building something that has a positive impact on the world and that will provide an income that means that I’m able to do the things that I want to do in the future. Me running marathons was never going to give me those things.

So today, I am going to look at the teeming thousands running the London and wish them all well. It is an incredibly hard thing to do, certainly if you do it properly. It is fantastically rewarding. You will be part of an amazing community of people. And you will always be able to look back and know that you did something special.

And me? I’m going to the office and once again I’m going to get my head and my heart into my new challenge. It is a longer race, but there are goals, there is pain and there will be challenges and successes. Sounds just perfect to me!

The art of pacing

Next weekend I am racing the Wokingham half marathon and I think this is an opportunity to attack my personal best. Apart from the desire that most runners have to log a PB once in a while, I think that running a quick half marathon at this stage will give me great confidence with eight weeks to go until the London marathon. So the first step in my planning for the race is always to work out what pace I need to run at to hit my target time. For me, with a half marathon personal best of 1:14:03, I want to know what pace I will have to run to hit 1:13:00. So, 73 minutes (or 4,380 seconds) divided by 13.1 miles… erm, give me a second…yep, nearly there… ahhh, one moment…

Actually I always use an online calculator. The easiest one as far as I am concerned is the Runners World Pace Band Generator. All you have to do is input the finish time you are after, the distance and whether you want the target splits in kilometers or miles (worth checking what the markers will be in at your target race if you are not 100% sure) et viola!

The other option is the McMillan Running calculator. This is actually supposed to help you estimate a range of finish times for every conceivable distance based on previous race results. But you can simply enter your target race time and then check the pace splits under that distance (which are given in per-mile and per-kilometer numbers).

And the target pace is…

Having used the Runners World Pace Band Calculator, I know I need to run each mile of the half marathon in 5min 34secs to finish in 73 minutes.

Not too much technology

Mile Markers are there to be used. Image from Finbar on Tour

Now I know my target pace, I must admit that I tend to shy away from technology on race day. When it comes to training I am happy to use my Garmin to check on my paces and I really enjoy downloading my stats and updating my training diary. But when it comes to racing, I take a different view – simplicity is everything. I simply write the target pace on the back of my left hand and hit the lap button when I reach every mile (or kilometer marker). If the number on my watch is equal to or less than the number written on the back of my hand, then I am on track (and visa versa). To hammer the point home I once ran a marathon  with a friend (his debut by the way) and he checked his pace using his GPS watch, while I used my less-tech trusted method. He finished in 3:01:02 with a GPS telling him that he had run 27 miles! He is such a hard-working athlete that I am convinced that he would have finished in under 3 hours if he hadn’t been relying on a GPS watch that was giving him the wrong pace data. You have been warned.

So I’m off to find a biro and get that number well and truly inked on the back of my hand. The count-down begins!

Runner at the Sharp End #2: Richard Gregory

This is the second in a series of interviews with Runners At The Sharp-end (the R.A.T.S). For an explanation of what I am defining as a runner at the sharp end have a read here. Richard, a member of the famous Ranelagh Harriers, is a fierce competitor, especially in cross-country races and excels at any distance he tackles on the road (his personal bests are testament to that, as you can see below). Here is what he told me;

SF: To begin with could you give us some background about yourself and your running? What distances do you run? What are your personal bests (and what were your first times for those distances)?
Richard going great guns in the 'cross' Image from Ranelagh Harriers

RG: Mostly half marathon and marathon at the moment, with a bit of cross country through the winter.
Half Marathon PB – 70.43 (Amsterdam 2011) and my debut was 81.16 (Brooklyn 2007)
Marathon PB – 2.30.46 (London 2011) with a debut 2.50.54 (New York 2007).

SF: How long have you been running and why did you start in the first place?

RG: Started about five years ago (though I’d run a bit through school – mainly to keep fit for hockey, which I played reasonably competitively).  I was living in New York at the time and had barely exercised for a few years; running round Central Park seemed a good way to get in shape.  A friend then convinced me a 10k race would be fun… a half soon followed, and when a New York marathon place came about (rather by accident) it seemed I better give it a go.

SF: Are you coached? And if so, by whom?

RG: Yes – Nick Anderson – since summer 2010.

SF: (Aside from your coach, if you have one) who or what has been the biggest influence on your running and why?

RG: Any number of friends I’ve made through running – anyone, at any level, who shares enthusiasm for the sport, improving at it, and having a good time along the way.  Simon’s written on the benefits of running with a group, and I’d definitely agree: I love that running has both that brilliant social side to it, and can be the best possible space for some private thinking time.

SF: What is the best piece of running advice you have ever been given? Who gave you that advice?

RG:

Take responsibility for anything you can control; react positively to anything you cannot.

Sounds a cliché, but pretty fundamental to running as much as anything else in life – though at the time it was a throwaway comment from someone (who’ll remain nameless) who should know better!  It stuck with me, not least when a vomiting bug reared its ugly head seven days before the London marathon.  Keeping calm that week was as important as getting better, and thankfully by the Sunday morning I was fighting fit.

SF: What is your favourite bit of kit and why?

RG: Much as I love comfortable kit – and toys – top of the list is two healthy legs.

SF: What has been, or where is, your favourite race?

RG: For atmosphere – New York marathon, very closely followed by London.
For how I ran – Amsterdam half a few years back.  I’ve run faster since, but it was a day when everything clicked: I just felt incredibly relaxed and enjoyed a rare and wonderful flowing feeling (and a huge pb, much quicker than I’d considered possible at the time).

SF: What do you think has had the biggest effect on you improving your times?

RG: More, more consistent, and structured training.  I didn’t have a clue what I was doing when I started out.  Nick’s coaching has been a huge help in learning the different ingredients, and how to put them together.

SF: With the benefit of hindsight, if you could give your younger self any advice, what would it be and why?

RG: Probably just to get stuck in at an earlier age: running’s something I’ve always enjoyed, but didn’t really get into until my late twenties.  Part of me wishes I’d got more involved on the track in my teens; I’d like to know what I could have done over 800/1500m!

SF: Do you stretch enough?

RG: No!  As well as stretching, I’m a big believer in core work (strength and conditioning) – I don’t do enough of that either, but really notice the difference for injury prevention and improved running form.

SF: What do you think about the general state of running in the UK and, assuming you don’t think it is perfect, what could be done to improve it?

RG: Participation seems to be on the up, which is brilliant – anything to help get people out the door and exercising is good news.  At the sharper end – the likes of Paula and Mo are an inspiration, and I’m far from qualified to say what’s needed for more to come through at that level.  In between, it would be good to see greater depth of “good club runners”, as there was in the past, and I would love to see anything that helps inspire more people to see what a brilliant sport it is, and put the work in to find out what they might achieve.  For starters the London Marathon coverage seems to miss an opportunity each year in jumping from the elite race to the masses: there are some wonderful stories of talent and dedication in between.

SF: What is your overall ambition for your own running? What do you think you need to do to achieve that?

RG: The ambition is simply to make the most of chances to keep on improving at something I really enjoy.  The volume and quality of my training has increased markedly over the past year or two: as with any runner, right now it’s just a case of putting the work in, trying to make sure I rest enough, and eating well.  Hopefully that will translate into a great marathon buildup and race at London this year.

SF: Please complete the following: I run because…

RG: Two reasons for me: I get a kick both out of running itself – nothing beats being outdoors and active – and the honesty of seeing hard work turn into improvement.

The answer; run more

Recently I posted a question on Twitter; “I love reading about running and writing on my blog. Any suggestions for what I should write about? Reviews? Training?” and I got a fairly consistent response

I’d like to read about what it takes to go from simply finishing a marathon to consistently smashing them out in sub-3hrs. (@nickersan)

I’d like to read about how to get my legs as strong as my heart & head over 26 miles. (@alphabetbyrne)

Tips on how to bring your PB down from 3.30 to 3 & beyond! (@stuholliday)

So it is clear to me that what people really want to read about is practical advice for running faster. And that is fair enough. That is what I want and am constantly searching for, but I may have forgotten that a little bit when it come to writing on my own blog. Thank you to everyone on Twitter who reminded me. So let’s start with the best bit of advice I was ever given.

A breakthrough

By April 2010 I had run a few marathons under 3 hours. In fact I had done that enough times that I was confident that I could run the distance quicker than 6:52/mile (8:32/km) every time I toed the line at a marathon. But I wasn’t really sure how I had arrived at that point. I was also getting quicker more slowly and each PB was becoming harder to achieve. Nevertheless I was improving and went to Paris to run the marathon and had a breakthrough finishing in 2:43.

On returning to London I went to the London marathon expo with my wife so that she could collect her race pack and I could receive a prize I had won in a competition set by ASICS – the opportunity to meet the members of the ASICS Pro Team of advisers. Actually I was interested in meeting one person – Bud Baldaro. A legend in the world of endurance running, former national marathon coach and a man with more accolades and coaching successes than I could shake a foam-roller at.

Brilliant, if simple, advice

When I got my moment with Bud, I whipped out my note book and asked the burning question: “How do I get quicker at the marathon?” Bud fixed me with a very steely gaze and after quite a long pause said…

Run more

Bud Baldaro is not this cheesy normally

What?!?! That was it? Run more? I felt a bit deflated to be honest. Here I was, sitting opposite the man that I believed had all the answers and he had given me… well, nothing very scientific really. Just “run more”. But actually there was a lot more to this than first met the eye. I didn’t let it rest and I probed further: how much more? what sort of running should I do more of? when? at what intensity? And the answers to these questions revealed that the answer was to add a specific type of training in a controlled and well thought out way.

Bud asked me quite a few questions about what I had been doing up to the point that I had just run my breakthrough time in Paris a week before. From that he was able to give me quite a few pointers and strongly advised me to seek out Nick Anderson and talk to him about coaching. Which I did. But at the heart of what Bud told me, and what Nick has subsequently got me to do, has been the simple premise of running more.

What can you do?

The difference has been made by how I have added miles. And this is the advice I would like to pass on;

add slow miles to start with – there is a high likelihood that if you add more miles at threshold or tempo pace you will breakdown
recover runs are a great way to add miles – I have 2 runs on three days of the week and those runs are easy, recovery runs in the morning before a session in the evening
don’t set a mileage target – chasing a certain number of miles for the week is not sensible. Instead add a little to your current runs and then add in some easy time-based recovery runs (for example 30 minutes three times a week as an additional run on a day when you already have a session in the evening)

Then it is possible to ease up the training – increasing the recovery runs from 30 minutes to 45 minutes. Increasing the speed, intensity and duration of sessions. Increasing the length of long runs (although I don’t base long runs on distance now as I will explain in a future post). But all of this is done very slowly and with plenty of periods of reduced training volume to allow recovery. After all, it’s a marathon not a sprint, right?

I’ll leave the final words to Bud Baldaro. When asked for a piece of advice for advanced runners looking to go one step further, his suggestion was to:

Take yourself out of the comfort zone on a gradual and realistic basis.

I think that the way to do that is to add miles and intensity but in a very gradual way so that it is sustainable. Slowly add recovery runs if you have multiple rest days in a week, so that you are running six days a week. If you are already at that point, think about one or two recovery runs on the morning of a day when you have a session in the evening. If you already run more than six times per week, slowly increase the length of your easy runs. You’ll be amazed at what a difference a little more can make.

Review of the Mizuno Wave Ronin 3

I read recently that it is more complicated buying running shoes than it is buying a car. I whole-heartedly agree (despite the fact that I gave up owning cars a few years ago and now rely on running, cycling and public transport to get around). One of my on-going personal missions is trying to find the perfect racing shoe.

What I am looking for

My requirements are fairly simple; low profile but not zero heel drop*, wide toe-box, snug heel, light-weight. I spent a few years racing in ASICS Tarthers which certainly did the job for me, but recently I have been looking around at other shoes. I have raced in the Brooks ST5 Racer which I like a lot, but which has quite a plush heel – more than I think I want for racing – and a medial post that I don’t think I need. I have also raced in the Saucony Mirage (a review on them is in the pipeline).

Mizuno Wave Ronin 3

The shoes I love at the moment are the Mizuno Wave Ronin 3’s that I bought from Toby at Alton Sports. They tick all the boxes as far as I am concerned, although the toe-box is a little narrower than on the Tarthers, but not so much that it causes me a problem.

Mizuno describes the shoes as “Fast and dynamic with great flexibility and cushioning” and I tend to agree. There is a very lightweight and highly breathable upper made from a mesh material that is bonded to the G3 outsole which is described by Mizuno as being made from a lightweight material “which provides awesome grip without weighing you down”. Actually the only issue I have with the Wave Ronin 3 is the same that I had with the Tarther; the durability of the outsole. Made up of a million little dots (actually it might not be a million, but I’m not going to count them), the outsole does tend to wear pretty quickly, especially at the front of the toe box. On the other hand, these are racing shoes and there has to be a compromise between weight and durability, so really my issue is not one that will stop me buying the Mizuno Wave Ronin 3 in future.

So in conclusion, I would say that the Mizuno Wave Ronin 3 is a great racing shoe. I have raced 3,000m races on the track in them, 5k park-runs and a half marathon. So far they have been really comfortable, especially for such a light shoe, weighing 210g according to the kitchen scales, which means they are in the same weight category as the Adidas Adizero Adios (209g) or the ASICS Gel DS Racer 8 (219g). They could just be the shoe that gives you the extra ‘pop’ you need for that ever-elusive PB.

* Heel drop is loosely defined as the difference in thickness between the front of the shoe – the midsole and the outsole – and the heel. In theory a drop of zero would mean that the when wearing the shoe the heel and the ball of the foot would be at the same level. In a shoe which is described as having a drop of 10mm, the heel sits 10mm higher than the ball of the foot. As for why we worry about these things, the normal answer is that with a small or zero heel drop it is easier to land on the mid-foot which is considered by many to be more efficient. For me, I prefer racing in a shoe with a minimal heel drop but I suffer more when I run in those types of shoes so for training I run in a shoe with a more cushioned heel and therefore a bigger differential.

 

 

 

A Mo-tivating Interview

It is not often that one meets their hero. Tonight that is exactly what I did; I met and interviewed Mo Farah.

Mo was the guest of honour at an event that Nike organised at the track at St. Mary’s University College, Twickenham in London. Mo was there to provide advice and inspiration to a select group of youngsters and he was kind enough to take a few minutes to talk to me.

Talking to young people and encouraging them to strive to be the best they can be is clearly close to Mo’s heart. At the question and answer session after our interview, Mo was asked what must be one of the most common questions he hears now: how did you first get started in athletics? The answer is simply that the PE teacher at his first school, a man by the name of Alan Watkinson (who incidentally was on hand tonight to receive a generous round of applause) saw some potential in Mo and encouraged, bribed and coerced the young, football-mad Farah to join a running club in Houndslow. From there it was simply a matter of his fitness, dedication and enthusiasm combining to create the superb runner we see today.

Mo has a singular belief that anyone, especially any young person, can get into sport. When I asked him what he would say to youngsters who say that they can’t run, he looked a little puzzled for a moment before stating simply that they can run, they just have to try. He went on to say that he thinks that the answer to getting kids involved in sport is to make it fun for them.

So does Mo see himself as a role model? Actually I’m glad to say that he told me that he does, especially to those who already run. And that was apparent from what I saw tonight. The kids surged towards the stage he was due to appear on – giving the Nike organising team a bit of a headache as they tried to get everyone to move back to make it easier for the whole room to see Mo in the Q&A. And when Mo sat down to sign autographs after the Q&A session the line seemed endless. Nevertheless Mo shook hands, signed autographs and posed for pictures long after the PR people would have whisked him away. He really seemed to love interacting with the young people present.

My interview with Mo was a very rushed affair – I told him that I was going to try to get through the questions in a 3,000m PB time (which for him we didn’t, but I would have been very happy with 8 min 20 secs!) and in that time Mo reminded me again of why I love this sport of ours – he is warm, engaging, enthusiastic and very, very successful.

I hope to have video footage of the interview online in the next couple of days. But in the mean time if you need any more reason to make this man your hero, check out the footage of his 10,000m triumph in Barcelona on the BBC. Simply fantastic.

 

An oasis of athletics

Watford. Not somewhere I go very often and when I have been there, the high street seems to resemble the identikit jumble of fast-food joints, cheap clothing retailers and disaffected youths just hanging around that is so typical of our town centres these days. On arriving in Watford last night, this prejudgement was not in any way altered by what I saw.

But I climbed on my bike and headed off along the A412 St Albans Road, for an appointment with pain and suffering – my first track race since school days and the first time I had ever raced over 3,000m. My coach, Nick Anderson, has been badgering me to come to the Watford Harriers open meet and run the 3,000m, in order – he says – to get out of my comfort zone. On arrival at a really lovely venue, I was greeted by a field full of athletes – a really wonderful sight.

There were a few older athletes, me included, but by far the majority as far as I could see, were junior athletes, up to 18 years old. As I weaved my way through the runners sprawled on the grass watching the action or warming up for their event or cooling down after it, there was a wonderful buzz of excited voices. Everyone was friendly, greeting those they were to compete with like the friends they clearly are, sharing thoughts on the nights races and talking about aims for the events that were to come.

My race came and went. I had a great time and I think I gave a good account of myself.

But the real eye-opener for me, was how many dedicated, fit and competitive young people there are who are prepared to come to Watford on a Wednesday night – and in the case of the runners in my race – wait until after 10pm before they get their opportunity for pain and suffering. After reading Christine Ohuruogu’s comments yesterday (you can read my response to that here) I had a bit of a feeling of despair; that the task of really exciting youngsters about athletics, the Olympics and sport in general was an impossible task – but after last night my spirits are soaring. Talking to the parents and coaches making up the very, very vocal support last night, I realise that for them the task is keeping children and young people engaged in athletics and for that I think we need super heroes and in that case the Olympics will, I’m sure, deliver. So if you fancy trying racing on the track for the first time or returning to the track or, if you are already racing on the track, you fancy racing at a friendly open meet, get yourself along to Watford and marvel at the fact that we have not lost an entire generation from sport… it’s just that the ones in Watford town centre don’t know what is going on 3 miles up the road.

The law of diminishing returns vs. the aggregation of marginal gains.

Today I ran a personal best at the Reading half marathon (hooray)… by 20 seconds (oh) which equates to just over a second a mile (erm…) and that has made me think about running, diminishing returns and what it takes to continue to improve.

A couple of weeks ago a compatriot and training partner ran his first race after months of injury and set a new personal best. However when he replied to my text asking how the race had gone, he did so without mentioning the new benchmark (which of course I knew, but I was hoping he’d mention it). And he said he was a bit disappointed. I must admit that I felt like sending an admonishing text back saying that he should be bloody pleased with a PB, but I think I knew, deep in my heart, what was going on. I will explain.

In really simple terms (‘cause I’m a simple guy) the law of diminishing returns states that if you continue to add more resources to a process there will be an initial increasing return that, as more resources is added, will start to tail off. That is not to say that the addition of resources will result in a fall in output (that is known as negative returns) but the rate of returns will start to flatten. A common example given is that of people building a car – add more people to the process and you’ll get more cars. But continue to add more people and you will still get more cars, but not at a proportional rate.

If you apply this to running, it means (to me anyway) that if you add more training you should continue to get faster but at a decreasing rate. Most novice runners – me included – take massive chunks of time off every time they race. This could due to be a number of factors:

  • fitness increases
  • experience increases
  • running economy increases
  • etc

However as the runner races more, each beneficial factor has a less magnificent impact until we are scrabbling around for seconds here and there.

Now I recognise that almost every factor in racing is non-linear – we are not machines after all – and that it is impossible to apply this type of model to human behaviour, the effect of the weather, the impact of illness, etc but I believe that every runner will acknowledge that running is like ‘bungee running’…

Bungee running? I hear you ask. Last year at a festival in central London, my fiancée and I saw a bungee running sideshow – an inflatable tunnel where people are tied to a bungee cord at the open end and try to run up the tunnel to snatch a prize at the other end. The initial few meters are easy (in a running analogy this is the first few races that a novice enters) with little resistance to forward momentum but as the bungee runner reaches the furthest extent of the cord, the effort needed to go further (in our running analogy to achieve a personal best) increases… until they are flung backwards to the open end of the tunnel, exhausted and defeated. Nice.

But there is something on our side. Something that started being discussed in the GB cycling squad and (surprise, surprise after their results in the Beijing Olympics) made it into the lexicon of the then Prime Minister, Gordon Brown; the aggregation of marginal gains. It is beautifully described here and essentially is the process whereby everything that could possibly have an impact on an outcome is systematically questioned and improved, if only by 1%. This, my friends, is where we find out improvement.

So what do I think this means?

I think it means making sure every training session is a close to perfect as possible (note I do not mean as fast as possible, or as long as possible. I mean as perfect as possible).
It means getting a massage.
It means stretching for a minute more or one more muscle than before.
It means going to bed 30 minutes earlier and making sure there are no distractions in the bedroom (well, apart from that obviously).
It means laying out your breakfast stuff the morning before an early run or a race.
It means thinking about everything that one can do that might have an impact in your A-race.

And where does that leave me? Well, I’m quite a long way up the bungee tunnel and the rope is quite tight. But I am not quite ready to slip back, not yet. I know that to get a little further up the tunnel I will have to work harder. But I am also going to work smarter. And I am going to accept that my days of 15 minute PBs are over and that from now on – if I am improving, I am improving and that is all I want.

Thoughts on the Florence marathon 2010

This weekend I ran in the 27th Firenze Marathon, in beautiful Tuscany.This is some of what I thought of the race.

The weather forecast promised rain and it delivered. Man, did it deliver. I have to admit that I tend to be a cynic when it comes to weather forecasts and this isn’t inspite of being a geographer and meterologist – it is because of it. I know how susceptible weather systems are to winds and pressure systems, how a small pressure system dictating the weather can suddenly veer away thanks to a change in temperature or wind direction. So it was no surprise that in the week leading up to the Florence marathon today, I could find every forecast from torrential rain to clear skies. Sadly however, by Saturday morning all forecasts has coalesced on one certainty – rain. Oh, and low temperatures and a fairly stiff wind.

So how was it that here I was, atop a hill with what should have been a magnificent view of the beautiful city of Florence (or Firenze to give it is proper name) in a total downpour that ran off the plastic poncho we had been given and poured down my shivering legs to soak my shoes as thoroughly as if I was standing in a bucket of water?

Well those who have read these ramblings before will know that in August this year I started training with a coach – Nick Anderson from Running With Us. Nick suggested that we target a few races of varying distances culminating in a marathon before the end of the year to give us a benchmark. He suggested Firenze because it is a race he knows and if there is going to be decent conditions anywhere in Europe for a marathon at the end November, there is a good chance they’ll be in Tuscany.

The truth is that I decided the moment I first met Nick for a coffee in the cafeteria of a gym in west London, that I would trust him completely and follow his suggestions to the letter. I reasoned that he is an excellent and well-proven coach and that to do anything other than exactly what he said would be a futile exercise – better to give it a year and see how we go and then pack it in if it didn’t work, than half-heartedly follow a diluted programme and then never know if I was able to improve under his guidance.

I have to say though, that at 8.30am on 28 November under the rapidly emptying leaden skies of Firenze, I was starting to question whether my faith in Nick should be this total.

As expected from a mid-sized marathon with an over-zealous organising committee with questionable professionalism, on a day with such nasty conditions, the start wasn’t exactly smooth. We were herded into overcrowded pens at least 45 minutes before being lead down to the start line. By the time the barriers were removed and the line of linked-armed stewards lead us to the start line proper, I (and everyone around me) was completely drenched and shivering quite badly. We were then stopped again 50 metres from the group of elite and celebrity runners actually on the start line, before the marshalls finally stepped aside and a minute later the gun went and we were away.

The race follows a road downhill for the first mile and I was really aware of Nick’s advice that I should run conservatively and not get carried away by the overzealous Italians determined to break the 10 second barrier for the 100m as a primo piatto to the main course of the marathon. I suspect that as we reached the bottom of the descent I was probably somewhere between 200th and 300th place – I was confident I would see quite a few of the sprinters again.

Nick and I had discussed a plan for the race that would see me aiming for 6min/mile to 6:10min/mile – or 3:45min/km to 3:50min/km in Eurozone marathons – running conservatively to 16 miles and then attacking the last 10 miles. As is often the case for city marathons in order to get the miles in, the course tracked north and then west to the Parco della Cascine to eat up the first half, then tracked out east to take up another 10km before we headed back to the city centre for the cobble-y finale.

I was careful to not get caught up running with people too quick for me in the first 16 miles and indeed I struggled a bit with the fact that I couldn’t find a group at my pace so ran long stretches alone. Luckily the wind wasn’t too bad and I was so wet that there was no way the rain could affect me. I passed half way in 1:21:33 and decided to hold off my attack on the end of the race for a little longer. In fact even when I got to 27km I was still a bit concerned about over stretching myself, but a plan is a plan and I had to see whether I could do what Nick asked of me, so I pushed as hard as I dared. My average pace from 25km dropped from 3:53min/km to 3:46min/km.

As ever the last few miles were really tough and there were a few lonely stretches where I really zoned out and felt quite ‘out of body’. I was convinced that I had hit the wall and was staggering along, whereas in fact my pace only increased the closer I got to the end. Finally around 39km I remember snapping back into reality and realising that I had barely 12 minutes of running left. I started to focus and work out that I had a new personal best in the bag – I just needed to keep doing what I was doing.

And so I did keep the pace and suddenly I rounded the bend into the magnificent Piazza san Croce and the inflatable finish line. Time: 2:40:49 – a PB by 3 minutes, a negative split by 2 minutes and 48th place. Job done!

I find it difficult to describe how cold I felt at the end. I had to grab a foil blanket and a cup of tea and get back to the hotel as fast as I could for a 20 minute hot shower. But nothing – not the cold, nor the state of my feet or the fact that I knew I had no time to relax before I needed to head to the airport – could dampen my elation. I was really proud of myself!

So what does this all mean. Well I think that the conditions and the super-twisty nature of the course cost me a couple of minutes so I think that on a different day I would have gone under 2:40. This means that I am another big step closer to the next target for spring next year and it also validates 100% the faith that I have put in Nick. I am sure of one thing and that is that without his input I would not have run that time in those conditions. So I am looking forward with relish to the next phase of our training. But in the mean time I have two weeks off running and I am determined to enjoy that time and recharge so that when I start to build again towards London next year I am in shape to make me proud of myself again!