Saturday, 16 October 2010

The cost of getting sick

In light of Chrissie’s recent withdrawal at the IM World Champs, it got me thing about racing when not 100%. Everyone (including myself) agrees she made the right choice not to stand on the start line, but what about us normal age-group (non-pro) athletes? Would we make the right choice? And is our choice harder?

Cowman '09 - suffering!

A few years back, the week before the Cowman Half Ironman, I started coming down with something. At first I pushed those early feelings deep down, trying to ignore them, but as the race got closer, I knew things weren’t right.

Common sense obviously says, laugh off the race, it’s not the end of the world and there will be others. But then again, common sense thinks we’re idiots for doing these gruelling races in the first place. For me, it comes down to time and money, and it’s these very factors that affect pros less.

Due to T & M, I can pretty much only race two half Ironmen in a season, building up to and finishing with an IM. Let’s not forget either that as an age-grouper, races sell out quickly, to a point where we have to enter months (in some cases,12 months) in advance.

So let’s get back to my situation. Here I am thinking – this race is vital to my IM build up. I’ve paid 80 odd pounds (and Cowman is one of the cheaper races) to race and spent many, many hours training to get myself into shape. In the back of my mind, I’m thinking, all the other races in the calender have sold out many moons ago and I can’t even get a refund should I pull out. So what did I do, I raced.

And I suffered. It destroyed weeks of training, put me on the back foot mentally and most importantly, could have caused long term, life-threatening damage. I saw the same thing happen this year to my training partner. Coincidently, at the same race. I caught him on the run (which is VERY rare) and could see he was experiencing what I did the year before. He was half the athlete he normally is. And he suffered big time for a few weeks after too, both physically and mentally.

Pro athlete - Raynard Tissink

But being a pro, missing a race is kind of like taking a sick day off work. Granted they lose performance related bonuses, prize money, etc but they’ve got heaps more options to make amends for a missed race. Pros can pick and choose at late notice which races to participate in. (Correct me if I’m wrong please.)

Not for one minute am I saying it’s not hard to pull out of a race if you’re a pro, especially the World Champs. What I’m trying to say is that I think I’d struggle not to race, due to the circumstances already mentioned. I only get to race one IM a year. It’s a year of selfish commitment to train for one so to miss the big dance DOES feel like the end of the world. (I absolutely commend Chrissie for leading by example.)

My girlfriend - Chrissie Wellington ; )

My conclusion is this. I don’t think race organisers do enough to discourage racing sick. My decision not to race would be made much easier had I known I could have got my money back as a minimum, at the very least, a percentage.

I had a look on the Ironman UK website, and this is what they have to say about withdrawing from the race if it falls within 45 days of the start date:

After 45 days: NO REFUNDS WILL BE GIVEN UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES. The Race Office Staff are not permitted to enter into any discussion in regard to refunds. This policy has been adopted by IRONMAN UK due to action taken by previous competitors towards IRONMAN UK Staff. Any email in regard to this policy will be forwarded a standard email response reminding you of these terms and conditions and directing you to the terms and conditions and this page. Any further emails regarding this matter will not be responded to.

...but just not a refund.

Fair? So get sick the week before, or even on race day and say goodbye to £350. I know organisers would have had to make provision for you to race, but let’s be honest, what percentage of the field is going to get sick that close to the race or on race morning? They make enough money from the event that they could easily absorb this cost. Yes they should put measures in place to make sure people don’t just pull out for no reason.

Some will say £350 versus risking your life ill isn’t even worth worrying about, but trust me, it would make a HUGE difference to me.

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts, good or bad. Drop me a line.


Sunday, 3 October 2010

Emotional Berlin

I’ve never met anyone who didn’t enjoy Berlin. For that very reason (and the history obviously), Barbs and I decided we had to visit this year. It so happened to lay claim to the fastest marathon course in the world too, so I conveniently suggested that we go on the weekend of the Berlin Marathon.

So both Barbs and I entered the race earlier in the year. I had the Outlaw Ironman as my main focus for 2010 with the Berlin Marathon positioned perfectly 7 weeks after. Enough time to recover but keep the fitness and endurance. Barbs unfortunately found out early on in her training runs that there was a problem with her hip. Race over. On the plus side, the problem is being sorted out and although it may require surgery, it means hopefully pain free running following her recovery.

We decided to go for enough time to do some sightseeing before, have the Saturday as a rest day (keep off the feet) and then chill after the race and only fly back on the Monday. This worked perfectly although I reckon we could spend a month in Berlin and still not see everything there is to see and do.

Something else that we did which is fairly unusual for us was to splash out on a nice hotel. It wasn’t mega expensive and we got it on a package deal with our flight, but it was 4 stars and very comfortable. More importantly, the location was perfect. From now on, I’ll happy pay a bit more to be closer to the start/finish of a city marathon. It took all the stress away from the race morning mission. 15 minutes walk to the start area, thanks for coming.

In April I ran a new marathon PB of 3:24 at the Brighton Marathon. This was off a reduced training schedule due to illness. I ran the Outlaw IM run leg in 3:45.

After the Outlaw, I followed my training partner’s advice and tried to get my running more efficient. In simple terms, the more efficiently one runs, the less energy they use. This allows the body to go for longer, quicker. So to get more efficient, the idea was to run for at least 30 minutes, every day. Ideally, you’d run the same route, with a HR monitor (I didn’t use one) and record your time. By losing weight or running with a better posture/style your time should come down. It’s also important to not up the heart rate i.e. push harder. So by keeping distance and effort (HR) constant, only efficient running will reduce the time. As I don’t have a HR monitor, I just tried to feel my effort and keep that constant while running with my hips higher, forefoot striking and head up – improvements that makes running more efficient. There is a tendency to over think things while doing this, so if you give it a go, don’t worry if it suddenly feels like you’re running funnily. The reason for the ‘every day’ repetition is to teach the body through repetition as well as hopefully lose weight through burning calories. This is hard to do while training for a triathlon (need time for swimming and biking) so it’s good to try it during an off-season or in between big races.

All of the above is obviously hardly scientific but going out trying to improve on something has to have a positive effect in the long run (excuse the pun!). I also can’t take credit for knowing the above info in detail, I got it all from my training partner who loves to research this stuff.

Perfectly timed, the opportunity came about to do a track 10,000m race with my running club. As ‘they’ say, a quick 10km is the base for a quick marathon, so targeting this run a week out from the marathon become a short term goal. Could I break 40 minutes for 10,000m? The answer – yes I could. I ran a 39:32. It hurt quite a bit but my strategy was all about pacing. Start and finish at the same pace. It worked and a week before the marathon I had a new 10km PB, but more importantly, the confidence boost I needed.

And so to Berlin.

Registration was really straightforward. I went to the Expo on the Friday to ensure I was off my feet on Saturday. What I took out of the Expo was the buzz and excitement of a big city marathon. It’s been so long since I’ve done a mass event, so the atmosphere and energy was great to soak up. Admittedly I felt less nervous as after an IM, a straight marathon feels way less daunting.

I woke up on Sunday feeling great. I was so excited to be finally here, ready to run the Berlin Marathon. I just had the feeling that today was going to be a good day. A great day. I wrapped a 3:10 pacing band around my wrist and made my way to the start. On arrival at the start, I kissed Barbs goodbye with the plan to see her at the 8, 19, 32 and 40km marks. The rain was bucketing down.

The start area was very organised. They even had specially made rain covers for us to wear. I made my way to the batched off start pens. I was allocated pen D. The vibe at the start of the race was brilliant. All the pros were introduced to the crowd to massive applause. Following some rhythmic clapping and a countdown, the gun sounded the start to the 2010 real Berlin Marathon.

I crossed the start line after about 50 seconds but best of all there was space to run the pace I needed to run. The road was soaked so most of the first few kilometres were spent dodging deep puddles of water. I settled into my 4:30/km pace quite quickly and felt great. It didn’t feel too hard and my breathing remained constant. I tried to soak up as much of the atmosphere as possible without losing focus on the job at hand. Nutrition wise, I took 9 gels. One every 20 minutes.

Before I knew it, I was at the 8km mark and saw Barbs. I couldn’t stop smiling and I shouted ‘This is awesome!’

To be honest, the rest of the race went by in a blur. I kept hitting the kilometre splits a few seconds inside the target time and kept feeling good. I tried to think positive things but there was always a nagging voice in my head that kept saying, “Come 30km, the wheels are going to fall off.” I got half a bottle of Coke off Barbs at the 19km mark and again at 32km. By 36km I could feel it was getting harder to hit the 4:30/km splits but I certainly wasn’t in the red zone. There was still something left in the tank. But when to go for broke?

I made the call with about 3km to go. By this stage I knew the chances of bonking were pretty slim and being on the ‘home-straight’ would keep me going no matter what. I pinned my ear back and pushed.

The actual home-straight is really quite long. You take a left turn and can see the Brandenburg Gate in the distance but there’s still about 1.5km to go. In my head I was sprinting, at max speed. Watching the race video, I look like I’m on a Sunday stroll. Running under the Brandenburg Gate was a special experience and it gave me the motivation to put in another kick and lift the pace for the last 200 odd metres. I crossed the line panting like an unfit, fat dog.


The sprint for the line ensured I achieved a negative split. I take great satisfaction out of running a NS so this just put the cherry on the top of a perfect race.

I sit here writing this having just found out that I go a place in the Virgin London Marathon. Incentive enough to try run under 3 hours?

Why is this post titled ‘Emotional Berlin’? Well, on one hand my race performance put me on such a high, but on the other, walking around Berlin reminded me of the terrible suffering people have experienced in this world. Berlin really brings this to life and there were quite a few very depressing moments. Let’s hope it a case of live and learn.

Here’s to a winter of marathon training and the search for that elusive 2:59:59!