Acceptable in the Eighties

A very unscientific attempt to go back in time

Month: March, 2014

Finchley 20


Very nearly an expensive second.

I thought it was safe to assume that the 7.28am tube from Tottenham Court Road to West Ruislip – on a Sunday morning – would be fairly empty. I was looking forward to dozing for a few more minutes. I couldn’t help but laugh, then, when the train pulled in so full that there was only a small amount of standing room left. Are you joking, London? Do you know what time it is? I know most of my friends from university have moved down here, along with half of my generation, but I hadn’t expected them all to be on the central line at once.

I did a conservative warm up consisting of a ten minute jog and two strides, figuring that I could warm up in the first couple of miles. I had been warned that after taking it easy for a few days leading up to the race I might feel fairly sluggish at the start, but in the end I didn’t feel too bad. I did struggle to get a sense for what pace I was running, though, and went through the first mile in 5.11. I’ll have to remember to head out a bit slower at London. It became clear by the one mile point that it was likely I’d be running the entire race alone. I’d prepared for this mentally – after all I’ve done every step of my marathon build up on my own – but I was quite glad that the race was four laps of five miles, which would break up the race a little. I knew my girlfriend was texting updates to my coach every lap, and by the nine mile mark I was starting to lap a few people which kept me going. Concentrating on maintaining a pace for an hour and three quarters, without letting your mind wander (or play inexplicably selected songs on repeat) is pretty difficult, but given that I may have to run large sections of London alone, excellent practice.

A twenty mile race (and – to a greater extent I imagine – a marathon) is very different from a half marathon. In a half you can afford to go for it a little bit in the first 10km. In a longer race you just have to stay relaxed for as long as possible and put off the time when, inevitably, it gets really hard. I went through five miles in 26.15 feeling fine. Then, without consciously speeding up, I ran 5.00 for the sixth mile. When I checked my watch I remember thinking, ‘that could come back to haunt you in ten miles time’. Going into the fourth lap I heard my girlfriend shout ‘you have to kill yourself on the last lap!’ and glanced over to see her getting some strange looks from the other spectators. She was just repeating a text from my coach verbatim, but it must have sounded a little odd coming from a mild mannered and usually fairly reserved girl.

The fourth lap was a bit of a struggle. The temperature was rising, not to the extent that it was objectively hot, but to a point where it felt that way given the weather in Durham for the past few weeks (I ran in a hail storm on the Tuesday), and I hadn’t done a great job of drinking in spite of the practice I’d done the previous Sunday. It’s quite difficult to grab a plastic cup when you’re running full tilt, and even more difficult to grab it without emptying most of its contents. It should be easier at London, where they have squeeze-top bottles apparently, and it was an important lesson to learn: drink more, drink earlier in the race. Further complicating my attempt to get round the last lap at a decent enough pace was the fact that the second mile of the loop, which is usually run on a quite country road, was run on a previously-quiet country road currently in use as a diversion for a far busier main road. This left much less room to manoeuver safely around lapped runners, and made it pretty difficult to relax – my heart rate was high enough as it was without having to worry about cars!

I finished in 1.47.02 – not quite as fast as I’d wanted but not too bad in the circumstances. The good people of Hillingdon A.C even decided to give me the extra £50 on offer for running under 1.46.59 to account for the the increased traffic compared with previous years. My legs felt worse than they’ve ever before following a race (unsurprisingly) and I only managed a 25 minute jog on Monday and two very easy half hour runs on Tuesday. Since then, though, I’ve had a pretty good week of training, and I’m looking forward to my final race before London at Wilmslow half on Sunday. Training from Finchley up until today is below for anyone interested:

Monday: 3 mile very easy jog. Legs painful in the night, had to take ibuprofen!
Tuesday: AM 4 miles easy PM 5 miles easy.
Wednesday: AM 8 miles steady PM 8 miles steady.
Thursday: AM 8 miles steady PM 9 miles including 2k, 1k, 2k, 1k, 2k on track (200 jog) averaging 3.00 per km.
Friday: AM 8 miles steady PM 8 miles steady.
Saturday: AM 6 miles including 4 miles hard in 20.21 PM 6 miles including 4 miles hard in 20.16.
Sunday: 21 miles easy.
Monday: AM 8 miles steady PM 8 miles steady.
Tuesday: AM 4 miles easy PM 12 miles including 10 miles in 53.30.


My Thursday night acceleration run pretty very well, and can be viewed below for Garmin enthusiasts. The watch is pretty handy for judging runs like this, where the idea is to gradually speed up every mile. It does have a tendency to become wildly enthusiastic on the track, however. I usually finish these runs on the track so that we can ensure the last couple of miles are accurately timed (my coach had marked out the one and two mile points with cones). I ran 4.58 and 4.56. According to Garmin I ran 4.42 and 4.39. I wish!

On Sunday I’m running the Finchley 20, which I hope will give me a decent idea of how I’m going to feel at London. According to my coach, the marathon is made up of ‘the first ten miles, the second ten miles and the third ten miles’. According to Alberto Salazar, ‘20 miles is halfway’. Frank Shorter reportedly got to the 20 mile mark in his first marathon and said, through gritted teeth, ‘why couldn’t Pheidippides have died here?!’ Depending on who you ask, then, after Sunday I’ll at least know how I’m going to feel at half way, two-thirds of the way, or at about-to-drop-down-dead time.

I followed the acceleration run last week with a shorter session on Saturday and a three-hour ‘easy’ run on Sunday, when I also practiced grabbing water bottles off a little table (constructed with two hurdles and a plank of wood) and drinking on the run. The three hours did feel better than last time, perhaps because I was better hydrated. I’m not sure you can ever really call the last hour ‘easy’ though. 114 miles for the week. After a track session tonight I’m easing up a bit for Finchley, and looking forward to getting a bit of spring back in my legs…