Virgin London Marathon 2017: Race Day

4 years on from my first marathon, I lined up again at the Virgin London Marathon. The difference from 4 years ago is that I had the experience of having taken part in 4 marathons, I had followed a training plan and was running as an Ealing Eagle.

I still think back to my run in 2013 with a touch of disappointment, not because of my time, but because I didn’t really enjoy the experience. I told myself yesterday that I would enjoy the run and take in the atmosphere regardless of the outcome.

This year I was starting in Blue Pen 2, just behind the elite runners and alongside fellow Eagles all looking to run around the 3 hour / 3 hour 15 minute mark. The atmosphere at the beginning of London is incredible and a taster for what feels like a continuous wall of noise throughout the 26.2 miles.

With the goal of finishing just under 3 hours 5 minutes, the plan was to run at 7.00 minute miles (mm), which would give me a time of 3 hours 3 minutes and 30 seconds if I maintained this pace throughout. The first couple of miles were very congested, as expected, but I told myself not to worry about the pace as the 3rd and 4th miles are downhill and any time lost at the start is likely to be made up during this period. Whilst I was calm, others however were panicking like crazy, darting in and out of other runners, shooting up on the kerbs and eyeing up the smallest of gaps to try and run through. I knew I’d see these guys later on in the run!

As I’d hoped, following the 2nd mile, the race calmed down and I got into my rhythm, settling into my pace and soaking up the atmosphere – the noise levels were incredible! I was going well, spot on pace for the first 10 miles – was 3.05 a possibility?

The first obvious checkpoint for the marathon is half way, although it’s often said that a marathon is not made up of two 13.1 mile runs but a 20 mile warm up and a 10k race – that said I was keen to measure by progress at half way and as I made my way over the iconic Tower Bridge around 12.5 miles I was feeling good.

Half way: 1.31.51 Bang on target!

I was filled with positivity; adrenaline was flowing through my body and began to feel more and more lifted by the crowds. Then all of a sudden things started to change – the niggles from my training started to flare up, first the left knee, then the right quad. The elation that I was feeling only minutes earlier began to fade as doubt started to creep in.

I wasn’t however about to give up easily. These were only niggles and this was the London Marathon. I could still do this! My pace over the next few miles remained on target, however from 16 miles onwards it was becoming more and more of a challenge and this came about at the time the crowds were at their thinnest. I still wasn’t giving in and as I approached mile 19 I was just about holding on and the crowds were back to full voice.

Mile 20: The challenge was on!

This is when it began to hurt, but it’s always hard from 20 miles and I’d been here plenty of times before. My pace however began to slow, only by about 15 seconds a mile – although this was too much and once you slow in a marathon it usually only goes in one direction. I decided to break the run up into two parts – first I focussed on getting to mile 23 and the masses of Eagles that would be cheering me on. This really worked and provided the focus that I needed and although I was unable to bring my pace back to 7.00mm, I also didn’t get any slower.

2 years ago, I spectated at mile 23 to cheer on my fellow Eagles and the atmosphere was incredible. Every year the convocation line around 50m of the route and make a noise unrivalled anywhere on the course. Tradition is for the Eagles runners to mount the kerb just before the cheer squad and high-five as many people as possible. And although to-date no Eagle has succumbed to tripping on the kerb, I decided before the race that I would play it safe and stay in the middle of the road and acknowledge the Eagles from afar. That was however before my legs decided they weren’t so up for running a marathon after all. Mile 23 was therefore my last hope, if I could just transfer the energy from all of supporters to my body I might have a chance of achieving my goal. Mile 23 was amazing, I have no idea who I high-fived, but it didn’t matter, it gave me the boost that I needed. I checked my pace about 200m after and I was running sub 7.00mm. Unfortunately the revival didn’t last long and although I maintained my pace from the previous few miles, my legs were now in bits. The possibility of sub-3.05 was gone and I still had 2 miles to go.

Before the marathon I would have been really disappointed at not achieving 3.05, however the reality of actually running the marathon and remembering how tough these things are meant that during the run itself I was able to put my achievements and potential achievements into perspective. My pace over the final 2 miles were my slowest, but they were no way disastrous, with a 7.34 and 7.44mm. And as I came up The Mall, I was enjoying myself. The time at this point didn’t matter, I was taking it all in – I was about to cross the line in 3 hours 6 minutes and 36 seconds. My training over the past 18 weeks had paid off – close to a 10 minute PB and almost 90 minutes quicker than my time in 2013.

Finish: 3 hours 6 minutes 36 seconds PB

Yes, I just missed out on Sub-3.05 and a London Good For Age, but I ran a very impressive time, a Boston Qualifying Time and most importantly a time that I am proud of.

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VLM2017 – A 10K PB (39.34) and none the wiser as to what to target on race day

With just 2 weeks to go until the big day, I am still none the wiser as to whether I will go for sub-3 or stick to the original plan of sub-3.05 and a ‘Good For Age’ (GFA) time. For those without a calculator to hand, the difference is 11 seconds per mile – on the face of it, it doesn’t sound a lot, but over 26.2 miles running 11 seconds per mile faster is significant and likely to have me feeling considerably different at mile 20 (the point where the proverbial ‘Wall’ tends to strike).

The reason for my continued indecision is the conflicting predictions from my runs to this point. From a racing perspective, my half marathon in 1.26 predicts a 3.01 marathon finish (close enough!), whereas my recent 5K (19.07) and 10K (39.34) races predict times around the 3.05 mark. In truth, these calculators are dangerous and the best predictors are based on previous marathon training/racing experience and pacing during long runs, in particular those ran at marathon pace (MP). This is where I start to believe that running sub-3 is possible. I’ve come away from every long run achieving my target pace and the recent Fleet HM that I used as a MP race, running 5 miles before (including 1 @ MP) and then the 13.1 @ MP felt comfortable. As this was on tired legs, I finished believing that I could keep this going for the full 26.2 miles.

So here lies the dilemma. As this is likely to be my last marathon for a while, do I aim for a GFA time and achieve a recognition that I never thought was possible, or do I push myself to the absolute limit in search of the iconic sub-3 and can say that I have a 2 hour something marathon but risk blowing up big and finishing outside 3.05, something that I feel my training deserves. The other important thing to note is that 3.05 is not a given as this is marathon running after all. There are also external factors that are uncontrollable, most notably highlighted today at the many marathons across Europe where the mini heat wave made it nearly impossible (perhaps, just impossible) for people to achieve their main goal.

Ultimately, I want to enjoy the run and whatever I target will partly be based on how this will make me feel during and after the race. I have 2 weeks of relatively low mileage (32 next week and 22 in the week prior the race) and my body is definitely in need of the taper (taper being the period leading up to the marathon where you reduce your mileage to ensure that you are as fresh as possible on race day). This week was technically a taper week, but with a 10K race and 16 miles on tired legs in today’s heat it hasn’t felt too different to any of the previous weeks.

I’m going to try and relax over the next couple of weeks, but that’s unlikely – let the Maranoia begin!!

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VLM2017 – Weeks 11 – 14

I’m going to keep my latest blog entry short (very short), partly because I am still debating in my head whether to go for Sub-3.05 or Sub-3.00 and partly because I’m shattered, but feel that an entry is long overdue. So here it is, pics and stats from the past 4 weeks:

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VLM2017 – Clapham Chasers – Riverside 20 (5th March 2017)

Race report I wrote for my running club – Ealing Eagles

One of the advantages of running a spring marathon, over running one in the autumn, is the abundance of 20 mile marathon training runs that are available. There are so many in fact, that you have the option to be a bit picky and choose the one(s) that you enjoy the most and best fit within your training plan.

I ran the Clapham Chasers – Thames Riverside 20 back in 2015 in the build up to the Manchester Marathon and it was a no brainer for me to use this as one of my 20 mile runs in preparation for VLM2017 for a number of reasons.

On the face of it, the event doesn’t sound particularly exciting! It starts at 8am in the morning, involves a not particularly exciting route, running up and down the Thames (a large part of which is the clubrun route), there is no finisher t-shirt or medal and it costs £22.

And for all of these reasons I was depicting a pretty negative attitude towards running this year in the days leading up to the race. And with the forecasted heavy rain I was close to not getting out of bed at all. At this point I should apologise to everyone that had to ensure my grumpy demeanour on route on Sunday morning. To my defence the rain was coming in side-ways and we had little to no shelter in the race village.

The good thing is that once the race started, I remembered why I had signed up in the first place. Being a club-run event, the organisation is excellent – they know what runners want and need, focus on getting these things in place and don’t worry about all the pointless frills and spills.

The pace groups are what really set this race apart from the other marathon training runs. With 2 Clapham Chasers assigned to each group (7.00, 7.30, 8.00, 8.30 and 9.00mm), being set off at 2 minute intervals to avoid congestion, there is a really relaxed feel and a non-race vibe, with the first few miles spent getting to know different runners and sharing the various ups and downs of marathon training. Not everyone, including me, sticks to the pace group for the entire 20 miles (although many do) as the flat nature of the route provides a perfect opportunity for a progression run or even running part of the race at marathon pace. Again, by chatting to the other runners, you can often find someone who has a similar race plan and therefore can provide company for most of the run.

On top of pacing, the Chaser Marshalls are brilliant. They are situated and regular interval points, many of which double up as water/Gatorade stations and their enthusiasm and professionalism is probably only bettered by us Eagles. And considering the biblical weather we were experiencing at times on Sunday, it was even more impressive.

I mentioned earlier that the route was a bit of a negative. However, the out and back nature of the course means that you get to see all of the other runners on route and as the faster runners cheer you on the way out, you get to reciprocate this with the runners that are slower than you on the way back. And as there is always a decent number of Eagles running, this provides regular boosts just at the time you need it and is often shortly followed by those on the Sunday clubrun. In fact, there is a great buzz all round on this date as the event coincides with a rowing regatta, so the Thames get lined with supporters up and down the boat houses.

I also mentioned the lack of medal, but personally I’m not bothered about getting a medal for something that isn’t a race. The important thing after 20 miles is that you get well fed and with one of the most impressive goody bags around, courtesy of Holland and Barrett – not to mention the large selection of homemade cakes waiting for you – what’s not to like!

Overall it was a great day and the sun even came out for the second half of the run.

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VLM2017 – Thorpe Park Half Marathon PB: 1.26.05

3 weeks since my last update and I’ve reached a peak weekly mileage of 55 miles, ran a 15 mile long run on a stag weekend in Vegas and have a shiny new PB at the Thorpe Park Half Marathon.

Let’s start with the peak weekly mileage. Despite the achievement, the 55 miles were largely uneventful. It started with a poor Lactate Threshold (LT) session (which I blamed on tired legs from the Watford Half Marathon), a couple of recovery runs and a medium long run of 12 miles. The final run on Sunday of 20 miles was also of relative importance. Ok, yes a 20 mile run is still a very long run and I hit the paces I wanted to despite the ongoing niggles in my left knee but it’s not a session that I’m likely to highlight as a key run during my post marathon analysis.

Moving on the Stag weekend in Vegas! When I initially started planning my marathon training plan I contemplated starting a week early and sacking off running altogether during this week. So far the plan has taken me to Wales, Belgium, Switzerland, France and the US – so the Vegas trip wasn’t going to be the only disruption; however it was the only trip that would involve copious amounts of drinking over a 5 day period. The week did coincide with a taper week so I manned up, kept this week in my plan and packed my running gear.

I’ve had a bit of practice running whilst hangover / still drunk from the night before. My first ever 10K took place after an 8 pint drinking session and I also ran a half marathon a couple of years back after a drinking session that had only finished about 5 hours previously. I had 3 runs planned whilst I was in Vegas, a couple of short recovery runs and a 15 mile long run. The recoveries were fine, although required significant weaving in and out of the early risers and Vegas insomniacs! I was trying to think of a polite way of describing some of the individuals that I experienced when running around Vegas early in the morning. I came up with a few other adjectives, but think I’ll stick with insomniacs for now.

The 15 mile run was a different experience altogether. I’d done some research on running in Vegas prior to going to out there and pretty much every review said that the best place to run in Vegas, was outside of Vegas. I was therefore left with the option of getting a return taxi for around $100 to an area called Red Rock Canyon or braving the monotony of the Las Vegas suburbia. Having left most of my money on the Blackjack and Crabs table the night before, I decided to go with the later. And yes, it was horrendous. It felt like I was running past the same house, same road and crossing the same traffic lights time and time again. On top of that, we were experiencing the fringes of one of the worse storms to hit the region in decades and a years’ worth of rainfall was falling in Vegas in just a few days. Wasn’t quite what I expected for a run in the desert! I actually felt quite good once the run had finished and it had the added benefit of keeping me out of the casinos, bars and diners for a few hours at least.

Finally my PB. So back from Vegas and feeling a little bit worse for wear, the focus for this week shifted purely to the Thorpe Park Half Marathon at the end of the week. I’ve always used the half marathon in my marathon training plan as a key indicator for my progress and having not race for the first 10 weeks of this plan, this was going to be a key race for me to predict and ultimately set my final goal for London. Despite Vegas I was feeling pretty confident going into the half. The start of the previous week ‘prior to travelling out the US’ I had my best LT session of the plan so far. I did 10 miles with 7 @ LT, averaging 6.29 minute miles (mm) for each of the LT miles. I took this week relatively easy, although I didn’t want to taper to much as I was concerned about losing fitness, especially as the mileage the week before was also slightly cut back. I squeezed in a Vo2max session at the track and also an 8 mile GA run with strides, either side of the usual recovery runs and still felt sufficiently fresh come the start of the race on Sunday.

Thorpe Park Half Marathon was a new race and therefore a bit of a gamble for my key warm up race for London. I picked it for a couple of reasons – mainly because it fitted in perfectly with my marathon plan, but also because it claimed to be a flat and fast course, although experience has taught me that unless a course is very hilly it will always claim to be flat and fast. I think they are justified in calling this course flat though and it definitely has PB potential – as I was fortunate to find out. A few other runners commented post-race about the hills that they failed to advertise – yes there were 3 tricky inclines to navigate but it’s almost impossible to find 13.1 miles of completely flat roads and the overall elevation was less than 200 feet, which is comparable to other ‘flat’ half marathons that I’ve done in the past. The race organisation overall was very good, they could have had a few more toilets but volunteers were plentiful, the route well thought out and there were sufficient water stops on the course. We were also rewarded with a technical t-shirt at the finish and a good selection of drinks and snacks for the post-race recovery. The only negative was the medal that had a section cut off, which it later transpired was because they had failed to secure Thorpe Park branding permission from the Merlin group. In all honesty, I hadn’t even noticed it until it had been pointed out on social media.

I’ve almost forgot to mention my time. Well, the plan was to run at 6.35mm to achieve something around 1 hour 26 minutes and 30 seconds. I had a stretch goal of sub-1.26 but didn’t want to push it too much, with the risk of blowing up later on in the race. And despite the 3 hills and occasional periods of running directly into the remains of Storm Doris, my pace stayed bang on target for the majority of the race. I think my average pace overall was either 6.36 or 6.37mm from mile 2 onwards until mile 11. With 2 miles to go in a half marathon I usually pick up the pace if my legs are feeling good and yesterday was no different. My legs didn’t feel completely fresh (I had just ran 11 miles quicker then I’d ever run before!), but I did have enough to run a 6.31mm and 6.24mm, with a strong finish bringing me in for a 1.26.05. I was ecstatic; this was easily inside my target time and very close to my stretch goal. On top of this, I came 95th out of a field of almost 4,000. The reality of running progress over the past few years hit me when around mile 10, one of the spectators shouted ‘well done front runners’.

The question now is what does this mean for my goal time? This is probably the strongest evidence yet that sub-3 hours for London could be possible and I believe that it’s doable. I still need to get through 8 weeks injury free and considering I have five, 50 + mile weeks back to back now, that it definitely not a fore gone conclusion. I then need to decide whether I’m prepared to risk not achieving a Good For Age time. Experts say that for every minute that someone runs the first half of a marathon faster than what is achievable, they lose 2 minutes in the 2nd half. The fine line between success and failure!

Either way, I’m 10 weeks in and I’m in a good place – just not taking anything for granted.

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VLM 2017 – a few niggles!

My first hard session post Farnborough half marathon was another tough lactate threshold (LT) session on the track, only this time I needed to do 5 @ LT (6.30mm). The challenges of fitting in marathon training around work and personal commitments, coupled with my self-inflicted deviation from the plan, meant that this session was coming just two days after Farnborough and therefore on pretty tired legs. In truth, whilst marathon training, my legs always tend to be tired but I needed an excuse from having marginally slower splits than during those on my previous LT. I was actually quite happy with the run overall but the toll of the back to back hard sessions started to impact the rest of that week’s run. The legs were feeling very tired and I was starting to feel some niggles around my right knee. Then on a long run in Sunday with a few fellow Eagles to and from Richmond Park, I began to feel some aching in my left leg. It was dull throbbing feeling and therefore I wasn’t too worried about it, however it flared up post run and has been painful on and off for most of the past week. I feel like I’m just about managing it but if it doesn’t get any better I may need to take a few days off to make sure it fully recovers.

Despite the pain, the runs this week added a nice variety to plods around Ealing as I was in Paris for work taking in the sites of the Eiffel Tower, Arc De Triomphe, Champs-Élysées and River Seine. I just had to watch out for the crazy French drivers who collectively conspired to try and knock me down – we got our revenge in the Rugby though!

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So today was Watford Half Marathon – another training run, similar to Farnborough. Having done more than the 10 at planned marathon pace (PMP) that was on the plan for Farnborough I decided that I was just do 10 at Watford instead of the 12 scheduled for my run today. This decision was partly enforced my research into the elevation profile of the course – it didn’t look good. After 3 miles warm up, I lined up with the rest of the senior men on the right hand side of the starting pen. I’m going to be very negative about this race (not the organisers fault) so I should start with some positives. It was very well organised with quick race number collection, changing areas and a slick baggage process. The starting funnels were also very well thought out with half the runners in one funnel and the others in an adjacent funnel 50m away, with the funnels only converging until half a mile in. They also place time markers at various points in the funnels and the pacers arrive early which means that most of the runners position themselves in the correct place for their pace.

And there the positivity ends. The course is described as undulating/hilly – depending on which site is reviewing the race – but it can only be described as hilly hilly hilly! With the exception of the Box Hill fell run that I did back in 2015, I haven’t done anything that comes even close to these elevations. I don’t do hills! In fact, I avoid them at all costs – training runs and races. Give me flat and fast any day of the week. thumbnail_FullSizeRender

So safe to say I didn’t enjoy it. Every single mile had at least one hill to contend with, now although that meant that each mile also included a downhill section, my legs were generally spent from the uphill efforts that I couldn’t give the downhill sections the push they deserved. Marathon pace was tough to achieve and I couldn’t get any rhythm with the lack of flat sections. Having said that, my pace wasn’t actually too bad. The 10 miles @ PMP averaged 7.03mm which is bang on target for 3.05 for London and the Strava GAP analysis (takes effort required for the hills and converts this to a relative pace on a flat run) for the 10 miles came in at 6.59mm, with the whole half marathon at 7.02mm – a definite silver lining!

A few stats to finish this entry:

  • 7 weeks training
  • 313 miles
  • 5 countries
  • 2 half marathon races (training runs)
  • 20 miles, longest run
  • 4 LT runs
  • 6 minutes 26 seconds, quickest mile
  • 4 niggles
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VLM 2017 – ‘do as I say, not as I do’

2 more weeks have past and the marathon training is really starting to ramp up.

Week 4 included 3 runs of 10 miles or more, including a 19 mile long run for a total of 50 for the week. Originally I had planned a 47 mile week with an 18 mile long run, but having upped my mileage the previous week, it seemed a logical decision to add the odd mile here and there.

The current week didn’t start as planned. A 4 day work trip to Lucerne and temperatures of around minus 8 degrees meant I had to attempt my LT session on the treadmill at 6.30am. The lack of sleep and heat of the gym resulted in a failed session with only 3 of the 5 LT miles completed. My dislike for the treadmill led me to brave the freezing conditions for my recovery and general aerobic runs, which I did but a little quicker than I should have – I blamed this on the need to keep warm!

Saturday’s recovery run including Gunnersbury parkrun was too quick again – no excuse this time.

So having spent the previous few weeks advising and sometimes lecturing others on the need to run the majority of training miles at an easy pace and to be disciplined by sticking to the plan, I needed to have a word with myself. It’s definitely a case of ‘do as I say, not as I do’.

Today’s run was more of the same, although it has also given me a lot of confidence just 5 weeks into the plan. This morning was the inaugural Farnborough Half Marathon. As previously mentioned the plan was to do a few warm up miles, start the race slowly and finish with 10 miles @PMP (7.00mm). My preparation was going well – a large meal the night before, early breakfast, plenty of hydration and I arrived at the race in good time. And then it happened, I reached into my bag to put my Garmin on and I couldn’t find it. ‘Panic’ (this is overdramatic – frustration and a little annoyance was more the reality) struck – how could I run this properly without a watch! I soon calmed down and set out a plan. Starting slowly and picking up to 7mm was going to be difficult as I would be out of synch with other runners and would have no idea what pace I was running. I decided that I would push myself to 6.52mm for the first 10 miles, as I knew there was a 1 hour 30 pacer, and then finish with 3 slower miles. The pacer was very good and I didn’t miss the watch too much. I felt comfortable throughout and in part this was probably down to not having the constant distraction of checking my watch. The course itself was relatively flat, although there were a few slight inclines and a couple of uphill miles leading up to the 9 mile point. So when the 10 mile point came up, I was towards the highest point of the course. I initially stuck to the plan and eased off, but as we were running downhill I was able to keep with the pacer without too much difficulty. And so yet again I went against my own rhetoric by keeping with the pacer to the end. In truth it was very comfortable and finishing in 1.29.15 (my 3rd quickest half marathon) I now have a dilemma as to whether to step up my training and try and achieve sub-3 or stick with the original goal of 3.05 and GFA.

I don’t need to make a decision yet, but will see how the training goes over the next few weeks and see whether I need to adjust my goals – but most importantly, I need to stick to the plan!

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Virgin London Marathon (VLM) 2017

A new year, the Olympic challenge has ended but the sporting challenges continue in the form of the 2017 Virgin London Marathon (VLM). London will be my 5th marathon and the 1st marathon that I can focus 100% on without the distraction of other sports. London was also the venue of my 1st marathon in 2013, but I’m hoping to have a much more successful run and enjoyable experience this time around.

The marathon is on 23rd April and I’m already 3 weeks into my training plan. I’ve chosen the 18 week, 33-55 mile P&D plan again (the same as for New York), with a few tweaks where I’ve upped the mileage and long run distances and other minor changes to accommodate holidays.

And so far so good. I’ve hit the paces on my faster runs and felt comfortable on my 3 long runs (14, 15 and 17 miles), with the 15 mile run also including 8 miles and my target marathon pace.

Having ran 3 hours 16 minutes and 13 seconds for my last marathon (New York, Nov 2015), the obvious target would we to try and dip under 3.15 or 3.10. However, having not run a marathon for over a year (longest since my first marathon) and will be almost 18 months by the time London comes around, I’ve progressed significantly during this time and feel that I need to set myself a more ambitious goal. Having struggled with motivation in the build up to San Sebastian last year, resulting in dropping down from the full marathon to the half, I also feel the need to have a stretch target to get me out on the cold, wet and windy days. So, sub-3.05 is the target – not only is this going to be a challenge for me, it would also give me a VLM ‘Good for Age’ (this is running a time that VLM consider to be a suitably fast time for your age category that they will allow you to automatically qualify for one of the next 2 VLMs.

The next 15 weeks is likely to bring about many ups and downs, but if I focus on the plan and hopefully stay injury free then I think I have a good chance of achieving my goal.

To keep me on track I’ve included a number of events, which I’m going to use for my faster training runs and warm up races ahead of the marathon:

  • Farnborough half marathon – 16 miles with 10 miles @ PMP
  • Watford half marathon – 18 miles with 12 miles @ PMP
  • Thorpe park half marathon – Race
  • Clapham Riverside 20 – 20 miles @ 7.30mm
  • Fleet half marathon – 18 miles with 13.1 miles @ PMP
  • Northala parkrun – Race
  • Datchet 20 – 22 mile training run
  • Battersea 10k – Race

With any luck I’ll achieve new 5K, 10K and half marathon PBs along the way.

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The final words!

With just 5 days to go until the start of the Rio 2016 Olympics, it feels like a good time to summarise my journey over the past 4 years.

Until the past couple of weeks, the build up to the Olympics in the media has been relatively low-key, with the exception of the Zika virus and Russian doping scandal. However, once Euro2016 was over, Olympic fever fully kicked in.

I still can’t believe it’s been 4 years. It almost feels like yesterday that I watched Ed McKeever winning gold in the kayak at Eton Dorney in the morning on 11th August, followed by Mo Farah in the Olympic stadium winning the 5,000m later that evening. Not only was I fortunate enough to watch so many great events during the London 2012 games, I’ve been able to use these fantastic facilities on route to completing my Olympic challenge, including the two mentioned above.

Since London 2012 I’ve been asked on many occasions why I decided to take on the challenge. Well, it was a spur of the moment decision on that amazing day on 11th August, but essentially I thought it would be cool to have an appreciation of every Olympic sport whilst watching the Rio 2016 games.

So I’ve been thinking how to best summarise the past 4 years. As someone obsessed with stats I could think of only one way – in the form of Top 4s.

Top 4 sports

  • Number 1 has to be Athletics. I mentioned numerous times on this blog that prior to this challenge the only running I had ever done was part of a training session for another sport, the thought of running for ‘fun’ seemed absurd to me. I’ve definitely got the bug, in fact more than the bug, it has become an obsession. 97 running races, including 50 parkruns, 4 marathons and over 4,000 miles have taken up a lot of my free time over the past 4 years. I truly love running for the freedom, the community, the challenge, health benefits and many more reasons that would take too long to include here. Definitely my number 1!

The next 3 aren’t in any particular order and are included for different reasons.

  • Diving has to be included for the sense of achievement I had during the final lesson. I’ve never been able to even dive in from the side of a pool, so to be able to hurdle-dive, back-dive and dive off the 5m board by the end of the course provided an enormous sense of personal pride.
  • I didn’t manage to get to the Velodrome during the Olympic Games; however I’ve been to the venue on 3 separate occasions – once for the Revolution Series, with Dani King and Laura Trott amongst the competitors and twice for a taster session round the track. I would recommend this to anyone. For a start it’s one of the most impressive sporting venues I’ve ever been to and the speed and gradient of the track is a thrill for any adrenaline seeker.
  • The final sport has to be rowing for the combination of the team camaraderie, speed adrenaline, technical skill and peacefulness of gliding up the river, the Thames in my situation. I can see why people get into rowing in a big way, the only downside really is the time and cost commitment required.

4 least favourite sports

I won’t go into too much detail about these, as it’s unfair on the sports and I’m sure many people get a lot of satisfaction from these up and down the country. For whatever reason, the following sports just didn’t float my boat.

  • Greco-Roman wrestling.
  • Freestyle wrestling.
  • Judo
  • Archery – this one is probably a bit harsh as it was below freezing during most of my sessions.

The other three were just a bit too close and personal.

4 hardest sports

  • All of the martial arts: I didn’t really enjoy any of them, but I do have a lot of respect for anyone that takes part in these regularly. Strength, balance and agility are definitely not my strong points!
  • Synchronised swimming: Wow – I’m still not sure how they do what they do!
  • Waterpolo: Those guys and girls were seriously tough!
  • Modern Pentathlon: Fencing, swimming, show-jumping, running and shooting. I did all of these on different days, but doing these all in one-day. Now that’s impressive!

4 most travelled locations

  • New York – New York City Marathon.
  • Cardiff International White Water centre – Canoe slalom.
  • Guildford in Surrey – Diving – Not that far away, but travelling from London to Marlow and back every Monday for work followed by a return trip to Guildford in the evening was pretty shattering at times.
  • Greece – Sailing – Well almost, this was supposed to be my first completed challenge, only for a lightning storm to start up 5 minutes before the start of the regatta.

4 favourite running events

  • Ealing Half Marathon – my local, multiple awarding wining, half marathon organised by the amazing Ealing Half Marathon CIC not-for-profit community interest company.
  • New York Marathon – just an incredible event and amazing experience to be part of.
  • Welsh Castles Relay – running as part of a team from Caernarfon to Cardiff Castle over 2 days. Amazing scenery, atmosphere, camaraderie and the most incredible finish I’ve ever experienced for an event.
  • All parkruns – surely the single most impactful health initiative ever created.

4 most difficult to access sports

One of the most frustrating aspects of the challenge was identifying appropriate opportunities to get into certain sports. Sports like running, cycling and rowing have multiple routes for adults to have taster session or to join a course. Others unfortunately don’t seem to be building upon the Olympic legacy as well as they could, either by not having any initiatives for new starters or focussing purely on children.

The 4 sports that I found most challenging were:

  • Hockey – only through the introduction of Rush Hockey at the Olympic park did I manage to find a route in.
  • Judo – whilst I was able to join as a beginner, I was thrown into a session with experienced fighters and almost suffered an injury as a result.
  • Horse riding – I wrote to numerous clubs in the London area and didn’t get any replies.
  • Gymnastics – again I wrote to many clubs in London and explained the challenge and didn’t get many replies.

4 coolest things that have happened during the challenge

  • Completing the synchronised swimming challenge with two of the GB Olympians from 2012.
  • Running the New York City Marathon.
  • Running into the Olympic stadium during the Great Newham Run.
  • Receiving signed personalised messages from Sir Steve Redgrave and Sir Chris Hoy and receiving a personalised message on behalf of the Queen.

4 memorable events that have happened in the past 4 years

  • Getting married to my amazing wife, Rhian.
  • Becoming an Uncle for the first time to the gorgeous Alfie.
  • Buying our first house in Ealing.
  • Being bullied into getting Manu and Cookey, our two cats!!

4 events I’m looking forward to watching at the Olympics that I wouldn’t have previously been interested in

  • Synchronised swimming.
  • Show jumping.
  • Trampoline.
  • Handball.

Finally a massive thanks to everyone that has helped me complete this challenge. All the clubs, organisations, coaches, friends, family, in particular those that have joined me in various sports and especially my parents and Rhian, who have been incredible along the way.

I’m immensely proud of what I’ve achieved and the money that I’ve raised for charity. People keep asking me what I’m going to do now the challenge is over. I’m never going to be bored, I’m always thinking of new challenges and adventures and anyway, I’ve got the Great North Run, San Sebastian Marathon and London Marathon in the next 9 months so I’ve got plenty to fill my time with. I’ve also got to keep up with any additions to the Olympic programme, which can change every 4 years so I’m going to make a commitment to try any new Sports that get introduced to future Olympic Games.

2012 – 2016, a period of time I will never forget!

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