Sunday 14 April 2013

The last 12 are the deepest


TL;DR: 3:46:34 for the Brighton Marathon. A new PB by 8 minutes (good) but I still died in the last 12 km (bad).

Longer version (or skip to the race itself): this is Brighton Marathon #3, the follow-up to #2. With #2, and two Amsterdams, I'd got 3 times at 3:55 +/- 1 minute, and felt it was time to do better. A 1:36 at the Cambridge half, and a follow-up 2:28 for 30k, convinced me that I could at least target 3:30, which I've decided is my version of respectability for the moment. A week after the 30 k I tore my right calf somewhat, forcing me to take 2 weeks off and then be very gentle, so my training in the run-up was necessarily very tapered. But the calf didn't trouble me during the race. Poor James E, however, tore his calf one week before, and so had to pull out. That left me pitted in a death-match with my arch-rival James H, who has a 1:33 half but has never run a marathon before.


On Saturday morning I sat in bright sunshine with the French window open glorying in the beauty of the day, and wondering if I needed to take sunscreen. I need not have worried: when the train pulled in to Brighton it was cold and pouring with rain. I tried sitting in a cafe by the station to make it stop; this didn't work. I went half-way down the hill towards the sea and sat in a Waterstones for a bit; that didn't help either. So I picked up my race number from the expo and headed back up the hill and caught my train out to Worthing (stopping at a supermarket to buy some buns, and fruit, and pork pies, because I suspected Worthing might be a blue-rinse desert and I might not get any breakfast in the morning. I was wrong). Its 25 mins down the coast, and then a 1 k walk to the front and my hotel, the "Kingsway". Its still raining, so I stay in (and watch Dr Who). James E had chosen the Kingsway, and its OK: corridors rather narrow but room acceptable and bathroom shiny. There's an awful lot of dross on TV though. They advertise to runners that "our menu has lots of carbs" but there is no pasta on the menu at all. I have a nice sos-and-mash-in-Yorkshire-pud, but I'd rather have had a plain bowl of spaghetti. Ah well. Rob has got me "Into the Silence" and this makes good reading for my lonely dinner and evening. Don't get to sleep early.


The rain has stopped, but the sky is grey. My alarm wakes me at 6 and I go down to the runners breakfast: coffee and juice and toast and yoghurt and porridge. Good, just what I want. Walk to the station, get the 7:30 to Brighton, follow the stream of people heading to the start. Stop in a little cafe to (a) blow some time and (b) go to the loo (yes, again. You can't go to the loo too often, as James H found to his cost). I don't time this right, so when I get to the park and change to race kit and pack my bag and hand it over to the baggage lorries (where they are playing "Born to Run", an appropriate, inspiring, and blood-pumping choice; hence my lead pic) and join the enooooormous loo queue (did I mention there are never enough loos?) by the time I'm out the race is just about to start and I'm not even sure exactly where I'm supposed to be. Never mind, I leap over the barrier and join those shuffling forwards, then jogging, and then, woo, we're at the start line.

Perhaps you want to look at 
the GPS trace. Avert your eyes from the last 12 k.

The start is OK. I'm slow to start because of the inevitable bozos, but then things get better and I can run at ~5 min / km pace, which is what I'm aiming at. Actually I had intended to be aiming for a bit better, but today things just don't jel somehow, and I'm not on tip-top form. But 10 k comes in 50 mins, and half-way in 1:45 - all of that goes by fairly quickly and painlessly. At around about 10 k I overtake the 3:45 pacers, which is what I'd hope for; coming back in the loop-inland out East I spot James H in their pack. I'd forgotten that the hill heading East is quite long and not that small. 24 k at 2h, and 30 k at 2:32 is about right, but its at least 2 mins away from a 3:30 finish, so I abandon that target. At some point the sun comes out and the day is warm, indeed a little too warm, but not overly so.

The last 12 k, however, are deeply unpleasant, sliding down to 6 min / km, until the last 2 km which are even worse. James H came past me at that point (and in a slight plus point, I clearly have no reserves at all, because I don't speed up in the slightest. So its not as if I've held anything back), but since he'd started about 1:30 ahead of me (I hadn't realised that:I must have passed him at some point early on, as I went for a fast start and he for a steady pace) we ended up with near-identical times (technically I beat him by 4 seconds, which is 0.011% of our times, but I'm happy to call it a draw). And, as I understand it, he was obliged to take a pitstop at some point.

Excuses, excuses: the tail-off past 30 k is entirely reminiscent of previous runs. Probably I could have got a fast time overall if I'd aimed for 3:45 and set off at that pace, and speeded up later if I had any spare. But, that wasn't my plan, I wanted to try for 3:30, and I'm not sad I did. better a glorious failure than a mediocre success. Ahem.

This time I didn't get my in-race nutrition right. I'd managed to convince myself- based on one test - that I could cope with Maz's caffeine-enhanced rather thick gels (which looked disturbingly like spunk when I found it oozing out of my clutch). However, this was a mistake: my stomach took against it, even though I sipped slowly and washed it down with a water break. I ended up throwing two away (sorry Maz). So there were some portions of the race where I felt distinctly queasy, and I even slowed down a bit on occasion to give my tummy a rest. However towards the end even the Gatorade drinks they were providing made me feel ill, so perhaps I'd just got twisted.

Death note (this applies to mountaineering too, only more so): someone collapsed and died during the race, fairly young I think, perhaps 23. My attitude to this is no-false-sadness: I don't know the guy, he took his chances along with the rest of us, marathons are physically very gruelling and its up to you to make sure you're fit enough to compete. If you get unlucky and have some unsuspected weakness: well, that's unlucky. Go on, tell me I'm callous.

After the race I tired to find James H, but the family-reunion A-Z flags were poorly signposted and I took ages finding them, and he'd gone. So I collapsed for 10 or 15 mins, and then went to the pebbles on the seas edge and collapsed there for most of an hour, watching the waves and the children throwing pebbles at the waves and laughing as they ran from the waves and generally being the delightful innocent creatures that they are. And that's it; I'll spare you my exciting wait for the train at Finsbury park. Oh, but I will tell you that whilst getting up and down, and climbing stairs, is rather unpleasant, cycling back from the station was fine.

Tuesday 2 April 2013

Book review: City of Illusions


Summary: post-apocalyptic, quest, mystery. Elegiac, a quality I greatly value. Its not up with The Deep; but nothing is.

Read again? I first read this in my teenage years, when I read all the sci fi available in our local library. I've read it several times since. I'll read it again.

Memorable line: "people makes laws for what they are most afraid of". And perhaps: "travel alone".

If you want the plot, the the wiki entry is good enough. That also told me one new thing (no, two; oh hold on, I'll come in again...), with which I agree: that the Shing aren't really convincing villains when they turn up. They are almost convincing; what works rather well is that it becomes clear that although the Shing have conquered the Earth, they don't really know why they bothered to do it, they have no purpose. But when they speak they are wrong. The other thing is that this predates The Left Hand of Darkness in the "Hainish cycle".

Like some of her other books, and many another author, Leguin (in the beginning) tries to sketch a future semi-utopia: its a small world, but the people are at peace with nature and stable. This is, I think, what she really wants (see "Always coming home"). But its not stable, and her character Falk sets out to find out why.