Tri & Run « Craig Gibbons' Lifeblog

By: Gibbons  11-11-2011
Keywords: bike

I signed up for the Helsinki marathon not because I am some kind of Finnophile, but because it was my intention to achieve my best marathon time yet, 3:10, thereby securing guaranteed entrance into the London marathon in the Good For Age category (GFA). I decided this all a bit late however, leaving only 5 weeks to train, which mostly went well, up until 2 weeks before race day when all kinds of aches and pains started to materialize. I knew there would be no running in the last 2 weeks, I just had to rest-up, give my injuries a chance to heal and hope that was enough come race day.

And so, with only 3 weeks of actual training, I set out after work on Friday August 13th (not at all portentous) to run the 33rd Helsinki marathon. The race went as follows:

Km 0: I'm standing on the start line, the pre-race music is blaring, my heart is already pounding and I love it. The gun goes and we start running.

Km 2: The injuries are flaring up. My right ankle is making all kinds of complaints, but I know they are all phantom, they will subside. Strangely, the more I think about what to do when my foot meets the asphalt, the more the injuries complain. I am reminded of Blink (Malcolm Gladwell) and the fact that my subconscious can calculate what to do with my foot when it collides with the road many times more quickly than my conscious brain can manage and when I don't think about it, there is no pain. The more I try not to think about it, the more I think about it. It's difficult to remove the focus. If I say "don't think of a red balloon" what's the first thing that pops into your mind? So, I apply the idea in reverse, "don't think about the road ahead, do NOT think about the road ahead!".

Km 10: I'm rockin' along. I feel invincible, like I can lick this thing and keep on going, maybe the caffeine gels are kicking in.

Km 14: I realize I'm 1/3 of the way through and feeling great. Surely I can manage another 2 of these.

Km 21.1: This is half way, and psychologically one of the toughest parts of the race. I've made it in the time I wanted (1:30 on the dot) and starting to feel a little rough, but still confident I can achieve the 3:10 target time. One foot in front of the other, easy.

Km 30: this is as far as I have ever run in training, unchartered territory, "there be dragons here".. and there were, lots of 'em as it turned out. It is at this point where the marathon earns its reputation. I feel rough, but I'm still running, forcing the notion into my mind that there are only 12km's to go, a mere lap of the 3 parks which I have done 100 times, just not after 30 other brutal kilometers.

Km 33: I'm broken, everything hurts and my mind is saying "walk you fool, walk!". I give in, but only because I think the brief respite will actually help. It does, I have a stretch, walk about 100m and start running again, invigorated, a 2nd wind overtakes and I go with it, running the next 2km confidently and focused on the prize, but it's at this point the dream fades, I can’t go faster than I’m going and I realize I can't make 3:10. It's bitterly disappointing. By now my legs are numb, I have to look down to make sure they're not flailing all over the place, I’m glad to see they are still moving forward and true. I press on, it hurts, a lot.

Km 36: even though it's a mere 6km to go, it seems impossible. You might as well ask a 100m sprinter to shave 0.2 of a second off their best, I am destroyed and it's pure mind keeping me going. I know that later on, this half hour of pain will be forgotten, and all that will remain is the result, but I just don't have anything left, I plod on to the end.

Km 42: It's true, the supporters do add a couple of miles. Somehow I've made it all the way home and it's great. This is why I do it.. the sense of completion, the achievement, the elation, it's excellent. In that moment, I can actually even contemplate another marathon… another time.

I took the week leading up to the race off work and relaxed, spending most of my time getting good sleep and preparing myself and my equipment for the race. Came August 31st, I was on a plane to Nice and a short time later registered, with my bike racked and transition bags packed. Sunday, race day, was only a few hours away.

The swim was going well, I'd carved out a little patch of water and was making strong progress. About 5 minutes in, I turned to the side to take a breath and swallowed a full gulp of salty Mediterranean water. No more electrolytes required I thought. Then not far from the finish, another swimmer crossed in front of me and I caught a foot square to the side of the mouth, tasted blood and carried on, feeling a little tougher. Exiting the swim leg, I figured I was positioned about half way through the field, good enough for my first attempt I thought.

Transitioning as quickly as possible, I dowsed my arms and neck in factor 50 sun lotion and set off for the bike course, a gruelling 90km through the hinterland with 3 fearsome peaks to overcome, the first of which reaches 700m above sea level. For the first 20km, I fared surprisingly well and summited the peak feeling fresh and ready for more. The race director had briefed us all on the descents, advising caution on the tight-turn hairpin bends. It was good advice. My hands were acheing from pulling the brakes by the time I had reached the bottom and I'd lost my profile water bottle after hitting a massive bump in the road that launched the bike and I well into the air. No biggie, I pressed on and summited peaks 2 and 3, finally descending to T2 with still more ache in my shoulders and lower back, grateful for the opportunity to stand straight up for the run very shortly.

I always felt like running was my fallback event where I could do the distance no matter how rough I was feeling, but on the way out of T2 I was feeling great, positively euphoric even and spoiling for the run. 20Km later I was still cruising along, almost at the finish and delighted with the knowledge that by the time I got round the last lap, the clock would be ticking over well under my target time of 6 hours.

I finished the Monaco Ironman 70.3 in a time of 5:41:49.

Lastly, thanks to my lovely girlfriend Gemma, who put up with all the early mornings and exhausted evenings for those 14 weeks.

Update 16 Feb 2008: I have entered for the UK Ironman 70.3 and am coinsidering Monaco again. Looks like some more early mornings are in store.

Update: Yay! I collected my bike on April 17th.. and she is a beauty.

I have only ever done a duathlon once, and that was many years ago, so preparing for these two triathlons is going to be challenging at best. Fortunately global warming has made my task easier with back-to-back mild evenings just about the whole winter so far. I also did the , a major cycling event in South Africa, three times when I was younger, one year even managing to come 3rd in my age group, but it sure has been a long time since then. I certainly have my work cut out for me.

It was with surprise that I looked at my blog today and realised I hadn’t blogged anything about anything since September and was in serious danger of letting November slide without even so much as a single entry. This then, is it, back from the brink and Chicago, a précis of the town and the marathon.

Keywords: bike

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