WOW Air Cyclothon

Head winds, Tail winds, Alliances and Sprints. All terms I use at work, and relate to Aviation and Commercial Strategy.  But today I’m going to talk about them not in context of an airline, but an airlines endurance event. The WOW Air Cyclothon, 1,358kms around Iceland.

Earlier his year we were asked by our partner WOW Air, if Expedia would like to enter a team into their annual Cyclothon. Circling Iceland with a team of 10 in a non-stop relay, under 24hr daylight. Naturally, the #bikeexpedia community stepped up to the challenge!

We assembled a team from across the business. With cyclists from CSS, MeSo, LPS, HCOM and Egencia. From London, Denver and Bellevue. The team was balanced with mixed ability. Ex-Bike shop professional, Nate to spin class attending Valentina – who admitted asking social media, ‘how do I change gears on a road bike?’ The week before we flying out(!). Like any great team, we played to our strengths and worked together to achieve something unforgettable.

team

The event started just outside Reykjavik on the west coast of Iceland. In what can only be described as 4hrs of adrenaline fueled, peddle bashing! There were 112 teams racing to get around the Fjords and set strong start. Teams sent out two cyclists, so if one was held up, the other can still make the exchange. Nate and Daniel began the race for us.

Daniel has an amazing up-beat personality and is a remarkable biker. He tore through our fist exchange at 23kms handing over the baton, (figure of speech – there was no physical baton. Instead you had to pass your next cyclist before they could set off. This tended to be a rolling exchange to keep speed and momentum.)

Carl took the second leg while we collected Nate and Daniel up in one of the support vehicles and drove ahead to the next exchange point. Carl is another strong cyclist completing his first 150 mile race at the age of 15. Carl was known amongst the team for that next 48hr period as the ‘Nordic giant’, on day two he would scale and descend Oxi, the toughest hill segment over gravel trail. And then sleep like a giant taking up most of the second row in the minivan…

Pro Car rental supplied us two support vehicles. A two seater camper and a 9 seater minivan with a closed trailer for bikes on the back. The minivan and bikes carried the active cyclists and their bikes, leap frogging the live rider to the next exchange point. The camper followed the route with our riders switching 2 people every 4hrs so they could get some rest, find a bathroom, fuel and if lucky – an hour or two of sleep.

I took the first driving shift in the minivan and loved it as much as the cycling. Driving around Iceland on its Route 1 is on many travel top 10 things to do, (The Cyclothon started when the CEO of WOW Air, an avid cyclist, suggested route 1 be cycled, rather than driven!).

Quin and Raf took the first shift in the camper. This meant that they joined at a time when we had found a rhythm for exchanges and were comfortable with the distance and effort being put in. They quickly came in sync despite the difference in emotional states. Quin commented on how ‘amped up’ we were from the rush of the start. He jumped on his bike and tore up a hill for a solid start to his biking contribution. I felt totally guilty being the next rider and getting a long downhill section the other side. I had another easy leg on the second morning. Coming out of a tunnel on the east coast into an awesome tailwind. I remember being on my highest gear hitting a top speed of 26mph – uphill. I also had my share of hard segments too with headwinds and a 10% gradient hill, (where I got switched out at the top for someone else to enjoy the following downhill…)

Raf was our ‘MVP’. Often first out the van, helping with the exchanges. I remember him shouting ‘Give me another 5k’s’ as we passed him while on his bike. We were delayed from an exchange and he was willing to push a bit more so the team could get back on track a little further down the road. Gestures like this was something all the team were doing in their own way. But Raf seemed to be the one always there to contribute and support.

Iceland might have 24hr daylight in the summer. But it’s still cold. And windy. And rainy. We got it all! After starting at 6pm on the Wednesday night, we were half way in 24hrs later. Tim, (who often cycles 23miles into the London office – as it takes him the same time in his bike, as it would public transport.) was told by another team that there was a storm due to hit the following morning. Race HQ confirmed that if teams we not able to be past the danger area by 6am the following morning, they would be Cut Off and not allowed to continue. A sweeper vehicle was out on the route. Pulling out teams as it caught them, who wouldn’t make the deadline. We did the calculation. For us it would be tight…

At midnight on the second day we called HQ for an update. The storm was still a threat and the cut off remained in place… We had 6hrs to cover abound 160km. We were tired, but we had to push. Our legs were putting in hard sprints.

Valentina and Kate were doing solid 5km segments and the guys 8-10km. The girls were sharing a bike, adjusting the saddle each time. They put in an impressive distance on that bike between them. And also both did their fair share of driving. Kate, like Tim, is a bike commuter. Though her journey is a bit shorter. She had similar worries as Valentina about how much they would be able to contribute. For both ladies, dedication and drive made them valuable team members.

Nate’s Bike Shop skills were put to the test when Raf acquired a snapped gear change cable at an exchange! We sent another rider out instead while Nate worked a medical repair from the back of a moving van. We made the storm deadline with 40mins to spare, ahead of 34 other teams who were pulled out of the race.

Dan from MeSo was the last of team to get confirmed on the trip. A fitness fanatic with an appetite to match! Keeping fed as well as rested was essential for all of us. Snickers bars seemed to be the fuel of choice! Though the pizza at half way and occasional hotdog or burger at petrol stations complimented our elite diet and performance!!

pizza

Once we knew were we’re still in the race we thought we could ease off the pressure and enjoy the 3rd day and the last 12hrs back through the south into Reykjavik.

However, with the storm hitting the east – the surrounding areas were also experiencing high winds. Hopeful they were going to be powerful tailwinds behind us? They seemed to come from all angles except from behind… With added rain. I remember watching the waterfalls coming off Eyjafjallajökull, (The infamous volcano responsible for the ash cloud causing European flight disruptions in 2010) the wind was so hard these waterfalls were vaporising before they made the ground!

It’s hard to put into words what was going on at this point. 36+hrs in, still with 100+km in front of us. Headwinds, Rain drenched, and Fatigue all working against us. We were still pushing forward as a team. We hadn’t formed an alliance early on in the race. And we knew what we were achieving under our own steam, as 1 team, was an impressive feat.

Many teams over the start of the race teamed up and formed alliances. They worked packs sending out a rider from each team to form a group of up to 5 riders on the road so they can draft each other. This is when riders cycle close to the next rider and form a line in each other’s slipstream. They rotate the front rider and work together to go faster and with less individual effort. I heard quotes that it makes the event 30% easier if you draft. We made decisions as a group throughout the event and ended up not being part of an alliance. We learned from that. Was it the wrong decision? I honestly wouldn’t have don’t anything differently. We may have gotten a better time, but I wouldn’t trade the experience we had for it.

The wind kept battering us but the rain died down. We were 30km from the finish – Daniel and Carl took to their bikes for a long, hilly, partly gravel section to finish. Gusts hitting them from all angles and physically moving them a foot or two sideways at times. They pushed on.

5km from the finish we pulled over and eight of us got on our bikes. Tim and Valentina drove as close to the finish as they could and we joined them.

Wednesday evening, we had left Reykjavik. Friday evening, 48h38m later, we were coming full circle. Beating the storm, which stoped 34 teams completing the race. We cycled past Iceland’s glaciers, waterfalls and fjords. The awe inspiring scenery. Through the rolling hills of the North, and the breathtaking trail across Oxi in the East. Our race against the storm in the South back to the gio thermal springs and lakes in the West. We crossed the line as we had taken on the whole challenge. Together. As a team. Team Expedia!

DSCF4446

Medals collected and back at the hotel. We shared a meal and sorties from the last few days. Tiredness overwhelmed us and we retired to our rooms.

It was an amazing experience.

The next day WOW Air hosted a closing party and awards ceremony. We chatted to other teams and our airline hosts, who made the whole trip possible. We speculated on participating next year… I asked Carl. Would he do it again and what would he do differently? His reply; ‘I’ve been eyeballing the 4 man group… but if I could do it again with the same team. I’d do that in a heartbeat.’ That summed it up for me. We had all come together from across Expedia. From different offices and departments. To achieve one thing. And we nailed it!!

Pro car rental provide the vehicles. WOW Air supplied the flights and entry fees. The Base hotel covered our accommodation and for them we are grateful or their support and partnership. Team Expedia and the Expedia bike community came together and covered 1358km around Iceland.

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Last One Standing

Last One Standing

Sometime last year, after completing my first 100km ultra I saw this race advertised… It grabbed my attention for its simplistic concept that sparked so many questions! For many people those questions would have been ‘why…?’ or ‘who on earth?!’ For me the questions that were, ‘how will I tackle this…?’ and ‘how far can I go?!’. Seems I wasn’t the only one…

‘Competitors start at 12noon and then have an hour to complete the 4.2 mile circuit before having to complete it again. This will go on every hour until the 48 hours is up or there is only one runner left. The Last One Standing.’

It was strategic. The faster you went the more rest you got. Not always a good thing as muscles cool and begin to stiffen. But as I found out a little late in my training, to slow – for minimal rest and to keep moving means you use different muscle groups. A slow jog becomes a walk and its no longer your quads and hamstrings doing the, (cough) leg work….

I approached my training for this run in a similar way to my previous ultras. Back to back long runs at the weekend, dropping speed and focusing on time on my feet. Going for a 5hr run then 6hrs the next day. In all honesty – I felt slightly under trained. I had only planned out my long runs at Christmas. Realising I had just 7/8 weeks to be race ready! I have a solid base – and suck to my plan. From experience, I felt if I could get those miles in my legs they would carry me. I felt in training for distance, you reach a plato – you no longer train to go further. You’re training you body to cope. To fuel, recover, to just keep going. You are training your mind too. I don’t think one person at Castle Ward thats weekend would have disagreed, that it would have been the head that gave up before the body, injuries aside.

A couple of weeks out a good friend who I’ve been working with as a mind/body coach suggested joining me. It was a no brainier! My plan was to have a car/suit case(s) with my kit in near the start finish area. Having Martin there to sort things out, keep an eye on my food and hydration. Offer encouragement and keep check on me physically was invaluable.

We flew over to Belfast on the Friday evening. Getting to the hotel at around 22:00. Too late for a proper meal (fail!) so snacks, final prep and asleep by 00:00. I slept soundly and woke around 07:00 – 5hrs to race start, I was going to be awake a long time! This didn’t bother me. I am used to jetlag and I’ve even ran tired. I recall doing the Vegas marathon while my body clock was on UK time. That felt like a midnight start. I just knew there would be a dead zone in the small hours I had to push through. Normally when travelling, a cocktail does the trick here… That not being a practical optuon here, I figured to keep moving would be the key, any fatigue would pass.

12:00. Lap 1…
104 people toed the line. In the run up to the start Martin and I had got chatting to other runners and support teams. There was such a mix. There were several hard core ultra runners (I don’t count myself as one of those!!) with many accolades and races under their belts. There were people who had never run more than a marathon. Some with less max distance than that… But it didn’t matter. Everyone had their own goals and targets. All the way from, ‘see how it goes’, to 12hrs, 24hrs or even the full 48hrs! The fact that everyone would start the next lap together until they DNF (did not finish) unified everyone. The top runners couldn’t race off and feel a million miles away. They would be side by side with the slowest runner for the start of next lap. This created an amazing atmosphere!

17:00. lap 6…
97 People toed the line. This would take runners to 25miles, just shy of a marathon by the end of this 6th hour. In the build up I had practiced running 4.2 mile loops with on-the-hour starts. I’d varied my pace to see what shorter or longer rest gaps would feel like and what I could do in that rest time. Ultimately this was out the window – as the course was very different to what I expected. With the hills you had to walk some stretches. I ended up coming in pretty consistently around the 45 min mark per lap. Dusk was about to set in – I expected this would have a big impact on the field. I have no issues with running at night. But after a few laps I could hardly see. I realised my batteries in my head touch were going… Luckily I had brought spares. Doing several laps in the daylight helped too. I was getting to know the course. In the dark you could only see the puddles, big mud patches were harder to spot so memory here helped a lot. Keeping to the right or staying in the centre became automatic at certain points, so to take the best path.

For me, running in the dark also changed my perception of hills. You couldn’t always see the incline coming up as you were only concentrating on the next 3 foot in front of you. The same with the mud. As i couldn’t see it, I tended to run through it. Occasionally with regret at a particularly squelchy patch. I did wonder if both these visibility constraints were actually to my benefit. Running though the mud meant I wasn’t trying to dance around a soft patch and keeping the pace up small inclines meant I was keeping rhythm. Both saving energy. Add to that the fact i could not see a daunting sight in front of me. Ignorance was bliss… I think I preferred it in the dark.

19:00. Lap 8…
86 People toed the line. And I got shin splints… The hills and the walking were taking their toll. I’ve had shin splints before. They hurt. But they normally pass. These ones stayed with me in my left leg at varying degrees for the rest of the race. The next 16hours. I like to think I can listen to my body and know which niggles I can run though. I decided I was leading with my left leg too much. I needed to rest it and use my right to push me up the hills. I also had Martin do some manipulation on it and the surrounding area for relief. This helped and lap 10 was probably my best loop. I remember thinking the crowd was thinning. I wasn’t tired and my legs still felt strong. I wanted to eat.

I had been worried about my nutrition. During my training runs I found myself fading due to not taking enough calories on board. I was burning around 520 cals per loop. I knew I needed to replace them as i went you have no chance of keeping going, if you end up in a deficit over 24hrs. That’s 12,500 calories to consume and digest on the go. Most of the time I ate and drank what I craved. Sweet, savoury, cake, cola, protein shake, fruit. I was taking onboard something every loop. Even if I didn’t feel I needed it. Little and often. At the time I felt my best, I thought now is the opportunity to load up. My body is firing on all cylinders and I’ll be able to digest a ‘meal’. I wanted chips – but the chip man had gone home…
I think I had a bagel, some nuts and some jelly babies.

00:00 lap 13…
29 People toed the line. There was still a solid group and a lot of banter going on around. I’m quite a solitary runner – I find it an effort to run and chat. Especially when I’m saving energy or already feeling tired. I engaged from time to time – but especially later in the race I preferred just listening to others around me or the science. At this point people were getting excited with their achievements. This tended to be those that hadn’t had expectations or had said 10/12 loops. The rest of us were feeling daunted by the prospect that we were only 12hrs in! The rest of us being me… We were half way. My hamstring’s and quads were fine. But my shin splints hurt… I knew it wasn’t going to get easier or better. I just told myself it probably wouldn’t get any worse – this is as bad as it gets and just manage it. My legs still work, it might be uncomfortable – but just keep going. I’ll get a rest soon… Be it a walk break up a hill or 10mins break at the car. I tried to focus just on that segment of that loop. Normally halfway through a run is when it becomes easier for me. Mentally I’ve broken the back of it and I’m counting down. I was hoping for midnight to have the same effect. But all I could think of was – in 3hrs time I still have another 9hrs to go. It was exhausting and I couldn’t break it down in my head, to make it sound better.

03:00 lap 16…
19 People toed the start line. We were over the 100km mark (67 miles). This was now the furthest I had ever run. And it felt it. I’d been awake for 20hrs and running for 15 of them. I could feel the fatigue setting in. I knew these dark hours would come. I just wanted to stop. Martin suggested power naps. I had contemplated these but wasn’t sure about it. Apparently the first guy back was doing this. Getting in and having 15mins kip an hour… For the next 3 laps, I would cross the finish line. Get a snack and a drink from Martin and then sleep for 10mins in the drivers seat of the car. It was bliss. Martin would wake me 2mins before the next start so I could do anything I needed to and get back to the start. Those precious 8-10 minutes sleep might not sound long – but they were just what I needed. Each start I felt my head focusing more. With my legs hurting I needed my brain engaged to keep going. I was struggling but i knew my legs could carry me. I just needed my mental resolve.

06:00 lap 19…
13 People toed the start line. It would be light soon. Dawn was the next mile stone. I was hoping I would feel better with the new day. A second wind? It didn’t happen – but I was chipping away, lap by lap…. I was officially counting down. ‘After the next lap, only 4 more laps to go!’ That sounded better than 6 more starts to complete…

Until then, we had been pretty lucky with the weather. It stayed dry most of the night and with a mildness and a breeze the puddles were getting smaller. At some point after midnight it had started to light drizzle. Nothing to bad and even refreshing at times. As it got to daylight it started to rain. This meant the puddles swelled and avoiding them got harder. The first hill was a grass bank which got more slippy. Through the first 20hrs I hadn’t changed that much as I was comfortable. I changed my trainers for fresh ones every 5/6hrs. With the rain came wet feet and tops. But being close to the end I wasn’t too worried. If the rain had come earlier, the whole night would have been a lot more difficault!

11:00 lap 24…
11 people toed the start line. This was it… I just had to get around within the hour. Only one more time up the hills. 1 more time through the puddles. 1 more time under the bridge and one more time across the finish line… Those first few steps over the start were always the hardest as the muscles had started to cease up from the waiting. Getting them moving again was painful… But I knew by the time I got to the boats they would have eased back in. I might not have had that magic halfway feeling at midnight. But there were parts of the course I knew would be a struggle and parts that I looked forward to, like achievements. The boats were my first achievement on each lap. Run all the way to the grass bank was my second achievement. Get to the road, that was about a mile in and my third achievement. Under the bridge with the supporters on top. I would reward myself with a snack during the big hill up to the house. I’d then walk a little at the top. That was around half way. Getting to the end of the road and turning left to the mud track was an achievement. It was pretty much down hill from there… Past the caravans – the muddy downhill stretch was over. Onto the water front – this was long and winding – but the home stretch. Traversing the 2 big puddles and I can hear the music at finish area in the distance. Last puddle by the car park and up the last bank – through the gates and I can see the flags. I can see the support crews. I can hear the cheers… I’ve bloody done it.

The Afterglow.
A few runners were talking about doing one more lap. It was expected that several people would drop out after 100miles. Martin asked if I wanted to go around again. I’ve never been as sure about something in my life. ‘Get this timing chip off my leg… And give me medals!!! I’m done!’

6 people started the 25th lap and the winner went on to do 30 in total. He still looked strong on that last lap!
I changed into dry clothes and got in the car Martin drove to the hotel and i ceased up in the passenger seat. I think my body went into shock – I napped but went super hungry. Super hot then super cold. Apparently I turned yellow, green then white consecutively. Then begged for a wheelchair to get out of the car at the hotel.
It took me several hours to start feeling ‘normal’ again. I honestly thought I was going to need to call an ambulance and wondered if my travel insurance would cover me!! I rested well – I had 2 nights before I flew home. My quads and hamstring’s weren’t too bad. And DOMS never really came. My shins and ankles took the brunt of it. With my right Achilles suffering the worst. Not painful but damaged. It needed nursing.

I had an amazing time but hurt for the majority of it. I’m sure a lot of runners say the same for whatever event they do. However, the positives and good memories are the ones that stick with you. I’m glad I pushed through. I’m grateful for all the supporters. I’m happy I got to run with some amazing people. A lot of people achieved and experianced some amazing things over that weekend. I learned a lot through the whole experiance. Will I do it again?

‘One day I won’t be able to do this. Today is not that day…’

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Berlin Marathon 2011 – Been there, done that, paid extra to get the t-shirt!

After a very hot Brighton Marathon – where I got 3h30. I was hoping that with some good solid fast long runs in the bank, Berlin would have given me a sub 3h30, poss 3h20 time… It was hot. Again. And my time was debatable…

As a race, Berlin was a lot of money. I’m glad I did it – but it cost the best part of a grand. If not more! The race entry was €80. That included chip rental and a medal. Forget/fail to return the chip by 5pm and it’s a €25 fee. Finishers t-shirt? Another €30 please. Free stuff at the expo/finish/goody bag? A little – but your be disappointed. Now I’m not saying this is a problem, (well I kinda am) but when I compare this to other races it seemed like I was getting fleeced! Add the cost of the hotel, flights, sight seeing and stuff and it all adds up! Maybe that’s just international races for you? This was my first one after all… Anyway – I saw a lot of the city, not just while running 26.2 miles around it so it’s unfair to slap all the cost on the marathon. This was a birthday weekend break at the same time! I had a great time, and I’d do it again just the same.

As an actual race, this was a busy course! As one of the 5 majors – it had around 40,000 running. Unlike London – the runners were all pretty fast! I came 5,500ish with my time! So what was my time? Well after loo issues and running for the start – I didn’t get to compose myself before the gun. Instead I was hopping over the railings and sorting out my Nike+ and music as I crossed the start. I ran to my GPS. Pacing myself and judging distances on that. My final tracked distance was about 26.4 miles in 3h28:04 hurrah! I later found my chip time was in fact 3h30:41 boo :0( It was still a PB as Brighton was 3h30:56! This race was in KM so I couldn’t gage my speed/splits on their markers. Apart from ‘half way’ I had no idea other than my GPS as to how far I’d run, and in what time. All I knew was I was holding sub 8min miles and that was what I needed for my sub 3h30! I knew I could have pushed harder but that would have meant overtaking people by weaving though the crowds. Lots of wasted energy. In the heat this wasn’t what I wanted to do. Like I said – I was holding sub 8min miles to get my goal… So you know what? I’m gonna stick with my GPS time… Officially I ran the Berlin Marathon in 3h30:41 a PB and an excellent time. I could have performed better – I know this. But as far as the distance goes, I have a marathon PB of 3h28:04 it says so on my Nike+!

Times and cost aside, it was a great course. Flat. Lots of sights, although I have no idea what most of them were! I didn’t do my research or the bus tour until after the race… Shame. I was surprised by how many strong runners there were. It was like London all over again for me. Constantly getting stuck behind people and looking for the smallest gap to accelerate into. Up until about mile 3 I could still see the 3h15 pacer balloon! People weren’t spreading out at all.

The other problem I faced – was I never got my lucozade… They don’t sell it in Germany – or the expo at least. And Tesco had sold out when I went before I left the UK. I decided to just use the water and power aid stops on course. However, I forgot that they weren’t bottles. I wanted something I could run with and sip. Maybe grab 2 or 3 bottles along the course and use them. However, it was cups only! This meant pulling over into the slow lane. Sometimes stopping for other runners cutting in front. Grabbing a cup and sipping what I could before ditching it and carrying on. Because it was so hot I thought that little and often was best. I took advantage of every station… This bad planning was also a factor for my time and a lesson learned.

I can’t help but think this race report is highlighting the negatives. This is because I have come away with that feeling of knowing I could do better, so it’s me analysing what went wrong and why.

On the positive side – it was great to run a Marathon over seas. I was nervous leading up to it. But I was confident I could do it. I felt strong the majority of the course – not something I could say about my previous marathons. The first 15 miles were hassle free. 15 – 20 had their struggles. But as soon as I got to 20, mentally I though – 6(.2) miles to go! I stepped up a gear knowing this was about 45-50mins running. 20-22 were strong. 22-24 were a struggle, but I knew I was close to the end. 24-finish were the longest 2 and a bit miles ever! Every corner I turned I expected to see the iconic gates… When they finally appeared I had a final spurt of energy and made for the finish.

Knowing my time, on my GPS, made me quite emotional. It was an effort. It was a marathon. I achieved my goal of sub 3h30 and I had competed no.2 of the 5 majors! I was proud of myself!

I haven’t mentioned Team Audio Fuel yet – my running pals from the NikeGrid challenge. There were 7 of us in the end who ran Berlin. For some it was their first Marathon. Everyone did amazing in their own right. What we shared was a passion for a challenge – thats what brought us together in the first place. It was good to see friendly faces before and after to share the experience with. Well done Team!

Lastly, but by no means least – a big support was given to me by Michael. Originally signed up to run – he had to withdraw from the race due to injury. However, he still flew out to enjoy the weekend in Berlin and support me on the day. Positioning himself at the end for some super photos and greeting me with a post race beer! Even helping me with my bags after the race. His friendship is invaluable.

A great birthday weekend! With some amazing memories…

Been there, done that, paid extra to get the T-Shirt!

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Pre Berlin

My taper has officially started! So why don’t i feel like I need to taper?

I have told anyone who will listen – so I’ll tell you too. I’m not doing another autumn marathon* as I officially don’t like training in the summer. Running in the heat or missing out on social events to get a run in isn’t fun. Cold winters nights when everyone hibernates is a much more practical time to devote 3/4 days a week to running.

I have just read my last blog about training pre Brighton. It’s weird – I’ve done totally the opposite for Berlin to what I did for Brighton. This time I feel I have neglected the training runs. Skipped them or put in less effort in, (steady miles rather than tempo or fartleck). But I feel I’ve nailed the long runs with 3 x 20 miles in the last 4 weeks all getting quicker with my last effort at 2h44!

I haven’t hit my top mileage and I don’t feel as fast as I did back in March/April. I know I could have done more in training. Yet I have a feeling of quiet self-assurance for Berlin. Possibly a combination of this being my 3rd marathon, I know what to expect from the distance and the fact I feel stronger over the longer distances. More stamina. Is this enough to match/beat Brighton and get that sub 3h30?

I keep telling myself that as long as I complete it I’ll be happy. But deep down – I know I’m out to get that PB! My action plan? Listen to the experts – I may not feel like I ‘deserve’ a taper but I need to make sure I’m in the best shape, so I’m going to do one. My 3 weeks leading up to the Berlin Marathon will all be quality runs. Speed or tempo work – it’ll be a taper, but maximising my training opportunities! I want to practice my marathon pace where possible…

If I can just get myself to hold 7m55 per mile on the day!

*don’t hold me to this.

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Pre Brighton Marathon

We all know what happens when you over do it… Burn out. Injury. Several steps back. But if you under do it the results are missed potential, disappointment and stagnation. If you had to choose between this rock and hard place which would you go for? I’m in this position and trying to find that thin line or middle ground between the two!

When I started my marathon training at the beginning of the year I put together a loose training plan based on my expectations, abilities and what worked for me last year. My aim was a sub 3:30 marathon at Brighton. My London time last April was 3h58, so this was a big jump. But I know it’s in me.

It was all going well – including some great runs while on holiday – but then I fell ill. I couldn’t run for nearly 2 weeks due to a chest infection. I was gutted. I missed 2 of my long runs. I’ve heard or read before that when marathon training the long runs are the most important part of the plan. They prepare you for race day the best, getting the legs used to the time and distance. When I missed a 3rd long run the week before last I thought it was time to re evaluate. My training hasn’t gone to plan so I needed to rethink my goals.

While my long runs haven’t worked out – I do have some quality training runs under my belt. Generally I feel faster and fitter than I did this time last year. As such, I decided rather than cram extra miles in to get back a missed long run I should stick with my planned runs and mileage. This would help reduce the risk of injury from over training but also mean I could shift my focus to the silverstone half this weekend just gone. A long run in the week prior would have stopped me chasing a time.

My PB for a half was 1h41 and I knew I could get sub 1h40. I was aiming for 1h37 as I had seen that as a target half time for someone wanting a 3h30 marathon. I managed 1h35:06! Had I ran for 3hrs on Friday that wouldn’t have happened.

Past silvetstone, I still don’t have the long runs in the bank and my weekly mileage currently at 30 or just over. 3h30 on the 10th April will be a steep goal.

I could attempt to push up my miles – but again, avoiding the 10% rule could mean my next blog would be how I injured myself and had to pull out of Brighton. I don’t want that. So I will opt of accepting the under training and a new target time. Sub 3h45.

NB – on the day it was a hot and hard 26.2 miles! Despite all the above I bagged a time of 3h30m41! Rock on!!!

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Nike Grid

Nike Grid

The phrase ‘off the grid’ Normally refers to a person who removes themselves from their connected lifestyle. No Internet, no mobile, no catching up and generally switching off from external contact for a period of time. My idea of hell. So it seems ironic that for 15 days I let myself get consumed, wholeheartedly by NikeGrid, to the detriment of my ‘normal’ connected lifestyle. So much so that I effectively swapped one ‘grid’ for another.

It wasn’t intentional, but i wasn’t alone. From the 22nd October – 5th November there has been over 3,000 ‘gridders’. Taking on the streets of London – and each other. If NikeGrid proved anything to me, it was that us runners are a dedicated, passionate and above all honourable, (if highly competitive) breed. It also proved to me that when pushed to the limit, the human body is capable of amazing things!

What is NikeGrid?
‘The Grid’ is London, it’s central and surrounding postcodes, 48 in total. Each postcode had 4 phone boxes activated as check in posts, on average about half a mile apart. Find a grid phone box, dial in to start. Run to another, dial in again to log the run and score points. Repeat.
As each run earns you points. The more you run, the more points you earn. Completing tasks earned special badges that award bonus points. For example, running at set times or finding hidden – ‘stealth’ phone boxes. Each postcode had a leader board. The person with the most points accumulated for that post code owns the ‘crown’. There was also a team dynamic to this. Any points a player earned got matched in the team account. Teams as well as the individuals were competing for post code crowns as well as overall points.

Wether it’s a curse or an asset, I am a very competitive person. I love running and I love ‘games’. The Grid was my rabbit hole. I was like Alice in wonderland.

For me Nike Grid was a game of two halfs. The 1st half, or 10 days to be precise. Was about personal targets and achievements. In this time I managed to earn the ‘Endurance 48’ badge. I became one of the small percentage of players, (runners) that can say they have completed at least 1 run in each of the 48 post codes. I had earned the ‘speed’ badge and ‘speed king’, ‘frequency’ and ‘ frequency king’ badges. These are awarded for fastest time and most runs logged in one of the 48 post codes, on multiple days. I had invested time and effort into one particular postcode and given myself a good strong point lead – I owned the ‘Crown’ for SE5.

The second part of NikeGrid was all about the team effort.
At the start, being in a team for me was about connecting with a handful of runners, involved in the same endurance event. I was lucky enough to join Team Audio Fuel. During the first half, individual efforts had catapulted us into 3rd place in the team rankings. We were all excelling and most of all enjoying the experience. We were a long way from the leaders – but equally, a long way from 4th place. We were all getting on, supporting and encouraging each other.

By day 10 I had met a couple of the team as well as other Gridders on the streets and queuing at phone boxes. Everyone was chatty and interested in each others stories. Exchanging information and tips. There was a real community spirit. I’ll add at this point that the community spirit extended into the playing of the game. It would have been very easy for anyone to cheat, in many ways. But like a lying about a PB or taking a short cut on a route, runners just don’t do that. That’s not to say we weren’t playing phycological games with each other! I have heard several cases of intimidation tactics – I was guilty of this myself! We all wanted to win – but there was a sense of honour amongst men about it too. Everyone was playing fair which made it all the more enjoyable.

Sean, Audio Fuel’s team leader, arranged for as many of the 15 strong team as possible to meet on the 10th day. The main aim was to discuss our personal goals for NikeGrid and how we could coordinate ourselves as a team to help each other and improve the overall team performance. Plans were hatched and executed. Over the next few days Audio Fuel were working the streets in packs! Pumping points into postcodes to defend crowns and take new ones. It had become very tactical and there was a lot of analysis and second guessing other teams going on. We weren’t the only team stepping up our game though – it was a battle!

We were coming to the final days of NikeGrid. Players were getting tired and injured but there wasn’t time to rest. With bonus points being awarded for runs between 5am and 8am, (early runs) and 7pm and 10pm, (late runs). If you weren’t out running, someone else was! It was all about attacking and defending Crowns.

I had run 15 days with just one rest day when I was working in Manchester. Each day running for 3hrs and covering 12miles, on average. Luckily it wasn’t as harsh as it sounds. Runs were punctuated with a couple of minutes rest in phone boxes to register efforts. When chasing the Endurance 48 badge, there was a lot of map reading too, (with my iPhone, of course!) which also slowed the pace. Non the less – stretching, correct fuelling, compression kit and ice baths physically enabled me to keep going. This was accompanied by the mental determination of the task in hand. There were no ‘junk miles’ in this game – each run had a fully planned purpose for a personal or team goal. I was surprised and amazed not only by what I found I was capable of – but what others were putting them self through as well! This was an endurance event that demanded commitment. Run late, run early, run when bonus points were on offer. Sleep and rest was a luxury we were depriving ourselves of, to get in the extra runs and points!

For myself, NikeGrid ended a day early. I was to fly to the States, 31hrs before the game ended. By this time I had put in a massive amount of effort. I had gained an intimidating point lead in my post code. Surely no one could catch me with the time left? And I was helping secure other post codes for the team.

For the final hours of NikeGrid. I was in the states. I could do nothing but watch online as my team ran – executing their final plans. The ‘game board’ was starting to eclipse, meaning post codes were shutting down. After a few text messages to some of the runners their final runs were logged, it was all over.

It had been an exhausting and exciting couple of weeks. I met some amazing people and had a great time. The days following, we were all basking in the afterglow. The results were announced and the banter continued. We were reflecting on our efforts and achievements. A wide group of runners of all abilities, brought together by NikeGrid. We shared something special. We ran our city. We battled it out for Crowns. We mastered the game board.

What next? I know this won’t be the last time I see or run with the people from NikeGrid. Be it in a race, training or the next NikeGrid. Personally, I feel i have learnt masses about myself – as a result of pushing myself with NikeGrid. I would also like to start planning for an ultra marathon… Its not the first time i’ve had these thoughts. But it’s always been ‘one day’ goal. I’m not saying that next Thursday I’ll hit the road for a 50miler! But I feel more capable and confident with such a challenge. I have the Brighton Marathon to focus on now. But after that I’ll be ready to start the journey to an ultra and set some goals to work towards.

It might be the end of the game. But the running doesn’t stop here!

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