When you cross the finishing line of a half marathon feeling pretty much as battered as the last time you completed a full, then it’s a good indication that something is amiss.
And while I still can’t quite fathom exactly what’s put a sizeable dent in my preparation for next month’s Brighton marathon, I do at least have a clue. Two of them in fact – my left foot and my right foot.
More on my theorising and self-diagnosis later. For now, let’s talk Stafford.
While my finishing time on Sunday didn’t trouble my personal best, it was still pretty respectable all things considered. And the run formed part of a full week’s marathon training, meaning I certainly wasn’t starting on fresh legs.
As you may recall, I took a rest week to try and give the stiffness in my muscles some recovery time. It did help and when training resumed with an early evening five miler, everything felt OK. Not perfect or pain free, but about 80% or so. By the weekend, however, the stiffness was back and I was left debating what to do.
Drop out? Well I’m already way short of target mileage for Brighton, so skipping yet another long run didn’t sit comfortably. Take it easy? I think you all know me well enough by now that I can’t resist attempting a fast run on race day. Grit my teeth and bear it? It was looking like the only available option!
One thing in my favour on Sunday was an improvement in the weather. Anyone who has been out running over recent weeks knows how miserable this combination of rain and high winds has been.
Race day was cold, but largely blue skies; breezy, but not excessive, and I was comfortable in short sleeves with base layer underneath. My brother was also running Stafford, so we met first thing and travelled together, bagging a decent parking space in the town centre just a few minutes’ walk away from the start line.
I know the Stafford course well. I ran it in 2013, my first sub-two hour half, and have been back every year except 2018, which I skipped because it was too close to the Manchester Marathon (and it ended up being cancelled anyway due to snow).
It’s also my most successful half because every year I’ve taken part I’ve managed to set a new 13.1 mile PB. No pressure then! Nursing injuries this time around didn’t bode well for continuing that trend, but I was willing to try. Cue the aforementioned gritting of teeth.
Things didn’t begin particularly well. The start line and pens had been moved to a new position on a much wider street – good in theory, except the signage was poor so you couldn’t really find the right pen according to your estimated finishing time. And the starting area had a long row of toilets in it – again, good in theory, except people were exiting the loos only to find themselves unwittingly boxed into the fastest pens, sub 1hr:30, sub 1hr:40 etc.
It meant the first half mile or so was very congested and we hit several bottlenecks where the going slowed to virtually a walk. My first mile split was almost nine minutes – PB pace is under 7:45…
Once everything thinned out I could get going properly and put in some fast miles to try and get back on track. Miles two and three both at 7:20; then a 7:30 and a 7:45. In fact I kept consistent sub-8 pace going through the first eight miles and things were looking good.
But they didn’t feel good. By which I mean more leg pain, not nice but actually bearable. And also foot pain, equally not nice and steadily becoming intolerable.
You know the one – when you’ve bought a new pair of trainers but they need to bed in. That burning sensation right on the balls of your feet. Usually nothing to worry about and I find it tends to ease once the shoes have clocked up 30-or so miles in total.
The shoes I was wearing on Sunday have covered around 150 miles since January. If they haven’t bedded in yet, I somehow don’t think they ever will.
And so to my theorising and it’s pretty obvious, to me at least, that my current choice of boots isn’t helping matters. I’m running Asics Kayanos and have done before, albeit not this latest model (25s).
They’ve been fine over shorter distances. Longer runs, however, are clearly causing issues. Foot pain as I experienced on Sunday. I’ve also got a couple of blisters and two toenails are bruised. It seems obvious now, but I’ve been ploughing on regardless for weeks on end. Oh dear.
Fortunately I have a brand new pair of Brooks stashed away in the cupboard, the same model I used last year for all my marathons and training. As an over-pronator, they suit me well and I only changed them this year because the older GTS 17s are obsolete now and hard to get hold of. I tried the new lightweight GTS 18s and didn’t get on with them at all.
At least there’s plenty of time to run the new 17s in properly before Brighton. Who knows how much it will help (if at all), but I’ll be switching as of this week and keeping the Kayanos for shorter outings only.
Back to Stafford then and here’s how it ended. Mile nine was an uphill grind which saw my pace slow to mid-8s. Ten felt better, but being largely downhill perhaps that isn’t too surprising. Eleven and twelve were grim (and slow) and I got seriously close to backing off and walking it to the line given the discomfort.
But I didn’t and that’s why Stafford was far from being a wasted experience. It tested my resolve and ability to cope with pain, something a full marathon almost always demands of you.
In that final thirteenth mile I was caught by the 1hr45 pacer and said to myself I’m not having this. I kept that guy and his flags in my sights all the way to the end. A full on sprint finish (that took some effort!) and I crossed the line with a chip time of 1hr44:51.
I’ve ran quicker halves. I’m not sure I’ve ran many gutsier ones though.
So Brighton continues to beckon. There’s no question of me not running. What shape I’ll be in is still up for debate, but I’ve not given up hope yet on the four hour dream.
‘Run happy’ Brooks boldly tells me on the box of my new trainers. That’s the plan, now the body just needs to comply.
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