The night before the day after!

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I was hoping that I’d have some time today to put a few words together about the emotions before the race… the Expo (which was great by the way!) or the amazing support from friends and relatives near or far…

But the day was surprisingly full, and I make no excuse for getting as much rest as I could. .. so just a brief “have a good’n!” to everyone one else running in Athens tomorrow  (5, 10 or 42.2k) and you’ll hear more of me from the other side!

PS: I had said in my first post that the main reason for running Athens again was because I wanted to be part of the party. Mission accomplished, and I’m not yet at the starting line! 🙂

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A bit of love, a bit of hatred, but something…

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So the results of the vote last week are in, and a clear majority of 60% recommend that I keep smiling in the face of the unfriendly and sometimes downright contemptuous runners I tend to meet when I run in London. You are obviously a much more civilised bunch than I am, because my instinctive response was to meet unfriendliness with a scowl; but there lies the slippery slope into anarchy, chaos, the breakdown of society and – worst of all – discourtesy! And that we shall not tolerate.

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But as a lovely contrast to my post from last week, today I became the object of a very vocal outburst of support and encouragement: I was staying in a different hotel than usual, so my morning run (6 x 4’ intervals) took me along the south bank of the Thames, from Lambeth Bridge to HMS Belfast and back. On the way back, I was holding on for dear life on my fourth interval past Borough Market and the Clink when a big black guy standing under the railway bridges saw me approach him and cried in an American accent “way to go man! Drop me five!” and offered his open palm for me to slap. He carried on offering encouragement and as I re-emerged into the sunlight I could still hear him shout after me “looking good, looking good, keep going man!”, which made me feel I was in some Hollywood film and that if I turned back I would see that a crowd of children had followed me out of the market and up the steps to the nearest monument!

I love it when little things like that happen, even if I know full well that it is all a bit of fun and not intended as an earnest compliment or in-depth-appraisal of my running form, pace or physique (none of which usually move the masses to vocal expressions of adoration!) I suppose the only earnest compliment there, if there is one, is for being out at that time of the morning / afternoon / evening and putting miles in. And not giving up when you look as beat as I am sure I did then. At least that’s what gives me the urge to spur another runner on, when I’m doing the watching.

There have been a number of such incidents lately: on my Sunday long run, I passed a boy with his father in the village of Thurlaston and he too (the boy that is) started shouting encouragement, gave me a high-five and run next to me for a while. And then, on the same run, after many miles, detours and loops in the countryside, I was leaving Huncote in the direction of Narborough when a lady cyclist who looked like she had struggled up the hill to Huncote, still found the energy to tell me to “carry on, well done!”

Encouragement is much more common in races of course, but there are still stand-out instances that stay with you: Demi, Alexia and Niko at the 32nd km of my first marathon (in Athens), when I had resigned myself that no-one would see me run; the girl in Rome that egged me on in Piazza del Popolo, when my cramp had gotten so bad that I had to walk; or the old lady, again in Athens, who – almost in a whisper and with a lump in her throat – offered the equivalent of “well done boys” (“μπράβο ρε παιδιά”), more to herself than us; there was something about her that has left a great impression on me, something that suggested there was a story behind what brought her out to that stretch of road between villages to see us pass…

I love running, and the memories it gives me. Alone, not passing another living soul for miles; alongside someone else, at pace or more relaxed; or interacting with people I pass, whether earnestly or in jest. And in the end, it seems it wasn’t the “rudeness” of the Regent’s Park runners I minded: I now know it was their indifference.

So I will leave you with this (a line of which I stole for today’s title):

Exploring London, rediscovering Athens

It’s been a strange three weeks, but at least one good thing came of them, running-wise: I’ve stopped thinking!

To put it into context, I had to do a lot of travelling (much of it unplanned) for work and personal reasons, all of it involving long, tiring days and strong emotions. Every time I packed though, I made sure my running shoes went in the case first (and my Garmin last) and (most importantly) I made sure I put them to good use when I reached my destination! Here’s the running highlights of these past three weeks:

 

1. Early morning in Regent’s Park

I’ve previously lamented that not being a morning person, I miss opportunities to get runs in before breakfast. I genuinely regret it, since on the few occasions I’ve managed to get out for an early morning run, swim or other workout, I’ve absolutely loved that time of day and the buzz it leaves you with afterwards. Well, finally I managed to do something about it, and despite another disappointing business dinner the night before (the advertised “dinner” turned out to be a few canapés and chunky chips) and maybe a few too many glasses of wine to compensate the calorific deficit (well, it was a “networking event” -hics- after all!) I dragged me and my empty stomach for an easy morning run up to and around Regent’s Park.

I loved running up a sunny and empty Tottenham Court Road, over the remains of the night before, past the first commuters of the day and into the park (ok, stopping at traffic lights and still almost getting run over wasn’t as fun). I was surprised at the lack of other runners on the streets at that time, but that changed once I got to the park: A true cross-section of the running community, from casual joggers, serious runners and some very fast boys and girls were running along the paths criss-crossing the park. But the most memorable image of the morning, as I was glancing at my phone for news that was to come two days later, was the sun reflecting off the golden dome of the Islamic Cultural Centre:

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2. Two coastal runs in Athens

A few days later I was in Athens for the funeral of my father, who had died unexpectedly two days after my Regent’s Park run. The evening before was a Sunday and I resolved on an evening long run, as much to clear my mind as because I had already missed too many training sessions recently. As I was staying with my sister at the south suburbs, I went out for a 2h coastal run from Voula to the old airport and back. It was light when I set off and I was treated to a lovely sunset over the islands of the Saronic Gulf and on the way back it was the rising moon that was reflected on the sea.

The evening was hot and humid, so my pace was slow (speed wasn’t the goal here anyway), but I enjoyed running on the significant pedestrianised sections and along a route I hadn’t ran before. A particularly pleasant surprise was the number of other runners I saw along the way, it seems that the sport has really grown in Greece! I felt the old British runners dilemma when I came across the first few (do I smile? Nod? Ignore?), but it turns out that the norm in Greece is to lift a hand in greeting and – breath permitting – engage in a little chat with people running in the same direction as you.

It was on this run that I came across the following piece of graffiti and this remains my only encounter of running related graffiti anywhere! I like to think of it as a call to a very different uprising in Greece…

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The second run was a much shorter, steady run the day before I flew home. We started with Niko (my sister’s fiancé) and it was on the same coast, but headed in the opposite direction this time. Away from the busier pedestrian areas I had used the last time and towards some little tavernas at Kavouri. Reaching the turning point (the end of the paved path), I couldn’t resist continuing a bit further on, following a track up a little wooded hill till it wouldn’t go any further: It was dusk and turning back I took this photo of where we had come from:

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I’ve always known Greece would offer some outstanding running routes, but I always expected these to be away from the large cities and into the countryside, of the kind that my favourite Greek running bloggers (1) write about: running in the rain in the Peloponnese, or perhaps on island paths leading to some secluded beach… So it was a lovely to come across one in Athens itself, and it led me to wonder how many more unexpected routes exist in and around Athens… Recommendations welcome, and I look forward to try them out on future, happier visits!

 

3. Back home

So now I’m back, eager for a bit of normality and concentrating into getting back into a routine: catching up with work, doing all those things I had said I would around the house and (most importantly, as far as this blog is concerned), following my training schedule on a daily basis and not by exception! But I also feel much calmer somehow, no longer worrying about the November date or the training that I will or will not be able to fit in my schedule over the coming months; I just run each session at a time, not worrying so much where it fits in the whole, each run a gift to myself…

Yesterday for example, after the afternoon downpour, I went out for speed intervals (12 x 1′ @5k race pace with 1′ recovery), and the only thing I can remember crossing my mind was an awareness of the brightness of the evening light on the soaked roads, and a reflection of a bright white cirrocumulus in a huge puddle, sailing on its way to rain on someone else…

I expect my outlook on a number of things has changed subtly since my last published post (in some cases perhaps too subtly for me to fully appreciate yet), and one of them is that I have returned to enjoying running as an end to itself – and that is altogether a much healthier state of affairs!

 


(1) such as http://www.athensvoice.gr/contributor/αγγελικη-κοσμοπουλου and http://42kaikati.gr/

 

Thinking of the hill…

I’ve only been out running once since the Leicester Big 10k, and concentrated instead on reigniting my strength training (and by the evidence of the first sessions, that was long overdue!) For that too I’m following one of the training plans from miCoach (as mentioned in a previous post) complimented by a core-specific day (perhaps unnecessarily so, as the miCoach programmes feel balanced enough in the first place).

On the one occasion I did run though, it was on the treadmill and I decided I’d try to simulate the long climb that awaits in the Athens marathon: 13km (from 19 to 32) at an average incline of 2%… I tried maintaining that with what I hope to be my race pace in November, and it just about killed me! To the extent that I had to take two short breathers at 0% incline… And that without the 19 (mostly flat) km that precede the climb or the final 10.2 km section into the centre of Athens (fortunately mostly downhill, but by that stage in the marathon you feel the downhill running on your hips and knees…)

So it looks like I have my work cut out for me when I come back in July and start my training proper! At least I know the route, I have the benefit of knowing that my pacing strategy of three years ago worked and with a little luck (and much training) I should be able to adapt it to my current pace… Or that’s the plan, anyway!

But thinking back at all the things that went well in 2011, the elation that I felt on completing my first marathon in 3:52:19, I feel a bit sad at the thought that it will take something very, very special to compare with that day…

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More special in fact that what I believe I have in me. So I’ve decided to settle. If I can’t expect a special race from myself, I at least want one with no regrets: regrets over missing key training sessions, or even whole weeks; neglecting my strength training & core conditioning; not practicing my race nutrition and hydration till I’m sure I’ve got it nailed; setting off too fast or too slow on the day, etc.

I think I’m saying that I want a race I can be really proud of again!

Vuelvo al Sur! (*)

Reading the About page, you can tell I am quite attached to the first marathon I ever ran – and for a reason: In the space of a few months I had turned unfit me into a runner, I had suffered and recovered from many of injuries that go with that title, I had persisted with the training and finished my first marathon in under 4 hours collecting in the process a tidy sum for my chosen charity (WDCS, the Whale & Dolphin Conservation Society). I had never felt as proud as I did on that day, and completing that transformation in front of my friends, sister and girlfriend made it all the more special.

And the quality of the event, the organisation, its volunteers the public participation showed everything that is / can be great about Greece at a time (November 2011) when there were very few good news to come out of the motherland.

So… if I have so many fond memories of it, why risk it by doing it again? If there is no result that can make me feel any prouder than I felt in 2011?

Well… because it is ‘my’ marathon. It is home – even if I’ve only run it once.

Because it is The Marathon. The same route (give or take a bit) that was run in 492 BC by the Athenian messenger and that was run in the first marathon race to be ever held (on the occasion of the first modern Olympics in 1896).

Because I want to run another marathon so I can put behind me the pain I felt in Rome.

Because I want an excuse to talk about running again…

…and because this year I want to be part of that party!

 


(*) “I return to the south”, also the title of a song by Astor Piazzola; ignore the upside-down sky in the lyrics, read bouzouki instead of bandoneon and you get the idea!