The Mile. A legendary distance. Roger Bannister broke the fabled 4 minute mile barrier in 1956 and runners have been pitting their wits against 1609 meters ever since. The race maybe lost it’s mojo as a competitive discipline until interest was reignited in the 80’s (god bless the 80’s) when Seb Coe (1979) and Steve Ovett switched world records 5 times over a two year period. Following tradition, Brit Steve Cram then took Coe’s record in 1985 with a time of 3:46. That stood until Noureddine Morceli of Algeria in 1993 and, finally, the great Hicham El Guerrouj in 1999 broke the record which now stands at 3:43.13. Rapido.
Fast forward 15 years and that still stands which makes it one of the longest standing world records for athletics. In recent years there has been a revival in interest with several road races emerging as mass participation events. One such recent addition to the amateur calendar is the City of London Mile organised by Run Fast. I thought I’d try and give Cram and Co(e) a run for their money. (Ironically the race was free to enter… another good reason to run it). The Bearded Runner vs The Mile.
Running 1760 yards as fast as you can is a tricky business. Do you go all out and hold on for dear life? Do you go out steady then try and ramp it up? Do you go for even 400m splits leaving a little gas in the tank for the dip and tape-break? Well this being my first mile race I wasn’t really sure what to expect so I ran with buddies from Advent Running and Run Dem Crew for guidance. James of AR and I started in the same wave (the first of ten – not quite sure how tbf!). Discussing tactics, we plumped for the latter, going for 400m intervals of 75 seconds or faster…
Basically it panned out like this. We lined up a little off the front of a group of about 40. We could see it was tight fitting us all in across the start line. Low and behold, pandemonium! The gun sounded, elbows were flying and 2 or 3 guys hit the deck meaning we had to slow / navigate / hurdle to avoid them. That completely threw me. We ended up running fairly conservatively (read safely – it was also wet). Perhaps the ignominy of also hitting the deck a deterrent. Realising there were only 400/500m left I could sense we were going to miss the sub5 by some way before deciding to try and give it as much as I could. What perhaps I should have done was run pretty much on the rivet, 9/10, pushing into the red for as long as possible then trying to sprint the last 200m. On the day I ran cautiously, also maybe because of jet lag and a niggling hip problem (#excusesexcuses), to a 5:12.36. The winner of our wave coming in at 4:29. Not a major fail, but lessons learnt! I can’t wait to run the distance again though as it was pretty exhilarating stuff and very different to the longer races I am used to.
The event was a huge success. The race results can be found here. The Elite men caned it. The top 10 all ran sub 4:10, winner Julian ‘Quads of Steel’ Matthews of NZ (above) in 4:04. The ladies were no slouches either. Alison ‘The Leopard’ Leonard took the glory in 4:40 just pipping Jemma ‘So Close’ Simpson. The day wasn’t just for keenos however. The kiddies and parents race almost got the tears flowing! Photos of the day here. Well done Run Fast for putting on a fantastic event, see you next year. :))
It was hot on Sunday. There were cobbles. There were bridges. Bridges = ramps = elevation (400ft to be precise). But all of these things are excuses really… Although the build up had been pretty good, I’ll be completely honest, I wasn’t entirely prepared mentally for Copenhagen Marathon. This reinforced to me how important it is to prepare psychologically to run 26.2 miles. This is where I maybe came unstuck…
The goal was to run 2:50. There were signs in training that this was a possibility… New personal bests over Half Marathon,10k, 5k and Mile distances showed that it was theoretically possible to drop 7 minutes from the time I ran in Berlin (2:57). But then, I had skipped a few long runs over the course of the 16 week programme and hadn’t trained that much at the required minute mile pace on as many runs as I should have. This probably also counted on the day, I could feel it noticeably in the legs when the mileage went over 2 hours. But what actually happened?
Well, I ran 1:25 through halfway which was bang on target. Then I probably got dehydrated. Actually scrap that, I definitely got dehydrated. It was 20C+ in the sun. I hadn’t slept enough or hydrated enough in the few days prior either. So whilst running 13 miles at goal pace was possible, I faded in the latter half of the race when loss of electrolytes lead to cramping. As evidenced by the splits below… ouch!
There was one point in the race that stands out. Around mile 17 there was a ramp over a motorway and I caught myself thinking, maybe I should just walk up this? I didn’t, but I remember my heart rate soaring afterward. Then after a false flat not far around the corner I came to a water station and did end up walking. Probably for a good 30 seconds. This in turn gave my brain opportunity to listen to my body and it probably worked out that something was up and it wasn’t enjoying itself! I started getting cramps in my calves after that. To the point where they were just knotting up entirely and I was having to stop. This happened several times. Although I could still muster a 7:30ish pace through the last 4/5 miles I was struggling and I knew it. And soon 2:50 turned into 2:52, into 2:54, into 2:58, into get under 3:00! Mentally, I think I probably could have gritted it out a bit harder. I definitely gave into that feeling of ‘I’m starting to wish this was over’ rather than ‘I can boss this out for another 30 minutes’… And this is what I mean by needing that mental rigour to say, ‘You know what, just dig deep. There’s not long left. Give it everything.’
The notorious NBRO cheer station was much needed relief from running long stretches with very few people in front of me to run at / after. These guys were amazing and it gave me added incentive to dig deep between miles 22 and 25, to make sure that I got to that finish line and crossed it in a way that would make them proud, as if they were waiting for me at the end as well as mile 21.
Speaking of support – quick mention to the Copenhagen crowd and particularly a lovely lovely lady waiting with a pushchair who having spotted me cramping, beckoned me over and fished me a gel out of her handbag! This was a lifesaver as I’d ended up using all of mine sooner than I thought I’d need them. I only hope this hadn’t been for her husband who’d ended up without! At the end of the race I did the typical fall to the knees, potential medical attention required, jump up and go ‘no no I’m ok’, think about crying etc. Then I saw my buddy Hugo who’d completed his first marathon in 3:02! Yes Hugo!
Then my other friends started coming through one by one. And in the end I realised that we’d all had to tough it out that day and actually some of the performances were amazing given they were first marathons / conditions were hard / we’d all dug in.
Warwick, Danny, Steve, Wyatt, Rich, Jason, Andrew, Dougie, Manni, Alex, Liz, Charlotte, Melany, Cynthia, Jess, David, Will, Alex, Clare… EVERYBODY (sorry if I’ve missed anybody out)! Massive congratulations, I am super proud of you all, hence the smiles after what was a pretty hard day at the races for me. This is what running with my crew, with NBRO, with Bridge The Gap is all about. Looking out for each other, supporting one another and celebrating together. And that’s what transformed the Copenhagen Marathon from the toughest race ever into one of the most rewarding. Bring on the next!
Got up early. Like super early. As in not enough time for a coffee early. But there was still a real buzz around midtown as runners made their way in the dark to the 6am buses from outside New York Library. It felt slightly surreal, the only people awake and out, trainer clad runners amassing, quietly, stoney faced and hard eyed. I sat on the bus in the dark, the day breaking, focussing on the task at hand; a moment of calm to think about how I was gonna run this thing. It’d been 5 weeks after pb’ing in Berlin and the recovery had gone well, I’d retrained and was thinking a similar performance might be on the cards. But the infamous humps and bumps of the course and the wind meant I’d need a strategy. The bus rid offered the chance to run this over and get ready mentally. Prepare for battle.
Getting off bus and hanging out for 2.5 hours before the start of the race was horrid but also humbling. Met a guy called Ian from Glasgow. He’d never run a marathon before. He came to NYC to hang out with friends but then decided to run it for fun and to raise money for the charity Whizz-Kidz. He was calm, collected, had made scrambled eggs that morning and bought them with. I sat on the ground for like an hour with a guy called Alex who had run the marathon ten years ago and was back for more. He gave me an idea of what to expect. He wasn’t sure he’d finish this year within five hours. Didn’t matter as he’d raised $2k for Ronald McDonald House Charity. He then pointed out that he might run with his new buddy with a prosthetic who he’d met that morning . Because he wanted to help her. As if he hadn’t already helped enough. It made my frustration at the start sitting in the cold wondering whether I was gonna be able to run under three hours insignificant. At this point I vowed to enjoy it rather than try and beast it. And if I saw anybody else in trouble (like I did going over Queensboro) then I’d offer words of encouragement. New primary goal? Take in the day and feel grateful that I had the opportunity to be there.
The run was tough though! On Verrazano Bridge I thought I was gonna end up in the ocean as the headwind / crosswind was so strong. People were literally being buffeted across the road! This wasn’t the only bridge that hurt. There were two others that really got me. Queensboro Bridge was a killer and I really slowed up. But I knew that was gonna be hard and concentrated on effort not time. Actually Queensboro was a benchmark in the race for me as I knew that once it was done I’d be in Manhattan, nearer home – also the crowd noise coming off the bridge was insane, you could literally hear it a quarter of a mile away echoing through the rafters. Exciting! What I wasn’t expecting was Pulaski at mile 13. It wasn’t long, it was steep and the wind was head on. But at the same time the view from here was amazing. The only other tough moment was probably the mile up (literally) 5th Ave. Again to be fair the support here was fabulous and when you round the corner into Central Park you get another kiss on the face.
Let’s talk about the crowds. They were amazing. This is what really set New York apart for me. There was crowd noise and support all the way around. And even the teams at water stations doubled up as cheerers! The diversity of the crowds was amazing. From the Italian / Hispanic and broad New York accents in The Bronx, then the music and cheer in my adopted second home, Brooklyn (GO NETS!). Williamsburg was fun, some of the billboards were hilarious, kids on stoops, several megaphones. Big up to my buddies waiting for me at 1st Avenue and at Mile 24. Harlem was of course awesome as this was where several running crews from NYC – Bridge Runners / Black Roses (thanks for meeting us and the NBRO guys on Saturday for the shake-out and Central Park preview) – and of course friends from Run Dem were stationed at Mile 21. I got a massive boost (and hug) from seeing these guys and, as always, Cheer Dem always brightens up a race and gives you an extra kick of adrenaline (much needed pre Fifth Avenue climb!).
The day was amazing. In spite of the cold. In spite of the wind. In spite of the climbs. I knew it was gonna be one to tough out so had prepared for that mentally. What I didn’t know was that the crowd support was going to be overwhelming and although the race was hard physically, it didn’t matter as psychologically the sights, sounds and cheers meant there was always a lift around every corner. It made it easy. I loved it. I’d do it again in an instant. You ain’t gonna set any records in NYC but trust me when I say you’ll remember it for a lifetime.
Note – big up Chevy for crewing at Cheer Dem and for lending video – follow, follow, follow him on instagram!