Friday, 26 November 2010

Season not over yet

So, it is official. The marathon season has been now extended until December 19. I am giving it another go, having already booked flights and hotel, and securing my bip number for the Pisa marathon.
I was so bummed I got sick on the week of the Athens Classic Marathon I just had to give it another go. Luckily we managed to find some dead cheap Ryanair tickets to Italy and so, Pisa here we come!

How do I feel about this extension to my marathon preparation? Well, feelings are mixed, I have to admit. It is getting more and more difficult every day to follow a marathon training schedule here in Oxford, as winter has already established its firm foothold.
It was minus two degrees Celsius here today and I was supposed to do one of my last long runs, a 25K. Did I do it? No, because I have a sore throat and after the Athens marathon fiasco, everytime I get even a slight hint of a cold, I just cool off and take it easy. I just don't want to take any risks.
So, it is me at home today, together with my losenges and my lemsips. I am having a rest day and being busy by arranging my books in the white Ikea Billy bookcase that Colin just put up by the house entrance. Quite a project by itself that, I don't think it is finishing anytime soon!
If I am feeling better by tomorrow I will go to the gym for a bit of interval training (8x1200m). The 25k is postponed till Monday. Hopefully the temperature might rise somewhat by then.

It is also getting dark earlier, and it is just so hard to motivate myself to go and run in the cold after it has gotten dark. I am finding it harder to wake up in the mornings, too. And I fall asleep ridiculously early, for me anway.
You could say perhaps that my body is ready to go into hibernation mode. And it is only the Pisa project that at present time is getting in the way! Luckily the days are passing fast, and I am sure that before we know it we will be ready to board that plane.

Let's see what happens...

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Six days later...

... the only thing that remains to remind me that I was indeed sick and exactly how bad my pre-marathon flu was is a nagging chesty cough that simply won't go away. I can't believe I still haven't fully recovered, but then I knew that running a marathon with a flu still there is not the wisest thing to do.
And as I am now slowly taking up courses towards a coaching license here in the UK, if an athlete of mine wanted to do what I did last Sunday, it would definitely be a no-no. Simply too risky and bound to take a heavy toll on the body. I mean you already have no hope of a good performance anyway, so what's the point?
Yes, I know that it is a great dissapointment, especially when you have invested four or five months of your training and some of the rest of your life too, in preparing for this particular race. And when you have worked so hard towards a PB and all. Yes, I know. But life is tough and s''' happens. And when it does you just have to deal with it the best way that you can.

So, I definitely would not have entered the marathon race in Athens had it not been for the 2500 years from the Battle of Marathon anniversary. It was a commemorative edition and I simply had to be there. The week before the race was a nightmare in terms of how bad I was feeling because of the cold and also in terms of how stressed I was about whether I would make it to the start line or not. The truth is race week was a battle against the clock in itself. I think that mentally when I started the marathon I was completely exhausted. That's why today I don't recall running a marathon last Sunday, I was so tuned off rather in tune with my body. Just getting to the finish line was all that I wanted.

Luckily I managed to reach it without any major mishaps. I stopped and walked three times, just making sure that I got some rest to keep me going. After the 5th km I stopped looking at my stopwatch more or less, and just kept on moving. A lovely volunteer gave me her cap at the 10th km when I had started to feel the sun hitting me hard. My breathing was just barely controlled but even worse were my legs on the uphill sections. That's when I realised how much the flu has taken out of me, how weak I was. I slowed down considerably after that, perhaps even more than I really needed just to be on the safe side.

Reaching the Panathinaikon Stadium (for the fourth time so far in my life!), was a hugely exhilarating moment. It is one of these things that you have to live at least once in your lifetime. The only reason perhaps why I would recommend to anyone to try running a marathon at least once. This time round, I had no worries for time so I celebrated running to the finish line by waving my arms to the amazing crowds, jumping up and down and doing all sorts of crazy stuff, like a child!

It was all over, I had managed to get to the finish line, about 35 minutes later that I had originally hoped for, but managed to do it nonetheless.

The medal, all shiny and gold and huge, truly a commemorative one, rightly has gone to my Mom, who did everything she could to "revive" me when I landed in Athens on Wednesday evening so weak that I could not even drive home. Four days of chicken soup, hot baths with eukaluptus oil, alcohol rubbing, sitting by the fireplace, drinking fresh pomegranate and orange juice, gulping huge amounts of vit c, echinacea, ginseng, tonotil, and what have you, did quite a good job, considering.

Now that I am back in Oxford I can't help feeling a bit of dissapointment at the outcome of this marathon preparation, and I still feel that I have a bit of an unfinished business with the marathon. This was going to be the last one for a while, but now I think there is room for one more, provided it is not too far away in the future. So, maybe another race may be coming up soon which would hopefully capitalise on my existing fitness and the aerobic boost of running a slow marathon that was in essence a longer long run.

We shall see.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Pre-race tips and more

So, Athens is over. With a bang. I will write more about it in my next blog post, for now suffice it to say that my body simply crashed about a week before the race. A mild cold from Oxford was worsened during the flight to Athens on Wednesday and that was the end of any PB expectations despite a brilliant preparation. I did manage to finish the marathon, though. I think that was a PB in itself, how I managed in three days to make myself fit enough to get to the starting and then the finish line.

But more on that soon. During the pre-race week, I was thinking that I should gather somewhere all the little things that I do to prepare myself before the race - practical and mental tips that conciously or unconciously have become part of my pre-marathon routine after completing 10 of them by now!

So, in the middle of my illness, observing myself as much as I could, here are some of my pre-race habits that made my list:

1. A pedicure and foot bath, followed by applying lots of softening foot creme especially on my blisters. The legs have so much hard work to do in the race that I try to really pamper in the days before, so that they hang in there when the going gets tough!

2. Along the same lines, I had a careful look inside my racing shoes. Also underneath the insoles, which I take out to give the inside of my shoes a good dusting with a piece of clothing and a lint roller. I try to remove any threads, grass, pebbles that might have creeped in there and might be extremely annoying during the race!

3. New socks. I will stick to my tried and tested model (for me it is the Daily Mile compression socks) but I will choose a new (or very recent) pair if I can help it, so that it is smooth and soft, without any signs of wear. I figure is is the least I can do in my anti-blister campaign.I also wear the compression socks during the flight as they help my feet not swell so much.

4. Up my vitamin intake. OK It didnt work this time, as I still got the flu, but I had upped my Vit C to 1500 units daily, and I was also taking another multi-vitamin, magnesium, folic acid, iron, and Neurobion. That's it I think. I also took about 15 grams of glutamine daily in the last week.

5. In the two weeks before the race I switch to my favourite breakfast option pre-race, the Greek dish Spanakorizo. It is a mixture of spinach and rice, sometimes cooked in tomato sauce, sometimes plain. I find it is extremely tasty and keeps me strong for the rest of the day, giving me a good and constant supply of energy.

6. I choose at least two race outfits and pack the other essentials, such as a cap, sunglasses, arm warmers, mp3, any old tshirts (that I can wear at the start and then throw away), my very useful North Face wristband with pocket ( where i can carry some money in case of an emergency), my gels (this time I really liked the light taste and instant boost of High5 Orange Plus and Lemon), post race warm clothing etc. The other energy booster that really worked for me this timewas plain and simple jelly beans, which I carried in my pocket and would have one every 5km to reward myself. They taste so good!

7. I do not want to undermine the importance of sleep and rest by lumping them together. I don't remember who it was who said that the easiest way to improve your running times is to start sleeping ten-hour sessions! Of course this is not easy for most people to do, but if you can increase your sleep even by just one hour per day, that will surely help! This time round I slept loads but only because of the flu, I am not sure it helped in the marathon taper itself at all. But it sure helped me recover from the cold.

8. Pomegranate juice. It is another one of my personal superfood favorites and i am lucky enough to have pomegranates in our garden in Nea Makri. My Mom gave me loads of that juice, as part of our flu recovery plan, after squeezing it like an orange, the traditional way. I am not sure how nutritious it is exactly, I could look it up and list the loads of vitamins, etc. that it must have, without any doubt. I just know that I feel so good everytime I have it, and that is good enough for me!

9. Have a massage or two. In my book a massage is one of the utmost luxuries in life and as far as running is concerned a life-saver. In May I could hardly run a 10K after being out for about a year due to a painful piriformis syndrome. And then when I started training for this marathon a few experts (namely Christos Sotiropoulos in Athens and Denise Thomas in Oxford) helped me relax my painful right glute (and left ankle, due to a bad ankle sprain on Imittos last Christmas) about once a week. Towards the end of the praparation, I tried to arrange the massage immediately after a long run or hard session and it worked well. During the marathon my body was fresh and my right glute never even as much as twinged! Post-race, now that the major stiffness is gone, I am ready to book my first appointment with Denise again. She has also promised to give me a reflexology session one of these days, I have never had one and am curious to see what it feels like.

10. Go mental! I am kidding, of course, just to make a point! During the pre-race week, I always reserve some minutes for introspection and positive thinking. I recall my most difficult sessions and how I hammered them, what I learned even from the not so successful ones, how I managed to overcome all sorts of difficulties during my preparation, and how I can do this during the race as well. I visualise myself flowing smoothly along various points on the marathon course: I am still fresh at the 10th km, going strong at the 20th, tired but pushing through at the 30th, and 'almost there, run natasha run! hurry!' at the 40th! My toughest session this time round was probably the 4 x 5km interval. I try to see the marathon as another interval, this time a very long 4 x 10 km one, and  this is a session that I can do, too! I adopt some mottos, which I keep repeating to myself before and throughout the race. This time, it was "Keep calm and carry on" and "You can do it, girl" and "Pick your battles". My battle this time, due to illness, was just to finish, no point in aiming for a PB as the heat and the illness made it an impossible task right from the start.

Knowing what it is exactly you are fighting for every time is, to my mind, a cornestone for success. And this is a lesson I learned well during my 4th Athens Classic Marathon last Sunday!

P.S. Do you have any other things that you do during the pre marathon week? I would love to hear about them!