Sunday 27 March 2011

Oakland marathon

Another great bit of training for the major races this year but slightly more effort than I'd have liked. And the Oakland marathon is a fairly hard road marathon (trail guys would call me a wimp here and would think of it as flat, but then they don't try to run six-minute miles up hills). No costume this week, even though everyone now seems to expect me to do it every weekend :)

It was rainy for the couple of weeks before the race but on the day it was overcast and a little windy. I planned to run 2:37 to fill another of my missing marathon minutes (see my post on the Napa marathon:, which is faster than 50 mile pace but close enough to be great training for it.

On the start line I saw Scott Dunlap, having a rare day off from becoming a Dad for the second time. He said he'd barely had three hours sleep a night since the birth so just wanted to go sub-three (which he did easily in 2:53). Just one more reason we're happy to only have pups for now...

The start was speedier than I expected with a group of four guys zooming off at a sub 2:30 marathon pace, then me in a small chase pack. Soon the race spread out and I lost sight of all of them, with me running alone in fifth from about six miles in, which was after the big (road) climbs started. Maybe these would have felt easier if I'd not moved house over the previous two days, but it's certainly a challenge to try to maintain pace on the inclines. And great to building strength, although I did lose ground on the leaders.

Oakland isn't the prettiest place, but the higher sections went through Piedmont which was a decent-looking neighborhood. I hit 10 miles in just over 61 minutes but I'd expected to lose some time, then it immediately started going downhill and I felt great cruising faster than my mile PB pace. Anyone know any downhill only races? I think I'd love them, especially if they're on really technical trails.

Much of the rest of the race was through nasty parts of Oakland before hitting the old town. I was offered a water cup by a homeless guy next to a band (there were a few bands round the course) and had started to drink a sip before I realized it wasn't an aid station and decided not to risk it, although maybe he was just being helpful.

After it levelled out I knew it'd be virtually ironing board flat to the finish and all I had to do was run 15 six-minute miles. Would my tired legs manage that? Well, it seems they could since I did hit 2:37:50, with a nice jog for the last couple of miles after deciding not to race a guy for second (it was meant to be a training run after all). I only overtook one guy to move up from fifth, but a couple of faster guys missed a turn around 20 miles and lost a few minutes.

So, onwards to everything else this season. American River is only a couple of weeks away and I feel confident now that I'm in shape for it if I stay uninjured.

Sunday 13 March 2011

Not Way Too Cool

So I missed the Way Too Cool 50k yesterday thanks to my calves feeling strained pre- and post-Napa. Was the right call but at least I managed to get a good 20-mile jog in today with the some of the Endurables on Marin's Headlands. Slow and steady but it's hopefully the start of some good hill training for the summer races.

It's always a shame to miss a race, especially one as prestigious as WTC50k, but I didn't see much point in turning up to maybe limp and damage myself. Perhaps I'd have had a good race, but it's better to stick to the plan of getting fit for Comrades and WS100.

And congratulations to Mike Wardian for comfortably breaking my Spiderman record earlier today in just under 2:35. I may have got the record for holding a record for the shortest time :)

Sunday 6 March 2011

Guinness World Record at the Napa marathon (don't laugh)

Clearly Napa. Photo: Brett Rivers

Pre-race poncing around.

This was my first Napa Valley marathon and I wasn't disappointed, although I did virtually drown for the entire race. That was thanks to the Spiderman costume and the combination of rain and trying to drink from water cups through a slit in my head mask. This was the first time since 2009 ( that I'd run in a costume and would be my ninth costumed, weirdo, Guinness World Record.

But it started the day before with a great round table at the expo with an interesting list of guests: Joan Benoit (1984 Olympic Marathon Gold Medallist), Bill Rodgers (four wins at each of Boston and New York), Dick Beardsley (2:08 marathoner who narrowly and famously lost to Salazar at Boston), plus the RDs of the Boston and Big Sur marathons. Was very interesting and set me up for enjoying a great lunch in Napa and contemplating just how slow I am compared to those guys (not in a negative way, just in an impressed way).

From left to right: Boston marathon RD, Dick Bearsdsley, Bill 'Boston Billy' Rodgers and Joan Benoit.

Pre-race carbo loading, Napa-style.

However, the actual race was slightly less elite, although it did have a pack of fast guys shoot off at the start with Magdalena Lewy Boulet (who only ran part of the race for training). I got plenty of looks for lining up at the front of the 2,500 runners dressed like a tit and within 10 seconds of the start I heard a guy tell his friend "one thing's for sure - we're not losing to Spiderman". He was wrong.

I ran the first mile with Nathan Yanko before he zoomed off into the distance and was not seen again, getting a massive personal best and third in 2:33. Then the field gradually spread with the leaders heading off into the drizzle and me running around the lead woman for a few miles before she slowed down.

All was well, and the rain meant it wasn't a warm day so I felt fine in my full bodysuit. I'd planned to pace evenly for 2:40 to break the existing record for the 'fastest superhero' of 2:43, which was done in New Zealand by a bloke dressed as Batman's buddy, Robin. He'd taken the record from me, which I'd broken at Edinburgh in both 2007 and 2008. But I accidentally kept knocking out miles faster than that and went through halfway seconds under six-minute mile pace, in 1:18:30.

The first half had been rolling hills, vineyards and mild to heavy rain with it all feeling fine. The second half continued to go past vineyard after vineyard and at some point the rain stopped completely. Yet I started to drag up the hills and it felt harder than it should have, especially the breathing through the wet rag over my mouth and nose. My right calf had felt strained since the weekend before and that also gave a twinge, but continued to hold up.

I started to worry that I might not be able to keep to the finish time I wanted so increased my effort slightly. And at this point I ran past the race director who was doing the course from an early start with Bill Rodgers. We had a quick chat as I passed and it seems I learnt the secret of beating the world's fastest marathoners - catch them when they retire and stop trying (not sure this advice is of any use to anyone).

I ran on alone and kept the pace up until 23 miles when I realized I was a minute or two under the pace I wanted. For most people that's a good thing but I had two good(ish) reasons for wanting 2:40:

1) It was meant to be a training run for Comrades so going faster shows bad pacing, too much effort and less direct benefit for making Comrades pace feel natural (around 2:45 marathon pace); and
2) I have a game where I try to get every marathon minute like 2:59, 2:58 etc and the only ones I'm missing below 3:10 to 2:32 are 2:44, 2:41, 2:40, 2:37 and 2:34.

I slowed my pace and felt great again, cruising into the finish. Then local ultra speedster Bob Shebest (I didn't realize it was him) came up to me with 200m to go and I gave him a little race, just finishing ahead thanks to my rest over those last miles. 2:40:06 for fifth and a new record made for a great day out although I spotted Scott Dunlap along the finish chute so it was a shame he'd had to DNS due to illness and I'd expected to see him out on the course. Full results here:

The race was heavy with ultrarunners with a large portion of the top of the field made up of west coast ultra kids, particularly from the Bay Area, as you'd expect. Well organized and a decent looking road course, but I wouldn't describe it as really scenic. It was certainly a good excuse to visit the wine region.

Onwards to a heavy month of training in March and Way Too Cool 50k on Saturday. Then Mike Wardian will run the day after to break today's record in his own Spiderman outfit. Amazingly he decided to do this without any knowledge of my attempt but randomly asked me about my previous attempts last week. So it looks like I won't even have it verified before he breaks it. Oh well!

Thursday 3 March 2011

News - Spiderman, deserts and a cunning new training tactic

Photo courtesy of

I'll mention the three bits of news in the order of the title. So, firstly is the ultra hardcore, extremely serious attempt to break the Guinness World Record for...the fastest male superhero to run a marathon. That's coming up on Sunday at the Napa Valley Marathon (weather forecast: wet). The current record is 2:43, set in New Zealand by a guy dressed as Robin, Batman's buddy. That costume is laughably easy to run in so I'm dusting off my old Spiderman costume to scare little children again as I run by. It's not an ideal running costume given it didn't even have a slit for my mouth until I made one, but it should make for a fun tempo run.

However, Mike Wardian may only allow me to hold this record for seven days since he's also thinking of dusting off an old Spiderman suit to go even faster the following weekend. Maybe I should do a race with a stroller and see how he likes that :) (he previously held that record).

The next topic is the Marathon des Sables in the Moroccan Sahara Desert and it also features Mike. I won't go into the race in detail, but here's the official website: and my race report from 2008:

It's a six-stage, seven-day, 150-mile race in the desert against the best desert runners around and it's what got me into running in the first place. So I've always thought I'd do it again but had no idea when, especially since you usually have to enter years in advance. But there's currently some momentum behind a team of super fast North Americans heading over there to teach those desert dwellers a thing or two (maybe) in 2012. This looks like it'll happen but it's still being planned so I'll say more when we have some concrete details. But I'm really excited about the prospect.

And my final news item is I think I've cunningly worked out a neglected way to train harder and better. It's called walking. Ok, so not all that revolutionary, but for someone like me who can't sustain high mileage of 100 miles+, I think this is the perfect way for me to add in an extra 30+ miles per week without breaking myself and in a way that actually AIDS recovery. It won't all be flat stuff, either as I plan to do a lot of hiking in the hills around the Bay Area. Will see how that pans out when it gets to Comrades and WS100.

That's all for now. Better check I can actually find my Spidey suit since I'm not sure where I hid it.