Friday, October 4, 2019

Cheltenham Half Marathon - September 2019


Whenever I race I over think it. I am constantly doing calculations in my head, “at this pace it will take me this long to finish” and “I am this far from the finish which means I need to run an x minute mile to hit my goal.” I know I should just relax and be in the moment but I rarely if ever am. This is a total opposite to when I just run for my own fitness, recreation and training. I like to make sure I am not dawdling but just work within the time constraints I have. If I have an hour or two I fill it. If running was split into two parts, training and racing I am much more about the training and the process of that than I am the racing. I don’t race often and probably for that very reason.

So to the Cheltenham Half.

I started over thinking it when I saw the weather forecast. It was forecast to be wet and windy. Not just wet, thunder and lightning. I fretted and stressed deciding that while it might be wet the temperature would be ok so I was going for a t-shirt, a gilet and cap. That made sense and was sorted. I reconciled that if the rain eased then I could probably pack the gilet into my flip belt. Inside the race village I bumped into someone I knew who said that the weather had changed and there was some blue sky there now.

Panic. No sense of perspective whatsoever. I didn’t even check for myself, and there was time. I just retrieved my bag from the bag drop and put my gilet and cap away.

It actually turned out to be the right decision but cost some mental energy before we had even started.

The race was due to start at 9am. The crowd made their way out there ahead of this to warm up, do any final prep and find the right starting chute. I joined the 1:30-1:45 start. I was hoping for sub 1:30 but wasn’t really confident enough to join that group or to put it out there formally. After a slight delay due to a car being on the course the race started and we were off.

There was quite a crowd for the first part and I settled in behind the 1:30 pacers. My initial thinking being that if I could hang with them for a few miles I could then push on if I felt able. Being ahead of them would guarantee a sub 1:30.

This plan lasted about 500 metres. It actually, weirdly, felt very slow. I guess that was a combination of adrenaline and that the start is downhill. A quick rethink and the plan changed to being; if I get ahead of the 1:30 group I can push on - if they then catch me I know what I need to do to get to sub 1:30. Off I went and put down a 6:38 for mile 1. I maintained this tempo and had a pretty comfortable and uneventful race really. I went through 10km in around 38:30 and that was when I started with the sums again. I was trying to calculate a finish time and how much I could afford to slow down. More mental energy.

The crowds through the town, particularly Montpellier, Leckhampton and  the Suffolks were great. I had a lot of shout-outs as I had found myself running alone. I was behind a group of around 50 or so that were leading and the rest of the field were behind me. The strong start I was having being not quite enough to get me to the front but quick enough to keep me from the masses. It was great to see friendly faces out there and particularly those from the Bath Road Beers run club massive!

This was the first race I have done as part of a run club and it was really good fun doing so. It was good to head to the course with the group and then meet with others once there. At the finish there were volunteers from the club handing out medals, water and even a hug!

Back to the race; it was around mile 10 that I started to struggle a bit, the course loops up and down and crosses the roads around Pittville Park. This was quite demoralising as the racecourse represented the finish and yet it was out of reach with yet another loop. It would get worse.

I hit the racecourse and really ran out of power. Mile 10 had been 7:07, mile 11 was 6:58 then 12 and 13 were 7:02 and 7:04 respectively. While they are good mile times in context they are a drop off from where I was at the start. I had paced totally wrong and was running out of juice. To make it even worse as I hit the race course with some 2+ miles to go I heard the announcer call out the winner! Brilliant!

The section around the racecourse was pretty grim. Some short muddy intersections to exposed tarmac service roads where the wind just blew into your face whichever way you were facing. It was only 2 miles on this section and I was again doing maths to calculate what I’d need to do. In the end I was glad it was over and felt like I trickled over the line. I did get a shout out from the announcer as I did though which was cool.

My finish time was texted to me pretty much instantly; 01:27:53. Good but 38 seconds outside my PB set at Tewkesbury around 10 years ago. Closer inspection of the Strava file revealed that my half marathon time was actually 01:27:01 with the race coming in at 13.23miles and not the regulation 13.1. 

It is around 10 years since I last ran a half, my finishing time then was 1:27:15. Whilst I was really happy with the time I know I can do better if I can do it smarter. There is also that feeling of dread that comes with a race like this. Running hard for 13.1 miles is, well, hard. I run a lot, most days in fact, yet rarely get close to sub 7 minute-miling. That I averaged 6:38 is, to me at least, quite something. I have generally been able to turn a pace when needed and this is not through specific training just through strength of running. The fact that I run a lot and have some strength from that means I can turn a pace – it’s just not something I do very often. I also have for the past few years not done any events where I needed to run fast. Ultra’s being about getting it done, for me, and not racing.

A lack of experience told for me in this race. I didn’t really understand what my race pace could and would be so just ran. Knowing what I know now I would start at around 6:40/45 pace for the first 3-3.5 miles or so and then look to up the pace finishing stronger. On that basis I think I could take a minute off that time as while I was spent at the end of this I was strong for the majority of it. Better pacing would have helped that.

I also need to relax a bit (a lot); I run all the time so not sure why I find races so stressful. Maybe because I don’t race often I always feel like I have to do something. When I say something I mean against the context of my own performances. I am still chasing PB’s and want to do well. I have an uneasy relationship with being competitive. I don’t consider myself competitive but I clearly am. I hope that this doesn’t manifest against people I know and run with because ultimately what I want is only to do the best I can. What goes on around me is almost irrelevant I am only racing myself in these circumstances.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Do you use an insulin pump? Then check your prescriptions...


Not that long ago you would have probably had an MP3 player of some sort, a phone, a GPS for the car (one of those that you fixed to the windscreen), a camera, books of paper maps and maybe something like a palm pilot that worked when you were in WiFi.

Now you, probably, just have a phone that does it all. All your eggs (insert plant based alternative for this metaphor to work) are in one basket.

I found myself in this position on Friday evening.

My OmniPod needed changing something I did very efficiently (it takes me so little time to do this now). Within a minute of completing the POD change the PDM displayed an error screen advising me that the POD was not working and should be removed. I removed it as instructed but then found the PDM screen to be frozen. None of the buttons worked and it wasn’t going into auto-shut off as it normally would. I called the technical support line and spoke to a chap that helped me through the reset function. After a few attempts where the reset was not working the decision was taken to supply me a new PDM. In view of the weekend this would be provided to me by Tuesday.

The tech support guy asked me if I had backup kit that I could use to which I confidently answered yes.

I was only partially right! I have insulin pens that I carry all the time just in case. However what I had not realised was that the Levemir I use was out of date by 6 months, something I only realised after I had injected it, it didn’t do anything bad to me, in fact I don’t think it did anything at all as when I woke in the morning my sugars were at 17mmol – unheard of for me even when I was struggling with overnight sugars. The NovoRapid by comparison was in date but by a matter of days. This was now Friday night close to 10pm – how would I get prescriptions updated in time?

I called NHS 111 and felt like a total fraud as this was not an emergency or something medical this was a lack of preparedness on my part.

I explained the situation and was advised that a Levemir prescription would be available for me at a specific pharmacy for the morning and that I should contact them first thing. The Pharmacy opened at 8:30 and I was at the door when they did. They had no record of my prescription at all and suggested that it might have gone to my normal pharmacy that I use for this. They opened at 9am. I waited int ha car and called them as soon as they opened. They had nothing either. I went back to the 111 service and they promised to chase it up within an hour and get back to me.

An hour passed and I called them, they had no record of my call so we went through the process again. This did yield a result with the out of hours doctor calling me and saying that a prescription would be at the original pharmacy within the hour. I went back to them on the hour and there was nothing that had come through. They were now close to their closing time so issued me an emergency prescription using a paper based facility that they had. I had my Levemir that was in date!

The other issue was that I use my PDM to test my blood sugars too. With this not working I needed to find a spare meter. I had one with a nearly full barrel of test strips. Over the weekend I was fine on insulin pens and using my Accu-Chek Aviva Expert. However I then realised that I did not have any spare test strips.

All of which takes me back to the first point. Technology is great when it’s working but with increasing reliance and seeming reliability comes complacency. I have used an OmniPod for a couple of years and bar the occasional pod failure have not had any issues. The PDM failing is more serious than that. Not only is it my insulin delivery method it’s my blood testing method too. Without doubt the two most important technological dependencies that I have. 

My health and well being depends on it.

The lesson has been well and truly learned. I have now got (or have on order) prescriptions for insulin pens for Levemir and NovoRapid, I will check the expiry dates of these and add them to my diary so I know when they expire and do not get caught out again. Similarly I will have a couple boxes of test strips for my backup monitor and if they have an expiry I will do the same. It took a lot of chasing around and calling on resources that are over stretched to try and sort this on a Saturday morning, something that was wholly avoidable had I been prepared.

The issue isn’t that the PDM malfunctioned or that NHS 111 couldn’t get a prescription through its that I never thought about it. I thought I was prepared with spares for what I needed but as I have not really needed them I wasn’t.

If you are an insulin pump user you need to do this (assuming like me you haven’t already);
  1. Check your backup kit – do you have pens/needles/test strips and insulin
  2. Check the expiry date on the insulin and either order replacements (making sure to throw away the old stuff) or add the dates to your calendar/diary so you don’t miss it
  3. Make sure you have back up test strips and that your meter works (and that you have batteries for it) 
Technology is remarkable these days, things do not often just fail. This leads to complacency which is exactly where I found myself. In a jam because of that. Hopefully, if you’ve made it this far into the post, you can avoid this!

Massive shout out and thanks to the people at MyOmniPod support, Spa Pharmacy and NHS 111.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Winchcombe Cross Marathon - 5th May 2019


 Advertised as a marathon with +2,500ft of elevation.

Well, the distance is right (although I got lost and did an extra couple of miles) but the elevation is way off. Closer to +3,400ft! The Winchcombe Cross is a set of race distances all run in the same day on similar courses. A half marathon, marathon, 37 mile ultra and 50miler. 

I was doing the marathon having made the decision earlier this year to not do ultras for this year at least. 

Registration opened at 7:30 with a start time of 8:30. I was up early and stressing about the day so headed over earlier to catch the Ultra start and see Rob who was doing the 37miler. 

Training for this event has been good from an overall mileage perspective (around 600 so far in 2019, but distinctly lacking long runs. I’d done a 15 and a 20 miler prior to the event and have been averaging maybe 38 miles a week. 

There was a race briefing at 8:20 before we started at 8:30. 

The route starts with an easy section down to Winchcombe high street, across the road down a hill then onto the trails. Leg 1 was an out and back to Temple Guiting, I was surprised at the amount of tarmac but the views were stunning. 

The weather was perfect really, slightly cool with some cloud but dry and little/no wind. 

The field strung out as runners settled into their own pace. I had a plan to run 9min miles for as long as I could figuring I could get to 20 miles at that pace and then just finish the last 10km by any means. 

I had a thought that I could do something between 4hrs and 4.5hrs. Come the end I was slower than that but happy enough with my day. 

Heading into Temple Guiting I somehow missed the arrows marking the course and ran past the turn for the checkpoint. By some distance too, maybe by 3/4 of a mile. Realising my mistake i turned around ran back but knew that any chance of hitting my targets just got harder. 

I was doubly disappointed though as at the point I went wrong I was in 2nd place. I only knew this as I had crossed on the route with Rob who told me. By the time I righted myself on course I was way back, it was only 7 miles in and so there were plenty of runners piling in behind me. I don’t know if there was a bit of distraction in hearing I was in 2nd and believing my own unfounded hype. I was trying to just keep my pace steady and stick to targets because it was early in the race and genuinely as much as I would love to do well in a race I don’t ever have expectations of doing so.

To compound the issue, I then went wrong leaving Temple Guiting! Just not paying attention and thinking too much about how to make up lost ground rather than focusing on the moment I was in. Another turn round when I realised and more emotional drain. The physical impact would happen a little later in the race.

Making my way back to the race HQ for the next leg I made up ground on some runners and was pretty comfortable. I went through the checkpoint as quickly as I could, keen to continue to make up some ground. It was at mile 15 that I had a physical problem of sorts. There were runners ahead of me and as I crossed a field that was pretty rutted I took my eye of what was in front of me for a second and twanged my ankle. I say ankle but on reflection and examining where I have some soreness it is actually on the outside of the shin a couple of inches above the ankle bone. My foot gave way and I felt my leg twang, like elastic as I corrected the instability on the ground. The pain shot up through my leg and for a second I thought that was it.

It calmed down and I set about walking to see if I could just walk it off. I have had situations like this before and have the mindset that provided it’s not hanging off I will finish. This is primarily borne of not racing a lot and so when I do, I want to finish. I think that if I maybe raced more often I would be less concerned. I walked a bit and it eased. The rest of my race would fall into a pattern of run walk, running on tarmac and downhill was quite sore but uphill and flat was fine (although I walked the uphills too!).

Leg 2 was, for the marathon, a loop. Running through leg 2 and then rather than coming back, if I was doing the ultra, continuing around into leg 4. This made for a better running experience as while the terrain was stunning it’s nice not to retrace your steps. Plus the 4th leg took in the famous Belas Knapp.

As I approached this there were more people around as this is a spot for tourists and walkers. Up to this point there had not really been anyone around other than those in the event itself. As I got to Belas Knapp I did think about the ultra-runners coming up that way. The climb out of Winchcombe is pretty brutal gaining close to 750ft in the space of maybe a mile or two. Running down this was hard enough.  

As you pass Belas Knapp there’s a steep field that takes you down to a small wooded section, you clear that then it’s downhill past the cricket club and back onto the high street. Running down through the field I could hear thunderous footsteps behind me. My first thought was that cannot be one of the event runners? It wasn’t. It was a small bout maybe 10 years old running full tilt through the long grass and having the time of his life. His sister, slightly older, was behind him and much more tentative. He stopped just in front of me and as I got close I asked him if he was racing me. He replied that he was and took off again. So fast! I think that even if I had not run at all I could not have let the handbrake off enough to run like he was.

He was just running down hill without a thought for his knees and ankles or anything. It really made me smile and was quite uplifting. When you try to explain to someone why you run it’s because sometimes it feels like that. That being an intangible thing really, something you have to experience to understand. A combination of being immersed in the moment without a thought in your head, a flow state where the action of running is for that moment all consuming. You’re doing it but it doesn’t register as conscious thought or physical feeling.

Reaching the woods I knew the route back having run this previously. It’s a short hop to the high street then up to the aid station and the finish.

I crossed the line with 4:57:20 on my watch. The total distance I covered being 28.75 miles and with +3,471ft of elevation gain.

It’s not often I finish something and think I want to do that again but for this one I really did. I think it’s because I know if I didn’t get lost I would save around 15 minutes and if I do more longer runs I can probably take another 20 minutes or so off that time and maybe get closer to the 4:30 I thought achievable.

My blood sugar control through the event was excellent. I was up at 6am and tested with a blood sugar of 5.5mmol. I had something to eat undercutting the carbs count by around 50%. This meant I would be higher by the time I got to the start line but not an issue as once I start running it drops pretty-quickly. I also put in place a -50% temporary basal for a 7hr duration. Because the doses of insulin that I use are quite small this is the maximum reduction the pump can accommodate. At the start of the race my blood sugars were 14mmol, high but for a short period and not concerning.

Nutrition strategy was pretty simple and a combination of 33Shake gels and Tailwind with a couple of bars with me just in case. The plan was to sip tailwind and have a gel every hour. At the half marathon point I tested my blood sugars and they were 7.2mmol. Perfect!

I set off again and did not test until the leg 2/4 checkpoint where they were 5.5mmol. This was probably the most stressful blood test I have done. There was an ambulance crew there and one of them spotted what I was doing and came across to check. He was stood on my shoulder watching. I have never felt under so much pressure to deliver a good reading. When it popped up with 5.5mmol I was so relieved. He just said “that’s perfect” and seemed happy enough.

Because I was out for longer than expected the pump notified me when the temp basal had ended. I set another -50% for 3hours and continued. My blood sugars at the end were 11mmol. A combination of my slowing pace and probably taking on too much food. There was a creeping upward trend for a couple of hours but it soon righted itself as I had something to eat and administered correct bolus amounts.

Later in the evening I set a -25% basal for the overnight period as knew from experience that I would go low otherwise. This was borne out with a waking blood sugar on Monday of 3.1mmol.
I was using the OmniPod through the event and had no issues. In fact, for this race an alert that a temp basal had finished and then being able to set up another while still moving was pretty awesome. There is no fire and forget that you get with pens. I had the pod on my arm but the conditions were such that it was not over exposed at all so performed as it should. The facility of being able to administer reductions on the fly proved invaluable not only during the event but in the period post event and then through the night.

I really enjoyed the event, the course was beautiful, the conditions couldn’t have been better really and the organisation was perfect. I want to do it again next year and that’s a first for me really. No higher praise?