Monthly Archives: December 2015

Tomb racer: Angkor Wat International Half Marathon

Greetings from Cambodia, and more specifically the jungle temples of Angkor Wat! Famous for being the setting of Tomb Raider, one of my favourite films of all time (for the amazing plot, acting and direction of course), the place could seem a bit of an odd location for staging an international running event. However the race has now been going for 20 years and is going from strength to strength by all accounts.
You might think it’s a hell of a long way to go to run a half marathon, but as my wife and I have been spending the last 2 months or so on an extended travelling trip around South East Asia and the Far East it turned out to be a convenient warm up race in my aim to stay marathon fit for Tokyo Marathon in February.
Staying fit has proved to be quite difficult whilst on the road (heat, humidity, long bus rides, poor roads, crazy dogs, cheap beer etc all on the list of excuses) but popping in a few races along the way has helped to focus my training a little at least. So following Jakarta Half Marathon at the end of October, Angkor Wat HM was to be the next of our warm up races, with just one more in China to come at the end of Jan.
With all that in mind my expectations for Angkor Wat was to get round in under 1:25:00 and take in the wonders of the site. Not overly ambitious goals but still enough to give me a few concerns about achieving it. Therefore the pre-sandbagging was perhaps a bit more heavier than normal despite Cat not believing a word of it!
As we arrived in Cambodia and Siem Reap late the night before the race we didn’t get to experience the race expo but the lovely owners at our guest house kindly picked up our race packs for us and laid on a TukTuk to pick us up from the airport. 
So after moderate faff both in Manila changing planes (in the nick of time to catch our second flight) and at Siem Reap airport sorting our visas we finally got to our guest house by 11pm. Just enough time for about 5 hours kip before slipping on my Lara Croft shorts (that would not be a pretty sight) and being picked up by the same TukTuk driver who dropped us off the night before (most TukTuk drivers seem to sleep in hammocks in their vehicles) and heading to the race.
Being an international race, it is pretty popular on the Asia circuit, particularly among expats who come over from Singapore, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur etc. to take part. I’m not sure of the exact numbers but the total field was around 3,300 and I would say at least half of that number were international entrants.
Walking round the race village (which is situated right in front of the Angkor Wat and looks amazing at sunrise) we could even hear quite a lot of British accents, and I even spotted a Phoenix vest before also spotting Mark Halls in the corral. Just like being at home. Sort of. Ok, not really unless you live in a thousand year old temple.
We executed the drop off, both bags and kids at the pool, with the latter bringing home the importance of bringing toilet paper with you to Asian races (and Asian places in general) and without going in to the detail, let’s just say the water and bucket system was fully utilised.
The event actually had 3 races going on that day with the half marathoners set to head off first at 6am just after sunrise. They were then followed by the 10kers ten minutes later albeit on a slightly different route. Then ten minutes after that a 3k race headed off. This meant for a slightly confusing corral area and lots of bodies. However after taking a quick selfie with the Mrs and wishing her luck I rushed to somewhere near the front ready for the off.
I needn’t had rushed however as the Cambodians love a presentation ceremony it seems. We stood there for about 15 minutes while a couple of important looking chaps made speeches and the national anthem was played, before getting out an Olympic style torch to light a fire with! Pretty cool and certainly the Cambodians we’re loving it. Perhaps Arena should consider getting Bob to do this at the next Hove Prom 10k!?
The sun was up by now which meant that the Mercury was rising and the humidity seemingly worsening also. However there was still significant amounts of shade along the mostly tree lined route of the complex so as the gun went, everyone shot off up the road to start with a half circuit of Angkor Wat. The roads are pretty good on the site and there are many long straight sections with absolutely no hills of any note so I perhaps went out a bit too hard. 5:50 for the first mile. Woops.
Within 1 mile it became apparent that the top four were in a league of their own. A group had formed up front and they headed in to the distance only to be seen again briefly at about 4kms after a hair pin double back section. At this point I had settled in to a pretty nice rhythm and slowed my average pace down to a more manageable 6:00 min/mile. I managed to hold this for at least 8 miles and spent most of this time reeling in a couple of guys who had started quickly and were beginning to fade.
I’d like to say that as I ran through the temple complex that I became inspired by the ancient temples, achieved a Buddhist zen like state of calm and marvelled at the mystique of the ruins, with all of this helping me surge onwards. However this would be lying. What I did in fact was pretty much what I do every race. Head down, grit teeth and shuffle as quickly as my tiny little chicken legs will allow.
Thankfully the chicken legs were shuffling reasonably well and took me to 10 miles in pretty much dead on an hour. By this time I had caught one more chap and was close to another guy. I estimated top 10 and felt pretty pleased. 
At this point, I also managed to see a site! Although only because you pass directly under it. Victory gate is one of the east entrances to the Angkor Thom, which means the great city temples. For you history buffs, apparently it was the last capital of the Khmer Empire and was built by one of its most popular kings – Jayavamaran VII. He must have been a bit of a big head as his face is on loads of the statues but he built an amazing city so fair play to him, why not plaster your face everywhere!
In addition to the Angkor Thom and Angkor Wat, there are many other temples you pass by, including Ta Prohm which features heavily in Tomb Raider, and if you are looking you would also see Banteay Kdel, Ta Keo and Baksei Chamrong to name a few. No I’d never heard of them either, but they all offer something a little different and are actually a mix of Hindu and Buddhist temples in case you were wondering.
Just after passing through Victory gate the half marathons and 10k routes merge, and as it tends to be the tail enders of the 10k race running through this point the course does get a bit congested, particularly when big groups stop under an archway for a selfie and block the way. The Jakarta Half Marathon did something similar with courses merging as well and although I like the idea of holding several races at once to ensure increased participation and choice, the routes would be better segregated either spatially or races held at different times in my opinion. 
However after a little bit of weaving for a mile or so another straight section takes you the final two miles back to Angkor Wat and the finish. By this time the guy in front of me had disappeared and I just needed to get my head down and hold on. The last two miles seemed to take forever but pace wise I only dropped to around 6:10 min/miles for this part so finally the finish came in to sight and with the clock approaching 1:20 I put in a final little burst (certainly not a sprint) to dip over the line in an encouraging 1:19:44.
I headed straight for some shade and water and sat down (collapsed) ready to cheer in Mark and Cat. Ten mins later Mark came through and a further 14 minutes later Cat arrived. By this time the sun was well and truly burning so after a quick photo opp there was no hanging about and it was off to wake up our TukTuk driver from the second phase of his nights kip to head back in to town for breakfast.
Overall the race was pretty amazing and well organised. Water stops and km markers were every km and the race village was well set up (toilets discounting), and with a free technical t-shirt and nice drawstring bag in the goodie bag it’s hard to criticise it. The setting really makes it special even if you only truly experience it before and after the race. The only downsides I suppose would be the merging of the 10k and half marathon routes but that really that wasn’t too bad considering.
I would therefore highly recommend it if anyone is visiting Cambodia and fancies a different type of race. I’d get in some heat / humidity training beforehand though as you’ll need it, and don’t forget your Lara Croft hot pants!
Till next time and as I won’t see you before Happy Xmas!
The shuffle.

Chicago Marathon 

“Apologies for the delay. I have struggled to find the time to write this for one reason or another, but seeing as I am now base building for April’s London Marathon and it is 8 / 9 weeks since Chicago, I thought I best get this finished – better late than never right?!
Please forgive me for any glaring spelling and / or grammar errors, as I have been slightly lazy and not fully proof read the content.
I will try (being the operative word) to keep this section brief and summarise it in numbers. There were two ‘starts’ to the training plan – 1) 6 weeks of base training 2) 15 weeks of marathon specific training. I considered the 6 week base period necessary, as I had done limited running in the month that followed April’s Manchester Marathon. I wanted to arrive at the start of the marathon specific training in reasonable aerobic shape after: putting on 4kgs, losing most of the Manchester fitness, etc.
The Garmin numbers for the 6 weeks of base training were:
Total miles – 271.42.

Number of activities – 33.

Average weekly mileage – 45.
The Garmin numbers for the 15 weeks of marathon specific training (excluding race day itself) were:
Total miles – 1,071.06.

Number of activities – 117.

Average weekly mileage – 71.

% of steady – recovery paced (aerobic) miles – 72%.

Longest run – 27.7 miles.

Longest time on feet run – 3 hours 30 minutes.
The combined data for the 6 weeks of base training and 15 weeks marathon specific training was:
Total miles – 1,342.48.

Number of activities – 150.

Average weekly mileage – 64.
During the second half of the marathon specific training, I like to target 3 key races to gauge my progress and ensure I am on target or near to the where I need to be come marathon day, which on this occasion was to be in sub-2:45 (London Championship qualifying time) shape. The key races were a parkrun, 10k and Half Marathon – the targets and results of which were:
Parkrun – target – 17:10(ish). Actual – 17:05 – a 23 second PB.

Half Marathon – target – 1:18:30(ish). Actual – 1:16:44 – a 3 minute and 5 second PB.

10K – target – 35:40(ish). Actual – 35:23 – a 56 second PB.
All the key races were on or ahead of target, so I knew the training was going well. However, I have done a few marathons now and know that the marathon distance is a completely different animal to the distances mentioned above. Whilst the above times are a useful guide, they certainly do not guarantee x time come race day, because with a marathon, there is plenty of time for something to go wrong, both physically and mentally.
Race week
This was the usual final taper week where there was another big reduction in mileage, but it still included a couple of speed sessions, albeit reduced in volume.
Mentally, I was very calm and relaxed throughout the week. The only ‘issues’ I had were: how often I should run, what mileage I should run, whether I should stick to my time goal or aim higher. I will deal with the latter point a little later in the report. For Manchester, I ran 16.5 miles in race week, which was spread over four days. Although I set a big(ish) PB (12 minutes), I questioned if I had tapered too much. My final decision was somewhat influenced by a brief Facebook exchange with a sub-2:22 marathoner. I decided to do the same as I did for Manchester, but included another run, so the total mileage in race week was circa 21 miles, spread over 5 days.
Before I knew it, it was Thursday, which only meant one thing…carb load commenced. Basically, the carb load means I don’t stop eating or drinking ‘treats’ for three days – I thoroughly enjoy this part of marathon training.
Friday morning arrived and it was a 3:45am rise, because Kev (Martin) and I were meeting at 4:30am for the 5am National Express to Heathrow. As we were boarding the coach, the driver told us our ticket meant that we had to change at Gatwick and get a connecting coach from there. In isolation, this issue appears minor and insignificant, but it was a taster of things to come throughout the day. The ‘other issues’ were mainly down to the sports tour company we used, or the guide from the tour company would be more accurate.
Firstly, if an 8.5 hour flight, two days prior to the marathon wasn’t enough, we had to ‘unnecessarily’ wait around at the airport for a couple of hours – most of which was spent on our feet.
Secondly, when we were being transferred from the airport to our hotel, the driver was doing her tourist bit (she was a very nice lady), when she made the following comment – bear in mind everyone on the coach was from the sports tour company and doing the marathon – “I don’t know if any of you are aware, but it is the Chicago Marathon this weekend – I think it is 10 miles or it might be 20 miles” 😊.
Thirdly, when we arrived at the hotel, the sports tour guide said, we will all meet back at reception in 15 minutes and go to the Expo together. Kev and I went to our room and were back at reception within the allocated time. We waited, and waited, and waited, until we eventually decided that he and some others gone without us.
Fourthly, upon collecting my number from the Expo, Kev noticed that the name on my race packet was female (I know some of will think or say, but that could still be you). After an initial panic, I spoke to some volunteers, who checked everything and was reassured that everything was okay and that the number was in my name.
Finally, by the time we had been to the Expo, eaten (felt like the only thing that went well on that day), got back to the hotel ready to sleep, we had been awake for the best part of 24 hours – not ideal preparation with the marathon being less than 36 hours away.
Saturday morning meant my last pre-marathon run. The session was, 1k warm up, 4 x 2 minutes at 5:15(ish) pace – about a minute quicker than planned marathon pace – off two minute recoveries, 1k warm down. I like to do a short speed session a day before a marathon (and most times I race for that matter, which currently isn’t that often). I know this is not for everyone, but it generally appears to work well for me. However, on this occasion, it didn’t go to plan – I felt sluggish from the 1k warm up. Rightly or wrongly, I put this down to the following factors: fatigued legs from the flight, lack of sleep from the previous day and the warmth and humidity in Chicago. Kev was also out doing a mixture of some easy paced running and strides. There were many large groups of marathon runners, also running up and down Michigan Avenue – I could feel the excitement and buzz.
The rest of the day was pretty chilled and not a lot happened, although there was a funny moment in the evening. Whilst chilling, the plan for race day would occasionally pop into my thoughts – the internal conversation would go something like this…one part of me would say, you have trained for a sub-2:45, so stick to this. The other part of me would say, training has gone well, you are in good shape, so why not push on for a sub-2:40. I was having a battle with my sensible side and as someone ‘rudely’ pointed out on a running forum, probably my ego. Thankfully, my sensible side is prominent where running is concerned, so sub-2:45 remained the target. On to the funny evening moment. Kev and I went out for dinner and a married American couple and their two daughters were seated next to us. After a short while, the wife leant over and in a ‘cockney’ accent said, “Xcuse me luvs, where ya from?” It might be one of those ‘you had to be there moments’, but it was very funny at the time.
Race morning
After 7(ish) hours sleep, it was around 4:30am local time and time to rise. This might seem early, but as the race started at 7:30am, it gave me 3 hours to get myself together. This is plenty of time for me to wake up and go through my usual pre-race marathon routine that wouldn’t be complete without numerous visits to the ‘bathroom’. Before we left the hotel room to walk to the start line at Grant Park (about a mile from our hotel), we decided on the umpteenth weather check. To be fair to the forecasters, the forecast had not changed throughout the week – it was going to be warm and humid with wind of circa 15mph – 25mph coming out of the south west. This forecast proved to be spot on for the race.
At Chicago, they have an Event Alert System (EAS), which communicates the status of race conditions. EAS levels range from Low (Green) to Extreme (Black). This is based primarily on weather. In race week and on race day itself, the EAS level was moderate (yellow). This means that “event conditions” were “less than ideal” and the “recommended actions” were “slow down / be prepared for worsening conditions”.
We entered Grant Park and after one final toilet break, Kev and I made our way into Corral A to do our warm ups, etc. We lost each other for a bit, but when we started gathering for the start, I spotted Kev. I went over to him, wished him well and took my place ready for the off.
With only a couple of minutes to go until the start, I experienced a first…a couple of guys leisurely squatted down in front of me in the start pen, pulled their shorts to the side and started urinating. Their ran (no pun intended) into people’s running shoes, so once finished, they both stood up as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened and calmly said to those with urine running shoes, “Don’t worry guys, it’s only water”, and that was pretty much the end of that.
Race report
0 – 5km
I take my first gel and within a couple of minutes we’re off. I preset my Garmin to alert me every 31 minutes for a gel. There is nothing scientific about this time period. I like to be slightly ‘non-conformist’, which is why I opted for 31 minutes instead of 30 minutes. Yes, I am a rebel without a cause. Anyway, I digress, back to the race. To allow for Garmin error, a possibly slight fade over the last 5km – 10km and a relatively even paced run, I planned to set off at around 6:10 pace. What I learned from my first marathon (Brighton 2014) is: 1) That patience is key, and 2) To resist the urge to go too quickly in the first 20 – 22 miles.
Within 400(ish) metres, we went through a tunnel which must have been about circa 600m long and I lost signal. When I came out from the tunnel and regained signal, my average pace was showing at just over 7 minute per mile pace. Intuitively, I knew I was running quicker than that, but for some reason, I sped up to get my average time down to the target pace. I wasted unnecessary energy doing this.
Thankfully, due to the heat and humidity, there were water stations pretty much at every mile or so for the duration of the marathon, so I regularly drank water and / or poured it over myself to cool me down, even at this early stage
The the noise from the crowds during this section was something to remember. I go through the 5km marker in 18:48 / 6:03 average pace.
5 – 25km
My perfectionist and sensible sides were slightly annoyed for going too quickly through the first 5km. Although the first 5km were quicker than planned, I still felt relaxed and comfortable, but I told myself to slow down in the second 5km, which was achieved. 5km split 19:08 / 6:10 average pace – through 10km in 37:56.
From memory (which is shocking in general, but even worse when racing), the majority of first 10km was shielded from the sun and the wind and / or gusts by the many skyscrapers. This changed from around the 10k mark. I can’t recall the specifics, but the majority of the remainder of the race was exposed to the increasing temperature and the wind and / or gusts lasted for a few minutes on each occasion and were generally into a headwind, or that’s how it felt.
The next 15km were uneventful and ticked along rather nicely and swiftly – the 5km splits were: 19:22 / 6:14 average pace – through 15km in 57:18. 19:26 / 6:16 average pace – through 20km in 1:16:44. 19:19 / 6:13 average pace – through 25km in 1:36:03. In amongst the last of those 5kms was the halfway mark, which I went through in 1:21:02, so through halfway bang on the planned 6:10 pace. I had a little grin, nodded my head in acknowledgement and reinforced that it was game on for the London Championship qualifying target.
25 – 30km
From nowhere, as is generally the case, the predictable and inevitable race demon was on my shoulder. The voice was loud and strong. It was stronger than anything I had experienced in previous races. Within a matter of seconds, I had gone from running strongly and confidently and feeling mentally in control, to having a brief (a couple of seconds) slow down in preparation to walk (and feeling mentally out of control), to tuning into my stubborn, determined and self-competitive sides and pushing on. It was certainly a turbulent rollercoaster ride mentally through this phase of the race.
I was genuinely worried and knew I had to do something imminently. I looked around, saw there were big(ish) but quiet(ish) crowds and done something I had never done before…I played to the crowd, which surprisingly, but thankfully helped massively. I was lifting my hands up in the air and putting my hands to ears, encouraging the crowd to make more noise to which they obliged. Admittedly, it might be a ‘cockish’ thing to do, but at times, desperate measures call for desperate actions, and it felt like a very desperate moment. I carried this on for about km and it worked wonders. Whilst it killed the demon, it almost killed me aerobically – I was knackered.
Once the panic was over, I calmed myself down, gave myself another good talking to and from this moment on, dedicated certain parts of the race to friends and family that are no longer here. Despite struggling mentally, physically, I still felt strong, which was supported by the 5km split of 19:20 / 6:14 average pace – through 30km in 1:55:23.
30 – finish
Using the experiences and knowledge from the Amsterdam and Manchester marathons, I knew if I had paced it correctly, my patience would pay off. True to previous experiences, this is what happened. I picked off quite a lot of runners, whilst only being picked off by a handful at most. This, coupled with knowing I was still on target for the sub-2:45 gave me a welcomed mental boost. 5km split of 19:32 / 6:18 average pace – through 35km in 2:14:55.
Inevitably, my legs started to feel a little tired and the calves were tightening. I checked my form and told myself to run as relaxed as I could under the circumstances – sometimes, it is easier said than done. I done some calculations in my head and knew that I needed to run the last 7+km in 30 minutes, which in isolation would have been a stroll. However, it is a different story when the body has already done 35km.
I was hoping the calculation would give me some positive vibes, but it didn’t – in fact it had the adverse effect. The thoughts that immediately followed the calculation were, you still have about half-hour to run, which is a long long time. I had another chat with myself and the message was loud and clear…keep it in the moment and don’t worry about how long is left. It was at some point during this section that the Marathon went through Chinatown. 5km split of 19:44 / 6:21 average pace – through 40km in 2:34:39.
The expected fade was happening, but it was quite insignificant. It wasn’t anything to worry about, or not up until this stage anyway. I have learnt not to take anything for granted in the marathon. There was still plenty of time for something to go wrong, even over the closing 2+kms.
The race was getting tougher and tougher both physically and mentally, but the kms were ticking by. I saw the 400m left to go sign, looked down at my Garmin and it said late 2:41’s. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a sprint left in …

Gary McKivett

I used to be a marathon runner

I’ve been travelling a lot with work this year which has meant I’ve not trained or raced with the club as much as I’d like – though I’ve still been running as much as I can. As I have failed to write up any race reports for the website, I thought I’d reflect on the three marathons I competed in during 2015, which were both the highlight and lowlight of the year for me.The marathon is basically just a 10km race, but with a 20 mile warm up. I like that description as it sums up why I both love and hate the event. It’s 2 and a bit hours waiting for it to start, followed by 40-odd minutes wishing it was over.
The run up to Brighton Marathon was OK, but with the usual niggles and worries. On the day it was fine, and I slipped a couple of minutes under the 3-hour barrier, meaning that I (or at least my ego) joined the ranks of Kipsang, Kimetto, Gebrselassie and others as a “2 hour-something marathon runner”.

Getting things wonderfully out-of-perspective, chasing an arbitrary time had started to feel like my sole reason for existence. Once I’d done it there wasn’t really the expected elation, as I realised I had to do it at least once again, if I was to claim to my grandchildren “I ran sub-3 marathons” rather than I once ran one, which makes it sound like I just got lucky that day.

London was only 2 weeks later, so I was realistic about another PB. Instead I set out to try and run that holy grail of marathon runners – the negative split. Despite a big mental wobble passing a pub at 19 miles (“I’ve got a sub-3, this is hard, why don’t I just stop?”), I was pretty pleased to finish strongly with the second half faster than Brighton resulting in a not-quite-negative-split time of 3:01 exactly. While I was happy with the race, over the next week people commiserated me over those 60 seconds. It’s often said you are only as good as your last race, and so it would appear I was no longer a sub-3 runner.

After a long summer break with a bit of cycling and some shorter races, I was still in reasonable shape and decided to have another crack at the Beachy Head Marathon. I’d done the event the previous year and while I did OK, I was pretty certain I could go faster. With a good run on the last ever Jog Shop 20 (my favourite race) and then a solid race at the Bright10, I was feeling fairly confident.

The first 10 miles flew by. I lost a bit of ground in the middle bit, but didn’t worry too much. But by the time I got to the Seven Sisters I was feeling pretty much as drained as the previous year. I kept going, but one of the sisters (I’d lost count) took it’s toll and I suddenly cramped up and fell over. Lying on the ground I realised I probably wasn’t going to get the result I was after. After a minute or so, the cramp subsided and I managed to get up (which was an achievement in itself) and press on at a fairly pathetic rate. I passed through Birling Gap with the only motivation now being that keeping going was the quickest way to get to back to Eastbourne and end the misery.

With hindsight, it was a mistake not to just stop. About a mile further on, I was descending into a dip when cramp set in again quite badly in both legs. It was bad enough that I couldn’t actually walk up the fairly small climb in front. And nor could I manage to go back up the hill I had just come down. I laid down, but that only made things worse, so I got up again, which took a while and hurt quite a bit. As the main Beachy Head road was only about 100 (flat) metres away to the side, I decided the best option was to get there and hopefully find some help. About 50 metres later I needed to lie down again.

An elderly couple who had been bird-watching appeared and asked if I needed help. I got them to haul me up and then basically hold me upright on to me for a few minutes. They were a bit unsure of what do with somebody who seemed to have the motor skills of a jellyfish, so the husband went to see if he could find a marshal, leaving me clinging on to his wife for support. “It’s a long time since somebody’s held me like this!” she (I think) joked. I changed the subject and we discussed a nearby kestrel.

With no marshals about, the pair decided to drag me the remaining distance to the road. Luckily one of the Beachy Head Chaplaincy team was there. I don’t think I was suicidal by this stage, but he took no chances and drove me back to Birling Gap (I’ve made a donation – my conscious is clear). I spent the next hour sitting in the coastguard station, wrapped in a foil blanket while persuading a couple of coastguards to push my toes back to ease the cramp. Eventually a mini-bus transported me and a few other losers back to Eastbourne.

I’ve already started training for Brighton marathon next year. However, you are only as good as your last race. After a disastrous Beachy Head, for the time being at least, it looks like I have lost the right to call myself a marathon runner…