Tuesday, November 26, 2013

San Silvestre Vallecana 2013

I'm in! It was a bit touch-and-go yesterday as the website was down for most of the day (not a good idea to open it at a specific time and date if you want to avoid a colapse). This year I decided to run the popular edition rather than the international edition I ran last year, and I will most likely accompany my wife. I say "most likely" because it depends on (a) whether she actually runs it and (b) whether I run the Aranjuez 10K the week before. If I don't make it to Aranjuez for whatever reason, I'll want to let off steam instead in the San Silvestre race on New Year's Eve. So, as a precaution, I've registered with a qualifying time in order to be able to start from a faster corral. Last year, the women were given the option to start further ahead, so it may come in handy anyway.

I won't yet reveal what I will be dressed as this year (it's a good one!) but, in case you missed them. you can see previous years below:

San Silvestre NYE 2010 (I ended up with some nasty blisters)
San Silvestre NYE 2011 (Abba)
San Silvestre International NYE 2012

Monday, November 25, 2013

Aranjuez 10K Week 2 / 6

Monday: 6 x 1,600m @ 3:25
Tuesday: -
Wednesday: 22 x (30" @ 3:00, 30" @ 6:00)
Thursday: 20' @ 4:00, 10' @ 4:27, 20' @ 4:00
Friday: 6 x (400m @ 3:09 + 200m jog, 200m @ 2:51 + 100m jog) + 400m @ 3:09
Saturday: 40' @ 4:00 (morning) + plyometrics, 40' @ 4:00 (afternoon)
Sunday: 40' @ 4:00 (morning), 40' @ 4:00 (afternoon)
Total kilometers: 73

As a part of my participation in the Santander Por Tu Corazón study, I decided to undergo a test on Wednesday which consisted of a combined PET (Positron Emission Tomography) and MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scan. I had to take Tuesday off from training and fast for four hours (not even liquids) before the test. The MRI is used to get an accurate map of my atheroschlerotic plaques (the fatty deposits in the arteries) and lesions while the PET image is superimposed on this in order to measure any metabolic activity (i.e., are they growing). While I've been told that my case is very low risk, the study precisely wants to focus on heathly people with plaques because the norm is that people are only aware that they have them as part of a post-cardiac arrest / stroke autopsy by which time it is clearly to late. Any excuse for a free cutting edge test and an afternoon off work, only it was harder than I thought it would be to endure...

The first step involved being injected with a radioactive tracer which, in this case, was a sugar designed to highlight metabolic activity. I had to keep completely still for half an hour so I just dozed off. The test itself required me satying in the same position (other than a brief break halfway to stretch my legs) for the best part of 2 and a half hours while I was wheeled in an out of one donut shaped machine, spun around, and wheeled in and out of another donut shaped machine. The PET scan was fairly inobtrusive but the MRI made one hell of a racket (no more siesta I'm afraid) and at times I was sure I could even feel my internal organs vibrating in sympathy. The MRi was synched to my heart beat so that the images would be taken at exactly the same moment as the blood was flowing through my arteries. Of course, having a loud noise beating in time with your heart tends to increase your heart rate (think of house music in a night club) but, in spite of this, my heart rate was around 40 bpm which, I was told, made the test harder for the technicians to conduct. The hardest part was the last section, with my head secured in a Hannibal Lecteresque face mask, when I was told that I should try to avoid swallowing. It's a bit like being told not to scratch your nose - there's no better way to make you desperate to do exactly the opposite. When it was all finally over, I was told to keep away from small children and pregnant women because I was still radioactive. I went to the gym afterwards to do my vVO2Max session of 22 x 30" at 20 kph and so I probably looked like Dynamo from the Running Man film, as I gave off radioactive sweat.

For my quality session on Friday, I thought I would try a little experiment. I'd read that sodium bicarbonate can help performance for relatively short and intense efforts. I've only needed to drink two times during a training session in the whole year (including my 35 km long runs) - this was the second time! I'd forgotten that sodium bicarbonate was similar to table salt. Apart from this, this session felt so much easier than the same one I did last week, outside in the cold Moscow air. I suppose it is cheating slightly not having to deliver the pace but rather just avoid being thrown off the back of the belt but it was mainly due I think to the pace being much more even.

On Saturday morning I took the kids to the swimming pool. I was able to do my run on treadmill in the gym while watching them swim! The gym actually had a plyometric box which was perfect for my jumping exercises. I wasn't able to find one in the local shops but a search on the internet revealed that they are quite expensive, so I may try to build my own one when I get a chance. I did find one plyometric box that caught my attention because it included padding to soften the imapct. Surely the whole point about plyometrics is to activate the Stretch Shortening Cycle and any padding is just going to interfere. It seems akin to running on a treadmill while using your arms to lighten the load on your legs (I find it bizarre that some people walk on the treadmill with a steep incline while holding on to the bars).

Sunday was going to be my rest day but I felt pretty good so I ended up doing another two 10 km runs at Marathon Pace, taking my weekend total to a fairly respectable 40 kilometers. It's in no small part due to being hooked on "Game of Thrones" that I have been on the treadmill so much lately. I'll see how I feel on Monday as to whether I take a day off or launch straight into my quality session of a split 10K at race pace.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The first 100 shoes to cross the finish line of NYC Marathon

Somebody has actually gone to the trouble of photographing and identifying the first 100 runners to cross the finish line of the New York City Marathon and their shoes. (Bear in mind that the elite women had a head start of 30 minutes.)

Someone else has gone to the trouble of putting all the results in a spreadsheet opening up the possibilities for hours of geeky analysis. (Meb was wearing Sketchers!)

While it is not surprising to see the top male and female finishers shod in either Nike or Addidas due to sponsorship requirements, what did surprise me was that none of the other runners chose to run in what I would categorize as a "minimalist running shoe". It certainly appears to be the case that the shoes have less cushioning on average than those worn by the 50,000 runners in the chasing pack but we are still talking about more than a couple of centimetres of squishy-squashy soles.

The other striking observation (if you'll forgive the pun) is the number of heel strikers amongst the elite. But, if you look closely, there is a world of difference between the typical heel-striker below

and the one seen above. The key difference is in the angle of the shin which, in the second photo, is such that the knee joint is locked out (ouch!!) and the point of contact is well ahead of the centre of gravity leading to a braking force. In order to run like the person above, you need to have tremendous flexibility and strength in your ankles - you almost have to fight against the tendency of the shoes to encourage you to overstride. Conversely, from personal experience I can testify to it being even more injurious to overstride and land on your forefoot. Perhaps we should stop obsessing so much over heel strikers versus forefoot (or midfoot?) strikers and look first at shin angles. From the excellent new book Running Science:

It's a shame that the article didn't go as far as the first 221 shoes to cross the finish line of the NYC Marathon... :-)

Monday, November 18, 2013

Aranjuez 10K Week 1 / 6

Monday: 2 x 3 x 1,600 @ 3:25
Tuesday: 40' easy
Wednesday: 20 x (30" @ 3:00, 30" @ 6:00)
Thursday: 45' @ 4:27
Friday: -
Saturday: 6 x (400m @ 3:15, 200m @ 2:50) + 400m w/ 2-3' rest
Sunday: 45' @ 4:21
Total kilometers: 46

The interesting half of this week I was in Moscow. I had been asked to present at a conference but then that conference was cancelled and I decided to go anyway, with my wife and no kids (4th time in 11 years for a "DINKy" - Double Income No Kids - weekend). As a bit of holiday reading, I bought a Russian text ("Supertraining", translated into Spanish) on strength training for my Kindle by one of the forefathers of "plyometrics", Yuri Verkhoshansky.

I found a gym which I planned to do my quality workout on Saturday morning but a day pass turned out to cost about 75 euros and the running machines were so slow to increase speed that running such short intervals would have been absurd. Instead, I braved the cold and ran the stretch between two bridges on the opposite side of the river from Red Square while my wife jogged past. With my generous rests in between sets, we ended up running about the same distance in the same time. The uneven pavement made the 200m intervals at over 21 kph quite hair-raising; I would start the 400m at what was quite an aggressive pace to find that I was literally wheezing and slowing down to a trot for the last 100m. Probably not the optimal execution but a good workout nonetheless and one from which I am still recovering today as I write this.

It's not the first time this year that I've seen that green bike somewhere unexpected
Just as I stayed on Madrid time when I went to New York a couple of weeks ago, it was also convenient to stay on Madrid time in Russia. As a result we would get up around 10:30 am (no kids!), have breakfast around 12:00 pm, lunch around 4 pm and dinner at 11 pm. I was suprised to find that not only were there many reasonable and good quality restaurants open 24 hours but we were not the only people eating at such strange times. So on the Sunday, just before checking out of the apartment, I went for a run around the river. I think I saw one other runner the whole time during the 3 days we spent there. Considering that Moscow supposedly had introduced a bike share scheme this year, I was expecting to see at least some bikes if not people riding them: nothing. I know it is cold, wet and windy but no more so in November than London! That, and the fact that people still smoke so much and in restaurants, were the only things which made the city seem a bit of a throwback; otherwise it was very clean, modern and impressive.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Whoohoo, the results are in!

I feel like I've finally got closure... 5 years of waiting meant that being patient during these last few days was that much harder...

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Before and after

Amsterdam Marathon 2008 (3:58)
New York City Marathon 2013 (2:47)

Monday, November 11, 2013

Training plan for Aranjuez 10K

So, as I have said, my idea now is to try to improve my speed while I still can. At 41¾ I'm hardly at the peak age for athletic prowess but, on the other hand, I've read somewhere that the number of years running should be considered as an independent factor. In my case (not counting my "youth") I've been running for six years solidly now and, while it's clear that the gains are becoming ever more marginal, it is also true that I have acheived a significant PR in all my race distances this year, especially in the Marathon (8 minutes).

Up until now I have tended not to focus on shorter distances and have almost always raced over 10K and Half Marathon distances on route to a full Marathon. As a result, my training has never been very specific for these distances. I recently bought an excellent new book on running called Running Science which brings together much of the latest research in sports and exercise science. I've taken some ideas from this book and especially specific quality workouts.

The three main principles I want to take into account (the first two of which shouldn't be much of a surprise if you have been following this blog) are:

Specificity. Apart from being harder, running at higher speeds is very different from running slowly. In fact, running at speeds of less than 10 kph is so different it is commonly called "jogging". But without going to such extremes, the biomechanics of running at 13.5 kph (recovery pace), 15 kph (Marathon pace) and 17 kph (optimistic 10K pace) are all quite different. Logically, running at 15 kph is good training for competing at 15 kph just as running at 17 kph is good training for competing at 17 kph. Nevertheless, running at speeds faster than 17 kph probably has some kind of trickle-down effect and improves economy at lower speeds. For these reasons, I will try to incorporate as much race pace training as possible and use the "junk miles" to actively recover from these efforts.

Eccentric strength. Especially at these higher speeds, running economy becomes very important. If you study the activation of muscles with an EMG while running, you find that the muscles are not activated during the "push off" phase but rather during the "stance" (quadriceps, arches of feet and soleus are loaded) and "flight" (hamstrings brake leg swing). If you muscle it, you actively contract your muscles in order to pull yourself along; this is much more inefficient than loading your muscles up like a spring in what is called the Stretch Shortening Cycle (SSC). Normally, we move our limbs by contracting (shortening) our mucle fibres - this is called concentric loading. During the SSC, the muscles are actually lengthening under load (concentric loading): once that load is removed, the muscles and tendons snap back elastically. It's well known, for example, that it is possible to jump higher immediately after jumping from a height to the ground. The downside of eccentric movements is that they more likely to lead to injury as the muscle is clearly weaker in its stretched state. Therefore it is important both for injury prevention and for performance to work on eccentric muscle strength and plyometrics and the Shock Method are the best way I know of to do this. An added benefit might be prevention of cramps. Muscle cramps that occur due to chronic muscle use (as opposed to heat cramps, for example) - Exercise Associated Muscle Cramps (EAMC) - are thought to be a result of an imbalance between increased reflex activity in the muscle spindle and decreased reflex activity in the Golgi Tendon Organ (GTO). The muscle spindle monitors the length of the muscles in contraction and can trigger a Stretch Reflex (for example, if a doctor taps your knee). The role of the GTO is to monitor the stretching of muscles and can trigger a Golgi Tendon Reflex (or Inverse Stretch Reflex) which has the opposite effect to the Stretch Reflex of relaxing the muscle (this is why stretching often helps aleviate EAMC) in order to limit possible muscle damage. The imbalance is thought to be due to over-excitation of the GTO during repeated concentric muscle activation. It would stand to reason, then, that training to increase eccentric muscle strength could help the GTO to become more resiliant to fatigue as well as reducing its activity in running. (This is my speculation but I will try to find some research on the matter.)

vVO2Max. "VO2Max" is dead, long live "vVO2Max"! It seems that VO2Max is a relatively poor way to explain differences between athletes while vVO2Max, or the velocity at which one attains maximum oxygen consumption, is a much better metric. Not only that, but an increase in vVO2Max correlates highly with time improvements in races of all distances. As my goal is to improve my speed in particular, it makes sense to work on my vVO2Max. Currently, this stands at 20 kph from a test I did in February - unfortunately this is only accurate to the nearest 1 kph and it is relatively unlikely I will improve enough to progress to 21 kph but time will tell.

6 week training plan for Aranjuez 10K
- 1 day off a week
- 2-3 quality sessions (Q1-3) a week alternating with 45-60 recovery runs
- Q1 = vVO2Max, Q2 = intervals, Q3 = race pace
- 1-2 sessions of plyometrics
- pace, number of repetitions and rest periods subject to adjustment

Week #1
Q1: > 20 x (30" @ 3:00 m:s / km, 30" @ 6:00)
Q2: 6 x (400m-200m) + 400m, 400m @ 3:10 w/ 1' jog, 200 m @ < 3:00 w/ 30" jog
Q3: 2 x 3 x 1,600m @ 3:25 w/ 1' rest

Week #2
Q1: > 20 x (30" @ 3:00 m:s / km, 30" @ 6:00)
Q2: 6 x (400m-200m) + 400m, 400m @ 3:10 w/ 1' jog, 200m @ < 3:00 w/ 30" jog
Q3: 6 x 1,600m @ 3:25 w/ 1' rest

Week #3
Q1: > 10 x (60" @ 3:00 m:s / km, 60" @ 6:00)
Q2: 3 x (800-400-200-1,000) @ 3:40, jog 2', 3:25, jog 1', 3:10, jog 30", 3:40, jog 4'
Q3: 1K, jog 2', 3K, jog 5', 2K, jog 4-5', 3K, jog 5', 1K @ 3:30-3:35

Week #4
Q1: > 10 x (60" @ 3:00 m:s / km, 60" @ 6:00)
Q2: 3 x (800-400-200-1,000) @ 3:40, jog 2', 3:25, jog 1', 3:10, jog 30", 3:40, jog 4'
Q3: 1K, jog 1', 3K, jog 3', 2K, jog 2', 3K, jog 3', 1K @ 3:30

Week #5
Q1: 5 x 1,000 @ 3:00 w/ 3' rest
Q2: 3 x (200-600-1,000) @ < 3:00, 3:10-3:25, 3:40-3:30, w/ 3-4' rest between sets
Q3: 10K @ 3:40, 3% incline

Week #6
Q1: 1K, jog 1', 3K, jog 2', 2K, jog 1', 3K, jog 2', 1K @ 3:30
Q2: 10K (2-5' @ 3:35, 1-3' @ easy)

Saturday, November 9, 2013

More photos from New York City Marathon 2013

Breaking the tape at the finish line ;-) 
Nice photo but shame about the booger 

Friday, November 8, 2013


I've been thinking about my goals for 2014. In much the same way as I imagine a woman is able to forget the pain and discomfort of childbirth once the baby is born, the euphoria of having finished a Marathon makes it easy to underestimate the hard work it took to get there. Right now, the temptation to sign up for another New York Marathon is huge, of course. In fact, I had been planning to run the London Marathon in 2014, but now I think I will wait until 2015.

There are two persuasive reasons to take a year off running Marathons (and indeed Triathlons). Firstly, I think my wife deserves a break from my long runs which, more than the hours spent on the road, has affected my family due to my low levels of energy on Sunday afternoons (a euphemism for bad moods). Secondly, now that my Marathon time is at least theoretically in line with my times in shorter races, I'd like to return to 5K, 10K and Half Marathons to see if I can squeeze out a few more seconds while I am still "young" enough to keep on improving my speed.

While there is no doubt that the king of road races is the Marathon, there are a number of equally prestigious shorter races - especially if you are willing to travel - which you can take just as seriously. There are also fast, sea level races as well as ones with a great atmosphere (although I think it will be difficult to beat New York Marathon). As well as marking a few key dates in the calendar for which I will train as specifically as I have for any Marathon, I'll take part in local "B" races for "fun".

The "A" races I am thinking of entering for next year are:

The ABN Amro CPC Half Marathon on March 9th in the Hague
The BUPA London 10000 on May 25th
and La Behobia 20K in November in San Sebastian

There, it's in writing now.

New York City Marathon training at a glance

The dips in weekly kilometres are due to races

Some photos from New York City Marathon 2013

I'm still waiting for NYRR to correct my results and for Marathonfoto to let me download all my photos. I'm checking every five minutes ;-) so, as soon as they are ready, I'll post them here. Meanwhile, some photos

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Cholesterol results

If getting a PB in the New York Marathon was not enough, I also got a "PB" in my cholesterol test last week. I've gone from 206 mg/dL total to 177 mg/dL (-14%) of which my ratio of so-called good (HDL) to bad (LDL) is now 84:79 - practically 1:1 - from (57:139), representing a 40% increase in good and a 40% decrease in bad.

So this at least makes me a little sceptical of the claim one of the books I read made, that it wasn't possible to significantly alter cholesterol levels via diet, as the body compensates for less ingested cholesterol by upping its production. I continue not to buy into the whole cholesterol = heart disease thing but the diet has been quite easy to follow (I now don't even want milk in my coffee any more, for example) and I think it is basically a common sense healthy way of eating.
Let's see if the doctor agrees...

Monday, November 4, 2013

ING New York City Marathon 2013 - Race Report

Before I get stuck in, I think it's worth a few words to put this in context. I have been waiting for 5 years for this moment, to run the mythical New York Marathon, of which so much is said. Of course, in the meantime, I have done other things - not least of which an Ironman in Brazil - but, as I was to find out for myself, nothing compares to the New York Marathon.

Just like last year, when the Sandy Super Storm hit, I was staying with my friends Eli and David on Upper West Side but they were going to be away most of the weekend, so I could be "anti-social" and stay indoors on European time. I had packed so lightly that I had only taken one credit card. It turned out not to work in most places (the chip is fine but the magnetic strip is unreadable) and I only had $150 cash which would have to include my emergency money in case something went awry during the Marathon. Remember, I had a flight to catch at 5 pm for which check-in time was two hours prior at JFK, which is about an hour and a half from Manhattan, and the Marathon was starting at 9:40 am...

After dinner and breakfast with Eli and David, we went our separate ways and I did my 20 minute run on Saturday morning down to the Expo on 38th street. It felt so easy and I realized I was clocking up 4 minute kilometres - i.e., Marathon Pace - and this was supposed to be a limbering up run the day before. I hoped I hadn't overdone it at the last minute due to impatience and excitement.

The Expo, much like the Marathon itself, was huge, very well organized and expensive. Last year the clothes had been at a 50% discount but, at these prices (and with my limited funds), I didn't buy anything for myself. I got Eli a sovenir t-shirt which I was able to pay for by card, using the old machine which sort of does a brass rubbing of your card details. I got to see Elaine, who was running as a pacer for the 5:15 group (next week she has a 24 hour run, so this is just a taper for her). Last year, we met up with a large group of international runners and ran the last 10 miles of the Marathon.

I went back to the flat and cooked myself a huge portion of spaghetti with garlic, olive oil and chilli which would do me for lunch as well as dinner and then settled down into a nice hot bath and watched a movie. I was alseep by 7:30 in the evening.

On Marathon day I managed to stay in bed until 4:30 am (the clocks had gone back, so this was 10 hours sleep!) but couldn't wait any longer. I got kitted up, put Body Glide vaseline in all the places I knew from past experience would get rubbed raw (except you always miss one, don't you?) and had a light breakfast. I took a packed breakfast to have a bit nearer to the start time.

I made my way down to the South Ferry terminal on the Subway. There was already a great atmosphere with runners of all sorts of abilities nervously exchanging information. There were a couple of girls with wings and high heels who looked like they would struggle to walk 42 m let alone 42 km but then it dawned on me that they were on the way back home after a night out.

I met a guy called Stian who had done the race a number of times before and so I just latched onto him. He also turned out to be a lot of fun and that helped me to keep relaxed. That, and the beautiful views of the sun rising over Manhattan from the ferry. Once on Staten Island, we went on a hunt for a free Dunkin' Donuts hat and, after a few bum-steers, we found the right place but there were none left. After all the terryfingly complicated pre-race instructions, things are much more laid back and practical than you would expect: nobody checks if you registered for the ferry when you get on board, there's plenty of food and drink at the start and there are places where you can take cover from the elements while you are waiting. There was, however, a very conspicious increase in security following the dreadful terrorist attack in Boston: for example, our ferry was escorted by a coast guard with a manned machine gun.

Two hours before the start I dug into my standard breakfast of (now cold and dry) toast with olive oil and salt, as well as a couple of cereal bars for good measure. Another point of business was to do a number 2. There seemed to be almost as many porta-potties as there were runners, each, amazingly, bountifully stocked with ultra thin toilet paper. I always take it as a good omen if I am able to "go" just before a race and this was no exception: I bade my goodbye and goodluck to Stian and went off to my corral in Blue Wave #1. Now, with only an hour to go, I downed a couple of Ibuprofen, some Omeprazol (to protect my stomach from the Ibuprofen) and a caffeine pill (whoohoo!) with a swig of Red Bull. I had managed to stay off caffeine for two weeks prior to the event (not counting the cereal bar I accidently ate the day before which rather unexepectedly turned out to contain caffeine).

Finally, we were ushered into the pen from which we would start. I had the best tickets in the house where I happened to be standing. I could see Michael Bloomberg giving what was likely his last public address before leaving office as well as the elite male athletes (the women had started half an hour earlier) as they were introduced as if it were a 100 metre final. As Chema Martínez jogged passed I yelled "Vamos Chema!". There was no chance to do any kind of warm up, so a bit of bouncing up and down on the spot would have to do as I threw off my cheapo tracksuit (it was entertaining just seeing what kind of random clobber people turned up in - I saw one guy in a suit which he later chucked away).

I had three goals in mind for the race. The easiest goal that I'd be happy with would be to break three hours. I thought it was important to have an acheivable goal to avoid not having anything to say to the "hammer man" when he came asking for reasons 35 kilometres later. The realistic goal was to run a 2:55 Marathon, based on how my training had gone and how much tougher the course was relative to Seville, where I had run 2:47. But the unrealistic but very "chuffing" goal was to beat my best time of 2:47:53. My kids are now old enough to have stopped asking me if I have won a race or not but I sometimes think that the chances of me actually winning a major Marathon are somewhere in between winning the lottery having bought a ticket (slightly more likely) and winning the lottery without having bought a ticket (slightly less likely).

Boom! and we're off. Everyone says to disregard the first couple of miles which are spent crossing the Verrazano bridge. The views were spectacular. Carried off by the emotion, I ran the first two miles (one up and one down) a full minute faster than the splits a spreadsheet taking hills into account had advised. Oops. Instead, I used the splits (printed on a wrist band) as a guide to know whether the upcoming mile was going to be relatively hard (slow) or relatively easy (fast). I got to the 5K mark in around 19 minutes and realized I was running at least 2:48 Marathon pace, not 2:55 pace. But I felt good and my heart rate was steady, so I pressed on.

As the roads were so wide and well maintained, as well as the runners around me being reasonably sparse, I didn't need to look where I was going most of the time. So I watched the crowds instead. It was fascinating seeing all the different folks and different strokes. Sometimes there would be clusters of similar types, like hipsters in Brooklyn, Hispanos in Harlem, and sometimes they'd just be all mixed up. About 2 million people turn up to support the Marathon and support it they do. I enjoyed reading the banners with motivaitonal and/or funny messages like "Celebrate Yourself" and "Pain is temporary, Pride is permanent" although I particularly remember one which said "Slow down and ask me for a date" which didn't help by allowing the thought of slowing down to enter my head (and not because I wanted a date). Neither did the all-too-common "You're nearly there!" (with 10 miles to go) - in fact, the spectators guide (yes, there is such a thing) specifically warns spectators against saying this.

By the same token, the bands were fantastic. If there weren't bands, there were deejays. If there weren't deejays, there were ghetto blasters. And failing that, there were people playing percussion with spoons on old pots and pans. There was only one band which was a real downer, a kind of folksy group in Brooklyn playing a really slow number with the words "Keep on going..." when it sounded like they would have problems keeping going themselves.

The downside of so many spectators is that it is impossible to see your friends, even if you have fairly specific indications of where they are going to be: the crowds were 5 deep in many parts. I didn't see or hear anyone I know but it didn't matter: it is true what they say about the crowds compensating for the hills. It was a very cool day which was perfect temperature-wise but it was quite windy (to the extent that the eventual winner finished in a rather "pedestrian" 2:08).

The part of the course that I think I enjoyed most was Brooklyn - best diversity, best music, mostly straight and still on fresh legs. Leaving Brooklyn by the Pulaski bridge, I passed the Half Marathon point in 1:23:25 (net). I changed over to my second little bottle of gels which were orange flavour (yippee!) - what a nice change from the berry flavour (which I switched to originally after getting sick of orange gels in the Ironman). For some reason, although I wasn't particularly aware of it at the time, the next 5 kilometres through Queens were the slowest of the race (nothing to do with the residents of Queens, who gave their Brooklyn neighbours a run for their money). It helped to think that my splits were automatically being "tweeted" to at least my family who were at that time driving back from Asturias. (It later turned out that the Twitter / Facebook setup didn't work - bastards, I want my $2.99 back.)

Everyone talks about the silence of the Queensboro bridge that crosses from Queens into Manhattan and the deafening noise of the crowds the other side on 1st and 59th street. Even so, I was unprepared. I was so overcome by emotion at this point that I literally nearly choked. All along 1st Avenue were the densest crowds of the whole course and, to shelter from the wind, we ran as close to them as the policemen placed every 50 metres or so would allow us.

I couldn't help feeling that the incursion into the Bronx was a bit token - just so that it could be called the five-borough Marathon - or worse, patronizing. There was practically nobody around to cheer. The way back down on the West side took us through Spanish Harlem where we were treated to Gospel Choirs, High School Bands and Salsa music: I expected to hear the Bobby Womack song as we went Across a 110th Street.

Exactly as I was passing the 20 mile marker - the only place along the course where there was a huge screen showing the live coverage of the race - it just so happened that the winner, Geoffrey Muttai, was crossing the line 6.2 miles away. 21, 22 miles. Hills schmills. Now it was time to concentrate: I stopped watching the crowd and fixed my gaze on the middle distance. Less than half an hour to go at this pace and still no sign of the hammer man. I started to increase the pressure to make sure I was keeping up the pace and started to overtake people who were fading. I heard someone say "Enjoy it, it's nearly over". Now this might seem a weird thing to say when the pain was clearly outweighing any enjoyment at this point but he made me remember that I had been waiting 5 years to run this Marathon and, here I was - actually running it right now - and in less than half an hour it would be over, finished, and there was something bittersweet about that.

It felt easy, really. Maybe I am culturally programmed to find it easier to run 26.2 miles than 42.2 kilometres. This time I only had to grit my teeth for the last 2 miles now in Central Park and this was only because I knew that there was a slim chance that I could actually beat my best time! I also knew that the last mile was uphill but I didn't care. I was pumping my arms furiously and sometimes running with my eyes closed. Someone shouted out "Looking good" and I naturally assumed he was talking to me: I replied out loud but more to myself than to anyone else "Of course I'm looking good!". It was great to be passing so many people - "Oh, I remember you - I lost sight of you back in mile X" I was thinking to myself.

I crossed the line in 2:47:38 and was overwhelmed with emotion. (I didn't hit the sign this time.) After a minute or so to recover, I just kept on jogging right out of the park and back to the flat, some 2 more miles in total. People were saying "Congratulations", "Good job!" or "Hey, the finish line was back there" etc. The volunteers were all fantastic and a big part of what made the day so special. They were so cheery without being cheesey, as well as very helpful and patient.

I had plenty of time in the end to shower back at the flat and make my way on public transport to the airport. When a Marathon goes to plan I don't feel muscle pain afterwards and I remember feeling much more tired (and grumpy) after my long training runs. When it goes badly, then it is a struggle to walk for days, especially downstairs. I was so excited that I didn't manage to sleep on the plane so I find myself now in a similar state to that in a Marathon when I feel fine but know that, at some point, I am going to suddenly feel very very tired.

It has definitely been worth the wait, the cost and the hassle. I have never been involved in anything of this scale with such a good atmosphere. I learned from the boredom I experienced in the Ironman that I thrive off crowds. Unlike in Seville where I couldn't remember anything about the course afterwards, so much was I "in the zone", this time, I was in the zone but also in the moment. Like I did in Seville, I pretended as I ran that I was watching a film of myself running the Marathon but this film was much more interesting and I was the star - everyone was cheering for me.

I didn't just run a "sub-3" Marathon, I ran another sub-4 (minute per kilometer  Marathon. This puts an end to the silly "post summer Marathon curse" I was convinced I was suffering from. I think the keys have been consistent training, continuing to run throughout the summer, a good taper, being well fueled before the race and, above all, being relaxed.

For now you'll have to take my word on my result as I don't (yet) appear in the official results (although I estimate that I'd be in about position 225 / 50,700 runners) and my splits mysteriously vanish into thin air after 35 kilometres. On top of this there are currently no photos of me crossing the line and the track I recorded on my Garmin watch seems to be corrupted. I'm so zonked that the whole thing could just have been a dream but I do have this finishers medal in my pocket so...

My last $9 wisely spent
UPDATE: I managed to fix the track on my Garmin (http://connect.garmin.com/activity/399723762). The guys at NYRR still haven't fixed my results but I did find some video evidence of me crossing the line for the doubters among you:

You can catch me just after 16 minutes into the video. It also explains why there were no photos of me crossing the line: the photographers were too busy having a natter.