Monday, 8 October 2012

Kielder Marathon 2012 : Race Report

Three week run up: Injuries, Training and Predictions 

 I signed up for the Kielder Marathon just three weeks ago and now three weeks on I have the race report to write up!  Signing up so near to a marathon was all down to trying to judge how well Plantar Fasciitis in both feet and a knee injury would clear up - progress had been very slow but in a positive direction so I decided to task the risk.  At the same time I also signed up for the Jedburgh 3 Peeks Ultra that will be run for the first time in 3 weeks time, this meant the Keilder Marathon would make a perfectly timed last long training run for the Jedburgh Ultra. 

Over the last three weeks my right knee has improved significantly and had given little discomfort over the last week before the race.  I couldn't report the same progress with Plantar Fasciitis though, while improvement was evident it was very slow, everyday I that I've got up in the morning it's been uncomfortable to walk, and when getting up from working at my desk it's also been uncomfortable.  When running my feet would be sore for the couple of miles of 6 mile run, then be comfortable for three of four miles, then often discomfort would return, especially on faster or routes with steep descents.

Keeping training stimulus low enough to not strain my feet and train for a marathon has been a delicate balance - I've wanted to maintain fitness as much as possible whilst still giving my injuries the time they need to get better.  Long runs, steep hill runs and fast tempo runs were all tough on my injuries so I has largely cut them out, instead most of my training consisted of 6 mile easy to marathon paced runs, with only one tempo run and one long run of 16 miles.  The keep the training as race specific as I could I made sure the average elevation/descent per mile was around the same as Kielder marathon (~65ft/mile), with last ten days of taper mostly consisting of marathon paced/intensity 6 mile runs.  With these runs I was able to get a reasonable gauge of my fitness level and predict appropriate pace to run the marathon at.

With only three before the Jedburgh Ultra it was important that Kielder Marathon served as a good training run - providing stimulus for aerobic and endurance adaptations whilst avoiding making worse existing injuries or introducing new ones.  For this goal it was sensible to aim for a slower marathon.  My time predictions for the hilly Kielder Marathon route based on training suggested a time of mid 3:22 to 3:28 should be possible, equivalent to a 3:04 to 3:10 flat marathon time but this would require running a perfect marathon and higher intensity.  Rather that take the risk of training to run red lined marathon I decided a few days before to aim for 3:30, and noted the split times for every 5km for each just over 25 minutes.  From my marathon paced taper runs I also knew the feeling of intensity this would involve - around what the limit of what I could run whilst still breathing through just my nose.

I did my last training run on the Wednesday, got everything ready by Thursday and was all geared up to relax for a few days.  Friday morning came and after my wife took one of our daughters to the doctors she came back and reported that our doctor wanted us to all have the Flu vaccine that same day.  I haven't ever had a flu jab before, and it certainly wasn't something I'd normally choose to risk so close to big race but running a perfect race is so far below the priority of keeping my family healthy that it was just something I had to do.  Friday night I was pretty achy and didn't sleep well, clearly my bodies immune system had been given a kick and was now doing it stuff, but with it I felt every injury niggle that had haunted me over the last year.  Thankfully through Saturday my bodies inflammation response calmed down and the niggles mostly melted away, leaving just my Plantar Fascii complaining.

Race day:  Beautiful Weather, Beautiful Scenery

I stayed overnight at a guest house in Hawick in the Scottish border, got up at 6:30am to a bright but frosty morning, perfect conditions to run, but perhaps a tad chilly at the start line.  I dressed in my running kit with extra layers to keep warm and applied zinc sticky tape to both feet to support my Plantar Fascii.  The taping up is something I only decided upon in the day before the race as it's something I really didn't want to have to do, but with the last minute set back of the Flu jab my confidence in just roughing out tender feet changed to wishing to minimizing risks.  Deciding to tape myself up without ever having run was a concern, but it felt comfortable enough when jogging so I went with it.

The running kit I'd chosen was 2011 Kielder Marathon T-Shirt, Ronhill Trail Cargo shorts for ample pockets for snacks+phone it provides, Smartwool Toe Socks, Inov-8 Trailroc 245's trail running shoes.  Trail shoes aren't strictly necessarily for the rather well maintained and non technical trails of the Kielder Marathon but I don't ever run in anything other than trail shoes these days.

The drive from Hawick to Kielder Water took an hour, and was simply stunning crossing the moors with mist clinging to valleys and crystal clear visibility over the frosty hills above.  I arrived at the race car par at Falstone at 9:00am and then waited in a line for the shuttle bus along with several hundred other impatient of runners.  It took 50 minutes to get the front of the queue on a bus.  On arrival the official over the loud speakers declared that the race would be delayed from 10:15am to 10:30 to allow for all the runners to arrive on the shuttle buses.  Exactly the same problem hadn't in the last years, it's the weakest bit of Kielder Marathon experience - it just adds stress not knowing whether you'll get to the start in time.

With the delayed start I had twenty minutes to strip down to shorts, tshirt and head along the start.  I positioned myself about 50m back from the start, guessing that was probably around hundred runners and roughly the same number ahead as I'd expect there to be my the end. 

First 10k

The horn went off at 10:30 and we all shuffled across the line. The first km is on road that loops uphill before descending back down to near the start and goes through the final finish arch and then heads west in a clockwise direction around the side of Kielder Water.  I start at my planned intensity, breathing through my nose and attempting to keep my HR below 160.  Right away I was being swallowed up by hundreds of runners and this continued all the way to the top of the hill, on the descent I stayed relaxed and took back a few dozen places.

Within the first mile my Heart Rate (HR) had already hit 160, according to MARCO calculator this is where I should be at the 10k point, not by 1km.  My breathing and pace all felt very comfortable though, it felt around the 8min/mile that I was planning for so I just stuck to judging pace by my breathing as clearly the adrenalin of race day was skewing the HR readings too far pacing purposes. I kept my intensity nice and steady, with my pace naturally slowing down on hills, speeding up on descents as I relaxed letting gravity do it's thing and then just taking it nice and easy along the flats.

I was steadily passing runners from the mile one to mile 6, especially on the flat and descents.  Often runners would still keep with me or go past me on ascents but at a cost - laboured breathing a sure give away of them pushing too hard.  As soon as we'd crest the hill I'd glide effortless past them.  Knowing how to efficiently run hills has to be one of key benefits of living and training in the foothills of the highlands!

I ran through the 5km and them 10km markers just outside my loose target of 25 and 50 minutes, while my HR was now heading to mid 160's I was still able to comfortably breath through my nose and the level of effort felt easy.  My feet were a little uncomfortable but the rest of my body was perfectly relaxed.  The sun was shining, the supporters, strewards and other runners were all in great spirits - life was good!

10km to 20km

Not long after the 10k mark the route heads back north east along the north short of Lake.  At the one hour point I took on water and ate a brioche.  My using of breathing to judge pace was working well, despite all the ups and downs I was continuing to average around 8min/mile pace.  The steady pace meant that I continued passing runners.

Occasionally I'd strike up a conversation with fellow runners and run together for a while, but each time the marathon target time was discussed it was clear I was on pace while others were going out too fast for their planned time.  By the end of the second 10km mark I was now over taking runners on the hills, flats and descents.

The trail along the north shore is more open than the south shore so we were rewarded with great views looking across the Lake.  I didn't feel that I could take photo's whilst running so you'll have to do without on this occasion.  The views were not too dissimilar to some for the loch side trails I do here in the Trossachs, but with gently hills rather than mountains for backdrop.  The organizes claim it's Britain's most beautiful marathon, which might I'm sure a few Welsh and Scottish marathons would contest, but it still is very pretty and certainly adds to joy of running a marathon.

20km to 30km

Shortly after the 20km marker one passes the halfway point and according HR monitor watch I pass in 1:44:54.  I do a body scan to double check everything is OK.  My feet are sore by comfortable enough, my HR is now in high 160's and finally nearing to where the MARCO calculator suggests I should be, my knee hasn't complained at all, my hips, quads and calves are not showing signs of fatigue and my breathing is still easy - I can still comfortably breath through my nose.  I have to pinch myself as it really has been going so well so far, body is fresh and pacing spot on.

I take my first 200ml electrolyte drink at the 14mile aid station and run with it till it's empty.  I haven't tried this type before by it seems to go down OK.  While passing runners has been a one way street for the last 10 miles I finally caught a runner who clearly didn't want to be overtaken as each time I came within a metre behind he'd accelerate and pull away a few metres.  Amused for a couple of minutes I just kept my pace steady and once a next small ascent arrived he just gave up surging and I eased quietly past.

The Dam at the end of Lake was now in view and felt quite close but still three miles away according to the signs on the trail.  The mis-matched soon explained by turned a corner to run into an inlet the heads into the hills for half a mile and then back out gain.  You follow the trail around the inlet, and to add to merriment three yachts were mored up together in the middle of the inlet with their occupants sounding horns and cheering the runners.  You can see runners stretched out ahead and on the other side of the inlet so it's both majestic and a little daunting - the runners on the other side are all half a mile ahead and heading uphill.

Feeling good I keep up the intensity slightly as per the MARCO's guidelines with my HR now in the low 170's but still feel totally in control with few signs of fatigue.  At mile 17 we cross the Dam and I continue my steady passing of runners with my pace around 7:30min/mile on the first and last long bit of flat course.  Mile 18 passes soon after arriving back on the South Shore and I still feel good, with only my feet and a little discomfort accumulating in what feels like my hip joints.  Everything has good perfectly and now confidently looking to a strong finish and a sub 3:30 time.

30km to finish

I take another electrolyte drink and consume the whole carton but it doesn't sit that well in my stomach.  A couple of minutes later, at around mile 19, I start to get a stitch on the right hand side that quickly spreads right under my rib cage.  I work hard to keep my breathing steady and deep whilst keeping the intensity constant with the hope that it'll just pass.  The discomfort doesn't pass but gets worse so with hills of Bull Crags half a mile away I decide to easy off on the pass get my HR back below 170 and see if I can fix the problem.  For the first time since the ascent of first hill in the first half my steady passing of runners ahead slows down, I am still catching them but at half the rate, my pace is also slipping with 8:30 pace a struggle.  To underline my loss of pace a runner passes me running strong, I pass on words of encouragement and she reciprocates - we've both been passing runners steadily but now it's my turn to be be humbled.

I head up the Bull Crags switch backs keeping running uphill, while I'm not running fluently as I was I'm still passing runners, or should I say walkers as I'm one of the few left running uphill at this stage.  Once we crest I open up my legs and pick up the pace on the gentle downhill to sub 7:30 pace.  Reducing the intensity has helped with the stitch but it's still sore, and what was just a minor discomfort in the hips had now turned into significant discomfort with my hip flexors tightening up.  Previously I was running with no tension in my body but now my hips and torso were locking up, managing 8min/mile pace on the descents was now painful.  The next mile marker now let me know that I was in the last three miles to go but now I would have to run near to 7 min/mile pace to get in under 3:30, and while half an hour before this would have seemed easy my body was now fighting ever step.  The last three miles I was passed by around half a dozen runners finishing strong, and was able to pass a similar number in my 8:30 to 9:30min/mile shuffle.

The course heads back to the finish at the Waterside Centre with the crowds lining the last 100ms of road to under the finishing arch.  The lure and excitement of the finish overcomes my physical woes and I'm able to pick up the pace and finish in some semblance of good form.  I cross the line,  stop my watch at 3:36:34 and approach ladies handing out water slowing to a jog then a stop and my right quad starts to cramp up, so I just stood their looking pained and perplexed at the friendly faces in front of me.  The cramps eases off just by standing for a few seconds and allows me to hobble over to get my water. 

Official race time f*ck up

Right after the finish the timing company had a tent for giving runners official times and places right away, even providing a print out right there.  I was impressed till the guy manning the timing computer said that my number hadn't been recorded and declared it was my fault for folding my number over to just display the number.  He claimed the number with integral timing foil wouldn't be picked up correct because the fold would shield it.  I knew this was BS as the timing element was only behind one layer of paper no mater whether it was on unfolded or folded, and paper wouldn't shield a magnetic field anyway.  He then went on to lecture me that it was against UK Athletic rules to fold race numbers.  He did however say they had a backup system of recording finishers manually.

I always fold my race numbers to just show the numbers as I've had numbers tear during fell races in the past so fold them over to avoid catching the wind and to make sure there is double material where I put the pins through.  I had never been informed of this rule about not folding the race number.  I've since double checked the Kielder Marathon website and all the materials sent from Kielder and no information about not folding race numbers, just says to fix the race number securely...  The UK Athletics rules do include it, but one has to go looking closely at rules.

Today (Monday, day after race) the that provided the timings has posted their results for the race and my time isn't up, plenty of runners before and after my time, but when I search for my entry I get:

StatusPosOverallBibCompetitorCategoryHalfChip timeFinish
Not yet started 13511Robert Osfield V40

So... I've done the race, I've got my medal, race T-Shirt and aching muscles but still officially I haven't started yet... What happened to the backup system?  What's more my bib number according to them is 3511 but what number I was sent and wore was 4502.  Might this be the source of the screw up?  Incompetence somewhere along the line rather than BS about me folding my number?

Looking at others on the official time it looks like I came around 100th out of 1400 or so runners.  I don't know if I'll ever find out officially what my time and place was.

Postrace analysis

I finished in a time of 3:36:34, which I know I should be chuffed with as it looks likely on a flat course this would be worth a time of 3:16 to 3:20 which would be a huge PB.  It's still slower than my pre-race predictions suggested was possible and more than 6 minutes off what I was very confident of achieving at the 18 mile mark, and 4 minutes outside of my 3:32:26 PB done in Edinburgh two years.

My average HR was 169 for the day, which is higher than the MARCO guidelines suggested of an average 168, I would say this shows that I didn't miss my predications due to lack of effort, but the reality was I didn't put any particular effort until the 18 mile mark, up till then I was simply gliding along completely within myself, my HR was high, but breathing was very easy with little signs of fatigue from my legs and energy levels we all good.  At this point I was actually cruising along wondering just how far I could go at pace, 30miles? More?

What sapped my pace in the end was the combination of the stitch and hip flexors ceasing up.  It may have been the drink that caused the stitch, or perhaps more likely running with a HR of 170+ and drinking 200ml of drink over a few minutes.  Perhaps if my HR had been a tad lower my stomach might have had enough activity to properly handle the influx of a cold calorie rich drink.

My hip flexors ceasing up caught me unexpected.  While I struggled with hip flexor injuries this time last year, mostly this year I have got over these injuries and in all my training over the past 8 weeks haven't had any signs of weakness.  However, the marathon I did 8 weeks ago was at a slow ultra marathon style pace, walking the steeper hills rather than running.  I suspect my lack of hard hills and long runs since doing that marathon have not kept the robustness in all my running muscles and tendons to handle over three hours running a quick marathon over hilly terrain.

Or... can I just blame it all on the Flu jab that I had 40 hours earlier.  My inflammation response through Friday night was quite noticeable.  This response calmed down through Saturday and by evening seemed mostly fixed.  Running a marathon isn't any ordinary endeavor though, could it be a factor in my body fatiguing/suffering greater inflammation in unexpected ways.

One last bit of jigsaw is why such a high average HR when the pace and intensity wasn't that high.  My analysis of training and how this would map to a marathon finishing time of 3:36 would have suggested an average HR around around 162 to 164bpm would have been required.  Seeing a race day HR 5 higher than this is disappointing but not totally without precedent - my HR of 178 was around 5 higher than my normal HR when I run a hard 6 mile run in training.  The obvious candidate to explain this elevated HR during races would be adrenelin.

Having an elevated HR during race day isn't necessarily a problem, the key thing is how you feel when you run and how your overall race goes, no race is won based on HR readings.  However, I do wonder for these longer races whether digestion of calories and fluids is compromised by elevated HR's, or simply whether adrenalin and associated hormones make the stomach less friendly to consumption.  The races I primarily run are Ultramarathons so digestion is something I really need to get a proper handle on so I'd like to unravel this particular part of the mystery.

Recovery and beyond

Today I've been generally stiff but most surprisingly is that my plantar fascii has been better today than they were in the days running up to the marathon.  During and right after the marathon my left plantar fascii was very sore and I was concerned that I had made the injury worse, so to find today that it's improved to better than it was in previous weeks is encouraging.  Could it be that I've broken down scar tissue?

My plan for the rest of the week is take it easy training wise, partly out of interest in recovery, and partly just out of having a frantic week with the last of my life.  I'd like to squeeze in a recovery run or two this week just to get the legs moving, but if I don't get the chance I won't fret.

Next week I'll be away on a family holiday and will take my kit with me, perhaps run when I can, by the time I return from that family holiday it'll be one week before Jedburgh Ultra and I'll be back in full taper once more.   This time rather practicing averaging 7:40 to 8:00min/mile pace I'll be aiming to average nearer 9 to 10min/mile pace and add in some steep hills to walk up to prep for the 3 peaks!


  1. Did you contact the organisers about the timing chip/race number thingy? I know it was only a training run for you, but you paid your fee and should get an official time.

    As for the flu jab, I'm sure it would have an effect on your marathon (I wouldn't have done a marathon 40 hours after a jab to be honest), which should explain the slightly slower pace. It's still a perfectly respectable time, though.

    take it easy now. And congratulations!

    1. I didn't chase the organisers up early as I wanted to give them a bit of time to get all the records in but as the results are now appearing on other websites it looks horribly like they are now official. I have emailed the Kielder Marathon info address and filled out an entry on the website. Fingers crossed they be able to sort it out, I do worry that it's a widespread issue though.

      The flu jab is something I didn't expect to have and wouldn't ordinarily chosen to have it, especially with a big race just two days later. It was just a unlucky co-incidence of timings and as I had to go with my youngest daughter for the jab I couldn't turn around and start making excuses not to get it then are there when she had too.

  2. Robert,
    That was an excellent run. One very positive feature was the fact that the plantar fascia coped well. You hypothesis regarding breaking up adhesions make sense. I think that the long term pain of PF is likely to be due largely to adhesions. For acute PF, rest is probably the preferred option but for chronic PF finding the right type of movement to mobilise the fascia often seems helpful. I hope the freshly torn collagen fibres do not reform again with too much cross bridging. It is probably best to keep them gently mobilised, even whilst recovering and on the family holiday

    It sounds like the electrolyte solution did not agree with either your stomach of your hip flexors. Was it a commercial product? Was it only electrolytes or did it also contain sugars. I think the high osmotic of pressure of even modest concentrations of ‘short chain’ sugars like glucose, fructose and sucrose, makes sugar solution impractical for refuelling while running. In my marathon ‘heyday’ more than 40 years ago I never consumed anything other than water. That was possibly suboptimal, but I think it is virtually impossible to replace more than a minor fraction of glycogen consumed while actually running, so unless it is done carefully, the risk of stomach upset might outweigh the benefits of refuelling. With regard to electrolytes, well balance replacement is probably beneficial even in a race as short as a marathon, though I prefer to rely as much as possible on moderately low sodium diet beforehand. Not only is this generally healthy for most western males, it is specifically helpful for the endurance athlete because it mobilises the remarkable capacity of the kidney to conserve sodium. But I suspect that in the ultra community, there is much more knowledgeable discussion of this topic based on more practical experience.

    Have you drawn any conclusions about beetroot?

    Overall, that was a very encouraging run.

    Enjoy you family holiday and good luck for Jedburgh - the hills north of Carter Bar might feel more like home, though I suppose Kielder more closely resembles the lochs of the Trossachs. The Eildons make a delightful afternoon walk with a spectacular view, but I guess that half-way through a 60K ultra, you will really earn the delights of the view for the top.