18 October 2010

Prince Edward Island Marathon 2010 – a bittersweet day

Last Sunday I ran my first marathon - 26.2 miles, or as they say in Canada 42km. I have been running for three years up to fifteen miles a week so reckoned I had built a good base from which to launch a sixteen week marathon training programme.

Despite injuries earlier in the year I had managed to raise my mileage steadily until I was covering thirty-five miles a week including long runs of sixteen and nineteen miles. Eventually however the training took its toll with sprains, strains and general exhaustion. I allowed myself two weeks of light training and the aches subsided but my ankles in particular were tender. Nonetheless by race day I was still hopeful of completing the marathon in four and a half hours, a realistic goal considering the times I had consistently run in training.

Sunday dawned cold, windy and raining and the surf on the north shore was boiling as we swung into Brackley Beach Car Park. Runners were milling around, stretching and warming up under the shelter of trees and in the lee of low buildings. The girls looked wet and bedraggled in the early morning gloom and must have wondered just why we had dragged them out into the wind and rain!

As 8am approached I lined up near the back of the two hundred and sixty five participants. This is a very small event – forget the tens of thousands of London, New York and Boston. At the gun we set off into the rain with the wind whipping at our backs. I discovered straight away that my iPod was stuck on repeat and, being blind as a bat without my reading glasses, I couldn't change the playback settings so stuffed it in the pocket of my drinks belt and ran in silence. What a bummer after crafting a fantastic fifty-song playlist!

I let faster runners disappear into the distance and settled into my own pace, monitoring my progress against a small laminated chart I’d made, showing kilometre split times. At the halfway point, twenty- one kilometres, we turned off the roads and onto the trail. I was on track at two hours and thirteen minutes and I reached the thirty-one kilometre mark spot on at three hours thirteen minutes...

Then I hit the wall. My knees buckled repeatedly and each time I limped and hopped until the pain eased. My pace dropped and runners began to pass me. The rain fell and the wind blew and at times it was all I could do to keep grinding away, one foot in front of the other with short strides. My knees, ankles and hips protested with each pace and I felt cold wet and miserable. I managed a weak smile for the thin groups of supporters who had valiantly turned out along the route.

By now I could see no one in front and no one behind me, yet I knew there must be more, trailing at the back. As I stumbled the final ten kilometres I lost huge chunks of time. Four and a half hours was no longer on and indeed I would drop twenty-five minutes in the final ten kilometres. Gatorade, water and energy gels were available at regular points. If nothing else, I should probably have drunk more.

I don't know how I finished the final drag of six kilometres from Sears into downtown. I limped and gritted my teeth and grunted in pain and watched stragglers pass me. I stopped to take a shoe off when some padding on a sore toe broke free in my sock but other than that and a couple of stops to stretch my legs, I ran the whole distance.

I finished in four hours and fifty-six minutes. My race number had long since blown away in the wind but my shoelace-mounted timing chip triggered a display in the commentator's booth as I approached the finish line and his excited voice boomed my name over the public address! Michelle and Cheryl were there to cheer me home and I all but collapsed into the arms of the volunteers handing out "space blankets." I limped to the car and when we got home my lips were blue and I was shivering. A half hour soak in a steaming hot bath followed by an hour in bed pulled me back closer to the land of the living.

This morning my muscle stiffness is bad and I can barely hobble from one room to another! I wish I could say running my first marathon was a profoundly uplifting, emotional experience but I can’t. It was horribly hard under nasty conditions and I just felt lousy, wet, cold and miserable. I hurt like hell and I am disappointed in my time which was dragged so low by being unable to jog above a brisk walking pace for the final ten kilometres. I know I was capable of a more respectable performance.

To balance this bleak summary I must acknowledge that this was my first attempt. At the ripe old age of fifty-three I accomplished something fewer than one in a thousand islanders did. (Of the two hundred and sixty-five participants over two thirds came from off island.) I completed the training through all weathers and despite injuries, I finished the marathon and I didn’t come last! I made a decision, committed to it and achieved my aim.

It’s still only a day ago that I ran forty-two kilometres. It’s too soon to make objective statements about the future. I want to say I hated it and I will never again put myself in such an uncomfortable place. I shouted those very words somewhere along the Confederation Trail with only the wind for an audience. It’s still a true statement as I sit and type this. When the pain has receded and the cold, wet memories have faded will I think differently? I might.

Lessons learned:
1. Set off even slower
2. Check iPod before abandoning my reading glasses
3. Drink more en route
4. Wear warmer clothes if it’s blowing a gale and raining
5. Run fewer runs in training but make the weekly long run longer and slower.

Thank you to Michelle for the amazing photos.

PS: belatedly I should add that two years on I trained again and put myself in a good position to retry. In 2012 I finished in four hours thirty eight minutes and felt much stronger. There is a full review here. My recovery after the second attempt was astonishing. I barely limped the following day and only a week later ran 10k.

08 October 2010

i'm related to president george w bush

Quite how this discovery changes my life, I’m still trying to decide. The genealogical chart above opens quite blurred when you click on it due to the drastic reduction from its original size. Click the image again and it will expand but the size still just about shields identities. For the curious, I am in the lower left hand corner and my long lost presidential cousin is near the bottom right.

Some time ago I traced a distant line of ancestors by the name of Packard on my father’s side in the eastern English county of Suffolk but I lost track of them somewhere in the early 1800s. As is usual with genealogy, I got side-tracked on numerous other lines of enquiry and thought no more of the Packards until this week...

The beauty of the crumbling bones of long-dead ancestors is that they aren’t going anywhere in a hurry, so you can put them down and pick them back up much later and they’ll still be there. I returned to my Packards this month and discovered a fascinating pedigree online which included a prominent Packard in my own lineage. With me so far?

Out of sheer greed I copied the hundred or so names in this pedigree into my own records, pushing my Packard line back to a barely credible 1486AD! Out of curiosity I scanned the descending lines of this online treasure trove and the first one I followed led to a family of Packards who emigrated to The States in the 1700s where they threw down roots and thrust up branches up and down New England.

I continued to follow this line but when I reached the late Victorian period the male Packards had petered out. While I was idly fiddling with a dwindling female arm (so to speak) I spotted a Sheldon marrying in and fathering a daughter, Flora Sheldon. Bells of familiarity began to ring. I quickly realised Flora married Samuel Prescott Bush and they produced Prescott Sheldon Bush – the subject of many conspiracy theories ranging from the assassination of JFK to the Bilderberg Group to funding the Nazis.

This helpful online pedigree listed later descendants as "living" so dutifully withheld their names in the interests of privacy. Of course the next two generations are the George Bush's, senior and junior, as a cursory glance at Wikipedia will confirm!

My Family Historian software reliably informs me George W Bush and I are eleventh cousins once removed. Or in other words, we share a common ancestor fifteen generations ago. What all this means I am not sure. One thing is fairly certain, I am unlikely to be invited for cocktails at a leafy retreat in Rhode Island or Connecticut or wherever the bigwigs hang out these days. However, I might be spirited away to Quantico for interrogation.