Tag Archives: Running

My 2018 Valencia Marathon

This is me finishing the Valencia Marathon last weekend (in white on the left).

I’m very proud of finishing in that way (excuse the sound effects), but don’t be fooled into thinking it was easy. An hour earlier, I “hit the wall” and was having serious doubts about whether I could even get to the end. Fortunately, I was able to recover and enjoy one of the best marathon finishes in the world. This is my race.

The background

For a lot of people who run a marathon, it’s a once in a lifetime achievement. Something to tick off their bucket list. That was true for me when I did the London Marathon in 2012.

But then 2018 came along and I found myself promising to run 1,068.68km in the calendar year due to my fundraising for CAMFED. So when some friends told me they had signed up for a marathon in December, it seemed like the perfect way to cap off my year of running.

Leading up to the race, I set myself two targets:

  1. To enjoy it;
  2. To break 4 hours.

The first one sounds cliché, but I don’t look back on London with fond memories (I barely even remember the last 10km), so this was important for me. The second one is a realistic goal and a nice round number, so that’s what I based my race plan on.

The maths

A 4 hour marathon is 5:41 per kilometre or 9:09 per mile. To put that into context, that’s 10.5kmph on a treadmill (6.5mph) or 28:26 for a 5km Parkrun. Running is a very individual thing, but lets just say I tend to run faster and I can chat normally at that pace, so it should be an achievable goal for me. Of course I don’t normally run for 4 hours though…

The build-up

Like many marathon rookies, my training could have been better, but I was strangely optimistic ahead of the race. I arrived in Valencia on Thursday night and had a couple of days to relax. I stayed in a hostel that was 90% full of marathon runners, so I was getting plenty of advice from their collective experience.

I learned that Valencia is the self-proclaimed “City of Running” and it seems to have the credentials to back it up. It’s the only city in the world with 5 IAAF-certified races. Both men’s and women’s half-marathon world records have been set there recently and the marathon boasts the second most sub-2:30 runners in a race.

I picked up my race number at the Marathon Expo, where I also met cycling legend and five-time Tour de France winner Miguel Induráin. I saw the finish line – at the end of a walkway in the middle of water, flanked by a grandstand and surrounded by the futuristic “City of Arts and Sciences” that would be filled with cheering supporters, music and sunshine – and imagined how it would feel to finish on Sunday.

Skype_Picture (3)


The start

I lined up with the 4-hour pacers with the aim of staying with them until at least halfway and then seeing how I felt. By which mean I would go ahead of them if I was feeling good; slowing down was not part of the plan.

Alfredo and David helped me to settle into a rhythm without getting swept up in the excitement. There were lots of others following the same pacers, so although the pace was comfortable we had to be wary of swinging arms and legs.

10km was the first milestone and it was uneventful to this point. It was tempting to go ahead of the 4-hour group, but I stuck with the plan. At around 16km (10 miles) I began to realise that I wouldn’t be moving ahead at all.

The middle

Just after 21km, my phone said we’d crossed the halfway point in 1:59:21. Right on schedule. It didn’t matter that the elite runners had already finished, but the rising temperatures were not ideal. Until this point, people were taking tight corners and straight lines to minimise the distance, but in the second half we were doing what we could to find the shade.

Passing 26km was a big moment for me as that’s when I crashed in London. I was feeling ok but I didn’t know how I would cope with the last 10km. The temperature had risen to 24o and the aid stations were becoming more and more important. At 30k we got bananas as well as drinks, so I took as much as I could carry. Alfredo gave the group a time check: dos cincuenta en punto. Still on track for 4 hours, but with no time to spare.

I ate my banana and drank my water and Powerade. When I looked up, I realised that I’d drifted back from the 4-hour pack. I thought about catching up but my body didn’t respond. As the minutes ticked by, the gap continued to grow.

By 31km, I realised that I was on my own until the end. This was a big psychological blow as it meant I was conceding my 4 hour goal wasn’t going to happen. It was much less crowded than running in a tightly packed group, but it became a much more mental exercise.

A moment later, I got a tap on the shoulder. It was my friend and training partner Paula, my saviour! I knew Paula would be 4 hours or thereabouts, so she could get me to the finish on time! We hardly said a word to each other; “I’m struggling” was about all I could manage. We ran together for a while, but it wasn’t long before I couldn’t maintain the modest pace any longer.

The wall

“Hitting the wall refers to depleting your stored glycogen and the feelings of fatigue and negativity that typically accompany it. When you run low on glycogen, even your brain wants to shut down activity as a preservation method, which leads to the negative thinking that comes along with hitting the wall.”

The first time I stopped running, my legs were so happy. It was supposed to be just a few strides, but it turned into more like 20-30 seconds. Once I resumed running, I decided not to stop a second time as it might get harder and harder to get going. But a couple of minutes later I had to walk again. I tried to negotiate with myself. “Get to the next Km marker, then you can walk a bit.” But it was no use and I found myself walking more and more.

I shouted. People looked. I started to consider why I was doing this in the first place, trying to draw inspiration from CAMFED and CAMA. I was getting emotional. I was letting people down. Letting myself down. I was losing sense of time. It felt like I’d been struggling for ages and the remaining distance was so daunting.

I finally got some respite at the 35km drinks station. I drank water, an energy gel, a Powerade, another water, another Powerade, another energy gel. Everything I could get my hands on. Deep heat for my legs and more water to cool down.

The finish

Some minutes later, the mental fog started to lift and I started to think more clearly. I was able to focus on the relatively short distance I had to go. I realised that despite my struggle, I hadn’t seen the 4:15 pacers.

My leg muscles started to cramp. The left hamstrings went first. Then the right. As I stopped to stretch, my right quad went, twice as bad as the others. My head was clear now and the pain was strangely gratifying. I hobbled on. The last 2km were almost a straight line to the end. The towering hemisféric showed us where we needed to go. The pain started to disappear. The crowds were cheering, “Vamos! Ánimo! Venga!” I started to find a steady rhythm. I was back in the race.

I started to picture the finish line again. My natural sprinting tendencies desperately wanted to finish in style. I tentatively increased the pace as I approached the final kilometre. I felt my energy reserves coming back. I was gaining strength from the crowd, from 120,000 inspirational CAMA members across Africa. But I didn’t know if my legs would let me enjoy it.

I realised that I was passing the other runners. I couldn’t stop smiling. It was downhill. There were two quick turns and then there it was, 200 metres to the finish line. I started to go faster. I saw the cameras and realised I wanted to be seen. I was going faster than everyone else. I found some space to run into and went faster still. I raised my arms. I crossed the finish line. That was it.

4 hours 11 minutes and 14 seconds.

I immediately felt dizzy and lay down. My legs rejoiced. After a moment to compose myself, I turned to see the runners coming in behind me; each of them having overcome their own challenges to get to the line. I was close to tears again, but this time I was happy. Happy it was over, but also for what I’d done.

Skype_Picture (2)

Skype_Picture (4)

My pace during the race (doesn’t include most of the time I spent walking)


Reflections and learnings

Did I achieve my two goals? Not exactly. I obviously didn’t finish in under 4 hours, but overall I can say that I enjoyed it – of course it’s more complicated than that, but the highs outweighed the lows!

I finished in the bottom 21% of the field, but with a 27 minute PB. I wonder if I had gone slightly faster, would I have hit the wall earlier? Or if I had gone slightly slower, could I have avoided it? Presumably better nutrition and hydration are the answer. And more training, it’s all about the training.

For another perspective on the race from an experienced runner and writer, check out The Allrounder’s blog here: https://www.theallrounder.co.uk/valencia-marathon-2018-spain-running-review-race-report/

If anyone would still like to sponsor me, CAMFED would still welcome donations here: https://camfed.org/donate/personal-fundraising/489-michael-keeps-running-for-camfed/

And why not finish by watching my sprint finish again!

“Mara-ton mara-ton mara-ton-ton-ton,

Mara-ton mara-ton mara-ton-ton-ton,

Mara-ton mara-ton mara-ton-ton-ton”


CAMFED running challenge complete!

On 11th January 2018, after three months of matched fundraising, I started my own challenge to match the total of £1,068.68 in kilometres.

And today, I reached that target!

First I want to say thank you to everyone who donated to my CAMFED fundraising campaign, as well to everyone who has given me support over the last ten months. I know that running might not be everybody’s idea of fun, but I have to say, I’ve really enjoyed this challenge. So here is a brief recap of my year of running for CAMFED.

Once the total distance was locked in, obviously the first thing I did was some maths: I had 355 days to complete the challenge by the end of the year, which was almost exactly 3km per day or a half marathon per week. Definitely doable, but not something I had ever sustained over a long period. In fact, the total is almost as high as I’d managed in the previous 4 years combined!

Some highlights of the challenge:

  • Joining a running group, which has really helped me to enjoy it and increase my distance to reach my goal sooner than I expected;
  • The Cambridge Half Marathon in March, where I set a new personal best time in a race that was almost postponed due to snow and ice;
  • The Beeston Parkrun in June, where I was joined by my friends Miles, Adam, Andy, Alex, Chris, Tom, Jade, Fraser and Nicola in CAMFED shirts!
  • The Royal Parks Half Marathon in October, which is my favourite race and the one that kickstarted my running campaign last year.


Having a clear goal and an inspiring cause to run for helped me to focus and motivate me, especially during the early winter months. I’ve had ups and downs as the graphs below show, but in the end I’ve run on 113 out of 307 days.



How far above or below my target I was over the course of the year


Of course, the most satisfying part of the challenge is knowing that the money raised has gone towards establishing CAMFED’s award-winning Learner Guide Programme in Zambia. Read more about it HERE.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

But it’s not over yet…

Although I’ve now reached my target, my year of running isn’t over yet. On 2nd December 2018, I’m going to be running the Valencia Marathon! At the time of writing, that’s just 19 days away. If you would like to support me and CAMFED, you can donate on my fundraising page HERE.

I’ve got to run faster!

This is part of my 40 Before 40 Challenge.

I enjoy running and setting PB’s so this was always going to be on my list. It’s hard to know where to set my targets though. This is what I’ve come up with at the moment:

Distance Target Current PB
1k 3 minutes 3:17
5k / Parkrun 19 minutes 20:02
10k 40 minutes 42:01
Half-marathon 1 hour 35 minutes 1:45:01
Marathon 4 hours 4:38:23

I’ve been running more this year than ever before, but mostly shorter distances including a few parkruns. I’ve recently entered my first proper event since 2012: the Royal Parks Half-Marathon on Sunday 8th October 2017. I don’t expect to get close to my target time, but there will be plenty more opportunities where I can put in a bit more long-distance training.

I’m representing Camfed in that event and I’ve decided (possibly foolishly) to extend my fundraising beyond the half-marathon, by saying that I’ll run 1km for every £1 donated! That should keep me busy through the winter! You can keep an eye on my progress by looking at my Strava profile.

I’m Raising Money for Camfed!

What is Camfed?

Camfed is the Campaign for Female Education, which is an international non-profit organization tackling poverty and inequality by supporting marginalized girls to go to school and succeed, and empowering young women to step up as leaders of change.

Camfed works in Zimbabwe, Ghana, Zambia, Tanzania and Malawi and has already benefited the lives of millions of girls and young women.

Why should you donate?

Mainly because it’s an amazing cause, but I’m also proud to say that I’ll be representing Camfed at the Royal Parks Half Marathon on Sunday 8th October. Not only that, I’m going to run 1km for every £1 that’s donated! The target is £400 (and I think we can raise more) so that’s a lot of running!

How can you donate?

Follow this link to my sponsorship page to donate.

Want to know more?

Check out Camfed’s website, which is full of truly inspiring stories. They also have some great videos on their YouTube page.

You can also follow my training on Strava and I’ll try to keep the blog updated with my progress. 34 days to go!