April 20th is approaching too fast for my liking. It is just over four weeks to go until the Boston marathon and I’ve a lot of work to do in a very short time – complicated by the fact that I am still travelling and will only finish two weeks before the race.
Marathon training consists of different types of runs: long runs, fast runs, speed work, and recovery runs. The long run is the key and each week one increases the distance by some 10% – any more and you run the risk of injury. My weekly long runs reflect my recent travel schedule:
- 14 Miles – Auckland, New Zealand
- 16 Miles – Wuhan, China
- 18 Miles – Tbilisi, Georgia
- 20 Miles – Yerevan, Armenia (next week)
- 22 Miles – Toronto, Canada (the following week)
After my 22 mile run, I’ll be in Washington and will be tapering with an 8 mile run, the next week is Boston.
It is often very challenging to fit in long runs. The fast and speed work runs can be done on treadmills, but spending 2+ hours on treadmills is psychologically pretty hard. My record is just over 3 hours when training a few years ago for the Marine Corps Marathon – I was transiting through Hong Kong airport and paid a day gym fee at the airport hotel. There was no TV or anything so it was grim. I now carry a Zune personal video just in case I have to do a long treadmill run.
Being in a different city every week gives quite different conditions. In Auckland I ran along Tamaki drive by the harbour so it was a flat course. I did a few hills at the St. Helliers end of the run to get some extra work in.
The next week in Wuhan I ran along the park at the Yangtze. This was completely flat but is great since you are away from the traffic in relatively fresh air (Wuhan does have 10 million inhabitants). The park is just under 4 miles long so 4 lengths gave me my 16 miles. It is always fun running early on a Sunday morning in Wuhan since there are lots of people out flying kites and enjoying the spring weather.
Tbilisi’s 18 miles was the complete opposite to Auckland and Wuhan. After a short descent from my hotel to the old town, it was basically uphill for the next 13 km. Some sections were lung burstingly steep. The figure below contrasts flat Wuhan with Tbilisi. I was only able to maintain a 9:45 min/mile (6:06 min/km) pace for this run which was depressing – last week it was 7:33 (4:33) on flat Wuhan.
Since Boston is a very hilly course I figured that it does not bode well for the race. However, when I compared the elevation profile for Boston to Tbilisi (see below) I felt much better. It was a pretty hard run today!
Even though it was a hard run, I enjoyed seeing new things. There are not many capital cities like Tbilisi where one can do an 18 mile run virtually free of traffic.
Since it was spring I decided to dress warmly which was a good thing. I also took a hydration pack with some food so that I would be completely self contained. As mentioned earlier, I ran from the hotel down to the old town and then up to the fortress. Unfortunately, my usual route was under construction so I needed to find another route, but I eventually made it.
Up past the ‘Mother of Georgia’ statue, past the new apartment complex, down the road, then up the steep path to the left towards the communications tower. Lots of steep climbs in the first three miles but I didn’t mind since it was a brilliant – if cold – day. I wished I had gloves because my hands were numb, but the sun was great.
At the tower – 3 hard miles – I refuelled and took off my long trousers. Usually, I run down to the town by the funicular train tracks, but today I decided to explore in the opposite direction so I ran westwards away from the city towards the hinterland. The road was lined with pine trees and except for a few women sweeping the road and buses, I had the place to myself.
Eventually I emerged and came to a fork in the road – 5 miles. I surmised that if I headed straight I would get back to town so I turned right instead. It was amazing how there was not a single tree in sight. Could it be a micro-climate and lack of rain? Don’t know, but very stark country side.
It was great to be out on such a sunny if cold day running through the country. Unfortunately I had left my cell phone at the hotel so no photos. The road continued up and I passed a number of developments and towns. There were a some dogs about which were very aggressive towards a lone runner – but a few well placed stones thrown at them helped ensure they gave me a wide berth. As the morning progressed there was more and more traffic, quite a few of them driving excessively fast for the conditions.
I had planned on doing a turn around at mile 9 but about half a mile before then I was ‘jumped’ by a pack of 4 dogs. They were smart – didn’t make a sound until they were a few metres from me. I threw some stones at them and decided to back off: years of experience have helped to teach me when a dog is so aggressive he will come at you irrespective of the size of your stones or the accuracy of the throws (which today were exceptionally good for me!).
From here it was a good downhill run as this was the high point of my run. By now I knew where the other dogs were so I made sure to switch sides of road during the run, while also keeping my store of stones ready to throw!
I had been correct about the cross road and I was soon heading back towards Tbilisi. I came upon a large column by the road which must be the Tbilisi city limits: there were great views of the city in the early morning sun with the river glistening off to the distance. The road then circled around and down and came out by the new apartment complex I had passed at the start of my run. It all fit together now for me. I ran back towards the ‘Mother of Georgia’ and then went down to the botanical garden by a very steep path.
The garden dates back 300+ years according to a memorial I passed, and is nestled in a valley with a stream in the middle. I ran along the trails and it was by now getting quite warm since I was out of the wind. There were very few people about so I was very spoiled. Unfortunately, I had no idea on the layout of the trails and several were closed or forbidden (one guard waved me off). In the end I ran up, down and around until I had done 17 miles and then went to the exit and up the road through the old town back to the hotel.
I was quite numb when I got back to the room – it would have been 5-10 degrees for most of the run due to the biting wind. So I had to thaw out with a hot bath which is not a good idea after a long run. My lungs were also acting up from the cold so had to take extra hits of my asthma inhaler. Still, it was great to explore new parts of Tbilisi and to get out of the city for the run. It is going to be even colder next week in Yerevan so perhaps I’ll have to treadmill it. We’ll just wait and see.