A Flea in Gabby’s Ear

The London marathon is done and dusted for another year.  The good news is that I finished the race.  My time was rubbish, but by the time I reached the Mall I didn’t care, I was just glad to get it done.

As ever, it was a fun-filled weekend. My partner and I thought it would be a smashing idea to travel down to London on Friday afternoon,  get to the expo early, pick up my race-pack and number and then kick back and relax until Sunday.

All seemed to be going swimmingly – of course the Expo was busy -but nothing resembling the suffocating crush that I experienced on the Saturday afternoon last year.  I picked up the number, purchased some gels and new socks and even had a little chat with Martin Yelling.

We were staying in an apartment in Greenwich, just a few stops on the DLR away from the ExCel. We had to change DLR trains a couple of times and whilst standing at Canary Wharf I looked at my partner and with my heart plunging into my boots exclaimed “I have left my race number on the train”.

I couldn’t believe it. What sort of complete plonker leaves his London Marathon race number on a train? The train we had left had whizzed out of the station a few minutes earlier.  I wasn’t even sure if I had left it on that train or the previous one going towards Bank.  I was in a flat panic.

We wandered vainly up and down the platforms hoping to accost a member of staff.  There were no staff.  Eventually a conductor on a train realised that I was in some kind of distress and told me to press the big green button on the platform and to speak to the Controller.

The Controller was calm and helpful “Don’t worry sir, I’ll put out an immediate request across the network to search all trains, stay where you are.”  We waited for what felt like an eternity, however she advised that nothing had been found.  Our final hope was that the overnight cleaners would pick it up and hand it in to Lost Property.

I started trying research whether it is possible to get a replacement number.  The website was not at all helpful, the ‘helpline’ even less so (just a series of recorded announcements with no chance to speak to a human outside office hours).  It would have been futile in any event – I later found out that they won’t issue replacement numbers under any circumstances.

I felt sick and very annoyed at my stupidity.  I couldn’t put it out of my mind and I think that I must have been miserable company for most of the evening.

We met up with a friend in Greenwich for a drink and a meal.  At about 9:30pm she glanced at her mobile phone and exclaimed that there were several posts on Twitter and Instagram from runners about someone having found a London Marathon race number and wanting to get it back to the rightful owner.  It was my number. Oh joy beyond measure!

I was so relieved that I could barely operate my mobile phone properly to make contact with the person who had picked up my number.

It transpired that a fellow runner called Helen from West London had picked up my number.  I made plans to head over to collect it on Saturday morning from her house.  I was one massively relieved boy!

Helen, if you read this, I am eternally grateful.  Thank you. The running community once again proved just how selfless and considerate runners are.

After collecting my racepack for a second time, we headed over to the cinema at the O2 to watch “Skid Row Marathon“.  It is a superb documentary about Californian Judge Craig Mitchell who started a running club to help people struggling with homelessness or drug dependency in Los Angeles.  I’m a hard-hearted, world-weary dour Yorkshireman, but even I felt my bottom lip quivering a few times.  There are showings all over the country on May 9th – go and see it, it is wonderful.

After the film, Martin Yelling led a Q&A session with the film-makers, Judge Mitchell himself and the leader of the UK Running Charity.  Judge Mitchell is a very impressive human being – measured, charismatic and a man who makes things happen.

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Marathon Day

Unusually for me, I slept quite well the night before a marathon.  After a home-cooked breakfast of porridge, I met my team mate Daz.  He was staying in the same apartments and was going to run his maiden marathon from the Championship start.  He had realistic hopes of a sub 2:45, but as everyone knows the marathon is a capricious  beast.

As we walked towards Greenwich Park before 9 a.m., it already felt unseasonably warm.  I bade Daz good luck and then went into the Good For Age pen in front of the main Red Start.  After dropping my bag, I had 30 minutes to sit out of the sun in a tent and think about the challenge ahead.

This was never a PB target race, I was running it mainly to improve my seeding for Comrades in June, and for the experience.

I’ve run quite a few marathons, some of them in high temperatures, and I know that I don’t cope well with heat, even when well acclimatised.  This time, I was going to have to run after months training in a harsh Northern winter.  I knew that a fast time was simply impossible for me to achieve.  In good running conditions, I felt confident that I could go sub 3 again – I’d logged six 20 mile+ training runs and had run my second fastest ever 10K only three weeks ago.  However, I had no idea what I could run in this heat.

I made a decision to use my heart rate as a guide.  Frank Horwill wrote that marathon pace should be between 80% and 88% of maximum heart rate.  The best guide for maximum heart rate is not 220 – one’s age; much better to use 214 minus (age x 0.8).

For me, that marathon pace range is 138-152 with a midpoint of 145.  Therefore, given the heat, I decided to run to a target heart rate of 145.  I didn’t really care what speed that would produce, I would get whatever I got.

At just after 10 a.m., the Queen started the race from Windsor Castle and we were off.

Unsurprisingly, hundreds streamed past me in the congested nervous early miles.  I settled into my target heart rate and ticked off the miles to the Cutty Sark in 6:45 – 6:55, comfortable sub 3 pace.

I was looking forward to meeting my supporters in Rotherhithe at the 10 mile mark, where I could collect an extra gel and my cap if I wanted it (stupidly I’d eschewed wearing it from the start).  I still felt good when I met them, making the 10 mile point in a hair under 70 minutes. I yanked the cap on my head and carried on.

I was careful to drink at most aid stations, and poured water over my head neck and arms to try to keep cool.  I constantly monitored my heart rate, I was slowing, but only by a few seconds a mile, it still felt easy.

Tower Bridge was as cacophonous as ever, I took the incline up the bridge very steadily. I was starting to feel quite warm.

I reached the halfway point in just under 1:32.  Already many of my fellow runners were either walking or had slowed to a shuffle.  This is a part of the course where the race seems to just calm down a little.  It felt like a good time for a review of my situation.

Frankly, it wasn’t going that well.  At my target heart rate of 145 or even two or three beats higher, my pace had deteriorated to 7:10. Worse than that my legs felt devoid of any bounce and I knew I would only get slower.  I decided to look after myself, to just slow down and focus on getting to the end without absolutely ruining myself.

By Canary Wharf, with 8 miles to run, it had become a grind; no longer racing, my legs were simply a tired and inefficient means of transport to get me to the end of the ordeal.

My least favourite part of the route is the long stretch along the A13 Limehouse link back towards the City, it felt never ending.  I felt great sympathy for the thousands still streaming past on the other side of the road, still around the half way mark after more than two and a half hours of running. They were in for a very long day out in the sun.

On the embankment, my pace had dropped to 8+ minute miles.  I didn’t stop running at all, unlike many who had succumbed to walking.  At last, I reached the turn at the Palace of Westminster and was running the final mile.  Quite suddenly, I was aware that I was really struggling. I was doing the survival shuffle,  I felt a little light headed and I was mightily relieved that the torment was almost over.

I’m sure all marathon runners dream of gliding in to the Mall and sprinting those last two hundred metres to the finish line.  I was actually captured on the BBC coverage just before I finished.

Presenter Gabby Logan was doing a piece to camera and I emerged from her right ear, shambling and rolling like a Friday night drunk at chucking out time.  I’m the dude in the white cap just before the shot changes:

I finished in 3:18:38 – twenty three minutes slower than last year.  I staggered through the line and collected my medal and goody-bag.  I didn’t feel at all well, so I decided to flop my head over a barrier and hopefully recover a little.  It didn’t make any difference, I felt dizzy and sick. I looked down the long line of baggage lorries and knew that there was no way that I would be able to walk to the end of those and collect my bag.

I have been in the same position before, after Comrades in 2015. I was still thinking fairly lucidly and I thought the best thing would be to let the medics assist me.  A few marshalls had already approached me and suggested that I get some help.

I was put in a wheelchair and rolled into the medical tent. It was carnage in there with runners flaked out all over the place. Eventually they found me a canvas bed to lay on and a couple of lovely nurses attended to me. I drank some water and the nurse rooted into my goody-beg and made me eat some salty potato snacks. After a few minutes I came round.

They kept asking me questions:

“How old are you”?  …”51″

“Do you know where you are”?… “Yes, I’m in the medical tent at the end of the London Marathon”

“Can I have your phone number”?…”Oh, I am so sorry love, but I am already attached

At that point the nurses realised that I was fine to be released and I shuffled off to reclaim my bag and meet up with my supporters and teammates.

Although I love my running club, Valley Striders,  at the London Marathon, I dislike the fact that our name means that we meet at the ‘V’ tree  in the meeting area after the sterile finish zone. It must be more than a half a mile walk from the end. Its enough to make you want to join Aardvark Harriers.

We swapped war stories at the end and shuffled off to the pub to re-hydrate. Some of my teammates had still done great performances despite the heat, though most had found the conditions very tough like me.

Poor Daz struggled in his first marathon. How unlucky to get such a freak heatwave like that for your first marathon. He’ll be back much quicker on a better day.

So now my thoughts turn to Comrades in just over six weeks. I’ve got a few concerns, I don’t feel particularly fit and have niggly injuries to my left foot and right ankle. I feel as if I am running by managing problems rather than going out and training properly.

My 3:18 at London has earned a place in the ‘B’ pen at Comrades, which is fine – I’ll still be through the start in a minute or two.  Having run it twice before, I am nervous and very respectful. I will be running the first half very easily and adopting a rigid run-walk strategy from the start, even though that will mean walking before I want to and walking when everyone else is running.  Seconds spent walking during the first half earn minutes at the end.

Comrades 2018 -6 weeks

11 stone 3.0 lbs

11 miles, longest run 3.1 miles. Roundhay parkrun : 19:16 (6th)

RunBritain Handicap 2.5 (UK M50 rank 160)

Aerobic efficiency (marathon) 947 heartbeats per mile

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My toe hurts Betty…

It’s London Marathon weekend and I am typing this on  a rickety train from Leeds on Friday afternoon.  Thankfully, the threats of (a) a DLR strike and (b) the hottest day ever in the history of the Universe have abated, though undoubtedly it will be a warm one.

Although I always enjoy the London Marathon, I’m feeling a bit concerned ahead of Sunday.  For the past couple of weeks I have sensed a nagging pain on the top of my left foot whilst running.  A friend has recently suffered from a stress fracture on the foot requiring weeks in a moonboot; although I doubt very much I have a similar injury,  something is not quite right.

I still intend to line up on Sunday and give it a go, but because of the injury and the hot weather I am not setting any time targets, I’ll just run around at a pace that feels OK and see what happens.

I feel somewhat over-tapered for the marathon, I’ve run hardly any miles over the last three weeks.

I did compete last weekend though, running for Valley Striders at the English National 12 stage road relay championships held at Sutton Park in Birmingham.

We did brilliantly to even qualify for this prestigious event and we knew that we would not be troubling the top half of the finishing order, however we wanted to put up a good show.

The event comprised alternate long legs of about 5 miles and short legs of about 5K and I was allocated leg 12 (a short leg).  Given a total racing distance of about 50 miles, unsurprisingly the race got very spread out with runners all over the course, many on different legs.  We had been warned that there would be a mass start for the slower teams for leg 12, otherwise the event could go on into the late evening…

I fully expected to be in the mass start, but it was a surprise to be called over early at just after 4 o’clock, along with most of the leg 11 runners.  Things got very confused and more than a little heated.  Some of the faster teams were clearly unimpressed at being stopped from running as a relay event when they still had a chance of a high position.  As it turned out, only the top three teams actually ran all the legs as a true relay.  If you want to read more, have a look at the report on FastRunning here 

In many ways, I preferred the mass start, as rather than running on my own, I was in a traditional 5K road race.  The course was quite narrow and twisty and never flat, the first two miles were gradually uphill with a fast downhill mile to finish. After a fast start, I was blowing hard on a long gradual ascent and losing a few places as runners eased past me.

My mind was whirring away, making up names for the unknown competitors….Try to keep close to Red Vest…don’t let long shorts get more than 10 seconds ahead and catch him on the downhill…etc.

At the top of the hill, I tried to pick it up for the surge to the line, but I was in a world of hurt, gasping for air and a heart rate of 163.  I knew from the final bend it was about 250 metres to the finish line, slightly uphill.  I rounded the bend with three just ahead of me, including Red Vest and Long Shorts. 

 Right, time for a proper race I thought, I’m going to take these… It may sound like a boast, but despite being 51, I can still crank out a pretty useful sprint finish and I gave it absolutely everything I had:

Later, I saw that someone had created a Strava segment for the final sprint, I was chuffed to see that I was the equal 15th fastest of all time for the segment out of over 4200 runners (including Olympians and many internationals) and second fastest ever in the 50-54 age cat.  Maybe I should forget marathons and ultras and take up sprinting…

Valley Stiders did well, the men finished in 43rd position, the women 38th in the six stage event.

Last Monday I caught the end of the Boston marathon coverage. Conditions were brutal – driving rain and temperatures hovering around freezing made worse by the whole race being  run into a 20 mile an hour block headwind. I cheered on the  legend that is Yuki Kawauchi as he stormed to an epic win. What an amazing man, listeners to the marathon talk podcast know all about Yuki and his incredible achievements.

On Sunday, my Yuki-suit will be fully zipped up.

weekly stats to follow.

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I dreamed a dream by the old canal…

Manchester was home for me for about ten years, I returned to the correct side of the Pennines in 2001.  Whisper it quietly, but I quite like Manchester.  Well, it would be more accurate to say that I like Mancunian people – in the main they are honest, thoughtful and genuine.

As for the landscape, Manchester won’t be winning any prizes for beauty.  The one thing it has going for it is that (when compared to Leeds), it is exceedingly non-hilly.  Of course that isn’t true when you reach the northern satellite towns like Oldham, Bury and Rochdale; but downtown Manchester and Salford are flat.

I like flat for running.  I suit flat. I run my best performances on flat courses.

As a Yorkshireman, I should crave running up and down fells and dales whilst wearing indecently short shorts, but I don’t. Mainly because I am quite rubbish at going uphill.  I’m not sure why, it must be something to do with my power to weight ratio, but then again lots of good fell runners are tall and lanky.

I have run the Salford 10K – held on Good Friday each year – numerous times.  The course is only a few miles from my old flat in Middleton, North Manchester.  It comprises two laps around the former Agecroft colliery site and finishes opposite the old Paterson Zachonis Soap works, now long gone.

A dearth of racing in 2018 left my wondering how I would go this time around.  I posted my 10K PB at Salford three years ago, clocking 36:06.  I doubted I could better than that but was hoping to go sub 37.

The race always attracts plenty of high quality club athletes, consequently the start is fast. I held back a little during the first frantic mile, and when the race calmed a little I began picking my way up through the field.

I felt good, clipping along at 5:50 per mile pace and was in a little group of athletes as we made our way down some smaller back streets at the 4K point.

One of the streets was cobbled, so the runners in front swerved off to the right to run on the smoother pavement, I dutifully followed and hopped up onto the pavement.

A few seconds later, without any warning, the two runners in front of me veered off violently left and right and I was immediately poleaxed when I ran into the end of a metal barrier fence that I simply never saw. A high-viz jacked had been draped over the end of the fence but I had no chance to see it.

I was shocked and winded and I stopped momentarily.

Shit, that has probably caused me an injury, I thought

A few other runners cried out ‘My God mate are you OK?; I wasn’t sure.  I shuffled around for a few seconds, more in shock than pain.  Amazingly, I wasn’t seriously injured, though after the race I realised that I had bruised my knee and jarred my thumb.

I resumed running, maybe losing only 10-15 seconds and after a few minutes I had calmed down and regained my focus.

Surprisingly, despite my little accident, I still recorded a season’s best time for 5K as I completed the first lap in 18:06.

I lost a bit of time on the slightly uphill fourth mile, running it in just over 6 minutes, but got shifting again for miles 5 and 6 and came home in a chip time of 36:18 – my second fastest ever 10K.

I was really pleased with that and thought that I might have got close to my PB if it hadn’t been for the incident.

Perusing twitter a few days later, I was amazed to stumble across Steve Renny’s blog, in which he describes a poor runner T-boning himself on a barrier…

My Valley Strider team mates all had good runs, a special mention must go to Chairperson Steph (pictured above) who smashed her PB by over a minute.

On Easter Sunday, we canned our original plans to do a long run around the reservoirs as it would have been far too wet and muddy.  Instead I headed off with a couple of Striders to the Planets Cycle path between York and Selby.

The cycle path is pancake flat and has a to-scale representation of the sun and all the planets of the solar system.  For example, the 150,000,000 km distance from the sun to the Earth is represented by just 260 metres on the path; yet the distance between Saturn and Uranus is over two and a half kilometres.

Recently, I have been re-reading Frank Horwill’s brilliant anthology of coaching articles (preserved on the Serpentine website here).  He argued convincingly that marathon paced running must be rehearsed frequently in training.

I thought a good session for me three weeks out from London would be a steady run at Marathon pace plus 30 seconds for 8 miles, then to turn around and run at marathon race pace back to the starting point.

Myra was planning a longer run of 22+ miles so I said I would run the first 8 miles out with her and then turn back.

Those 8 miles felt great, we clipped along at 7:15 pace, it was a breeze.

Therein lay the problem.  When I turned (actually at 9 miles because it had felt so easy), I realised that we’d had a generous wind on our backs.

I tried to pick it up to marathon pace (6:45 miling).  It felt like running through treacle, I couldn’t quite do it without throwing my heart rate out of range (Horwill says that marathon pace is 80-88% of maximum heart rate, which for me is 137-151).

I ground out about four miles of just about sub 7-minute miles into the wind before murmuring to myself, sod this for a game of soldiers.

I just couldn’t do it and then suddenly I slowed dramatically, I felt very tired and my ankle was killing me again.  I shuffled ignominiously back to the car and drove home, feeling a little disheartened.

As I have said before, being an older runner sucks sometimes. Although I can crank up the engine and still grind out a decent fast race every now and again, it takes me ages to recover from such a hard effort.

Clearly two days wasn’t a long enough recovery after a fast 10K to attempt this sort of marathon paced effort.  I really have no idea what I might do at London, I might run something close to my best of 2:55, equally I might blow and end up limping in with a 3:15.

The ankle issues mean that I have struggled to log more than 45 miles per week recently, then again, I have been trying to sharpen up and work on speed.  I have already logged a decent volume of miles this year.  Well its too late to do much about it now. I will get what I will get in two weeks time.

Yesterday, I was back at the Brownlee cycling track running a 4.8K leg of the Yorkshire road relays for Valley Striders.  I was on the third leg and by the time I was dispatched  the race was spread out all over the track, meaning that I basically ran a solo time trial.

A few superfast lads from the leading clubs shot past me, unsurprisingly, I was completely unable to follow them.  I had hoped that I would run under 18 minutes, but I failed, clocking 18:07.

Valley Striders men did OK, finishing in the top half despite not being able to select many of our fastest guys.

The ladies did even better with the A team finishing in a very creditable 7th position and the B team in 15th.

Now for two weeks of steady taper running, although I am running a leg at the National Road Relays in Birmingham next Saturday.

CM-10 weeks: 44.2 miles, longest run 16.3 miles

CM – 9 weeks: 37.7 miles, longest run 11.3 miles

Aerobic efficiency: (Salford 10K 907 beats per mile)

RunBritain ranking 2.5

Weight 11st 1.8lb

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Gremlins from the Kremlin

Forgive me father, for I confess it has been more than six weeks since my last blogpost.

I have no compelling excuses; aside from indolence, being busy at work and some awful weather twisting my melons, man.

I’m pleased to report that training for the London Marathon and Comrades remains reasonably close to being on track. UK readers will know that we have been bedevilled by severe winter weather over the past few weeks, whisked in on icy winds blowing in from Russia, hence the title of this post (definitely not a reference to Mr Putin whom I am sure is a lovely kind and level headed gentleman).

I had planned to travel down to Bath again on March 4th to run the half marathon as my prime pre-London tune-up race.  The weather kyboshed that one. I was a bit frustrated, because not only was I missing a key build up race, but I had tapered for it, running a mere 20 miles that week.

On Friday when it was clear that Bath wasn’t going ahead, I remembered that the Yorkshire Veterans cross country championships were due to be held at Cleckheaton on the Sunday. A quick e-mail to the organiser informed me that I would be able to enter on the day, so as long as the race beat the weather, I decided to substitute this event for Bath.

I fantasized that the poor weather might deter the more rapid old lads from entering and I may have had a rare chance of sweeping to victory as Yorkshire over 50s cross country champion. Valley Striders had entered a very strong team of over 50s and we were hopeful of defending our team prize from 2017.

Soon after I arrived at the event I spotted Nick Charlesworth from Wharfedale and knew that my pipedreams were scuppered. He’s 50 and rocket fast and I knew he would be whupping me by several minutes.

The race was held on the same course as one of the pre-Christmas West Yorkshire Cross Country League races. It was a typical local XC course of a mile loop shoe-horned into a couple of undulating fields with a number of switchbacks.  The underfoot conditions were a mixture of solid frozen ground, virgin snow and deep gloopy thawed out mud.  It made the shoe choice difficult, but after a jog around the course, I opted for my spikes because of the course was either snow or bog.

My race comprised 5 laps, or just over 5 miles. Knowing that I have tended to be too timid at the start of cross country races, I resolved to go out hard and see what happened.  On the ‘B’ of the bang, I surged out and was on the tails of the leading group for the first half-lap.  Unsurprisingly, I couldn’t hang on to Nick Charlesworth and four or five other real speedies.

XC1

My heart rate was soon stratospheric and I was gurning and wheezing as if I had a 20 a day Capstan habit. By lap three the field had really thinned out and I was in group of three.  I tried to break free by surging on the downhills and managed to drop one of the group.  With a lap to go my opponent attacked and soon opened up a gap of several seconds and that was that.  What’s more, he was a V60 – fair play.

I finished 7th overall and 5th in my age category and Valley Striders retained the V50s team championship with good packing toward the top of the standings.

The poor weather continued in the first half of March. We had a few sudden accumulations of snow, making it impossible to run outside on icy pavements for a few days. I hunkered down at the gym, improvising half-hearted interval sessions on the treadmill.  Did I mention that I hate treadmills?

I had entered the 2018 season of the Even Splits 5K race series held at the Brownlee cycle track near to my home. Race one was snowed off and rescheduled for the Friday night of the following week (it must have been the only day they could book the track). So whilst normal people were out downing Friday night ales in their local boozer whilst ordering Dominos takeway pizza on their smartphones, I was thrashing my way around a cold windy cycling track.

I managed a time of 18:28, which was OK; hopefully I will build on these and improve my time to something closer to 18 minutes on a warmer and more hospitable night.

Even splits race 1

The following day we drove all the way to Glasgow, narrowly dodging another snow storm which closed the A66 just after we had made it through. We were in Glasgow for two great reasons – to catch up with Comrades buddies Jock and Karen and then Jock and I were running the Loch Katrine marathon on the Sunday morning as a Comrades training run cum back-up qualifier for me.

Jock has run Loch Katrine before and tipped me off as to what a great event it is. It is brilliantly staged by a quite remarkable lady called Audrey McIntosh – a famed ultra-runner and the first Scot to complete the Antarctic marathon and 100km double -all in 3 days.

Loch Katrine marathon is a bit different. Audrey stages a running festival comprising a marathon, a half marathon and a 10K event all aimed at raising as much money for Alzheimer’s charities. It is held on the very undulating quiet estate road around the beautiful serene loch and Audrey aims to make as little environmental impact as possible.  For example although there would be drinks stations, there would be no plastic cups – you either had to take your own or buy a commemorative collapsible cup for £2 and clip it to your kit.

It was a small event – limited to 100 in the marathon (quite a few didn’t make it to the start because of another snowstorm on the morning of the race).

I wanted to run for two reasons – as a good long training run and to bag a qualifying time for Comrades.  One must run a marathon in the nine months prior to Comrades in a time of five hours or better.  I have the London marathon in a month, however, I didn’t want to find myself stepping on a bottle and twisting my ankle after 6 miles in London, leaving me snookered for Comrades.  With a qualifying time safely in the bag, I could relax and seek a better time at London to improve my seeding.

Jock and I decided to run together. He is a remarkable wee fellow, a spritely 60 years old and the first man in the UK to complete the A-Z of marathons.  Although barely into March this was to be his third marathon of 2018, after Dubai and Tokyo (where he bagged the last of the Abbott marathon majors).

Although bone-chilling cold, it was a cracking event. On the start line, Audrey gave us a few words of advice and encouragement and I sensed that I was amongst a group of people who saw the World a little bit differently to most people.

One of them was dressed as a sheep, probably very sensible given the temperature and at the off, he bombed away in the lead.

Jock and I set off steadily – knocking off the first few miles between 8 and 9 minute pace and just enjoying being out in the gorgeous landscape.  The course was along one side of the  lozenge shaped loch, around the top, then about halfway along the other side to a turn point and we then retraced the route back to the boathouse and the start/finish.

The first ten miles were pleasant, if up and down, but when we changed direction at the top end of the loch we faced three pretty grim miles dead into a piercing wind with snow flurries whipping into our faces.

At the halfway turn we scoffed a few little flapjacks and super-sweet caramel blocks that the Scots apparently call ‘tablets’.

As it was an out and back course, the leaders ran past us as we jogged along the far side of the loch. Sheep boy had clearly suffered a little for his fast start and was a few places behind the leaders.

Jock loch Katrine

The second half felt tough, the last 10 miles were all back into the wind and the hills seemed much tougher the second time. It is never a good sign when they make the effort to put a sign at the bottom of a hill, and seeing “Graveyard Hill” with 8 miles to go, Jock and I thought it sensible to adopt a ‘run-walk strategy’ up the stiffest gradients.

We battled away grimly through the latter miles and with the boathouse in sight I was amazed to spy Sheep-boy up ahead. He had that weird gait of someone still trying to run, but barely moving at walking speed.  “Come on Jock, we can take him”, I said.

We caught Sheep-boy with maybe 800 metres left, he looked absolutely empty. Much to my astonishment, when there were about 200 metres left he came absolutely flying past, sprinting for all he was worth.

“F**k that” I said to Jock and raced after him. Although a desperate sprint finish was the last thing I wanted at the end of a hilly marathon, much to my chagrin, I could not catch him. Outsprinted by a man dressed as a sheep.

On the finish line, I was embraced by Audrey who lovingly embraced and kissed every single finisher.

Late last week, I got a message to ask if I would step in and run for Valley Striders in the Northern 12 Stage road relays, to be held at Birkenhead Park. I readily accepted, although I figured I would be the slowest in the team, but I was happy to turn out.

The captain allocated leg 12 to me – ostensibly the glory leg, but also a prime opportunity to *uck up and lose a few places. When I arrived, the event was well under away, though I had time for a couple of miles to warm up.  I soon found myself in the holding pen, waiting for my team mate Jon to loom into view.  I had one of the short legs – advertised as 4.5K, but in reality they were actually just 3.75K, one big lap of the park including a loop around the boating lakes.

The top 24 placed teams would qualify for the National Road Relays in Birmingham and I knew that we were in one of the last qualifying spots when I set off for my leg.

Unsurprisingly, after three hours of racing, the field was very spread out with runners all around the park, many on different legs.

I had nobody in sight in front of me, though I heard the starter release an Altrincham runner just a few seconds behind me.  I guessed they would be on the same leg as me. Running scared, I set off much too fast.  The course was fast and general flat, with the first half mile or so slightly downhill.

Running a solo time trial, it was difficult to pace myself.  I clocked the first mile in just outside 5:20…ouch, I’ll probably pay for that I thought. Thankfully I no longer sensed the Altrincham runner behind me and I could sense that I was catching two runners up ahead.

Deep in the pain cave, I focussed on reeling in the runners ahead and I managed to pass two guys in the section around the boating lake, later I found out that I was nabbing a place from Bolton; the other lad was on a different leg.

The second mile took me 6:12.   Clearly I didn’t pace my effort very well. However, all was forgiven because we secured our spot in the National relays by finishing in 21st place. I recorded the 21st fastest time (out of 56) for my leg, so basically I just about did my job.

Progress Report:

In general, I am reasonably satisfied with my training this year. As I get older (I’m in my 52nd year) I am definitely noticing that I cannot run hard on consecutive days.  The day after a race or a long training run my legs feel shot and I either have to rest or run very slowly.  I also feel that I have to manage my body – My right ankle and hip often feel sore, no doubt due to my poor bio-mechanics. I should go back and see my podiatrist.

However, I still love running, so I’ll keep doing it until forced to jack in, whenever that might be.

I ran my first Comrades in 2015. Between 1 January and the end of March that year I ran 713 miles. So far this year, I have covered 672 miles (with 3 days to go as I write this), so I am not too far behind.

If the volume has been OK, speed is lacking. You don’t need any speed for Comrades, but if I want to run well at London, and I guess I do, I think I should spend a week to ten days trying to sharpen up a bit.

I can only afford a short taper for London – maybe 10 days, until that starts, I’ll have to keep logging the miles, hopefully at least 45 per week.

There are seven weeks between London and Comrades. I will need at least a week to recover from London, so I’ll write that week off completely, but then I need to get four big weeks in to get me ready for the big one.

I want to run Comrades properly this year, to fully respect it and not completely fall apart and grovel to the end as I have in my previous attempts. That may well be beyond me, but the two things I need to improve are my pacing and nutrition. I must pack away my hubris and go very slowly during the first half with lots of walking.  I must also eat more during the race.  I need to practice that in training.

Have a lovely Easter everyone. Summer is coming.

Recent Training:

Feb 12-18 (CM-16 weeks): 60.4 miles, longest run 20 miles

Feb 19-25 (CM-15 weeks): 45 miles, longest run 12.3 miles

Feb 26-Mar 4 (CM-14 weeks): 25.8 miles, longest run 6.2 miles

Mar 5-11 (CM-13 weeks): 50 miles, longest run 22.2 miles

Mar 12-18 (CM-12 weeks): 42.6 miles, longest run 26.3 miles

Mar 19-25 (CM-11 weeks): 44.1 miles, longest run 17.3 miles

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Parky parkrunning

 

My aching legs told me that last Sunday’s hard  effort at the Dewsbury 10K took its toll – they felt heavy most of the week.  I couldn’t face the Club speed session on Tuesday evening, I was too knackered, so I shuffled around for the early part of the week, barely managing to break 8 minute mile pace.

I still managed to clock up a respectable 62 miles this week – running miles on tired legs is a fact of life in marathon training.

I treated myself to a day off on Friday, eager to have a go at a parkrun on Saturday morning. Cold rain and a breezy day erased thoughts of trekking off to one of the faster flat courses to the east of Leeds (York, Heslington or maybe even Hull) and instead I went back to my spiritual home at Woodhouse Moor.

Milling around in the throng before the start I didn’t notice many of the usual speedies.

I went off the start quite hard and freewheeled down first downhill straight. Amazingly, after 400 metres I was leading the field.

Often at Woodhouse Moor a few runners pass me on the drag up to the first kilometre marker, but not this time. I could hear other runners close behind, but I decided to get my head down and press on.

I went through the first mile in a smidge under six minutes and was still leading at the halfway mark.  Shortly afterwards, two runners eased passed me, though I managed to keep them in my sights, maybe within 10 – 15 metres.  They weren’t obviously running more strongly than me, I fantasized: maybe I can hang on and do them in the finishing straight.

It was a perishing day with a cheeky breeze. The course is nearly all tarmac, but there is a 100m muddy downhill section past the skate park on each lap. My Hoka Clayton shoes have about the same amount of traction as a bowling shoe and I almost came to a complete stop on the muddy slope undoubtedly costing me a few seconds each lap.

At the 4K marker I was still in third.  I gathered myself and tried to close the gap, but I was having to do a lot of weaving around other parkrunners.

With around 600 metres to go, a tall lanky young lad flew past from nowhere and surged ahead, going on to take the win. I caught the third placed runner at the final corner, but I couldn’t do any more and finished third in 18:26.

Given the conditions, I was pleased with that – third is my second best ever result at Woodhouse Moor (I once finished first many years ago on a snowy day when there were just 50 runners).

On Sunday, I dragged myself up to the reservoirs and ground out a dour 20 miler.  I didn’t enjoy it much, I was fatigued and a much of the running was into a bitter cold wind. It took me exactly three hours and it felt like a right old chore.

But I did it.

 

Comrades 2018 -17 weeks

11 stone 3.8 lbs

62.4 miles, longest run 20.1 miles. Woodhouse Moor parkrun : 18:26 (3rd)

RunBritain Handicap 3.0

Aerobic efficiency 1,047 heartbeats per mile

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The Upstanding Member for Dewsbury

Dewsbury

Even the Daily Mail got excited about the Dewsbury 10K this year.  It must have been a slow news day because Middle England’s favourite lie-sheet got it’s knickers all in a twist about the race T-shirt, of all things… http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5353973/Dewsbury-10K-runners-handed-rude-T-shirts.html.

I was pleased because I had my best race in months. After a fab few days away skiing in France and finally freed from most of my injury niggles, I got to the start line of a race feeling eager to go out and give it a right good smash. I was hoping to duck under 37 minutes, any time under 36:45 I would have considered a really strong run.

It was a cracking day for it – barely above freezing, with nobbut a breath of wind.  It’s a quick course comprising a long very gradual 5K drag up Bradford Road, a turn around a traffic cone  at halfway, then the 5K blast back to the finish. They had even managed to put the cone in the right place this year…

I was confident enough to stand near the very front of the 1200 starters and went out hard for the first half of the race. I reached the halfway cone in 18:37, which matched my best standalone 5K in the last six months.

I was blowing hard, but felt strong and ready to try to run even faster for the homeward 5K. My head was in a good place and I tried to think only about maintaining my cadence and  surging to increase my speed when I felt my pace start to flag.  I looked to latch onto other runners that appeared to be running strongly.

I ended up following Alice Leake, the female winner of the recent 5K series at the Brownlee Centre and a GB international at Orienteering. I even went past her for a few metres with 2K to go but she soon put me back in my rightful place and surged ahead.

I resisted the temptation to glance at my Garmin much on the way back, though I’d set the watch to flash up the kilometre splits and mostly they were in the low 3:30s.

With a mile to go I was really suffering it, right on the jagged edge of nearly having to let it go and slow down, but I just managed to resist that temptation. The sight of the Viaduct just before the finish banner was a huge relief and when I spotted 200m sprayed in red on the road, I guessed it meant 200 metres to go and opened up my sprint, managing to nab a few places in the shadow of the finish.

I’d run 17:45 for the second 5K, for a total time of 36:22 which I was thoroughly satisfied with, only 16 seconds slower than my PB set a few years back at the pancake flat Salford 10K.

My Strava analysis showed 155 out of 156 points in the red – indicating that I’d run virtually the whole race right on, or even beyond lactate threshold. Basically, I rinsed myself:

Starva Dewsbury

As a wee bonus, I was the first finisher from my club, for some reason all the faster lads must have had other things on.  I was also third in my MV50 age category,  I might receive a voucher for a new pair of socks for that.

Despite the Daily Mail getting in a tailspin about Cock-gate, I was pleased with my morning’s efforts in Dewsbury.

The next target race is the Bath Half marathon in 4 weeks. Time to get back into grinding out some serious mileage

 

 

Comrades 2018 -18 weeks

11 stone 4.0 lbs

19.1 miles, longest run 6.2 miles.

RunBritain Handicap 2.9

 

 

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Into the valley of death ran the 700

…so says the title of one of the segments that some wag had created on Strava after yesterday’s Northern Cross Country Championship race at Harewood House.

Boy it was muddy, and as I have mentioned before, I don’t do so well in heavy going.  I was too slow at the manic start, getting stuck too far back. I felt I ran strongly once I had got into it and I quite enjoyed the 12K slog through the mud.

They reckon the Nationals will be held there next year, it would be fab if they were.

Only a short piece this week, I off am on holiday skiing.

Comrades 2018 -20 weeks

11 stone 3.4 lbs

49.4 miles, longest run 9.2 miles.

RunBritain Handicap 2.9

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Sliding Doors

A post on Twitter this week about a runner’s ten year anniversary of his first parkrun at Woodhouse Moor caused me to check back on my record.

His first parkrun in January 2008 coincided with my second – I’d made my debut the previous week.

I don’t believe in fate or any kind of pre-ordained life.  We have a good measure of free will and we are exposed to the fundamental randomness of the Universe in my humble view; however, I did muse on how that simple decision to take myself down to Woodhouse Moor to try parkrun has changed my life.

It led me on a path to become a serious runner, I’ve made many new friends, I have travelled to places and done events that I could never have even conceived of and it also led to great happiness in my private life.  Yes, digging out my trainers and dragging myself down to try out a strange new free 5K run over a decade ago is one of the best decisions I ever made.

After two high mileage weeks, I stepped it back this week. It felt the correct thing to do, I have been going OK and I still have 13 weeks until London and 21 until Comrades so there is no need to go mad with miles just yet.

The weather hasn’t been great in the North of the UK this week – with plenty of snow and cold temperatures leaving roads and pavements often ice covered.

I decided to have a crack at the fourth Peco cross country race in the series, a course of 4.8 miles around Middleton Woods in South Leeds.  It was undulating with not many ‘killer’ hills that usually find me out and a couple of twisty technical descents that I can usually run quite well.

In my last cross country I was asleep at the start and got stuck too far back, causing me stress and extra energy trying to work my way through the field.  This time I set off more purposefully, established a reasonable position in the pack and then just battled away for places.

Peco 18.4

A nasty short climb about half a mile from the finish sent my heart rate rocketing and I lost a few of positions.  Back on the huge finishing field, I gathered myself and unleashed my best sprint to take most of them back.  I finished in 63rd position, fourth in my age category, but overall I was satisfied with my effort. I’d kept focussed throughout the race and I don’t feel that I could have done much more.

It’s the Northern Cross Country Championships next Saturday, held at Harewood House, only a few miles from where I live.  I might jog there and back to make it a long run day as well as a Championship race, we’ll see.  A top half finish will be my ambition

Comrades 2018 -2 weeks

11 stone 4.0 lbs

36.3 miles, longest run 7.7 miles. No parkrun (bad weather)

RunBritain Handicap 2.9

Aerobic efficiency 1,087 heartbeats per mile

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Mojo Working

Another good week for the mileage log with no injury setbacks…things may be looking up.  For the first time in over nine months I experienced the elusive feeling of it feeling quite easy to run at a decent lick in training.  At last I am making progress rather than incessantly worrying about which bit of me might wear out or fall off next.

Seventy miles is my biggest week in almost a year.  Unsurprisingly I feel tired, but happy to be seemingly recording improvement.  I am hoping to run well at the Dewsbury 10K in three weeks.  I was on for a probable personal best time there last year only to be thwarted by a course that was more 10.2 than 10 kilometres.  I’m sure they will measure and mark it out right this year.

To get the mileage in, I’ve had to do some double days, which I find hard.  On Thursday I ran to work (5.5 miles) and for the return I took a longer route of 13.5 miles.  It was an unappealing run against a constant stream of glaring headlights on a cold, dark night.  However, I get a perverse enjoyment from completing this sort of run.  I wrapped up well, plugged in my headphones and caught up on my podcast backlog and drifted away with my thoughts.  I was home in what felt like no time, though it actually took me an hour and three quarters.

We tried a new parkrun on Saturday – Selby.  The course is around the bumpy perimeter path of an airfield, amazingly one lap of the airfield is exactly five kilometres. It was a chilly day and a brisk old breeze was scuttling through the windsocks.

The course was billiard table flat so I was aiming for a sub 19 minute time, hopefully nearer to 18:30. It’s quite a new parkrun (this only was the fifth event), the field was around two hundred or so.

Soon after the off, I was up in the leading group and after a kilometre I was off the front, running alongside a young lad in leggings and a club vest. I’d gone off hard, so my heart rate was up and I was gasping in the air, he casually turned to me and started chatting as if we were out for an easy walk.  I gasped out a couple of one or two word responses, which I expect were entirely incomprehensible.  He then asked me if I knew the way, “Erm, no, I was following you” I managed to blurt out.

Thankfully, it was hard to go wrong, we stuck to the fairly obvious perimeter path and didn’t head down the runway.

I managed to run the first (partially wind assisted) mile in just under six minutes, but the next was directly into the strong wind, we slowed to 6:30 pace.  Just as we were turning back towards the finish, with the wind again on our backs, another runner breezed past. I tried for a few strides to stick with him, but clearly he had been holding a lot in reserve and he zoomed away easily.

In addition to being bumpy, the path was covered in a couple of centimetres of mucilaginous mud. I had made a bad shoe choice and struggled for traction in the worst of it.

With around 400m metres to go I decided to have a dig to try to steal second place from the young lad.   I opened up my ‘sprint’.  I am pretty good at reading other runners body language in races and as he floated effortlessly past me, his body language was saying “don’t be ridiculous, you have no chance of beating me”.  He was right.

I finished third in 18:56, given the wind and the mud, I was satisfied with that. On a dry still day I am fairly sure I could have maintained sub six minute mile pace the whole way.

Next week – hopefully more of the same.

 

Comrades 2018 -21 weeks

11 stone 1.6 lbs

70.3 miles, longest run 17 miles. Parkrun (Selby, 3rd 18:56)

RunBritain Handicap 2.9

Aerobic efficiency on Long run 1,047 heartbeats per mile

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Ponte Carlo or Bust

A new year and new plans for the year of running ahead, the deluded narcissistic coiffured lunatic on the other side of the Atlantic permitting.

It doesn’t bear worrying about, so I won’t.  Somehow, we’ll all muddle through and even if we don’t, worrying about it will not do you nor me any good.

Since my last post, after the aborted Chester marathon, my running has been decidedly lacklustre and my performances mediocre.  I’ve turned  51 years old,  advancing age is undoubtedly dulling my speed and it has taken me ages to shake off some niggly injuries.

The stiffness in my right ankle, specifically posterior tibial tendonitis is better; however, I still feel it on every run.  Since October, I have sought help and treatment from physios at the Coach House in Leeds and, on the advice of my podiatrist neighbour, an excellent running-specialist podiatrist on Street Lane, Lee.

Lee diagnosed me quickly.  He is also a runner and after filming me shirtless  running  on his treadmill (I was shirtless, not him, I hasten to add), it was easy to see how problems with my gait and running form were manifested in lower leg pain.

It is difficult to analyse oneself objectively, but even allowing for this, I looked poor – shoulders slumped, hips weak and falling inwards leading to the right knee collapsing inwards, pressurising the tendons on the inside of the ankle.

If David Rudisha resembles a gazelle when running, then I looked like a hyena – a hyena that was constipated and had been knee-capped.

Despite my awful running style, Lee thought that I didn’t look too bad.  He stressed that I needed to engage my core muscles and lift everything up by a couple of centimetres.  I should try to look forward and not down and work my arms backwards and forwards rather than across my body.  He said it was amazing I could run as quickly as I do because I was wasting lots of energy working across my body rather than propelling myself forwards.

To my detriment, I have never been especially dedicated to physio’s exercises, but I did try to take his advice.  During my easier runs I have been focussing on holding my core firmly and lifting up.

To be frank, I hadn’t felt much had changed, but when I went back for my last visit, Lee said that my form was much better. He filmed me again and I could see that my hips were more stable and different muscles in my back were firing.

Since Chester, my level has dropped significantly.  During one of those slow days between Christmas and New Year, I took some time to trawl through my weekly mileage records on Strava from the previous three years.  It was easy to deduce that my best race performances came after blocks of heavy mileage.  When the weekly training mileage dropped, so did the subsequent race performances.

It ain’t brain surgery – you get out what you put in.

Feeling better, I have set some plans for 2018.  The highlight will be a return visit to South Africa in June to run the Comrades marathon for the third time.  As I missed last year, I will be partaking in another down run.  I won’t be setting any time goals this year.  I already possess a Bill Rowan medal (sub 9-hours), the next best medal is the silver – however the required standard of under 7 hours 30 minutes is well beyond me.

I’m blogging again for selfish reasons – just writing the blog provides focus and makes me train harder.  Since I began writing the blog I have managed at least two personal bests each year.  I would be delighted to keep this streak going, but that will be very tough,  I might well be over the top of the bell curve, we’ll see.

The first day of the year saw me attempt (and fail) the now customary Valley Striders parkrun double.  In a change from the usual format, we ran Woodhouse Moor followed by Rothwell (rather than Temple Newsam).  After the second parkrun, my ankle was sore so I ducked out of the slow 6 mile trudge back, opting for a lift in a nice warm Citroen C1 instead.  Much Kudos to my hardy teammates who completed the challenge.

Yesterday, I gave it a dig at a new parkrun for me – Pontefract.  It’s a great course, basically a lap of the bumpy ambulance track inside the longest flat horse-racing course in Europe, bookended by two laps of a boating lake.

It was a teeth-clenchingly chilly day – a glacial northerly wind nipped into our faces for the first half of the big lap.  I was soon isolated – a small pack of speedies zoomed off and I spent most of the race vainly chasing the lad in fourth place. I was disappointed not to duck under 19 minutes, but I gave it a fair effort, which is all you can control.

Sunday morning saw us side-step the Peco cross country race at Roundhay Park and head up to the reservoirs for the first long training run of the year.  It was a divine midwinter day – a clear blue sky illuminated by a blinding low sun.

I wrapped up and ground out three laps and 20 miles, not made any easier by fatigue and ever-increasing throngs of dog walkers that I had to manoeuvre around.

I finished with an 11-minute mile, shuffling around the car park willing my Garmin to tick over to 20 miles. I have a long way to go and many miles to run.

 

 

Comrades 2018 -22 weeks

11 stone 3.8 lbs

65.1 miles, longest run 20 miles. Parkrun (Pontefract, 5th 19:02)

RunBritain Handicap 2.9

Aerobic efficiency on Long run 1,080 heartbeats per mile

[JT1]

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