Food, drink, race, food, drink, drink, race, food, drink, drink, race REPEAT

Merry Christmas to all my friends, fellow runners and anyone reading this post.

Thankfully, I recovered from my cold in time to run two races during Christmas week – the Chevin Chase on Boxing day and the Ribble Valley 10K on December 29th.  I had to take a full 6 days off running because of the cold which wasn’t an ideal preparation in my quest to run a sub 37 minute 10K race during 2013.

Feeling a little better, I went for a 4.5 mile run on Christmas Eve in order to test out my fitness. I was still coughing and sniveling a little, but it felt good to be out running again despite the rain and gale force winds that were battering Britain at the time.

I ran at about 80% effort at Leeds parkrun on Christmas Day – as always it was great to be running on Christmas Day, the atmosphere  at parkrun was brilliant and thanks to Liz Jones for Directing and providing tea coffees, cakes mince pies and a whole host of goodies for the runners.

The Chevin Chase is a brilliant 7 mile multi terrain race held on Boxing Day.  For  non Yorkshire readers, Otley Chevin is steep sided hill that overlooks and dominates the pretty Wharfe valley market town of Otley and is a favourite haunt for runners, walkers and climbers in North Leeds.

The route is basically from Guiseley in the Aire Valley, up and over the Chevin and down into the Wharfe valley near Otley and then back up the Chevin out of the Wharfe valley and back down to the start  point in Guiseley.

Traditionally, many of the runners wear fancy dress and being Boxing Day morning, lots of spectators come out to cheer on the runners. The presence of local hero Jonny Brownlee in the field certainly helps to swell the numbers.  Most spectators congregate on the final lung bursting climb back to the top of the Chevin at Surprise View. The atmosphere on that part of the route is simply incredible. The spectators line the route on either side of the narrow path, shouting, cheering, bashing cow bells. It is the closest I will come to knowing what it is like on an Alpine climb in the Tour de France. Wonderful.

Given my recent illness, I was a bit worried about going out too hard and totally blowing up.  I’m not usually very good on such hilly courses as this so I wasn’t treating it an an ‘A’ race, just a really good hard run to clear the pipes for a big effort in the 10K on Sunday. In the end, I was delighted with my time of 48:26 (position 78/962). I did suffer on the really steep climb, and had to resort to a bit of walking, in reality walking was nearly as fast as running because the gradient was so severe. Jonny Brownlee won for the 5th time in a row in a time of 39:02

Conditions on Sunday 29th December for the Ribble Valley 10K were nearly perfect – a sunny day, a bit of breeze but certainly not windy and 5 degrees.  I hadn’t run this race before so I didn’t know the course, but I guessed it must be flat and fast as there are usually quite a few guys well under 30 minutes at the head of the field.

The course certainly isn’t pancake flat, there are a few rises, but these are compensated by a few lovely long gentle downhill sections where you can really put your foot down.  Going into the race, I felt that a sub 37 was probably  beyond me, but I was hoping to achieve a PB in the very least (37:37)

I set off quite near the front, getting through the timing mat in under 10 seconds so traffic wasn’t a major problem. After a good first K in 3:38, I found the next few kilometres a bit harder than they should be, though most were into the wind and,as it turns out slightly uphill. I went through halfway in 18:48, therefore realising that the sub 37 wasn’t on. I was blowing hard, but felt focused and determined to run as hard as I could.

I got a real boost as the course turned a little and all of a sudden it felt a lot easier – the wind was behind us and we had a long gently downhill section. I sensed a few runners around me were using this as an opportunity to take a breather to I pushed on and took a few places. My 6th K was 3:38. I kept the hammer down as the pain started to build and I implored myself to put in another burst between 7-8K, which I ran in 3:33.  I got in a good group of 4 or 5 guys that helped me keep going in the last few Ks when I was really hurting.  I dug in for a hard sprint finish over the last 200 metres and crossed the line in a chip time of 37:21 to finish in 154th position out of 1079 starters. It was a negative split with the second 5K taking me 18:33.

All in all I was really pleased with my run.  It really was a max effort and I couldn’t have run much faster. I was especially pleased with the pacing – a slight negative split with a hard finish which is generally viewed as the best way to run a fast time.

Now all this Christmas racing is done, I’m looking forward to knuckling down in the New Year and getting some good mileage weeks in the bag as I get into the main phase of my marathon training programme.

Good luck with all your running in 2014, Happy New Year to everybody!

M – 14 Weeks / 21 miles. Longest run 7 miles. parkrun (Leeds, Christmas Day) 19:29. Weight after Sunday run 11 st. 5.6 lb

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Green Slime…Yuk

After such a promising start with my 18 mile long run on Monday, the week deteriorated into rubbishness.

I managed to run the Tuesday night session with Valley Striders, This week it was 5 x 6 minutes

After the Tuesday Striders session I felt incredibly tired and although I planned to run commute a round trip of 11 miles on Wednesday, extreme fatigue and the pouring rain meant I couldn’t rouse myself for the early start.  So I drove to work intending to run 6 or 7 recovery miles at lunchtime.

Pretty soon after I started running at lunchtime I knew something was wrong.  I felt shattered after about half a mile and managed to shuffle a total of 4 miles in about 40 mins.  I was a shambling mess and realised that I was coming down with an illness.

So, unfortunately no running for the rest of the week because of a heavy cold – one of those horrible ones where your nose runs constantly making your nose and top lip go red. I am probably over the worst of it now as I am producing some horrible green matter, but enough of that.

Its 4 days until the Chevin Chase and seven until the Ribble Valley 10K.  If I feel anything like, I’ll run the Chevin Chase on Boxing Day easily just to gauge how I feel after a week of no running.  If I feel OK I’ll have a go for the elusive sub 37 min 10K run at Clitheroe next Sunday – however, that seems pretty unlikely as I sit here streaming.

M – 15 Weeks / 31 miles. Longest run 18 miles. No parkrun (illness) . Weight on Sunday run 11 st. 8.0 lb

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Going Long

So much for an improved performance at the cross country. I finished 101st male at Peco race 1 and guess what, I finished 101st male at Peco race 2. Oh well. I’ll definitely never be very good at cross country, but they say its great training.

I think that’s what people that are good at cross country say to people that are not that good at cross country.  A bit like, well, she has a nice personality…

My day off on Monday wasn’t wasted. 18 muddy miles along the canal with Rav at bang on 8 minute miling. Not bad considering the strong headwind on the outrun and all the jumping and skipping we did to avoid the worst of the puddles.  Nice to bank at least one solid long one this side of the Christmas excess.

Tonight was the club session – 5 x 6 minutes. I was still feeling the effects of yesterday’s miles, so I didn’t give every interval my absolute 100% effort, but I went pretty hard all the same.  A nice easy run commute tomorrow and then a bit of a mini taper for Saturday’s parkrun at Leeds – lets see if we can get under 18:15 again.  Portents of grim weather approaching …

Need to sleep a bit better though, I have been waking up in the early hours wondering what the cricket score is.  Without fail, Australia have scored millions and England haven’t. I’ll be glad when its over.

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The second Peco cross country race on Sunday finished off my first 50+ mile week for many months. It was staged at Golden Acre Park which is conveniently a 15 minute jog from my front door.  After a poor performance at the first race of the series and two consecutive nights of a few beers, I wasn’t expecting much. However,  I was relatively pleased with my run of 33:14 for the 4.8 miles of proper old school cross country. Plenty of mud, tree roots, overhanging branches and little short sharp ascents and descents, it was certainly a more genuine cross country course than the one at the European Championships last Sunday.  That race for elite athletes was staged on a big flat field with a couple of 8 inch logs laid across the course.

I’m writing this just after the Peco race, so I don’t know my finishing position, but I felt I did a bit better than the first race at Temple Newsam when I didn’t quite make the top 100 male finishers (the field was 388 men). I really blew up near the end of the Temple Newsam race, but this time I was fairly strong near the finish and managed to grab a couple of places during the last 600 metres.

With 16 weeks to go, I feel in a relatively good condition – injury free, pretty fit and I have had a year of running PBs at 5K, 10K and 10 miles. The New Year is when the real marathon training starts I guess.  It may well start with a whimper for me because hopefully I will be going skiing in France during the first week of January.

I’ve been skiing for the past 6 or 7 winters and I originally felt that it would help running fitness.  It may well do.  However, the excessive eating, drinking and late nights certainly don’t and in previous winters I have come back a few pounds heavier and not quite as fit.

My plan next year is a simple one.  During January I will aim to run 50+ miles per week, increasing to 60+ miles during February into March.  Each week will have at least one interval session (usually with Valley Striders on Tuesday nights), one proper long run of at least 14 miles and a threshold run – which will nearly always be a hard parkrun. In order to run the requisite mileage I will have to run some medium long runs of 10m+ during the week.  This will most easily be achieved by running a slightly longer route from work on my run commute (standard distance is 5.5 miles each way).  The length of the long runs will gradually increase and ideally I’d like to meet Tom William’s maxim that the distance of the five longest runs before a marathon should exceed 100 miles.

Speaking of Tom, who is of course the co-host of the consistently excellent http://www.marathontalk.com podcast, I see that he and co-host Martin Yelling are also running at Manchester next April. Tom is following something called the Pfitzinger and Douglas marathon plan, which to me sounds like a cross between ED medication and a crash weight loss diet. Tom is a very determined individual so it will be interesting to follow his progress.

Tomorrow, I have the luxury of a day off work – I am using up the last of my annual leave allowance before the end of the year.  I’ll write my Christmas cards, wrap some presents, but best of all I can fit in a morning long run along the canal with Rav from Valley Striders.  We plan to run 16 miles – he’s much faster than me so hopefully he’ll be gentle!

M – 16 Weeks / 50.52 miles. Longest run 9.3 miles. Parkrun (Roundhay) 19.29. Weight after Sunday run 11 st. 7.8 lb

Cross country

Aside

Personal Finance and Daily Mail comments

I work in the Finance industry – I am an insurance underwriter.  The Finance industry – banking especially – has a terrible reputation, mostly with good reason.

For many years banks and pension providers have  consistently and systematically been hoodwinking their customers into paying far too much in charges for some pretty poor products.

Consequently, I frequently see comments from Joe Public in online comments sections like this:

“Pensions are a scam – never get one”

“Pensions are a ponzi scheme”

“Never invest in the stock market – its just like gambling in a casino”

Given the bad press of the last 5 years such comments come as no surprise.  Undoubtedly, some pension funds have performed terribly, and have ridiculously high charges. However, that doesn’t mean all pensions are bad – you can get low cost pensions and you can do many things to ensure that you don’t get ripped off – you just need to know what to look for.

The level of financial ignorance among the general population angers and frustrates me.  What angers me even more is that our elected politicians will not make even basic financial education a required element in the national school curriculum.  Consequently, millions of people have no idea how simple financial products work and have no notion of how to tell an expensive (i.e. very bad) financial product from a cheap one (yes, they do exist).

For most people, a pension or an alternative savings vehicle to provide for their old age  will be the biggest single purchase of their entire life.  Yet most people will spend more time and effort choosing the new paint colour for their second bedroom.

I feel lucky.  I had an epiphany about four years ago when I read this book http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Long-Short-Investment-Intelligent/dp/0954809327. Everyone should this this book in my humble view. Reading Professor Kay’s excellent book led me to learn much more about personal finance and now it has become a bit of a hobby.

I have learned the following key lessons about financial products and investing:

1. Most financial advisers are self interested and will try to sell you something that pays them the most commission. Avoid them as much as possible.  With the correct knowledge and a patient disposition, you can do most of  it yourself,  much more cheaply and you will probably get better results.

2. Most Fund managers cannot beat the market and charge you a fortune for pretty poor performance.  Avoid them.  I’ve seen many figures and stats bandied around, but for now I’ll say that a conservative estimate is that around 80% of fund managers (i.e. highly paid people who run Unit Trusts and Pensions Funds) do not beat the performance of the market that they can most appropriately be compared with in the medium and long term. For example, the manager of a UK equity (shares) fund might be compared with the UK All Share Index or the FTSE 100/250 indices.
Charges have reduced a wee bit recently, but they are still exorbitant.  A few years ago, for most unit trusts, one would have to pay a scandalous 5% initial charge (you invest £100 and the fund manager trousers £5 for doing nothing, investing only £95 of your hard earned cash) plus an annual management charge of between 1.5% and 2%.  You can generally avoid the initial charge now, but they still sting you for the annual charges regardless of their performance.

So if fund managers charge you say 1.5% per year (there are other ‘hidden’ charges –  another scandal) to consistently under perform the market, a logical and sensible alternative would be to buy the market for a lower cost.

What does ‘buying the market’ mean? you may ask – in simple terms, you purchase a tracker product that will give you the market return less a small charge which goes to the company selling the product.  Its a much lower charge because computers do most of the work and there are no high salaries to pay for fund managers, researchers etc.  This charge can be as low as 0.1% of the annual value of the  tracker fund – though something around 0.25% might be more usual – So you can pay say 0.25% in annual fees compared with 1.5% and get a better result 80% of the time. Who wouldn’t do this???

What’s more, due to the effects of compounding (more of which in a later post), the overcharging of our fund manager just makes things worse and worse over the years.  Say you invested a one-off £1000  – the difference in cost between 0.25% and 1.5% charges would be just £12.50. Hardly worth bothering with?

Lets do a little exercise.  Say you had invested  your £1,000 in 1992.  We’ll be generous to our fictitious fund manager and say that he was able to beat 80% of his rivals and achieved the FTSE All Share Return each year (but charged you his 1.5% fee every year) and we’ll compare the result with a fictitious All Share Tracker charging 0.25% per year.  For this exercise, I’m ignoring dividends (more on these later).

Here’s approximately what your £1,000 would be worth at the end of 2012:

Fund Manager     £ 2,114.52

Tracker                 £ 2,464.34

So an initial £12.50 difference in costs, when compounded leads to a difference of £349.82 or 16.5%. That’s a bit more significant eh?

The thing I dislike most in life is being ripped off and after reading Professor Kay’s book I realised that the finance industry had been ripping me off for most of my adult life and it had certainly cost me thousands, probably tens of thousands of pounds.  For example,  I had one of the very worst financial products for the 1980s – an endowment policy.

Initially sold alongside my first mortgage in 1989,  I had sensibly remortgaged long ago onto a repayment basis, but I kept paying the endowment premiums each month, thinking that I would receive a wonderful cash windfall after 25 years.

After 19 years, I realised to my horror and disgust that my return on this ‘investment’ equated to less than 1.5% annualised each year.  I could have done much better in a simple post office savings account.  So I surrendered the endowment immediately and took the paltry cash payment  to started  my own little investment portfolio. I won’t give you detailed figures, but so far I am very happy that I did.

Running

The second Tuesday of each month means a track session for Valley Striders at the Leeds Met track at Beckett Park.  Tonight was a warm up, 1 mile at threshold (10K pace supposedly) and then 10 x 400 metres with just 60 seconds rest.

I had my mojo for some reason tonight! I ran the 1 mile in 5.40 – around 20 seconds quicker than my 10K pace and then completed the 10 x 400s in an average of 74.7 per lap with a quickest at 73 and slowest at 78. The 73 was the final interval.

A great session!

My next races come during the week between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day – the Chevin Chase on Boxing Day and then the Ribble Valley 10K on December 29th. For some reason, I’ve never run well in the Chevin Chase, its a 7 mile off road trail race with two hard climbs, it just doesn’t suit me.  I’d be happy to beat 50 minutes, which I have never achieved so far.

I will be going all out at the Ribble Valley 10K to see if I can achieve the sub 37 10K time that I targeted at the start of the year. That will be very tough I think, as a minimum I would like a new PB (currently 37:37 achieved at the Abbey Dash last month)

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The Benefits of Running with Friends…

M – 17 Weeks

This was a low mileage week, due to a midweek trip to Birmingham for business (erm, OK it was the office Christmas party), horrendous winds on Thursday which meant a 5 hour train journey back from Birmingham to Leeds and another Business trip/Christmas function to Preston on Friday.

However, with still 17 weeks to go, there is no need to worry, this is just the pre-training phase.  After indulging on Friday, I sensibly decided to stay over in Preston rather than worry about the expense and logistics of getting back on Friday evening full of alcohol.  Feeling not 100% but reasonably OK, I decided to run Preston parkrun on Saturday morning.

Preston parkrun is  great  – a three-lapper round the beautiful Avenham and Miller parks with a nasty short sharp incline in each lap. I went off a little bit too hard and paid for it on the hill on the third lap, but overall I was pleased with 18.51 and third place overall from 97 starters.

On Sunday we had the first group run with a few fellow Manchester entrants from my running club, Valley Striders.  We met up in the Otley Chevin country park and meandered around the  trails, in total I ran around 13 miles at a very sedate 8.50 miling average but it felt much easier running with a group rather than my long solo runs.

There is a good group of maybe 8 athletes from Valley Striders who have all entered Manchester and I think our little training group will be very helpful to us all.

M-17 32 miles Longest run 13 miles parkrun (Preston 18.51)  Weight after Sunday run 11 st. 7.8 lb.

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Away we go! M – 18 Weeks

Let me say at the start that I’m not sure about blogs.  They seem, well,  somehow self regarding and perhaps even arrogant. The whole World is apparently obsessed with Me, Myself and I (By the way, in my view, it should  rarely be “myself”, usually “Me” or “I”.  “Myself ” has become one of the most misused words in our language. I cringe when I hear the Train Guard say “If your need any assistance , please do not hesitate to speak to myself”.  It should be “speak to me”, surely?)

I digress (get used to it!)

This blog isn’t about making money, or about me trying to convince anyone that I am an amazing human being with a stella life story.  No, it will primarily be a simple record of my attempt to train for a marathon and to complete the course in under 3 hours (measured by chip time).

The marathon I have selected is the Manchester Marathon on Sunday, 6th April 2014.  As I write this first post, that is 18 weeks away (less 12 and a half hours).  A blog about running and nothing else will be  duller than a self assessment tax form, so I might write about other things as well.  We’ll see.

So this blog is mainly for me – to record my training, my thoughts, feelings and fears and to hopefully increase my motivation to get the job done.  If I get any readers along the way, then that’s a brilliant bonus, but basically this is my diary.

My target of a sub 3 hour marathon at Manchester in April 2014 is a perfect SMART objective – just like JFK’s we’ll send a man to the Moon and return him safely by the end of the decade.  I wonder if I can do it?

I have put money in the name of the blog, because I might write some things about personal finance as well, one of my other hobbies.  I like buying shares and making my own investment decisions – don’t give your hard-earned cash to a financial adviser or a fund manager unless you absolutely have to – will be my main advice, but we’ll come onto that later.

By the way, there won’t be any share tips – that would be illegal and the Financial police will come around and put a bat up my nightdress. Probably.

I want to run the Manchester Marathon on 6th April 2014 in under 3 hours mainly because I have run 12 marathons and never achieved a sub 3 hour time.  That irks me.  I’m an OK runner, a 47 year old man with PBs of 17:53 for 5K and 37:37 for 10K and according to most online predictors, I should be able to run the marathon in around 2:53.

However, I have never got near 3 hours, let alone 2-50 odd.  My best ever marathon was run at the Manchester marathon in 1997 when I was 30 years old.  It was the old course from Heaton Park to Wythenshawe Park and I don’t have an official record anymore, but I think I ran 3:04 and bits. I remember committing the classic sin of going out too fast – I recall that I went through half way in 1:25 or 1:26.  At 15 miles I was struggling and the wheels came off and I adopted a run-walk strategy, hobbling home to Wythenshawe Park.

I ran the London Marathon in 1999 in 3:10 and then I gave up serious running for a few years when I moved from Manchester to Leeds with my job.  I kept running a little to maintain general fitness and to help with my main sport at the time, which was cricket. I ran a few marathons here and there, mainly as City-break holidays with mates from Manchester, but I never did enough training and every one ended up as a very tough day out.

The worst experience was at New York in 2007.  A mate had a place but couldn’t run because of an injury, so at two weeks notice I accepted his offer of his number and booked myself a flight and a cheap dive hotel on 31st street. I’d done no marathon specific training.

New York blew my mind – the greatest, most alive city I have ever experienced, but again I made a series of stupid errors.  Like walking around Manhattan for about 6 hours a day in the two days prior to the race and exhausting myself.  Like wearing brand new Saucony running shoes bought cheap from the Expo for the race itself (yes, I know) and being crippled with blisters after 10 miles. Like carrying on when I was clearly injured just through sheer bloody-mindedness and ending up in the Medical tent (thankfully nothing serious).  That marathon took me just over 4 hours.  It felt like a week.

In 2008 I started running regularly again.  I saw an advert in my village parish magazine for a free weekly timed 5K run in Hyde Park Leeds. In those days it was called Hyde Park Time Trial, but was later rebranded to parkrun. I have run over 175 parkruns in the last 5 years, mainly at Leeds and I have improved my 5K time from just under 22 minutes to just under 18 minutes.

My third ever parkrun was in February 2008. There was a good covering of snow on the ground. I thought the event might be off, but I went down to Hyde Park on the off chance and saw that about 50 hardy souls had turned up and the event was on.  Having finished about 25th in my first two parkruns, I was flabbergasted to win that day – my first ever race win of any description – in a time of, wait for it 20 minutes and 50 seconds.  That still stands today as the record for the slowest ever winning time at Leeds parkrun.  I will confidently write here and now that my record will stand in perpetuity.

So parkruns got me back into running and I began to obsess over improving my parkrun PB. I quickly got it below 20 minutes and then have chipped away and gradually lowered it to 17:53 (17:58 at Leeds).  I feel I have made good progress, especially over the last two years. Even though I am at an age where I should be getting slower, the counteracting force of consistent training is still winning out and my times are improving, though the increments are small now.  There are many cliches about age not being a barrier, however in my case it appears to be at least partially true and I am enjoying finding out just how quickly I can make this ageing body run.

I have run two marathons in the past 14 months – at Kielder in October 2012 and Manchester in April 2013. Kielder is an off road trail marathon.  Its also quite undulating, so not a place to chase fast times. I ran 3:35, but had a great day out in the quite wonderful Northumbrian hills.

At Manchester in April this year,  I had expected to run as a pacer for my mate Tim who wanted to run sub 4:15.  Because I thought that time would be quite easy for me, I didn’t follow much of a marathon training plan. I just did my normal  3 or 4 steady 45 minute runs during the week, parkrun on Saturdays and maybe a few longer runs on Sundays, I did about 3 x 16 mile runs along the Leeds Liverpool canal and one 20 mile run three weeks  out from the marathon.

With 2 weeks to go, Tim informed me that he wasn’t going to run.  He hadn’t really trained and he has a very high-powered and stressful job.  So I had a dilemma.  There was no point in jogging around in 4:15.  I knew I couldn’t get near 3 hours because I hadn’t done a marathon training cycle.  However, I had paid for my number and it seemed a shame to waste it.

Therefore I decided to wait and see what the conditions were.  If it was freezing or pouring with rain or (however unlikely in Manchester in April), hot – then I would swerve the race.  If conditions were good then I would toe the line, but run very conservatively at the start – go out much easier than I wanted to and just experiment with the strategy. After all, I had no time targets or expectations.

The day was perfect for marathon running, about 7 degrees at the start rising to around 11 degrees. Calm with no wind. So I was running.

As the gun went, all the 3 hour runners shot off and I jogged out at 7.30 pace for the first mile, letting hundreds overtake me.  I calmly settled into a rhythm of around 7:10 per mile and just kept going at what felt like a very comfortable and conversational pace.  I went through halfway in 1:34:30, feeling good.

In all my previous marathons, I had started suffering badly between 14 and 18 miles and the last part of the race, without exception, had always been a hellish experience.  I had always had to walk for a bit in every marathon – even the 3:04 in Manchester 1997 and 3:10 in London.  However, instead of slowing down, I started going faster. By 15 miles, I was passing runners in droves, virtually nobody came past me. It felt great, I was strong and I put in a few sub 7 minute miles, even around the 20 mile mark.

The last three miles were hard, but I was only slowing marginally – still maintaining an average mile split of under 7:20, not the oh-no-the-wheels-are-off 9 minute miling of previous attempts.

I was amazed and delighted to finish in 3:07:15 – a Good For Age qualifying time for both London and Boston. It was also a negative split.

It was a revelation to me – this was how you were supposed to run the marathon!  All those books and articles about starting slowly and trying to run very easily until 20 miles – and ideally running a negative split – were 100% correct.  Why had I not done this before?

Surely with a committed 14 week training cycle, I can throw that 3 hour monkey way off my back.

So, here we go on this quest (If I ever refer to this as “a journey”, then £50 will immediately go to the favourite charity of the first reader to point it out).

M – 18 Weeks/ 49.88 miles. Longest run 12.4 miles. Parkrun (Leeds) 18:23.

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