Having a splashing run…

On Tuesday I paid a £100 deposit and got confirmation of my place in the Sierra Leone marathon on May 25th.  Coughing up £100 equals a complete commitment to a Yorkshireman! I have no idea whether this will turn out to be a foolhardy endeavour, but I think I will have some fun finding out.

January 26th in Leeds (Happy Australia Day!) could not be more different to Sierra Leone in May.  The weather was vile today – 2 degrees above freezing, windy and absolutely teeming with rain.  Rav had put up a post on the VS Marathon Group Facebook page early in the week suggesting a 20 mile run along the Leeds-Liverpool canal from Keighley to Leeds.  The plan was park near Leeds station, take the train to Keighley and then run back along the towpath. A few members of the group excused themselves – I was the only positive responder.

It was an extremely tough run because of the conditions, we found ourselves running into a bitter easterly wind the whole way.  Much of the towpath was flooded, so it was impossible to keep our feet dry.  I was soon soaked through and I pretty felt cold most of the way, I hadn’t put on enough clothing, a schoolboy error.

If I had been running on my own I think I would have abandoned the run and sought shelter before catching a train back.  However, Rav and I dug in and we encouraged each other to get the run done.  After two and a half hours of running, I was feeling extremely cold and I when I got back to the car, my hands were so numb that I couldn’t even unzip the pocket in my shorts to retrieve my car keys.  After five minutes of fumbling, still in the pouring rain, I was getting desperate and even thought about asking a passer-by if they would reach into my back pocket to retrieve my keys.  Eventually, I somehow managed to open the zip halfway and to hook my thumb through the keyring.

So, that’s the first proper long run done and booked – 20 miles in 2 hours 49 minutes, the speed didn’t matter at all today, it was just a case of getting the damn thing done. One down – just four more 20 milers to do.

On Saturday, I had decided to drive over to York to have a crack at a fast parkrun. 

Unfortunately, there were two flaws in my plan.  Firstly, it was very breezy, meaning that running down the back straight of the exposed racecourse into the biting wind was really hard and secondly I got there late and completely missed the start!  My own fault, I had set off late and encountered roadworks. 

The race started just as I was entering the Knavesmire, the only problem being that the start is way on the far side of the course – nearly a kilometre away.  I ran around and started my own watch as I passed the start line, having given the field over 3 minutes start!  I still managed to pass 236 other runners, eventually finishing 68th.  I timed my effort in 19 minutes dead, and managed to run the last k in 3:28 which is not too shabby.

Having had two really hard training weeks totalling over 120 miles, I am going to scale back a little next week.  I have read that having a slightly easier week every third week can help to prevent injury.  After today’s long run, my left Achilles is feeling a little sore.  I lost three months last year with an Achilles injury and I do not want to go through that again if I can help it, so I will ease back. I am well on course with my training, it would be stupid to ruin everything now by picking up and over-use injury.

Next Sunday is another build up race – the Dewsbury 10K.  The easier week ahead will also serve as a bit of a taper for this race so I can have another crack at beating my 37 minute target.

 

M – 10 Weeks / 63 miles. Longest run 20 miles. Parkrun (York) 19.00 (68th). Weight after Sunday run 11 st. 5.2 lb

 

Money:

The markets are jittery at the moment and a 1.5% fall in the main indices on Friday has sent Daily Mail readers into a tailspin.  They all write that we are going to hell in a handcart; we should sell all our shares, buy gold, buy property and prepare for the coming Armageddon.

It’s a typical reaction, but I just cannot understand it.  For some strange reason, the human psychology about buying shares is completely perverse.  The vast majority of working people below retirement age are trying to accumulate savings to provide for their future.  They will be net buyers of shares, so why is a fall in the price of shares seen as such bad news?

Let’s put it this way.  Imagine you wanted to buy a new car – the model you like is £15,000 and you start saving up the funds to buy it.  However, the car market is volatile and all of a sudden there is a sharp fall in the market and the car you want is no longer £15,000, but £13,000.  Is that good news?  Of course it is – you can buy the asset you want, with all the same features and the same utility at a lower price.  Why is a fall in the share market different?

From the reading I have done, the reasons are routed deep in human psychology.  A great book on the subject is “Your Money and Your Brain” by Jason Zweig – a brilliant exposition of why humans are seemingly compelled to buy shares at the top of the market and sell them after a crash – exactly the wrong thing to do!

One of the reasons is that most people believe that returns from shares come from an increase in price.  You buy a share for £1.  If it rises to £1.50, you have made a 50% gain, aren’t you clever!  However, you haven’t made any gain at all – unless you sell.  To sell, you have to find somebody willing to pay the higher price. They will think they are doing the right thing, and you will be proud of yourself for making a massive profit.  What if the price keeps on rising?  You will curse yourself for selling early inwardly, but you will compensate by saying, “well at least I made a good profit”. The price probably increased because the company was well managed and doing the right thing, so why did you sell?  The price could carry on rising.

I think that viewing investment in terms of pure capital gains is misguided.  Much research has shown that the vast majority of returns from buying equities come from dividends, not from capital appreciation.  Your returns are turbo-charged if you reinvest your dividends and hold your shares over many years.

The great advantage of dividends is that the returns are real – cold hard cash that once paid, can never be taken away.  I try to look for companies that have a long history of paying increasing dividends every year, and if you can find a company that increases its dividend by more than inflation annually then you are really on to something.

Imagine a company with a share price of £1. It pays a 5p dividend and because the company does well, it manages to increase its dividend by 10% every year.  After 10 years, the dividend will be 13p.  As long as you still hold the shares, you are now receiving a 13% return on your historical investment. 

If you are happy to receive 13% every year just for owning the shares (and you should be!), the current share price is completely irrelevant to you.  After 20 years of increasing dividends at the same rate, your annual return will be 33.6% on your £1 investment.  Now that is something, and if you have compounded the return by reinvesting the dividends into more shares you can do very well indeed.

Of course, not all companies pay 5% dividends (but plenty do – the average dividend yield is around 3.2% on the FTSE 100 at the moment) and even fewer have an unblemished record of increased dividends (but they do exist).

The vast majority of people think that becoming rich from owning shares means buying some shares that shoot up in value and then to sell them for a huge profit.  That is possible, but very unlikely.  A bit like backing a 10-1 shot in the 3.15 at Kempton. It’s also a pretty foolhardy strategy. 

The greatest investor in history, Warren Buffett, made his billions of dollars buying stocks in everyday companies like Coca-Cola, Wal-Mart and IBM in the midst of a market crash when everyone was panic selling and then by doing exactly nothing.

Buffett’s formula is achingly simply.  Buy shares when they are cheap.  Try to buy good companies. Then do absolutely nothing, ever.  I think I’ll try to do the same – as they say simplicity can be genius.

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The 2014 Brass Monkey Half Marathon

“What are you aiming for today?” Valley Strider teammate Rob casually asked me as we jogged our warm up in the pouring rain before the Brass Monkey half marathon in York this morning.

“Oh, sub 1.25 I guess, but I’d be happy with a PB – sub 1.27.39”.

OK, I’ll admit it. I sandbagged him a bit here, but when asked such a question it’s just in my nature to  under-promise and then over-deliver. After all, one would look a bit of a fool if you stated your real target and then missed it by 3 minutes wouldn’t one?

If I had been totally honest, I would have said that 1.23.30 was a good target for me today.  If all went really well, then maybe I could just nick under 1.23.  1.25 would have been OK, anything slower, a disappointment.

I was amazed and delighted to run a time of 1 hour 20 minutes 27 seconds – a personal best best by seven minutes and 12 seconds (though I haven’t run many half marathons). I still can’t believe I ran that quickly.

I love running for a number of reasons.  One of the main ones is that I always wonder how fast can I go?  how much can I really push myself.  To run well in a long distance race one experiences discomfort, then severe discomfort, then pain, then more pain and it just gets worse.  You have to embrace the suffering, challenge it and dismiss it, overcoming your inbuilt systems that are screaming at you to slow down, to end the pain that you are putting yourself through.

Professor Tim Noakes was interviewed on Marathon Talk a couple of years ago.  He says that the mind is the primary determinant of athletic performance.  He calls it ‘central governor theory’.  In the interview with Tom Williams he asked us to imagine two runners entering the stadium together at the end of the Olympic Marathon.  You have the winner and the one that decides to come second. That’s right – one of them effectively gives in. After all, he was able to stand on the podium to collect his silver medal.  He didn’t push himself absolutely as far as he could.  He didn’t collapse or die.  His central governor prevented this.  Professor Noakes thinks that controlling the central governor is one of the key challenges in  maximizing performance.

I think there is a lot to learn from this.  Thinking back on my own modest athletic career, my best ever performances have always happened when my mind has been strong, when I have not looked at the watch but just raced my fellow competitors.  I can remember running my first ever sub 18 minute 5K last September. Just when I was really hurting, after about 3K, when my lungs were burning and my mind was in the state of doubt and confusion, when I thought I was about to give up and slow down to relieve the agony – an older guy came cruising past me.  I couldn’t believe it.  Right then I decided that I would beat him, whatever it took.  For the next 1.5K I hung on to him for all I was worth, it was torture, excruciating, but I did it – I sprinted past him with 500 metres to go.

Various thoughts go through a runners mind at the start of race – how far back should I be from the line? do I feel good today? My main thought is how fast should I run each mile? One wants to deliver the maximum effort over the full distance and the best performance will nearly always come from a consistent pace throughout the race.  If you go too fast early and blow up, you can lose loads of time, better to go just a little too slow and finish strongly – and you will have the added bonus of passing other runners in the latter part of the race, always great for morale – but then, did you really give it everything?

Given my 1.23 target I wanted to run 6.20 mile pace.  My first three miles were run in 6.05, 6.07 and 6.07. Cue mental conversation thus:

“You’re going too fast, you berk, you should slow down, you’ll blow to pieces at this pace”

“but, this feels OK, in fact it feels really comfortable, I think I might be able to keep going at this pace”

“OK, you go for it, but you’ll pay for it!”

I did feel great, I was clipping along at just over 6 minute miling, running nicely on my toes and steadily passing runners all the way. I went through 10K in under 38 minutes and was through 10 miles in 60:56 (a 10 mile PB by 1 and half minutes!). Of course, it was getting harder all the time, however, I decided to really commit.

I was helped by following a guy in a pale blue vest who was running a perfect speed to pace me – just a tiny bit quicker than felt comfortable, but he never slowed such that I could go past him. At about 6 miles we caught my teammate Rav from Valley Striders. Rav is usually much quicker than me – his 10K PB is well under 37 minutes.  I decided to be really positive and go straight past him, rather than latching on and running with him.

He didn’t take it lying down!  a mile later he came past me strongly, this time I followed him. We were really bouncing along – at one point I looked down at the Garmin and the mile pace was showing 5.50! – gulp, that is a bit too fast! I hung on for all I was worth. After we turned back onto the long straight road back to the racecourse, at about 10 miles I had another go, I put in an effort and I heard him swear and I moved away, I thought that if I could keep the effort going I would have him.

I knew I was on for something special – a huge PB.  I tried to do some mental calculations, never easy at 9 miles in a half marathon with spittle dribbling on your chin – if I could maintain the pace I would very close to running sub 80 minutes!  Oh my, now that would be something.  Maybe I lost a little focus; but probably the speed, the effort and the lactic acid started to get to me.  My mind started to think about the pain more than the performance, “Come on!” I urged myself inwardly and a couple of times I even shouted it audibly.

There are two small climbs in the last two miles.  Well, in reality, they are just bridges up and over the railway and then the A64, hardly climbs, but when you are on the rivet they really hurt. Up the first climb I sensed Rav behind me again – drat! he probably sensed I was weakening and he attacked me – this time I had no response – he moved away, I just couldn’t summon up anything with which to follow him.  I was isolated in the last two miles so I made my way home as best I could.  The last two miles were covered in 6.18 and 6.14, so the wheels didn’t come off, but the 1:20 time was now out of the equation.

I crossed the line in 1:20:36 (gun time) – my chip time was 1:20:27; about 20 seconds behind Rav.  After the line I was as close as I have ever been to throwing up at the end of a race. It took a good 5 minutes for me to find any composure.

In the context of my marathon training, this was a huge confidence booster.  A sub three hour marathon off a 1:20 half should be very achievable, but as all runners know, you are only an injury away from disaster, so I must keep my head in check and keep on with the consistent training. There are still 11 weeks to go, so its vital that I keep doing the miles, with more long runs to come and at least one hard interval session a week.

The other exciting news this week is that I have the opportunity to run a marathon in Sierra Leone on May 25th.  It came up on the Intranet at work – the marathon is organised by a charity called Street Child and it is always well supported by the insurance community, especially within Lloyd’s of London (I work for a Lloyd’s syndicate).  I have expressed my interest, but haven’t committed yet, though I think I will.  It could be an amazing experience – I have never been to Africa, I’m sure I will meet some great people and I love going to places that are very different from my normal British middle class life.

Aside from the distance, the heat will be a massive challenge for me.  I have always struggled in the heat and it is expected to be over 30 degrees by the end of the marathon.  It starts at 6 a.m. when it will be a little cooler but still very warm and humid.  Its run mainly on red dirt tracks through villages in the bush.

It won’t be cheap – its about £400 to enter (this includes ‘basic’ accommodation), but incredibly there is a budget airline that flies to West Africa called Gambia Bird, so flights are about £400-£500.  Three of my colleagues from London and the U.S. have put their name down also.  Should be interesting!

M – 11 Weeks / 59 miles. Longest run 13.1 miles. parkrun (Leeds) 19.23 (16th). Weight after Sunday run 11 st. 4.6 lb

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All Quiet on the Running Front

I had a great week skiing in France, well apart from a gastronomic misfortune, but more of that later.  Running took a back seat this week, fewer than 20 miles covered, mainly very slowly.

As I mentioned in the previous post, I flew out very early on Monday morning from Liverpool John Lennon Airport and spent a day on my own in Geneva whilst waiting for my mate Tim to fly in from Heathrow at tea time.

Geneva Airport is very close to the city centre – only a couple of kilometres and its a free train ride directly from the airport which takes 4 minutes and runs every 12 minutes.  Integrated transport – an interesting concept, I wonder if they will ever try that in the U.K.

Luckily for me, it was a lovely mild sunny winter’s day in Geneva:

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I meandered around the City and then took myself off for a walk along the shore of Lake Geneva at Lunchtime. There were loads of lunchtime runners taking advantage of the weather and the beautiful surroundings.  I couldn’t help but think that Lake Geneva would be an amazing place to hold a parkrun.  After an hour or so’s walk, I sat in a little bar for a couple of hours in the afternoon, enjoying reading my book, watching winter sports on Eurosport and drinking a couple of beers.

Tim’s flight arrived on time and he drove our hired VW Golf down to Val Thorens as if we were trying to make up time in the Monte Carlo rally.

The snow was still great up in VT, even though the weather was unseasonably warm for January.  At 2500 metres altitude in January, one would expect it to be well below freezing all the time, however the conditions were springlike – the temperature was easily 6 or 7 degrees in the afternoon and it felt warmer in the sun. Lower down the snow was slushy in the afternoon.

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We had two big days of skiing, especially on the Wednesday when we got out early and did a massive tour of all of the Three Valleys – skiing runs in Val Thorens, Les Menuires, St Martin de Belleville, Meribel, Mottaret and all of the Courchevel villages. By three o’clock and still in the far runs above Courchevel,  we realised it would be touch and go for us to make it back over to Val Thorens Valley before the lifts closed and after taking one incorrect run, I thought we had blown it.

With some hard skiing and thankfully no queues, we made the last lift climb up to Mont de la Chambre above VT with about 6 minutes to spare before it closed. It was a brilliant and exhausting day.

That night we chose a poshish looking restaurant and I ordered Lasagne.  It didn’t look great  when it was served and it didn’t taste brilliant either.  Maybe they had bought in a cheap load from Tesco last year.  I was so hungry that I ate it, but later that evening I regretted that decision.  I was up all night, mostly spent in the bathroom. Oh dear.

I still felt terrible on Thursday, but ventured out to accompany Tim, but I had no mojo for skiing . Sliding down a steep mountain when you feel sick and weak is no fun and I had a couple of minor falls due to tiredness and lack of mojo.

We flew back on the late flight out of Geneva on Thursday evening. All was going well until the landing back at Liverpool. I had a window seat on the left side of the aircraft behind the wing. As we landed I though the white line of the edge of the runway was very close, in fact it was getting closer and closer as we ran out down the runway, my goodness, we were headed  for the grass! Just then the plane accelerated aggressively and took off again! Cue lots of wisecracks from the Scousers on board and a rather strange message from the pilot that a Trainee pilot had attempted a landing, it wasn’t going well, so he had decided to abort the landing.  Thankfully, the second landing was without incident.

The running after my return from holidays has been very flat. After a gentle off road 8 miler on Friday, I had hoped to run a strong parkrun at Leeds on Saturday morning, thinking that all the skiing had improved my leg strength and speed.

After about 1km, I realised that this wasn’t going to be a good run,  I felt a little light headed and very heavy legged.  My usual peers and rivals were running strongly away from me and I had nothing in the tank. I guess the effects of the food poisoning and the heavy week were still with me. After about 2k, I mentally jacked in racing and converted to training mode. I finished in 19.44 – Nearly two minutes outside my PB, but I guess a sub 20 minute 5K is OK given that I was feeling a bit below my best.

It was Peco XC race 3 on Sunday at Middleton Park, but still feeling under the weather, instead I set out for a very slow long run around Fewston and Swinsty reservoirs . I intended to do a 13 or 16 mile run – being two or two and half laps.  Again, it just wasn’t there and rather than battle on, I jacked in after just one lap and 6.5 miles at just over 8 minute miles.

Next Sunday is the Brass Monkey half marathon. Hopefully I will feel better by then.  With 12 weeks still to go until the marathon, I don’t think this disappointing week should have a major disadvantageous effect on my chances.

M – 12 Weeks / 19.2 miles. Longest run 8.09 miles. parkrun (Leeds) 19.44 (25th). Weight after Sunday run 11 st. 6.0 lb

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Happy New Year! May all your running ambitions come to pass in 2014.

I got 2014 off to a good start with a solid 58 mile week which included a hilly 17 mile run (8.30 min/mile) on New Year’s Eve on the roads around Otley, Guiseley, Menston and Horsforth; a run commute to work on Thursday with an extended run home of 10 miles, making 15.5 for the day and then 13 miles (7.28 min/mile) around Fewston and Swinsty reservoirs on Sunday morning with some pals from the running club.

We had originally planned a 15 mile run on Sunday, but a couple of the group were struggling with injuries and the after-effects of the Yorkshire Cross Country Championships the day before, so we cut the run down to two full laps of the reservoirs.  It was a great day to be out running, cold and fresh with no wind and a low winter sun.  We got going early so we avoided the invasion of the dog walkers that happens there most Sundays. just a brilliant way to start the day.

After my 10K PB run last Sunday, I fancied having a go for a good time at Leeds parkrun. I ran it pretty much as a full gas effort, the time of 18.44 was a bit slower than I hoped for, however it didn’t help that the course was very muddy and I came to a virtual standstill twice on the off road downhill section around the tennis courts.  I feel it was worth an 18.30 time in better conditions and my fifth place was higher than I normally finish so I was pleased with the run.  For the first time ever, I came first overall on Age Grading (76.8%) – woo-hoo! However, I have still never achieved the 80% Age grading target that Dave McGuire reckons is the mark of a proper runner.  That is one of the targets for 2014, I’ve put some others at the bottom of the post.

Tom Williams of marathon talk is flying with his  Pfitzinger and Douglas marathon plan – he ran an 80 mile week with 19.6 miles today run at 7 minute miling – wow! that is awesome. I am nowhere near that form at the moment.  We ran quite hard around the reservoirs today, averaging 7.30 miling, with a few miles chucked in at around 7 minute miling. It felt reasonably hard.

I have a week’s holiday! – tomorrow I will have to rise at 3 a.m. in order to make the 7 a.m. flight to Geneva from Liverpool.  I then have a long wait in Geneva because my mate Tim is not arriving until tea time – he is flying in from Heathrow.

There is a train directly from Geneva airport to the City Centre that takes only 6 minutes (Swiss efficiency) and they have left luggage facilities at the airport, so I will probably drop the bag and have a mosey around Geneva on my own for much of the day.  I have never been there before and I quite enjoy aimlessly exploring new cities on my own.  It beats sitting in the airport watching episodes of Breaking Bad on the iPad.

We are then driving to Val Thorens in the French Alps for three days of skiing.  Unfortunately we can’t stay the whole week because Tim has to get back for Friday. I just checked the hotel’s website and although they have a spa and relaxation area, I don’t think they have a gym, so it looks like I won’t be able to get any running done whilst I’m away.  They do offer sports massage though, I might well treat myself, even though it will probably cost a fortune.

Plan for the next couple of weeks:

Mileage will be well down next week because of the ski holiday, but I will be back on Friday and not working, so I’ll hopefully go for a medium long run – maybe 2 laps of the reservoirs again.  Saturday will be parkrun and on Sunday it is the Peco XC race 3.  However, John from Valley Striders said today that he might miss the Peco and go for a long run instead – I could well be tempted to do that also, I’m no lover of cross country races and I’d rather focus everything on the marathon training at the moment.

The following Sunday it is the Brass Monkey Half Marathon in York and I am certainly hoping to smash my rather weak half marathon PB of 1.27.39 – If conditions are anything like, I will be hoping to run comfortably under 1.25.

Many people set targets and make resolutions at the start of a new year.  I did last year, and despite a major injury problem in May, June and July, I achieved most of them. For what its worth, here are my targets for 2014:

5K/parkrun – sub 17:50 – this will probably have to be attempted on a fast course like York or at the Doncaster City Centre 5K in July.

10K – sub 37 minutes – my next attempt will be at Dewsbury on February 2nd.

10 Miles – sub 61.30. Probably at either Snake Lane or Thirsk

Half marathon – sub 1.24

Marathon (the main aim for 2014) – sub 3 hours at Manchester on April 6th

Other targets – achieve 80%+ age grading in any race. To run some track races, certainly the Leeds Golden Mile in September and to go sub 5.10.  I’ve run 5.13 and 5.17 there previously.  I’d love to run a sub 5 minute mile one day.  If I am fit going into the summer I will train specifically for the mile for 8 weeks to see how fast I can go.

M – 13 Weeks / 58.5 miles. Longest run 17.2 miles. parkrun (Leeds) 18.44 (5th). Weight after Sunday run 11 st. 6.6 lb

Away to the slopes…

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