Marathon Talk fame at last

 

This time next week I will either be a sub 3 hour marathon runner or I won’t.  I’m excited to find out which.  During the 17 weeks of the training period I have run 830 miles, an average of 49 every week.  I have done 5 runs of 20 miles or further, with a longest run of 24 miles.

Have I done enough? Next Sunday will tell me.  I guess we always think that we could do more, but training can never be perfect. After all we are treading a fine line between training our bodies to improve and damaging them by causing injury.

Ideally, my mileage would have been higher, but as we all know, at times life gets in the way. I am not a professional athlete, I have a full time career, which at times can be demanding and stressful and often requires me to travel around the country at inconvenient times. However, I can say that I have trained about as much as I could have done.  I don’t think that I have ducked a single day’s running since December 1st 2013 when I wasn’t either away from home or ill.

I said last week that I may have tapered too much. This week I ran every day and covered 53 miles, so not much of a taper at all.  However, after the brutal eyeball wrenching effort of the Thirsk 10 last Sunday, the running this week has been done without much intensity.  Even the Tuesday night hill session was run at about 80% effort.  I ran the Roundhay parkrun yesterday for a change of scenery. It’s a three lapper with a tough climb at the end of each lap. I ran controlled-hard for two laps and then put my foot down on the last lap for 11th place in 19:13.  I felt strong.

The highlight of the week was an honourable mention on the Marathon Talk podcast! – co-host Tom Williams recounted our last mile battle at Thirsk to Martin Yelling. Tom very generously said I ‘dropped the hammer’ when he caught me at 9 miles. I think ‘desperately followed me on my shoulder’ may be more accurate.

You can listen to the podcast via the following link (My mention is around 8:45 in):

http://hwcdn.libsyn.com/p/6/2/6/6265fda442680b09/MT220Pt1.mp3?c_id=7010074&expiration=1396728069&hwt=357cb998389d45a56a6d5a5609c76804

It has been fun following a fairly rigid programme for 17 weeks.  My training previously has been somewhat vague and aimless.  I feel really fit, I’m lighter than I have been since my teenage years, I’ve eaten and slept much better than I normally do.  I think I am ready.

Nothing that I do in the final week will make much difference to my marathon performance. I won’t run very much next week.  I’m away at a concert Monday night, then working in Birmingham for two days. I expect to run only on Monday lunchtime, maybe Wednesday evening, Thursday lunchtime and I’ll do a steady parkrun on Saturday, aiming to run it in 21-22 minutes – marathon pace or slightly slower.

I hope to do another post the day before the marathon setting out my final thoughts – my race strategy, nutrition plans etc.

 

M – 1 Weeks / 53 miles. Longest run 13 miles. Parkrun (Roundhay) 19:13 (11th). Weight after Sunday run 11 st. 2.4 lb

 

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Oh Yah, Kensington Palace

The Kensington Palace charity reception turned out to be not quite the cavalcade of D-List celebrities and lower civil list minor Royals that I’d imagined.  It was rammed with hangers-on just like me, all desperately trying to grab some free champagne and to mug the scarce canapé-carrying waitresses of their meagre wares.

Still, it was an experience to be there and it was great to meet up with my work colleague William Pitt who is the only other colleague from my company running the Sierra Leone marathon.

The founder of the Street Child Charity (who arrange the marathon) gave a really impassioned speech and impressively we learned that for the next three months, they have been awarded fund-matching by the U.K. Government.

This recognises the worth and integrity of the charity and means that all amounts raised up to June will be doubled by the Government matching.

I know it can be incredibly tiresome when runners ask for sponsorship, so I will ask this only once.  As you sip your glass of wine and eat your nice fresh food from Waitrose, please think of the less fortunate children in Sierra Leone for just 30 seconds.  Without Street Child most could never go to school. Could you spare the price of that glass of wine?  Think about it.  Here’s the link:

https://www.justgiving.com/teams/Beazley

http://www.street-child.co.uk/

My invite for Thursday came with a “+1” so I invited Georgina, a work colleague from the London office. She seemed keen to sample Kensington Palace, residence of the late Princess Di.

We left just before 10, a little hungry.  As we scuttled towards Notting Hill in the pouring rain, we stumbled across the Café Diana – a down market Turkish/Middle Eastern eatery on the Bayswater Road. We were the only diners at such a late hour.

The place was an unnerving shrine to the late Princess of the People (The Sunday People that is). There must have been five hundred pictures of Diana adorning the walls. I asked the waitress if Diana had ever eaten there, “No” she said, “But I think she came in once, she didn’t order anything”…

I caught the milk train from King’s Cross back to Leeds – eventually arriving home at 3 a.m.

With fewer than three weeks to go, I am officially in the taper period, but I think I may have tapered a bit too much this week – I ran only 36 miles.  My main goal this week was the Thirsk 10 mile race, my last serious effort before the marathon in Manchester in two weeks.

I harboured faint hopes of beating the hour for 10 miles, but after really struggling to run 5k in 18:38 on Saturday morning at South Manchester parkrun, I knew that was a very stiff target.  To be fair, the parkrun was after a night of curry and beer, but even so, running 3 miles at 6:00 pace felt ludicrously hard, I doubted I would be able to sustain that effort for 10 miles.

Conditions for Thirsk were OK, but not ideal. It was chilly and breezy, I reckoned that we would have a dead headwind for the first 4-5 miles, with a helping or cross wind for the rest of the race except for a mile switchback section up a side road at 7 miles.

Stupidly, I didn’t reset my goals because of the headwind.  I went out too aggressively – reaching half way in 29:53.  Into the wind that was too much of an effort and I started paying it back in the second half of the race. Rather than holding my position, I was drifting back in the field, being passed by a steady stream of runners. Not a great feeling.

I had a really bad patch in the up and back switchback section, my pace had dropped to slower than 6:20 miling.  As I ran around the 180 degree turnaround there was 2.5 miles to go.  At this point you pass the runners directly behind you in the field. I saw the red and white vest and fluorescent orange Adidas trainers of Tom Williams, host of the Marathon Talk podcast, right behind me. He looked extremely purposeful.

Tom had told the listenership this week that he was aiming for a 60:40 time at Thirsk as his Jantastic target.  Knowing that he was just 30 metres or so behind me gave me a bit of a kick up the backside and I dug in for more effort.

I held off the inevitable until about 1 mile to go when Tom came past me. My legs were screaming, but I gave it everything and managed to latch right on to him, running in his slipstream as we tackled the final mile back to the racecourse.

Knowing that I have a good short sprint finish, I figured that if I could somehow get towed to the last 100 metres, I might be able to take him at the end. I used the trick of visualising that there was a cord from his back attached to me, imagining that he was pulling me along, but man it was agony to stay with him.

With 600 metres to go, I sensed he was squeezing the pedal, winding it up – by now I could taste blood in my mouth, a sure sign that you are giving it everything. I remembered that there was a sharp left hand turn into the finish straight, then just a very short 30 metres or so to the line – I would have to get to that left hander first if I was going to take him.

I went for my big final effort, but I was so deep into the red zone that my legs almost buckled and I semi-stumbled.  Simultaneously, Tom had kicked again and taken a crucial 3 metres out of me to finally break the elastic. The photo below was taken just before the finish – I felt as bad as I look!

We rounded the left hander and Tom beat me by 2 seconds.  Both of us were completely battered at the end, sprawled on the tarmac apron of the racecourse coughing and retching. A great race!

My time was 60:56, a personal best for 10 miles by a minute and 25 seconds.  I am pleased with that, but I know that I didn’t pace it very well – my splits of 29:53 for the first 5 miles into the wind and 31:03 for the second with the wind tell that story.  However, I don’t think that I could have quite broken 60 minutes today even with better pacing – that will remain the target for another day.

Next week I’ll continue the taper with plenty of steady running, probably around 35-40 miles again. I’ll still go to the Tuesday night speed session with Valley Striders, but I won’t be going full bore.

It’s all about staying fit and healthy now. I’ll try to eat really well – lots of green veg and meat, beetroot juice and few carbs.

M – 2 Weeks / 36 miles. Longest run 10 miles. Parkrun (South Manchester) 18:38 (7th). Weight after Sunday run 11 st. 2.6 lb

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Schools Out

Training for this marathon and following a (fairly) regimented training plan has reminded me of school days.  It feels like I am preparing for an exam, having to do all the coursework (the bulk of training), then undertake a period of revision (the taper) and finally take the exam – i.e. run the actual race. The pass mark is sub 3 hours!

If that analogy holds true then I’ve done all the lessons and now I start revising.  I did my final long run today – 20 miles around the Fewston/Swinsty reservoirs   It was a windy old day, so it was a grind in the sections with a headwind. I ran it at 07.57 miling overall.

I got a niggly ankle pain at the end of the second lap, it got more severe halfway into the third and final lap, so I slowed down and just got the thing done.  I had vague intentions of trying to do a few miles at or near marathon pace at the end of the run, but the ankle pain put me off and to be frank I just couldn’t be arsed.  I did 20 miles at marathon pace last Sunday, so I feel confident I can run at or around 6:50 miling.  Given the strong wind and undulating terrain around the reservoirs, there seemed little point pushing it today.

Although I had a drink and gels in the car, which I could have taken after 6.5 and 13 miles, I didn’t bother – I just ran it without nutrition and without stopping once.

Annoyingly, my Garmin 405 GPS watch has started playing up – despite being fully charged when I left home, it completely packed in after two hours of running. Having just spent £260 on a fancy cycling Garmin GPS unit I don’t really want to have to shell out for another running Garmin watch.  I’m convinced that technology companies design their devices in a way that ensures they will malfunction after about 2-3 years.  Strangely, they are never user serviceable.  The Man really does take us for a bunch of mugs.

I had a good threshold run at parkrun on Saturday – my time was a bit slower than last week at 18:17, but it was still a very hard effort.  I felt strong.

I have nice week ahead – a day off work tomorrow so I can enjoy a game of golf with some mates over in Lytham St Annes, a couple of days working in the office in Leeds and then on Thursday I’ll be in London so I can attend an evening drinks reception at Kensington Palace. The Street Child charity has invited me because I have entered the Sierra Leone marathon. I’ve no idea who will be there, it’s my first time at such a posh event – I’d better make sure that my shoes are nice and clean!

Running wise, I’ll aim for around 40 miles for the week, I want to feel fairly fresh for the Thirsk 10 next Sunday.  If it’s a calm day, I’ll be giving it full gas and see how fast I can go.

 

M – 3 Weeks /  60 miles. Longest run 20 miles. Parkrun (Leeds) 18:17 (8th). Weight after Sunday run 11 st. 1.6 lb

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4 Weeks to go…

After 5 dark wet months of winter, spring arrived today in England with a whoop and a holler.  It was a stunning day.  Unbroken sunshine and 18 degrees.

I ran the East Hull 20 mile race today.  Originally, I hadn’t planned on doing a 20 miler only four weeks out from the marathon.  I thought it might be too hard and would send the body into the red zone, thus requiring a few days of recovery which might be better spent training.

However, a few of my team-mates were running and having thought it through, I entered, but told myself this shouldn’t be approached as  a race but as a catered training run. It would also be a good way to honestly gauge whether I can realistically run the Manchester marathon in under three hours – if I couldn’t run sub 6:52 pace per mile for 20 miles then it would be pretty unlikely that I would run it over 26.2 miles.

I could also rehearse my marathon day preparation – have the same breakfast and wear the same kit etc. After ingesting my porridge with honey, blueberries and sliced banana; cinnamon and raisin bagel and a large coffee, I picked up my team-mates John, Sarah and Sean and drove over to East Hull.

John and I planned to run together with fellow Valley Strider Kevin for the first 10 miles and then to see how we felt. Our plan was to run at around 6:52 pace and for the first few miles this felt comfortable and we were chatting away as we steadily picked our way through the field.  Unfortunately John dropped off at around 8 miles and it turns out he has aggravated a hamstring injury and it looks like his marathon is not going to happen this spring.  I felt for him.

It was great running with Kevin, he’s a fellow MV45 and we paced each other well, reaching halfway in 68:24 and going through the half marathon point in 1:28:58. The route is lollipop shaped and despite running into a breeze on the way back, we managed a negative split – coming home in 67:31. I ended up running the whole distance with Kev.  The last 4 miles felt hard, but I thought this would be good practice for the last 6 miles of the marathon, digging in and maintaining the pace when it starts to feel tough.

Overall I ran 2:15:55 for an average pace of 6:48, which is great – just what I wanted from the day.  My legs felt tired at the end, but with 20 miles at marathon pace, that is no wonder – that is a hard run in anyone’s book

So mission accomplished – a 20 mile marathon pace run done without the benefit of a taper and great practice at running at target marathon pace.  The added bonus was a lovely day out with some good mates.

24 hours earlier I had gone for a really hard 5K effort at Leeds parkrun – I ran my second best ever time at Leeds – 18:05 for 7th place.  I didn’t plan to run quite that hard, but a young whippersnapper engaged me in some racing on the third lap and my testosterone kicked in. He passed me then I passed him, then he passed me and finally (so I thought) I went past him near the last corner with 300m to go.  The little scamp tried again near the finish so I unleashed my best sprint and finally saw him away.  I can run pretty quickly for an old man when I want to.

The hard training is 90% done now. I’ll aim for another 60+ mileage week, it’s my favourite club session on Tuesday night (at the track) and I’ll plan another steady long run next weekend, probably around the reservoirs again.

M – 4 Weeks /  75 miles. Longest run 20 miles. Parkrun (Leeds) 18:05 (7th). Weight after Sunday run 11 st. 2.8 lb

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The Sage of Omaha

Certainly many Millions, probably billions of pounds is spent on investment advice every year by the British public.  The vast majority will be in the form of fees paid to professional fund managers, but huge sums  are also spent on buying books and magazines about investing.

I have bought several investment books since I started managing my own assets about 5 years ago.  They range from the brilliant and essential (especially The Long and the short of it by Professor John Kay) to many virtually unreadable high brow technical books written by academics.

Whilst it can never be a bad thing to read books and educate yourself, it is not a necessity for most private investors.  There is plenty of excellent  free advice out there.

The greatest living investor in the World is Warren Buffett.  Fifty years ago he converted a virtually bankrupt little textile firm called Berkshire Hathaway into an investment company. The original cost to buy a share in Berkshire Hathaway was US$19.  To be fair, this was a decent sum back in 1964 – equivalent to US$ 472.56 in today’s money.  However, if you had bought just a single share in Berkshire back in 1964, that share would now be worth US$ 178,156.00.

Warren Buffett has grown the value of the company at an average compounded rate of 19.7% ever year. That is spectacular.

Allied to being a genius investor, Warren Buffett is a very decent and amazingly grounded human being.  He lives in the same house in suburban Omaha that he purchased in the early 1960s and he drives a modest second hand car (though he does have a private jet as well, I’ll think we’ll give him some luxuries).

Every year he writes an open letter to the shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway.  It is usually about 25 pages long and follows a simple format – a review of Berkshire performance, a section conveying much of Buffett’s thoughts and wisdom about markets and investing and then a bit at the end about the Company conference.

In my view, every private investor, or anybody wanting to learn about investing and how to value companies should read these letters, and probably read them over and over again.  They are a gold mine of knowledge. I read them all at least once a year.  You can access them via http://www.berkshirehathaway.com/letters/letters.html

Buffett’s performance for the past five years has fallen slightly below that of the S&P 500, leading some to criticise him and say he’s too old and he’s losing it.  To me that is ridiculous. The guy has a net worth of $60bn – unlike his critics. So who is right and who is wrong?

The 2013 letter came out recently.  If anybody can’t be bothered to read the whole thing, then a read of just pages 19 and 20 will tell most private investors all they need to do if they don’t want to spend all their time reading and researching like Buffett does.

As an interesting crossover into the World of running, I learned from this year’s letter that Berkshire Hathaway own the Brooks running shoe company – makers of my new favourite running shoes.  So I am a fan of Warren Buffett for two reasons!

Another great free resource which is aimed primarily at a UK audience is the excellent Monevator website – www.monevator.com.  This is well worth bookmarking and reading from time to time.  There are normally 2 or 3 new articles each week, including a very useful collection of links to stuff worth reading every weekend. Monevator is a staunch advocate of low cost passive investing.

Of course, I must put in the essential caveat that you must do your own research and only invest money that you are prepared to lose (or not need access to for at least 10 years).  Buffett himself often makes this point in his writings.

Timing is everything, I was lucky enough to start investing just after the 2008 market crash – I realised that valuations were very low and it was probably a good time to buy, provided that we somehow made it through the crisis. As I write, the FTSE 100 index stands at around 6800, just below an all time high (that was achieved in 1999!).  So, as prices are higher, it isn’t such a good time to buy shares.  However, valuations are still around historic averages, company profits are growing, so I intend to keep trickling money into the market each month but I probably won’t make any big bets unless something dramatic happens.

It’s always worthwhile having a little war chest of cash on the side just in case.

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A long Long Run

One of the major disadvantages with running a marathon in the springtime is that most of the training has to be done during the winter.  For me it is not the cold and wet weather that is the issue.  I am with the Billy Connolly school of thought that there is no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes.  No, for me the major problem is that most of the running has to be done in darkness.

In this modern World it seems we must attach labels to every problem, issue or challenge we face – children are never slow readers, they must be ‘dyslexic’, they are never naughty and badly behaved, they have ‘ADHD’.  Well, I won’t claim to suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), but I do get more pissed off during the winter and I think that the lack of daylight might be an influencing factor.

For me March 1st is a major milestone in the year.  All of a sudden there is more light – it doesn’t get dark until after 6pm now, nature is waking up and getting ready for a new growing season – the crocuses and snowdrops are out and there is a semblance of optimism, all the fun in the year lies ahead – the trips away with mates, a chance to get out cycling and the beautiful long days of the English summer.

The extra daylight helps me with my run training, primarily because I can run to and from work in daylight on my commute and consequently I just feel happier being out there.

I have run farther in the last seven days than I ever have in any other week of my life.  I covered 79.08 miles, which included a 24 mile run this morning around the Fewston and Swinsty reservoirs.  It took me 3 hours 8 minutes, for an average pace of 7:50 per mile – not bad given that it included 350 metres of ascent. This will be the longest run of the training phase.

I got up early and consumed a huge bowl of porridge with honey, bananas and blueberries as fuel for the run.  I was up at the reservoirs before 8 am in order to have some peace before the dog walkers arrived.  This was going to be a solo run.

I decided to wear my Hoka shoes.  These are a type of shoe invented by French Ultra marathon runners – there are the antithesis of the modern trend toward the minimalist barefoot type shoe because they have a huge double thickness midsole of EVA.  This makes them very cushioned.  I like my Hokas for long runs because they are very comfortable and I believe they reduce the strain on my ankles and Achilles tendon, thus reducing the risk of injury.  They have two major disadvantages.  Firstly, they are pretty heavy so they don’t feel fast or nimble at all, but the main problem is that they look ridiculous, they are like Clown’s shoes:

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Another good reason for getting out earlier when fewer people are around.

The long run went great, it was a good day, cool and drizzly and I started steadily, knocking off the miles in my huge shoes;  just me, the path and the MP3 player.  I never listen to music whilst running, preferring varied podcasts – things like Freakonomics and Radiolab mainly.  If you have never tried Radiolab, then I heartily recommend it – it’s a brilliantly produced by Public Radio in New York and has rightfully earned the accolade as the ‘World’s Greatest Podcast’.

This week was an interesting study of why 10% of humans are left handed when all other animals are divided 50/50 between right and left handers, except for one.  Did you know about 90% of parrots are left ‘clawed’, only 10% right.  Fascinating? Anyway, it helps me to pass the miles.

I did a very similar long run exactly 12 months ago whilst preparing for the 2013 Manchester marathon.  Back then I covered 20 miles around the reservoirs at 7:57 per mile pace. I was 6 pounds heavier.

I had a good parkrun on Saturday – I went for it and my time of 18:27 was my best for the year so far.  I tried my hardest to follow Dave McGuire, a Leeds parkrun legend and fellow MV45 runner – a lovely guy and the owner of the loudest voice in Yorkshire.  Dave set off like a scolded cat and just kept going.  He was always 30-40 metres in front of me and hard as I tried, I couldn’t reel him in – he beat me by a good 20 seconds in the end.  That’s no disgrace – he’s a great athlete.

Just 5 weeks to go until the big one, I’m getting close to finding out whether I can achieve that sub 3 hour goal.  I’ll try for another highish mileage next week – it’s the East Hull 20 mile race next Sunday, which I’ll do as a marathon rehearsal training run.

The only target race between now and the Marathon is the Thirsk 10 mile race on March 23rd.  I’m hoping for a still day so I can have a go for a PB and maybe get close to the hour.  After that, it’s taper time when I will reduce my mileage, hopefully allowing the body to strengthen up after all the training.

M – 5 Weeks / 79 miles. Longest run 24 miles. Parkrun (Leeds) 18:27 (10th). Weight after Sunday run 11 st. 5.2 lb

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