Bee – troot to yourself

A really solid week, 69 miles done including the first proper long run of this campaign – 20 miles around Fewston and Swinsty reservoirs with some mates from the club.  This was done on Sunday morning after a very hard run on Saturday afternoon at the Northern cross-country championships at Pontefract racecourse.

I won’t lie, as I write this on Sunday afternoon, I feel extremely tired indeed and I definitely need either a day off or a very easy day tomorrow, but I am pleased that I am getting right into the business end of training for Manchester and Comrades.

On Thursday I went down to Leeds Beckett University to take part in a study into whether drinking beetroot juice is beneficial to athletes.  A student had requested volunteers for the study a few weeks ago at parkrun.  As I work reasonably close to Leeds Beckett University, I figured that I could do my trial at lunchtime so I offered my services.  I also hoped that I might get some data about my fitness if I got involved.

After an exchange of e-mails with the person running the study, we set the date and she told me how to prepare.  I was required to run an absolute all-out time trial 5K effort on a treadmill whilst wearing a breathing mask.  The run would be on 0% gradient and self-paced – I would not see the time elapsed on the treadmill, but I would see distance covered and current speed.

I was required to drink two small bottles of beetroot juice one hour before the run. Or would I? some participants would be drinking a placebo – which would look and taste just like beetroot juice, but I guess had the nitrates removed.

I went to the University lab the day before in order to meet the people running the study, to get my beetroot juice and have some basic physical tests done – my height and weight were measured, I had my blood pressure done and a sample of blood was taken for analysis.

In order to be fresh for the trial, I didn’t run the day before.  I also had to record exactly what I had eaten for the 24 hours before the run.

On Thursday lunchtime I went down to run my trial.  I had my blood pressure taken again and another blood sample was taken.  Apparently I have very low blood pressure – it was measured at 110/70 – I don’t know if that is good or bad to be honest.

I got fitted up with the mask and did a short warm up.

My parkrun 5K PB is 17:44, but I certainly don’t feel in PB shape at the moment.  It was up to me to set the pace, so I opted to set off at 16 km/hour, which I figured would be 6 minute miling or about an 18:38 5K.

The trial starts with a stationary treadmill and it seemed to take ages for the treadmill to crank up to speed, but once it got going I felt fairly comfortable, so I soon nudged it up to 16.2 I held this OK for the next couple of kilometres, but by halfway I was starting to feel the effort.  The mask was very restricting and it felt hard to get enough air in and annoyingly the mask started to slip off so I had to keep pushing back on.

Also, to my extreme annoyance my shoelace came undone at this point.  Realising there was no way that I could stop to retie it, I had to try to ignore it, but it was an unwelcome distraction.

At 3.5K I was well and truly aboard the pain train, but as there were a couple of pretty girls watching and urging me on, I nudged the speed up again to 16.7 and tried to implore myself on. I was gasping desperately during the final kilometre and with about 600m to go I had to relent and nudge the speed back down to 16.2 and then 16.0.  The distance meter seemed to stop moving and I was absolutely desperate for the finish to come.  As it hit 4.6K I nudged up the speed again and I nearly fell off the treadmill as the distance hit 5.0K.

The girls said that I had done well and had done the best time of anyone who had taken the study – it was 18:30.  I felt a bit disappointed with this initially, but given that the treadmill takes a while to get up to full speed and the fact that the mask is really restricting on your breathing, I guess that is not too bad.  I certainly don’t think I could have gone any faster.  I had to put a mark on a perceived effort chart with 0 being no effort and 20 being absolutely all-out, couldn’t give anymore.  I went for 18.5, but I could have said 20.

I had more blood taken 3 minutes after the end of the run.

In two weeks I have to repeat the trial, but this time with the other sample.  It’s a double blind trial, so neither I, nor the student running the trial knows whether I have taken the placebo or the real Beetroot juice until after the study is complete.

On Saturday I ran in the Northern cross country championships. I enjoy cross country, but I wasn’t treating this as a target race.  I didn’t mentally prepare much and decided just to run hard but controlled, i.e. set off steady and try to run and even pace and pick off runners as I went. Looking at previous results, I realised that a top half finish would be all that I could aim for, even then I would have to run really well.  With all the best runners in the North of England competing, the standard was very high.

Conditions were very, very muddy:

XC Northerns

I set off steadily with a 6:50 first mile on the undulating course, followed by 3 consecutive miles of exactly 6:54 each.  I was passing people all the way, but I knew I was much nearer to the back of the field than the front.  The course was 3 x 4K laps and I had a slight fear that the leaders might just lap me near the end of my second lap, thankfully I managed to avoid that ignominy.

The really muddy sections were tough, completely energy-sapping and I tried various tactics from trying skirt around the edges of the muddiest patches, to ploughing straight through the deepest parts and then trying to ‘skip’ over the mud.  Nothing really worked and despite wearing 15mm spikes my feet were slipping sideways.

JDT Northerns 1

I put in a bit of an effort during the final lap and started to race a few guys, but with about half a mile to go, I blew up and I didn’t really have the willpower to completely bury myself.  I ran in as best I could, but I probably lost 10 places near the end, which is poor I know.

I finished 376th in a field of 697, so I missed my target of making the top half.  However, I was delighted to learn that my club, Valley Striders, came 13th out of 58 clubs in the senior Men’s race – which is an absolutely brilliant result for a little club like ours which doesn’t have much history in cross country running.  We were mixing it with famous clubs like Gateshead, Liverpool and Durham. Really well done guys.  The senior ladies also had a great result with 15th out of 41 teams. Superb.

The long run today was done on tired legs, so it’s no great surprise that I blew a little on the third of three laps of the reservoirs.  The other lads dropped me about 5 miles from the end, but I was happy to slow down to 8:00 minute miling and finish the run at my own pace.  I ran two laps of the carpark to bring the distance on the Garmin to 20 miles exactly because I am sad like that.

Next week I will scale back a bit.  I’ve had 2 hard weeks and I can feel some niggles in my knee and ankle.

I’m also hoping to run a good time at next Sunday’s Dewsbury 10K, so an easy week will hopefully help me recover in time for that.  I very much doubt that I can better my PB, but anything around 37 minutes will be OK.

CM -18 weeks
Weight 11st 3.4lb
69 Miles
parkrun – none


On the wagon again…

Thankfully, my mood is vastly improved from last week. After finally getting over the customary mid-winter respiratory illness, my training for Manchester and Comrades has finally started in earnest.
I have run just shy of 60 miles this week and I booted myself into action on Monday by running to work and back, but instead of the standard 5.5 miles return journey I took a long route home of 14.5 hilly miles.

Having not done anything approaching a long run for ages, I found it tough. After about 8 miles I was starting to struggle and I thought to myself “what are you doing? You could be home by now watching Eggheads and having a cup of tea”.

With no other option, I ground it out, shuffling slowly up the final long drag from Otley to my home village of Bramhope. I didn’t enjoy it much, but I am glad I did it.

I did another double day on Tuesday – after a run during my lunch hour I went up to the Beckett Park track for the Valley Striders monthly track session. As often happens around this time of year, the track was frozen, so under the expert direction of coach Hannah, we did a make-shift session around the campus roads of 4 x 700 metres.

After the warm up, my legs felt shot, but I managed to crank out something around half marathon pace. It wasn’t one of those fantastic confidence building speed sessions, but again, I’m glad I got it done.

I ran steadily for the rest of the week. It was a big half marathon racing weekend up in Yorkshire and Lancashire, with the Brass Monkey half in York and the Inskip half in Preston. I had an entry for the Inskip, but I had to miss it as I had to travel to Woking to celebrate my friend Angela’s 40th birthday.

I squeezed in Leeds parkrun before setting off and was delighted to finish 4th overall, equalling my second best ever finishing position. I was helped by the fact that the course was extremely icy – indicated by a winner’s time of 19:22. I had sensibly worn trail shoes which gave a slightly better traction than the road shoes that most of the field were wearing.

I was initially a little bit miffed at missing the half marathon, but I had a brilliant weekend to make up for it – catching up with some old friends that I hadn’t seen in years and spending some precious time with two of my best friends in the World that I get to see very rarely. There is much more to life than running.

Ange’s husband, Tim had promised me that we would go out running on Horsell Common on Sunday, but when we were still drinking and dancing at 4 a.m., I knew that wasn’t likely to happen.

However, Tim persuaded me to enter the Berlin marathon in September with him. It’s a race I have done twice before and it owes me. On both occasions I ran it (in 2009 and 2011) I had a shocker – twice setting off too quickly, suffering terribly with heat stroke and limping home to run around 3:40. Hopefully this time I’ll do it justice.

I must confess that I am itching to get out racing again. I haven’t run a road race since the Abbey Dash in mid-November. To me racing is the essence of what the sport is about, to push myself harder than I ever could in training and to do battle with those around me in the field.

Running is such a pure sport – no special equipment, no judges, nothing subjective – just a test of who is the best on the day.

I get nervous before races, well probably not nervous, but anxious. I know that it will hurt and I frequently suffer doubt during races – fearing that I am going too fast and that I might blow up.

However, perhaps it is essential to experience doubts if one is going to achieve an optimum performance. Chris Boardman has said that during a time trial, a top cyclist will keep asking himself “can I hold this pace to the finish?” – If the answer is “Yes” then he has gone out too easily and has ruined his chances. If the answer is “No” then he has gone too fast, will blow and again will not win. The answer always needs to be “I don’t know”. I think the same can be applied to running.

Aside from Berlin, I have been plotting out my racing programme for the coming months. I have the Northern cross-country championships next Saturday. I am a mediocre cross country runner, I’ll do my very best, but I can’t prioritise these races simply because I don’t know how to run them well.

The weekend after is the Dewsbury 10K, then later in February is the Snake Lane 10 mile race and in March is the Thirsk 10 mile race. Breaking 60 minutes for 10 miles is one of my targets for the year and I’ll be going full gas at both Snake Lane and Thirsk. To have any chance of achieving my goal, I will need a nice still day, which is rare around this time of year and my best chance will probably be at Thirsk as it is a slightly faster course.

I also wanted to run another 20 mile race as part of my marathon preparation. I ran the East Hull 20 last year, but this year East Hull falls on the same day as Thirsk; so I have entered the Locke Park 20 in Redcar the week before Thirsk. This will be interesting as its 20 laps of a 1 mile loop!

I’ve also entered the Salford 10K on Good Friday, a race I do every year. This year this falls before the Manchester Marathon. It’s probably not wise to run a hard 10K during your taper for a marathon, but as I said, I love racing.

Another lovely surprise this week was to receive an invitation from StreetChild, the organisers of the Sierra Leone marathon, to be their guest a special comedy evening in London in February. It will be hosted by Nick Hewer from the Apprentice and stars Jack Whitehall with his Dad, plus some special guests. I have accepted and I am hoping to bump into some of the friends I made over in Sierra Leone last year.

CM -19 weeks
Weight 11st 5.0lb
59.3 Miles
parkrun – Leeds 19:54 (4th)


Winter Blues

A pretty crap week to be frank. All sorts of horrible things happened in the World and I was stuck at home with a chesty cough.

I didn’t run very far or very fast, and I didn’t run at all between Tuesday and Sunday, so I missed the Yorkshire cross country championships at Ripon on Saturday.  Valley Striders did very well and if I had run I am fairly sure I would have finished last male Strider and much nearer the back of the field than the front, I’m still frustrated that I missed it though.

My new Concept 2 rowing machine finally arrived on Thursday, though I didn’t much feel like smashing myself, I have done a couple of steady rows to test it out – 3500 metres and 5000 metres today.  I’ve forgotten how hard rowing is!

The physical thing that I have noticed changing most with advancing age is that my maximum heart rate is falling.  Back when I ran in my 20s and 30s I can remember my max HR being in the high 180s.  These days, 150 is about as high as it goes normally when running, a bit lower for cycling and even at the end of a mad sprint finish in a 5K when I feel sick, it won’t go much over 160.

On the rower, I’ve noticed that it shot up as soon as I started pulling harder. I did some 500m efforts in my 5K row today and in no time the HR was in the 150s. Although, its hardly scientific as I am ill at the moment.

As for running whilst ill, I follow the maxim that its only OK to run if the problem is above the chest.  However, I was feeling short of breath and coughing up gunk, so running would have been foolhardy.  I remember reading about Liz McColgan, whose coach (and ex Husband) would make her train hard whenever she had a cold, the theory being that the cardio vascular system will be made to work harder to get the air in when you are ill.  They breed them tough in Scotland.

I’ve decided to stop feeling sorry for myself and just get out there.  I’m running to work and back tomorrow, no matter how I feel or what the weather is doing and I’ll go to Tuesday track sessions with my running club. I am pretty sure it will feel very tough given my recent lack of training, but sometimes you just have to get on with it.

CM -20 weeks
Weight 11st 6.4lb
20 Miles
parkruns None


2015 starts at the Double

Happy New Year everyone. I hope 2015 is a great year for you, whatever targets or ambitions you have set.

In common with many runners, the turn of the year means that I have started thinking seriously about the training ahead for my spring marathon (Manchester in April) and my Ultra – Comrades in May.

I intend to follow the same basic formula as last year – aim to run 50+ miles per week during January, increasing this to 60+ during February and March. Given the impending ultra, I will have to run some extended longer runs – including a few over marathon distance. I plan to run more medium long runs of around 12 – 15 miles by running the long way home when I do a run commute to work.

I had a lovely family Christmas Day – it started with Roundhay parkrun, then Christmas drinks hosted by Hannah and Andy from Valley Striders, then a few pints in the pub followed by a meal at a local Indian restaurant. There’s a lot to be said for eating out on Christmas Day, it removes a lot of stress and means that everyone can relax.

On Boxing Day, I took my 16 year old nephew Sam to my apartment in France for a few days skiing. It was his Christmas present. Being a devout Yorkshireman, I recoiled at the prices of car hire and flights to Geneva airport over Christmas (Geneva is a 2 hour drive from the apartment), so I scoured the web and saved around £500 by taking Ryanair flights from Manchester to Milan Bergamo. It gave me enormous satisfaction!

The drive from Bergamo was about 3 and a half hours and we arrived at 1.00 a.m., parking up and then immediately collapsing into bed, eager to get out skiing the following day. There was not a flake of snow on the ground when I parked the car.

Things changed somewhat overnight. I could barely believe the scene as I awoke at around 8 a.m. There had been a huge snowstorm overnight, dumping over a metre of snow – I could no longer see the car! The car park was just a series of big white lumps in the snow. We were so lucky to get there with no problem. Later it transpired that many people were trapped in the snowstorm, many having to spend the following night in emergency shelters or even worse, in their cars.

The heavy snow meant that all lifts were closed and it was not safe to ski, so I spent the day digging the car out with a washing up bowl – I had no shovel.

Later, I introduced Sam to one of my heroes – Larry David – and we watched ten episodes of ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ on DVD back to back, followed by Godfather II. Sam loved it.

Luckily, we had two great days skiing, despite it being unimaginably cold. It was lower than -20°C at the top, feeling ten degrees colder with wind-chill. We had to wear just about every piece of clothing we had brought.

I returned to Blighty with an inevitable cold, so I didn’t feel like running too far. However, I did run a parkrun double on New Year’s Day – tackling Woodhouse Moor parkrun at 9 a.m. and Temple Newsam at 10 a.m.

Because of my cold, I intended to drive between the two, but as I parked up I bumped into Hannah from Valley Striders who said there was a group of Striders attempting to run the 5.2 miles between the two parkruns and I should do the same. Unsure if it was a wise thing to attempt, I reluctantly agreed.

We ran the first parkrun as a group, aiming for around 21 minutes or slightly quicker and with me pacing we ran it in about 20:30. After a quick barcode scan (sorry for pushing forward in the queue!), we set off for the 5.2 mile run across Leeds to Temple Newsam, not 100% certain of the best route.

There were a few other hardy souls attempting the run double and we ended up following John Robson from St Theresa’s who clearly knew exactly where he was going. It was quite a hard tempo type run and we made the start at Temple Newsam with about 2 minutes to spare. I was pretty knackered by this time, so I jogged around the second parkrun in a steady 24 minutes, chatting with my team-mates.

Just two days later, it was Saturday and parkrun day again and although I still felt chesty and was coughing up gunk, I gave it a go and was pleased to run 18:40, feeling that I had run hard, but I had left a little in the tank.

Today was the third race in the Peco cross country league. The results aren’t up yet so I don’t know my finishing position, but I feel that I ran well, starting steadily and then gradually picking of a few places all the way. I ran 32:24 for the 4.8 mile course. I’m starting to quite enjoy cross country running. However, I think I might be in for a shock next Saturday as I have entered the Yorkshire cross country championships at Lightwater Valley…

2015 was a good year at work and I was lucky enough to get both a little bonus and a £100 John Lewis voucher for Christmas. Contrary to my innate Yorkshireness, I have been spending some it on a few treats for myself.

Towards the end of last year, I felt that I let my diet slip. I generally ate really well before the Manchester marathon last year – lots of vegetables and no pasta, rice, bread or potatoes whenever I was home cooking.

Disappointingly, later in the year, I felt continually drawn to the vending machine at work in the afternoons. Unfortunately, the machine doesn’t sell any fresh fruit or nuts. It does, however, have a great stock of Kit Kats and Yorkies, and I sinned – often.

So, to aid me in improving my diet I have invested in one of these babies:
Nutri Bullet

A Nutri-Bullet. It’s basically a juicer on steroids – unlike normal juicers, you don’t need to peel anything and you can add in other stuff like nuts and seeds. Its also a doddle to clean afterwards.

They recommend that you put in a handful of green leafy stuff – I use Kale or Spinach, then add fruits of your choice – say apple, blueberries or banana and then nuts or seeds. I usually add flaxseed, ginger and a handful of walnuts. You add a bit of water and then whizz it for about 20 seconds. You can also make a breakfast ‘thickie’ by adding porridge oats. It takes a bit of experimenting to find the correct recipes, but so far, I’m really delighted with it and I’m using it twice a day.

My other investment is one of these:

A Concept 2 rower. It arrives on Wednesday.

Although I guess I am pretty fit in a cardio vascular sense, I think my fitness is somewhat one dimensional. I could certainly do with improving my strength. I really cannot stand gyms – they are peculiarly depressing places and a little piece of my soul dies every time I visit a gym – however, I do like rowing.

Back when I was a fairly serious cricketer about 15 years ago, I had terrible problems with severe back pain – it took years to diagnose correctly. After a few visits to the British Swimming team physio, she told me I had muscle imbalances in my core, causing some muscles to spasm and cause my episodes of back pain.

After a year of Pilates, my back problems were cured (and nothing since thankfully) and I maintained my core strength by using the rower at the gym. I got quite good and improved my 2000 metre time down to 7 minutes 15 seconds – not too bad for a skinny guy.

I feel my core strength is again quite poor, so I am hoping to row for about 15 minutes per day, just steadily at first, in order to improve it. Hopefully it will also build up my leg strength and improve my running also.

CM -21 weeks
Weight 11st 5.2lb
35 Miles
parkruns (3) New Year ’s Day – Woodhouse Moor 20:24; Temple Newsam 24:13. Woodhouse Moor 18:40