An Armchair Fan

I have always been a sports fan.  I’ll watch and enjoy pretty much any sport on TV with the possible exception of ice skating and motor racing.  Oh, and fencing as well, which is unfortunate as my employer is the main sponsor of the British fencing team.

The fencers I have met through work are all humble and lovely people, but unfortunately for them their sport is just about impossible to televise in a meaningful way.  It is just too fast.

As a boy, I couldn’t wait for Saturdays so that I could turn on my medium wave transistor radio at five o’clock and listen to the reading of the football results on Sports Report. I would then plead with my father to let me stay up to watch Match of the Day, even though they used to show highlights from only two matches. It was the highlight of a ten year old’s week.

I still watch the occasional football match, but now it means virtually nothing.  I simply don’t care which billionaire-oligarch owned club beats which other billionaire-oligarch owned club. The players are undoubtedly supreme athletes, but they are also terrible examples as sportsmen and human beings.  I see far too much petulance, disrespect and blatant cheating for me to have any semblance of respect for modern footballers.

The reason for this change is money – the huge obscene torrent of money that has engulfed our National game and turned it from an honest working class sport into a corporate opiate to subdue and stultify the masses. It’s a colossal shame.


On Saturday there were two major national athletics events in Britain – the Indoor Grand Prix in Birmingham and the National Cross Country Championships at Parliament Hill Fields in London. Only one was televised.

The Indoor Grand Prix culminated in Mo Farah breaking Kenese Bekele’s World indoor two mile record. It was a great run from a great athlete, but somehow after the awful childish spat on Twitter this week between Mo Farah and Andy Vernon, it left me feeling slightly hollow.

I would have felt differently if Farah was slogging it out in the mud running against the best club athletes in the Country, rather than running in a race set up for TV against hand-picked competitors (probably selected by his main sponsor).  That would have been a massive encouragement to young athletes all over the country and a wonderful gift by a World Class athlete.

But although Farah has run in the Nationals before, he almost certainly never will again.  There is no money in it and his sponsor probably wouldn’t let him.

Please don’t misunderstand me.  I like Mo Farah, he is a phenomenal athlete and I think he is probably a very nice man. However, it is a shame that success in sport these days means that one seemingly has to sell one’s soul to an American corporate sponsor. Farah is not the only victim.

Andy Vernon should not have sent his first tweet.  It was terrible – churlish, childish and a bit pathetic, but for two days later to seem him castigated as somehow racist seems incredibly unfair.  I hope he gets over it and in future decides to keeps his fingers still and his mouth shut.

I thought James Fairbourn wrote a brilliant article on Eight Lane News about the whole affair:

My running week has been a little subdued, I’ve managed only 45 miles and haven’t exactly had enthusiasm coursing through me.  The mileage was down because I did neither a long run commute nor a long slow run this week, due mainly to work stuff and niggles but hopefully I’ll put that right next week.

The main focus for the week was the Snake Lane 10 mile race today. The weather forecast a few days ahead of the race was for 25 mile an hour winds and driving rain.  Thankfully, we just about dodged that bullet, but the wind was still up making the second half of the race today extremely tough.

After a poor effort at Roundhay parkrun on Saturday, I feared that I might not even beat my time of 62:30 from last year, but soon after the race started I felt OK, I  locked on to 6 minute mile pace and was controlling my breathing pretty evenly.

I reached half way in 30:04 and then we turned and hit a block headwind.  Luckily I was in a small group of four and without any words being said we formed into a cycling style paceline for about a mile, each of us taking a few seconds of wind at the front in turn.

However, the pace was slowing to around 6:20 per mile.  I felt that it was too slow, as did another runner, a lad from York Knavesmire.  We pulled away from the other two in the group and I said to him “Let’s take turns, 30 seconds each”.  To his credit, he stuck to his side of the bargain and we kept up this 30 second rotation for the next three miles into the wind, allowing us to gain gradually on the runners ahead of us.

The last two miles were undulating and along a busier road. All of a sudden I couldn’t force myself in front of him to take my turn at the front.  He pressed on, but I managed to keep him in range as we ran the final two miles back to Pocklington.

I finished in a chip time of 1 hour 1 minute and 48 seconds, about 40 seconds faster than last year, though I don’t think the wind was quite as strong this time around.  My time was OK, probably about as good as I could have run in the conditions, I was suffering aplenty in the last two miles.

So my sub 1 hour goal remains elusive. I was about 11 seconds per mile off that today, which in honesty is a lot.  I need to find some dramatic improvement if I am to beat the hour at Thirsk in a month’s time…

CM -14 weeks
Weight 11st 5.2lb
45 Miles
parkrun – Roundhay 19:31 (8th)


Be My Valentine

It would be beyond embarrassing if I confessed how long it is since I received a Valentine.  However, I am delighted to report that I have broken my streak this year.  In my dreams, my Valentine would be sent by perhaps Rachel Riley or Anna Fenninger – or at least by a woman.  The disappointing news is that my Valentine was from a 39 year old bearded Irishman – the comedian David O’Doherty:


I saw the D O’D on Friday night in Manchester with my pal Richie and he very generously bought me the CD and asked David to put a little message on it…

By the way, the show was great, he is such a lovely gentle and hilarious man.  I am getting a little tired of the abusive aggressive comedians who rely on launching a stream of expletives at people in the front row of their audience and don’t actually say many funny things.  David O’Doherty is genuinely original, slightly bonkers and fantastic to listen to.

It was a good week for the mileage log – over 70 done including my second proper long run of 20 miles – three laps of Fewston and Swinsty with JP and Nobby from the club.  This was run at a brisk 7:26 pace including a few miles at near marathon pace on the third lap.  I found this tough, but I’m glad I dug in and stuck to the task.

I was feeling a little daunted by the prospect of Comrades and to re-energise my enthusiasm during the week I read some Comrades blogs, watched Bart Yasso’s videos on YouTube about his Comrades experience and re-listened to two interviews with Bruce Fordyce on Marathon Talk.

Bruce Fordyce is a South African Ultra running legend – a nine-time winner of Comrades. His interviews are back in episodes 38 & 39 of Marathon Talk and they are very inspirational.  Unsurprisingly, he has massive enthusiasm for the race.  It was re-assuring to hear him say that you should just do normal marathon training for Comrades, maybe do a couple of longer runs, but nothing extreme is required. Hopefully I am still right on track.

I have also been reassessing my plans for the Manchester marathon.  Comrades is going to be my main focus this year.  Although I have to run Manchester in order to get my qualifying time for Comrades (which is sub 5 hours), I don’t think it would be sensible to smash myself at Manchester to run a PB.  There are only six weeks between Manchester and Comrades and a hard marathon can easily take three weeks to recover from.

It would probably be sensible to do a limited taper of 10 days to two weeks before Manchester.  I will try to run it sensibly – hopefully in around 3:05 – 3:10. A time like that should mean that I will be allocated one of the quicker starting pens at Comrades, but it won’t mean that I have to bury myself completely and will be able to pick up the training after a few easy days.

If all goes well and I complete Comrades without doing myself any damage, I hope to target a fast marathon at Berlin in late September, maybe running a PB.

After my date with David O’Doherty, I had a few pints and a curry with Richie, then we played darts in his cellar until the early hours.  This isn’t ideal preparation for a fast parkrun, but I made the start of South Manchester parkrun without too much of a hangover.

When I was a student at Manchester University in the late 1980s, I spent many happy hours playing football on Platt Fields Park with my housemates, so I love coming back to Platt Fields to run the parkrun. I always drive past our old student house in Fallowfield, and they say reminiscing isn’t what it used to be.

The course for South Manchester parkrun is brilliant – totally flat and one big lap so there are no issues with overtaking, it should be an ideal location for a PB.

I was hoping to run a time close to 18 minutes, but I didn’t quite have it. I ran strongly all the way round, but I was completely alone as the front five or six soon became very spaced out and I finished in 18:22 for fifth place.  It was disappointed with that, but I guess I have a lot of long slow miles in my legs and it was difficult to generate the requisite leg speed.  That is something that can be worked on.

Next Sunday is a target race – the Snake Lane 10 miler.  One of my ambitions this year is to beat 60 minutes for 10 miles.  If I am honest, I am probably not quite in good enough condition yet, but I’ll be giving it everything.

CM -15 weeks
Weight 11st 4.8lb
71 Miles
parkrun – South Manchester 18:22 (5th)


Are you feeling sleepy?

It is pretty much received wisdom that improvement in running performance requires three basic elements – training to overload the system, rest and then recovery during which the body adapts to the training load.

I am probably doing OK with the first element – training, but the importance of the other two was brought home to me this week.

Most of my Sundays are taken up with races, which annoyingly is the day of the week when it is most convenient for me to do a long run. Without a proper long run, it is proving hard to hit my 60 mile weekly target.

Last Sunday, I ran the Dewsbury 10K as a genuine all out race effort. I should have either had a day off on Monday or at least a very easy recovery run.

Did I? No, I ran 22 miles that day- with a 6.5 mile morning commute and a 15.5 hilly mile run home in the freezing cold. Unsurprisingly, I was very, very slow and extremely tired. I should have rested on Tuesday, or had an easy recovery day. Did I? No – I ran the Valley Striders 3 x 10 minute session, which with warm up and cool down totalled 9 miles. I was tired, slow and a little bit rubbish.

When I got home from the club session, I felt terrible – cold and shivery and despite all the running I couldn’t face eating anything. I cranked up the heating and crawled into bed, hoping that a good night’s sleep would sort me out. For about an hour I was shaking uncontrollably and despite wearing socks and a T-shirt in bed, I just couldn’t warm up.

Despite my extreme fatigue, sleep never came… I lay awake all night with that awful faint sick feeling, thinking that if I lay still I would be OK, but if I got up I would definitely be sick.

Simply, I think my body had just had enough and was going on strike for a bit. I need to plan my training better than this and I definitely must not run consecutive hard days if I can avoid it and certainly never run three hard days in row – that was just stupid.

Sleep has always been a problem for me. I’m sure those readers who are parents will curse silently under their breath and say that I don’t know the meaning of the phrase ‘lack of sleep’, and I am sure they are 100% correct.

However, throughout my life, I have never slept particularly well. I am definitely a night owl, my brain comes alive in the evenings and there is no way I can ever fall asleep much before midnight even when dog tired, so there is no point in going to bed early, I just lay awake with thoughts running around my head.

About once a month I suffer a completely sleepless night, often for no apparent reason. I will not sleep a single second, despite trying everything – reading boring books, counting sheep, herbal Nytol. On Wednesday morning, I heard Nicky Campbell on Radio5Live say that he had suffered a terrible night’s sleep and he said that it was caused by the full moon. I wonder if that could be true.

On Thursday, after a day’s rest from running and a better night’s sleep, I felt OK and I went to the University to run the second Beetroot trial. I drank my sample of beetroot juice (or placebo?) an hour before the run as before.

For whatever reason, I wasn’t as motivated this time, I still ran really hard, and I managed to beat my previous time by 6 seconds, but I should have gone at least 15 seconds faster. I don’t know why, I just didn’t have the heart to completely batter myself like last time.

Hopefully I will find out that the second sample was the real beetroot juice and therefore it meant that I ran quicker. The student promised to send me the results of the trial when it’s all done.

There was no running on Friday as I was working in London and in the evening I attended a charity event for StreetChild for the Ebola orpans (there are over 30,000 children orphaned by Ebola in West Africa). A special one-off edition of Jack Whitehall’s Backchat show at the stunning Cadogan Hall in Chelsea. It featured a multifarious panel of guests – his dad, impressionist Alistair MacGowan, the BBC political Editor Nick Robinson, actress Patricia Hodge and a young Brummie comedian whose name I forget. I really enjoyed the show, but it finished quite early, so my mate Tim took me drinking in some of the swankier joints around Sloane Square.

As I walked into the first bar, I felt like I was in the bar scene in Star Wars – it was so totally alien to me – full of beautiful uber-rich vacuous poseurs. And that was just the blokes.

I could probably run a 10K race in less time than most of those fellas took to wax their eyebrows each day. I didn’t like it much so we soon left.

Eventually, we found some slightly more human places on Pimlico Road and we enjoyed a beautiful fish dinner washed down with a couple of bottles of lovely crisp white wine. We got a midnight train back to Tim’s house in Woking.

On Saturday morning, I had a crack at Woking parkrun. After another largely sleepless night and with the edge of a hangover, I wasn’t exactly in A1 shape. Although the course looked flat and potentially quite fast on the parkrun website, it was in reality extremely tight and twisty with a 400 metre woodland section which was ankle deep in mud. Unfortunately, I was wearing my gleaming white Brooks road shoes and by the end they were absolutely acky black.

I managed to run round in 19:16, finishing fourth, all things considered that wasn’t too bad. Tim is going to run the Berlin marathon with me in September and clearly he has some training to do – he managed just two miles of the parkrun before pulling up…

I was back in Leeds on Sunday for the 4th race in the Peco cross country league. In the first three races I have finished 88th, 88th and 65th. I quite fancied the race on Sunday and decided to employ a more aggressive approach. Rather than starting steadily and picking my way through the field, I went off hard, running the first mile in well under 6 minutes. Although I was gasping hard all the way around, and was running with the choke out, I got competitive and raced hard most of the way, eventually finishing in 40th position. If my teammate Ross hadn’t overtaken me near the end, I would have actually scored for my team for the first time ever (the first 8 score). Overall I was pleased with my run on a beautiful sunny winter’s day.

Hopefully, I will pick up the mileage next week – next Sunday is a rare race free weekend, so I plan to do a proper long run of 20+ miles with some pals from the club.

CM -16 weeks
Weight 11st 2.6lb
51 Miles
parkrun – Woking 19:16(4th)


A Day at the Races

As planned, I had a much easier week.  After two higher mileage weeks, I wanted to ease back and give myself a chance to recover a little.

I still ran a 20 mile day on Wednesday by run commuting to and from work.  This included a dark, cold 14 mile slog on the way home, with the first 8 miles run into a freezing headwind, interspersed with bouts of driving snow and hailstones at my face. Apart from that it was a lovely run.

I had a big black tie event to attend on Thursday night, hosting two tables of customers and bigwigs from London, so Thursday and Friday were written off running wise. I wanted to run an easy parkrun on Saturday, but as there was still some ice on the ground and a bitter cold wind, I missed it and had a gentle mid-morning jog around the village instead.

The easy week served as a bit of a taper for a tilt at the Dewsbury 10K this morning. I like to set myself a mental target for most races I do.  However, I didn’t really know what I was capable of today.  It’s been ages since I did a road race with a number pinned on and I didn’t run particularly well at the Northern cross country last weekend, so I wasn’t feeling very confident about my condition.

Mentally, I set 37 minutes as my goal before the start.  However, when I arrived in Dewsbury with a couple of teammates, we were soon aware of the piercing and cold northerly wind as we parked up.

The route is an out and back, running pretty much South to North and slightly uphill for the first 5k, so I knew the first half would be a slog.

A 37 minute 10K requires an average pace of 3:42 per km. My first 4 kms were 3:36, 3:49, 3:54 and 3:59 and it felt tough.  I was trying to seek out and big bloke to settle in behind and shelter from the wind, but no suitable candidates appeared.

Although I was running hard, pretty much at my threshold, perhaps mentally I was holding back knowing that once I got to the turnaround it would feel a lot easier coming home.

So it proved. I turned at 5K in 19:23 and immediately felt the joyous double whammy of the wind at my back and a gentle downhill gradient. I gave myself a kick up the arse and I decided to ignore the watch and start racing a few fellow competitors.

I could sense the huge improvement in speed as I increased my stride cadence and started picking off runners, steadily bridging from runner to runner and from one little group to the next.  The kilometre splits were now a lot more respectable – 3:29, 3:28 then 3:33.  I spotted Valley Strider teammate John up ahead and I knew I was gradually reeling him in. Seeing him gave me a welcome visual incentive as I started to feel the pace.

I passed John at about 8.5ks and he gave me a nice word of encouragement, so I pushed on to finish in 37:05.  The second 5K was covered in 17:42 – which would be a lifetime PB for a standalone 5K race.

I know it’s good to run a negative split, but a 19:23 / 17.42 10K is perhaps pushing this a little too far and maybe I should have gone a little harder in the first half.  Overall I was pleased with my effort and I really enjoyed the sensation of running the second half so quickly.  If only all races were downhill with the wind at your back.

Lots of Striders ran and there were many great performances including some huge PBs, so perhaps I am using the wind as too much of an excuse.

Back to heavy training now – hopefully I’ll do at least 60 miles per week for the next two weeks, although I have the second part of the beetroot treadmill trial at the University to run towards the end of the week and I ought to mini-taper for it  as I did for the first effort.

CM -17 weeks
Weight 11st 5.6lb
40 Miles
parkrun – none