Why we run

Do you remember Eddie Izzard’s amazing feat back in 2009 when he ran 43 marathons in 51 days?  He was a 47 year old man who did very little prior training and did not have much of a history as a runner.

He wasn’t particularly fast – his first few marathons took around 10 hours.  Towards the end of the adventure he had cut this time in half – still not swift, but still an extraordinary feat of determination and persistence.

I was fascinated watching him on television and one answer he gave to an interviewer’s question really struck home to me.

When asked why he did it, he answered that running is basically what makes us human – we evolved and developed as a species largely because of our ability to run long distances.  He felt that running connects us with our ancestors, take us back to experience the core of our nature as an animal on this planet.

Around the same time Eddie was running all around the country, there was an excellent BBC television series called ‘The Incredible Human Journey’. It was presented by the brilliant (and rather lovely) paleoanthropologist Dr Alice Roberts. She agreed with Eddie’s theory and had scientific evidence to support it.

The series traced the whole history of the modern human species and how they gradually spread and eventually populated most of the planet.

Modern Humans, specifically Homo sapiens sapiens – are a very young species – only around 200,000 years old.

Carl Sagan brilliantly explained just how young the human species is with his theory of the Cosmic Calendar shown on his TV series ‘Cosmos’. He compared the age of the Universe – approximately 13.8 billion years – to a single year on Earth. Imagine that The Big Bang happened on the stroke of midnight, 1st January.

Using this analogy, the Sun and most planets were not even created until 31st August. The oldest known rocks on Earth formed around the middle of September.

Life, in any form, would not appear until early December, and that would only comprise simple bacteria and microscopic life. The first mammals were seen on Boxing Day.

Dinosaurs were wiped out around breakfast time on December 30th.  The first human-like hominid species appeared at 10:30 pm on New Year’s Eve and modern homo sapiens only appear at about 8 seconds to midnight on December 31st.

Is it just me that finds that absolutely mind-blowing?

Using mitochondrial DNA samples, Dr Alice traced the history of all modern humans back to Africa, specifically to the East African Great Rift Valley.  You, me and every one that has ever lived is related to a small band of human hunter gatherers that lived in Kenya around 200,000 years ago – almost certainly we are all descended from a single African woman.

One of the main reasons those early humans succeeded and prospered in East Africa is because they were excellent long distance runners, an ability that was widely utilised in hunting.

Of course, many animals can run faster than humans over short distances, but very few animals can outrun a human over long distances and animals like antelope were hunted by pursuing them to exhaustion, so that they could be captured and killed.

Quite simply, if humans were not good at running long distances, none of us would be here.

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I had hoped to have a huge mileage week, given that I am now just three weeks away from the Manchester marathon.  Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way.

After a good start to the week, with around 40 miles run by Wednesday, I developed a problem with my little toe on my right foot.  I always get really hard pads of skin forming under each little toe, and in addition I got a large blister which formed underneath the hard pad of skin on my right little toe.  After the blister burst, it all got very manky and painful. Because it was right under my little toe, I found normal walking very awkward and painful.  I must have altered my gait to try to avoid putting any weight on my toe, and this caused me to mildly strain my calf.

I was working away at a strategy conference on Thursday and Friday, so running was off the agenda in any case.  Back in Leeds on Friday evening, I put on my trainers, but only made it to the end of the street before turning back because my toe pain was still excruciating.  It was still too bad to run on Saturday, so I missed parkrun this week.

Felling fat and unfit, I did a steady 7.5 miles on Sunday morning, but didn’t think it would be wise to run a proper long run.

Three weeks out from a marathon is the perfect time for the last long run, so I will try to fit that in tomorrow, either before work (Gulp – I am not a morning person!) or probably more likely, after work, which will be easier now that the clocks have gone forward.

Following my run in the Locke Park 20 two weeks ago, I was delighted to receive a £25 Start Fitness voucher in the post for running one of the top 25 age-graded times. I have already spent this on a new pair of Hokas – this time Rapa Nuis, which were on special offer at about £70. Provided that I take to them, I will probably use these as my Comrades shoe.  I wore them for my run today and they felt good.

CM -9 weeks (MM -3 weeks)
Weight 11st 5.6lb
50 Miles
parkrun – None

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Only a Number?

 

Behavioural economics teaches us that humans naturally place excessive significance on certain numbers.

This week, the fact that the FTSE 100 index broke through 7000 for the first time ever made the National News.

Companies set prices to certain levels to make us feel better about our purchasing decisions – £9.99 feels much cheaper than £10.

Back in 1954 the whole World was captivated when Roger Bannister ran the first ever sub 4 minute mile.

The psychologists describe this unwarranted emphasis on arbitrary values as ‘anchoring’.  As humans we can’t seem to avoid these mental anchors and they are often used against us in advertising.

The same anchoring effect often appears to operate in sport – a 10K run in 39:59 seems so much better than one run in 40:00 flat, yet the slower time is 99.958% as good as the quicker time

Being a bit of a numbers geek, I sometime refer to an online race-time predictor on Running for Fitness: http://www.runningforfitness.org/calc/racepaces/rp

Putting in my 10K PB of 36:21 from last year’s Leeds Abbey Dash gave a tempting prediction for a ten mile race:

10 miletime

1 hour and 1 second!  When I saw that, I instantly made my 2015 target to be a sub 1 hour run for 10 miles.  I missed it by nearly two minutes at Snake Lane a month ago. However, that was on a very windy day and on a slightly undulating course.

I was delighted when I realised that it was a beautiful early spring day for the Thirsk 10 today – a flat fast course, with only a light breeze and a temperature of around 10 degrees.  If I didn’t do it today, I probably never would.

Having had an easier week for mileage, I decided to go to York parkrun on Saturday to see if I could run a fast parkrun.  I enjoy a pipe-cleaning run before a big race. The course there is very flat, but unfortunately there was a rare old Northerly blowing and as soon as I arrived I realised that there wouldn’t be any fast times.

The course is one and a half laps of the Knavesmire, and the Northerly meant there would be two miles into the wind, with only about a mile of a tailwind.

I ran really hard and got into a bit of a race with a few guys, but could only manage a disappointing time of 18:41 for 5th place, however running dead into the wind felt like running up the cellar steps…

For the Thirsk 10, I prepared myself by investing £2.98 at Morrisons in a fresh carton of Organic Beetroot juice (a serious investment for a fundamentalist Yorkshireman – where do they get those prices?) and wore my newish Asiscs 33 Gel shoes – not quite pure racing flats, but very light and definitely more of a racing shoe than a trainer.

There were quite a few of my Strider team-mates in the field and we had a good chat before being walked over to the start.

I knew that to have any chance of achieving my goal, I had to execute a very good race. Sub 60 was right at the edge of my capability, so I couldn’t afford any pacing mistakes. I made sure I was near the front row of the starting pack.

Luckily, I was on a going day.  The first few miles felt comfortable and I ran them in 5:46, 5:54 and 5:56.  My head voice started to nag me – “You are going too fast, you idiot, don’t blow it!”.

I listened to him for a change and just eased off slightly.  Thankfully, I was in a good bunch of about 6 or 7, all of whom were no doubt aiming for a similar time to me.  Rather than pushing the pace, I dropped to the back of the group to take maximum shelter.  “Let them take the wind, do your running in the last two miles” I said to myself.  A bit selfish maybe, but I was going to need all the help I could muster.

I got to half way in 29:40 and passed 10K in just under 37 minutes – still nicely on target.

At 6.5 miles the course went up a side road for a mile, with a turnaround to come back down the same road.  My group was fracturing with a few falling off the pace, so I got behind the strongest lad in the bunch and told myself to just follow him for as long as possible.

The leader passed us coming back down the road – he was miles clear of second – I later found out he was Jonathan Taylor of Morpeth and he ran 48:45 – a brilliant time – the guy in second ran 52:21.

As I took the turnaround I was really feeling the pace, there was just over 2 miles to go and my mind went back to last year when Tom Williams caught me and we had a rare old battle to the finish (he won!).  That was really painful and I knew I was in for some suffering again.

I’m a firm believer that moments like this in a race are a simple test of how much you want it, how much you are prepared to hurt yourself. I tried to turn my inner voice positive – “You are going to do this”, “You deserve this”, “You will not give in” and other similar assertions.

At 9 miles I realised I had to run a 6:15 final mile or better – that should be doable, but man I was firmly in the hurt locker. “Come on you lazy sod, do not ruin this now!”.

I tried racing the other guys, one or two came past me, most were gasping desperately, just as I was, oh, this was going to be close.:

Thirsk 2015

Officially the whitest legs in Yorkshire…

I saw the welcome sight of the racecourse stands and I could see the final left turn up ahead as my watch registered 59 minutes – I can run that bit in under a minute – can’t I?  It was head down and fire the burners time and I crossed the finish line in a gun time of 59:50 – 59:46 on my watch – Thank God for that!

Cue a full foster collapse onto the tarmac apron of the racecourse and a few minutes of gasping until the breathing and heart rate came back to Earth!

I was knackered but really pleased that I had executed a good race and achieved my goal:

 Thirsk Splits

As a lovely bonus after the race, my team-mate Jerry wrote that I had won a trophy for finishing third MV45 in the Yorkshire Vets Championships. I’m not certain if that’s right as I appear to be 5th in the results, but maybe some of those above me were not eligible, who knows.

It was clearly a fast day, lots of runners ran a PB, including many of my team-mates:

VS Thirsk

I really need to turn my mind onto Comrades now, which is just ten weeks away.  I’m hoping for a big mileage week next week, then an ease down into Manchester.  I’m running the Salford 10K on Good Friday and as that is another fast course, I will give that a go.  However, I probably should slow down a bit a start running longer, and start running more hills.

CM -10 weeks (MM -4 weeks)
Weight 11st 2.8lb
40 Miles
parkrun – York 18:41 (5th)

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The Hardest Mile?

A mile up a steep hill? The last mile of a marathon?  A one mile track race? No, the hardest mile is the first mile you ever run.

Sometimes we seasoned runners forget how difficult running a mile is for somebody who is not fit, not trained and not used to physical exertion.  I’ve been told by a very reliable source that only 4% of the UK adult population are even able to run a mile without stopping, be it in 6 minutes or 12 minutes. So runners are rare.

My highlight of the week was seeing my sister finish Woodhouse Moor parkrun, sprinting strongly to the finish, having run every metre of the 5 kilometre course without stopping. She started running only in January and after 10 weeks of training, guided and encouraged by the best mentor and coach that anyone could wish for, Hannah Corne, she crossed the line beaming.  Way to go Sis!

I had a cold mid-week. It was nothing serious – mainly just a runny nose, so my mileage was down.  It probably helped me in that it acted as a bit of a taper for the Locke Park 20 mile race today in Redcar.  This was a super event, really well staged by New Marske Harriers.

The course was 20 laps of a one mile circuit of the park.  I’m pretty pleased with my pacing:

 Locke Park

The Garmin couldn’t cope too well with the lapped course, and my overall average pace was actually around 6:38 per mile.  The flat nature of the course (total elevation 21 feet!) made consistent pacing much easier.  I ran a little harder than I originally intended, but it was only in the last 4 or so laps that I felt I was having to dig in.

Sorry, just a short update this week, no time for any musings on life. It’s the Thirsk 10 next Sunday – now I will be giving that one everything…

 

CM – 11 weeks (MM -5 weeks)
Weight 11st 0.6lb
54 Miles
parkrun – Woodhouse Moor 19:44 (26th)

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Spring is Sprung…

The crocuses are out, there was warmth in the air this week and all was OK with the World.  Next week is the wonderful Cheltenham Festival, for me the official start of the fun part of the year (I’ll be there on Friday for the Gold Cup).

I have broken my PB for most miles run in a week – I exceeded 80 miles for the first time ever.  This was despite a long two day business trip to Scotland on Tuesday and Wednesday which limited my running opportunities.

I was staying in Glasgow on Tuesday evening and I researched some running routes before I set off.  There was a perfect looking route along the Clyde path just metres from my hotel so I got up early on Wednesday morning, aiming to get in an hour of running before heading off to my meeting in Edinburgh.

That was all fine, but for one major flaw – I had forgotten to pack my shorts!  Doh! With no Sports Direct stores open at such an early hour that was the end of that.

After the long drive back from Edinburgh, I went down to the canal towpath in Leeds for a solo speed session of 5 x 1K.  This is one of my favourite sessions and I know that if I can do all the 1K reps in around 3:35 then I am in fairly good fettle.  I ran 3:26, 3:29, 3:35, 3:39 and 3:46. In common with many speed sessions, I ran the first two reps a little too hard, but the last two were uphill (there are canal locks to negotiate) and into the wind, so overall not too bad.

I ran commuted to work on Thursday and was brought back down to Earth. As is my custom these days, I planned to run a longer route for the homeward leg – maybe 15 miles; however, I soon realised that I was struggling and after about 7 miles whilst on the canal, I decided to head for home.  Unfortunately that involved 6 miles of near constant climbing and by ten miles I was gone, I’d hit the wall, was totally knackered, stuck in Bonksville Arizona and it was down the death shuffle for the last three miles.  My last mile took me over 10 minutes.

By Saturday I had recovered enough to have a go at a flat-out parkrun.  I hadn’t been to my home parkrun at Woodhouse Moor (neé Leeds) since mid-January and I had missed it.  A lovely early spring day was encouraging so after a proper warm up I bombed from the start, covering the first (mainly downhill) kilometre in 3:20.  I felt good and was helped by two younger lads getting on my shoulder and we had a proper race for virtually the whole way around.  I would put in a surge to try to shake them off, they would respond and then do the same to me.  I stuck with them until about 500m from the end, and was pleased to finish 5th in 18:06.

It may be a coincidence, but I checked back on my progress last year, and on the exact same weekend, I ran the same parkrun in 18:05.  So clearly I am in similar shape.

I did a proper long run around the reservoirs on Sunday morning – 24.6 miles.  John from Valley Striders joined me for the first 13 miles (two laps) and as he headed off I felt good so decided to run at least 24 miles.  I did struggle a bit towards the end, but I wasn’t really concerned with my pace, it was just good to be out for well over 3 hours.

That will be my longest run pre-Manchester I think, but I may try to stick in a 30 mile run between Manchester and Comrades, we’ll see.

The key to upping the mileage for me is running twice a day, but I have been careful to take at least one of the runs at true recovery pace – i.e. 8:30+ miling, basically jogging – not the 7:10 pace that some of the younger members of my club appear to class as ‘recovery’ pace on Strava (you know who you are!).

Next Sunday is my pre-marathon 20 mile race – the Locke Park 20 – which is twenty times around a 1 mile loop.  That will be a novel experience.  It won’t be a hard race for me, just a training run with some marathon pace miles in there at some point.  The following week, I will be gunning it at the Thirsk 10 mile race to see if I can get close to the hour.

 

CM – 12 weeks (MM -6 weeks)
Weight 11st 3.4lb
82 Miles
parkrun – Woodhouse Moor 18:06 (5th)

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The Hard Yards

I’m tired. That isn’t a surprising statement because I have run the highest mileage week of the campaign thus far – 72 miles. For the first time I tried running big mileage days back to back with 20 miles on Wednesday and then 21.5 miles on Thursday.

I’m tired but fairly happy with my progress.  If I am honest, the marathon training this year has felt more of a slog than last year.  I’m much more aware of the need to grind out a volume of miles so that I have plenty in the bank before Comrades. Consequently, the running has felt somewhat sluggish and I wasn’t sure whether I was making much progress.

However, I felt there was a breakthrough this week.  After the Snake Lane 10 mile race last Sunday, I did two very gentle recovery runs at 8:30 miling on Monday and a full day in London with work on Tuesday meant that I didn’t run at all.

On the train back from the Smoke, I had planned to get home and put my trainers on as soon as I got in; but by the time I arrived home it was gone 8:30 pm, I was knackered and I just C.B.A. (Couldn’t be A**ed).

As a bit of a rebuke to myself, I resolved to run a 20 mile round trip for a run commute on Wednesday. I’m not at my best on a morning so the first 6.5 mile leg was a bit of a shuffle, but as I set off for the evening homeward run I realised that I felt good.

Every so often, one sets off for a run and it feels unusually easier than normal, the feet appear to land more lightly on the pavement, the breathing is relaxed and effortless and that was how I felt on Wednesday.  It was brilliant.

With a spring in my step, I bounded up the first few uphill miles at 7:20 pace rather than the normal 8:30 and I managed an overall pace of 7:30 for the 13.5 miles, which is pretty good as it included a thousand feet of ascending.

On Thursday, some mates from Valley Striders planned an afternoon run of 20 miles+.  I pulled in a few favours at work so I could secure a last-minute afternoon off.  I was running with Gary and two of the strongest ladies at our club, Myra and Hannah.

I felt OK for the first few miles as we meandered around the pleasant North Leeds suburbs and then wended our way down to the newly refurbished Leeds-Liverpool canal towpath. However, as we hit Leeds city centre at near rush hour, my legs started feeling dreadfully heavy.

After 18 miles I was struggling, though it really helped to be running with a group.  Running solo, I might have tossed in the towel, but I stuck to it and I shuffled up the final two uphill miles, right at the back, with Hannah towing me home.  I was completely shattered at the end, but pleased to have run 21.5 miles, making a total of 42 miles in two days.

I had a much needed rest day on Friday, and was out in Manchester on Friday night at a Sportsmans’ dinner, staying over at my mate Richie’s again.  I managed to keep the alcohol consumption to a sensible volume, but didn’t get much sleep after another late night darts match in the cellar.

At 9 a.m. on Saturday morning I was back in my old student stomping ground of Fallowfield in Manchester for the South Manchester parkrun.  I love the course there, it is fast and flat, but it has one major drawback – after rain, it gets flooded very quickly.  Unfortunately, it rains a lot in Manchester.

There weren’t many puddles on the course, but there were a few small lakes – some 10 metres or more across that you could not avoid.  My feet were completely drenched within the first kilometre and it made for a soggy and squishy run.

As I passed the 4K mark I was in a group of three, then another guy cruised past me and I was blowing hard. The last 400 metres of the course are back on a wide tarmac path around the boating lake.  I got it in my head that I would outsprint my three adversaries, whatever it took.  As we hit the path I fired the burners and managed to overtake them all comfortably, finishing in 18:22 for 12th place.

On Sunday, we had the finale of the Peco Cross country league – a 4.5 mile race in Roundhay Park Leeds. As Leodiensians everywhere will know, Roundhay Park is Yorkshire flat – i.e. hilly as hell and the race had a sting in the tail with a run up the notorious Hill 60, one of the primary sledging hills in Leeds.

After such a heavy mileage week, I just didn’t have it today.  Chaos at the start meant that I set off well back in the huge field and had to spend the first two miles trying to establish something like my proper position in the field.  The final climb up Hill 60 was made even tougher by a piercing headwind and about half way up I realised that I was almost at a standstill, taking tiny steps and barely moving forwards.  The results aren’t out yet, but I imagine that I finished quite a long way down from my 40th place in the previous race.

Just before writing this week’s blog, I gently gloated to my friend Hannah on Strava that I had run 0.3 miles further than her this week.  She’s had the last laugh by putting on her trainers and running around the block for an extra 0.6 miles – which made me smile.  That is one competitive lady!

I think I will struggle to record a similar mileage next week – I have a two day business trip to Scotland on Tuesday and Wednesday and I won’t be able fit any running in on those days.

 

 

CM – 13 weeks (MM -7 weeks)
Weight 11st 5.4lb
72 Miles
parkrun – South Manchester 18:22 (12th)

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