A little iron in my soul…

Mercifully, my legs weren’t too trashed after last Sunday’s marathon.  I was able to go for a gentle 7 mile recovery run on Monday lunchtime and by Thursday they felt almost normal.

I was helped by a long sports massage on Tuesday. I’ve not often invested in massages in the past, mainly through my aversion to unnecessary cost, but undoubtedly they are a very good idea for tired legs and I’ll have a couple more before the big day.

I got great value as the masseur worked mainly on my quads for nearly 90 minutes, not bad when the session was only supposed to be an hour.  He was a keen sports scientist as well and we had a great chat about sports nutrition.

I have never been one to follow pre-written training plans.  However, I have decided to try to follow the last six weeks of the training plan on the Comrades website. I have printed it off and blu-tacked it to my kitchen cupboard, ticking off each day as I complete them.

Although I feel I have enough experience to muddle through marathon training, I’m an ultra virgin, so I thought I had better follow someone else’s advice.

One word seems to appear alarmingly frequently in the Comrades plan – “hills”. I have obviously heard that Comrades is hilly, but I hadn’t really appreciated just how much ascent there is.  There’s nearly 2,000 metres of vertical ascent during the up run. Oh shit. The first 23 miles are basically all uphill, then it undulates for about 25 miles then there are two nasty hills near the end, the infamous Little Polly’s and then the mother of them all – Polly Shortt’s herself, just 7K from the finish.

The plan calls for double long runs on the next three weekends.  This weekend was a simple matter of a 2 hour run on Saturday, followed by a minimum three and hour half hour hilly run on Sunday.

Saturday’s instalment was an easy 7 mile jog down to parkrun, a couple of laps to kill time before the start; a steady parkrun then a jog home for 18 miles in total.

Aside from running a hilly route, I figured that I needed to start training my mind to accept that I will be running for many hours – the Comrades experience will be a mental and a physical challenge. I also needed to practice running much more slowly, more around my likely Comrades pace and to rehearse taking regular walk breaks.

Although I would normally venture out for my long runs early on a Sunday morning, this week I had three good reasons to delay it until the afternoon – one, I had been to a wedding ‘night do’ on Saturday and had perhaps imbibed one more pint of Theakstons than I should have; two, I wanted to eat a massive breakfast to fuel up before the run; but mainly I wanted to watch the London marathon and track the progress of my teammates and other pals in the race.

I had the excellent VMLM tracker app set up on the iPad I was nervously waiting for each 5K split to come through from the ten or so mates that I was tracking.  As expected, there was a mixture of good performances and some disappointments and I felt my heart sink a little as I saw one or two of my mates clearly feeling it as their 5K splits got slower in the latter part of the race.

Struggling at the end of a marathon is an awful place to be, I’ve been there too many times myself, in that horrible hurt locker just willing for it to finish.

By 1.30pm I struck out on my long run. Realising that I would have lots and lots of time with just my own thoughts, I thought I would take the mp3 player and treat myself to some old classic albums that I hadn’t listened too in ages.

I hardly ever run with music, though I do often listen to podcasts, but I thought listening to albums in full may help to pass a few hours before the legs started to really feel it.

People hardly ever listen to full albums these days and it was great to lose myself in  ‘Grace’ by Jeff Buckley, ‘The Division Bell’ by Pink Floyd and the ‘Hounds of Love’ by Kate Bush as I ground out the miles.

I decided on running a nine mile loop – down the hill to Pool, along the Pool-Otley bottom road and then the long two and half mile climb back to Bramhope, including the top half of Old Pool Bank which is genuinely steep. Doing loops meant that I didn’t need to carry much, just a gel and a fiver for the shop in case I got desperate for a drink.  I took a three minute pitstop at the end of each lap for drinks and nutrition.

I ran very slowly, well over eight minutes per mile and then even slower for the climb back to the village. I took a one minute walk break every five miles and walked the steepest 100m section of Old Pool Bank on each lap. This wasn’t at all about speed, it was primarily to find out if I had the requisite iron in my soul to be an ultra runner.

I resolved to run a minimum of the marathon distance, but hopefully a little bit further. Thankfully, although my legs got progressively heavier and I did slow a little on the third lap, I never bonked and I felt OK to run an extra loop around the Chevin Forest at the end to make it a round 30 miles in total – easily the longest single run of my life and my first ever ‘ultra’ training run. It took me 4 hours and 19 minutes average pace of 8:39 miling.

With at least 8 miles of dead uphill running, I was anxious to see how much ascent I had run.

My heart sank when I read the Strava record – only 2,177 feet or 663 metres of ascent – less than a third of what I will have to run at Comrades. In other words, I’d run over half the race distance for Comrades, but even on a local hilly run, had done only 30% of the climbing. Comrades is going to be tough!

However, I was quite pleased with how I coped with a 30 mile run.  The key is undoubtedly to run very slowly, the walk breaks help, and it is essential to keep shovelling in the food.  At the end of each lap, I had 500ml of high carb sports drink, a banana and a Chia Charge bar. I also had a couple of gels on the run and stopped at a garage after 24 miles for a bar of chocolate and a drink of Coke.

When I eventually got home I reached into the little pocket at the back of my shorts for my front door key.  To my absolute horror, the zip was open and the key wasn’t there! Shit!  I must have opened the zip to take out the fiver for my chocolate and drink and had forgotten to zip it shut. What a muppet, I was so furious with myself, it’s just not like me to make such a stupid error. I did manage to get into my house through the back, but the lost key was my only front door key…

Amazingly, my sister then phoned – a young lady had found my key on Otley Chevin and had phoned the ICE number (in case of emergency) that was printed on my little plastic parkrun barcode that was on the key ring.

How kind of her to take the trouble to phone, I took her a couple of bottles of wine as a thank you when I picked up the key later. It’s not true what they say about young people. Most are thoroughly decent citizens.

Next week the training plan calls for another double long run, including the longest training run of all – 34 miles! I’m going to do that on the canal from Skipton to Leeds on either Sunday or Bank Holiday Monday (Sunday is the final day of the Tour de Yorkshire). If anyone fancies joining me perhaps for the last ten miles then I would love your company, it gets pretty lonely being a long distance runner.

CM -5 weeks
Weight 11st 3.4lb
89.4 Miles
parkrun – Woodhouse Moor  22:15 (77th)

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2015 Manchester Marathon

Dear readers – today was a good day I’m pleased to report. I achieved all my goals at the Manchester marathon – that was to go out steady, run a strong negative split and duck under 3 hours.  And as a wee Brucie bonus, I even bagged myself a PB into the bargain.

I travelled over to Manchester with two teammates from Valley Striders, Andy P and Gwil.  It was fun to have a good chat on the drive over and we arrived in plenty of time to park up, queue for the loos and then drop our bags.

I was in the front pen and the Valley Striders merged together in a little team near the front, nervously discussing standard runners’ topics – i.e. targets and injuries.

I was determined to run easily for the first twenty miles and then reassess. During the first few boring miles up and around the Trafford Park Industrial sprawl, I found myself stuck in the throng behind the 3 hour pacer.  Feeling a little claustrophobic, I skirted out to the side of the road and ran a couple of quicker miles in order to get ahead of that group.

I settled nicely into a 6:45 – 6:50 rhythm and just started to knock off the miles, feeling like I was really holding back.

Bizarrely, during the miles in the first half, I was infected by an earworm that I was playing over and over to myself in my head, “No Church in the Wild” by Phil Manzanera:

What an insanely catchy riff! I must learn that on guitar. The rhythm seemed perfect and acted as a metronome as I churned out the miles.

I ran quite a few miles with a lad called James from New Marske. He remembered me from the Locke Park 20. It was his first marathon and he was hoping for a sub 3. I tried to pass on my wisdom about conservative pacing and staying very controlled until well past 20 miles. It was nice to pass a few miles chatting.  Unfortunately, I had to let him go at 10 miles as I was bursting for a pee, so I dived off behind a hedge.

In Altrincham, approaching halfway, I started to see the speedier Valley Striders coming past me in the opposite direction – Andy M, Gwil then Jon P. I did my best to shout encouragement across to them.

The halfway loop around Altrincham centre was brilliant – massive crowds, several bands and a children’s choir. A great boost.

I went through the halfway point in 1:28.45 – around 45 seconds quicker than I had planned, but I felt great, I knew I still had lots in the tank.

I kept the pace consistent back through Timperley, tipping a nod to the statue of Frank Sidebottom as I passed, and then back into Sale.

Frank sidebottom

This photo was taken around 15 miles I think (thanks to Andy Wicks):

JDT MCR 2015

Gradually the field was thinning out, I was steadily passing lots of runners. I caught up James from New Marske again – he was starting to feel it, he said his ankle was troublesome, but he was digging in.  I pressed on and I went through 20 miles in 2:14.26, still feeling good.

I decided to squeeze the accelerator a little – I was quite enjoying passing people to be honest. My fastest mile of the whole race was mile 21 – a 6:33 and I tried to keep on running positively, without tipping myself into the red.

Through Urmston and with only a parkrun to go, we hit quite a strong breeze into our faces, this checked my pace back to 6:45 – 6:55 for the final few miles, but I was happy to cross the line in a chip time of 2:56:02 for a 30 second PB.

Pleasingly, I had run a 1:28:45 / 1:27:17 negative split:

https://connect.garmin.com/activity/750823013

After a couple of slightly shaky steps in the finish area, I was relieved to know that I was still walking fine and had no problem in picking up all the finishing gubbins and retrieved my bag from the bag drop.

My teammates had had a mixed day – one had to DNF through injury, but many had run really strongly and I was delighted to learn that Andy P had smashed his PB and earned a GFA place for London with a 3:16 – a brilliant run.

Training partner Nobby also had a brilliant run and joined the sub 3 club with a 2:58, a fantastic effort. His perfect day was capped off with Villa winning the FA cup semi-final.

I checked the results tonight and saw that James from New Marske finished in 2:59:58 – wow! Not bad for a first marathon.

So, all in all, a great day. I maybe ran a tad faster than I intended, but what the heck, I was enjoying a great day out and I’m pretty sure I will be able to get back into something like normal training after a couple of recovery days.

The countdown to Comrades has started!

CM -6 weeks (MM D-Day!)
Weight 11st 3.4lb
54 Miles
parkrun – Woodhouse Moor 21:39 (53rd)

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Comrades is looming…

It’s strange, but as the Manchester marathon approaches, the more I find myself thinking about Comrades.

Manchester is a comfortable old friend. I will be running the course for the third time in successive years; also I have lived in Manchester for 10 years of my adult life, so it’s a city I know well. Although I respect any marathon race, the Manchester course holds no surprises or fears.

Comrades, on the other hand – well, where do I start? I have never run any Ultra before, let alone a 54 mile one, let alone a hilly one, let alone one in a hot foreign country…Oh boy, what am I doing?

This week I listened back to Episode 73 of Marathon Talk. This was the Comrades special from 2011 when presenters Tom Williams and Martin Yelling ran the race in an up year.

I can’t say that listening to this podcast was inspiring – the boys had a very tough day out and eventually finished in 10:48. It was slightly scary listening to them recounting their experience of the race.  Both are very accustomed runners and Ironmen triathletes and both said it was off the scale in terms of the hardest thing they have ever done. Gulp.

I’m glad I listened back because they gave some top tips for Comrades – from not having to queue up at the Expo if you are an international runner, to taking lots of painkillers with you in the race (apparently you could make a lot of money by doing a bit of drug dealing on Polly Shortts!)

I am tapering a bit for the Manchester race, but the closer I get the more I realise that I cannot afford to completely smash myself at Manchester.

I think I am in better shape than last year (when I ran 2:56.32).  I have broken my 10K, 10 mile and 20 mile PBs during in the past month and have run a higher training mileage than last year – about 6 miles a week more on average.

If pressed, and without sandbagging, I think I could possibly run something like a 2:53 or 2:54 next Sunday, given good conditions.  However, that would ruin my legs for at least 2 weeks and I don’t really have the time available to do that.

I need to fit in a couple of runs of about 30 miles between Manchester and Comrades, ideally including some hills.  I also need to allow at least three weeks for a proper taper before Comrades.

So the plan for next Sunday is:

  1. Run very conservatively in the first half – aim for 1:29.30 which should feel comfortable.
  2. Run a negative split in order to have a positive experience
  3. Run a time under 3 hours which should get me into the A pen at Comrades.

In the past I have said to teammates that I am not treating a particular race as a serious effort. That was never really true.  Once I see those four little safety pins and attach a number to my vest then I automatically switch into race mode.  Running below optimal pace in a race just seems pointless, after all, then it’s not a race is it?

However, next week I MUST calm myself and try to remember that Comrades is my goal this year.

I was both disappointed and relieved to hear that Tom Williams won’t be on the start line for Comrades this year.  Disappointed because it would have been great to run the same race as him but relieved because I know that he is just not in the kind of shape to do himself justice. Sometimes it’s a brave thing to DNS, especially when you are as high profile as he is. Last year he was flying, he whupped me in both the Thirsk 10 and the Manchester marathon. He will get that form back, I know.

Having read up on some Comrades training plans, the main thing I learned was that I should be doing back to back long run days on weekends – something like 20 miles on a Saturday and then 25 (or more) miles on Sunday.  This is obviously really tough, so I think I will only attempt that once or twice.

My idea at the moment is to run to Woodhouse Moor parkrun from home on Saturday morning – about 7 miles, run the parkrun and then jog home for about 18 miles.  Then on Sunday I will get a train from Leeds to Skipton and run back to Leeds along the canal – that is 29 miles. I should try to include a few loops off the canal to add some hills and to get to a shop to buy some supplies along the way.

Hopefully,  I will persuade some of my teammates to join me for the last part of the canal run to give me a bit of support when I am sure I will need it…

It is also clear that I will have to run these training runs very slowly – at something like 8:30 to 9:00 minute miles and practice taking walking breaks.  My plan at the moment is to take a walk break of 1 minute every 5 miles, I’ll have to see how that goes. It seems sensible to practice the run-walk strategy in training rather than leaving it to race day.

***

Running this week has been all very steady, with the exception of parkrun. I was itching to have a go at sneaking under 18 minutes at Woodhouse Moor.  I gave it everything, but I just missed, running 18:06 – however, it didn’t feel like a fast day, it was chilly and blustery and on a still day I think I would have ducked under 18 minutes.

CM -7 weeks (MM -1 week)
Weight 11st 6.4lb
50 Miles
parkrun – Woodhouse Moor 18:06 (8th)

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And Relax…

Twenty miles into my final long run before the Manchester Marathon, and in sight of my car in the Swinsty Reservoir car park, my insidious devil head voice piped up:

“Why don’t you just run a marathon now, that would look good on Strava, wouldn’t it?”

The angel voice responded “Don’t be stupid, its only two weeks until the marathon, get in the car and go home”.

In truth, I didn’t want to go home: I felt good, I was out on the trails on a stunning spring day and I was enjoying the solitude. I pressed on.

I’d started the run at 8.30 a.m.  As I parked up, there was a hint of chill and a smoky mist hanging loosely over the water, but I just knew it was going to be a glorious day…

I was running solo for a change, and as much as I have enjoyed the company of my teammates on long runs this year, I think I needed three hours alone with my thoughts in such a beautiful place.

It hasn’t been a straightforward week. It started with family illness and rushed visits to hospital last Sunday; work has been fraught and stressful recently and my blistered toe was slow to heal.

Three weeks out would be the perfect time for the final pre-marathon long run, but last Sunday my toe was too painful.  On Monday morning, I got up at 5:30a.m., fully intending to run 20 miles before starting work.

After 5 miles of 8:30 min/miles shuffling and with a throbbing toe, I ran past my office and tossed in the towel.  Poor I know, but sometimes when you are hurting and absolutely hating the run, there is no point in continuing.

Thankfully, by the end of the week, the World seemed a nicer place again.

Good Friday meant it was the Salford 10K – an annual fixture for me, and a race I really enjoy. I don’t want this to sound wrong, but it’s a proper old fashioned ‘club’ race.  No big corporate sponsor, no £30 entry fee, no closed roads – just a mass of very good Northern runners, most in very short shorts, fantastic volunteer marshals and a great wholesome atmosphere.

A flat 2 lap course and a windless mizzly day presaged fast times. Despite my down mood at the start of the week, a good hard interval session of 5 times one kilometre on Wednesday lunchtime gave me thoughts of a possible fast time, maybe even a PB.

Looking at my previous fast 10Ks, like Salford (36:50) and the Abbey Dash (36:21) in 2014, I realised that I have tended to run the first mile a little too fast, and had faded towards the end of the race. Although a 10K race is almost the definition of what a threshold effort is, you still need to measure the effort correctly.

I decided to back off just a tad for the first mile. I was well back in the high quality field, but still ran 5:49, feeling I had left plenty in the tank.

I managed to lock in this pace and kept passing other runners steadily as the miles ticked over – 5:50, then 5:50 again.  As I passed the 5K halfway mark, a marshal yelled out “17-58!” I still felt OK – I was working hard, but felt I could probably maintain the pace for a bit longer.

Mile 4 is ever so slightly uphill and was a bit slower in 5:56, but then I managed to run a 5:50 and a 5:51 mile to bring me in sight of the finish. There was a knot of about 5 other runners just in front of me and I decided to absolutely bury myself for a final 200m sprint in order to pass them and burgle a few places.

My finish time was 36:06 for a new PB, which I was obviously pleased with.  I was probably even more pleased with the way I paced the race, which was nearly perfectly even.

Having broken 18 minutes for the first 5K at Salford, what could stop me smashing my 17:44 5K PB at Woodhouse Moor parkrun on Saturday morning?  Well, hubris for one thing!  Although I gave it full gas, Friday’s effort was still in my legs and I faded to finish in 18:14.  The course is very busy these days, which is wonderful, but I did experience a few traffic issues on the third lap, probably costing 5-10 seconds.

* * *

Back on my long run on Sunday, I was finally tiring after 24 miles on the final little loop. Realising that only vanity was telling me to run a marathon two weeks before a marathon, and spying an ice cream van in the car park; I decided to stop at 25 miles and sit in the sunshine enjoying the perfect post effort recovery fuel – a ‘99’ ice cream and a can of full fat Coke.

Despite the extortionate price (£3.20!!!), I watched the birds over the water with warm sunshine on the side of my face. It’s been a hard block of training since Christmas, but now I can relax, at least for a few weeks and hopefully enjoy the fruits of my efforts during the cold and dark of winter.

Surely I’ve earned it?

CM -8 weeks (MM -2 weeks)
Weight 11st 4.0lb
63 Miles
parkrun – Woodhouse Moor (18:14, 5th)

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