Here we are again…
I should say at the outset, if you have just stumbled across this blog but you are not interested in running then I’d click away now if I were you. There won’t be much of interest for you. As my Uncle said after reading my report about my Comrades exploits, “Bloody hell, I went for a run once, but I don’t keep going on about it”.
When I crossed the finishing line of Comrades in Pietermaritzburg on May 31st my first thought was, “well I’ll never put myself through that again”. It was easily the hardest thing I have ever done.
Guess what? As soon as the entries for Comrades 2016 opened, I had logged on and fired off my entry.
If you’ve read my Comrades race report, you’ll know that I had a very tough day, eventually managing to haul my ass over the line just before the nine hour cut-off for the Bill Rowan medal. It took a massive effort in the latter part of the race and it resulted in 90 minutes recovering on a drip in the medical tent.
By the way, on re-reading my race report recently I was horrified by how little thanks I expressed to the medical team looking after injured runners. They were absolutely brilliant. I did send a message to the Comrades organisers, but I should have relayed my thanks in this blog as well. My bad.
After the pain of the effort subsided, I realised what an overwhelming experience I had endured enjoyed. I’ve heard it called ‘secondary pleasure’ – something that is physically very challenging whilst you are actually doing it, but the pleasure comes from achieving your goals and looking back with satisfaction and reflecting.
Having done the up run, I’m intrigued to see if I can do better on a down run. As an added bonus, I’ll have a back-to back medal to aim for (you only ever get one chance for the back-to-back). Generally I’m a much better downhill runner than uphill. In races, I love to attack on the downhill sections and I am aware that I often lose ground on uphill inclines. However, after running virtually non-stop downhill for 23 miles at the end of the Comrades down run, I may think differently. I am sure I will have to do some specific training for all that downhill running.
After I decided to enter Comrades again, I texted my mate and fellow Comrades first timer Craig to ask him if he wanted to do it again. I doubted that he would. The reply pinged back about 30 seconds later: “I can’t believe that you’ve just talked me into doing that again!”
Writing the blog for the past couple of years has helped me to keep focus and discipline in my training, so I’m reviving it for another season.
I recovered from Comrades (on May 31st) reasonably quickly. On the way home from South Africa, I dossed around and roasted in Dubai for a couple of days (50 degrees!). It was lovely meeting up with friends there, but it’s not a place that am keen to return to soon.
Once back in blighty, I took a few days off running and then fell back into normal training. I ran a hilly 10 mile race – the Otley 10 – just 10 days after Comrades, felt good and achieved a course PB time of 64:28
I had a wee injury setback midsummer when I twisted my ankle quite badly at a parkrun and had to take a few weeks off running. I had an entry for the Berlin marathon at the end of September and I was only fit enough to resume proper training about 7 weeks before the race, so certainly not long enough for a full marathon build up.
I muddled together a compressed programme, but thankfully remained fit. I arrived at Berlin feeling in reasonable shape, but probably ‘underdone’. I thought that I hadn’t done enough long runs. I wasn’t sure what to expect.
I decided to run it on feel, trusting to my experience and assess during the race. Deep down, I really wanted to try to bag a sub three hour time which would take care of my Comrades qualifier and secure another spot in the A start pen for 2016. Luckily, it was a beautiful day, perfect for marathon running in the German capital.
It was a good run, I came home in 2:56:43. Because of the crowds, I ran about an extra quarter of a mile (its impossible to run the blue line at Berlin at my level and the drinks stations were carnage), so in my view this was my best ever marathon performance. I ran the first half conservatively and I remember feeling incredibly strong at about 19 miles, so much so that my 20th mile was a 6:15.
Thinking that I was on for a PB, I pressed on really hard during the final 10K. I blew up a little in the final couple of miles – but I was delighted with the result.
Since Berlin, I have been lucky to stay fit and healthy and I’ve enjoyed a really good block of training. To prepare for the cross country season, I’ve done much more quality work than previously. A typical week has been around 50 miles, including the club session on Tuesday evening and then a track session with a small group of club mates on Thursdays.
I’ve had my best and most enjoyable cross country season up to date. My club competes in two Cross Country leagues – the West Yorkshire and the Peco. I’m a pretty poor cross country runner, but I have improved my performances a bit this year. This is partly through being fitter, but also by adopting more aggressive tactics.
I have realised that in cross country races you just have to go out hard from the start in order to secure a position in the field. You then battle and race your competitors to try to defend or improve your position. It’s all about racing, with times being irrelevant. It’s really hard, but good fun.
I’ve also run at a parkrun most weeks and in October I did my 250th parkrun.
Parkrun is the reason I got back into running in 2008 and after my 250th, I put a short post on Facebook to say thanks to Paul Sinton-Hewitt and all the parkrun volunteers. It got a great response. I’m so pleased that parkrun is thriving, it’s one of few things that I know of that is a genuine force for good with absolutely no agenda. Long may it grow and prosper.
In November, I was hoping to have a tip at my 10K PB (36:06) at the Abbey Dash in Leeds. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a great day, a bit breezy and I faded near the end to come in with a time of 36:37. I just didn’t quite have it on the day. I’ve got one last try to improve my 10K PB this year – at the Ribble Valley 10K on December 27th.
Plans for Comrades 2016
The 2015 Comrades marathon was a steep learning experience for me. Lesson number one was that it is not the distance that makes Comrades really tough, but the hills. I intend to follow a similar training plan in 2016 to this year, except I will run hillier routes. I’ll also try to run more miles, but more slow (i.e. 8 mins/mile+) long runs.
I can’t help but set targets for running. Based on my marathon time, the online predictors put me on the cusp of a Silver Medal (that’s sub 7:30). Without sandbagging, I genuinely doubt that I can do that, after all I missed it by nearly 90 minutes this year. A silver medal requires 8 minute per mile average pace for the whole route. On a flat course that would be tough. At Comrades, I don’t think that’s on for me…but…
As I have already bagged my qualifier and an A pen start, I don’t need to run another marathon before Comrades. However, having achieved a London GFA (Good for Age) standard, I decided to take up my place at London. Unfortunately, London is just too close to Comrades (5 weeks) for me to run a hard race, so I will use it as a training run, maybe running round with a mate who is doing his first marathon, assuming he wants the company.
CM 2016 – 24 weeks. 58.8 miles
Weight 11st 1.8lb
Parkrun – York 17:48 (8th)
Longest run 16 miles