Back to Square One

I definitely overdid the mileage last week. When my left achilles tendon was too sore to run on again on Monday I decided to not run for at least a week. I actually meant it this time, I simply have to get this sorted.

This injury is becoming chronic and is now worrying me.  Now is the time that I ought to be really stepping up my training and banging our 60 mile plus weeks with 20 mile long runs every week.

The only meagre consolation from not running is that there is a lot less washing to do. There is no other advantage as far as I am concerned.

Work is quite stressful for me at the moment for reasons I won’t bore anyone with.  I normally declutter my whirling brain each lunchtime by running for at least 9 miles. I have really missed my lunchtime run more than anything else this week.  I could have gone out walking instead, but that doesn’t cut it for me, so I moped off to the café each lunchtime, got myself an unhealthy sandwich and went back to my desk and carried on working.

A midweek Facebook post reminded me that I had put my name down for the Northern Cross Country championship at Blackburn on Saturday.  I was about to explain my predicament and make my excuses when it became clear that Valley Striders had only six male entries.  Six finishers is the minimum number required for a team result. The deadline for entries had long since passed, so basically, I had to run.  I explained that I would not be quick, but I would turn out.

I travelled across to Blackburn with team-mates Jon and Kev.  Jon had researched the course and said that it was brutal and the men’s course of 12K contained nearly a thousand feet of ascent. Kev and I laughed, that just couldn’t be true, could it…

Unfortunately for us, on Saturday afternoon God was fiddling about with his new weather app. He gave us intermittent blasts of driving rain, gusting winds, a few minutes of watery sunshine, then weird ten minute squalls of hailstones and sleet.

Three months of record-breaking rainfall totals and a full programme of junior races left the course looking like a mass of farmyard slurry, there was barely a blade of green to be seen. One of our lady racers even lost her shoe in the deep mud.

My plan was to run steadily, see how the injury felt and just to make sure that I got round so that I counted for the team. I had my 15mm spikes in and I had triple knotted my shoes tightly to ensure that they remained on my feet.

The men’s race was four 3K laps of the park. After about two hundred yards I realised that my spikes were virtually useless. In twenty five centimetres of mud, it didn’t matter what you wore, because your feet were going to slip sideways on every stride.

As expected the race was brutal.  With two long steep climbs into the wind on each lap, runners were strewn all over the place. During my second lap we had the added bonus of another horizontal hail storm right into our faces. You simply could not lift up your head. It was savage.

My 10K race pace on the road is about 5 minutes 50 per mile. In this race, when I was running about as hard as I was physically able to go my mile splits were:  7:39, 8:25, 8:54, 8:46, 9:31, 9:37 and 8:39.  On the bright side, because of the hellish conditions, I didn’t have time to think about my achilles. I was aware of some mild discomfort, but I had bigger things to worry about, like how to get myself to the end of this bloody ordeal.

I was lapped at the start of my third lap. Maybe the first thirty lads in the field eventually lapped me. I didn’t care.

The winner was Charlie Hulson, a multiple GB International and the reigning National cross country champion. He completed the course in just over 43 minutes at 6 minutes per mile pace. In those conditions, that was superhuman.

I finished in 394th position in 1 hour, 2 minutes 38 seconds. There were 719 finishers, and a lot more starters because I’m sure there was a high dropout rate. With a skeleton team of just 6, Valley Striders finished in 22nd position out of 52 teams in the men’s and the four ladies finished 24th out of 40. No Striders dropped out. Chapeau to every one of my team-mates.

Here’s a picture of my gleaming yellow Puma cross country spikes after the race:

cross country Jan .JPG

Unfortunately the race has aggravated my Achilles – unsurprising really. I tried to go for gentle recovery jog tonight (Sunday), but after about four hundred metres I abandoned the run and skulked home.

Tomorrow, I’m making an appointment with a sports injury clinic.




CM -17 weeks

7.5 miles

Weight 11st 5 lb

Parkrun – None

Longest run 7.1 miles


We have Lift-Off

After a somewhat spluttering start to the year, I finally managed to record a respectable weekly mileage total. I ran, jogged and limped 69.7 miles around the streets and trails of Leeds this week. That didn’t include a proper long run so I am very happy with the mileage for the week.

My achilles is still grumbling on, self-treatment this week was to basically ignore it and get on with running, perhaps at my age I just have to accept that I will have to run with a bit of discomfort.

For the first time in over a month, I stood on the start line of a road event – Woodhouse Moor parkrun – with the intention of ‘going for it’.

For a generally shy and not terribly confident guy, I’m more confident when it comes to sport.  Competing at sport is where I feel I can most easily be true to myself.

I’m a classic jack of all trades at sport – I have a reasonable aptitude for most sports without being especially talented at any particular sport.  During my life have regularly played football, cricket, golf, table tennis and squash to an OK standard.

As a boy and young adult, cricket was always my first love.  I think a lot of that was because I was probably amongst the best cricketers at my school.  I was captain of the school cricket team at middle school (age 9-13), albeit a down-at-heel backstreet inner city school in Leeds.  I think it may have given my Dad and me ideas that I was better than I actually was.

When I was 12, my Mum and Dad sent me on a winter coaching and assessment weekend at the indoor school at Lord’s cricket ground. It must have cost them a fortune.

I had never even spent a night on my own away from home and I was driven down to London by my Dad on Friday morning and then left alone in a posh 4 star hotel about a mile from Lord’s.

For a painfully shy 12 year old, it was overwhelmingly terrifying. If that happened now, I’ve no doubt that the social lynch mob on Facebook would call it ‘child abuse’ or some other ridiculous over the top phrase.  I thought it was the most exciting yet frightening thing that had ever happened to me.

It’s funny what you remember from such formative experiences. I was so nervous that I struggled to find the restaurant in the hotel on that first night because I was too scared to ask anybody where it was.  When I eventually stumbled across it, I realised that with my meal voucher I could only afford one thing on the menu – burger and chips. I wolfed down the food and retreated to my hotel room to check my cricket kit and I even remember watching ‘Mork and Mindy’ on TV for the first time. I thought it was hilarious.

The following morning, I was collected by a chaperone, a young member of the MCC groundstaff, to take me to Lord’s. It was Phil Bainbridge, who went on to have a long and fruitful career as a middle order batsman with Gloucestershire and Durham and was unlucky not to play for England.

Because of a midwinter snowstorm, I had missed my originally allotted week and I found myself pitched in with boys older than me, mostly the Hampshire under 15 squad, as well some other young up and coming Southern cricketers – public school types.  I was overwhelmed and completely out of my depth.

Back in Leeds, I played cricket with my peers as if I was king of the hill, opening the batting and bowling and bossing them around in the field.  At Lord’s I was just a scared little boy.

In my first net, I was batting against the Hampshire colts, all two or three years older than me, bigger and stronger and too quick for me.  I was used to batting on slow pudding-like pitches in Yorkshire against bowlers that I could smack around with ease. For the first time in my life I was batting in an indoor net, on a hard slick bouncy surface (with no helmets in those days). Shaking with nerves, I barely lay bat on ball for the first couple of dozen balls fired down at me.

I’ll always remember looking at the boy in the net next to me. He was small – a couple of years younger than me – but swarthy-skinned, cool and good looking and phenomenally confident.  As I poked around and missed most of the balls I faced, all I heard was the loud crack of his bat and saw the net bulge beside me as he smacked the ball around. He owned the place. I knew then that I was never going to be a professional cricketer.

I made of point of sneaking a look at the list to see who the other boy was. He had a very unusual name – M. Ramprakash.

My point is that sporting confidence is all relative and for most sporting events I pretty much know what my performance will be. At most races I think that I can predict to within a few seconds what my finishing time will be. I’m usually pretty much bang on. In my view, training tells you how fit you are. Races are all about executing and delivering your maximum effort over the distance.

However, this week at parkrun, I genuinely didn’t know if I would be able to run 18 minutes or 19:30, I had no real measure of my current fitness.  I ran really hard, on the rivet, but blowing virtually all the way and yet I felt slow and cumbersome lacking any ‘zip’.

I still managed to run a time of 18:17 and it was probably worth a few seconds quicker as I got held up at the start and on the muddy bank on each lap where there was zero grip, so I can conclude that I am probably a bit fitter than I thought I was – a pleasant surprise.

Today, Sunday, was the fourth race in the Peco cross country league. It was held on a narrow, muddy and twisty course at Golden Acre Park, just a couple of miles from my house.  I decided to wear my Inov-8 trail shoes rather than spikes, so that I could run to the event and dispense with a rucksack.

I think the volume of miles and the hard parkrun caught up with me today because I had a bit of a shocker.  I haven’t seen the results yet, but I know I finished well down on my previous finishing positions as many of the lads that I would normally beat finished well in front of me, it was one of those races that I never got into.

At the club last Tuesday evening, we had a bit of a marathon evening – a chance to meet after the weekly speed session and chat about marathon training plans.  Our best ever runner, Tracey Morris, came along to give us the benefit of her experience. Tracey ran for GB in the 2004 Olympic marathon, famously qualifying out of the blue at the London marathon.  She went on to finish fourth in the Commonwealth Games two years later.

She was generous with her time and gave lots of very sensible advice. Surprisingly, she was never a high mileage runner – usually only around 60-70 miles per week.  However, she ran her long runs hard – often running 20 miles on a Sunday at only 30 seconds per mile slower than marathon race pace.

Perhaps her advice that resonated most with me is that because she ran so hard, she had to recover properly – indeed she felt Tuesday evening was too soon to run a speed interval session after a Sunday long run, so she moved her speed work to Wednesdays. Basically you have to rest after hard runs, especially as you get older.

No wonder I was crap at the Peco today.

I’ll be having a much easier week next – still at least the Comrades rocket has cleared the tower!



CM -18 weeks

Weight 11st 5 lb

Parkrun – Woodhouse Moor 18:17 (7th)

Longest run 10 miles


Sempre Avanti

One thing that I have been consistently good at for the past few weeks is entering races and then not actually running them.

My streak started with the Chevin Chase on Boxing Day which I swerved because of a sore achilles and the desire to save myself for an all-out effort at the Ribble Valley 10K the following day. Floods then caused the Ribble Valley race to be cancelled.

I had also entered the Dewsbury 10k in two weeks’ time, but earlier this week I accepted an invitation to spend the same weekend down South to celebrate my mate Tim’s 50th birthday, so I’ll miss that race too.

Today, I was due to run the Inskip half marathon over in Lancashire.  A sharp snowfall last night and icy roads ice caused it to be cancelled early this morning.

Ironically, I chose to enter Inskip as an alternative to the ever popular Brass Monkey half marathon in York, also held today.  The Brass Monkey went ahead without a problem and on perusing the results I see that many of my mates ran impressive times.

I’ve not even run a parkrun in anger for over a month, I feel that I don’t even know if I am fit or not anymore. I’m chomping at the bit.

My week of not running at all was also a spectacular failure. I resisted until Tuesday lunchtime, but frustrated and bored I ventured out to test my Achilles. After running the first mile gingerly, it felt OK so I stretched out a little.  I proceeded to bomb around my standard 9 mile lunchtime loop in sub 7 minute miling.

I had a bit of a reaction in the achilles on Wednesday, but decided to run again on Thursday – a short lunchtime jog of 5 miles and then I thought I would go down to the track and join in with the  Striders Thursday night speed session.

It was a bitterly cold night, always worse at Beckett Park track which sits atop a hill, exposed to the chilling winds. On such a night, it’s a pretty grim place to train.  Sensibly, I got there early to do a long warm up jog around the campus roads. Soon after setting off, my achilles was feeling quite sore and I knew that it would be stupid to try to run a track speed session.

I bumped into Hannah in the reception and she didn’t seem to take much persuading to sack off the track session.  We headed off for an hour’s steady run around North Leeds, including a softy speed session of 3 times 1 km on one of my old street loops.  I don’t think we were very quick, but it was fun.

I’ve kept up the heel drops – doing at least a hundred every day; and the indoor rowing.  The rowing is definitely getting easier.  Previously, I found it purgatory to row for 5000m, but this week I have done that twice, plus a 10K session and it was almost enjoyable.

Mercifully, I think all the heel lowering might be working. With no race to do this morning, I had a lie in and then headed out onto the hilly snowy trails and just went running for a couple of hours.

I didn’t really have much of a plan as to where I would run, or how far I would go. Because of the underfoot conditions, I ran slowly – over 9 minutes per mile, with an average heart rate of just over 120 bpm. It was wonderful just to get out in crisp cold air and run for the sake of it with no plans nor pressure. My achilles felt better than it has for weeks.


According to somebody on Radio 5 Live, tomorrow is the most depressing day of the year.  I can’t say that it has been a great start to 2016 – injuries, crap at work, floods, terrorism, economic meltdown and the deaths of some truly great people.

It was one of those moments when the World froze for a second when I heard about Bowie’s death on Monday.  Bowie – the cultural genius of my generation and one of the greatest modern Englishmen. Thank you David, what a fantastic body of work you have left for humanity to gorge on.

To help cheer myself up, I’ve booked tickets to go and see another of the greatest Englishmen –somebody who couldn’t be more different to David Bowie – Ray Mears.  He is giving a talk at Leeds Grand Theatre on April 3rd.

I am a huge admirer of Ray Mears, an incredibly brilliant and humble man.  I’ve watched all his TV shows and I went to a similar talk he gave a few years ago.

I was completely transfixed watching a fat man talking over a slide show for two hours. It was brilliant and enthralling listening to somebody with so much wisdom, yet so little ego.

If anybody is free on April 3rd, then you really should get tickets, you won’t regret it.

I’ve also entered another Ultra – this time the Race to the Stones in July.  It’s a 100km race along the Ridgeway in the Chilterns.  Hopefully, the weather will be good and I’ll still be fit form Comrades.

Mentally, I am going to treat the slow start to 2016 as a training reset.  I’ll try to build the mileage back steadily without too much focus on speed.  I’ve got another month until my next road race – the Snake Lane 10, though there are some cross country races before then.

Sempre Avanti…


CM – 20 weeks. 39.8 miles
Weight 11st 4.5 lbs
parkruns: None
Longest run 14.5 miles





The Trials of Not Running

Although I ramble on about running as well as other random topics, one thing that I don’t want this blog to become is a moanfest about injuries, or any other problems I have encountered for that matter.

Injuries are an occupational hazard for all runners and so far I have managed to stay on the luckier than most side of equation.

However, for a couple of weeks, I have been struggling with achilles tendonitis – causing me mild to moderate pain. I have been self-treating the problem by doing lots of heel drops and by wearing an icepack around my heel most evenings, together with a bit of self-massage (exclusively on my achilles I hasten to add).

I have found that after a couple of days, the pain abates and I can go running again, so I have been out running every two or three days.  However, on the day following a run, my achilles is usually too sore to run.  I am stuck in a seemingly endless loop.

Even just writing the few sentences above make it patently clear that I really need to stop running for a week or so in the hope that the problem will clear itself up.  So I will.

I did turn out at the Yorkshire Cross Country Championships at Lightwater Valley on Saturday afternoon.  I missed the event in 2015 through illness so I was anxious not to miss it again

With record rainfall in the North of England during December and January, the course could be described as being a little on the heavy side.  Well, actually it was a bloody quagmire in places, but that made it more fun.

I am a great believer in the need to be mentally strong in order to perform well in races.  Unfortunately, given my on-going achilles issues, I wasn’t even sure whether I would, or indeed should, run.  I chewed it over in my mind, lurching from “no, I mustn’t run, I might make the injury worse”, to “just toughen the f*ck up you wimp and get on with it”.

In the end, I decided on a typical pathetic compromise –I would go along, do the warm up and then decide if I felt OK to run.

Having got ready, travelled an hour to the venue with my team-mates Gary and Hannah, got soaked whilst checking that a flood was safe to drive through, met and chatted with club-mates and then put my new spikes on and stripped to my vest, I was always going to run, so I did.

I knew the standard would be high.  My only experience of a race of similar quality was the Northerns last year when I finished well into the bottom half of the field.  I told myself that a top half finish would be an OK result.

The starting pens were narrow and very crowded.  I was anxious not to impede any of my faster team-mates, so I went towards the back of our pen.

The start was a farcical. There were nearly 300 in the field and the course started with a short 80 metre straight and then a narrow right hand turn. Without any warning, and a minute or two ahead of schedule the gun fired and the race started. I couldn’t have gone off hard, even if I had wanted to. I was reduced to a walk and then a complete standstill at the first bend, stuck behind a mass of other runners.

It may have been a blessing, because 10.6 kilometres in deep mud is a tough test.  I spent the first couple of laps passing other lads, trying to establish my rightful position in the field. I ran the first three miles in around 6:50 each.

The course comprised four and a half laps and by the third big lap I was feeling it.  If I were a racehorse, I would not be suited by heavy going.  Some athletes just seem able to glide or skip through the mud, but there must be something in my running mechanics that doesn’t work well in soft ground. I was floundering and getting slower.

I conceded a few places meekly during the last lap and a bit, eventually grovelling home in 133rd place out of 269 finishers, so amazingly I just scraped my goal of a top half finish.

Although I enjoyed the event and I ran hard, I felt a little hollow because I know that I wasn’t mentally tough and 100% on it.

I have an entry in the Inskip half marathon next Sunday, as I write this, I have no idea whether I will be able to start. If I do, I’ll have fairly low expectations given the low mileage over the previous three weeks.

CM – 21 weeks. 19.8 miles
Weight 11st 4.5 lbs
parkruns: None
Longest run 9 miles


The Full Monty

This week, I watched the TV coverage of the England cricket team thrashing South Africa at the Kingsmead Stadium in Durban.  Kingsmead is an impressive venue and is where the Comrades Marathon down run finishes.

In exactly 5 months, I hope to run around that same beautiful turf and collect two medals – the back to back and one of another colour. I wonder which.

Training wasn’t great this week.  After missing out on two races last weekend, my achilles tendon tenderness tended to tarry. I didn’t run much at all in the early part of the week.

I also had the customary Christmas respiratory illness, it was only a mild dose and wasn’t a problem until I went to bed each night.  As soon as I lay down, I started coughing and just couldn’t stop. It was incessant, so much so that I didn’t sleep for more a couple of hours for three night in a row. I spent much of each night propped up in bed watching old episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm feeling utterly pi**ed off.

I ventured out on Tuesday evening for the club session, thinking that I’d take it steady and not put too much strain on my ankle. We did a pyramid session of 4-6-8-6-4 minutes, the pain was only mild at first but was getting progressively more noticeable as the session progressed, so I jacked on the last rep and just jogged it.

I have been off work between Christmas and New Year using up the last of my annual leave entitlement, so I decided to treat myself to a sports massage on Wednesday with Liz from the club. She concentrated on my calves and it seemed to help, my achilles felt less tight on Thursday and I managed to resist the temptation to go out running.

As an alternative, I beasted myself on the rowing machine with a 2K time trial.  My time was a somewhat pathetic 7:39.  I think my best time ever is about 7:10, but that was achieved about twenty years ago when I was 10KG heavier. I guess 7:39 isn’t that bad for a skinny runner.

Like many people (I suspect), I quietly dread New Year’s Eve. I’ve had one or two amazing times on previous New Year’s Eves during my life, but this year, I wasn’t exactly straining under the weight of invites for mad nights out.

I did have an offer to go to a house party with some people that I don’t know that well.  However, I think their main intention was to have a “drink until you vomit” kind of an evening and unfortunately that’s not my bag any more.  I was quite relieved when my friends and neighbours Andy and Debbie agreed to see Star Wars and then have a curry in Bradford. Rock and Roll – Pete Doherty’s got nothing on me.

My lack of night-time sleep caught up with me and I dozed off a couple of times during the film, but on waking I soon got up to speed with the plot (after all – it was Star Wars, not French Film Noir).

Afterwards, we enjoyed an absolutely superb curry at Shimlas on Great Horton Road. I can thoroughly recommend it. Cheap too.

Having hardly slept at all for three nights, I was home and tucked up in bed by 10:30.

The end of the year also meant the end of my year-long mileage challenge with my friend Hannah from Valley Striders. We  noticed early in 2015 that our Strava mileage totals were incredibly close, often within a few miles.  We agreed a fun £10 charity to bet on who would run the most miles during the year.

In the end I just edged it by a few miles. In truth, I won because I am a lazy bachelor with no responsibilities who can go running just about whenever I feel like it, whilst Hannah has an incredibly busy life looking after family and she recently started a new business. She has to squeeze most of her runs in early in the day, well before I would even contemplate setting my alarm for. Chapeau H.

My mileage total for 2015 was 2,461.7 – about 47.3 miles per week average.  The mileage dropped significantly after Comrades and I had a few very low weeks because of injury during the summer.  Still, it’s easily the most miles I have ever run in a single year.

I think I’ll need to up the ante if I am going to improve my Comrades performance. I’ve read on Comrades forums that 1,000 should be target for miles run before Comrades.  My goal is to run 1,250 miles between January 1st and Comrades on 29th May – i.e. an average of 60 miles per week.

Recently, Bob Jackson from Valley Striders lent me a brilliant book about Comrades:


Bruce Fordyce is the legendary 9 times Comrades winner. He ruled the roost in the days of string vests and tight shorts.

In 1988, he ran a then up run record of 5:27:42.  To put in perspective, that’s sub 6 minute miling (or 2:37 marathon pace) for a hot 87km Ultra with 2000m of ascent. That is insane!

It’s a great book, though as it was written many years ago a few of Bruce’s tips seem a little outdated now – mainly his thoughts on nutrition where he extols the benefits of lots of sugar.

Bruce had some very interesting thoughts on how one should train for Comrades.  Basically, he advocates not even thinking about Comrades until April. Until then, normal marathon training is all that is required.  However, April is the critical month when the mileage must be high and lots of hills need to be run. He says that one must arrive at Comrades feeling slightly undertrained, but he thinks that many are probably overtrained, especially amongst the faster competitors.


New Year’s Day is the only day of the year when it is possible to run two official parkruns in the UK. Events are permitted to deviate from the standard 9.00 a.m. start time if they wish.

In Leeds, one option is to run the Woodhouse Moor parkrun at 9.00 a.m. and then go to Temple Newsam parkrun (5.5 miles away) for a 10.30 a.m start.

In 2015, Temple Newsam started at 10.00 a.m. and I was one of a small group of nutters that undertook a frantic tempo-cum-threshold dash from Woodhouse Moor to Temple Newsam, making the start with about one minute to spare.

With the extra half an hour this year, the run in between could be undertaken with much less stress.  Consequently, many more people attempted the run double with the run between. Two fellow Valley Striders – Nobby and Joel, and I decided to run from Roundhay, run the two parkruns with the run in between and then run back to Roundhay –  for a combined mileage of 21.5 miles, which we dubbed the ‘Full Monty’.

I was tad worried about my achilles not holding out, but we took it steadily and I averaged just over 8 minute miling for the whole run. I felt the achilles, but it wasn’t painful like before.  It was top fun and a great way to kick off the year.

the full monty

Note Anne Akers photobombing our picture!

Sunday saw the third race of the Peco cross country series at Middleton Park.  After weeks of near unremitting rainfall the course was a mixture of gelatinous gloop, hard trails and spongy strength sapping fields.

Again, I utilised my new cross country tactics – i.e. set-off like a loon and try to hang-on. It was a bit daft this time. After 800 metres I was blowing like a chain smoker at the top of the stairs and conceded lots of places.

I tried to recompose myself and I ran strongly on the downhill sections through the woods, grabbing back a few positions. However, I was struggling again on a long uphill drag and sharp climb before the finishing field. In the end I finished 40th out of 390 male finishers and third in my age category, which is in line with the results of the previous peco races.

It’s the Yorkshire XC champs next Saturday, an event I missed through illness last year. I think it may be a tad muddy…

CM – 22 weeks. 39.8 miles
Weight 11st 3 lbs
parkruns: Woodhouse Moor 21:47 (64th); Temple Newsam 24:16 (111th)
Longest run 21.5 miles