Forgive me father, for I confess it has been more than six weeks since my last blogpost.
I have no compelling excuses; aside from indolence, being busy at work and some awful weather twisting my melons, man.
I’m pleased to report that training for the London Marathon and Comrades remains reasonably close to being on track. UK readers will know that we have been bedevilled by severe winter weather over the past few weeks, whisked in on icy winds blowing in from Russia, hence the title of this post (definitely not a reference to Mr Putin whom I am sure is a lovely kind and level headed gentleman).
I had planned to travel down to Bath again on March 4th to run the half marathon as my prime pre-London tune-up race. The weather kyboshed that one. I was a bit frustrated, because not only was I missing a key build up race, but I had tapered for it, running a mere 20 miles that week.
On Friday when it was clear that Bath wasn’t going ahead, I remembered that the Yorkshire Veterans cross country championships were due to be held at Cleckheaton on the Sunday. A quick e-mail to the organiser informed me that I would be able to enter on the day, so as long as the race beat the weather, I decided to substitute this event for Bath.
I fantasized that the poor weather might deter the more rapid old lads from entering and I may have had a rare chance of sweeping to victory as Yorkshire over 50s cross country champion. Valley Striders had entered a very strong team of over 50s and we were hopeful of defending our team prize from 2017.
Soon after I arrived at the event I spotted Nick Charlesworth from Wharfedale and knew that my pipedreams were scuppered. He’s 50 and rocket fast and I knew he would be whupping me by several minutes.
The race was held on the same course as one of the pre-Christmas West Yorkshire Cross Country League races. It was a typical local XC course of a mile loop shoe-horned into a couple of undulating fields with a number of switchbacks. The underfoot conditions were a mixture of solid frozen ground, virgin snow and deep gloopy thawed out mud. It made the shoe choice difficult, but after a jog around the course, I opted for my spikes because of the course was either snow or bog.
My race comprised 5 laps, or just over 5 miles. Knowing that I have tended to be too timid at the start of cross country races, I resolved to go out hard and see what happened. On the ‘B’ of the bang, I surged out and was on the tails of the leading group for the first half-lap. Unsurprisingly, I couldn’t hang on to Nick Charlesworth and four or five other real speedies.
My heart rate was soon stratospheric and I was gurning and wheezing as if I had a 20 a day Capstan habit. By lap three the field had really thinned out and I was in group of three. I tried to break free by surging on the downhills and managed to drop one of the group. With a lap to go my opponent attacked and soon opened up a gap of several seconds and that was that. What’s more, he was a V60 – fair play.
I finished 7th overall and 5th in my age category and Valley Striders retained the V50s team championship with good packing toward the top of the standings.
The poor weather continued in the first half of March. We had a few sudden accumulations of snow, making it impossible to run outside on icy pavements for a few days. I hunkered down at the gym, improvising half-hearted interval sessions on the treadmill. Did I mention that I hate treadmills?
I had entered the 2018 season of the Even Splits 5K race series held at the Brownlee cycle track near to my home. Race one was snowed off and rescheduled for the Friday night of the following week (it must have been the only day they could book the track). So whilst normal people were out downing Friday night ales in their local boozer whilst ordering Dominos takeway pizza on their smartphones, I was thrashing my way around a cold windy cycling track.
I managed a time of 18:28, which was OK; hopefully I will build on these and improve my time to something closer to 18 minutes on a warmer and more hospitable night.
The following day we drove all the way to Glasgow, narrowly dodging another snow storm which closed the A66 just after we had made it through. We were in Glasgow for two great reasons – to catch up with Comrades buddies Jock and Karen and then Jock and I were running the Loch Katrine marathon on the Sunday morning as a Comrades training run cum back-up qualifier for me.
Jock has run Loch Katrine before and tipped me off as to what a great event it is. It is brilliantly staged by a quite remarkable lady called Audrey McIntosh – a famed ultra-runner and the first Scot to complete the Antarctic marathon and 100km double -all in 3 days.
Loch Katrine marathon is a bit different. Audrey stages a running festival comprising a marathon, a half marathon and a 10K event all aimed at raising as much money for Alzheimer’s charities. It is held on the very undulating quiet estate road around the beautiful serene loch and Audrey aims to make as little environmental impact as possible. For example although there would be drinks stations, there would be no plastic cups – you either had to take your own or buy a commemorative collapsible cup for £2 and clip it to your kit.
It was a small event – limited to 100 in the marathon (quite a few didn’t make it to the start because of another snowstorm on the morning of the race).
I wanted to run for two reasons – as a good long training run and to bag a qualifying time for Comrades. One must run a marathon in the nine months prior to Comrades in a time of five hours or better. I have the London marathon in a month, however, I didn’t want to find myself stepping on a bottle and twisting my ankle after 6 miles in London, leaving me snookered for Comrades. With a qualifying time safely in the bag, I could relax and seek a better time at London to improve my seeding.
Jock and I decided to run together. He is a remarkable wee fellow, a spritely 60 years old and the first man in the UK to complete the A-Z of marathons. Although barely into March this was to be his third marathon of 2018, after Dubai and Tokyo (where he bagged the last of the Abbott marathon majors).
Although bone-chilling cold, it was a cracking event. On the start line, Audrey gave us a few words of advice and encouragement and I sensed that I was amongst a group of people who saw the World a little bit differently to most people.
One of them was dressed as a sheep, probably very sensible given the temperature and at the off, he bombed away in the lead.
Jock and I set off steadily – knocking off the first few miles between 8 and 9 minute pace and just enjoying being out in the gorgeous landscape. The course was along one side of the lozenge shaped loch, around the top, then about halfway along the other side to a turn point and we then retraced the route back to the boathouse and the start/finish.
The first ten miles were pleasant, if up and down, but when we changed direction at the top end of the loch we faced three pretty grim miles dead into a piercing wind with snow flurries whipping into our faces.
At the halfway turn we scoffed a few little flapjacks and super-sweet caramel blocks that the Scots apparently call ‘tablets’.
As it was an out and back course, the leaders ran past us as we jogged along the far side of the loch. Sheep boy had clearly suffered a little for his fast start and was a few places behind the leaders.
The second half felt tough, the last 10 miles were all back into the wind and the hills seemed much tougher the second time. It is never a good sign when they make the effort to put a sign at the bottom of a hill, and seeing “Graveyard Hill” with 8 miles to go, Jock and I thought it sensible to adopt a ‘run-walk strategy’ up the stiffest gradients.
We battled away grimly through the latter miles and with the boathouse in sight I was amazed to spy Sheep-boy up ahead. He had that weird gait of someone still trying to run, but barely moving at walking speed. “Come on Jock, we can take him”, I said.
We caught Sheep-boy with maybe 800 metres left, he looked absolutely empty. Much to my astonishment, when there were about 200 metres left he came absolutely flying past, sprinting for all he was worth.
“F**k that” I said to Jock and raced after him. Although a desperate sprint finish was the last thing I wanted at the end of a hilly marathon, much to my chagrin, I could not catch him. Outsprinted by a man dressed as a sheep.
On the finish line, I was embraced by Audrey who lovingly embraced and kissed every single finisher.
Late last week, I got a message to ask if I would step in and run for Valley Striders in the Northern 12 Stage road relays, to be held at Birkenhead Park. I readily accepted, although I figured I would be the slowest in the team, but I was happy to turn out.
The captain allocated leg 12 to me – ostensibly the glory leg, but also a prime opportunity to *uck up and lose a few places. When I arrived, the event was well under away, though I had time for a couple of miles to warm up. I soon found myself in the holding pen, waiting for my team mate Jon to loom into view. I had one of the short legs – advertised as 4.5K, but in reality they were actually just 3.75K, one big lap of the park including a loop around the boating lakes.
The top 24 placed teams would qualify for the National Road Relays in Birmingham and I knew that we were in one of the last qualifying spots when I set off for my leg.
Unsurprisingly, after three hours of racing, the field was very spread out with runners all around the park, many on different legs.
I had nobody in sight in front of me, though I heard the starter release an Altrincham runner just a few seconds behind me. I guessed they would be on the same leg as me. Running scared, I set off much too fast. The course was fast and general flat, with the first half mile or so slightly downhill.
Running a solo time trial, it was difficult to pace myself. I clocked the first mile in just outside 5:20…ouch, I’ll probably pay for that I thought. Thankfully I no longer sensed the Altrincham runner behind me and I could sense that I was catching two runners up ahead.
Deep in the pain cave, I focussed on reeling in the runners ahead and I managed to pass two guys in the section around the boating lake, later I found out that I was nabbing a place from Bolton; the other lad was on a different leg.
The second mile took me 6:12. Clearly I didn’t pace my effort very well. However, all was forgiven because we secured our spot in the National relays by finishing in 21st place. I recorded the 21st fastest time (out of 56) for my leg, so basically I just about did my job.
In general, I am reasonably satisfied with my training this year. As I get older (I’m in my 52nd year) I am definitely noticing that I cannot run hard on consecutive days. The day after a race or a long training run my legs feel shot and I either have to rest or run very slowly. I also feel that I have to manage my body – My right ankle and hip often feel sore, no doubt due to my poor bio-mechanics. I should go back and see my podiatrist.
However, I still love running, so I’ll keep doing it until forced to jack in, whenever that might be.
I ran my first Comrades in 2015. Between 1 January and the end of March that year I ran 713 miles. So far this year, I have covered 672 miles (with 3 days to go as I write this), so I am not too far behind.
If the volume has been OK, speed is lacking. You don’t need any speed for Comrades, but if I want to run well at London, and I guess I do, I think I should spend a week to ten days trying to sharpen up a bit.
I can only afford a short taper for London – maybe 10 days, until that starts, I’ll have to keep logging the miles, hopefully at least 45 per week.
There are seven weeks between London and Comrades. I will need at least a week to recover from London, so I’ll write that week off completely, but then I need to get four big weeks in to get me ready for the big one.
I want to run Comrades properly this year, to fully respect it and not completely fall apart and grovel to the end as I have in my previous attempts. That may well be beyond me, but the two things I need to improve are my pacing and nutrition. I must pack away my hubris and go very slowly during the first half with lots of walking. I must also eat more during the race. I need to practice that in training.
Have a lovely Easter everyone. Summer is coming.
Feb 12-18 (CM-16 weeks): 60.4 miles, longest run 20 miles
Feb 19-25 (CM-15 weeks): 45 miles, longest run 12.3 miles
Feb 26-Mar 4 (CM-14 weeks): 25.8 miles, longest run 6.2 miles
Mar 5-11 (CM-13 weeks): 50 miles, longest run 22.2 miles
Mar 12-18 (CM-12 weeks): 42.6 miles, longest run 26.3 miles
Mar 19-25 (CM-11 weeks): 44.1 miles, longest run 17.3 miles