A Flea in Gabby’s Ear

The London marathon is done and dusted for another year.  The good news is that I finished the race.  My time was rubbish, but by the time I reached the Mall I didn’t care, I was just glad to get it done.

As ever, it was a fun-filled weekend. My partner and I thought it would be a smashing idea to travel down to London on Friday afternoon,  get to the expo early, pick up my race-pack and number and then kick back and relax until Sunday.

All seemed to be going swimmingly – of course the Expo was busy -but nothing resembling the suffocating crush that I experienced on the Saturday afternoon last year.  I picked up the number, purchased some gels and new socks and even had a little chat with Martin Yelling.

We were staying in an apartment in Greenwich, just a few stops on the DLR away from the ExCel. We had to change DLR trains a couple of times and whilst standing at Canary Wharf I looked at my partner and with my heart plunging into my boots exclaimed “I have left my race number on the train”.

I couldn’t believe it. What sort of complete plonker leaves his London Marathon race number on a train? The train we had left had whizzed out of the station a few minutes earlier.  I wasn’t even sure if I had left it on that train or the previous one going towards Bank.  I was in a flat panic.

We wandered vainly up and down the platforms hoping to accost a member of staff.  There were no staff.  Eventually a conductor on a train realised that I was in some kind of distress and told me to press the big green button on the platform and to speak to the Controller.

The Controller was calm and helpful “Don’t worry sir, I’ll put out an immediate request across the network to search all trains, stay where you are.”  We waited for what felt like an eternity, however she advised that nothing had been found.  Our final hope was that the overnight cleaners would pick it up and hand it in to Lost Property.

I started trying research whether it is possible to get a replacement number.  The website was not at all helpful, the ‘helpline’ even less so (just a series of recorded announcements with no chance to speak to a human outside office hours).  It would have been futile in any event – I later found out that they won’t issue replacement numbers under any circumstances.

I felt sick and very annoyed at my stupidity.  I couldn’t put it out of my mind and I think that I must have been miserable company for most of the evening.

We met up with a friend in Greenwich for a drink and a meal.  At about 9:30pm she glanced at her mobile phone and exclaimed that there were several posts on Twitter and Instagram from runners about someone having found a London Marathon race number and wanting to get it back to the rightful owner.  It was my number. Oh joy beyond measure!

I was so relieved that I could barely operate my mobile phone properly to make contact with the person who had picked up my number.

It transpired that a fellow runner called Helen from West London had picked up my number.  I made plans to head over to collect it on Saturday morning from her house.  I was one massively relieved boy!

Helen, if you read this, I am eternally grateful.  Thank you. The running community once again proved just how selfless and considerate runners are.

After collecting my racepack for a second time, we headed over to the cinema at the O2 to watch “Skid Row Marathon“.  It is a superb documentary about Californian Judge Craig Mitchell who started a running club to help people struggling with homelessness or drug dependency in Los Angeles.  I’m a hard-hearted, world-weary dour Yorkshireman, but even I felt my bottom lip quivering a few times.  There are showings all over the country on May 9th – go and see it, it is wonderful.

After the film, Martin Yelling led a Q&A session with the film-makers, Judge Mitchell himself and the leader of the UK Running Charity.  Judge Mitchell is a very impressive human being – measured, charismatic and a man who makes things happen.


Marathon Day

Unusually for me, I slept quite well the night before a marathon.  After a home-cooked breakfast of porridge, I met my team mate Daz.  He was staying in the same apartments and was going to run his maiden marathon from the Championship start.  He had realistic hopes of a sub 2:45, but as everyone knows the marathon is a capricious  beast.

As we walked towards Greenwich Park before 9 a.m., it already felt unseasonably warm.  I bade Daz good luck and then went into the Good For Age pen in front of the main Red Start.  After dropping my bag, I had 30 minutes to sit out of the sun in a tent and think about the challenge ahead.

This was never a PB target race, I was running it mainly to improve my seeding for Comrades in June, and for the experience.

I’ve run quite a few marathons, some of them in high temperatures, and I know that I don’t cope well with heat, even when well acclimatised.  This time, I was going to have to run after months training in a harsh Northern winter.  I knew that a fast time was simply impossible for me to achieve.  In good running conditions, I felt confident that I could go sub 3 again – I’d logged six 20 mile+ training runs and had run my second fastest ever 10K only three weeks ago.  However, I had no idea what I could run in this heat.

I made a decision to use my heart rate as a guide.  Frank Horwill wrote that marathon pace should be between 80% and 88% of maximum heart rate.  The best guide for maximum heart rate is not 220 – one’s age; much better to use 214 minus (age x 0.8).

For me, that marathon pace range is 138-152 with a midpoint of 145.  Therefore, given the heat, I decided to run to a target heart rate of 145.  I didn’t really care what speed that would produce, I would get whatever I got.

At just after 10 a.m., the Queen started the race from Windsor Castle and we were off.

Unsurprisingly, hundreds streamed past me in the congested nervous early miles.  I settled into my target heart rate and ticked off the miles to the Cutty Sark in 6:45 – 6:55, comfortable sub 3 pace.

I was looking forward to meeting my supporters in Rotherhithe at the 10 mile mark, where I could collect an extra gel and my cap if I wanted it (stupidly I’d eschewed wearing it from the start).  I still felt good when I met them, making the 10 mile point in a hair under 70 minutes. I yanked the cap on my head and carried on.

I was careful to drink at most aid stations, and poured water over my head neck and arms to try to keep cool.  I constantly monitored my heart rate, I was slowing, but only by a few seconds a mile, it still felt easy.

Tower Bridge was as cacophonous as ever, I took the incline up the bridge very steadily. I was starting to feel quite warm.

I reached the halfway point in just under 1:32.  Already many of my fellow runners were either walking or had slowed to a shuffle.  This is a part of the course where the race seems to just calm down a little.  It felt like a good time for a review of my situation.

Frankly, it wasn’t going that well.  At my target heart rate of 145 or even two or three beats higher, my pace had deteriorated to 7:10. Worse than that my legs felt devoid of any bounce and I knew I would only get slower.  I decided to look after myself, to just slow down and focus on getting to the end without absolutely ruining myself.

By Canary Wharf, with 8 miles to run, it had become a grind; no longer racing, my legs were simply a tired and inefficient means of transport to get me to the end of the ordeal.

My least favourite part of the route is the long stretch along the A13 Limehouse link back towards the City, it felt never ending.  I felt great sympathy for the thousands still streaming past on the other side of the road, still around the half way mark after more than two and a half hours of running. They were in for a very long day out in the sun.

On the embankment, my pace had dropped to 8+ minute miles.  I didn’t stop running at all, unlike many who had succumbed to walking.  At last, I reached the turn at the Palace of Westminster and was running the final mile.  Quite suddenly, I was aware that I was really struggling. I was doing the survival shuffle,  I felt a little light headed and I was mightily relieved that the torment was almost over.

I’m sure all marathon runners dream of gliding in to the Mall and sprinting those last two hundred metres to the finish line.  I was actually captured on the BBC coverage just before I finished.

Presenter Gabby Logan was doing a piece to camera and I emerged from her right ear, shambling and rolling like a Friday night drunk at chucking out time.  I’m the dude in the white cap just before the shot changes:

I finished in 3:18:38 – twenty three minutes slower than last year.  I staggered through the line and collected my medal and goody-bag.  I didn’t feel at all well, so I decided to flop my head over a barrier and hopefully recover a little.  It didn’t make any difference, I felt dizzy and sick. I looked down the long line of baggage lorries and knew that there was no way that I would be able to walk to the end of those and collect my bag.

I have been in the same position before, after Comrades in 2015. I was still thinking fairly lucidly and I thought the best thing would be to let the medics assist me.  A few marshalls had already approached me and suggested that I get some help.

I was put in a wheelchair and rolled into the medical tent. It was carnage in there with runners flaked out all over the place. Eventually they found me a canvas bed to lay on and a couple of lovely nurses attended to me. I drank some water and the nurse rooted into my goody-beg and made me eat some salty potato snacks. After a few minutes I came round.

They kept asking me questions:

“How old are you”?  …”51″

“Do you know where you are”?… “Yes, I’m in the medical tent at the end of the London Marathon”

“Can I have your phone number”?…”Oh, I am so sorry love, but I am already attached

At that point the nurses realised that I was fine to be released and I shuffled off to reclaim my bag and meet up with my supporters and teammates.

Although I love my running club, Valley Striders,  at the London Marathon, I dislike the fact that our name means that we meet at the ‘V’ tree  in the meeting area after the sterile finish zone. It must be more than a half a mile walk from the end. Its enough to make you want to join Aardvark Harriers.

We swapped war stories at the end and shuffled off to the pub to re-hydrate. Some of my teammates had still done great performances despite the heat, though most had found the conditions very tough like me.

Poor Daz struggled in his first marathon. How unlucky to get such a freak heatwave like that for your first marathon. He’ll be back much quicker on a better day.

So now my thoughts turn to Comrades in just over six weeks. I’ve got a few concerns, I don’t feel particularly fit and have niggly injuries to my left foot and right ankle. I feel as if I am running by managing problems rather than going out and training properly.

My 3:18 at London has earned a place in the ‘B’ pen at Comrades, which is fine – I’ll still be through the start in a minute or two.  Having run it twice before, I am nervous and very respectful. I will be running the first half very easily and adopting a rigid run-walk strategy from the start, even though that will mean walking before I want to and walking when everyone else is running.  Seconds spent walking during the first half earn minutes at the end.

Comrades 2018 -6 weeks

11 stone 3.0 lbs

11 miles, longest run 3.1 miles. Roundhay parkrun : 19:16 (6th)

RunBritain Handicap 2.5 (UK M50 rank 160)

Aerobic efficiency (marathon) 947 heartbeats per mile


My toe hurts Betty…

It’s London Marathon weekend and I am typing this on  a rickety train from Leeds on Friday afternoon.  Thankfully, the threats of (a) a DLR strike and (b) the hottest day ever in the history of the Universe have abated, though undoubtedly it will be a warm one.

Although I always enjoy the London Marathon, I’m feeling a bit concerned ahead of Sunday.  For the past couple of weeks I have sensed a nagging pain on the top of my left foot whilst running.  A friend has recently suffered from a stress fracture on the foot requiring weeks in a moonboot; although I doubt very much I have a similar injury,  something is not quite right.

I still intend to line up on Sunday and give it a go, but because of the injury and the hot weather I am not setting any time targets, I’ll just run around at a pace that feels OK and see what happens.

I feel somewhat over-tapered for the marathon, I’ve run hardly any miles over the last three weeks.

I did compete last weekend though, running for Valley Striders at the English National 12 stage road relay championships held at Sutton Park in Birmingham.

We did brilliantly to even qualify for this prestigious event and we knew that we would not be troubling the top half of the finishing order, however we wanted to put up a good show.

The event comprised alternate long legs of about 5 miles and short legs of about 5K and I was allocated leg 12 (a short leg).  Given a total racing distance of about 50 miles, unsurprisingly the race got very spread out with runners all over the course, many on different legs.  We had been warned that there would be a mass start for the slower teams for leg 12, otherwise the event could go on into the late evening…

I fully expected to be in the mass start, but it was a surprise to be called over early at just after 4 o’clock, along with most of the leg 11 runners.  Things got very confused and more than a little heated.  Some of the faster teams were clearly unimpressed at being stopped from running as a relay event when they still had a chance of a high position.  As it turned out, only the top three teams actually ran all the legs as a true relay.  If you want to read more, have a look at the report on FastRunning here 

In many ways, I preferred the mass start, as rather than running on my own, I was in a traditional 5K road race.  The course was quite narrow and twisty and never flat, the first two miles were gradually uphill with a fast downhill mile to finish. After a fast start, I was blowing hard on a long gradual ascent and losing a few places as runners eased past me.

My mind was whirring away, making up names for the unknown competitors….Try to keep close to Red Vest…don’t let long shorts get more than 10 seconds ahead and catch him on the downhill…etc.

At the top of the hill, I tried to pick it up for the surge to the line, but I was in a world of hurt, gasping for air and a heart rate of 163.  I knew from the final bend it was about 250 metres to the finish line, slightly uphill.  I rounded the bend with three just ahead of me, including Red Vest and Long Shorts. 

 Right, time for a proper race I thought, I’m going to take these… It may sound like a boast, but despite being 51, I can still crank out a pretty useful sprint finish and I gave it absolutely everything I had:

Later, I saw that someone had created a Strava segment for the final sprint, I was chuffed to see that I was the equal 15th fastest of all time for the segment out of over 4200 runners (including Olympians and many internationals) and second fastest ever in the 50-54 age cat.  Maybe I should forget marathons and ultras and take up sprinting…

Valley Stiders did well, the men finished in 43rd position, the women 38th in the six stage event.

Last Monday I caught the end of the Boston marathon coverage. Conditions were brutal – driving rain and temperatures hovering around freezing made worse by the whole race being  run into a 20 mile an hour block headwind. I cheered on the  legend that is Yuki Kawauchi as he stormed to an epic win. What an amazing man, listeners to the marathon talk podcast know all about Yuki and his incredible achievements.

On Sunday, my Yuki-suit will be fully zipped up.

weekly stats to follow.


I dreamed a dream by the old canal…

Manchester was home for me for about ten years, I returned to the correct side of the Pennines in 2001.  Whisper it quietly, but I quite like Manchester.  Well, it would be more accurate to say that I like Mancunian people – in the main they are honest, thoughtful and genuine.

As for the landscape, Manchester won’t be winning any prizes for beauty.  The one thing it has going for it is that (when compared to Leeds), it is exceedingly non-hilly.  Of course that isn’t true when you reach the northern satellite towns like Oldham, Bury and Rochdale; but downtown Manchester and Salford are flat.

I like flat for running.  I suit flat. I run my best performances on flat courses.

As a Yorkshireman, I should crave running up and down fells and dales whilst wearing indecently short shorts, but I don’t. Mainly because I am quite rubbish at going uphill.  I’m not sure why, it must be something to do with my power to weight ratio, but then again lots of good fell runners are tall and lanky.

I have run the Salford 10K – held on Good Friday each year – numerous times.  The course is only a few miles from my old flat in Middleton, North Manchester.  It comprises two laps around the former Agecroft colliery site and finishes opposite the old Paterson Zachonis Soap works, now long gone.

A dearth of racing in 2018 left my wondering how I would go this time around.  I posted my 10K PB at Salford three years ago, clocking 36:06.  I doubted I could do better than that but was hoping to go sub 37.

The race always attracts plenty of high quality club athletes, consequently the start is fast. I held back a little during the first frantic mile, and when the race calmed a little I began picking my way up through the field.

I felt good, clipping along at 5:50 per mile pace and was in a little group of athletes as we made our way down some smaller back streets at the 4K point.

One of the streets was cobbled, so the runners in front swerved off to the right to run on the smoother pavement, I dutifully followed and hopped up onto the pavement.

A few seconds later, without any warning, the two runners in front of me veered off violently left and right and I was immediately poleaxed when I ran into the end of a metal barrier fence that I simply never saw. A high-viz jacked had been draped over the end of the fence but I had no chance to see it.

I was shocked and winded and I stopped momentarily.

Shit, that has probably caused me an injury, I thought

A few other runners cried out ‘My God mate are you OK?; I wasn’t sure.  I shuffled around for a few seconds, more in shock than pain.  Amazingly, I wasn’t seriously injured, though after the race I realised that I had bruised my knee and jarred my thumb.

I resumed running, maybe losing only 10-15 seconds and after a few minutes I had calmed down and regained my focus.

Surprisingly, despite my little accident, I still recorded a season’s best time for 5K as I completed the first lap in 18:06.

I lost a bit of time on the slightly uphill fourth mile, running it in just over 6 minutes, but got shifting again for miles 5 and 6 and came home in a chip time of 36:18 – my second fastest ever 10K.

I was really pleased with that and thought that I might have got close to my PB if it hadn’t been for the incident.

Perusing twitter a few days later, I was amazed to stumble across Steve Renny’s blog, in which he describes a poor runner T-boning himself on a barrier…

My Valley Strider team mates all had good runs, a special mention must go to Chairperson Steph (pictured above) who smashed her PB by over a minute.

On Easter Sunday, we canned our original plans to do a long run around the reservoirs as it would have been far too wet and muddy.  Instead I headed off with a couple of Striders to the Planets Cycle path between York and Selby.

The cycle path is pancake flat and has a to-scale representation of the sun and all the planets of the solar system.  For example, the 150,000,000 km distance from the sun to the Earth is represented by just 260 metres on the path; yet the distance between Saturn and Uranus is over two and a half kilometres.

Recently, I have been re-reading Frank Horwill’s brilliant anthology of coaching articles (preserved on the Serpentine website here).  He argued convincingly that marathon paced running must be rehearsed frequently in training.

I thought a good session for me three weeks out from London would be a steady run at Marathon pace plus 30 seconds for 8 miles, then to turn around and run at marathon race pace back to the starting point.

Myra was planning a longer run of 22+ miles so I said I would run the first 8 miles out with her and then turn back.

Those 8 miles felt great, we clipped along at 7:15 pace, it was a breeze.

Therein lay the problem.  When I turned (actually at 9 miles because it had felt so easy), I realised that we’d had a generous wind on our backs.

I tried to pick it up to marathon pace (6:45 miling).  It felt like running through treacle, I couldn’t quite do it without throwing my heart rate out of range (Horwill says that marathon pace is 80-88% of maximum heart rate, which for me is 137-151).

I ground out about four miles of just about sub 7-minute miles into the wind before murmuring to myself, sod this for a game of soldiers.

I just couldn’t do it and then suddenly I slowed dramatically, I felt very tired and my ankle was killing me again.  I shuffled ignominiously back to the car and drove home, feeling a little disheartened.

As I have said before, being an older runner sucks sometimes. Although I can crank up the engine and still grind out a decent fast race every now and again, it takes me ages to recover from such a hard effort.

Clearly two days wasn’t a long enough recovery after a fast 10K to attempt this sort of marathon paced effort.  I really have no idea what I might do at London, I might run something close to my best of 2:55, equally I might blow and end up limping in with a 3:15.

The ankle issues mean that I have struggled to log more than 45 miles per week recently, then again, I have been trying to sharpen up and work on speed.  I have already logged a decent volume of miles this year.  Well its too late to do much about it now. I will get what I will get in two weeks time.

Yesterday, I was back at the Brownlee cycling track running a 4.8K leg of the Yorkshire road relays for Valley Striders.  I was on the third leg and by the time I was dispatched  the race was spread out all over the track, meaning that I basically ran a solo time trial.

A few superfast lads from the leading clubs shot past me, unsurprisingly, I was completely unable to follow them.  I had hoped that I would run under 18 minutes, but I failed, clocking 18:07.

Valley Striders men did OK, finishing in the top half despite not being able to select many of our fastest guys.

The ladies did even better with the A team finishing in a very creditable 7th position and the B team in 15th.

Now for two weeks of steady taper running, although I am running a leg at the National Road Relays in Birmingham next Saturday.

CM-10 weeks: 44.2 miles, longest run 16.3 miles

CM – 9 weeks: 37.7 miles, longest run 11.3 miles

Aerobic efficiency: (Salford 10K 907 beats per mile)

RunBritain ranking 2.5

Weight 11st 1.8lb