Tailed off…

My ambition at cross-country championship races like the Yorkshire and Northern championships is to make the top half of the field.

Last year, I achieved my goal at the Northern cross-country championships, finishing 320th in a field of 761.  That race was on a muddy and hilly course around the Harewood Estate near Leeds (the venue for the Nationals next month).

The 2019 edition was at Pontefract Racecourse on Saturday, a course I know having raced there four years ago.  As cross-country courses go, it is one of the easier ones, undulating but with no tough hills.

After a relatively mild and dry winter so far it was reasonably firm underfoot.  If they were staging a horse race meeting, I think the going would have been described as good with patches of good to soft.

I harboured ambitions of cracking the top half once again.  I hadn’t worn my spikes since the Northerns last year but during my warm up jog they felt very uncomfortable – a bit small and I felt twinges of pain in my feet.  Fortunately, I had a pair of light trail shoes with me, so I quickly changed and decided to race in them.  It was a good decision.

The senior men’s race was billed as 12K (it was actually a little longer).  Normal cross-country wisdom dictates that one should set off like a scalded cat, establish a position in the field and then try to defend it by not fading too badly.  This is fine, but it makes for a very hard race and if you get it wrong you can be rather humiliated during the final mile by losing many places.

Because the Pontefract course is quite roomy and knowing that I am not in very good cross-country form, I thought I would try to pace it evenly.  On the first of the three laps, I wanted to it to feel comfortable, on the second I wanted to be working hard and moving through and on the final lap just give it whatever was left.

It was still congested for the first mile which I managed to cover in 6:14 (it was a bit downhill).  I felt good, I thought I was running well with reasonable form and my heart rate was in the mid 150s, about right for hard racing.

I executed my race pretty much according to my plan, maintaining an even effort and moving up through the field.  My subsequent mile splits were 6:30, 6:40, 6:28 then an uphill 6:55, to take me into the final lap. I sat in a little group of three for a few minutes and then I realised I was coasting a bit, so I pulled out and kicked on with a 6:22 6th mile.

I was having a yo-yo race with a lad from Denby Dale and we raced up the final drag towards the finishing straight.

At the top of the hill was the worst patch of mud on the whole course, the only place that my shoe choice made for a significant disadvantage.  The table tennis bat pimples on my shoes afforded about as much grip as a curling stone gets on the ice.  I veered off wide searching for traction, conceding about ten metres to the Denby runner and the others in my little group.

As we entered the finishing straight with about a furlong to go, I opened up my sprint to surge ahead of most of those that had passed me in the mud; however, the Denby lad wasn’t giving up easily and I felt him alongside with 50 metres to go.  It was one of those finishing sprints that simply came down to will power, both of us were all out, matching strides and giving it everything.

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I just managed to take it with a lunge at the line.  I slumped over the barriers for a couple of minutes, chest heaving and wondering if would be able to avoid a chunder (thankfully I did).

All this effort got me a placing of 364th in a field of 704, so nowhere near the top half.  It was a mediocre result, but I think that I raced it well.  I delivered my effort evenly and hammered the last ten minutes.  In races, you can only control your effort, the result is whatever the result is.

I was again the first irrelevant runner for my Valley Striders team, finishing 7th counter (six counted).

I was probably a bit tired after a heavy mileage week, over 66 this week and my weight is back down below 11 stones, pretty much ‘racing weight’ for me.

I’ll step the mileage down again this week, hopefully I’ll be fresh for the Dewsbury 10K next Sunday.




LM -13 weeks

10 stone 12.8 lbs

66.6 miles, longest run 13.3 miles

Parkrun : Roundhay 41:59 (419th)

Aerobic efficiency on long run – 1,068 beats per mile

RunBritain Ranking 2.6 (unchanged)




I Crimpled in the Valley

An easier week of running for me.  My ankle tendon problem seems to flare up whenever I step up the mileage too much, so I am trying to be smarter in this marathon training block.

I have plenty of racing and parkruns on the agenda at the moment, which hopefully means that my cardio-vascular fitness is OK.  There is plenty of time to allow my body to become re-accustomed to higher mileage and long runs, so a lower mileage week should be of no consequence at this stage.

I ran with the fast training group again on Tuesday.  The session was 4 x 1 mile with 3 minutes jog recovery. Except that it wasn’t 3 minutes recovery for me.  I was able to run each rep in a few seconds either side of 6 minutes (fastest 5:53, slowest 6:06), but David and Rav were cranking them out at under 5:30 pace and we took our rests from them, so I was getting about 2:30 rest at best.   It was a tough old session, but I think I did it justice, I maintained a hard effort throughout all the intervals, kept focussed and my best time was on the last interval.  Hopefully sessions like this really pay off in improving the lactate threshold and help train the mind to endure more suffering near the end of races.

I ran Armley parkrun again and was pleased with an improvement of 10 seconds on the previous week.  The course was muddy again, I was helped by becoming embroiled in a bit of a race for second place with another runner. We swapped positions about four times during the run before he eventually saw me off with 500 metres to go.

On Sunday I turned out at the fourth Peco cross country race of the season, held on a new course in Crimple Valley, Harrogate. It was a cracking course, unsurprisingly unceasingly undulating given that the location included the word ‘valley’.

I didn’t have a great run, I blew up somewhat on the final hill and conceded a few places, eventually scraping home in 101st position. I haven’t managed to break into the top hundred at any of the Peco races this season. I’m not sure why, but I am just a bit crap at cross country I suppose. It is good fun though and I just managed to be relevant in the team competition, finishing 9th and final counter.

(photos – Peter Johnstone and Kath Robbins)

The weeks running news was quite rightly dominated by Jasmin Paris’s fantastic achievement in winning the 268 mile Spine race in a record time. I can’t help but compare this to  Comrades – so she basically ran nearly five Comrades back to back, along the Pennines in mid-winter unsupported and carrying all her own kit, doing her own navigation and around two-thirds of it was in the dark.  And she hardly slept in 82 hours. I can barely conceive how that was possible. Chapeau.

I’m aiming to log a decent mileage total this week.  Its the Northern Cross Country Championships on Saturday, my target as ever will be to try to make the top half of the field, but given my current cross country form that seems exceedingly unlikely.

Hopefully I won’t be too spent on Sunday and will be able to complete a long run of some description.


LM -14 weeks

11 stone 2.8 lbs

36.6 miles, longest run 9.3 miles

Parkrun : Armley 18:52 (3rd)

Aerobic efficiency on long run – 1,051 beats per mile

RunBritain Ranking 2.6 (0.2 improvement)



Plans Are Afoot

I’m finally over my customary bout of mid-winter cold/chest infection/man-flu and replete with enthusiasm for training, I have recorded my highest mileage week since last winter – 63.9 miles.

Despite the illness, I feel in decent nick, my ankle isn’t feeling too bad and given that I will be racing on quite a few of the upcoming Sundays I wanted to bag the first long run of this marathon training block.

I ran just over two and a half laps of the reservoirs today, the first few miles with my partner Liz (we were even greeted with a cheery “hello” from England football manager Gareth Southgate as he ran past us), then I ground out the remaining miles on my own to log 17.1 in just over two and a quarter hours.  Liz is coming back from an injury, so was under instructions not to run far.

It was blowing a hoolie this morning, so it was great to get it done early and then hunker down back at home.

At my age, I don’t think that pace of long runs matters much at this stage of the process – I wanted to run for over two hours, the distance wasn’t that relevant.

The rest of the week was somewhat unmemorable, I used my lunch hours for my usual runs along the canal.   However on Tuesday evening,  I joined up with the fast Valley Striders training group and we did a session of 6 times 800m on the road with 2 minutes jog recoveries.

Some of the lads in this group have 32/33 minute 10K PBs, so I have been a little wary of joining them, thinking that I would be spat out the back sharpish.  Thankfully, the very fast lads were absent this week and I was able to hold my own and hang in with the group.  It felt good to test myself and run quickly.  I’ll probably join them again in the future.

We went to Armley parkrun yesterday.  I was hoping for a good time, but I didn’t even manage to break 19 minutes, which was disappointing.   It was breezy and half the course is off road and was muddy, so maybe it wasn’t too bad.

My plan is to knock out a few weeks of 50+ miles as a base for my training.  I have quite a few cross country races coming up, including the Northern Championship at Pontefract at the end of January and then my first ever run in the National, which is being held at Harewood House, just a few miles from my home.

Other races in the build up will be the Dewsbury 10K in early February and the Salford 10K on Good Friday. The latter race is just over a week before the London marathon.  Racing short the week before a marathon never bothered me, and I’ll have nine days to taper down for the marathon, so all should work out well.

I’m mulling over whether to include a 20 mile race this time, thankfully there are plenty of options.

LM -15 weeks

11 stone 1.8 lbs

63.9 miles, longest run 17.1 miles

Parkrun : Armley 19:03 (5th)

Aerobic efficiency on long run – 1,058 beats per mile


Keep on Chugging

Five Years is a long time in blogging. When I started this little running blog just over five years ago, it was primarily intended to be a spur to encourage me to get my ass out of the door and put in the work I needed to do to finally bag a sub 3-hour marathon.

Back in late 2013, it was all fields around here, the country was still basking the glowing embers of the glorious summer of 2012 and running blogs were as common as rocking horse manure.

How different life feels now, a polarized country following a bizarre referendum that virtually nobody in the general public either wanted nor cared much about until kettled into opposing corners of the cesspit and force-fed lies by nutters from both sides until they spat blood.

On the positive side, I have run not one but four sub 3 hour marathons, completed Comrades three times and written 109 posts in this blog.

Blogging about running has become apparently very popular. I only follow a few blogs these days, most of the ones I enjoyed back in 2014 have withered on the vine. If writing a blog helps you focus and get on with improving your health then you receive a hearty thumbs up from me.

2018 was not a halcyon year in my running career. For the first time since 2007, I did not set a personal best time at a standard race distance and it was the first year since 2012 that  I didn’t manage to record a sub 18 minute parkrun (though I did scrape under 18 minutes in a 5K race in August).

As with most things in running, it isn’t surprising. I’m 52, getting on a bit for a runner, but more significantly, I was hampered quite a bit by my dodgy ankle – posterior tibial tendonitis – which flared up whenever I try to increase the volume of miles.   My poor bio-mechanics don’t help.  I am trying to improve my running form, but I have a nagging feeling that you simply can’t teach a dog as old as me to change much.

I didn’t write any post-Comrades blog-posts last year, partly down to my poor form (let’s face it blogging is mainly about gloating), but primarily because I couldn’t be arsed.

One of the highlights of the second part of the year was my small involvement in the Tom Williams v Nick Pearson Tattoo Challenge. Tom, a good mate, was partaking in a year-long challenge with fellow parkrun executive Nick Pearson.   The challenge was to record the best average monthly parkrun time over the whole of 2018.  The loser’s forfeit was to be inked with a tattoo which included the barcode number of victor.

The challenge got a lot of traction on social media, helped by mentions on Radio 2 when Tom was interviewed by Vassos Alexander about parkrun.

Nick led the challenge for much of the year, but Tom produced a late run on the rails and going into December he was just a handful of seconds down and full of confidence. With  the challenge ending before the parkrun Christmas party, there were only two opportunities to record a time in December.

I had offered Tom my services as a pacemaker and just before the first December in Saturday he took me up on my offer and asked me to pace him at Heslington parkrun in York.

Secretly, I am very confident about my innate sense of pace. Often on a run I can guess my current running pace with a high degree of accuracy, usually within one or two seconds.

Heslington is potentially a very fast 5K course, it comprises a 1K cycle track, which is completed once, followed by and out and back along the lakeshore bus route, with a final lap of the cycle track to finish.

Tom really needed a time under 19 minutes, but unfortunately the conditions on December 1st were against us; it was breezy, cold and raining.  Tom met me during the warm up and gave me a focussed and intense briefing.

Clearly, he was right up for it. He stressed that I mustn’t go off too fast, a first kilometre of no quicker than 3:45 was ordered. He said not to worry if we didn’t run sub 19 – he thought the conditions might even mean he ran something like 19:20.

I can’t imagine that Roger Bannister gave Chattaway and Brasher a more intense pre-race briefing at Iffley Road in 1954.

After the usual preliminaries, we were away. I hit the 1K in 3:44, pretty much right on cue:

Things got tougher when we left the cycle track and put our noses in the wind. We made the halfway mark in 09:58, still on the money. However, Tom was feeling the pace on the return along the lakeshore, the wind was stronger and sensing that he was struggling, I tried to encourage him with aphorisms like “Dig in Tom” and “Only five more minutes to suffer”.

We made it back to the cycle track for the final lap and Tom picked up the pace to around 5 minutes mile for the last 500 metres, I had to dig really deep to stay with him.

He finished in 19:08, having completely rinsed himself inside out and then some. It is hard to imagine we could have gone any quicker than we did.

Unfortunately, Tom’s efforts were all in vain. Despite breaking 19 minutes at Hull parkrun on the following Saturday, Nick smashed out an all time PB of 18:43 at Dulwich to take the win.

My other highlights from 2018 were retaining the MV50 age group prize at the season long Even Splits monthly 5k series at the Brownlee cycle track in Leeds. The event is a series of 10 races with your best 6 times to count. The 2019 series starts at the end of February, though I will be away skiing for the first race.

I still love running, and with optimism in my heart I am making plans for 2019. There won’t be another Comrades for me this year.  I love the race, but the toll it takes on my body is something to be avoided for this year at least.

A new Good for Age regime has been implemented at the London Marathon, I still managed to get in, my 2:55 time from 2017 remained relevant.  My aim for the first part of the year will be quite simple – to run a personal best time for the marathon at London on April 28. I will use the blog to record my progress and note down my thoughts, just like I did back in 2014.

My two fears for London are that my ankle will not withstand the volume of training miles I will need to run and that the weather is hot again for London.

I can’t run a fast time in the heat and I won’t even try. The late April race date worries me (it’s a week later than usual because of Easter), and if it is over 20 degrees on race day as it was in 2018, then I will just pootle round and look after myself, perhaps saving myself for another race.

LM -16 weeks

11 stone 3 lbs

40.7 miles, longest run 12.7 miles

Parkrun : None (ill)

Aerobic efficiency on long run – 1,015 beats per mile