Once, Twice, Three Times a Comrade (?)…

It is almost time for the big one – my third Comrades is on Sunday (eek). It’s an engagingly terrifying prospect.  I am privileged to be taking part in the greatest ultra race in the World, but man I know it is going to be a very long and painful day.

Still, it is healthy to occasionally put oneself way out of the comfort zone, remove the succours of modern living, and see if you still have what it takes.

After abandoning my last long run following a minor injury scare, training has been steady.  I’ve done two more long runs of just two hours, a mere fifth of what I will have to cover on Sunday, but that’s point about about Comrades – you can’t really train for it. After all, who else but someone like Steve Way can do a 40 mile training run.  For me, it will be the ultimate case of ‘winging it’.

Rather perversely, in preparation for a 56 mile race, I have focussed on sharpening up my speed over the last two weeks. Lots of long slow runs makes one a long slow runner and I knew that my 5K speed, usually one of my best race distances, was well below my best level.

I have a season ticket entry for the 10 race long Even Splits 5K series at the Brownlee cycling track every third Wednesday of the month. Two weeks ago we had relatively good, fast conditions for the first time this year.  I was eager to ‘go deep’ and see what I could do.  I thought that I should be capable of a sub 18:15 if I really nailed it.

The race comprised three and a bit laps. The start is always a bit manic, almost everyone goes off too quickly and fades.  I too got a little carried away, running the first mile in under 5:35  (17:22 pace).   I started slowing on lap two and my team mate Paul came bounding past me. He is a very strong runner, normally significantly quicker than me, but on the comeback after injuries, so I tried desperately to latch on and get a tow around.

Up the draggy climb at the start of lap 2, he eked out a few metres on me, the elastic was approaching snapping point. It was one of those moments one faces in races. A simple matter of can I bring myself to suffer enough to close the gap, or do I give in and accept early defeat.

I managed to squeeze out a little more pace and closed the gap a little, clinging on for another lap.

By the ‘bell’ with a mile to go, Paul and I were in a group of four with runners from Knaresborough and Ripon. I was at the back of the group, grafting hard just to stay with the group.

I knew that if I could hang on  until the final bend, I would have a good chance to take them in the finishing sprint, but it was agony. I was gasping, gurning and grunting with a heart rate in the 160s.

The Ripon lad made a move down the back straight with 600m to go, the Knareborough runner followed, but Paul didn’t, so I picked it up to make sure I was in striking distance of the two North Yorkshire lads, thankfully out gunning them both in the finishing straight.

My time was 18:10 which I was very pleased with.

even splits May 18

Last Saturday, my partner and I decided to head over to York University to try out Heslington parkrun. It looked like a super fast course. It was a still day, drizzly, but with no wind. The course is a lap of a kilometre long cycling circuit then an out and back run one the bus lane next to the lake, finishing with a final lap of the track.

I set my Garmin to ‘kms’ rather than miles. I wanted to see if I could possibly dip under the 18 minute mark for the first time in well over a year. For me, sub 18 minutes tells me that I am in good fettle.

Helpfully for me, I got involved in a proper race for third place with a Knavesmire runner, we had a right old ding-ding, taking it in turns to try to break each other.

I managed to drop him just before we returned to the circuit for the final K and I recorded 18:04, so not quite what I was hoping for, but it felt good to be in the same postcode.

Attention now turns to Comrades, a long tiring journey on Wednesday and Thursday followed by a couple of days of fun and catching up with great friends before rising in the Godforsaken hours of Sunday morning to travel up to Pietermaritzburg. There will be nerves, electricity and excitement at the start. The singing of the South African national anthem, then Shosholoza followed by the crowing of the cockerel and then we will set off into the cool African pre-dawn.

I wonder if I will make it to Durban.

 

Comrades 2018 -1 week

11 stone 3.4 lbs

39 miles, longest run 12.4 miles. Heslington parkrun : 18:04 (3rd)

RunBritain Handicap 2.6 (UK M50 rank 180)

 

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The Long and Wounding Road

I had earmarked the 7 weeks between the London Marathon and Comrades on June 10th as the time to log some galactic weekly mileages, ideally with a couple of 30-35 mile runs chucked in.

It hasn’t gone entirely to plan.  My first problem was that I was completely knacked-in by London.  I hardly ran at all for a week, then did a week with just 28 miles.

Eventually, my legs felt as if they were coming back, so I thought I would test them out by running a flat out time-trial at York parkrun on Saturday 5th May.

I pride myself on being able to predict my finishing time with uncanny accuracy and I was gunning for a time of around 18:10.  It was a good day, but despite absolutely rinsing myself, I only managed a time of 18:24 which I was not that happy with.

The following Monday was the first of the bank holidays in May (why do we still call them ‘bank’ holidays?). A roasting hot day was in prospect so I hatched a plan to set off early and log a 30+ mile training run in the heat by running the entirety of legs 4, 5 and 6 of the hilly Leeds Country Way footpath.

I know the paths well having run them for my club in the annual LCW relay held each September.  Fortunately for me, team-mate Graham offered to accompany me for the first leg and my partner planned to meet me at various points along the route with supplies of encouragement, drinks, food and fresh tee-shirts.

I warned Graham that it would be a slow one – I intended to replicate likely Comrades pace, which realistically for me would be 10-11 minutes per mile, allowing for regular walk breaks.

We set off on a glorious morning at 7:30 a.m. – I knew I was going to be out there for maybe 6 hours, so I went very steadily, consciously holding myself back and trying to train my mind to accept that a realistic Comrades pace needs to feel ludicrously slow for the first couple of hours.

After 11 miles, I bade farewell to Graham and shuffled on alone, entertaining myself with a few podcasts and an old episode of Radcliffe and Maconie.  I met up with my partner for the first time after 15 miles – by then the temperature was into the mid 20s, so I changed my tee-shirt and guzzled down some food and drinks.

Very considerately, she had prepared a big tub of boiled salted potatoes just like they give out at Comrades, so I wolfed down as many as I could comfortably stomach.   After all, this was training for eating during a hot hilly ultra as much as running it.

All in all, I had a cracking day out – My mind was in the right place to run and walk 31 miles at an appropriate speed.  My average heart rate was just 111 and it never went above 136.

However, my legs were completely knackered by the time I gratefully reached the finish at Garforth sports centre, though I did manage to run sub 10 minutes for the final mile, which pleased me.

Thirty one miles took me 6 hours, which sounds very slow and barely better than Comrades cut-off pace, however, the path was very rough and muddy in places, there were plenty of stiles and obstructions and I did fanny about a bit along the way, so the pace doesn’t concern me.

After a day off, I resumed training each day and recorded 67 miles for the week.

Last week, I knew that I would be away for two and a half days at a work conference/exhibition in Manchester, so running opportunities would be limited and likelihood of consuming unhealthy quantities of beer and bad food was extremely high.

I happened to spot that Cannonball Events were putting on a 5K series around Hollingworth Lake at Littleborough near Rochdale and the third race of the series was to be held on the Wednesday night.

I packed some running stuff and would decide later whether to enter or not.  By the Wednesday afternoon, I was itching to get out so I told my colleagues that I would be sneaking off to run a 5K race and that I would meet up with them in the pub later in the evening.

I caught a train from Manchester Victoria to Littleborough and jogged the 1.75 miles to race HQ.

After a heavy night on the pop and a whole day on my feet, I felt fatigued before the race, so I wasn’t sure how it would go.  I set off somewhat optimistically, running 5:46 for the first (slightly downhill mile).  I was soon blowing hard and struggling to maintain good pace into a noticeable breeze, but I brought it home in 18:52 and was surprised to see from the live timing on the iPad in the Clubhouse that I had finished first in the MV50 age category.

There was a prize for the winner of each age cat, but I knew I had to catch a train just 30 minutes later and the station was nearly 2 miles away. I explained my predicament to the organiser and he very kindly handed me the prize of  a £10 sports voucher whilst most runners were still out on the course.

I made excellent time back to Manchester and was out making merry with my colleagues at 9:15pm after having travelled back, showered and changed.

Last Sunday, I planned another long one of at least 30 miles, this time I decided on utilising various loops around my local village, returning to my house each time to take drinks and eat food.

It didn’t go well. By 20 miles in, I felt a familiar, insidious dull pain on the inside of the bump of my right ankle – the return of posterior tibial tendinitis. Shit, I thought I had cracked that one.

I jog-walked four miles home and chucked in the towel.

Feeling a bit disheartened, I phoned the Coach House Physio practice yesterday morning and luckily they had a cancellation later in the day so I went to see a new physio.

As she quizzed me on my history, she asked what my weekly mileage had been over the past few weeks.

“Right, let’s see, well I did London at the end of April, then I had a week off, then a easy week of 20-odd miles then I jumped up to nearly 70 miles…”

She looked at me with a knowing expression…”Jumping up in miles probably wasn’t a very good idea was it?”  Clearly that was what had set it off again. A Schoolboy error.

However, after she had worked on me aggressively for an hour she felt that my foot and ankle had loosened up a lot and she thought that I could be optimistic about being fit enough for Comrades.

With Comrades just two weeks on Sunday, the long runs are all done.  I haven’t done as many as I wished, but I have done a 31 miler, two marathons and a 25 mile run in the past 8 weeks, so that will just have to do.

If I am fit, I’ll try to keep it fresh my running some quickish 5Ks or parkruns.  I’ve got the next Even Splits 5K at the Brownlee cycling track tomorrow night to look forward to.

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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

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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.

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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 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

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Gremlins from the Kremlin

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.

XC1

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.

Even splits race 1

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.

Jock loch Katrine

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.

Progress Report:

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.

Recent Training:

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

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Parky parkrunning

 

My aching legs told me that last Sunday’s hard  effort at the Dewsbury 10K took its toll – they felt heavy most of the week.  I couldn’t face the Club speed session on Tuesday evening, I was too knackered, so I shuffled around for the early part of the week, barely managing to break 8 minute mile pace.

I still managed to clock up a respectable 62 miles this week – running miles on tired legs is a fact of life in marathon training.

I treated myself to a day off on Friday, eager to have a go at a parkrun on Saturday morning. Cold rain and a breezy day erased thoughts of trekking off to one of the faster flat courses to the east of Leeds (York, Heslington or maybe even Hull) and instead I went back to my spiritual home at Woodhouse Moor.

Milling around in the throng before the start I didn’t notice many of the usual speedies.

I went off the start quite hard and freewheeled down first downhill straight. Amazingly, after 400 metres I was leading the field.

Often at Woodhouse Moor a few runners pass me on the drag up to the first kilometre marker, but not this time. I could hear other runners close behind, but I decided to get my head down and press on.

I went through the first mile in a smidge under six minutes and was still leading at the halfway mark.  Shortly afterwards, two runners eased passed me, though I managed to keep them in my sights, maybe within 10 – 15 metres.  They weren’t obviously running more strongly than me, I fantasized: maybe I can hang on and do them in the finishing straight.

It was a perishing day with a cheeky breeze. The course is nearly all tarmac, but there is a 100m muddy downhill section past the skate park on each lap. My Hoka Clayton shoes have about the same amount of traction as a bowling shoe and I almost came to a complete stop on the muddy slope undoubtedly costing me a few seconds each lap.

At the 4K marker I was still in third.  I gathered myself and tried to close the gap, but I was having to do a lot of weaving around other parkrunners.

With around 600 metres to go, a tall lanky young lad flew past from nowhere and surged ahead, going on to take the win. I caught the third placed runner at the final corner, but I couldn’t do any more and finished third in 18:26.

Given the conditions, I was pleased with that – third is my second best ever result at Woodhouse Moor (I once finished first many years ago on a snowy day when there were just 50 runners).

On Sunday, I dragged myself up to the reservoirs and ground out a dour 20 miler.  I didn’t enjoy it much, I was fatigued and a much of the running was into a bitter cold wind. It took me exactly three hours and it felt like a right old chore.

But I did it.

 

Comrades 2018 -17 weeks

11 stone 3.8 lbs

62.4 miles, longest run 20.1 miles. Woodhouse Moor parkrun : 18:26 (3rd)

RunBritain Handicap 3.0

Aerobic efficiency 1,047 heartbeats per mile

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The Upstanding Member for Dewsbury

Dewsbury

Even the Daily Mail got excited about the Dewsbury 10K this year.  It must have been a slow news day because Middle England’s favourite lie-sheet got it’s knickers all in a twist about the race T-shirt, of all things… http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5353973/Dewsbury-10K-runners-handed-rude-T-shirts.html.

I was pleased because I had my best race in months. After a fab few days away skiing in France and finally freed from most of my injury niggles, I got to the start line of a race feeling eager to go out and give it a right good smash. I was hoping to duck under 37 minutes, any time under 36:45 I would have considered a really strong run.

It was a cracking day for it – barely above freezing, with nobbut a breath of wind.  It’s a quick course comprising a long very gradual 5K drag up Bradford Road, a turn around a traffic cone  at halfway, then the 5K blast back to the finish. They had even managed to put the cone in the right place this year…

I was confident enough to stand near the very front of the 1200 starters and went out hard for the first half of the race. I reached the halfway cone in 18:37, which matched my best standalone 5K in the last six months.

I was blowing hard, but felt strong and ready to try to run even faster for the homeward 5K. My head was in a good place and I tried to think only about maintaining my cadence and  surging to increase my speed when I felt my pace start to flag.  I looked to latch onto other runners that appeared to be running strongly.

I ended up following Alice Leake, the female winner of the recent 5K series at the Brownlee Centre and a GB international at Orienteering. I even went past her for a few metres with 2K to go but she soon put me back in my rightful place and surged ahead.

I resisted the temptation to glance at my Garmin much on the way back, though I’d set the watch to flash up the kilometre splits and mostly they were in the low 3:30s.

With a mile to go I was really suffering it, right on the jagged edge of nearly having to let it go and slow down, but I just managed to resist that temptation. The sight of the Viaduct just before the finish banner was a huge relief and when I spotted 200m sprayed in red on the road, I guessed it meant 200 metres to go and opened up my sprint, managing to nab a few places in the shadow of the finish.

I’d run 17:45 for the second 5K, for a total time of 36:22 which I was thoroughly satisfied with, only 16 seconds slower than my PB set a few years back at the pancake flat Salford 10K.

My Strava analysis showed 155 out of 156 points in the red – indicating that I’d run virtually the whole race right on, or even beyond lactate threshold. Basically, I rinsed myself:

Starva Dewsbury

As a wee bonus, I was the first finisher from my club, for some reason all the faster lads must have had other things on.  I was also third in my MV50 age category,  I might receive a voucher for a new pair of socks for that.

Despite the Daily Mail getting in a tailspin about Cock-gate, I was pleased with my morning’s efforts in Dewsbury.

The next target race is the Bath Half marathon in 4 weeks. Time to get back into grinding out some serious mileage

 

 

Comrades 2018 -18 weeks

11 stone 4.0 lbs

19.1 miles, longest run 6.2 miles.

RunBritain Handicap 2.9

 

 

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Into the valley of death ran the 700

…so says the title of one of the segments that some wag had created on Strava after yesterday’s Northern Cross Country Championship race at Harewood House.

Boy it was muddy, and as I have mentioned before, I don’t do so well in heavy going.  I was too slow at the manic start, getting stuck too far back. I felt I ran strongly once I had got into it and I quite enjoyed the 12K slog through the mud.

They reckon the Nationals will be held there next year, it would be fab if they were.

Only a short piece this week, I off am on holiday skiing.

Comrades 2018 -20 weeks

11 stone 3.4 lbs

49.4 miles, longest run 9.2 miles.

RunBritain Handicap 2.9

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Sliding Doors

A post on Twitter this week about a runner’s ten year anniversary of his first parkrun at Woodhouse Moor caused me to check back on my record.

His first parkrun in January 2008 coincided with my second – I’d made my debut the previous week.

I don’t believe in fate or any kind of pre-ordained life.  We have a good measure of free will and we are exposed to the fundamental randomness of the Universe in my humble view; however, I did muse on how that simple decision to take myself down to Woodhouse Moor to try parkrun has changed my life.

It led me on a path to become a serious runner, I’ve made many new friends, I have travelled to places and done events that I could never have even conceived of and it also led to great happiness in my private life.  Yes, digging out my trainers and dragging myself down to try out a strange new free 5K run over a decade ago is one of the best decisions I ever made.

After two high mileage weeks, I stepped it back this week. It felt the correct thing to do, I have been going OK and I still have 13 weeks until London and 21 until Comrades so there is no need to go mad with miles just yet.

The weather hasn’t been great in the North of the UK this week – with plenty of snow and cold temperatures leaving roads and pavements often ice covered.

I decided to have a crack at the fourth Peco cross country race in the series, a course of 4.8 miles around Middleton Woods in South Leeds.  It was undulating with not many ‘killer’ hills that usually find me out and a couple of twisty technical descents that I can usually run quite well.

In my last cross country I was asleep at the start and got stuck too far back, causing me stress and extra energy trying to work my way through the field.  This time I set off more purposefully, established a reasonable position in the pack and then just battled away for places.

Peco 18.4

A nasty short climb about half a mile from the finish sent my heart rate rocketing and I lost a few of positions.  Back on the huge finishing field, I gathered myself and unleashed my best sprint to take most of them back.  I finished in 63rd position, fourth in my age category, but overall I was satisfied with my effort. I’d kept focussed throughout the race and I don’t feel that I could have done much more.

It’s the Northern Cross Country Championships next Saturday, held at Harewood House, only a few miles from where I live.  I might jog there and back to make it a long run day as well as a Championship race, we’ll see.  A top half finish will be my ambition

Comrades 2018 -2 weeks

11 stone 4.0 lbs

36.3 miles, longest run 7.7 miles. No parkrun (bad weather)

RunBritain Handicap 2.9

Aerobic efficiency 1,087 heartbeats per mile

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