Snowdrops and T-Shirts

Not much to report this week.

The weather has been ideal for running for most of the week – cool and spring-like and a couple of runs were done in just shorts and t-shirt.

It was a step-down week for mileage after the heavy one last week.  I didn’t have any races, though I fancied running hard at parkrun on Saturday morning.  We tried Brighouse parkrun for the first time, so we could meet up with one of Liz’s friends for coffee after.

Its a pleasant flat three-lapper, primarily on stony paths around a small park. Despite giving it some beans I didn’t have much speed in the legs and I was a bit disappointed with my time of 18:55.  It didn’t help that I was unfamiliar with the course and it was one of those runs where I just happened to be almost completely alone for the majority of the run.  It always helps if you someone to chase.

Today we headed back up to the reservoirs for our Sunday long run.  I originally intended to run 22 miles, and I felt brilliant for the first two hours, banging out 16 miles at just over 7:30 pace.  I then bonked spectacularly and limped the last three miles at around 9 minutes per mile.  With my groin muscle feeling tight, I decided to sack it off.

It was great to be out and I enjoyed the first two hours as much as any run so far this year. I stopped briefly to snap the first snowdrops of the year:

snowdrops

Next Saturday, the National cross country championships are taking place at Harewood, just a few miles from my home.  I’m a very mediocre cross-country runner, but I’ll give it a go. Hopefully it won’t be as muddy as last year’s Northerns…

 

LM -10 weeks

11 stone 1.6 lbs

46.6 miles, longest run 19 miles

Parkrun : Brighouse 18:55 (4th)

Aerobic efficiency on long run 999.2 beats per mile

RunBritain Ranking 2.6 (unchanged) (MV50 rank 204)

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Reminiscing ain’t what it used to be

 

A couple of things have caused me to think back this week.

On Tuesday evening, I was lucky to see my favourite comedian again – the hilarious David o’Doherty  at the beautiful City Varieties theatre in Leeds.

Four years ago, I saw the Do’D in Manchester.  I was extremely single back then and David made an attempt to assuage my lonesomeness by asking me to be his valentine.

This morning I completed my first 20 mile+ long run of the training block around the Fewston and Swinsty reservoirs.

My legs were heavy and tired after a high mileage week and a hard effort at parkrun the previous day.  Despite a lack of speed, it felt great to be out.

It was one of those near perfect running days – a little chilly, but breathless with a watery low winter sunshine.  For a couple of brief moments, I think I even detected a vague hint of warmth in the sunshine.  Spring is not here yet, but it is thinking about getting its suitcase out of the attic.

Two years ago, I did a similar reservoir long run with some Valley Striders pals including Liz.  Fortunately for me, she accepted my nervous invitation to pop around to mine that afternoon to watch “The Barkley Marathons”.  Thankfully, I am single no more and no longer in need of valentines from middle-aged bearded Irishmen.

I have been blessed by a remarkable sequence of luck in the past fortnight.  Amazingly, I won a new laptop in the Old Leos rugby club raffle (my running club is based there).  On Friday night, I won another raffle at a rugby club – a bottle of champagne at a charity quiz held at Sale rugby club.  To round off a pretty fab evening our team, the Loser’s Club, won the quiz.

We stayed over at our friend’s house in Sale, so we decided to run South Manchester parkrun in Fallowfield.  It’s a cracking one-lapper held at Platt Field’s just a couple of hundred yards from my old student house.

One of these pictures was taken in 1987 and one in 2019 can you guess which is which?

I was up for having a right good go for a decent time, but conditions were against that with a brutal wind sweeping across the course. (Although it was as windy as chuff I was surprised that it qualified as a named storm – Erik).

I set off aggressively and was struggling quite badly at halfway into the block headwind. With around a half mile to go,  on a cinder path before the final 250m section to the finish around a boating lake, I could sense another runner, a young lad, sitting right on my shoulder.  He was no doubt lurking and looking to take the old man in the sprint.

I am nothing if not slightly competitive so as we hit the asphalt, I fired the rockets and sprinted for all I was worth.

I managed to burn him off, and I was later delighted to see there was a Strava segment for that final section to the line and I had bagged the 4th fastest time ever – out of nearly 5,000 recorded efforts.  It probably helped that I had Storm Erik up my jacksie, but Strava doesn’t record that so I can do a little stravawanker gloating…

I should have run the final Peco cross country race this morning, but I really wanted to get my 20+ done – opportunities to fit in enough proper long runs are limited.

Valley Striders always have a strong turn out at the Peco events and given that my legs were shot, it is highly unlikely that I would have counted for the team.

My long run of 20.6 miles took me nearly three hours, i.e. very slow, but it was on tired legs and was more about time on my feet than pace.

I’ve run 293 miles so far in 2019. If I can stay fit, that should be good base to build on.

 

LM -11 weeks

11 stone 1.0 lbs

68.6 miles, longest run 20.6

Parkrun : South Manchester 18:53 (7th)

Aerobic efficiency on long run 1,031 beats per mile

RunBritain Ranking 2.6 (unchanged) (MV50 rank 209)

 

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Right Up My Strasse

After two weekends of cross-country racing, I was back on familiar turf today – well tarmac – for the Dewsbury 10K.  Flat tarmac is much more up my street.

There was nothing even vaguely rude on the finishers’ T-Shirt this year.  This was somewhat disappointing to me.  After the phallic emblem last year, I had hoped that they would double-down for maximum shock value; but alas it was just a simple black long sleeved job with a few adverts on it.

I’ve had a lazy week, due to tapering down for the race today and also to my attendance at a boozy black-tie dinner on Thursday evening.  Drinking copious amounts of alcohol and talking boll***s until 3 in the morning isn’t very conducive to run training.

I didn’t run the Valley Striders interval session on Tuesday evening,  instead I went to see Clem Burke and Bootleg Blondie at the Brudenell Social Club.  Once I got past the fact that one of the World’s greatest rock drummers was playing in his own tribute band, I just marvelled at being the presence of an absolute master.

I felt fresh and quite perky on the start line at Dewsbury.  When my mate Al asked me what I hoped for, I went with 37 minutes.  I actually hoped to go a bit quicker than that, say 36:45, but I like to sandbag a bit.

I got squeezed a few rows further back than I wanted to be at the start, meaning that I didn’t manage to run unhindered until about 1K into the race.  I didn’t look at the watch much, I just tried to find that sweetspot of moving well without tripping into the red.

I have raced Dewsbury on numerous occasions, I knew that the fourth and fifth kilometres were the toughest (though still only marginally up hill); but after the turnaround I can usually crank up the pace and come home faster than I went out.

I made halfway in 19:01, which was a little disappointing.  I chided myself and then picked it up for the run back.  I recognised a few of my usual rivals in the field and focused on picking them off.  The run back was into a blinding low sun, so it wasn’t easy to see what was up ahead, I stared at the tarmac 12 feet in front of me and powered on as best I could.

Dewsbury 2019 1

photo Matt Blakeley

I passed my club-mate Nobby at about 6K, he normally beats me easily these days, so either he was having a bad one or I was flying…it turned out to be the former.

I really enjoyed the gentle downhill of the second 5K and was moving steadily up through the field.  With just over 1K to go, I saw that Joseph Kwallah from Wetherby was just ahead – he’s a fellow MV50 runner whom I often finish close to at local races.  I was hurting, but I resolved to try to bridge across to him and to try to take him in the sprint.

I managed to catch Joseph in the shadow of the viaduct and then launched my finishing effort, just managing to maintain my advantage at the line.

I finished in 37:01 chip-time, 37:10 gun-time, so the second 5K took me 18 minutes flat.  I finished 5th out of 127 in my age category, 15 seconds off an age group podium position.

My prediction of 37 minutes made to Al at the start proved uncannily accurate.  I was satisfied rather than delighted.  I felt I nailed the second half, but perhaps I left a few seconds out there, due to being asleep at the start. My time was about 40 seconds slower than 2018.

Many of my Valley Striders team mates had great runs and there were lots of PB’s being celebrated in the chilly post-race de-brief.

It is back to bashing out mileage next week, hopefully completing the first 20 mile training run of the block next Sunday

 

LM -12 weeks

11 stone 4.0 lbs

22.2 miles, longest run 9.2

Parkrun : None

RunBritain Ranking 2.6 (unchanged)

 

 

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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.

img_1107 (1)

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)

 

 

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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)

 

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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

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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Comrades 2018

Sunday June 10th, 1:30pm Somewhere between Pinetown and Durban, Kwazulu-Natal

 Why do I do this to myself? This is just agony, purgatory. My right ankle is killing me. Every step brings a prick of wince-inducing pain. I can barely run.  It is even painful to walk.  My left foot hurts and there is something not right with my hip. This is supposed to be what I do for fun.

OK, Let’s think about it…I’ve run about 47 hilly miles. I have just ten left, only ten miles – there are three hours left before the final cut-off… I will do this.

I’d reached that critical point in the Comrades Marathon. After all the struggle, the hills, the worries – the doubts were finally over. I was at the point where I knew that I could walk to the finish and still complete within the maximum time allowed (12 hours).  I term it the “Thank F**k for that” moment…

Let’s scroll back a little.

Flying out to Durban and meeting up with familiar faces for Comrades weekend felt like a school reunion. It was even better for me this year as I wasn’t alone.

We met up with friends Jock and Karen at Dubai airport and flew onto Durban’s King Shaka airport as the sun set on Thursday evening.

Lots of fellow Comrades runners were on the same flight, including the irrepressible James Love from Lancashire, replete with mini posse. He’d only returned from running the Everest marathon in Nepal a few days ago.

Comrades Friday meant strolling along the delightful beachside Promenade at holiday pace and attending the Expo. Jock and I picked up our numbers and goody bags and we all meandered amongst the snake oil stands before convening in the International café.

Plenty of nervous running chat ensued – mostly about injuries and worries about Sunday – will it be hot? – someone said it would be 30 degrees! (no way), there might even be some rain (please!)…

Being a Down year, one of the primary logistical considerations was getting to the start, 57 miles away in Pietermaritzburg in time for the Cockerel’s Crow at 5:30 a.m.

Thanks to Debra and Terry, Jock and I were offered a lift, allaying the worries about buying bus tickets.

Saturday

We rose early and made our way the few hundred metres down the promenade to the start of North Beach parkrun, the busiest in the World. I made for the Suncoast casino, where the parkrun started the last time I was in Durban two years ago.

We hoped to start near the front so my partner could have a chance of a good time. Clearly, they had moved the start and by the time we found the new start line round the back of the life-saving station we were near the back of the huge mass of runners.

We squeezed our way as best we could through the throng, but were still a few rows back from the front when the speeches were delivered.

Hilariously, one of the guys on the microphone said “This is Durban, if you hear a gunshot, please feel free to run in any direction”.

Although we had to weave around lots of other runners, we still gave it a go and enjoyed being part of such a different parkrun experienc

The rest of Saturday was taken up with wasting time, meandering back to the Expo and just waiting for the big day. We watched the first South Africa v England rugby test in the hotel bar and then went up to bed.

I was tucked up at 9.00 p.m. laying motionless waiting for sleep that I knew would never come.

Race Day

I may have dropped off to sleep around 1 a.m. Unfortunately, the alarm went off at 1:45 a.m.

Groggy, I wolfed down two pots of instant porridge in the hotel room and got my stuff together.

A gaggle of Comrades internationals met in the hotel foyer at 2:30 a.m. and then we drove up in mini convoy to Pietermaritzburg.

Armed with local knowledge, Terry led us right into the centre of PMB and incredibly dropped us off just 200 metres from the start line at about 4:10 a.m. It was chilly and I had not brought enough clothing to feel comfortable.

Jock and I had decided to run together and we made our way into the near deserted C pen with Amanda, a fellow Brit Comrade who was running for a back-to-back medal. We tried sitting on the edge of the curb, but it was cold and not at all comfortable.

I spotted that a Nando’s was open and that we could nip through a gap in the fences and get into the warm and enjoy a pre-race coffee, I’d brought 100 rand with me.

Much to the unbridled delight of a Scot and a Yorkshireman, the coffee and muffins in Nando’s were free and there was virtually nobody in there. We sat in the warm watching the pens slowing fill up as the time approached 5 a.m.

We got back into the pen and once they dropped the tapes between the corrals, we shuffled forward and I could see we were only maybe 100 metres from the Start line.

I’ve experienced the Comrades start twice before. It is still utterly spine chilling.

After the hubbub and the emotion of Shosholoza, the cock crowed and we were off, shuffling at first, then a slow walk and finally we broke into a jog as we reached the start line in two minutes.

Jock said we should aim to run at around 11 minutes per mile for the first few miles. I was happy to go with his pace. This was very sensible, but slower than most runners around us had set off and lots of people from other pens streamed past us.

Rather than finishing at the Kingsmead cricket stadium in Durban, we were heading for a new finish venue– the Moses Mabhida soccer stadium. An iconic arch dominated white arena purpose built for the 2010 World Cup:

As this meant a longer route through Durban at the end, the organisers had changed the traditional route out of PMB in order to ensure that the distance wasn’t too far (It was still one of the longest Comrades courses ever at 90.184 km).

Rather than running through pleasant suburbs, we soon found ourselves running up a long narrow motorway off-ramp in near pitch darkness. It was extremely unpleasant, the road wasn’t really wide enough for the size of the field and the few temporary portable floodlights didn’t help much.

I enjoyed the easy early miles and we were on Polly Shortss as the sun rose, it was quite something:

We plodded on, knocking off consistent miles between 10 and 11 minutes. I had a heart rate strap on, and my pulse was encouragingly low, barely over 100 beats per minute.

I’d definitely drunk enough as I had to pee several times, the first time caused me to lose contact with Jock and James Love (who had joined us), I’d zoomed ahead for a bit thinking I could get the job done before they reached me. After not seeing them and waiting ages I was in the frustrating position of not knowing if they were in front of me or behind.

I upped my pace and searched for them, more likely to spot the lofty figure of James Love than wee Jock. I didn’t find them amongst the masses, but luckily we somehow made contact again a few miles down the road.

We were taking regular one minute walk breaks, but well before half way James dropped back and told us not to wait for him.

I recorded my slowest ever marathon at a minute or two over 5 hours, but I felt in reasonable shape, confident I could keep going at our steady pace.

Just after halfway, I stopped at Arthur’s Seat to lay a poppy I’d bought at the Expo and to pay my respect to Arthur Newton:

I’d forgotten how tough the climbs were after halfway, through the Botha’s Hill area and we were taking more frequent walk breaks. Most runners around us we walking all the uphills.

I was starting to feel fatigued, with the first pangs of ankle pain as the tendonitis niggled me again. I knew there were some long arduous downhills ahead, I was especially dreading the 4k down gradient of Field’s Hill into Pinetown that caused me so much agony on the down run two years ago.

The Botha’s Hill to Hillcrest area is a great part of the course for spectators – it feels like a leafy and affluent area. Rich people prefer living up in the cooler hills rather than the heat of Durban I guess.  Many of them lined the route with beer and braais smoking away

In Hillcrest, Jock spotted a famous face in the crowd – South African cricket legend Shaun Pollock.

They say you should always keep moving forwards at Comrades. We broke this rule and turned back a few metres to grab a word and a photo with Shaun.  He couldn’t have been nicer:

The dreaded Field’s Hill followed. I was starting to really struggle. I couldn’t muster much of a run so I was consigned to having to walk down most of Field’s Hill. I knew I was holding Jock back, he waited for me as we ran through Pinetown – with 21K to go.

We picked up Stuart, another Brit and mate of James Love who looked to be struggling like me. A few Ks later we let Jock slip away, we couldn’t keep up with his natural pace. I was in pain, but I am a little ashamed to say that I was a bit mentally weak.

Rather than taking walk breaks from running, we were taking run breaks from walking.

Both the 10 hour and 10:30 buses came chugging past us.

Stuart seemed to rally a little and I could tell he wanted to do more running than me. Sensing this, I implored him to go on. With 10K to go and three hours left he could still easily make it in with a sub 11 hour time. I said I was fine, I was happy to walk in and I knew I would make it OK. We shook hands and on he went

After a few minutes of walking on my own, feeling somewhat sorry for myself, I was engulfed by a huge bus – the 11 hour bus – maybe 80 or 90 people shuffling behind the bus driver, Jeff.

Fortuitously for me, the bus stopped to walk through a water point just after they caught me. I had a stern word with myself and decided to try and stay with the bus for as long as I could. I didn’t expect that I would be able to make it to the finish in under 11 hours, I would have to run something like sub 12 minute miles for that.

After a couple of Ks on the bus, I felt better. Somehow running as part of a huge group seemed to really help, especially as we were now on the horrible cavernous concrete motorway on the final descent into Durban.

We passed the last intermediate cut off at Sherwood, that coincided with the last climb of any consequence. My mindset changed, I resolved to finish on the bus. It was really tough, I was working really hard but felt I might be able to do it if I kept my mind focussed and ignored the pain in my foot and ankle.

I was constantly doing calculations in my head, it felt that Jeff was running too slowly – I’d thought he’d cocked up and we were going to miss the 11 hour finish. I should have had more faith.

Buses are famous at Comrades, but not without controversy. Some Comrades runners think they are inconsiderate to other runners, spreading across the road and denying other runners the space to run unencumbered.

I was almost pushed over at the final water stop as a few runners pushed their way to grab water. I wasn’t impressed; “For Fuck’s sake guys!” I shouted as I almost fell to the concrete.

We merged with another 11 hour bus as we ran past Kingsmead, the old finish venue, Comrades was cruelling baiting us: Look at where you used to finish.

The imposing Moses Mabhida stadium lay ahead of us, slowly growing in size as we inched towards it on a wide urban highway.

With the time elapsed at 10:50 we were on the approaches to the stadium. A number of seasoned black Comrades runners forced their way to the front of bus and linked arms, blocking the road.  We were eased to a slow jog, then a walk, like a lion stalking its prey, savouring what lay just ahead.

It felt like the elders of the family were asserting their authority – we have brought you this far, we will pause for a moment and reflect on what we are about to achieve. There was singing and amazing excitement.

I felt strangely europhic and emotional all at the same time. I was relieved, delighted yet on the edge of tears all at the same time.

In days gone past I used to love watching the marathon finish on the final day of the Olympics. In those days, the winner would run into the packed stadium, flanked by motorbike outriders, and run a closing lap around the track. It seemed wonderfully romantic to me.

Finishing Comrades isn’t the same, not by any measure, but it is the nearest I will ever experience to the old romance of the Olympic finish.

We ran up a marbled stone ramp, through the darkness of the tunnel and then emerged into the morass of colour and overwhelming noise in the stadium. I will never forget it.

We ran a half lap around the perimeter track and finished under the gantry.  I shook hands with as many fellow members of the bus as I could.  All we said to each other was “Well done”, nothing else was needed.

My time was 10:54 – another bronze medal performance. I stopped my Garmin and laughed when it flashed up “Recovery time – 10 hours” . You have got to be shitting me I thought to myself.

After the euphoria of the finish, I found myself stuck in an almighty crowd just after the line. I don’t enjoy being critical, but the post finish line logistics for runners of my pace were a little shambolic.  They could barely process us fast enough to keep the actual finish line clear, there just wasn’t enough room in a tight football stadium to get us through the line, present us with badges and medals and send us off to our correct meet-up locations.

It wasn’t helped by the fact that the pitch was out of commission. At Kingsmead, clubs were allowed to pitch tents and gazebos on the outfield and that gave the finish a wonderful festival atmosphere. By contrast, this new stadium felt sterile.

I eventually received my medal and was directed up into the dedicated Internationals section in the stands for a sobbing reunion with my loved one.

We waited for the final, brutal 12 hour cut-off and swapped war-stories.  Jock had stormed it – 20 minutes faster than me, Stuart made the sub 11 easily, with 10 minutes to spare.

Thankfully, James Love made it again, just. He hauled himself over the line in a time of 11:54, having been passed twice by the 12 hour bus on the road. Well done sir!

Reflections

I am writing these words over two weeks after completing Comrades. As always, it was an overwhelming and incredible experience.  I am privileged that I am able to take part, that I have sufficient health and fitness to convey my body over a 90 km course.

I love the experience of Comrades weekend, I feel part of a small club of runners that know just how special this event is. Comrades brands itself as The Ultimate Human race, that is a big claim, but one that is justified in my view.

Somehow though I feel that Comrades beat me this year. I finished Comrades – yes, but I didn’t run it.

In my opinion, I simply didn’t do enough training. My injuries meant that I couldn’t do enough long runs.  To well at Comrades, you need to do a number of back-to-back long runs – for example weekends where you run say 20 miles on Saturday and then 28 miles on Sunday. I didn’t/couldn’t do that and consequently I got found out.

My average heart rate was just 104 beats a minute so it wasn’t cardio vascular fitness that failed me, quite simply my legs weren’t up to it.

Will I do another? I am not sure, but probably not.  I love running, but I am 52 this year and I have to seriously assess what I can achieve.  Over the past two years, my body has broken down with injury a number of times when training for longer events like marathons and ultras.

However, I still feel I am very competitive for my age. My 5K and 10K performances are amongst the best in the county for my age group and are not that far off being competitive at National level. I think I could be a pretty good 5K 50+ runner, but I know I will never be a good ultra runner.

Comrades is wonderful, but utterly exhausting. More than two weeks after finishing Comrades in a very ordinary time, I still feel utterly shattered and barely back into running.

I’ll have a rest, a think and hopefully get back to running quick again soon.

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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 on 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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