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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Mojo Working

Another good week for the mileage log with no injury setbacks…things may be looking up.  For the first time in over nine months I experienced the elusive feeling of it feeling quite easy to run at a decent lick in training.  At last I am making progress rather than incessantly worrying about which bit of me might wear out or fall off next.

Seventy miles is my biggest week in almost a year.  Unsurprisingly I feel tired, but happy to be seemingly recording improvement.  I am hoping to run well at the Dewsbury 10K in three weeks.  I was on for a probable personal best time there last year only to be thwarted by a course that was more 10.2 than 10 kilometres.  I’m sure they will measure and mark it out right this year.

To get the mileage in, I’ve had to do some double days, which I find hard.  On Thursday I ran to work (5.5 miles) and for the return I took a longer route of 13.5 miles.  It was an unappealing run against a constant stream of glaring headlights on a cold, dark night.  However, I get a perverse enjoyment from completing this sort of run.  I wrapped up well, plugged in my headphones and caught up on my podcast backlog and drifted away with my thoughts.  I was home in what felt like no time, though it actually took me an hour and three quarters.

We tried a new parkrun on Saturday – Selby.  The course is around the bumpy perimeter path of an airfield, amazingly one lap of the airfield is exactly five kilometres. It was a chilly day and a brisk old breeze was scuttling through the windsocks.

The course was billiard table flat so I was aiming for a sub 19 minute time, hopefully nearer to 18:30. It’s quite a new parkrun (this only was the fifth event), the field was around two hundred or so.

Soon after the off, I was up in the leading group and after a kilometre I was off the front, running alongside a young lad in leggings and a club vest. I’d gone off hard, so my heart rate was up and I was gasping in the air, he casually turned to me and started chatting as if we were out for an easy walk.  I gasped out a couple of one or two word responses, which I expect were entirely incomprehensible.  He then asked me if I knew the way, “Erm, no, I was following you” I managed to blurt out.

Thankfully, it was hard to go wrong, we stuck to the fairly obvious perimeter path and didn’t head down the runway.

I managed to run the first (partially wind assisted) mile in just under six minutes, but the next was directly into the strong wind, we slowed to 6:30 pace.  Just as we were turning back towards the finish, with the wind again on our backs, another runner breezed past. I tried for a few strides to stick with him, but clearly he had been holding a lot in reserve and he zoomed away easily.

In addition to being bumpy, the path was covered in a couple of centimetres of mucilaginous mud. I had made a bad shoe choice and struggled for traction in the worst of it.

With around 400m metres to go I decided to have a dig to try to steal second place from the young lad.   I opened up my ‘sprint’.  I am pretty good at reading other runners body language in races and as he floated effortlessly past me, his body language was saying “don’t be ridiculous, you have no chance of beating me”.  He was right.

I finished third in 18:56, given the wind and the mud, I was satisfied with that. On a dry still day I am fairly sure I could have maintained sub six minute mile pace the whole way.

Next week – hopefully more of the same.

 

Comrades 2018 -21 weeks

11 stone 1.6 lbs

70.3 miles, longest run 17 miles. Parkrun (Selby, 3rd 18:56)

RunBritain Handicap 2.9

Aerobic efficiency on Long run 1,047 heartbeats per mile

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Ponte Carlo or Bust

A new year and new plans for the year of running ahead, the deluded narcissistic coiffured lunatic on the other side of the Atlantic permitting.

It doesn’t bear worrying about, so I won’t.  Somehow, we’ll all muddle through and even if we don’t, worrying about it will not do you nor me any good.

Since my last post, after the aborted Chester marathon, my running has been decidedly lacklustre and my performances mediocre.  I’ve turned  51 years old,  advancing age is undoubtedly dulling my speed and it has taken me ages to shake off some niggly injuries.

The stiffness in my right ankle, specifically posterior tibial tendonitis is better; however, I still feel it on every run.  Since October, I have sought help and treatment from physios at the Coach House in Leeds and, on the advice of my podiatrist neighbour, an excellent running-specialist podiatrist on Street Lane, Lee.

Lee diagnosed me quickly.  He is also a runner and after filming me shirtless  running  on his treadmill (I was shirtless, not him, I hasten to add), it was easy to see how problems with my gait and running form were manifested in lower leg pain.

It is difficult to analyse oneself objectively, but even allowing for this, I looked poor – shoulders slumped, hips weak and falling inwards leading to the right knee collapsing inwards, pressurising the tendons on the inside of the ankle.

If David Rudisha resembles a gazelle when running, then I looked like a hyena – a hyena that was constipated and had been knee-capped.

Despite my awful running style, Lee thought that I didn’t look too bad.  He stressed that I needed to engage my core muscles and lift everything up by a couple of centimetres.  I should try to look forward and not down and work my arms backwards and forwards rather than across my body.  He said it was amazing I could run as quickly as I do because I was wasting lots of energy working across my body rather than propelling myself forwards.

To my detriment, I have never been especially dedicated to physio’s exercises, but I did try to take his advice.  During my easier runs I have been focussing on holding my core firmly and lifting up.

To be frank, I hadn’t felt much had changed, but when I went back for my last visit, Lee said that my form was much better. He filmed me again and I could see that my hips were more stable and different muscles in my back were firing.

Since Chester, my level has dropped significantly.  During one of those slow days between Christmas and New Year, I took some time to trawl through my weekly mileage records on Strava from the previous three years.  It was easy to deduce that my best race performances came after blocks of heavy mileage.  When the weekly training mileage dropped, so did the subsequent race performances.

It ain’t brain surgery – you get out what you put in.

Feeling better, I have set some plans for 2018.  The highlight will be a return visit to South Africa in June to run the Comrades marathon for the third time.  As I missed last year, I will be partaking in another down run.  I won’t be setting any time goals this year.  I already possess a Bill Rowan medal (sub 9-hours), the next best medal is the silver – however the required standard of under 7 hours 30 minutes is well beyond me.

I’m blogging again for selfish reasons – just writing the blog provides focus and makes me train harder.  Since I began writing the blog I have managed at least two personal bests each year.  I would be delighted to keep this streak going, but that will be very tough,  I might well be over the top of the bell curve, we’ll see.

The first day of the year saw me attempt (and fail) the now customary Valley Striders parkrun double.  In a change from the usual format, we ran Woodhouse Moor followed by Rothwell (rather than Temple Newsam).  After the second parkrun, my ankle was sore so I ducked out of the slow 6 mile trudge back, opting for a lift in a nice warm Citroen C1 instead.  Much Kudos to my hardy teammates who completed the challenge.

Yesterday, I gave it a dig at a new parkrun for me – Pontefract.  It’s a great course, basically a lap of the bumpy ambulance track inside the longest flat horse-racing course in Europe, bookended by two laps of a boating lake.

It was a teeth-clenchingly chilly day – a glacial northerly wind nipped into our faces for the first half of the big lap.  I was soon isolated – a small pack of speedies zoomed off and I spent most of the race vainly chasing the lad in fourth place. I was disappointed not to duck under 19 minutes, but I gave it a fair effort, which is all you can control.

Sunday morning saw us side-step the Peco cross country race at Roundhay Park and head up to the reservoirs for the first long training run of the year.  It was a divine midwinter day – a clear blue sky illuminated by a blinding low sun.

I wrapped up and ground out three laps and 20 miles, not made any easier by fatigue and ever-increasing throngs of dog walkers that I had to manoeuvre around.

I finished with an 11-minute mile, shuffling around the car park willing my Garmin to tick over to 20 miles. I have a long way to go and many miles to run.

 

 

Comrades 2018 -22 weeks

11 stone 3.8 lbs

65.1 miles, longest run 20 miles. Parkrun (Pontefract, 5th 19:02)

RunBritain Handicap 2.9

Aerobic efficiency on Long run 1,080 heartbeats per mile

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We’re playing for England…

Chester Marathon 2017

…I look at my watch, 11.4 miles into my first and probably only ever race wearing an England vest. I’m running on a pleasant country lane somewhere near the English/Welsh border. I can tell I’m either in or near Wales because they have just started writing “Araf / Slow” on the roads.

I pull over to the right hand side speak to a marshal, “I’m stopping, my race is over”.  It’s the first time I have ever DNF’d in a proper race. Just my luck, it happens on my international debut.

I think to myself, you should be more upset, maybe you should be in tears. But no, I’m fine with it.  I’m a runner, and like most runners I know my body pretty well. My right ankle hasn’t been good for months, if it wasn’t for the vest I wouldn’t even have started. I knew it was a long shot and the pain is now too bad to run without limping.

If it had happened at 20 miles, then I would have hobbled on to the end.  With over 15 miles to go, that seemed pointless.

The marshal advised me to walk back to the previous village where there was a water station and first aid, they will be able to sort me out.

My team mate Ian saw me and very generously stopped and gave me his mobile phone so that I could contact my supporters. Thank you Ian, that was very kind of you. He must have been stopped for well over a minute with me and I was gutted to hear later that he missed a London Good for Age qualifying time by about a minute.

I walk the half mile back against a tide of fellow runners. It feels a bit like a walk of shame.

Lots of runners express words of condolence and sympathy. Some I know are readers of this blog, so thank you for your concern, I’m genuinely grateful that you felt for me.  Runners are a kind bunch no doubt.

Quite a few ask me if I’m alright. I know they mean well, but I can’t really think of an appropriate answer. I’m obviously not OK, otherwise I’d be running in the opposite direction. I shrug or just mutter vague words of thanks.

I knew during my short warm up that I was going to struggle. My ankle felt quite stiff and uncomfortable and from trying longer runs over the last few weeks I knew that the pain would only get worse during the run. I hadn’t managed to run more than 15 miles since May, so it was a very long shot that I would be able complete a marathon.

The teeny red shorts didn’t make it to the start line…

Knowing that I was chancing my arm, I expunged all time targets from my head and copied the Steve Way method and set my Garmin display to show only heart rate, with the autolap flashing up splits every mile. I aimed to keep my heart rate at around 145, which I know to be reasonably comfortable for racing.

I happened to be miling at under 7 minutes, comfortably inside 3 hour pace.  That would be fine I thought, keep going like this, I’d take any sub three time.

At about eight miles in I was engulfed by the three hour pacing group.  I felt a little crowded for space and I edged gradually back in the group, but all of a sudden my ankle was really hurting and I was drifting back in the group. I dug in to try to stay with them, but I knew that it was a forlorn effort.

A mile later I was off the back, all alone in the vacuum behind the pacing group.  My race was run.

I was disappointed but not surprised.  On the upside, I got to spend a lovely weekend with some truly fab people, including fellow Valley Strider England vest wearers Tim, Jerry and Steve and also my mate Jock who ran a storming 3:27 (whilst definitely not wearing an England vest).

Jock Chester

Jock must have been chuffed because he even paid for a slap-up meal later that evening, quite something for a Scot.

Tim ran a fantastic PB on a course that wasn’t as flat and fast as many expected. Well done buddy, you should be very proud.

It felt good to be part of the first ever England Masters marathon team. All didn’t go smoothly with the build up, or the event itself, England Athletics admitted that. However, its a great scheme to give relatively average runners like me a chance to wear a National vest. There were lots of smiles and proud people there yesterday who had trained very hard to earn that right.

So in summary, a fantastic weekend with great people, let’s just forget about my run…

I think this blog will have a wee rest whilst I (hopefully) find a solution to this pesky injury.

Good luck to all you runners out there.  I’ll be back.

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La Dolce Vita

As Rod Stewart (sort of) sang It’s late September and I really should be back at work. Well, after  12 weeks of summer leisure time, reality has been restored and I am back at the coalface.

Smugly, I confess it was a pretty brilliant summer. I travelled to great places with some of my favourite people in the World, climbed the highest free-standing mountain in the World, ate lots of lovely food and generally had a fab time.

The final week of the Sabbatical was spent cycling around the Cilento and Amalfi regions of Italy, south of Naples.  Our party of 16 like-minded souls got on famously, guided by our fantastic leader, a simply lovely Italian gentleman named Paolo.

In stunning September weather, we enjoyed Italy at its sumptuous best. The cycling was brilliant on generally quiet roads with reasonably considerate drivers.

Then there was the coffee (divine), the gelatos (scrumptious) , oh and the food in general…mmmm yes – the food was about as good as it gets.

The only aspect of the summer that didn’t live up to my hopes was running training.  I thought that with free time galore, I would be able to run lots of miles, put in extra speed sessions and get myself into the shape of my life.

Unfortunately, I have been pestered by a niggling injury in my ankle – specifically posterior tibial tendonitis, or in English, inflammation to the tendon on the inside of the lower shin. It’s a bummer.

Last Sunday, after a week off running, my ankle felt not too bad and I joined a gang of team mates up at the reservoirs for the Sunday long run. I thought that if I could complete a solid 20 mile run, then there might still be some hope of a reasonable performance at Chester a week on Sunday.

Ressies Sept

All went fairly smoothly until the 15 mile point when the insidious pain returned.  I slowed, was dropped by the group and then shuffled and hobbled my way back to the car, completing 19 miles in total.  However, only 15 could be described as proper running.

I went back to see the physio yesterday – at the Coach House practice in Leeds. They are well regarded among elite sports people with a clientele that includes a legion of Olympic gold medallists and World Champions.  If they could patch up Kelly Holmes well enough for her to win two Olympic gold medals, then I might as well give them a try.

I half expected the Physio to say that I would be foolish to run at Chester – that I would do lasting damage and I should expunge all thoughts of running it from my mind.

Clearly, she was used to treating obsessive athletes, because the after the initial assessment, she said “You have quite severe inflammation in the tendon – your ankle and foot is really stiff and stuck, but lets just throw everything at it and let you give it a go”.  Just what I wanted to hear.

So, the plan is to take lots of Ibruprofen (against my normal principles), treat it with lots of ice and/or ice and heat, do some gentle remobilisation exercises and then go back for more physio next week. I won’t be running at all until Chester, but I can do non-impact cross-training like cycling and rowing.

I have set up my turbo trainer at home and I will be giving Zwift some real hammer over the next 10 days.

My gleaming new England kit arrived in the post this morning. The shorts are a little more ‘racing cut’ than I would usually go for, but I’d like to think that red and white quite suits me:

IMG_0148

I can’t lie, I’m disappointed that Chester won’t be the best  marathon of my life, I’ll just be aiming to complete it without embarrassing myself.

Then again, I’m very lucky. I can run. I am healthy and have great friends. I have nothing to moan about. Life is good.

 

 

CM- 1 week 5 days

11 stone 3.4 lbs

19 miles

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Putting my Foot in it

Only a short report this week, mainly because I’m still struggling with injury and I don’t want to sound like a moaning sod.

I wanted this to be a real big mileage week of at least 70 miles, culminating with a race on Sunday – the Vale of York half marathon. I ran for about an hour on both Monday and Tuesday and then drove up to the reservoirs on Wednesday morning hoping to run at least 20 miles, maybe even 24 if I felt up to it.

My ankle didn’t feel too bad for the first two hours of the run, but then the pain returned and quickly got worse and I was forced to stop after about 15 miles and hobble back to the car.

I rested until Sunday and went across to the Sherburn Aerodrome for the Vale of York Half Marathon.  I had a reasonably good race – finishing in just outside 82 minutes and apparently winning second prize in the MV50 age category.

Although my performance was OK, I wasn’t happy with my running. I was feeling the ankle throughout the run and I wasn’t able to run completely freely.  My gait was different – I was heel striking more than usual on my right foot, subconsciously I was trying to protect the injury. Unsurprisingly, I felt twinges in other parts of my body.

I finished quite lame and as I write this on Monday I can’t walk without pain.  Often it isn’t wise to self-diagnose using google, but this artcle:

https://runnersconnect.net/posterior-tibial-tendonitis/

describes my symptons accurately.  Worringly, it says that one should not try to run through this injury.  However, as Chester on October 8th is almost certain to be the only opportunity that I will have in my lifetime to wear a National vest then I am going to risk it.

There are four weeks remaining until Chester and I am fairly confident that I will be able to make the start line.  I am not so confident about making it to the finish, but we will worry about that on the day.

My plan from now until 8 Oct is to hardly run at all, allow my ankle to heal as much as possible and to try to keep as fit as I can by cross training.  I am going on a week-long cycling holiday in Italy next Saturday, so at least I will keep active and won’t have to think about running much.

 

CM -4 weeks

52.5 miles, longest run 18.3 miles

Parkrun – None

Weight 11 stone 3.4 lbs

Aerobic efficiency (HM 971 beats per mile)

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Cor Baby, that’s Relay free

I treated my aching bones to any easier week, so there isn’t very much to share about the last seven days of running.  Although I am trying to compress a 14 week marathon training block into about 7 weeks, even I realise that it would be foolish to completely run myself into the ground, so a bit of rest and easy running is mandatory at my age.

In Iceland, Jock told me about his training philosophy – he has read a book by an author whose name I have forgotten, but the key point was that training runs for older runners should to be easy.  The best way to measure this is by using heart rate, which should never exceed 180 minus one’s age.  Therefore, I have been running to a target heart rate of 130, which feels quite easy, it equates to something between 8:15 to 8:30 mile pace.

It also requires one to run very easily up inclines and a bit harder down them.  As mentioned on Marathon Talk a few weeks ago, for even effort, nearly every one goes much too hard uphill and nowhere near hard enough coming down.  Hard runs should only be done occasionally – ideally not more than once a week.

I like this training philosophy, it accords with the Kenyan way – i.e. you should either by running very easily, or very hard, but hardly ever with medium effort.

Saying all that, I ran hard on both days at the weekend – on Saturday at Roundhay parkrun; and on Sunday for Leg 6 of the Leeds Country Way Relay.

The Roundhay parkrun course is tough, it includes a two+ minute hill which is climbed three and a half times.  I was leading the pack at the top of the hill on the first lap, but I was soon passed by Huw and a young woman whom I didn’t recognise.  I held third place until the finish, the young woman cruised round to finish first overall quite comfortably, pursued by a string of gasping old men like me.

I was reasonably satisfied with my time of 19:11 – on the same weekend last year I ran 18:34, so I am definitely a little way behind my form of 2016. Hopefully, I still have time to sharpen up a little before I start the taper.

The Leeds Country Way is a 6 leg race around a 60 mile footpath that circumnavigates Leeds, contested by most of the local running clubs.  It’s a great event, requiring excellent logistical management and navigation and wells as good runners.  The legs are run in pairs.  I ran the final leg for the Vets team with Kevin. We enjoyed a strong run, covering the 9.5 undulating miles of rough paths and roads in just over 69 minutes.

LCW1

Valley Striders had a good day, winning the Vet’s category and finishing second in the main male and female classifications.

My aim for this week is to cover at least 60 miles, but to front-load the week so that I can be fresh(ish) or the Vale of York Half Marathon next Sunday. I will have to fit in my long run mid-week, probably on Wednesday morning.

 

CM -5 weeks

41.3 miles, longest run 10.1 miles

Parkrun – Roundhay 19:11 (3rd)

Weight 10 stone 13.4 lbs

Aerobic efficiency (LCW 1048 beats per mile)

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One Step Forward…

I got some miles in this week – 65 of them, although my 20 mile run on Sunday morning didn’t go exactly as I wished.

As I mentioned in the previous post, I wasn’t sure how fit I was after not running at all during my holiday in Tanzania.  To ease back into it, I did a few easy training runs at home followed by a steady effort at the Reyjavik half marathon last Saturday.  I ran the final three miles quite hard there and it felt good.

The Even Splits 5K race at the Brownlee cycling track on Wednesday night was a good opportunity to see exactly how I was going.  Liz and I did a nice long warm up and on the start line I tried to focus my mind to make sure that I concentrated fully, embraced the pain and ran a true hard race. 5K racing is meant to hurt!

The track is exactly a mile long, so the course is three laps plus a bit at the end. I completed the first lap in a very aggressive 5:38. Unsurprisingly it was hurting; I decided not to look at the watch much, I may have been scared by how high my heart rate was.  Instead I looked ahead and picked out some of my usual rivals and tried to reel them in. Forgetting the watch and just racing is usually the best way to achieve a good time.

The second mile was a 5:52, I was still progressing through the field as others were slowing more than me. I dug deep and completely rinsed myself on the final lap, with a 5:51 third mile, leaving 170 or so metres left to the finish line.

I could feel Aidan from Abbey Runners bearing right down on me so I stared ahead and tried to unleash my best sprint finish. I stole a couple of places in the finishing straight to record a chip time of 18:06, which I was absolutely delighted with. It was much faster than I thought I was capable of. Even better, Liz knocked a minute off her previous time with a storming run.

(photo Kath Robbins)Even Splits

Looking at the Garmin data after the race, I saw that my heart rate maxed at 172 bpm just before the finish, the highest I have ever recorded, so it’s not surprising that I collapsed in a heap on the grass after the line.

What with the high mileage and very hard race, I felt very tried and sluggish during the remainder of the week.  I dragged myself round to a respectable but heavy-legged 19:18 on the tough Bradford parkrun course on Saturday morning.

I wanted to round the week off with a minimum of a 20 mile run on Sunday morning. I fancied running it on my own, I thought I might be quite slow.  I chose a simple 10 mile out and back route along the canal towpath. Although I was tired, the first 13 miles felt reasonable at just under 8 minute miling.   However as I became more fatigued, I felt my ankle getting gradually worse and after 17 miles I had to stop running and walk-jog back to car.

Hopefully, it’s just a symptom of the volume of miles and nothing too serious.  I’ll take a couple of days off and have an easier week before stepping up again. I want to be in reasonable shape for the Leeds Country Way relay next Sunday – I’m running the final ‘glory’ Leg 6 with partner Kevin in the Vets team.

 

CM -6 weeks

65.6 miles, longest run 20.1 miles

Parkrun – Bradford 19:18 (6th)

Weight 11 stone 0.4 lbs

Aerobic efficiency (5K race 940 beats per mile)

 

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Under Pressure

There are six weeks and five days to go until I toe the line at the Chester Marathon wearing an England vest.  I am woefully under-prepared.  I haven’t been able to shake off the problem with my bothersome ankle and managed not one single step of running during my 18 day holiday in Tanzania. I need to get my arse in gear.

Tanzania

This long-planned trip was the intended jewel in my summer sabbatical. It didn’t disappoint, I had a great time.

The first part of the trip was a guided trek up the 5895m of Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa (and the highest free-standing mountain in the World), followed by a five day safari around several National Parks and conservation areas in Tanzania.

I love the wonderful haphazard craziness of Africa. The people appear infected with joyfulness and have a carefree resourcefulness that (eventually) solves most problems. They aren’t the World’s greatest timekeepers though.

There are several approved trekking routes up Kilimanjaro. Backpackers looking for the cheapest way up face a five day race up the crowded Marangu route. As well as being cheap and quick, this route also isn’t particularly picturesque and has the lowest success rate of about 65% (due to poor acclimatisation).

We chose the longest and slowest route – the Northern circuit, which takes nine days in total including the descent. It is an expensive option, but the main advantage is the high success rate (over 90%) due to plenty of opportunities to acclimatise. The route takes in the quieter more unspoilt slopes on the Kenya-facing ‘back’ of the mountain.

Our party comprised eight trekkers (mainly Australian friends with whom I walked the Inca Trail in Peru in 2012), four guides and about 32 porters.  That may sound a plethora of porters, but it’s about the average walker to porter proportion.

Kili13

The guides and porters were simply wonderful, they pampered and pandered to the softy Western tourists and never once failed to smile, laugh or sing whilst doing it.  And they had to lug dozens of 25KG packs up the mountain….

 

To be honest, the first few days of the walk were fairly easy for me. There is a phrase in Swahili that you hear all the time on the mountain: “Pole, Pole” (pronounced: “Po-lay, Pol-lay”).  It means “Slowly, slowly” and it is the absolute key to success on Kilimanjaro.

At first I was surprised just how slowly we were made to walk – to call it funereal would be to exaggerate the pace, it was much slower – something around 1 mile per hour.  As we got higher and the air got thinner, we walked even more slowly – on summit night we covered six very steep kilometres in around ten hours.

Our head guide, Davis, had summited over 250 times, so we trusted in his counsel.  My breathing and heart rate was comfortable at Pole Pole pace, but as soon as I tried to go even slightly quicker I felt my heart rate shoot up and breathing become laboured.

The ascent of Kilimanjaro is a trek, a walk. It’s a long and arduous walk and the summit night and day is very long and testing, but provided you stay healthy and can cope with the altitude the main requirement for success is patience and determination.

Here are some photos from the first few days of the trek (photo credit Andrew Miley and Mervi Minshull)

 

Summit Night

We camped at School Hut – at an altitude of 4800m.  We dined early – at 5.30pm and rose at 10.30pm for an 11.30pm start for the push for the summit.

It was a stunning place to camp, I have never been to a place that felt more other-Worldly, way above the clouds and many thousands of feet above the vegetation line:

 

We were blessed with a full moon, which washed the mountain in a pale argentine light. I turned off my head torch for most of the summit climb, I could see perfectly well by moonlight alone.

The moonlight reminded me of my favourite poem – Silver, by Walter de la Mere, which I recited to myself as we slogged up the steep slopes below the summit:

Slowly, silently, now the moon
Walks the night in her silver shoon;
This way, and that, she peers, and sees
Silver fruit upon silver trees;
One by one the casements catch
Her beams beneath the silvery thatch;
Couched in his kennel, like a log,
With paws of silver sleeps the dog;
From their shadowy cote the white breasts peep
Of doves in silver feathered sleep
A harvest mouse goes scampering by,
With silver claws, and silver eye;
And moveless fish in the water gleam,
By silver reeds in a silver stream.

The most difficult time physically was around 3 – 4 a.m., the body is used to being in a deep slumber at that time of night, not creeping up a freezing mountain in sucking in diluted oxygen. I resorted to listening to some favourite music to keep me going – The Hounds of Love by Kate Bush and Grace by Jeff Buckley.

It was very, very cold – between -10 and -15 degrees C during the night and thankfully Davis had meticulously checked our kit before we set off to ensure we would be warm enough. He made me rent an additional thick fleece jacket and leggings and I was very thankful he did – I was just about warm enough.

At around 6.30 a.m. we stopped to watch the sunrise:

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At 7:30 a.m we made the first of the three summits on the crater – Gilman’s point. Two hours later we got to the highest point in Africa – Uhuru Peak:

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The summit peak was unusually quiet and we were able to spend around 20 minutes posing for photographs and generally larking about.  After having the highest possible pee in Africa, we started a long and exhausting descent down trails of broken stones and talcum powder-like dust. At times it was almost possible to ski down.

After the exhilaration of the summit, the descent was a pain in the backside. We eventually made it to the Millenium camp (3800m) at around 4:30 pm. We had been walking for 17 hours and it had been 23 hours since we had eaten hot food. We were knackered.

Most porters don’t summit and they treated us to an extra special song and dance as we shuffled exhaustedly into the camp. We ate and collpased into a deep slumber in our tents.

Safari

I won’t bore you with lots of the details of the safari, I’ll just insert a load of pictures mostly taken by my mate Andrew who is a far more accomplished photograper than me:

 

I was absolutely transfixed watching two lionesses hunting a hartebeest, though the scene was slightly spoiled by the fact that there were around twenty five jeeps all parked up with occupants gawping and snapping away.  The lionesses didn’t seem at all bothered by the vehicles.  Quite the opposite, one walked distractedly away from the prey up the track alongside the line of cars. She then quietly turned around and then snuck around the other side of the vehicles.  She was using the jeeps as cover – how amazing.

The hartebeest spotted one of the lionesses in the grass just in time and then legged it for all he was worth.  Antelopes 1, Lions 0.

We visited a traditional Maasai village in the Serengeti. The chief greeted us warmly in beautiful English and politely requested USD 50 from each car.

He was a magnificent human being – tall, elegant and serene, he reminded me of David Rudisha (who is also Maasai). He wrapped his red shawl around my shoulders and invited me to compete in a Maasai jumping dance (used as part of the courtship to impress the Maasai ladies).

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I was impressed enough to buy his shawl off him for USD 35 (he wanted USD 50, and later I saw them for USD 10). He was a pretty savvy businessman.

 

We learned about the Maasai way of life.  They eat only three foodstuffs – blood from live cows, milk and meat. A lack of vegetables and carbohydrate doesn’t appear to do them any harm, Maasai are tall and thin and probably very good runners.

Although I enjoyed my African adventures, after 18 days away, I was happy head to home, well aware that I needed to get running again.

Iceland

Just four days after landing back in the U.K., I was off again, this time to Iceland for a long weekend primarily to run the Reykjavik half marathon with Valley Strider mates. Liz and I were staying in an Airbnb apartment with Jock, my Comrades mate. Unfortunately his partner Karen couldn’t make it.

Iceland was an absolutely brilliant place, albeit eye-wateringly expensive, especially for a Scot and a Yorkshireman. My meal in a trendy tapas bar in Saturday night was basically posh fish and chips and cost me nearly £50!

Iceland blessed us with perfect running weather for the race on Saturday morning. It was crisp and cool with a massive cloudless azure sky.

At the last moment, I decided to run with Lizzie, for the first few miles at least. I wasn’t sure how fit I was. I was unsure of my ankle, so there seemed little point in smashing myself to finish in around 90 minutes.  Liz was hoping to run about 1 hour 40 minutes.

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The first part of the course was flat and fast, but at around 10 miles Lizzie was feeling the pace after an aggressive start and told me to bugger off. I felt OK so decided to push the final 5k and test my legs. I lifted my pace to around 6:20 per mile.

I saw Jock a few hundred metres further on. He was having a storming run – well under his 1 hour 40 target pace. I was passing dozens of runners, and I expected to go sweeping past him but he latched onto me and we ran the next mile together in under 6:30.

I decided to pace him in as best I could, it seemed the least I could do after he had shepherded me home safely at Comrades last year when I was a gibbering wreck.

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We finished in just outside 1:37, a great time for Jock and testament to four 70 + mile weeks of hard training.  He is also running at Chester and I need to get my act together or he will be giving me a beating.

Liz finished just after us in  1:40 and a few seconds and nabbed a top ten age group finish to boot.

After a few days back home, I’m finally focussing on training again. Although my ankle isn’t right, I will just have to ignore it for now and try to train through. If I break down again, then so be it. I have to gamble on four big mileage weeks so that I can line up in something like decent shape and then just try to bury myself on the day.

I’m running the third Even Splits 5K race tonight at the Brownlee cycling track. I’ve run 19:05 and 18:38 in the first two races. I doubt that I’ll go quicker tonight.

Despite my lack of miles, one bit of good news is that my weight has remained quite low – I’m hovering at around 11 stones, which is about my racing weight. My aerobic fitness isn’t too bad, its my legs that are letting me down. Time to get running!

 

CM- 6 weeks 4 days

10 stone 13.2 lbs

Aerobic efficiency (half marathon 992 beats per mile)

 

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It Feels Good to be Good for Age

There are just over eleven weeks until my autumn marathon at Chester and it feels like a good time to crank up this blog again. I quite enjoy writing it and it helps me keep my eyes on the job in hand.

Recap

The last blog post was about the London marathon on April 26th.  As is the custom, the post spring marathon training hasn’t been without injuries and hindrances. I am yet to perfect the art of the recovery.

I had a great time at London, made especially memorable as I had Liz with me as a non-running supporter.  In the past, she has twice run from the Championship start at London, but hasn’t been focussing on long distances in recent months.

I knew that she would love to run London again in 2018, and with me already qualified with the GFA (Good for Age) standard, we looked at the options. Realistically, gaining a Championship standard for 2018 was not on the cards for her at the moment, so the only option was to try to bag a GFA time (sub 3:50).

The deadline for achieving a GFA standard for the 2018 race was 1 June 2017. It was already early May and a quick look at the race calendar indicated one prime opportunity – the Liverpool Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon on May 28th.

Could she do this with no specific marathon training and only a limited amount of running over the past few months?  Maybe, maybe not, I thought, but why not have a crack, it would be fun to find out.  She wasn’t so sure, but in my mind it was a classic no lose situation – at best she would run the qualifier and bag a London place; at worst, we would have a weekend away and a fun run around a pretty cool city.

I assigned myself domestique duties – I would sort logistics, fetch the drinks and worry about the pacing, all she had to was run and see what happened.

We had fortune with the weather, it was pleasant – warm, but not too bad. We needed to average 8:46 miling in order to make the standard.

I knew Liz would be fine for the first half, the only question was could she keep it going in the later miles without having any long marathon training runs in her legs.

We reached halfway bang on 1:50 (3:40 pace) – just as planned. The route was rolling rather than flat and had wended its way through the Northern part of the city. We passed both premiership football grounds at either end of Stanley Park before returning to the city centre for a second Southern loop out through Princes and Sefton parks.  The route finished with a long four mile slog back along the promenade from Aigburth back to the finish in the Albert Dock.

Unsurprisingly, by Sefton Park deep into the second half, the pace was slowing. Our ten minute halfway buffer was being gradually eroded. I tried to keep Liz positive, though I could tell that it was starting to hurt.

As we hit the promenade, I worked out that we had to run the final four miles in under 37 minutes. However, our average pace had slowed to 9:30 and we weren’t likely to speed up.  Gulp, it was going to be mighty close. We certainly couldn’t afford to stop running at any point.

Liz was flagging, but dug in brilliantly, I didn’t dare tell her just how desperately close it was until inside the last mile. With about 400m to go, we thought that we spied the finish barrier just up ahead and with relief I thought that we would be in by a good 30 seconds. Frustratingly, this was an optical illusion, the real finish was another 150 metres or so further on.

Liz knew that she had to give it everything and with a brilliant dig-deep sprint she hit the line in 3:49:56…making the standard by a massive three seconds. It was a superb effort and a great achievement to make the GFA standard off very limited training. I was very proud.

Later that week I ran in the Apperley Bridge Canter, a local multi terrain 10K race. My ankle had been feeling sore since the marathon and although I ran an OK time, by the finish I had completely gone in the fetlock.

The following morning I had a badly swollen ankle and couldn’t walk without difficulty. A month later and following a visit to the physio, I was able to run (slowly) again.

I am definitely not race-fit.  I turned up at the first Even Splits 5K race recently.  It was held on the cycling track at the new Brownlee Centre a couple of weeks ago. On what should be a potential PB course, I struggled round in a time outside 19 minutes (my PB is 17:30). Hmmm, I have a lot of work to do. I’ll have another go at the second race in the series on Wednesday next week, hopefully I’ll go a bit quicker.

I have eleven weeks to get as fit as I can and hopefully run the best marathon of my life wearing a National vest.  Somewhat conveniently, I have the summer off work (my employer generously awards a 12 week sabbatical after 10 years of service).

However, I am not going to be able to do much running in the first two weeks of August because I will be away on a trekking and safari holiday in Tanzania (primarily to climb Kilimanjaro). I’m hoping that just being at altitude for a prolonged period will be a good substitute for marathon training.

I’ll try to keep the blog going once I am back from Tanzania.

 

CM- 11 weeks 18.5 miles

Longest run 13 miles

11 stone 5 lbs

 

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