Back on it

Five weeks ago, I went off and crawled under stone, feeling injured and pathetically sorry for myself. After another injury relapse, I knew I had to stop running completely for a bit. I assumed that I would have to forget about running Comrades in 2016.

A month or so on, the World is a little brighter. The injury is better, but it’s still there. I have a stiff and sore achilles every morning, but it improves once I am up and about and tackling the day.  When running, I am always aware of it, I feel pervasive tightness in my left calf and sense that I mustn’t push off too hard on my left foot, but I can run steadily without too many problems.

My physio suggested a few weeks ago that I ought to see a specialist Doctor and hopefully have a scan on the achilles to see if there is a permanent issue – she knew an achilles specialist called Dr Rogers from Manchester who ran a weekly clinic once in Leeds.

After the rigmarole of getting my GP to refer me so that my health insurer would pick up most of the tab, I was dismayed to learn that Dr Rogers had decided not to bother with his clinic in Leeds any more. After a bit more faffing around, I finally have an appointment in early May with one of Dr Rogers’ associates.

My break from running was well timed because I had a dream holiday to enjoy – a trip to Georgia in the USA to watch the final day of the U.S. Masters Golf at Augusta with my great friend Richie.

Richie and I get together every year on Master’s Sunday in April to eat curry, drink beer and stay up to watch the conclusion of the golf. After last year’s tournament Richie suggested that we should go.  My 50th birthday is in 2016, I thought it would be a very appropriate present to myself. It was a huge extravagance but I am so glad that I went, it was a wonderful trip.

We flew into Atlanta and upgraded our hire car to an American muscle car – a mean black Dodge Charger.  We were staying in Athens, Georgia – about 70 miles from Atlanta.

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Athens is a supercool college town, site of the University of Georgia and the home of R.E.M. and the B52s.  It’s a fab place – small, quirky, bohemian and full of wonderfully friendly people. We had a ball hanging out in bars and restaurants.

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Richie is blessed with an easy confidence and a massive determination to have a great time wherever he goes. He can talk with ease to absolutely anyone which meant lots of encounters and new friendships with a massive variety of people – from beautiful young students, gay waiters, fellow golfers and charming old timers.

A typical conversation in an Athens bar would go thus:

Me: “Could we have two Terrapin Golden beers please”

Waitress: “Sure – Hey you guys are Australians aren’t you? How d’ y’all like Athens?”

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Richie then jumped in and about 15 minutes later we have new friends and have been invited to a barbeque/game of golf/gallery/bluegrass concert.

We played golf at two top notch Country Clubs in the days before the Masters. On the Saturday, at the prestigious Georgia Country Club, we were asked to play with Will, a new member.  As he was on his own and it was busy they matched him up with two Limeys.

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Will is a cleancut American WASPy guy – about thirty years old with a one handicap.  That means he is incredibly good at golf.  He hit it miles and was absolutely delightful company.

Sunday at the Augusta National was a very special day. It really is another World, with not a blade of grass out of place. There is absolutely no advertising or sponsorship, with everything branded as just ‘Masters’. You buy Masters beer and Masters peanuts to go with your Masters cap and Masters grilled chicken sandwich. It is like stepping back in time.

As many of you will know, Sunday saw a surprise winner when young American superstar Jordan Spieth blew a five shot lead and gave Yorkshireman Danny Willett a chance to win.

I was right there on the 18th green as Willett held himself together brilliantly and calmly tapped in for his par four and walked off whilst being mobbed by his supporters.  He had to wait around an hour for Spieth to finish before it was confirmed that he was the 2016 Masters Champion and only the second Englishman ever to win. It was bloody brilliant.

I took my running shoes with me and though I only managed to run once, it was a memorable one.  Slightly jetlagged, I woke early on the first morning and said to Richie that I was nipping out for an early morning run before breakfast.

I headed down to the Oconee River trail, only half a mile from the hotel and was soon running on a perfect cool sunny spring morning totally alone through idyllic forest trails. I saw wild deer gambolling in the forest and felt that I wanted to run forever. It was perfect.

Since my return, I’ve managed to run a little more. If I warm up well, wear my Hokas and run steadily then the achilles problem feels manageable.

Yesterday, I tried a proper effort at a parkrun for the first time in months. I ran the hilly Roundhay parkrun and was pleased with my time of 19:30 for 7th place.  That is over a minute slower than my course PB, but not bad to say that I have barely run three hundred miles all year – less than a third of what I had planned.

Today was a big test – my first long run in three months.  I ran with a group of Strider mates and managed to run just over 20 miles just over three hours – at around 9 minute miles with an average heart rate of 119. I felt fine at that pace and I could have run further, though probably not another 36 miles…

Well what about Comrades?  Provided I have no reversals of fortune, I intend to be on the start line in PMB in five week’s time.  I will have no ambitions for a finishing time or a particular flavour of medal, I just want to complete the course within the 12 hour time limit.

It’s been anything but an ideal build up, but with good fuelling and a very conservative pace management strategy, I think I might just be able to do that.

 

 

CM -5 weeks

45 miles

Weight 11st 7.4 lb

Parkrun – Roundhay 19:30 (7th)

Longest run 20.2 miles

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Spring is Sprung…

The crocuses are out, there was warmth in the air this week and all was OK with the World.  Next week is the wonderful Cheltenham Festival, for me the official start of the fun part of the year (I’ll be there on Friday for the Gold Cup).

I have broken my PB for most miles run in a week – I exceeded 80 miles for the first time ever.  This was despite a long two day business trip to Scotland on Tuesday and Wednesday which limited my running opportunities.

I was staying in Glasgow on Tuesday evening and I researched some running routes before I set off.  There was a perfect looking route along the Clyde path just metres from my hotel so I got up early on Wednesday morning, aiming to get in an hour of running before heading off to my meeting in Edinburgh.

That was all fine, but for one major flaw – I had forgotten to pack my shorts!  Doh! With no Sports Direct stores open at such an early hour that was the end of that.

After the long drive back from Edinburgh, I went down to the canal towpath in Leeds for a solo speed session of 5 x 1K.  This is one of my favourite sessions and I know that if I can do all the 1K reps in around 3:35 then I am in fairly good fettle.  I ran 3:26, 3:29, 3:35, 3:39 and 3:46. In common with many speed sessions, I ran the first two reps a little too hard, but the last two were uphill (there are canal locks to negotiate) and into the wind, so overall not too bad.

I ran commuted to work on Thursday and was brought back down to Earth. As is my custom these days, I planned to run a longer route for the homeward leg – maybe 15 miles; however, I soon realised that I was struggling and after about 7 miles whilst on the canal, I decided to head for home.  Unfortunately that involved 6 miles of near constant climbing and by ten miles I was gone, I’d hit the wall, was totally knackered, stuck in Bonksville Arizona and it was down the death shuffle for the last three miles.  My last mile took me over 10 minutes.

By Saturday I had recovered enough to have a go at a flat-out parkrun.  I hadn’t been to my home parkrun at Woodhouse Moor (neé Leeds) since mid-January and I had missed it.  A lovely early spring day was encouraging so after a proper warm up I bombed from the start, covering the first (mainly downhill) kilometre in 3:20.  I felt good and was helped by two younger lads getting on my shoulder and we had a proper race for virtually the whole way around.  I would put in a surge to try to shake them off, they would respond and then do the same to me.  I stuck with them until about 500m from the end, and was pleased to finish 5th in 18:06.

It may be a coincidence, but I checked back on my progress last year, and on the exact same weekend, I ran the same parkrun in 18:05.  So clearly I am in similar shape.

I did a proper long run around the reservoirs on Sunday morning – 24.6 miles.  John from Valley Striders joined me for the first 13 miles (two laps) and as he headed off I felt good so decided to run at least 24 miles.  I did struggle a bit towards the end, but I wasn’t really concerned with my pace, it was just good to be out for well over 3 hours.

That will be my longest run pre-Manchester I think, but I may try to stick in a 30 mile run between Manchester and Comrades, we’ll see.

The key to upping the mileage for me is running twice a day, but I have been careful to take at least one of the runs at true recovery pace – i.e. 8:30+ miling, basically jogging – not the 7:10 pace that some of the younger members of my club appear to class as ‘recovery’ pace on Strava (you know who you are!).

Next Sunday is my pre-marathon 20 mile race – the Locke Park 20 – which is twenty times around a 1 mile loop.  That will be a novel experience.  It won’t be a hard race for me, just a training run with some marathon pace miles in there at some point.  The following week, I will be gunning it at the Thirsk 10 mile race to see if I can get close to the hour.

 

CM – 12 weeks (MM -6 weeks)
Weight 11st 3.4lb
82 Miles
parkrun – Woodhouse Moor 18:06 (5th)

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A year on…

It’s just over a year since I wrote the first entry on this blog about my objective to run a sub three hour marathon. A year ago, I would never have dreamed that I would enjoy such a great running year, with the highlight being the amazing trip to Sierra Leone.

Since my visit to Sierra Leone, the country has been ravaged by the outbreak of Ebola. It is heart breaking to read about the horrendous suffering and death that our brother and sister human beings are enduring. The charity that organised the marathon, StreetChild, has completely changed its focus and now concentrates solely on combatting Ebola, which is entirely understandable and laudable.

I do not know for certain, but I think it likely that some of the children that I played frisbee and football with only seven months ago in the schoolyard Makeni will have been orphaned or possibly killed by Ebola. How cruel. Makeni has been hit very hard by Ebola, this report from the New York Times portrays a desperate situation: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/02/world/africa/ebola-spreading-in-west-africa.html?_r=0

There is little I can do except send some money, I applaud the brave medical professionals who have travelled to West Africa to fight this epidemic. Forget the footballers and actors and the vacuous wannabes on X-Factor and Strictly; those Doctors and Nurses are my greatest heroes. I am in awe of you all.

It is difficult to write about something as trivial as running in the shadow of such a terrible thing as Ebola in West Africa, however, this is a running blog and running continues to be a major part of my life, so I’ll keep writing.

Since May I’ve enjoyed an extended injury free period and I can say that 2014 has been the best year of my life in terms of running performance.

Despite turning 48 in October, I have run a personal best time for every distance from 1 mile to the marathon during 2014 and I know I can still go quicker. My best performances have been:

1 mile (track) – 5:06.5 – Leeds Golden Mile September
5K road – 17:44 – Leeds parkrun – September
10K road – 36:21 – Leeds Abbey Dash December 2014
10 miles road – 60:56 – Thirsk March
Half marathon – 1:20:27 – York January
20 Miles – 2:15:59 Hull – March
Marathon – 2:56:32 – Manchester April

I am starting to write the blog again in order to record my progress towards two races in 2015 – another crack at the Manchester Marathon in April and about six weeks afterwards, the Comrades Ultra Marathon in South Africa.

For those that don’t know about Comrades, it’s a huge race with around 18,000 competitors, covering about 89 kilometres from Durban to Pietermaritzburg (alternate years run in the opposite direction. Durban to PM is dubbed an ‘up’ year and PM to Durban is a ‘down’ year because of the change in elevation between the start and finish). It has a strict 12 hour cut off – basically if you don’t make it within 12 hours you are persona non grata.

Advice from friends and fellow runners is that you don’t really train specifically for an ultra, you do marathon training and make your longer runs a bit longer; maybe by doing one or two over marathon distance runs.

Comrades is on May 31st 2015 – that’s 24 Weeks away. Like last year, I’ll get serious about training in the New Year – since the summer I have only been running about 30-40 miles per week, but with plenty of quality in there. I haven’t done any particularly long stuff.

I have run a full cross country season for the first time ever. I know that cross country running is not my strong suit, so I raced it only rarely in the past. However, I have made more of an effort this year and I have really enjoyed the esprit de corps of being with my teammates at the races, cheering on the Ladies in their race and then going out and having my own little battle down the field.

I haven’t managed to achieve a scoring position in the team yet (they go to the first 6 in the West Yorks League and the first 8 in the PECO league), but that’s no disgrace – my club Valley Striders is one of the strongest in Leeds in we have a roster of very talented runners, most younger than me.

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I said at the start of this post that I had enjoyed an extended injury free period. I have jinxed myself, because whilst this text has been sitting in draft, I’ve had two mishaps.

I thought I was going well at the second Peco cross-country race last Sunday at Nostell Priory. I went out positively and picked off a few places during the heart of the race. As I entered the long finishing drag, Duncan Clark from Abbey Runners came past me. Right, I thought, I’ll have you in the finishing sprint and I put my head down to follow him, as I looked up a few metres on, I felt an almighty clunk as my cheek and neck struck a metal tree support. Basically I wasn’t looking where I was going and I ran into a fence. Idiot. I was a bit dazed for a few seconds and lost about 20 places as I staggered to the line. I was cut and bruised, but no lasting damage was done.

Last night I joined the fast lads group for the Thursday night Valley Striders tempo run. This was advertised as 8 miles at 6.30 miling. I knew it would be a stretch for me to hang on, and I was completely blowing out of my backside as the first two miles were run in about 6 minutes 10 seconds each. More threshold than tempo for me. I clung on for another mile and then accepted that I was a goner, as I dropped away I felt my calf tweak. I have strained my calf a few times before and I knew that I would have to just jog back as best could the four miles in the cold and pouring rain. Thankfully, a couple of Striders, Gary and Rob ran back with me.

I know that a strained calf probably means a minimum of two weeks off. The only consolation is that its not the worst time of year to get an injury like that. However, like most runners I get mightily grouchy when I can’t run.

CM -24 weeks
Weight 11 St 7lb
31 Miles
parkrun (Leeds) – 18:44 (icy)

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