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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I dreamed a dream by the old canal…

Manchester was home for me for about ten years, I returned to the correct side of the Pennines in 2001.  Whisper it quietly, but I quite like Manchester.  Well, it would be more accurate to say that I like Mancunian people – in the main they are honest, thoughtful and genuine.

As for the landscape, Manchester won’t be winning any prizes for beauty.  The one thing it has going for it is that (when compared to Leeds), it is exceedingly non-hilly.  Of course that isn’t true when you reach the northern satellite towns like Oldham, Bury and Rochdale; but downtown Manchester and Salford are flat.

I like flat for running.  I suit flat. I run my best performances on flat courses.

As a Yorkshireman, I should crave running up and down fells and dales whilst wearing indecently short shorts, but I don’t. Mainly because I am quite rubbish at going uphill.  I’m not sure why, it must be something to do with my power to weight ratio, but then again lots of good fell runners are tall and lanky.

I have run the Salford 10K – held on Good Friday each year – numerous times.  The course is only a few miles from my old flat in Middleton, North Manchester.  It comprises two laps around the former Agecroft colliery site and finishes opposite the old Paterson Zachonis Soap works, now long gone.

A dearth of racing in 2018 left my wondering how I would go this time around.  I posted my 10K PB at Salford three years ago, clocking 36:06.  I doubted I could do better than that but was hoping to go sub 37.

The race always attracts plenty of high quality club athletes, consequently the start is fast. I held back a little during the first frantic mile, and when the race calmed a little I began picking my way up through the field.

I felt good, clipping along at 5:50 per mile pace and was in a little group of athletes as we made our way down some smaller back streets at the 4K point.

One of the streets was cobbled, so the runners in front swerved off to the right to run on the smoother pavement, I dutifully followed and hopped up onto the pavement.

A few seconds later, without any warning, the two runners in front of me veered off violently left and right and I was immediately poleaxed when I ran into the end of a metal barrier fence that I simply never saw. A high-viz jacked had been draped over the end of the fence but I had no chance to see it.

I was shocked and winded and I stopped momentarily.

Shit, that has probably caused me an injury, I thought

A few other runners cried out ‘My God mate are you OK?; I wasn’t sure.  I shuffled around for a few seconds, more in shock than pain.  Amazingly, I wasn’t seriously injured, though after the race I realised that I had bruised my knee and jarred my thumb.

I resumed running, maybe losing only 10-15 seconds and after a few minutes I had calmed down and regained my focus.

Surprisingly, despite my little accident, I still recorded a season’s best time for 5K as I completed the first lap in 18:06.

I lost a bit of time on the slightly uphill fourth mile, running it in just over 6 minutes, but got shifting again for miles 5 and 6 and came home in a chip time of 36:18 – my second fastest ever 10K.

I was really pleased with that and thought that I might have got close to my PB if it hadn’t been for the incident.

Perusing twitter a few days later, I was amazed to stumble across Steve Renny’s blog, in which he describes a poor runner T-boning himself on a barrier…

My Valley Strider team mates all had good runs, a special mention must go to Chairperson Steph (pictured above) who smashed her PB by over a minute.

On Easter Sunday, we canned our original plans to do a long run around the reservoirs as it would have been far too wet and muddy.  Instead I headed off with a couple of Striders to the Planets Cycle path between York and Selby.

The cycle path is pancake flat and has a to-scale representation of the sun and all the planets of the solar system.  For example, the 150,000,000 km distance from the sun to the Earth is represented by just 260 metres on the path; yet the distance between Saturn and Uranus is over two and a half kilometres.

Recently, I have been re-reading Frank Horwill’s brilliant anthology of coaching articles (preserved on the Serpentine website here).  He argued convincingly that marathon paced running must be rehearsed frequently in training.

I thought a good session for me three weeks out from London would be a steady run at Marathon pace plus 30 seconds for 8 miles, then to turn around and run at marathon race pace back to the starting point.

Myra was planning a longer run of 22+ miles so I said I would run the first 8 miles out with her and then turn back.

Those 8 miles felt great, we clipped along at 7:15 pace, it was a breeze.

Therein lay the problem.  When I turned (actually at 9 miles because it had felt so easy), I realised that we’d had a generous wind on our backs.

I tried to pick it up to marathon pace (6:45 miling).  It felt like running through treacle, I couldn’t quite do it without throwing my heart rate out of range (Horwill says that marathon pace is 80-88% of maximum heart rate, which for me is 137-151).

I ground out about four miles of just about sub 7-minute miles into the wind before murmuring to myself, sod this for a game of soldiers.

I just couldn’t do it and then suddenly I slowed dramatically, I felt very tired and my ankle was killing me again.  I shuffled ignominiously back to the car and drove home, feeling a little disheartened.

As I have said before, being an older runner sucks sometimes. Although I can crank up the engine and still grind out a decent fast race every now and again, it takes me ages to recover from such a hard effort.

Clearly two days wasn’t a long enough recovery after a fast 10K to attempt this sort of marathon paced effort.  I really have no idea what I might do at London, I might run something close to my best of 2:55, equally I might blow and end up limping in with a 3:15.

The ankle issues mean that I have struggled to log more than 45 miles per week recently, then again, I have been trying to sharpen up and work on speed.  I have already logged a decent volume of miles this year.  Well its too late to do much about it now. I will get what I will get in two weeks time.

Yesterday, I was back at the Brownlee cycling track running a 4.8K leg of the Yorkshire road relays for Valley Striders.  I was on the third leg and by the time I was dispatched  the race was spread out all over the track, meaning that I basically ran a solo time trial.

A few superfast lads from the leading clubs shot past me, unsurprisingly, I was completely unable to follow them.  I had hoped that I would run under 18 minutes, but I failed, clocking 18:07.

Valley Striders men did OK, finishing in the top half despite not being able to select many of our fastest guys.

The ladies did even better with the A team finishing in a very creditable 7th position and the B team in 15th.

Now for two weeks of steady taper running, although I am running a leg at the National Road Relays in Birmingham next Saturday.

CM-10 weeks: 44.2 miles, longest run 16.3 miles

CM – 9 weeks: 37.7 miles, longest run 11.3 miles

Aerobic efficiency: (Salford 10K 907 beats per mile)

RunBritain ranking 2.5

Weight 11st 1.8lb

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Parky parkrunning

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I did it.

 

Comrades 2018 -17 weeks

11 stone 3.8 lbs

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

RunBritain Handicap 3.0

Aerobic efficiency 1,047 heartbeats per mile

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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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Inverse tapering…

Three weeks before Comrades last year, I was feeling antsy – jaded by the volume of training through the winter and spring, I couldn’t wait to get to the Comrades start line.

This year is very different.  Feeling under-trained, I wish I had an extra month to fit in a few more long runs and hone my speed.

I’ve enjoyed the best week’s training of the whole year – 73.8 miles covered including my longest ever training run of over 31 miles. Thankfully, my injury problems appear to have abated.

I had an appointment to see a specialist sports Doctor on Thursday. Because of a lot of faffing around with the physio and my health insurer, it had taken the best part of five weeks to arrange the visit.

Five weeks ago I was thoroughly injured and not expecting to run Comrades.  By Wednesday I realised that I didn’t feel injured anymore and I saw little point in seeing the Doctor.  The worst he could say was that I shouldn’t be running a hot, hilly 56 mile Ultra with a dodgy achilles. So I cancelled.

To protect my achilles, I have been running very slowly, shuffling around the streets of North Leeds in my voluminous Hoka shoes, my heart rate rarely exceeding 135.  On Saturday, I dared to cast aside the Hokas, put on my Newtons and give it a real go at Woodhouse Moor parkrun.

I didn’t know what to expect, I was hoping to go sub 19, sub 18:45 would be a bonus. I felt a rare prick of nerves on the start line – it’s been a long time since I have ‘raced’ (I know parkrun isn’t a race, but I use it as a verb, not a noun).

Rather than set my Garmin to show time, I left the display on Heart Rate.  I have a lowish heart rate – my maximum HR is in the low 160s. Rather alarmingly, after just 500 metres, the heart rate was already in the low 150s…

I’d almost forgotten how gut wrenchingly hard a full-out 5K is.  Basically it involves catapulting yourself into red threshold territory and holding it there for all you are worth. It was a large field of around 450 and lots of fast lads hared off way too quick in the first two kms.

I simply didn’t have the speed to stay with many of my usual peers. In horse racing parlance, I was off the bridle and couldn’t layup with the pace.

The hectic start started to catch a few out and during the second and third lap I was passing a few runners.

During the final uphill kilometre I could feel a fellow parkrunner sitting right on my shoulder, sensing that he intended to mug me in the finishing straight. I am nothing if not competitive and with 300ms to go I opened up my sprint, unfortunately not quick enough to shake him off.  I dug in again and kicked near the line to just pip him and we both flopped over the metal barrier after the finish line coughing and wheezing.

My time was 18:34, which I was delighted with.  It’s a minute slower than my 5K PB, but given my build up it represents good progress.

Many of my Valley Strider team-mates were running the Leeds Half Marathon on Sunday morning.  I didn’t have an entry – through being injured in the build-up and my aversion to the £35 entry fee.

I opted instead for a final extended long training run. Luckily, one of my team-mates Sarah wanted to recce the route for the Otley 10 mile race – a very hilly local race held on a summer’s evening in early June. Leaving at 7:45 a.m., I ran the 6 miles from home down to Otley to meet Sarah and we set off.  It was nice to have company for the first part of my long run.

It soon felt very warm – into the 20s and thankfully, I took a drinks bottle with me, replenishing it later in Asda and Morrisons, along with a purchase of bananas and a box of 6 cereal bars for a quid (Shopping tip: it’s amazing what bargains you find on the bottom shelf of supermarkets).

After running the Otley 10 route, I eschewed Sarah’s kind offer of a lift home and set off the long way home through Guiseley and Horsforth.

After about 24 miles I was entering Bonksville, and adopted a run-walk strategy (something I will have to do earlier at Comrades), but I dug in to complete 31.1 lumpy miles (satisfyingly exactly 50 kilometres in exactly 5 hours).

I’ve spent the rest of Sunday curled up on my Laz-e-Boy watching cycling and eating Kettle chips. I think I’ve earned that.

 

 

CM -3 weeks

73.8 miles

Weight 11st 5.2 lb

Parkrun – Woodhouse Moor 18:34 (11th)

Longest run 31.1miles

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Miley McMileface

All through my months of injury, I have yearned for a return to my normality.  Breaking up my solitary working days by running along the canal each lunchtime, smashing myself at parkrun on Saturday morning and then grinding out the long miles on Sunday.

By such criteria, this was a normal week.  I was beset with a grim, grotty, greeny cold which meant I slept poorly most nights, frequently waking in the early hours with coughing fits, but by the weekend I was feeling better.

It is a long bank holiday weekend in the UK, so I decided to set myself a challenge to cover the distance of Comrades (56 miles) over the long weekend (Friday – Monday)…

To achieve that, I knew that I would have to do a very long run on the Sunday, hopefully over the marathon distance.  Given the paucity of miles run so far this year, that was going to be tough.

Luckily, there was a Sunday Striders Group doing a 10 mile run early on Sunday morning with a rendezvous point about 5 miles from my house. So it was nice to knock off the first 15 or so miles  with good company.

As I peeled off to wend my way back toward my home village of Bramhope, I planned an extra loop of 10 miles down into Otley to make it 30 for the day. The only problem would be long and sombre 3 mile slog from Otley in the valley bottom back up to Bramhope. However, if there is one thing I need to practise for Comrades it is hills.

I nipped back home for a 5 minute pitstop, wolfing down a flapjack, a mug of hot chocolate (it was blummin’ chilly) and a banana. After a change of t-shirt, I set off for my final 10 mile loop.

It was extremely tough, there are no shortcuts in this sport and my lack of training really told as I got slower and slower and by Otley town centre I’d lapsed into the death shuffle mode (i.e. 10 + minute miles).  The final climb was interminable and I was extremely relieved to fall over my threshold after running for 30.3 miles in just 13 minutes under 5 hours.

It is Sunday evening as I write this so I still have to run 8 miles tomorrow in order to achieve my Comrades distance challenge. I can barely walk at the moment…

 

CM -4 weeks

65.7 miles

Weight 11st 7.2 lb

Parkrun – Roundhay 19:37 (6th)

Longest run 30.3 miles

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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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A No Progress Report

My stumbling and stuttering recovery pretty much hit the buffers last week. I was the author of my own downfall. My physio had stressed that I should only run: (1) very slowly, (2) at most, on every other day and (3) for no more than 5 minutes longer than my previous run.

Last Saturday, I broke rule (1) by running Roundhay parkrun in just over 20 minutes.

On Sunday, I contravened rules (2) and (3) by running out to Golden Acre Park on Sunday morning. I intended to run for a bit with John from Valley Striders. As I met him in the park, a group of Valley Strider mates ran past, part way through their Sunday morning long run.

It was a lovely day, my achilles felt OK and I wanted to go for a run and a chat with my mates.  So I tagged on and ended up running 12 miles in about an hour and 40 minutes. Quite a bit more than my allotted 25 minutes.

I felt pretty tired once I got home and my leg muscles were certainly feeling it, but my calf and achilles weren’t feeling especially sore.

However, on Monday morning I knew I’d blown it. My achilles was worse than ever – extremely tender to the touch and it was painful even when walking. “Shit, I’m completely fooked”, I thought to myself.

My injury – Achilles tendinopathy, is notoriously slow to heal, it often takes up to six months for a full recovery.  I think that if I keep running on it, maybe I’m just knocking my recovery back a few weeks each time. I’ll have a serious chat with the physio on Tuesday – I’m seeing a different physio, maybe it will be good to get a different opinion.

I think it extremely unlikely that I will be running Comrades this year, so I will never get a back to back medal. You only get one chance for that, it has to be done in your first two Comrades.

Some people have said to me that I should still run Comrades – start right at the back and run/walk it, aiming to complete it before the cut-off with the 12 hour bus. I could do that, but for some reason, my heart isn’t really in it.

If I can’t train for a race, I feel a fraud, a fake. My brain is wired in a way that I have to stand on the start line wanting to give of my best.  Jog/walking round just to complete doesn’t really do it for me – because I know I should be doing much better. There is also the fear that I might completely trash my Achilles for good.

I don’t know what to do, I’ll think about it. I’m still going to South Africa, I’ve paid nearly £600 for flights and I can’t get my money back. It might become a golf holiday rather than a running one.

Last Christmas, I dreamt that this year’s blog might be a record of several near 100-mile training weeks, interspersed with a couple of PBs and would culminate with me recounting my heroic run into Kingsmead Stadium to complete the 2016 Comrades Marathon in 7 hours 29 minutes and 56 seconds, thus claiming a Silver medal by the skin of my teeth.

The reality is that I’ve barely run the distance of Comrades during the last 10 weeks of training combined.

On this very same weekend last year, I ran possibly my best ever race – a PB at the Thirsk 10 when I beat the hour and came third in my age group in the Yorkshire Championships. I was super fit and nearly a stone lighter than I am now.

I’m not giving up on running and certainly not giving up on keeping fit, but my body is telling me to give it a rest for a bit. I’m not happy about it, but I don’t think I have much choice.

 

 

CM -10 weeks

Weight 11st 13 lb

Parkrun – None

Longest run 0 miles

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Baby Steps

I went for a run on Saturday! OK, it was only a five minute jog at 9 minute mile pace, but that represents progress. A journey of a thousand miles and all that.

I went to see the physio again on Wednesday. I’m impressed that she is obviously aiming to treat the cause rather than just the symptoms of my achilles problem. She thinks there is possible a neural cause and the main thing I have to do is lots of calf strengthening and glute exercises. She said that I was walking noticeably better, whatever that meant…to be honest it was just regular walking to me, I noticed no difference.

She spent a good 20 minutes working deep into my left calf.  There were a couple of areas that were just incredibly painful when she got her thumbs in. I was yelping and jerking on the massage table in absolute agony! She didn’t back off, so I hope it does some good. Clearly a good physio needs a streak of sadism.

She said that if I felt OK, then I may try a 5 minute slow jog at the weekend, then wait to see if there is a reaction and then try another jog two days later if its OK.  At that rate, I’m not going to get back into full Comrades mode any time soon.

I’ve kept up the rowing in an effort to keep fit, doing at least 20 minutes per day and I even did a full 1 hour effort on Friday evening, managing 13,779 metres at about 2.10/500m pace. A full hour on an indoor rower is a very long time so I paced it very conservatively, keeping my HR down below 130 for most of it. At least the rowing is helping to improve my somewhat weedy guns…

On Sunday I went to support my Valley Striders team-mates running at the final race of the Peco XC league at Roundhay Park.  Being an injured runner makes one feel a little isolated in a running club. As you don’t turn up to training or races, its easy to feel marginalised and out of the loop. It was a lovely crisp winter’s morning and great to cheer on the Striders.

I feel more positive about things this week.  My calf feels OK today after the little run, so I should be alright to jog gently on every third day now.

Could that be a chink of light?

CM – 15 weeks. 0.5 miles
Weight 11st 7.6 lbs
parkruns: None
Longest run 0.5 miles

 

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