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 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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The Upstanding Member for Dewsbury

Dewsbury

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Starva Dewsbury

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

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

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

 

 

Comrades 2018 -18 weeks

11 stone 4.0 lbs

19.1 miles, longest run 6.2 miles.

RunBritain Handicap 2.9

 

 

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