London Not Calling

Firstly, I apologise for the lack of a post last week. This was due entirely to my laziness and feeling a little miffed at not being able to run.

By way of  penance, I paid a few quid to WordPress so hopefully you won’t see annoying adverts on the blog any more.

I have been managing an assortment of minor left leg injuries and niggles over the last few weeks.  By running on alternate days and making sure that I undertook a long warm up before any fast runs, I seemed to be just about getting away with it.

In truth, I wasn’t doing anywhere near enough miles nor spending enough time on my feet to be properly prepared for a marathon.  This wasn’t because I didn’t want to, it was because I couldn’t.

After the National 12 stage relays in Birmingham, I couldn’t run at all without pain.  In fact, I felt discomfort even whilst walking.  My foot was stiff, my achilles and calf sore and tender and I had twinging pain in the side of my knee and the bottom of the hamstring.

I went to see a physio at The Coach House practice in Headingley. He did the usual assessments, watching me walk up and down in just a pair of shorts (me, not him) with some bending and mobility tests.

His verdict was “You are totally stuck on you left side” – he said my foot and ankle was stiff and didn’t have much range of movement, as were my hips which meant I was ‘hitching’ and using all the wrong muscles to run.

I was told to lay face down on the couch and he gave me a right old battering.  He hit quite a few really tight spots, inducing whelps and whimpers of pain from me.

“Is this your normal pain threshold?” he asked impassively.

How was I supposed to answer that? Was he calling me a wimp or complimenting me on my ability to withstand his aggressive dispensation of therapy?  I muttered an incoherent response and buried my face in the pillow, praying for it to end.

On the positive side, he didn’t think that I had a serious injury, he just thought my body had rebelled and had gone on strike for a bit.

The plan was to let everything settle down, then try some running drills and then short runs if it felt better.

I didn’t run much at all for two weeks, save for a couple of tester runs which lasted only a couple of minutes before I realised it was pointless trying to run in pain.

I tried to retain some fitness by beasting myself on the Wattbike in the gym at lunchtime and going out on my bike once the weather warmed up (I am a committed and devoted fair-weather cyclist).

Yesterday, I went for a run around the wonderfully named Bedquilts sports ground – a huge expanse of grass playing fields in North Leeds.  I managed to run laps for a whole hour, building it up from a timid jog to something approaching 7:30 pace. Running in a straight line felt fine, but my ankle didn’t want to make any sudden turns to the left or right.

After 40 minutes, my legs were feeling it, but I was pleased to stick it out for the whole hour.

I could try running London – with a bank of years of training, I could probably get myself round, but I know that I couldn’t run the whole way.  However, I am not going to.  Just getting round doesn’t really float my boat I am afraid.

It would be painful, I might make the injuries worse and I doubt that I would enjoy it much.  A marathon is a serious undertaking that requires the utmost respect. I am nowhere near fit enough to run one.

Therefore, I am going to experience the London marathon as a fan and spectator for the first time,  support my partner Liz as much as possible and just enjoy a weekend away in the company of people that I really like.

I’ll try to get healthy and then work on getting fit for some shorter races later in the year.

Liz is running London for the first time in a few years.  She hasn’t had an easy build up, but has stuck to her plan diligently (unlike me) and I really hope that she enjoys the marathon.  She is raising money for the brilliant Mini Mermaids run by our friend Hannah Corne.  Liz has coached many Mini Mermaids programmes over the last few years.

If you are feeling generous, please donate a few quid to Mini Mermaids: here

You can read Hannah’s amazing blog here.

Good luck to all friends who are running London, I’ll give you a cheer if I see you.

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Stormin Norman

My late uncle, Norman Smith, was a remarkable man.  He was ebullient, naturally comedic and lived life to the full.  He dominated any room he was in by cracking jokes, singing or just generally acting the goat.  He made and lost a fortune in business.  He was a professional sportsman and coach (he played rugby league for Dewsbury and Featherstone and later coached Dewsbury and was coach at Leeds Rhinos).   Norman was quite a character.

He died just over two years ago after suffering a catastrophic stroke. He was just 69 years old. They had to draft in the police to control the traffic around the Crematorium at his funeral because so many people wanted to be there.

Norman’s two daughters are both remarkable and successful in their own right.

The eldest, Gemma, has worked with racehorses all her life – she left school and joined the Hammond yard in Middleham as stable staff and has worked her way up to be the assistant trainer.  Three years ago, she was named employee of the year at the prestigious Godolphin Stud and Stable staff awards, receiving a prize of £20,000 presented by Sir Tony McCoy and Claire Balding.

Gemma has written a best-selling book about her life and career – Stable Lass.  It’s an honest and very funny insight into what it is really like to work with racehorses.  I thought it was a great read.

Norman’s youngest daughter, Becky, also works in racing at the Hammond yard.  After her promising career as a hockey player was curbed by injury, she followed Gemma into racing and has become one of the best lady jockeys in the country – riding both on the flat and over the jumps.  Last year she was the Champion lady amateur flat jockey in the country.

After Norman died, his mates formed a syndicate and bought a racehorse to run in his memory, to be trained by Gemma and ridden by Becky.  I can’t imagine that there were many disagreements on what the horse would be called –  his nickname “Stormin Norman”.

Stormin Norman is only small, but is beautiful with a big white face.

Stormin Becky

Until Wednesday, he had run in three races.  He ran well on his debut, but clearly didn’t like the soft ground he encountered on the subsequent runs and finished down the field.

Last Wednesday 3rd April, it was two years to the day since the original Norman’s funeral.

Stormin Norman was entered to run in the 5.05 at Market Rasen.  He wasn’t fancied much – he was 20/1 in the early betting market.

Naturally, I backed him.  In fact I back every single horse that Becky ever rides, whatever the odds. This time, I had a feeling, so I put on a quite bit more than I usually would.

It was a thrilling race, Becky kept Stormin settled in third or fourth place in the first part of the race which turned into a sprint over the last two furlongs. Three horses were locked together approaching the line, Becky was driving and urging Stormin for all she was worth. With a tremendous effort near the line from horse and jockey, he won by just a neck:

 

I was watching whilst at work on a tiny mobile phone screen.  I could barely believe what I was watching.  The people in the neighbouring offices must have thought that I had gone mad.  I was shouting Becky home whilst frantically riding an imaginary horse…

I’m not normally an emotional person, but tears were streaming down my face as Becky rode past the line.

What a story. Two years to the day after he was buried, a horse named after him, saddled by his eldest daughter and ridden by his youngest (and carrying the colours he wore when he played rugby and wearing the same number 6 he wore), wins in a brilliant close finish. They could make a film about it.

It was my biggest ever win on the horses, but that didn’t matter.  Sometimes in life something just perfect happens.

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Running:

After my rather downbeat post last week, I received some nice messages of encouragement.  Thank you.

My mate Jock sent an e-mail which was basically a stern talking to.  He was quite right too – he said that I was racing too hard and too frequently at shorter distances and I wasn’t getting enough recovery to enable me to do my long runs properly.  I agree entirely.  I haven’t trained for this marathon very intelligently.

Last week’s post was entitled “Am I injured or just lazy?”.  I can answer that question now – I am definitely injured.

I got up at 6:30 a.m. this morning and made my way up to the reservoirs, hoping to complete a final 20 mile long run before London in 3 weeks.  The plan was to run 10 miles on my own before meeting up with friends Myra and Sean for the last 10 miles.

As soon as I set off everything in the lower part of my left leg felt tight and painful – ankle, achilles and calf.  I have become accustomed to mild pain and tightness in my calf over the last few weeks.  It usually it eases off sufficiently after a couple of miles to enable me to run reasonably freely.  But not this time.  I jogged / hobbled / walked around a half lap of 4 miles and then skulked back to the car.

I know why I was knackered – I had run a short leg of the National 12 stage Road Relays at Sutton Park for my club Valley Striders yesterday.

Valley Striders qualified for the National Road Relays by finishing in the top 24 at the Northern relays in Birkenhead a few weeks ago. By any measure, I’m not quick enough to make the team if our best runners compete; however many of the fast guys were unavailable and we were struggling to raise a team so naturally I put my hand up.

The event comprised alternating long (5.3 mile) and short (3.16 mile) legs.  I was second off, running a short leg. The standard was very high – many of the absolute top elite British runners turn out for their clubs including internationals.  About 70 teams were competing.

Our first runner, Matt had a storming run and we in the middle of the pack when I was released by the starter for my leg (Pictures Liz Adams):

NRR 1.jpg

So early in the race, the teams were still quite bunched together, so I had the rather dispiriting experience of being passed by many runners during my leg.  There wasn’t much I could do about it, I’m a 52 year old 37 minute 10K runner and many of these were skinny-as-a-lat twentysomethings who can run 10K in a smidge outside 30 minutes.

Knowing that I had a few niggles, I’d done a nice long warm up and I tried to pace it sensibly. There was no point in bombing off, then breaking down and hobbling round. The course was tough, the first two miles gradually uphill, with a descent for most of the last mile before drag back up to the line.

I covered the first mile in 6:33, the second in 6:11 and then turned right and tried to bomb it as fast as I could for the fast third mile

From the final bend, there was maybe 150 metres to the finishing banner.  I sensed a Chorlton runner on my shoulder, he was being urged on to beat me by a gaggle of his supporters.  I’m nothing if not competitive, so I fired the burners and gave it everything in the final sprint. It nearly killed me, but I was delighted that he didn’t pass me.

He was magnanimous enough to say in the finish funnel after “great finish mate, you were making some strange noises at the end there!”…

According to Strava, I was in the top 20 fastest of all for the finishing sprint on the day – out of over 1,000 top runners…I’m pleased about that!

I tried my best, but I still lost 9 places during my leg, handing over in 54th position.  My team mates did a great job in clawing back all the places I gave up and we finished 45th overall.  Our ladies team were 41st in the female 6-stage event.

Project London has fallen off the rails.  All I can do now is try to recover. I won’t run much at all for the next three weeks.  I’ll cross train, try to get some physio and hopefully my injuries will improve.

I’ll only start at London if I think that I can run pain-free.  Given my disrupted training, I’m not setting any targets. I genuinely have no idea how fast I could run a marathon, but I am pretty certain I couldn’t run one in a sub 3 hour time, so there is little point in stressing about it.

We’ve already made all our arrangements – booked trains and hotels, and Liz is on course for her first London in many years, so I’ll be there in some capacity.  I hope it will be as a runner, but if I am chief bag carrier and supporter, then that will be great too.

 

LM -3 weeks

11 stone 5.8 lbs

20 miles, longest run 11.2 miles

Parkrun : None

RunBritain Ranking 2.8 (unch) (MV50 rank 232)

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Am I injured or am I just lazy?

Oh dear, its not exactly going to plan.

A combination of my age (52), a host of minor niggly injuries (a sore ankle, a tight calf and neural pain in my knee) and a loss of a bit of mojo are afflicting me at the moment.

My legs are feeling stiff and painful during the first mile or so of every run.  Once I have warmed up my ageing tendons, I seem to be able to run reasonably freely.

I heard ex-elite athlete Jon Brown speak at the England Athletics Endurance seminar about 6 weeks ago.  Despite twice finishing fourth in the Olympic marathon, his opinion of the event was illuminating.

He said, “I hated the marathon, it was so hard and the training was just so tedious”.  I think I concur.  Like me, he loved running and  competing – he wanted to be successful and win medals; but despised his best event.

The marathon definitely isn’t my best event – judged on age graded PBs then 5K or 10K is my best distance (about 82-83%).  I suspect my true best event is probably even shorter, maybe 800m or even 400m, however I don’t run those competitively (yet).  In comparison, my best marathon performances are only around 77-78% on age grading.

I’m finding marathon training quite debilitating this year, it feels like a slog, and  is slowly breaking me down.   London will probably be my last go at the marathon distance.  I’m not the sort of runner who just wants to jog around completing the distance.  Standing on the start line of any race, I have an overwhelming feeling of wanting to give it my absolute best effort.

I ran two all-out 5K races last week (well one was 4.8K in truth), both held at the Brownlee centre cycling track in Leeds.

On Wednesday night I ran the second race of the Even Splits monthly 5K series. I gave it everything and I recorded 18:14, which I was satisfied with.

Even splits 1.jpg

I’d just about got over that effort out of my legs when Saturday came around.  I was in our ‘A’ team for the four leg Yorkshire road relays.  The fact that I was in the A team tells you that we had a bit of a scratch team out (no disrespect to the other guys).  We have some very speedy guys in the club at the moment – many of whom can run  sub 16:30  for 5K.  However, many of our super quick guys weren’t available.

The event was 4 legs of 4.8K each around the Brownlee track. I anchored the team and ran a respectable 17:52.  It was the slowest leg of the four, but I gave it my best, which is all one can do.

I was disappointed in myself for poor racecraft though.   By the time I was sent out on my leg, the race was very spread out. I soon conceded a place when a much faster runner caught me and zoomed away, there was not much I could do about that.

A Holmfirth runner caught me a bit later in the leg, though he wasn’t moving that much quicker than me – so I managed to dig in and keep within a few metres:

YRR3.jpg

Halfway around the final lap, I was on his shoulder.  I sat behind him for a few hundred metres and was feeling fairly comfortable.  I should have just sat in behind him and waited right until the last 50 metres to try to beat him in the sprint.  Stupidly, I surged with about 300 metres to go, thinking he was weak.

YRR1.jpg

I got a gap of about 5 metres, but my nose was now out in the wind.  I couldn’t quite hold the speed and he got on my shoulder and passed me off the crown of the final bend. I had burned all my matches and had nothing left.

I’ve no idea if I would have beaten him in the final sprint, but the way I raced the finish was just stupid.

I need to get one more proper long run in before London, hopefully that will be next Sunday.   I am running on Saturday for Valley Striders in the National 12 stage road relays at Sutton Coldfield, so I expect I will be knackered again.

I’m ready for the taper.

 

LM -4 weeks

11 stone 4.6 lbs

23.1 miles, longest run 6.7 miles

Parkrun : None

RunBritain Ranking 2.8 (unch) (MV50 rank 232)

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Going Back to My Roots

My niggly calf restricted the mileage again this week.  In my ideal World, I would be running between 60 and 70 miles five weeks out from the marathon.  However, there is no point pushing it when your body is creaking.

As it was pay-day this week, I treated myself to some more new Hoka running shoes.  I shamefully admit that I now have 6 pairs on the go.   My new ones are Tracers, light in weight and hopefully imbued with speed.  I gave them a debut run-out at Woodhouse Moor parkrun yesterday.

Back in the day, I was part of the furniture at Woodhouse Moor, I hardly ever missed a week.  Ten years ago, there weren’t any alternative parkruns to go to.  It was nice to go back and I got a lovely cheery greeting from Anne Akers, one of the great stalwarts of WHM.  I also bumped into Tom and Helen Williams, who were instrumental in establishing the event all those years ago.

In the early days, I ran around the moor each Saturday morning with fewer than a hundred fellow parkrunners, it was like belonging to a wonderful secret club.  The cat is firmly out of the bag now though.  Nearly 600 ran yesterday,  the course got very congested and it was difficult to really blast around on the final lap.  I’m certainly not complaining; parkrun is for everyone.

I caught up with an old mate Al Chapman on the start line. Al and I have had many a battle around the moor over the years, usually finishing within a few seconds of each other.  I saw that he did a great run at Thirsk last Sunday – running a 10 mile PB of just over 60 minutes, so I knew he was in good nick.

I wasn’t feeling hugely confident in either my calf or my form, so I set off  a little steadier than I normally do and hoped to build into it.  Its a three lap course, and I ran the first mile in 6:03.  Al was behind me, but as we passed the finish for the first time he stepped on it and surged past me strongly.  I clung onto him during lap 2 (6:06), but the elastic was approaching breaking point as we wove through the field on the final lap (6:05).

A sprint at the end brought me back within 4 seconds of Al and I finished in 18:31 for an 80% age grade and ninth place, which I was happy with.  Hopefully, I will run a bit quicker than that at the Even Splits 5K race this coming Wednesday evening.

Today I joined  a group of Valley Strider team mates doing a variety of long runs on the Leeds-Liverpool canal towpath at various paces.  I ran with our fastest lady, Myra, who has a marathon in 3 weeks – Ian and Joel ran with us for part of the way..

I stupidly forgot to take any nutrition and I bonked spectacularly after 20 miles, Myra left me trailing in her dust as she sped up and ran some sub 7 minute miles at the end.  Still, I did what I had to do – I ran for exactly 3 hours to the second and covered 22 and a half miles.

 

LM -5 weeks

11 stone 4.2 lbs

40.1 miles, longest run 22.5 miles

Aerobic efficiency on long run : 1,000 beats per mile

Parkrun : Woodhouse Moor 18:31 (9th)

RunBritain Ranking 2.87 (+0.1) (MV50 rank 226)

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Reminiscing ain’t what it used to be

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

LM -11 weeks

11 stone 1.0 lbs

68.6 miles, longest run 20.6

Parkrun : South Manchester 18:53 (7th)

Aerobic efficiency on long run 1,031 beats per mile

RunBritain Ranking 2.6 (unchanged) (MV50 rank 209)

 

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Right Up My Strasse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dewsbury 2019 1

photo Matt Blakeley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

LM -12 weeks

11 stone 4.0 lbs

22.2 miles, longest run 9.2

Parkrun : None

RunBritain Ranking 2.6 (unchanged)

 

 

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Keep on Chugging

Five Years is a long time in blogging. When I started this little running blog just over five years ago, it was primarily intended to be a spur to encourage me to get my ass out of the door and put in the work I needed to do to finally bag a sub 3-hour marathon.

Back in late 2013, it was all fields around here, the country was still basking the glowing embers of the glorious summer of 2012 and running blogs were as common as rocking horse manure.

How different life feels now, a polarized country following a bizarre referendum that virtually nobody in the general public either wanted nor cared much about until kettled into opposing corners of the cesspit and force-fed lies by nutters from both sides until they spat blood.

On the positive side, I have run not one but four sub 3 hour marathons, completed Comrades three times and written 109 posts in this blog.

Blogging about running has become apparently very popular. I only follow a few blogs these days, most of the ones I enjoyed back in 2014 have withered on the vine. If writing a blog helps you focus and get on with improving your health then you receive a hearty thumbs up from me.

2018 was not a halcyon year in my running career. For the first time since 2007, I did not set a personal best time at a standard race distance and it was the first year since 2012 that  I didn’t manage to record a sub 18 minute parkrun (though I did scrape under 18 minutes in a 5K race in August).

As with most things in running, it isn’t surprising. I’m 52, getting on a bit for a runner, but more significantly, I was hampered quite a bit by my dodgy ankle – posterior tibial tendonitis – which flared up whenever I try to increase the volume of miles.   My poor bio-mechanics don’t help.  I am trying to improve my running form, but I have a nagging feeling that you simply can’t teach a dog as old as me to change much.

I didn’t write any post-Comrades blog-posts last year, partly down to my poor form (let’s face it blogging is mainly about gloating), but primarily because I couldn’t be arsed.

One of the highlights of the second part of the year was my small involvement in the Tom Williams v Nick Pearson Tattoo Challenge. Tom, a good mate, was partaking in a year-long challenge with fellow parkrun executive Nick Pearson.   The challenge was to record the best average monthly parkrun time over the whole of 2018.  The loser’s forfeit was to be inked with a tattoo which included the barcode number of victor.

The challenge got a lot of traction on social media, helped by mentions on Radio 2 when Tom was interviewed by Vassos Alexander about parkrun.

Nick led the challenge for much of the year, but Tom produced a late run on the rails and going into December he was just a handful of seconds down and full of confidence. With  the challenge ending before the parkrun Christmas party, there were only two opportunities to record a time in December.

I had offered Tom my services as a pacemaker and just before the first December in Saturday he took me up on my offer and asked me to pace him at Heslington parkrun in York.

Secretly, I am very confident about my innate sense of pace. Often on a run I can guess my current running pace with a high degree of accuracy, usually within one or two seconds.

Heslington is potentially a very fast 5K course, it comprises a 1K cycle track, which is completed once, followed by and out and back along the lakeshore bus route, with a final lap of the cycle track to finish.

Tom really needed a time under 19 minutes, but unfortunately the conditions on December 1st were against us; it was breezy, cold and raining.  Tom met me during the warm up and gave me a focussed and intense briefing.

Clearly, he was right up for it. He stressed that I mustn’t go off too fast, a first kilometre of no quicker than 3:45 was ordered. He said not to worry if we didn’t run sub 19 – he thought the conditions might even mean he ran something like 19:20.

I can’t imagine that Roger Bannister gave Chattaway and Brasher a more intense pre-race briefing at Iffley Road in 1954.

After the usual preliminaries, we were away. I hit the 1K in 3:44, pretty much right on cue:

Things got tougher when we left the cycle track and put our noses in the wind. We made the halfway mark in 09:58, still on the money. However, Tom was feeling the pace on the return along the lakeshore, the wind was stronger and sensing that he was struggling, I tried to encourage him with aphorisms like “Dig in Tom” and “Only five more minutes to suffer”.

We made it back to the cycle track for the final lap and Tom picked up the pace to around 5 minutes mile for the last 500 metres, I had to dig really deep to stay with him.

He finished in 19:08, having completely rinsed himself inside out and then some. It is hard to imagine we could have gone any quicker than we did.

Unfortunately, Tom’s efforts were all in vain. Despite breaking 19 minutes at Hull parkrun on the following Saturday, Nick smashed out an all time PB of 18:43 at Dulwich to take the win.

My other highlights from 2018 were retaining the MV50 age group prize at the season long Even Splits monthly 5k series at the Brownlee cycle track in Leeds. The event is a series of 10 races with your best 6 times to count. The 2019 series starts at the end of February, though I will be away skiing for the first race.

I still love running, and with optimism in my heart I am making plans for 2019. There won’t be another Comrades for me this year.  I love the race, but the toll it takes on my body is something to be avoided for this year at least.

A new Good for Age regime has been implemented at the London Marathon, I still managed to get in, my 2:55 time from 2017 remained relevant.  My aim for the first part of the year will be quite simple – to run a personal best time for the marathon at London on April 28. I will use the blog to record my progress and note down my thoughts, just like I did back in 2014.

My two fears for London are that my ankle will not withstand the volume of training miles I will need to run and that the weather is hot again for London.

I can’t run a fast time in the heat and I won’t even try. The late April race date worries me (it’s a week later than usual because of Easter), and if it is over 20 degrees on race day as it was in 2018, then I will just pootle round and look after myself, perhaps saving myself for another race.

LM -16 weeks

11 stone 3 lbs

40.7 miles, longest run 12.7 miles

Parkrun : None (ill)

Aerobic efficiency on long run – 1,015 beats per mile

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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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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