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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Flymo Farah

I’m feeling tired and slow and I am doubting my abilities.

This is the ‘nitty-gritty’ part of marathon training when you prioritise the volume of miles over speed.  Running 65 miles in a week has left me feeling knackered and sluggish.  There is little time for rest and recovery when you are 52 and grinding out 65 miles.

For various reasons, I hadn’t run any races or even a parkrun for three weeks.  My RunBritain ranking is slipping alarmingly, so on Saturday morning I wanted to arrest the decline and pep up my spirits by running well at the hilly Roundhay parkrun.  I hoped to duck under 19 minutes for the first time in ages.

Unfortunately, the weather was spiteful –  the cold temperature necessitated three layers and wind and rain whipped over the course.  I still gave it full beans, but it felt that I was running with ankle weights on and I could only manage 19:32 and eighth place.

Today’s long run was an old fashioned character building outing – a 21 mile tour of north Leeds in rain, wind, hail, sleet and even snow at the end.  Thankfully, I had teammates Joel and Myra to run with otherwise I may have jacked in and gone back to bed.

I managed to average sub 8 minute miles, even allowing for a 10 minute 21st mile when the sleet was firing directly in my face and I couldn’t be arsed any more.

That’s three 20 mile+ long runs logged.  The absolute minimum acceptable number is five…hopefully I’ll do more.

On the positive side, I’m down at racing racing weight and I have some treats to look forward to next week.  A day at Cheltenham races on Wednesday, then a blast around a fast 5K race at the York cycle track on Thursday and one of my favourite races next Sunday – the Thirsk 10 mile race.

Hopefully, my handicap may start moving other way soon.

This week’s post is all a bit negative, so to lighten it up a little try a light-hearted quiz…Can you name some famous people you might you find in the garden?…the title is my starter for ten, there’s also Sophie-Trellis Bexter and The ‘Hedge’ from U2…comment if you can be bothered!

 

LM -7 weeks

11 stone 0.6 lbs

65.3 miles, longest run 21 miles

Parkrun : Roundhay : 19:32 (8th)

Aerobic efficiency on long run 1,011 beats per mile

RunBritain Ranking 2.7 (unchanged) (MV50 rank 213)

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National Cross (Dressing) Country

 

Only a short report this week kids as I am about to fly off for a few days skiing, so there won’t be much running next week.

The clear highlight of the week was taking part in my first ever English National Cross Country Championships, staged for the first time on the beautiful Harewood Estate just North of Leeds.

It was a magic early spring day of warmth and hazy blue skies. Harewood is often patrolled by a large wake of Red Kites (yes I had to look that up).  They must have been befuddled by the mass of coffee and burger vans, skinny humans and the booming public address. It was quite a spectacle and I hope that the southerners were duly impressed.

For me it was a day of schoolboy howlers and a rather mediocre race.  My first error was my shoe choice.

I haven’t worn spikes in a race for over a year. I had warmed up in my old yellow puma spikes before the Northern cross country champs back in January, but decided they didn’t fit me so I ran in trail shoes that day.  I donated the spikes to one of my team mates.

Last Monday, I thought it would be a good idea to treat myself to some new spikes so I bought a pair of Adidas cross country spikes:

Adidas spikes.jpg

To make sure I was happy with them I did a slow mile and half jog around the football pitches in the gloom after work. They felt OK so I resolved to run in them on Saturday.

Massive mistake number two was revealed after we had arrived at the club tent prior to the race.

That morning, I had pulled out my club vest from the wardrobe and tossed into my Morrison’s bag for life, together with my other race kit.

I carefully pinned on my number, but as I pulled the vest over my head and down my chest I struggled to force it past my nips…what the f?  Oh dear, I had brought one of Liz’s vests by mistake. She is a petite lady whereas I am a lanky bloke.

I could just about force the vest down past my belly button, but I could barely move my arms!  What a complete plonker I am sometimes. There was no way I could run in it.

Fortunately for me, I had brought a Valley Striders club T-shirt which just about matched our club racing vest colour scheme.  I thought I had better check that my kit would pass muster, so I found the race referee and asked for approval.  After she had stopped laughing, she said “yes, no problem”.

After watching our ladies set off in their race, I warmed up with a few team mates and then just before three o’clock we made our way into our allotted start pens.

The men’s start at the National is something to behold.  The start line must have been nearly a hundred metres wide and after the gun went over two thousand men all sprinted up the opening hill to make the first left hand turn after about 400 metres.  It truly was like a scene from a medieval battlefield.

National 2

I decided to chance my arm and go out as hard as I could. I knew that space would be at a premium for the first couple of miles so I hoped to establish a position in the field and then defend it.

Although I charged up the hill for all I was worth, I still came to a virtual standstill at a couple of early pinch points and I had to be quick with my elbows a couple of times as guys tried to take a few liberties and tried to cut me up.

Even with the argy-bargy, I still covered the first slightly uphill mile in 6:20. I was blowing hard and my heart rate as 159 – which I knew was too high and definitely not sustainable. I calmed down a little and tried to get into a rhythm.  The second mile included a long draggy climb up to the Wike road gate. The gradient meant that I slowed a lot – down to a 7:04 mile.  I was giving up a few places, but not too many.

National 3

(photos Liz Adams)

The third mile was fast – flat along the top of the ridge then a quick descent, which I freewheeled, passing plenty of runners.  My watch flashed up a 6:04 mile split.

Mile 4 was tough, a short descent before a nasty switchback to take us back up the hill, then a drop down into the start /finish area before climbing up for the start of the second and final lap.

National 5

Running up the hill, I realised that my calves were killing me, running in my new spikes had been a very stupid idea.

Because I had run quite aggressively, I think I had been right up on my toes (as you should be in spikes), but I was recruiting completely different muscles to ones that I normally used for running when training in my big squishy Hoka road shoes.

The second lap was just a long sulk really. I was annoyed at myself for making such a basic error, my mood didn’t improve when I was passed by an old bloke wearing Hoka road shoes! I’m ashamed to say I switched off a bit going up the long hill the second time, the gradient made my calves feel even worse.

I managed to get it going a bit on the flat section at the far end of the estate but I was struggling again on the final hill, I was passed by lots of runners and the worst of it is, I didn’t really care that much. I barely even raised much of a sprint in the long finishing chute.

National 6

So, all in all, a pretty inauspicious effort in my first National. My final time was 49:35 which got me 996th place out of 2008 finishers, so I just scraped a top half position.  The Valley Striders men’s team did really well, finishing in 26th. The ladies were 40th – all in all great results for our little club.

After the race I was fairly disgusted with my effort, but when I checked Strava, I saw my average pace had been 6:44, which isn’t that bad – to be fair the course was very firm and fast.

I subscribe to Strava premium, which gives a feedback comment based on the data from each run data (heart rate / speed etc). The verdict on my run was “168 Massive Relative Effort”.

Maybe I was really trying, but it’s hard to get excited as you get passed by dozens and dozens of competitors. I think I am just a crap cross country runner, but that’s OK, it was still great to be part of such a massive event.

On Sunday, I was lucky enough to attend the England Athletics National Endurance get together held at a hotel in North Leeds. I was a full day of listening to insights from elite athletes who competed from 800 metres right up to marathon together with many top coaches.  My head is spinning with ideas and I could write reams right now.

However, I am going to go and pack for my ski trip. I’ll think I may as well pack my spikes away for a very long time too.

 

LM -9 weeks

11 stone 2.8 lbs

34.7 miles, longest run 9.4 miles

Parkrun : None

Aerobic efficiency on at National XC 1,030 beats per mile

RunBritain Ranking 2.7 (+0.1) (MV50 rank 209)

 

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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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Tailed off…

My ambition at cross-country championship races like the Yorkshire and Northern championships is to make the top half of the field.

Last year, I achieved my goal at the Northern cross-country championships, finishing 320th in a field of 761.  That race was on a muddy and hilly course around the Harewood Estate near Leeds (the venue for the Nationals next month).

The 2019 edition was at Pontefract Racecourse on Saturday, a course I know having raced there four years ago.  As cross-country courses go, it is one of the easier ones, undulating but with no tough hills.

After a relatively mild and dry winter so far it was reasonably firm underfoot.  If they were staging a horse race meeting, I think the going would have been described as good with patches of good to soft.

I harboured ambitions of cracking the top half once again.  I hadn’t worn my spikes since the Northerns last year but during my warm up jog they felt very uncomfortable – a bit small and I felt twinges of pain in my feet.  Fortunately, I had a pair of light trail shoes with me, so I quickly changed and decided to race in them.  It was a good decision.

The senior men’s race was billed as 12K (it was actually a little longer).  Normal cross-country wisdom dictates that one should set off like a scalded cat, establish a position in the field and then try to defend it by not fading too badly.  This is fine, but it makes for a very hard race and if you get it wrong you can be rather humiliated during the final mile by losing many places.

Because the Pontefract course is quite roomy and knowing that I am not in very good cross-country form, I thought I would try to pace it evenly.  On the first of the three laps, I wanted to it to feel comfortable, on the second I wanted to be working hard and moving through and on the final lap just give it whatever was left.

It was still congested for the first mile which I managed to cover in 6:14 (it was a bit downhill).  I felt good, I thought I was running well with reasonable form and my heart rate was in the mid 150s, about right for hard racing.

I executed my race pretty much according to my plan, maintaining an even effort and moving up through the field.  My subsequent mile splits were 6:30, 6:40, 6:28 then an uphill 6:55, to take me into the final lap. I sat in a little group of three for a few minutes and then I realised I was coasting a bit, so I pulled out and kicked on with a 6:22 6th mile.

I was having a yo-yo race with a lad from Denby Dale and we raced up the final drag towards the finishing straight.

At the top of the hill was the worst patch of mud on the whole course, the only place that my shoe choice made for a significant disadvantage.  The table tennis bat pimples on my shoes afforded about as much grip as a curling stone gets on the ice.  I veered off wide searching for traction, conceding about ten metres to the Denby runner and the others in my little group.

As we entered the finishing straight with about a furlong to go, I opened up my sprint to surge ahead of most of those that had passed me in the mud; however, the Denby lad wasn’t giving up easily and I felt him alongside with 50 metres to go.  It was one of those finishing sprints that simply came down to will power, both of us were all out, matching strides and giving it everything.

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I just managed to take it with a lunge at the line.  I slumped over the barriers for a couple of minutes, chest heaving and wondering if would be able to avoid a chunder (thankfully I did).

All this effort got me a placing of 364th in a field of 704, so nowhere near the top half.  It was a mediocre result, but I think that I raced it well.  I delivered my effort evenly and hammered the last ten minutes.  In races, you can only control your effort, the result is whatever the result is.

I was again the first irrelevant runner for my Valley Striders team, finishing 7th counter (six counted).

I was probably a bit tired after a heavy mileage week, over 66 this week and my weight is back down below 11 stones, pretty much ‘racing weight’ for me.

I’ll step the mileage down again this week, hopefully I’ll be fresh for the Dewsbury 10K next Sunday.

 

 

 

LM -13 weeks

10 stone 12.8 lbs

66.6 miles, longest run 13.3 miles

Parkrun : Roundhay 41:59 (419th)

Aerobic efficiency on long run – 1,068 beats per mile

RunBritain Ranking 2.6 (unchanged)

 

 

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Plans Are Afoot

I’m finally over my customary bout of mid-winter cold/chest infection/man-flu and replete with enthusiasm for training, I have recorded my highest mileage week since last winter – 63.9 miles.

Despite the illness, I feel in decent nick, my ankle isn’t feeling too bad and given that I will be racing on quite a few of the upcoming Sundays I wanted to bag the first long run of this marathon training block.

I ran just over two and a half laps of the reservoirs today, the first few miles with my partner Liz (we were even greeted with a cheery “hello” from England football manager Gareth Southgate as he ran past us), then I ground out the remaining miles on my own to log 17.1 in just over two and a quarter hours.  Liz is coming back from an injury, so was under instructions not to run far.

It was blowing a hoolie this morning, so it was great to get it done early and then hunker down back at home.

At my age, I don’t think that pace of long runs matters much at this stage of the process – I wanted to run for over two hours, the distance wasn’t that relevant.

The rest of the week was somewhat unmemorable, I used my lunch hours for my usual runs along the canal.   However on Tuesday evening,  I joined up with the fast Valley Striders training group and we did a session of 6 times 800m on the road with 2 minutes jog recoveries.

Some of the lads in this group have 32/33 minute 10K PBs, so I have been a little wary of joining them, thinking that I would be spat out the back sharpish.  Thankfully, the very fast lads were absent this week and I was able to hold my own and hang in with the group.  It felt good to test myself and run quickly.  I’ll probably join them again in the future.

We went to Armley parkrun yesterday.  I was hoping for a good time, but I didn’t even manage to break 19 minutes, which was disappointing.   It was breezy and half the course is off road and was muddy, so maybe it wasn’t too bad.

My plan is to knock out a few weeks of 50+ miles as a base for my training.  I have quite a few cross country races coming up, including the Northern Championship at Pontefract at the end of January and then my first ever run in the National, which is being held at Harewood House, just a few miles from my home.

Other races in the build up will be the Dewsbury 10K in early February and the Salford 10K on Good Friday. The latter race is just over a week before the London marathon.  Racing short the week before a marathon never bothered me, and I’ll have nine days to taper down for the marathon, so all should work out well.

I’m mulling over whether to include a 20 mile race this time, thankfully there are plenty of options.

LM -15 weeks

11 stone 1.8 lbs

63.9 miles, longest run 17.1 miles

Parkrun : Armley 19:03 (5th)

Aerobic efficiency on long run – 1,058 beats per mile

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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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