Gremlins from the Kremlin

Forgive me father, for I confess it has been more than six weeks since my last blogpost.

I have no compelling excuses; aside from indolence, being busy at work and some awful weather twisting my melons, man.

I’m pleased to report that training for the London Marathon and Comrades remains reasonably close to being on track. UK readers will know that we have been bedevilled by severe winter weather over the past few weeks, whisked in on icy winds blowing in from Russia, hence the title of this post (definitely not a reference to Mr Putin whom I am sure is a lovely kind and level headed gentleman).

I had planned to travel down to Bath again on March 4th to run the half marathon as my prime pre-London tune-up race.  The weather kyboshed that one. I was a bit frustrated, because not only was I missing a key build up race, but I had tapered for it, running a mere 20 miles that week.

On Friday when it was clear that Bath wasn’t going ahead, I remembered that the Yorkshire Veterans cross country championships were due to be held at Cleckheaton on the Sunday. A quick e-mail to the organiser informed me that I would be able to enter on the day, so as long as the race beat the weather, I decided to substitute this event for Bath.

I fantasized that the poor weather might deter the more rapid old lads from entering and I may have had a rare chance of sweeping to victory as Yorkshire over 50s cross country champion. Valley Striders had entered a very strong team of over 50s and we were hopeful of defending our team prize from 2017.

Soon after I arrived at the event I spotted Nick Charlesworth from Wharfedale and knew that my pipedreams were scuppered. He’s 50 and rocket fast and I knew he would be whupping me by several minutes.

The race was held on the same course as one of the pre-Christmas West Yorkshire Cross Country League races. It was a typical local XC course of a mile loop shoe-horned into a couple of undulating fields with a number of switchbacks.  The underfoot conditions were a mixture of solid frozen ground, virgin snow and deep gloopy thawed out mud.  It made the shoe choice difficult, but after a jog around the course, I opted for my spikes because of the course was either snow or bog.

My race comprised 5 laps, or just over 5 miles. Knowing that I have tended to be too timid at the start of cross country races, I resolved to go out hard and see what happened.  On the ‘B’ of the bang, I surged out and was on the tails of the leading group for the first half-lap.  Unsurprisingly, I couldn’t hang on to Nick Charlesworth and four or five other real speedies.

XC1

My heart rate was soon stratospheric and I was gurning and wheezing as if I had a 20 a day Capstan habit. By lap three the field had really thinned out and I was in group of three.  I tried to break free by surging on the downhills and managed to drop one of the group.  With a lap to go my opponent attacked and soon opened up a gap of several seconds and that was that.  What’s more, he was a V60 – fair play.

I finished 7th overall and 5th in my age category and Valley Striders retained the V50s team championship with good packing toward the top of the standings.

The poor weather continued in the first half of March. We had a few sudden accumulations of snow, making it impossible to run outside on icy pavements for a few days. I hunkered down at the gym, improvising half-hearted interval sessions on the treadmill.  Did I mention that I hate treadmills?

I had entered the 2018 season of the Even Splits 5K race series held at the Brownlee cycle track near to my home. Race one was snowed off and rescheduled for the Friday night of the following week (it must have been the only day they could book the track). So whilst normal people were out downing Friday night ales in their local boozer whilst ordering Dominos takeway pizza on their smartphones, I was thrashing my way around a cold windy cycling track.

I managed a time of 18:28, which was OK; hopefully I will build on these and improve my time to something closer to 18 minutes on a warmer and more hospitable night.

Even splits race 1

The following day we drove all the way to Glasgow, narrowly dodging another snow storm which closed the A66 just after we had made it through. We were in Glasgow for two great reasons – to catch up with Comrades buddies Jock and Karen and then Jock and I were running the Loch Katrine marathon on the Sunday morning as a Comrades training run cum back-up qualifier for me.

Jock has run Loch Katrine before and tipped me off as to what a great event it is. It is brilliantly staged by a quite remarkable lady called Audrey McIntosh – a famed ultra-runner and the first Scot to complete the Antarctic marathon and 100km double -all in 3 days.

Loch Katrine marathon is a bit different. Audrey stages a running festival comprising a marathon, a half marathon and a 10K event all aimed at raising as much money for Alzheimer’s charities. It is held on the very undulating quiet estate road around the beautiful serene loch and Audrey aims to make as little environmental impact as possible.  For example although there would be drinks stations, there would be no plastic cups – you either had to take your own or buy a commemorative collapsible cup for £2 and clip it to your kit.

It was a small event – limited to 100 in the marathon (quite a few didn’t make it to the start because of another snowstorm on the morning of the race).

I wanted to run for two reasons – as a good long training run and to bag a qualifying time for Comrades.  One must run a marathon in the nine months prior to Comrades in a time of five hours or better.  I have the London marathon in a month, however, I didn’t want to find myself stepping on a bottle and twisting my ankle after 6 miles in London, leaving me snookered for Comrades.  With a qualifying time safely in the bag, I could relax and seek a better time at London to improve my seeding.

Jock and I decided to run together. He is a remarkable wee fellow, a spritely 60 years old and the first man in the UK to complete the A-Z of marathons.  Although barely into March this was to be his third marathon of 2018, after Dubai and Tokyo (where he bagged the last of the Abbott marathon majors).

Although bone-chilling cold, it was a cracking event. On the start line, Audrey gave us a few words of advice and encouragement and I sensed that I was amongst a group of people who saw the World a little bit differently to most people.

One of them was dressed as a sheep, probably very sensible given the temperature and at the off, he bombed away in the lead.

Jock and I set off steadily – knocking off the first few miles between 8 and 9 minute pace and just enjoying being out in the gorgeous landscape.  The course was along one side of the  lozenge shaped loch, around the top, then about halfway along the other side to a turn point and we then retraced the route back to the boathouse and the start/finish.

The first ten miles were pleasant, if up and down, but when we changed direction at the top end of the loch we faced three pretty grim miles dead into a piercing wind with snow flurries whipping into our faces.

At the halfway turn we scoffed a few little flapjacks and super-sweet caramel blocks that the Scots apparently call ‘tablets’.

As it was an out and back course, the leaders ran past us as we jogged along the far side of the loch. Sheep boy had clearly suffered a little for his fast start and was a few places behind the leaders.

Jock loch Katrine

The second half felt tough, the last 10 miles were all back into the wind and the hills seemed much tougher the second time. It is never a good sign when they make the effort to put a sign at the bottom of a hill, and seeing “Graveyard Hill” with 8 miles to go, Jock and I thought it sensible to adopt a ‘run-walk strategy’ up the stiffest gradients.

We battled away grimly through the latter miles and with the boathouse in sight I was amazed to spy Sheep-boy up ahead. He had that weird gait of someone still trying to run, but barely moving at walking speed.  “Come on Jock, we can take him”, I said.

We caught Sheep-boy with maybe 800 metres left, he looked absolutely empty. Much to my astonishment, when there were about 200 metres left he came absolutely flying past, sprinting for all he was worth.

“F**k that” I said to Jock and raced after him. Although a desperate sprint finish was the last thing I wanted at the end of a hilly marathon, much to my chagrin, I could not catch him. Outsprinted by a man dressed as a sheep.

On the finish line, I was embraced by Audrey who lovingly embraced and kissed every single finisher.

Late last week, I got a message to ask if I would step in and run for Valley Striders in the Northern 12 Stage road relays, to be held at Birkenhead Park. I readily accepted, although I figured I would be the slowest in the team, but I was happy to turn out.

The captain allocated leg 12 to me – ostensibly the glory leg, but also a prime opportunity to *uck up and lose a few places. When I arrived, the event was well under away, though I had time for a couple of miles to warm up.  I soon found myself in the holding pen, waiting for my team mate Jon to loom into view.  I had one of the short legs – advertised as 4.5K, but in reality they were actually just 3.75K, one big lap of the park including a loop around the boating lakes.

The top 24 placed teams would qualify for the National Road Relays in Birmingham and I knew that we were in one of the last qualifying spots when I set off for my leg.

Unsurprisingly, after three hours of racing, the field was very spread out with runners all around the park, many on different legs.

I had nobody in sight in front of me, though I heard the starter release an Altrincham runner just a few seconds behind me.  I guessed they would be on the same leg as me. Running scared, I set off much too fast.  The course was fast and general flat, with the first half mile or so slightly downhill.

Running a solo time trial, it was difficult to pace myself.  I clocked the first mile in just outside 5:20…ouch, I’ll probably pay for that I thought. Thankfully I no longer sensed the Altrincham runner behind me and I could sense that I was catching two runners up ahead.

Deep in the pain cave, I focussed on reeling in the runners ahead and I managed to pass two guys in the section around the boating lake, later I found out that I was nabbing a place from Bolton; the other lad was on a different leg.

The second mile took me 6:12.   Clearly I didn’t pace my effort very well. However, all was forgiven because we secured our spot in the National relays by finishing in 21st place. I recorded the 21st fastest time (out of 56) for my leg, so basically I just about did my job.

Progress Report:

In general, I am reasonably satisfied with my training this year. As I get older (I’m in my 52nd year) I am definitely noticing that I cannot run hard on consecutive days.  The day after a race or a long training run my legs feel shot and I either have to rest or run very slowly.  I also feel that I have to manage my body – My right ankle and hip often feel sore, no doubt due to my poor bio-mechanics. I should go back and see my podiatrist.

However, I still love running, so I’ll keep doing it until forced to jack in, whenever that might be.

I ran my first Comrades in 2015. Between 1 January and the end of March that year I ran 713 miles. So far this year, I have covered 672 miles (with 3 days to go as I write this), so I am not too far behind.

If the volume has been OK, speed is lacking. You don’t need any speed for Comrades, but if I want to run well at London, and I guess I do, I think I should spend a week to ten days trying to sharpen up a bit.

I can only afford a short taper for London – maybe 10 days, until that starts, I’ll have to keep logging the miles, hopefully at least 45 per week.

There are seven weeks between London and Comrades. I will need at least a week to recover from London, so I’ll write that week off completely, but then I need to get four big weeks in to get me ready for the big one.

I want to run Comrades properly this year, to fully respect it and not completely fall apart and grovel to the end as I have in my previous attempts. That may well be beyond me, but the two things I need to improve are my pacing and nutrition. I must pack away my hubris and go very slowly during the first half with lots of walking.  I must also eat more during the race.  I need to practice that in training.

Have a lovely Easter everyone. Summer is coming.

Recent Training:

Feb 12-18 (CM-16 weeks): 60.4 miles, longest run 20 miles

Feb 19-25 (CM-15 weeks): 45 miles, longest run 12.3 miles

Feb 26-Mar 4 (CM-14 weeks): 25.8 miles, longest run 6.2 miles

Mar 5-11 (CM-13 weeks): 50 miles, longest run 22.2 miles

Mar 12-18 (CM-12 weeks): 42.6 miles, longest run 26.3 miles

Mar 19-25 (CM-11 weeks): 44.1 miles, longest run 17.3 miles

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Parky parkrunning

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I did it.

 

Comrades 2018 -17 weeks

11 stone 3.8 lbs

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

RunBritain Handicap 3.0

Aerobic efficiency 1,047 heartbeats per mile

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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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Sliding Doors

A post on Twitter this week about a runner’s ten year anniversary of his first parkrun at Woodhouse Moor caused me to check back on my record.

His first parkrun in January 2008 coincided with my second – I’d made my debut the previous week.

I don’t believe in fate or any kind of pre-ordained life.  We have a good measure of free will and we are exposed to the fundamental randomness of the Universe in my humble view; however, I did muse on how that simple decision to take myself down to Woodhouse Moor to try parkrun has changed my life.

It led me on a path to become a serious runner, I’ve made many new friends, I have travelled to places and done events that I could never have even conceived of and it also led to great happiness in my private life.  Yes, digging out my trainers and dragging myself down to try out a strange new free 5K run over a decade ago is one of the best decisions I ever made.

After two high mileage weeks, I stepped it back this week. It felt the correct thing to do, I have been going OK and I still have 13 weeks until London and 21 until Comrades so there is no need to go mad with miles just yet.

The weather hasn’t been great in the North of the UK this week – with plenty of snow and cold temperatures leaving roads and pavements often ice covered.

I decided to have a crack at the fourth Peco cross country race in the series, a course of 4.8 miles around Middleton Woods in South Leeds.  It was undulating with not many ‘killer’ hills that usually find me out and a couple of twisty technical descents that I can usually run quite well.

In my last cross country I was asleep at the start and got stuck too far back, causing me stress and extra energy trying to work my way through the field.  This time I set off more purposefully, established a reasonable position in the pack and then just battled away for places.

Peco 18.4

A nasty short climb about half a mile from the finish sent my heart rate rocketing and I lost a few of positions.  Back on the huge finishing field, I gathered myself and unleashed my best sprint to take most of them back.  I finished in 63rd position, fourth in my age category, but overall I was satisfied with my effort. I’d kept focussed throughout the race and I don’t feel that I could have done much more.

It’s the Northern Cross Country Championships next Saturday, held at Harewood House, only a few miles from where I live.  I might jog there and back to make it a long run day as well as a Championship race, we’ll see.  A top half finish will be my ambition

Comrades 2018 -2 weeks

11 stone 4.0 lbs

36.3 miles, longest run 7.7 miles. No parkrun (bad weather)

RunBritain Handicap 2.9

Aerobic efficiency 1,087 heartbeats per mile

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Mojo Working

Another good week for the mileage log with no injury setbacks…things may be looking up.  For the first time in over nine months I experienced the elusive feeling of it feeling quite easy to run at a decent lick in training.  At last I am making progress rather than incessantly worrying about which bit of me might wear out or fall off next.

Seventy miles is my biggest week in almost a year.  Unsurprisingly I feel tired, but happy to be seemingly recording improvement.  I am hoping to run well at the Dewsbury 10K in three weeks.  I was on for a probable personal best time there last year only to be thwarted by a course that was more 10.2 than 10 kilometres.  I’m sure they will measure and mark it out right this year.

To get the mileage in, I’ve had to do some double days, which I find hard.  On Thursday I ran to work (5.5 miles) and for the return I took a longer route of 13.5 miles.  It was an unappealing run against a constant stream of glaring headlights on a cold, dark night.  However, I get a perverse enjoyment from completing this sort of run.  I wrapped up well, plugged in my headphones and caught up on my podcast backlog and drifted away with my thoughts.  I was home in what felt like no time, though it actually took me an hour and three quarters.

We tried a new parkrun on Saturday – Selby.  The course is around the bumpy perimeter path of an airfield, amazingly one lap of the airfield is exactly five kilometres. It was a chilly day and a brisk old breeze was scuttling through the windsocks.

The course was billiard table flat so I was aiming for a sub 19 minute time, hopefully nearer to 18:30. It’s quite a new parkrun (this only was the fifth event), the field was around two hundred or so.

Soon after the off, I was up in the leading group and after a kilometre I was off the front, running alongside a young lad in leggings and a club vest. I’d gone off hard, so my heart rate was up and I was gasping in the air, he casually turned to me and started chatting as if we were out for an easy walk.  I gasped out a couple of one or two word responses, which I expect were entirely incomprehensible.  He then asked me if I knew the way, “Erm, no, I was following you” I managed to blurt out.

Thankfully, it was hard to go wrong, we stuck to the fairly obvious perimeter path and didn’t head down the runway.

I managed to run the first (partially wind assisted) mile in just under six minutes, but the next was directly into the strong wind, we slowed to 6:30 pace.  Just as we were turning back towards the finish, with the wind again on our backs, another runner breezed past. I tried for a few strides to stick with him, but clearly he had been holding a lot in reserve and he zoomed away easily.

In addition to being bumpy, the path was covered in a couple of centimetres of mucilaginous mud. I had made a bad shoe choice and struggled for traction in the worst of it.

With around 400m metres to go I decided to have a dig to try to steal second place from the young lad.   I opened up my ‘sprint’.  I am pretty good at reading other runners body language in races and as he floated effortlessly past me, his body language was saying “don’t be ridiculous, you have no chance of beating me”.  He was right.

I finished third in 18:56, given the wind and the mud, I was satisfied with that. On a dry still day I am fairly sure I could have maintained sub six minute mile pace the whole way.

Next week – hopefully more of the same.

 

Comrades 2018 -21 weeks

11 stone 1.6 lbs

70.3 miles, longest run 17 miles. Parkrun (Selby, 3rd 18:56)

RunBritain Handicap 2.9

Aerobic efficiency on Long run 1,047 heartbeats per mile

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Putting my Foot in it

Only a short report this week, mainly because I’m still struggling with injury and I don’t want to sound like a moaning sod.

I wanted this to be a real big mileage week of at least 70 miles, culminating with a race on Sunday – the Vale of York half marathon. I ran for about an hour on both Monday and Tuesday and then drove up to the reservoirs on Wednesday morning hoping to run at least 20 miles, maybe even 24 if I felt up to it.

My ankle didn’t feel too bad for the first two hours of the run, but then the pain returned and quickly got worse and I was forced to stop after about 15 miles and hobble back to the car.

I rested until Sunday and went across to the Sherburn Aerodrome for the Vale of York Half Marathon.  I had a reasonably good race – finishing in just outside 82 minutes and apparently winning second prize in the MV50 age category.

Although my performance was OK, I wasn’t happy with my running. I was feeling the ankle throughout the run and I wasn’t able to run completely freely.  My gait was different – I was heel striking more than usual on my right foot, subconsciously I was trying to protect the injury. Unsurprisingly, I felt twinges in other parts of my body.

I finished quite lame and as I write this on Monday I can’t walk without pain.  Often it isn’t wise to self-diagnose using google, but this artcle:

https://runnersconnect.net/posterior-tibial-tendonitis/

describes my symptons accurately.  Worringly, it says that one should not try to run through this injury.  However, as Chester on October 8th is almost certain to be the only opportunity that I will have in my lifetime to wear a National vest then I am going to risk it.

There are four weeks remaining until Chester and I am fairly confident that I will be able to make the start line.  I am not so confident about making it to the finish, but we will worry about that on the day.

My plan from now until 8 Oct is to hardly run at all, allow my ankle to heal as much as possible and to try to keep as fit as I can by cross training.  I am going on a week-long cycling holiday in Italy next Saturday, so at least I will keep active and won’t have to think about running much.

 

CM -4 weeks

52.5 miles, longest run 18.3 miles

Parkrun – None

Weight 11 stone 3.4 lbs

Aerobic efficiency (HM 971 beats per mile)

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Cor Baby, that’s Relay free

I treated my aching bones to any easier week, so there isn’t very much to share about the last seven days of running.  Although I am trying to compress a 14 week marathon training block into about 7 weeks, even I realise that it would be foolish to completely run myself into the ground, so a bit of rest and easy running is mandatory at my age.

In Iceland, Jock told me about his training philosophy – he has read a book by an author whose name I have forgotten, but the key point was that training runs for older runners should to be easy.  The best way to measure this is by using heart rate, which should never exceed 180 minus one’s age.  Therefore, I have been running to a target heart rate of 130, which feels quite easy, it equates to something between 8:15 to 8:30 mile pace.

It also requires one to run very easily up inclines and a bit harder down them.  As mentioned on Marathon Talk a few weeks ago, for even effort, nearly every one goes much too hard uphill and nowhere near hard enough coming down.  Hard runs should only be done occasionally – ideally not more than once a week.

I like this training philosophy, it accords with the Kenyan way – i.e. you should either by running very easily, or very hard, but hardly ever with medium effort.

Saying all that, I ran hard on both days at the weekend – on Saturday at Roundhay parkrun; and on Sunday for Leg 6 of the Leeds Country Way Relay.

The Roundhay parkrun course is tough, it includes a two+ minute hill which is climbed three and a half times.  I was leading the pack at the top of the hill on the first lap, but I was soon passed by Huw and a young woman whom I didn’t recognise.  I held third place until the finish, the young woman cruised round to finish first overall quite comfortably, pursued by a string of gasping old men like me.

I was reasonably satisfied with my time of 19:11 – on the same weekend last year I ran 18:34, so I am definitely a little way behind my form of 2016. Hopefully, I still have time to sharpen up a little before I start the taper.

The Leeds Country Way is a 6 leg race around a 60 mile footpath that circumnavigates Leeds, contested by most of the local running clubs.  It’s a great event, requiring excellent logistical management and navigation and wells as good runners.  The legs are run in pairs.  I ran the final leg for the Vets team with Kevin. We enjoyed a strong run, covering the 9.5 undulating miles of rough paths and roads in just over 69 minutes.

LCW1

Valley Striders had a good day, winning the Vet’s category and finishing second in the main male and female classifications.

My aim for this week is to cover at least 60 miles, but to front-load the week so that I can be fresh(ish) or the Vale of York Half Marathon next Sunday. I will have to fit in my long run mid-week, probably on Wednesday morning.

 

CM -5 weeks

41.3 miles, longest run 10.1 miles

Parkrun – Roundhay 19:11 (3rd)

Weight 10 stone 13.4 lbs

Aerobic efficiency (LCW 1048 beats per mile)

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One Step Forward…

I got some miles in this week – 65 of them, although my 20 mile run on Sunday morning didn’t go exactly as I wished.

As I mentioned in the previous post, I wasn’t sure how fit I was after not running at all during my holiday in Tanzania.  To ease back into it, I did a few easy training runs at home followed by a steady effort at the Reyjavik half marathon last Saturday.  I ran the final three miles quite hard there and it felt good.

The Even Splits 5K race at the Brownlee cycling track on Wednesday night was a good opportunity to see exactly how I was going.  Liz and I did a nice long warm up and on the start line I tried to focus my mind to make sure that I concentrated fully, embraced the pain and ran a true hard race. 5K racing is meant to hurt!

The track is exactly a mile long, so the course is three laps plus a bit at the end. I completed the first lap in a very aggressive 5:38. Unsurprisingly it was hurting; I decided not to look at the watch much, I may have been scared by how high my heart rate was.  Instead I looked ahead and picked out some of my usual rivals and tried to reel them in. Forgetting the watch and just racing is usually the best way to achieve a good time.

The second mile was a 5:52, I was still progressing through the field as others were slowing more than me. I dug deep and completely rinsed myself on the final lap, with a 5:51 third mile, leaving 170 or so metres left to the finish line.

I could feel Aidan from Abbey Runners bearing right down on me so I stared ahead and tried to unleash my best sprint finish. I stole a couple of places in the finishing straight to record a chip time of 18:06, which I was absolutely delighted with. It was much faster than I thought I was capable of. Even better, Liz knocked a minute off her previous time with a storming run.

(photo Kath Robbins)Even Splits

Looking at the Garmin data after the race, I saw that my heart rate maxed at 172 bpm just before the finish, the highest I have ever recorded, so it’s not surprising that I collapsed in a heap on the grass after the line.

What with the high mileage and very hard race, I felt very tried and sluggish during the remainder of the week.  I dragged myself round to a respectable but heavy-legged 19:18 on the tough Bradford parkrun course on Saturday morning.

I wanted to round the week off with a minimum of a 20 mile run on Sunday morning. I fancied running it on my own, I thought I might be quite slow.  I chose a simple 10 mile out and back route along the canal towpath. Although I was tired, the first 13 miles felt reasonable at just under 8 minute miling.   However as I became more fatigued, I felt my ankle getting gradually worse and after 17 miles I had to stop running and walk-jog back to car.

Hopefully, it’s just a symptom of the volume of miles and nothing too serious.  I’ll take a couple of days off and have an easier week before stepping up again. I want to be in reasonable shape for the Leeds Country Way relay next Sunday – I’m running the final ‘glory’ Leg 6 with partner Kevin in the Vets team.

 

CM -6 weeks

65.6 miles, longest run 20.1 miles

Parkrun – Bradford 19:18 (6th)

Weight 11 stone 0.4 lbs

Aerobic efficiency (5K race 940 beats per mile)

 

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Under Pressure

There are six weeks and five days to go until I toe the line at the Chester Marathon wearing an England vest.  I am woefully under-prepared.  I haven’t been able to shake off the problem with my bothersome ankle and managed not one single step of running during my 18 day holiday in Tanzania. I need to get my arse in gear.

Tanzania

This long-planned trip was the intended jewel in my summer sabbatical. It didn’t disappoint, I had a great time.

The first part of the trip was a guided trek up the 5895m of Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa (and the highest free-standing mountain in the World), followed by a five day safari around several National Parks and conservation areas in Tanzania.

I love the wonderful haphazard craziness of Africa. The people appear infected with joyfulness and have a carefree resourcefulness that (eventually) solves most problems. They aren’t the World’s greatest timekeepers though.

There are several approved trekking routes up Kilimanjaro. Backpackers looking for the cheapest way up face a five day race up the crowded Marangu route. As well as being cheap and quick, this route also isn’t particularly picturesque and has the lowest success rate of about 65% (due to poor acclimatisation).

We chose the longest and slowest route – the Northern circuit, which takes nine days in total including the descent. It is an expensive option, but the main advantage is the high success rate (over 90%) due to plenty of opportunities to acclimatise. The route takes in the quieter more unspoilt slopes on the Kenya-facing ‘back’ of the mountain.

Our party comprised eight trekkers (mainly Australian friends with whom I walked the Inca Trail in Peru in 2012), four guides and about 32 porters.  That may sound a plethora of porters, but it’s about the average walker to porter proportion.

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The guides and porters were simply wonderful, they pampered and pandered to the softy Western tourists and never once failed to smile, laugh or sing whilst doing it.  And they had to lug dozens of 25KG packs up the mountain….

 

To be honest, the first few days of the walk were fairly easy for me. There is a phrase in Swahili that you hear all the time on the mountain: “Pole, Pole” (pronounced: “Po-lay, Pol-lay”).  It means “Slowly, slowly” and it is the absolute key to success on Kilimanjaro.

At first I was surprised just how slowly we were made to walk – to call it funereal would be to exaggerate the pace, it was much slower – something around 1 mile per hour.  As we got higher and the air got thinner, we walked even more slowly – on summit night we covered six very steep kilometres in around ten hours.

Our head guide, Davis, had summited over 250 times, so we trusted in his counsel.  My breathing and heart rate was comfortable at Pole Pole pace, but as soon as I tried to go even slightly quicker I felt my heart rate shoot up and breathing become laboured.

The ascent of Kilimanjaro is a trek, a walk. It’s a long and arduous walk and the summit night and day is very long and testing, but provided you stay healthy and can cope with the altitude the main requirement for success is patience and determination.

Here are some photos from the first few days of the trek (photo credit Andrew Miley and Mervi Minshull)

 

Summit Night

We camped at School Hut – at an altitude of 4800m.  We dined early – at 5.30pm and rose at 10.30pm for an 11.30pm start for the push for the summit.

It was a stunning place to camp, I have never been to a place that felt more other-Worldly, way above the clouds and many thousands of feet above the vegetation line:

 

We were blessed with a full moon, which washed the mountain in a pale argentine light. I turned off my head torch for most of the summit climb, I could see perfectly well by moonlight alone.

The moonlight reminded me of my favourite poem – Silver, by Walter de la Mere, which I recited to myself as we slogged up the steep slopes below the summit:

Slowly, silently, now the moon
Walks the night in her silver shoon;
This way, and that, she peers, and sees
Silver fruit upon silver trees;
One by one the casements catch
Her beams beneath the silvery thatch;
Couched in his kennel, like a log,
With paws of silver sleeps the dog;
From their shadowy cote the white breasts peep
Of doves in silver feathered sleep
A harvest mouse goes scampering by,
With silver claws, and silver eye;
And moveless fish in the water gleam,
By silver reeds in a silver stream.

The most difficult time physically was around 3 – 4 a.m., the body is used to being in a deep slumber at that time of night, not creeping up a freezing mountain in sucking in diluted oxygen. I resorted to listening to some favourite music to keep me going – The Hounds of Love by Kate Bush and Grace by Jeff Buckley.

It was very, very cold – between -10 and -15 degrees C during the night and thankfully Davis had meticulously checked our kit before we set off to ensure we would be warm enough. He made me rent an additional thick fleece jacket and leggings and I was very thankful he did – I was just about warm enough.

At around 6.30 a.m. we stopped to watch the sunrise:

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At 7:30 a.m we made the first of the three summits on the crater – Gilman’s point. Two hours later we got to the highest point in Africa – Uhuru Peak:

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The summit peak was unusually quiet and we were able to spend around 20 minutes posing for photographs and generally larking about.  After having the highest possible pee in Africa, we started a long and exhausting descent down trails of broken stones and talcum powder-like dust. At times it was almost possible to ski down.

After the exhilaration of the summit, the descent was a pain in the backside. We eventually made it to the Millenium camp (3800m) at around 4:30 pm. We had been walking for 17 hours and it had been 23 hours since we had eaten hot food. We were knackered.

Most porters don’t summit and they treated us to an extra special song and dance as we shuffled exhaustedly into the camp. We ate and collpased into a deep slumber in our tents.

Safari

I won’t bore you with lots of the details of the safari, I’ll just insert a load of pictures mostly taken by my mate Andrew who is a far more accomplished photograper than me:

 

I was absolutely transfixed watching two lionesses hunting a hartebeest, though the scene was slightly spoiled by the fact that there were around twenty five jeeps all parked up with occupants gawping and snapping away.  The lionesses didn’t seem at all bothered by the vehicles.  Quite the opposite, one walked distractedly away from the prey up the track alongside the line of cars. She then quietly turned around and then snuck around the other side of the vehicles.  She was using the jeeps as cover – how amazing.

The hartebeest spotted one of the lionesses in the grass just in time and then legged it for all he was worth.  Antelopes 1, Lions 0.

We visited a traditional Maasai village in the Serengeti. The chief greeted us warmly in beautiful English and politely requested USD 50 from each car.

He was a magnificent human being – tall, elegant and serene, he reminded me of David Rudisha (who is also Maasai). He wrapped his red shawl around my shoulders and invited me to compete in a Maasai jumping dance (used as part of the courtship to impress the Maasai ladies).

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I was impressed enough to buy his shawl off him for USD 35 (he wanted USD 50, and later I saw them for USD 10). He was a pretty savvy businessman.

 

We learned about the Maasai way of life.  They eat only three foodstuffs – blood from live cows, milk and meat. A lack of vegetables and carbohydrate doesn’t appear to do them any harm, Maasai are tall and thin and probably very good runners.

Although I enjoyed my African adventures, after 18 days away, I was happy head to home, well aware that I needed to get running again.

Iceland

Just four days after landing back in the U.K., I was off again, this time to Iceland for a long weekend primarily to run the Reykjavik half marathon with Valley Strider mates. Liz and I were staying in an Airbnb apartment with Jock, my Comrades mate. Unfortunately his partner Karen couldn’t make it.

Iceland was an absolutely brilliant place, albeit eye-wateringly expensive, especially for a Scot and a Yorkshireman. My meal in a trendy tapas bar in Saturday night was basically posh fish and chips and cost me nearly £50!

Iceland blessed us with perfect running weather for the race on Saturday morning. It was crisp and cool with a massive cloudless azure sky.

At the last moment, I decided to run with Lizzie, for the first few miles at least. I wasn’t sure how fit I was. I was unsure of my ankle, so there seemed little point in smashing myself to finish in around 90 minutes.  Liz was hoping to run about 1 hour 40 minutes.

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The first part of the course was flat and fast, but at around 10 miles Lizzie was feeling the pace after an aggressive start and told me to bugger off. I felt OK so decided to push the final 5k and test my legs. I lifted my pace to around 6:20 per mile.

I saw Jock a few hundred metres further on. He was having a storming run – well under his 1 hour 40 target pace. I was passing dozens of runners, and I expected to go sweeping past him but he latched onto me and we ran the next mile together in under 6:30.

I decided to pace him in as best I could, it seemed the least I could do after he had shepherded me home safely at Comrades last year when I was a gibbering wreck.

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We finished in just outside 1:37, a great time for Jock and testament to four 70 + mile weeks of hard training.  He is also running at Chester and I need to get my act together or he will be giving me a beating.

Liz finished just after us in  1:40 and a few seconds and nabbed a top ten age group finish to boot.

After a few days back home, I’m finally focussing on training again. Although my ankle isn’t right, I will just have to ignore it for now and try to train through. If I break down again, then so be it. I have to gamble on four big mileage weeks so that I can line up in something like decent shape and then just try to bury myself on the day.

I’m running the third Even Splits 5K race tonight at the Brownlee cycling track. I’ve run 19:05 and 18:38 in the first two races. I doubt that I’ll go quicker tonight.

Despite my lack of miles, one bit of good news is that my weight has remained quite low – I’m hovering at around 11 stones, which is about my racing weight. My aerobic fitness isn’t too bad, its my legs that are letting me down. Time to get running!

 

CM- 6 weeks 4 days

10 stone 13.2 lbs

Aerobic efficiency (half marathon 992 beats per mile)

 

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Mind the Gap

 

After my wobbles over the last few weeks, I’ve felt better this week.

The knee and hip pain has eased off. I’m still aware of soreness after a run, but it doesn’t hurt much whilst I am actually running.

The deficit in mileage over the final month of the training period means I am not brimming with confidence about next Sunday, though I’m not too apprehensive either. I am fit enough to run well, hopefully sub three hours, but probably not to run a sub 2:55 PB time.

I ran steadily last week then ventured over to York for a blast around the flat parkrun with a few other Striders on Saturday morning. I was pleased with an even paced 18:12 for 13th place. I ran very hard, but not completely eyeballs out and I had to do an extended cool down run back to my car parked about half a mile from the finish because  I had left my barcode in it. That’ll learn me.

The Sunday one week before a marathon is a bit late for a proper long run, but I chanced a 12 mile run along the canal, with about 7 miles at 2:55 marathon pace, sandwiched between some steadier miles running with Liz.

As is the custom, the marathon paced miles felt rather hard, but not obscenely so, and in the main the heart rate stayed below 145 bpm.

My lowered expectations may work in my favour next Sunday. I am setting myself some ground rules for next Sunday. Assuming I arrive at the start healthy and fit, I want to run a conservative first 18 miles – with a target average pace of 6:40 – 6:45 per mile.

If I feel OK, I will try pick it up a little in the final 8 miles, hopefully overtaking a lot of runners and running a negative split.  However, my lack of long runs may well scupper those intentions, we’ll see.

My sore knees and hips mean that I will wear my Hoka Cliftons for the race, I’m sure they will thank me for the extra cushioning.

I haven’t run a London marathon this century, I am really looking forward to the experience. There are lots of teammates running and quite a few friends will be there in support.

Whisper it softly, but as I write, the weather forecast looks quite good:

London weather

 

 

LM-1 weeks

34.8 miles, longest run 12.1 miles

Parkrun – (York) 18:12 (13th)

Weight 11 St 0.8 lbs.

Aerobic efficiency on Sunday run 968 beats per mile

 

 

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