Taper Tantrums

As I’m tapering,  I’ve had an easy week mileage wise.  The miles were also down because I was away in Scotland on business for a couple of days. My trip included a visit to Cappielow Park to watch Greenock Morton beat Dundee United 2-1 to reach the Scottish League cup semi-finals.

This was my third visit to see Morton in just over a year and I’m becoming a bit of a fan. The football is honest and wholesome, a World away from the narcissistic millionaire cheats that inhabit the Premier League, it’s refreshing.

With the bulk of the marathon training miles done, I can focus on sharpening up a bit and I did two hard efforts this week – at the hilly Roundhay parkrun on Saturday and then at the Northern 6 stage road relays at Sport City in Manchester on Sunday.


Valley Striders entered two men’s teams of 6, I was in the B team. The start/finish was on the athletics track next to the Etihad stadium. Not being used to running in front of anything approaching a ‘crowd’, initially, it felt a little intimidating:


There were lots of very fast and very skinny runners, and with my 11st bulk, I felt a bit of a porker. With nearly all the top athletics clubs in the North attending, the standard was very high.

However, the event had a semblance of amateurish barely managed chaos, with people and marshals everywhere and a twisty course that was hard to discern, though it was OK once I was running.

Each leg was approximately 5.5km long and I was allocated leg 4, which meant about an hour’s wait after the racing started. I realised how high the standard was when our very best runner, the flying machine John Hobbs, finished leg 1 in 28th place in a time which would equate to a sub 15:30 5K. He was nearly a minute and a half behind the leaders…

As I waited in the holding pen for my leg, I tried to quell the nerves and focus my mind, to get myself truly in the moment so I could channel my effort intelligently without blowing up.  Running for a team in an essentially individual sport really makes one want to give everything.

I’ve been reading Chris Boardman’s excellent autobiography this week and he wrote a brilliant passage about how crushingly nervous he was waiting for the Olympic 4000m pursuit final in 1992.

As an unemployed carpenter with four kids, he knew his whole life could change in 4 minutes. He was flooded with negative thoughts and he was so nervous that he could barely swing his leg over the bike.

Just before the race, he realised that all he could control was his own effort. He decided simply to just do his best and see what that got him…

I realise that it is ridiculous to compare my effort to an Olympic final, but we need to think big and I guess the psychology is the same.

My incoming teammate Gwil came into the finish and the starter released me for my leg.

The first 300m were on the track. Despite there being 125 teams, by this time, understandably, runners were well spread around the course. I set off with a small group of three, including a lad from Rochdale Harriers who sprinted away, I followed him. After 250 metres I looked at my Garmin and my km pace was showing 3:10…much too fast!

I calmed down and let the Rochdale lad go. The first km was run in just over 3:20 (i.e. 16:40 5K pace – a minute faster than my PB). I tried to settle down and find my true absolute threshold pace, a speed I could just hold to the end without blowing up.

Unsurprising, I slowed slightly over kms 2 and 3 – 3:35 then 3:34.  It was hard, my heart rate was up, the breathing was heavy and my chest was hurting, but I dug as deep as I could and then tried to increase my pace.

Others started to flag, I passed a few runners, though in the chaos it was hard to tell if they were on the same leg as me.  I caught the Rochdale Harrier, who had totally shot his bolt – he’d gone off too fast.

My fourth km was covered in 3:23 and then it was just a case of enduring the pain and getting back into the stadium as fast as possible and getting it all out for the final 300m on the track.

Luckily, as I entered the stadium there was a young lady runner about 30m in front of me that I used as a mark, swooping past her on the final bend as I unleashed my best sprint for the line and collapsed on the infield.

I ran my leg in 19:36, which equates to 17:26 5K pace – which would have been a big 5K PB. I was happy with my effort and loved the competition. When the results came out, I saw that I’d improved the team position by eight places on my leg, which was very satisfying.

The Valley teams did well – the A team just missing out on qualification for the National road relays (top 25) with 31st place and the B team finished a respectable 50th.  Quite a few teams were disqualified, most I think where a runner had run too few laps…


I really fancy having a go at my 5K PB…if the weather is calm at the flat York parkrun next week, I think I’ll give it a shot.


Yorkshire marathon -2 weeks

33.4 miles, longest run 10 miles

Weight 11st 3lb

parkrun (Roundhay) 18:29, 3rd





Having a splashing run…

On Tuesday I paid a £100 deposit and got confirmation of my place in the Sierra Leone marathon on May 25th.  Coughing up £100 equals a complete commitment to a Yorkshireman! I have no idea whether this will turn out to be a foolhardy endeavour, but I think I will have some fun finding out.

January 26th in Leeds (Happy Australia Day!) could not be more different to Sierra Leone in May.  The weather was vile today – 2 degrees above freezing, windy and absolutely teeming with rain.  Rav had put up a post on the VS Marathon Group Facebook page early in the week suggesting a 20 mile run along the Leeds-Liverpool canal from Keighley to Leeds.  The plan was park near Leeds station, take the train to Keighley and then run back along the towpath. A few members of the group excused themselves – I was the only positive responder.

It was an extremely tough run because of the conditions, we found ourselves running into a bitter easterly wind the whole way.  Much of the towpath was flooded, so it was impossible to keep our feet dry.  I was soon soaked through and I pretty felt cold most of the way, I hadn’t put on enough clothing, a schoolboy error.

If I had been running on my own I think I would have abandoned the run and sought shelter before catching a train back.  However, Rav and I dug in and we encouraged each other to get the run done.  After two and a half hours of running, I was feeling extremely cold and I when I got back to the car, my hands were so numb that I couldn’t even unzip the pocket in my shorts to retrieve my car keys.  After five minutes of fumbling, still in the pouring rain, I was getting desperate and even thought about asking a passer-by if they would reach into my back pocket to retrieve my keys.  Eventually, I somehow managed to open the zip halfway and to hook my thumb through the keyring.

So, that’s the first proper long run done and booked – 20 miles in 2 hours 49 minutes, the speed didn’t matter at all today, it was just a case of getting the damn thing done. One down – just four more 20 milers to do.

On Saturday, I had decided to drive over to York to have a crack at a fast parkrun. 

Unfortunately, there were two flaws in my plan.  Firstly, it was very breezy, meaning that running down the back straight of the exposed racecourse into the biting wind was really hard and secondly I got there late and completely missed the start!  My own fault, I had set off late and encountered roadworks. 

The race started just as I was entering the Knavesmire, the only problem being that the start is way on the far side of the course – nearly a kilometre away.  I ran around and started my own watch as I passed the start line, having given the field over 3 minutes start!  I still managed to pass 236 other runners, eventually finishing 68th.  I timed my effort in 19 minutes dead, and managed to run the last k in 3:28 which is not too shabby.

Having had two really hard training weeks totalling over 120 miles, I am going to scale back a little next week.  I have read that having a slightly easier week every third week can help to prevent injury.  After today’s long run, my left Achilles is feeling a little sore.  I lost three months last year with an Achilles injury and I do not want to go through that again if I can help it, so I will ease back. I am well on course with my training, it would be stupid to ruin everything now by picking up and over-use injury.

Next Sunday is another build up race – the Dewsbury 10K.  The easier week ahead will also serve as a bit of a taper for this race so I can have another crack at beating my 37 minute target.


M – 10 Weeks / 63 miles. Longest run 20 miles. Parkrun (York) 19.00 (68th). Weight after Sunday run 11 st. 5.2 lb



The markets are jittery at the moment and a 1.5% fall in the main indices on Friday has sent Daily Mail readers into a tailspin.  They all write that we are going to hell in a handcart; we should sell all our shares, buy gold, buy property and prepare for the coming Armageddon.

It’s a typical reaction, but I just cannot understand it.  For some strange reason, the human psychology about buying shares is completely perverse.  The vast majority of working people below retirement age are trying to accumulate savings to provide for their future.  They will be net buyers of shares, so why is a fall in the price of shares seen as such bad news?

Let’s put it this way.  Imagine you wanted to buy a new car – the model you like is £15,000 and you start saving up the funds to buy it.  However, the car market is volatile and all of a sudden there is a sharp fall in the market and the car you want is no longer £15,000, but £13,000.  Is that good news?  Of course it is – you can buy the asset you want, with all the same features and the same utility at a lower price.  Why is a fall in the share market different?

From the reading I have done, the reasons are routed deep in human psychology.  A great book on the subject is “Your Money and Your Brain” by Jason Zweig – a brilliant exposition of why humans are seemingly compelled to buy shares at the top of the market and sell them after a crash – exactly the wrong thing to do!

One of the reasons is that most people believe that returns from shares come from an increase in price.  You buy a share for £1.  If it rises to £1.50, you have made a 50% gain, aren’t you clever!  However, you haven’t made any gain at all – unless you sell.  To sell, you have to find somebody willing to pay the higher price. They will think they are doing the right thing, and you will be proud of yourself for making a massive profit.  What if the price keeps on rising?  You will curse yourself for selling early inwardly, but you will compensate by saying, “well at least I made a good profit”. The price probably increased because the company was well managed and doing the right thing, so why did you sell?  The price could carry on rising.

I think that viewing investment in terms of pure capital gains is misguided.  Much research has shown that the vast majority of returns from buying equities come from dividends, not from capital appreciation.  Your returns are turbo-charged if you reinvest your dividends and hold your shares over many years.

The great advantage of dividends is that the returns are real – cold hard cash that once paid, can never be taken away.  I try to look for companies that have a long history of paying increasing dividends every year, and if you can find a company that increases its dividend by more than inflation annually then you are really on to something.

Imagine a company with a share price of £1. It pays a 5p dividend and because the company does well, it manages to increase its dividend by 10% every year.  After 10 years, the dividend will be 13p.  As long as you still hold the shares, you are now receiving a 13% return on your historical investment. 

If you are happy to receive 13% every year just for owning the shares (and you should be!), the current share price is completely irrelevant to you.  After 20 years of increasing dividends at the same rate, your annual return will be 33.6% on your £1 investment.  Now that is something, and if you have compounded the return by reinvesting the dividends into more shares you can do very well indeed.

Of course, not all companies pay 5% dividends (but plenty do – the average dividend yield is around 3.2% on the FTSE 100 at the moment) and even fewer have an unblemished record of increased dividends (but they do exist).

The vast majority of people think that becoming rich from owning shares means buying some shares that shoot up in value and then to sell them for a huge profit.  That is possible, but very unlikely.  A bit like backing a 10-1 shot in the 3.15 at Kempton. It’s also a pretty foolhardy strategy. 

The greatest investor in history, Warren Buffett, made his billions of dollars buying stocks in everyday companies like Coca-Cola, Wal-Mart and IBM in the midst of a market crash when everyone was panic selling and then by doing exactly nothing.

Buffett’s formula is achingly simply.  Buy shares when they are cheap.  Try to buy good companies. Then do absolutely nothing, ever.  I think I’ll try to do the same – as they say simplicity can be genius.