The Long and Wounding Road

I had earmarked the 7 weeks between the London Marathon and Comrades on June 10th as the time to log some galactic weekly mileages, ideally with a couple of 30-35 mile runs chucked in.

It hasn’t gone entirely to plan.  My first problem was that I was completely knacked-in by London.  I hardly ran at all for a week, then did a week with just 28 miles.

Eventually, my legs felt as if they were coming back, so I thought I would test them out by running a flat out time-trial at York parkrun on Saturday 5th May.

I pride myself on being able to predict my finishing time with uncanny accuracy and I was gunning for a time of around 18:10.  It was a good day, but despite absolutely rinsing myself, I only managed a time of 18:24 which I was not that happy with.

The following Monday was the first of the bank holidays in May (why do we still call them ‘bank’ holidays?). A roasting hot day was in prospect so I hatched a plan to set off early and log a 30+ mile training run in the heat by running the entirety of legs 4, 5 and 6 of the hilly Leeds Country Way footpath.

I know the paths well having run them for my club in the annual LCW relay held each September.  Fortunately for me, team-mate Graham offered to accompany me for the first leg and my partner planned to meet me at various points along the route with supplies of encouragement, drinks, food and fresh tee-shirts.

I warned Graham that it would be a slow one – I intended to replicate likely Comrades pace, which realistically for me would be 10-11 minutes per mile, allowing for regular walk breaks.

We set off on a glorious morning at 7:30 a.m. – I knew I was going to be out there for maybe 6 hours, so I went very steadily, consciously holding myself back and trying to train my mind to accept that a realistic Comrades pace needs to feel ludicrously slow for the first couple of hours.

After 11 miles, I bade farewell to Graham and shuffled on alone, entertaining myself with a few podcasts and an old episode of Radcliffe and Maconie.  I met up with my partner for the first time after 15 miles – by then the temperature was into the mid 20s, so I changed my tee-shirt and guzzled down some food and drinks.

Very considerately, she had prepared a big tub of boiled salted potatoes just like they give out at Comrades, so I wolfed down as many as I could comfortably stomach.   After all, this was training for eating during a hot hilly ultra as much as running it.

All in all, I had a cracking day out – My mind was in the right place to run and walk 31 miles at an appropriate speed.  My average heart rate was just 111 and it never went above 136.

However, my legs were completely knackered by the time I gratefully reached the finish at Garforth sports centre, though I did manage to run sub 10 minutes for the final mile, which pleased me.

Thirty one miles took me 6 hours, which sounds very slow and barely better than Comrades cut-off pace, however, the path was very rough and muddy in places, there were plenty of stiles and obstructions and I did fanny about a bit along the way, so the pace doesn’t concern me.

After a day off, I resumed training each day and recorded 67 miles for the week.

Last week, I knew that I would be away for two and a half days at a work conference/exhibition in Manchester, so running opportunities would be limited and likelihood of consuming unhealthy quantities of beer and bad food was extremely high.

I happened to spot that Cannonball Events were putting on a 5K series around Hollingworth Lake at Littleborough near Rochdale and the third race of the series was to be held on the Wednesday night.

I packed some running stuff and would decide later whether to enter or not.  By the Wednesday afternoon, I was itching to get out so I told my colleagues that I would be sneaking off to run a 5K race and that I would meet up with them in the pub later in the evening.

I caught a train from Manchester Victoria to Littleborough and jogged the 1.75 miles to race HQ.

After a heavy night on the pop and a whole day on my feet, I felt fatigued before the race, so I wasn’t sure how it would go.  I set off somewhat optimistically, running 5:46 for the first (slightly downhill mile).  I was soon blowing hard and struggling to maintain good pace into a noticeable breeze, but I brought it home in 18:52 and was surprised to see from the live timing on the iPad in the Clubhouse that I had finished first in the MV50 age category.

There was a prize for the winner of each age cat, but I knew I had to catch a train just 30 minutes later and the station was nearly 2 miles away. I explained my predicament to the organiser and he very kindly handed me the prize of  a £10 sports voucher whilst most runners were still out on the course.

I made excellent time back to Manchester and was out making merry with my colleagues at 9:15pm after having travelled back, showered and changed.

Last Sunday, I planned another long one of at least 30 miles, this time I decided on utilising various loops around my local village, returning to my house each time to take drinks and eat food.

It didn’t go well. By 20 miles in, I felt a familiar, insidious dull pain on the inside of the bump of my right ankle – the return of posterior tibial tendinitis. Shit, I thought I had cracked that one.

I jog-walked four miles home and chucked in the towel.

Feeling a bit disheartened, I phoned the Coach House Physio practice yesterday morning and luckily they had a cancellation later in the day so I went to see a new physio.

As she quizzed me on my history, she asked what my weekly mileage had been over the past few weeks.

“Right, let’s see, well I did London at the end of April, then I had a week off, then a easy week of 20-odd miles then I jumped up to nearly 70 miles…”

She looked at me with a knowing expression…”Jumping up in miles probably wasn’t a very good idea was it?”  Clearly that was what had set it off again. A Schoolboy error.

However, after she had worked on me aggressively for an hour she felt that my foot and ankle had loosened up a lot and she thought that I could be optimistic about being fit enough for Comrades.

With Comrades just two weeks on Sunday, the long runs are all done.  I haven’t done as many as I wished, but I have done a 31 miler, two marathons and a 25 mile run in the past 8 weeks, so that will just have to do.

If I am fit, I’ll try to keep it fresh my running some quickish 5Ks or parkruns.  I’ve got the next Even Splits 5K at the Brownlee cycling track tomorrow night to look forward to.

Advertisements
Standard

Inverse tapering…

Three weeks before Comrades last year, I was feeling antsy – jaded by the volume of training through the winter and spring, I couldn’t wait to get to the Comrades start line.

This year is very different.  Feeling under-trained, I wish I had an extra month to fit in a few more long runs and hone my speed.

I’ve enjoyed the best week’s training of the whole year – 73.8 miles covered including my longest ever training run of over 31 miles. Thankfully, my injury problems appear to have abated.

I had an appointment to see a specialist sports Doctor on Thursday. Because of a lot of faffing around with the physio and my health insurer, it had taken the best part of five weeks to arrange the visit.

Five weeks ago I was thoroughly injured and not expecting to run Comrades.  By Wednesday I realised that I didn’t feel injured anymore and I saw little point in seeing the Doctor.  The worst he could say was that I shouldn’t be running a hot, hilly 56 mile Ultra with a dodgy achilles. So I cancelled.

To protect my achilles, I have been running very slowly, shuffling around the streets of North Leeds in my voluminous Hoka shoes, my heart rate rarely exceeding 135.  On Saturday, I dared to cast aside the Hokas, put on my Newtons and give it a real go at Woodhouse Moor parkrun.

I didn’t know what to expect, I was hoping to go sub 19, sub 18:45 would be a bonus. I felt a rare prick of nerves on the start line – it’s been a long time since I have ‘raced’ (I know parkrun isn’t a race, but I use it as a verb, not a noun).

Rather than set my Garmin to show time, I left the display on Heart Rate.  I have a lowish heart rate – my maximum HR is in the low 160s. Rather alarmingly, after just 500 metres, the heart rate was already in the low 150s…

I’d almost forgotten how gut wrenchingly hard a full-out 5K is.  Basically it involves catapulting yourself into red threshold territory and holding it there for all you are worth. It was a large field of around 450 and lots of fast lads hared off way too quick in the first two kms.

I simply didn’t have the speed to stay with many of my usual peers. In horse racing parlance, I was off the bridle and couldn’t layup with the pace.

The hectic start started to catch a few out and during the second and third lap I was passing a few runners.

During the final uphill kilometre I could feel a fellow parkrunner sitting right on my shoulder, sensing that he intended to mug me in the finishing straight. I am nothing if not competitive and with 300ms to go I opened up my sprint, unfortunately not quick enough to shake him off.  I dug in again and kicked near the line to just pip him and we both flopped over the metal barrier after the finish line coughing and wheezing.

My time was 18:34, which I was delighted with.  It’s a minute slower than my 5K PB, but given my build up it represents good progress.

Many of my Valley Strider team-mates were running the Leeds Half Marathon on Sunday morning.  I didn’t have an entry – through being injured in the build-up and my aversion to the £35 entry fee.

I opted instead for a final extended long training run. Luckily, one of my team-mates Sarah wanted to recce the route for the Otley 10 mile race – a very hilly local race held on a summer’s evening in early June. Leaving at 7:45 a.m., I ran the 6 miles from home down to Otley to meet Sarah and we set off.  It was nice to have company for the first part of my long run.

It soon felt very warm – into the 20s and thankfully, I took a drinks bottle with me, replenishing it later in Asda and Morrisons, along with a purchase of bananas and a box of 6 cereal bars for a quid (Shopping tip: it’s amazing what bargains you find on the bottom shelf of supermarkets).

After running the Otley 10 route, I eschewed Sarah’s kind offer of a lift home and set off the long way home through Guiseley and Horsforth.

After about 24 miles I was entering Bonksville, and adopted a run-walk strategy (something I will have to do earlier at Comrades), but I dug in to complete 31.1 lumpy miles (satisfyingly exactly 50 kilometres in exactly 5 hours).

I’ve spent the rest of Sunday curled up on my Laz-e-Boy watching cycling and eating Kettle chips. I think I’ve earned that.

 

 

CM -3 weeks

73.8 miles

Weight 11st 5.2 lb

Parkrun – Woodhouse Moor 18:34 (11th)

Longest run 31.1miles

Standard

Miley McMileface

All through my months of injury, I have yearned for a return to my normality.  Breaking up my solitary working days by running along the canal each lunchtime, smashing myself at parkrun on Saturday morning and then grinding out the long miles on Sunday.

By such criteria, this was a normal week.  I was beset with a grim, grotty, greeny cold which meant I slept poorly most nights, frequently waking in the early hours with coughing fits, but by the weekend I was feeling better.

It is a long bank holiday weekend in the UK, so I decided to set myself a challenge to cover the distance of Comrades (56 miles) over the long weekend (Friday – Monday)…

To achieve that, I knew that I would have to do a very long run on the Sunday, hopefully over the marathon distance.  Given the paucity of miles run so far this year, that was going to be tough.

Luckily, there was a Sunday Striders Group doing a 10 mile run early on Sunday morning with a rendezvous point about 5 miles from my house. So it was nice to knock off the first 15 or so miles  with good company.

As I peeled off to wend my way back toward my home village of Bramhope, I planned an extra loop of 10 miles down into Otley to make it 30 for the day. The only problem would be long and sombre 3 mile slog from Otley in the valley bottom back up to Bramhope. However, if there is one thing I need to practise for Comrades it is hills.

I nipped back home for a 5 minute pitstop, wolfing down a flapjack, a mug of hot chocolate (it was blummin’ chilly) and a banana. After a change of t-shirt, I set off for my final 10 mile loop.

It was extremely tough, there are no shortcuts in this sport and my lack of training really told as I got slower and slower and by Otley town centre I’d lapsed into the death shuffle mode (i.e. 10 + minute miles).  The final climb was interminable and I was extremely relieved to fall over my threshold after running for 30.3 miles in just 13 minutes under 5 hours.

It is Sunday evening as I write this so I still have to run 8 miles tomorrow in order to achieve my Comrades distance challenge. I can barely walk at the moment…

 

CM -4 weeks

65.7 miles

Weight 11st 7.2 lb

Parkrun – Roundhay 19:37 (6th)

Longest run 30.3 miles

Standard

Back on it

Five weeks ago, I went off and crawled under stone, feeling injured and pathetically sorry for myself. After another injury relapse, I knew I had to stop running completely for a bit. I assumed that I would have to forget about running Comrades in 2016.

A month or so on, the World is a little brighter. The injury is better, but it’s still there. I have a stiff and sore achilles every morning, but it improves once I am up and about and tackling the day.  When running, I am always aware of it, I feel pervasive tightness in my left calf and sense that I mustn’t push off too hard on my left foot, but I can run steadily without too many problems.

My physio suggested a few weeks ago that I ought to see a specialist Doctor and hopefully have a scan on the achilles to see if there is a permanent issue – she knew an achilles specialist called Dr Rogers from Manchester who ran a weekly clinic once in Leeds.

After the rigmarole of getting my GP to refer me so that my health insurer would pick up most of the tab, I was dismayed to learn that Dr Rogers had decided not to bother with his clinic in Leeds any more. After a bit more faffing around, I finally have an appointment in early May with one of Dr Rogers’ associates.

My break from running was well timed because I had a dream holiday to enjoy – a trip to Georgia in the USA to watch the final day of the U.S. Masters Golf at Augusta with my great friend Richie.

Richie and I get together every year on Master’s Sunday in April to eat curry, drink beer and stay up to watch the conclusion of the golf. After last year’s tournament Richie suggested that we should go.  My 50th birthday is in 2016, I thought it would be a very appropriate present to myself. It was a huge extravagance but I am so glad that I went, it was a wonderful trip.

We flew into Atlanta and upgraded our hire car to an American muscle car – a mean black Dodge Charger.  We were staying in Athens, Georgia – about 70 miles from Atlanta.

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA

Athens is a supercool college town, site of the University of Georgia and the home of R.E.M. and the B52s.  It’s a fab place – small, quirky, bohemian and full of wonderfully friendly people. We had a ball hanging out in bars and restaurants.

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA

Richie is blessed with an easy confidence and a massive determination to have a great time wherever he goes. He can talk with ease to absolutely anyone which meant lots of encounters and new friendships with a massive variety of people – from beautiful young students, gay waiters, fellow golfers and charming old timers.

A typical conversation in an Athens bar would go thus:

Me: “Could we have two Terrapin Golden beers please”

Waitress: “Sure – Hey you guys are Australians aren’t you? How d’ y’all like Athens?”

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA

Richie then jumped in and about 15 minutes later we have new friends and have been invited to a barbeque/game of golf/gallery/bluegrass concert.

We played golf at two top notch Country Clubs in the days before the Masters. On the Saturday, at the prestigious Georgia Country Club, we were asked to play with Will, a new member.  As he was on his own and it was busy they matched him up with two Limeys.

will

Will is a cleancut American WASPy guy – about thirty years old with a one handicap.  That means he is incredibly good at golf.  He hit it miles and was absolutely delightful company.

Sunday at the Augusta National was a very special day. It really is another World, with not a blade of grass out of place. There is absolutely no advertising or sponsorship, with everything branded as just ‘Masters’. You buy Masters beer and Masters peanuts to go with your Masters cap and Masters grilled chicken sandwich. It is like stepping back in time.

As many of you will know, Sunday saw a surprise winner when young American superstar Jordan Spieth blew a five shot lead and gave Yorkshireman Danny Willett a chance to win.

I was right there on the 18th green as Willett held himself together brilliantly and calmly tapped in for his par four and walked off whilst being mobbed by his supporters.  He had to wait around an hour for Spieth to finish before it was confirmed that he was the 2016 Masters Champion and only the second Englishman ever to win. It was bloody brilliant.

I took my running shoes with me and though I only managed to run once, it was a memorable one.  Slightly jetlagged, I woke early on the first morning and said to Richie that I was nipping out for an early morning run before breakfast.

I headed down to the Oconee River trail, only half a mile from the hotel and was soon running on a perfect cool sunny spring morning totally alone through idyllic forest trails. I saw wild deer gambolling in the forest and felt that I wanted to run forever. It was perfect.

Since my return, I’ve managed to run a little more. If I warm up well, wear my Hokas and run steadily then the achilles problem feels manageable.

Yesterday, I tried a proper effort at a parkrun for the first time in months. I ran the hilly Roundhay parkrun and was pleased with my time of 19:30 for 7th place.  That is over a minute slower than my course PB, but not bad to say that I have barely run three hundred miles all year – less than a third of what I had planned.

Today was a big test – my first long run in three months.  I ran with a group of Strider mates and managed to run just over 20 miles just over three hours – at around 9 minute miles with an average heart rate of 119. I felt fine at that pace and I could have run further, though probably not another 36 miles…

Well what about Comrades?  Provided I have no reversals of fortune, I intend to be on the start line in PMB in five week’s time.  I will have no ambitions for a finishing time or a particular flavour of medal, I just want to complete the course within the 12 hour time limit.

It’s been anything but an ideal build up, but with good fuelling and a very conservative pace management strategy, I think I might just be able to do that.

 

 

CM -5 weeks

45 miles

Weight 11st 7.4 lb

Parkrun – Roundhay 19:30 (7th)

Longest run 20.2 miles

Standard

A No Progress Report

My stumbling and stuttering recovery pretty much hit the buffers last week. I was the author of my own downfall. My physio had stressed that I should only run: (1) very slowly, (2) at most, on every other day and (3) for no more than 5 minutes longer than my previous run.

Last Saturday, I broke rule (1) by running Roundhay parkrun in just over 20 minutes.

On Sunday, I contravened rules (2) and (3) by running out to Golden Acre Park on Sunday morning. I intended to run for a bit with John from Valley Striders. As I met him in the park, a group of Valley Strider mates ran past, part way through their Sunday morning long run.

It was a lovely day, my achilles felt OK and I wanted to go for a run and a chat with my mates.  So I tagged on and ended up running 12 miles in about an hour and 40 minutes. Quite a bit more than my allotted 25 minutes.

I felt pretty tired once I got home and my leg muscles were certainly feeling it, but my calf and achilles weren’t feeling especially sore.

However, on Monday morning I knew I’d blown it. My achilles was worse than ever – extremely tender to the touch and it was painful even when walking. “Shit, I’m completely fooked”, I thought to myself.

My injury – Achilles tendinopathy, is notoriously slow to heal, it often takes up to six months for a full recovery.  I think that if I keep running on it, maybe I’m just knocking my recovery back a few weeks each time. I’ll have a serious chat with the physio on Tuesday – I’m seeing a different physio, maybe it will be good to get a different opinion.

I think it extremely unlikely that I will be running Comrades this year, so I will never get a back to back medal. You only get one chance for that, it has to be done in your first two Comrades.

Some people have said to me that I should still run Comrades – start right at the back and run/walk it, aiming to complete it before the cut-off with the 12 hour bus. I could do that, but for some reason, my heart isn’t really in it.

If I can’t train for a race, I feel a fraud, a fake. My brain is wired in a way that I have to stand on the start line wanting to give of my best.  Jog/walking round just to complete doesn’t really do it for me – because I know I should be doing much better. There is also the fear that I might completely trash my Achilles for good.

I don’t know what to do, I’ll think about it. I’m still going to South Africa, I’ve paid nearly £600 for flights and I can’t get my money back. It might become a golf holiday rather than a running one.

Last Christmas, I dreamt that this year’s blog might be a record of several near 100-mile training weeks, interspersed with a couple of PBs and would culminate with me recounting my heroic run into Kingsmead Stadium to complete the 2016 Comrades Marathon in 7 hours 29 minutes and 56 seconds, thus claiming a Silver medal by the skin of my teeth.

The reality is that I’ve barely run the distance of Comrades during the last 10 weeks of training combined.

On this very same weekend last year, I ran possibly my best ever race – a PB at the Thirsk 10 when I beat the hour and came third in my age group in the Yorkshire Championships. I was super fit and nearly a stone lighter than I am now.

I’m not giving up on running and certainly not giving up on keeping fit, but my body is telling me to give it a rest for a bit. I’m not happy about it, but I don’t think I have much choice.

 

 

CM -10 weeks

Weight 11st 13 lb

Parkrun – None

Longest run 0 miles

Standard

Baby Steps

I went for a run on Saturday! OK, it was only a five minute jog at 9 minute mile pace, but that represents progress. A journey of a thousand miles and all that.

I went to see the physio again on Wednesday. I’m impressed that she is obviously aiming to treat the cause rather than just the symptoms of my achilles problem. She thinks there is possible a neural cause and the main thing I have to do is lots of calf strengthening and glute exercises. She said that I was walking noticeably better, whatever that meant…to be honest it was just regular walking to me, I noticed no difference.

She spent a good 20 minutes working deep into my left calf.  There were a couple of areas that were just incredibly painful when she got her thumbs in. I was yelping and jerking on the massage table in absolute agony! She didn’t back off, so I hope it does some good. Clearly a good physio needs a streak of sadism.

She said that if I felt OK, then I may try a 5 minute slow jog at the weekend, then wait to see if there is a reaction and then try another jog two days later if its OK.  At that rate, I’m not going to get back into full Comrades mode any time soon.

I’ve kept up the rowing in an effort to keep fit, doing at least 20 minutes per day and I even did a full 1 hour effort on Friday evening, managing 13,779 metres at about 2.10/500m pace. A full hour on an indoor rower is a very long time so I paced it very conservatively, keeping my HR down below 130 for most of it. At least the rowing is helping to improve my somewhat weedy guns…

On Sunday I went to support my Valley Striders team-mates running at the final race of the Peco XC league at Roundhay Park.  Being an injured runner makes one feel a little isolated in a running club. As you don’t turn up to training or races, its easy to feel marginalised and out of the loop. It was a lovely crisp winter’s morning and great to cheer on the Striders.

I feel more positive about things this week.  My calf feels OK today after the little run, so I should be alright to jog gently on every third day now.

Could that be a chink of light?

CM – 15 weeks. 0.5 miles
Weight 11st 7.6 lbs
parkruns: None
Longest run 0.5 miles

 

Standard

Sempre Avanti

One thing that I have been consistently good at for the past few weeks is entering races and then not actually running them.

My streak started with the Chevin Chase on Boxing Day which I swerved because of a sore achilles and the desire to save myself for an all-out effort at the Ribble Valley 10K the following day. Floods then caused the Ribble Valley race to be cancelled.

I had also entered the Dewsbury 10k in two weeks’ time, but earlier this week I accepted an invitation to spend the same weekend down South to celebrate my mate Tim’s 50th birthday, so I’ll miss that race too.

Today, I was due to run the Inskip half marathon over in Lancashire.  A sharp snowfall last night and icy roads ice caused it to be cancelled early this morning.

Ironically, I chose to enter Inskip as an alternative to the ever popular Brass Monkey half marathon in York, also held today.  The Brass Monkey went ahead without a problem and on perusing the results I see that many of my mates ran impressive times.

I’ve not even run a parkrun in anger for over a month, I feel that I don’t even know if I am fit or not anymore. I’m chomping at the bit.

My week of not running at all was also a spectacular failure. I resisted until Tuesday lunchtime, but frustrated and bored I ventured out to test my Achilles. After running the first mile gingerly, it felt OK so I stretched out a little.  I proceeded to bomb around my standard 9 mile lunchtime loop in sub 7 minute miling.

I had a bit of a reaction in the achilles on Wednesday, but decided to run again on Thursday – a short lunchtime jog of 5 miles and then I thought I would go down to the track and join in with the  Striders Thursday night speed session.

It was a bitterly cold night, always worse at Beckett Park track which sits atop a hill, exposed to the chilling winds. On such a night, it’s a pretty grim place to train.  Sensibly, I got there early to do a long warm up jog around the campus roads. Soon after setting off, my achilles was feeling quite sore and I knew that it would be stupid to try to run a track speed session.

I bumped into Hannah in the reception and she didn’t seem to take much persuading to sack off the track session.  We headed off for an hour’s steady run around North Leeds, including a softy speed session of 3 times 1 km on one of my old street loops.  I don’t think we were very quick, but it was fun.

I’ve kept up the heel drops – doing at least a hundred every day; and the indoor rowing.  The rowing is definitely getting easier.  Previously, I found it purgatory to row for 5000m, but this week I have done that twice, plus a 10K session and it was almost enjoyable.

Mercifully, I think all the heel lowering might be working. With no race to do this morning, I had a lie in and then headed out onto the hilly snowy trails and just went running for a couple of hours.

I didn’t really have much of a plan as to where I would run, or how far I would go. Because of the underfoot conditions, I ran slowly – over 9 minutes per mile, with an average heart rate of just over 120 bpm. It was wonderful just to get out in crisp cold air and run for the sake of it with no plans nor pressure. My achilles felt better than it has for weeks.

***

According to somebody on Radio 5 Live, tomorrow is the most depressing day of the year.  I can’t say that it has been a great start to 2016 – injuries, crap at work, floods, terrorism, economic meltdown and the deaths of some truly great people.

It was one of those moments when the World froze for a second when I heard about Bowie’s death on Monday.  Bowie – the cultural genius of my generation and one of the greatest modern Englishmen. Thank you David, what a fantastic body of work you have left for humanity to gorge on.

To help cheer myself up, I’ve booked tickets to go and see another of the greatest Englishmen –somebody who couldn’t be more different to David Bowie – Ray Mears.  He is giving a talk at Leeds Grand Theatre on April 3rd.

I am a huge admirer of Ray Mears, an incredibly brilliant and humble man.  I’ve watched all his TV shows and I went to a similar talk he gave a few years ago.

I was completely transfixed watching a fat man talking over a slide show for two hours. It was brilliant and enthralling listening to somebody with so much wisdom, yet so little ego.

If anybody is free on April 3rd, then you really should get tickets, you won’t regret it.

I’ve also entered another Ultra – this time the Race to the Stones in July.  It’s a 100km race along the Ridgeway in the Chilterns.  Hopefully, the weather will be good and I’ll still be fit form Comrades.

Mentally, I am going to treat the slow start to 2016 as a training reset.  I’ll try to build the mileage back steadily without too much focus on speed.  I’ve got another month until my next road race – the Snake Lane 10, though there are some cross country races before then.

Sempre Avanti…

 

CM – 20 weeks. 39.8 miles
Weight 11st 4.5 lbs
parkruns: None
Longest run 14.5 miles

 

 

 

Standard

The Full Monty

This week, I watched the TV coverage of the England cricket team thrashing South Africa at the Kingsmead Stadium in Durban.  Kingsmead is an impressive venue and is where the Comrades Marathon down run finishes.

In exactly 5 months, I hope to run around that same beautiful turf and collect two medals – the back to back and one of another colour. I wonder which.

Training wasn’t great this week.  After missing out on two races last weekend, my achilles tendon tenderness tended to tarry. I didn’t run much at all in the early part of the week.

I also had the customary Christmas respiratory illness, it was only a mild dose and wasn’t a problem until I went to bed each night.  As soon as I lay down, I started coughing and just couldn’t stop. It was incessant, so much so that I didn’t sleep for more a couple of hours for three night in a row. I spent much of each night propped up in bed watching old episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm feeling utterly pi**ed off.

I ventured out on Tuesday evening for the club session, thinking that I’d take it steady and not put too much strain on my ankle. We did a pyramid session of 4-6-8-6-4 minutes, the pain was only mild at first but was getting progressively more noticeable as the session progressed, so I jacked on the last rep and just jogged it.

I have been off work between Christmas and New Year using up the last of my annual leave entitlement, so I decided to treat myself to a sports massage on Wednesday with Liz from the club. She concentrated on my calves and it seemed to help, my achilles felt less tight on Thursday and I managed to resist the temptation to go out running.

As an alternative, I beasted myself on the rowing machine with a 2K time trial.  My time was a somewhat pathetic 7:39.  I think my best time ever is about 7:10, but that was achieved about twenty years ago when I was 10KG heavier. I guess 7:39 isn’t that bad for a skinny runner.

Like many people (I suspect), I quietly dread New Year’s Eve. I’ve had one or two amazing times on previous New Year’s Eves during my life, but this year, I wasn’t exactly straining under the weight of invites for mad nights out.

I did have an offer to go to a house party with some people that I don’t know that well.  However, I think their main intention was to have a “drink until you vomit” kind of an evening and unfortunately that’s not my bag any more.  I was quite relieved when my friends and neighbours Andy and Debbie agreed to see Star Wars and then have a curry in Bradford. Rock and Roll – Pete Doherty’s got nothing on me.

My lack of night-time sleep caught up with me and I dozed off a couple of times during the film, but on waking I soon got up to speed with the plot (after all – it was Star Wars, not French Film Noir).

Afterwards, we enjoyed an absolutely superb curry at Shimlas on Great Horton Road. I can thoroughly recommend it. Cheap too.

Having hardly slept at all for three nights, I was home and tucked up in bed by 10:30.

The end of the year also meant the end of my year-long mileage challenge with my friend Hannah from Valley Striders. We  noticed early in 2015 that our Strava mileage totals were incredibly close, often within a few miles.  We agreed a fun £10 charity to bet on who would run the most miles during the year.

In the end I just edged it by a few miles. In truth, I won because I am a lazy bachelor with no responsibilities who can go running just about whenever I feel like it, whilst Hannah has an incredibly busy life looking after family and she recently started a new business. She has to squeeze most of her runs in early in the day, well before I would even contemplate setting my alarm for. Chapeau H.

My mileage total for 2015 was 2,461.7 – about 47.3 miles per week average.  The mileage dropped significantly after Comrades and I had a few very low weeks because of injury during the summer.  Still, it’s easily the most miles I have ever run in a single year.

I think I’ll need to up the ante if I am going to improve my Comrades performance. I’ve read on Comrades forums that 1,000 should be target for miles run before Comrades.  My goal is to run 1,250 miles between January 1st and Comrades on 29th May – i.e. an average of 60 miles per week.

Recently, Bob Jackson from Valley Striders lent me a brilliant book about Comrades:

comrades

Bruce Fordyce is the legendary 9 times Comrades winner. He ruled the roost in the days of string vests and tight shorts.

In 1988, he ran a then up run record of 5:27:42.  To put in perspective, that’s sub 6 minute miling (or 2:37 marathon pace) for a hot 87km Ultra with 2000m of ascent. That is insane!

It’s a great book, though as it was written many years ago a few of Bruce’s tips seem a little outdated now – mainly his thoughts on nutrition where he extols the benefits of lots of sugar.

Bruce had some very interesting thoughts on how one should train for Comrades.  Basically, he advocates not even thinking about Comrades until April. Until then, normal marathon training is all that is required.  However, April is the critical month when the mileage must be high and lots of hills need to be run. He says that one must arrive at Comrades feeling slightly undertrained, but he thinks that many are probably overtrained, especially amongst the faster competitors.

2016

New Year’s Day is the only day of the year when it is possible to run two official parkruns in the UK. Events are permitted to deviate from the standard 9.00 a.m. start time if they wish.

In Leeds, one option is to run the Woodhouse Moor parkrun at 9.00 a.m. and then go to Temple Newsam parkrun (5.5 miles away) for a 10.30 a.m start.

In 2015, Temple Newsam started at 10.00 a.m. and I was one of a small group of nutters that undertook a frantic tempo-cum-threshold dash from Woodhouse Moor to Temple Newsam, making the start with about one minute to spare.

With the extra half an hour this year, the run in between could be undertaken with much less stress.  Consequently, many more people attempted the run double with the run between. Two fellow Valley Striders – Nobby and Joel, and I decided to run from Roundhay, run the two parkruns with the run in between and then run back to Roundhay –  for a combined mileage of 21.5 miles, which we dubbed the ‘Full Monty’.

I was tad worried about my achilles not holding out, but we took it steadily and I averaged just over 8 minute miling for the whole run. I felt the achilles, but it wasn’t painful like before.  It was top fun and a great way to kick off the year.

the full monty

Note Anne Akers photobombing our picture!

Sunday saw the third race of the Peco cross country series at Middleton Park.  After weeks of near unremitting rainfall the course was a mixture of gelatinous gloop, hard trails and spongy strength sapping fields.

Again, I utilised my new cross country tactics – i.e. set-off like a loon and try to hang-on. It was a bit daft this time. After 800 metres I was blowing like a chain smoker at the top of the stairs and conceded lots of places.

I tried to recompose myself and I ran strongly on the downhill sections through the woods, grabbing back a few positions. However, I was struggling again on a long uphill drag and sharp climb before the finishing field. In the end I finished 40th out of 390 male finishers and third in my age category, which is in line with the results of the previous peco races.

It’s the Yorkshire XC champs next Saturday, an event I missed through illness last year. I think it may be a tad muddy…

CM – 22 weeks. 39.8 miles
Weight 11st 3 lbs
parkruns: Woodhouse Moor 21:47 (64th); Temple Newsam 24:16 (111th)
Longest run 21.5 miles

Standard

Once more unto the breach…

Here we are again…

I should say at the outset, if you have just stumbled across this blog but you are not interested in running then I’d click away now if I were you. There won’t be much of interest for you.  As my Uncle said after reading my report about my Comrades exploits, “Bloody hell, I went for a run once, but I don’t keep going on about it”.

When I crossed the finishing line of Comrades in Pietermaritzburg on May 31st my first thought was, “well I’ll never put myself through that again”.  It was easily the hardest thing I have ever done.

Guess what?  As soon as the entries for Comrades 2016 opened, I had logged on and fired off my entry.

If you’ve read my Comrades race report, you’ll know that I had a very tough day, eventually managing to haul my ass over the line just before the nine hour cut-off for the Bill Rowan medal.  It took a massive effort in the latter part of the race and it resulted in 90 minutes recovering on a drip in the medical tent.

By the way, on re-reading my race report recently I was horrified by how little thanks I expressed to the medical team looking after injured runners.  They were absolutely brilliant.  I did send a message to the Comrades organisers, but I should have relayed my thanks in this blog as well. My bad.

After the pain of the effort subsided, I realised what an overwhelming experience I had endured enjoyed.  I’ve heard it called ‘secondary pleasure’ – something that is physically very challenging whilst you are actually doing it, but the pleasure comes from achieving your goals and looking back with satisfaction and reflecting.

Having done the up run, I’m intrigued to see if I can do better on a down run.  As an added bonus, I’ll have a back-to back medal to aim for (you only ever get one chance for the back-to-back).  Generally I’m a much better downhill runner than uphill.  In races, I love to attack on the downhill sections and I am aware that I often lose ground on uphill inclines.  However, after running virtually non-stop downhill for 23 miles at the end of the Comrades down run, I may think differently.  I am sure I will have to do some specific training for all that downhill running.

After I decided to enter Comrades again, I texted my mate and fellow Comrades first timer Craig to ask him if he wanted to do it again. I doubted that he would.  The reply pinged back about 30 seconds later: “I can’t believe that you’ve just talked me into doing that again!”

Writing the blog for the past couple of years has helped me to keep focus and discipline in my training, so I’m reviving it for another season.

 

2015 Recap

I recovered from Comrades (on May 31st) reasonably quickly.  On the way home from South Africa, I dossed around and roasted in Dubai for a couple of days (50 degrees!).  It was lovely meeting up with friends there, but it’s not a place that am keen to return to soon.

Once back in blighty, I took a few days off running and then fell back into normal training.  I ran a hilly 10 mile race – the Otley 10 – just 10 days after Comrades, felt good and achieved a course PB time of 64:28

I had a wee injury setback midsummer when I twisted my ankle quite badly at a parkrun and had to take a few weeks off running.   I had an entry for the Berlin marathon at the end of September and I was only fit enough to resume proper training about 7 weeks before the race, so certainly not long enough for a full marathon build up.

I muddled together a compressed programme, but thankfully remained fit. I arrived at Berlin feeling in reasonable shape, but probably ‘underdone’. I thought that I hadn’t done enough long runs. I wasn’t sure what to expect.

I decided to run it on feel, trusting to my experience and assess during the race. Deep down, I really wanted to try to bag a sub three hour time which would take care of my Comrades qualifier and secure another spot in the A start pen for 2016. Luckily, it was a beautiful day, perfect for marathon running in the German capital.

It was a good run, I came home in 2:56:43.  Because of the crowds, I ran about an extra quarter of a mile (its impossible to run the blue line at Berlin at my level and the drinks stations were carnage), so in my view this was my best ever marathon performance.  I ran the first half conservatively and I remember feeling incredibly strong at about 19 miles, so much so that my 20th mile was a 6:15.

Thinking that I was on for a PB, I pressed on really hard during the final 10K.  I blew up a little in the final  couple of miles – but I was delighted with the result.

***

Since Berlin, I have been lucky to stay fit and healthy and I’ve enjoyed a really good block of training.  To prepare for the cross country season, I’ve done much more quality work than previously. A typical week has been around 50 miles, including the club session on Tuesday evening and then a track session with a small group of club mates on Thursdays.

I’ve had my best and most enjoyable cross country season up to date. My club competes in two Cross Country leagues – the West Yorkshire and the Peco. I’m a pretty poor cross country runner, but I have improved my performances a bit this year.  This is partly through being fitter, but also by adopting more aggressive tactics.

I have realised that in cross country races you just have to go out hard from the start in order to secure a position in the field.  You then battle and race your competitors to try to defend or improve your position.  It’s all about racing, with times being irrelevant.  It’s really hard, but good fun.

I’ve also run at a parkrun most weeks and in October I did my 250th parkrun.

Parkrun is the reason I got back into running in 2008 and after my 250th, I put a short post on Facebook to say thanks to Paul Sinton-Hewitt and all the parkrun volunteers. It got a great response.  I’m so pleased that parkrun is thriving, it’s one of few things that I know of that is a genuine force for good with absolutely no agenda. Long may it grow and prosper.

In November, I was hoping to have a tip at my 10K PB (36:06) at the Abbey Dash in Leeds.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t a great day, a bit breezy and I faded near the end to come in with a time of 36:37. I just didn’t quite have it on the day. I’ve got one last try to improve my 10K PB this year – at the Ribble Valley 10K on December 27th.

 

Plans for Comrades 2016

The 2015 Comrades marathon was a steep learning experience for me.  Lesson number one was that it is not the distance that makes Comrades really tough, but the hills. I intend to follow a similar training plan in 2016 to this year, except I will run hillier routes. I’ll also try to run more miles, but more slow (i.e. 8 mins/mile+) long runs.

I can’t help but set targets for running. Based on my marathon time, the online predictors put me on the cusp of a Silver Medal (that’s sub 7:30).  Without sandbagging, I genuinely doubt that I can do that, after all I missed it by nearly 90 minutes this year. A silver medal requires 8 minute per mile average pace for the whole route. On a flat course that would be tough.  At Comrades, I don’t think that’s on for me…but…

As I have already bagged my qualifier and an A pen start, I don’t need to run another marathon before Comrades.  However, having achieved a London GFA (Good for Age) standard, I decided to take up my place at London.  Unfortunately, London is just too close to Comrades (5 weeks) for me to run a hard race, so I will use it as a training run, maybe running round with a mate who is doing his first marathon, assuming he wants the company.

 

CM 2016 – 24 weeks. 58.8 miles
Weight 11st 1.8lb
Parkrun – York 17:48 (8th)
Longest run 16 miles

 

Standard

Taper time?

In theory, I now start my taper for the Comrades marathon in three weeks.  However, I am following the silver plan from the Comrades website, and next week doesn’t look much like a taper that I am familiar with.  This is what is on the agenda:

Monday            1 hour recovery

Tuesday           15 min easy; 8x2min hills, 10 min easy

Wednesday      90 min Long run

Thursday          1 hour easy

Friday               Rest

Saturday          90 min Long Run

Sunday            2 Hour Long run

That should total around 60 miles, though I am going to struggle because of work commitments this week.  I am working at an exhibition in Manchester from Tuesday to Thursday, I’ll take my running kit with me, but it will be a case of fitting in what I can in the mornings whilst I am away.

This week, I treated myself to another sports massage with Ian. In addition to sports massage, he is a personal trainer and nutritionist and he runs an excellent website – www.ianshealth.co.uk. His podcasts on the site are well worth a listen if you are interested in nutrition and weight control. His support of the high fat/low carb diet is clear and the scientific evidence he presents is very compelling.

In light of the clear evidence that diet alone is the overwhelming factor in weight control (exercise has very little effect), it seems bizarre that the government advice still focuses on calorie counting and ‘burning’ calories by undertaking exercise. Nearly all recent studies shows that this approach is unlikely to work.

The government should tell people to stop eating refined sugar and cut down dramatically on their intake of carbohydrates. Exercise has some excellent mental and psychological effects, but it has minimal effect on weight loss.

I try to eat a diet which is lower in carbs than most people – I was more disciplined last year, somehow, I have found it harder not to sin this year.

However, I am going to really try to eat a better diet until Comrades.

Breakfasts will be poached egg and bacon (no toast), salad for lunch (my choices are limited) and main meals will include steak, poached salmon, chicken with roasted vegetables and poached egg, but no rice, potato, pasta or bread on the side.  I will eat some carbs (e.g. sweet potato) prior to longer runs, but I must resist the biscuits (I must, I must!).

***

I ran a mid-week 5K race on Wednesday evening. It was the first race of three in the John Carr series at Esholt.

If you look at the profiles of Yorkshire club runners on the power of 10 website or runbritainrankings, you will see that many have set their 5K PB on this course. It is a legal course, but I don’t know how, because it is net downhill, with the finish around 22 metres lower than the start.

Despite running 31 miles on the preceding Sunday, I decided to really go for it.

I got a bit stuck in the melee at the start, then I went too hard in the second and third kms. I struggled in the uphill fourth km and paid for the uneven effort, but when we hit the downhill final 800 metres to the finish I gave it everything and was delighted to record a 20 second 5K PB with a time of 17:23. It was a cool and breezy night and I think with better pacing and still conditions maybe I could run a 17:15. I’m missing the second race, but back for the final one of the series a week on Wednesday.

I did back to back long runs over the weekend – I ran from home to Woodhouse Moor parkrun on Saturday morning (it was the 400th event!), ran a steady 22:18 and then jogged home for a total of 18.6 miles. I was out with friends in Manchester on Saturday evening, so I had to do my Sunday 3 hour long run in the afternoon when I got home.

It was a bit of a struggle, not helped by me falling in a pile of nettles in Esholt woods and grazing my knee and elbow.  I was also covered in black muck all down my left side. I got some strange looks from passers-by as I ran back down the A65, so I diverted into a garage to clean off the muck and rinse out my wounds at the water tap. I found the last few miles tough and covered just shy of 22 miles.

The only bit of kit I am not sure about for Comrades are which shoes I will wear.  I have worn my Hoka Rapa Nuis for all my pre-Comrades long runs and although they are fine and I may well wear them in the race, I am considering wearing something a bit lighter.

I wouldn’t risk a race shoe or light trainer for Comrades. Despite my extensive stable of running shoes (I’ve recently had a clear out and am down to about 12 pairs), I don’t have any standard trainers that have fewer than 400 miles on the clock.

So I’ve gone to the well again and ordered a pair of Brooks Ghosts from Sportsshoes.com – they look a fairly light, neutral cushioned trainer good for high mileage runners. I really like the other Brooks shoes I’ve had. I should be able to get plenty of miles done in them before leaving for South Africa.  If they don’t cut the mustard, then I’ll go with the Hokas.

CM -3 weeks
Weight not measured
70 Miles
parkrun – Woodhouse Moor 22:18 (60th)

Standard