A Good Day at the Office

It was a contest.

It may have been hosted in a bucolic valley of deepest Hertfordshire, surrounded by farmhouses, stabling and sheep but it was still a competition.

30-odd runners – and strangely clad others, later identified as something called cyclists – turned up at the Ashmei office on Saturday fighting to become the next Ashmei Ambassadors hoping to receive the spoils that that entails.

Except we didn’t. We turned up all right, each sporting our own personal favourite polyester (shudder) running apparel, but there was no hostility, no point-scoring, no attention-seeking that normally comes with a mass of people vying for a small amount of places.

In fact the only competitiveness I saw in the whole day was seeing who would blink first and eat the pastries pre-run rather than the fruit.

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After a bit of mingling, catching up with old faces and meeting new, it was time for a bit of a presentation from Ashmei founder Stuart Brooke.

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Here I have to declare an interest. I have been wearing Ashmei products since I first started running. Considering their deliberate placement at the very high end of sports clothing – think Aston Martin for style and cool – and the pricing structure that comes with that, it may seem like a bit of a boast. But unlike Aston you can own a bit of Ashmei without robbing the village post office. Socks.

My first ever race was the Henley half marathon in 2013. And there in the middle of a rugby field, gleaming despite the rain, was the 1964 “Overlander” Airstream caravan (yes, I’ve memorised the website). Inside an array of bold, graphic designs in red and black drew me in. I was hooked. Admittedly the prices made my eyes water more than the storm outside but I knew I wanted a piece of it; and so I bought socks.

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I needn’t have bothered.

Had I known that only two years later I would be given a free pair to try out at the ambassadors event I could have save a few quid.

And so to the run; the bit I should have been looking forward to the most but was dreading. I’ve hardly run a step since the beginning of January (see previous posts for mind-numbing naval-gazing injury-related tosh) but was determined to be included in the major part of the event. So the day before I saw my favourite masseur, the lovely Poppy, who carefully, gently and sensitively pulverised every muscle in my lower limbs. She had elbows and fingers in places they really shouldn’t be allowed, increasing the pressure in direct relation to how loud I howled and how hard I whimpered.

The upshot was that, on Saturday morning, I had legs that felt they had been beaten by iron bars but no calf pain. As a result run was fantastic. The views were stunning, the woods beautiful, the company interesting but selfishly all I could think was that I was, finally, running again. I’ve had to cancel two marathons so far and it was looking bleak for a number of other races including my first ultra in May. But running around the Ashridge estate, up and down hills, along footpaths and trails, I was a runner again.

From start to finish it was a great event. Meeting runners who are achieving things I can only dream about is both humbling and inspiring. Other people will become Ashmei Ambassadors, I am not the demographic a cool young company is searching for but I don’t care. I ran 5.5 miles for the first time in two months.

I’ve already won.

Injuries and Opportunities

Injuries, whatever the nastiness, suck, we all know that. The one I have at the moment, really sucks. To paraphrase, plagiarise (and sanitise) a quote from the Thick of It – “It sucks **** so deep your appendix is wearing the bell-end as a little hat.”

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I’m quite a positive type. My many and varied run-ins with certain governmental tax organisations have made me so – the alternative is a life of sobbing into my pillow in a darkened decreasingly smaller room.

But tearing my calf tested my patience to the limit and 10 weeks on I was struggling to find any upside.

And then I rode a bike.

I’m not a complete philistine when it comes to bikes. I have, as most people probably do, a number of them mouldering in the back of the shed. But I needed something low-impact that would reverse the pounds that were piling on now I wasn’t exercising and wasn’t swimming.

I’ve always had a deep loathing for swimming. I was taught the bare essentials so that, while I won’t drown, I certainly would go anywhere particularly fast or with any degree of grace. A few weeks into the injury – and before the donation of a road bike – I did a few weeks of swimming at my local pool. Each time I would haul myself out, thoroughly depressed as the octogenarians smiled winningly at my back. If to be beaten by a girl in a race is to be “chicked” then length after length I was “oaped” by men and women sedately breast-stroking their way through the chlorine infested waters while I sputtered and spluttered my way behind them.

The only good thing I can find to say about swimming is that you don’t get sweaty. Everything else is a negative.

Back to the bike. I was getting a bit desperate to get outside and get exercising. My brother is a bit of a triathlete (no oaping for him) and as is the way he had a number of bikes he’s used in the couple of years he’s been racing. He very kindly lent me his first bike, with a grin.

It is, I’m sure a perfectly serviceable road bike. It’s definitely got the skinniest tyres I’ve ever seen on a supposedly roadworthy machine. But the weight! I have been lucky enough to photograph Sir Chris Hoy when he was at the Nissan Sunderland plant before he started racing GT cars and, naturally, he brought along a range of bikes he had designed for Evans Cycles. Those ones I could pick up with a finger, my new juggernaut took both hands to get off the ground. Still beggars can’t be choosers and off I went on my first ride.

I don’t have any cycling kit so cobbled together running tights (with compression shorts underneath as some kind of padding), long-sleeved running shirt with my windshell over the top. My son’s borrowed helmet – with beanie underneath – and a pair of climbing gloves completed the outfit. I looked great.

I have since bought myself a proper top. Though going out in an Etixx-Quickstep team shirt (homage to Mark Cavendish) rather than the plethora of Team Sky ones is a bit of a bold move.

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I’ve always thought cycling was a bit of a cop-out. You can rest whenever, you want, exert no effort going downhill and it is the definition on an “easy ride”. 20 miles later and back home I could hardly get off and John Wayne’d my way inside. The Chiltern Hills (which I live on top of) had struck again. I’ve pretty much mastered the hills on two feet but two wheels means a whole lot of different and as yet underused muscles. Grudging respect to you proper cyclists out there

So while being injured is a proper pain in the calf, on a positive note it has opened up a new world of pot-holes, storm drains, idiot drivers and screaming quads.

Oh, and news just in, as I write this I’ve received an email that I’m on the shortlist for the Ashmei Ambassadors Day this coming Saturday.

Time to zip up the man suit and get competitive!

Just a run in the park

I was flying.

It wasn’t the first time.

I’d flown before.

Once.

Haring down though an autumnal National Trust wood, leaves a friendly carpet beneath me, I startled two walkers coming up the other way.

That’s when it happened.

A feeling of weightlessness I’d never experienced before as, seemingly airborne, I jetted past them smiling maniacally as I went.

This time though the flight was more sustained.

I am unremarkable runner and this was (and is) an unexceptional town in a non-descript county. On this particular Saturday however, sometime between 9am and 9.19:59am, (because that really is the point) it was magical.

At least to me.

It was probably a perfect day to run. I’m still not totally sure what that is supposed to feel like but I know it was pretty chilly, dry and completely still.

The only reason I was running at this particular course was because I had to be there for work later that morning so it made sense. Nothing more strategic than that.

The first 300m were going to be along a narrow nettle lined path so, while not confident about my pace relative to all those sporting university running vests, still I edged my way to the second row for the start.

As always seems to happen on these Saturday runs, I struck up a conversation with a complete stranger before the off, talking about the merits of the course (we were both newbies) and the times we were hoping for (we both politely sand-bagged).

And then we were off.

At first I wasn’t planning on going for a particular time. In truth I’m not capable on planning for anything much – ask HMRC – but after the first kilometre I snuck a look at my watch. 4 minutes dead.

In that moment I was Mercury, I was Hermes. I was any number of wing-footed courier companies and probably travelling about as fast as they do when desperately searching for a particularly troublesome address. But to me, I was soaring.

The air was rushing through where my hair once had been, as I sped past the buggy-pushers and under 10’s.

Even I could work out I was doing OK.

It couldn’t last.

As I ran I was constantly checking everything was working OK. The ankle which I had smashed in an horrendous badminton accident (no really) 20+ years before was doing OK. Unspecified aching bum muscle was there but not causing distress. All was going well.

Suddenly there were masses of runners ahead of me. On what I can only describe as a lollipop-with-two-licks shaped course I was starting to lap other runners. This was a new experience and I can’t pretend I didn’t enjoy it, just a little.

It couldn’t last.

Into the final kilometre somehow my watch had been metronomically ticking off the 4 minute kms and I knew I was in with a shout of my personal holy grail. The sub 20 minute 5k.

For the whole year this had been my goal. True, I hadn’t really done much about it; just kind of hoping it would somehow arrive. OK so I’d been to a few track sessions with my club and even turned out for an interval session in the rain but – hand on heart – I hadn’t completely, or even partially, changed my routine to achieve this target.

All that lack of attention was bearing fruit. What I really needed now though was someone to pull me through the last few hundred metres. And there he was, my sand-bagging new best friend. The one who had answered, “ooh, I dunno 21 or 22 ish” to my polite questioning of his expected time. And he was ahead of me.

It couldn’t last

Soon I was on his shoulder. I would say stealthily but by now my breathing was a rasping, if not hypnotic, “HAY-YAH!” every few strides that all but the most ardent death-metal-iPod-wearer could hear.

Flying like a swallow had now disintegrated into bumbling, much like a bee. Not so much arrow straight and perfect form, more staggering around from nettle to nettle trying to keep to the path.

Around the final corner and up a slope to the finish we were neck and neck. I knew I was in a race now.

He had no idea. And cared even less

It couldn’t last.

In my mind I sprinted that final 30 metres to glory. In reality I’m sure I looked like I was wading through the water that apparently covers this course for much of the winter.

Stopping my watch on the line I did the only decent thing a victor could do. I sought out the vanquished, shook his hand and doubled up, a vision of pain and retching.

In fact I’d come in 5th in a run that isn’t a race (except to all who participate) but far more important was the reading on my Garmin -19.59.

Granted it was a much flatter course than my normal 5k and I’d got a tow along the last kilometre but I had done it and the feeling of elation followed me all the way back to the car. There I realised I was a sweaty sticky mass of something unpleasant and in 30 minutes needed to be a well groomed, fragrant professional capable of reassuring the people I was meeting that they were safe in my perspiration-free hands.

A good towelling down and ozone-busting amounts of deodorant later no-one but me would have known that, though my feet were now on the floor, a few minutes ago I had been reaching to the stars.

It couldn’t last.

The following week I pulled a calf muscle on a gentle run and I’ve hardly run a step in 4 weeks

As they tell pilots: you’re only as good as your last landing.

parkrun – I think I finally get it

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In September 2013 I turned up, like a nervous teenager, to my first parkrun. I’d started running seriously just over a month before and had stumbled across parkrun while buying my first proper running shoes. I knew nobody there and had no idea whether I would be trailing at the back or crushed in the melee.

The reason I’m writing about this now is because, from that first run, my total focus was getting to 50 runs and claiming my bright red 50 t-shirt. Last Saturday I finally achieved it and while I’m mildly proud of that fact I realise that reaching this goal is purely a product of inevitability and very little to do with achievement. The real success (to paraphrase) is not what I have done but what parkrun has done for me.

Since those first tentative steps over a year ago I have become gradually absorbed into the parkrun ethos. I have found a balance between what I want from parkrun and what I think parkrun asks of me. I wanted to run 50 parkruns in a set period of time but not only does work and life get in the way of running every saturday at 9am but parkrun itself gently, softly and subtly nudges you to maybe, possibly, if you feel you’d like to, spend a bit of time giving back by taking on a volunteering role. Only if you want to, no pressure.

So once I realised that actually getting to 50 was no more important in the scheme of things than getting to 48 or 52 – credit to Danny’s (Norman) Arbitrary Number or DAN – I enjoyed Saturday mornings even more.

I guess what the previous rambling 4 paragraphs are trying to say is that if you are involved in parkrun you should never feel there is a downside to it.

If you have been struggling to beat your PB for a few weeks and it’s getting you down why not chuck in a really slow one? Jog around, smile at the marshals, appreciate that you can run and usually, in a green and pleasant area. Or (and I’m guilty of this) check out other flatter, faster courses to try for a better time.

If you want to join in a bit more and make a wider circle of friends then there is no better way than volunteering. The caveat to this is that no-one should feel forced into volunteering. I’ve only done it 5 times in 15 months and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it each time but people are different, each person has varying time constraints so it isn’t a good fit for everyone.

I’m not parkrun perfect – I’ve had dark thoughts about runners when I volunteer, in the pouring rain, with no-one saying thank you or acknowledging my existence. I’ve spend too many runs obsessing about breaking sub-20 minutes. We even had the first year anniversary delayed a week because one of the run directors was on holiday and wanted to be there which I found against the spirit of the event. On the flip side, I have been that runner in the pouring rain totally focussed on finishing and oblivious to anything in my peripheries, I’ve learnt to relax a bit and know I may never break 20 minutes, and finally I’ve never been a run director so who am I to tut and shake my head when someone bends the rules a bit to be included in a celebration they certainly should be a part of.

I love parkrun; I love that it is free, that it is run by volunteers who want to be volunteers; I love that it is totally inclusive – if you want to walk the whole way round, walk!;  I love that it is, for a brief hour in the week, a community where I can talk to people I would never have otherwise met; I also love that sometimes it gets it wrong but on balance I get it wrong far more often than parkrun does.

Oh, and I love parkun because it does this…

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Marlow Half Marathon, soggy, speedy, slog

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Last Sunday marked the completion of a full 12 months of racing. True, I had done a 10k and even a 10 mile before November but Marlow Half marathon 2013 marked the beginning and end of a fairly simple journey. To see if I could run a half marathon 25 years after my first one; and to see how much further I could go.

This week I returned to try Marlow Half again.

Marlow Half Marathon 2014 is awesome. I had run Abingdon Marathon 3 weeks before so wasn’t expecting much. The nature of the course (total elevation 2100 feet) means it is never going to be a  PB race. It is pretty much a series of hills with Rotten Row at about 8 miles the killer 280 ft climb.

The day started out lashing with rain and continued on and off until the start. It starts with a mile and a half climb followed by a couple of ups and downs before an uphill stretch to the highest point at 5 miles. Its then a 3 mile downhill stretch (of various steepness) until you hit the bottom of Rotten Row for the beast of a hill.

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I was running with my brother at the start and we’d agree that all we wanted to do was better our times from last year (me 1.51, him 1.48). In order to do that we wanted to go a bit quicker than 8 minute miles to have a bit in store for the hills. Our first 4 miles were around 7.40 so all was going well. However, at mile 5 I’d lost him and, as he isn’t great on the downhills, I kicked on hoping he’d catch up on the flatfish bits.

The weather was great, a bit of rain but no wind and pretty cool so I kicked on downhill doing a 6.43 and 7.17 before hitting the flat and a 7.23 to mile 8. Rotten Row was as bad as I’d remembered but I kept running and overtook a few people there. A couple more miles of “undulations” and I  had finally run out of hills and knew, with 2 miles to go, it was all down hill. Last year I hadn’t taken advantage of the gentle down hill run-in but I was determined to put that right. Happily there was someone I could race against close by so we started to stretch each other. Mile 12 was 7.04 and as soon as we hit the mile marker we both went for it.

I can’t describe the feeling as I have never raced against someone at any distance especially not at the end of a half marathon. It was exhilarating, annoying, knackering and so much fun! We must have passed about 20 people in that last mile as we matched each others pace but as we got 200m from the finish he put the power down and destroyed me. I managed to take two more runners before the line and came in 1.36.59. That final mile I did in 6.16, the fastest I’ve ever run a mile. Bro came in 1.44 courtesy on a dual exactly the same as mine, so we’d both had a pretty good day. Can’t wait to be back next year.

Oh, and the medal was awesome and the HOODY just brilliant.

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Running photo courtesy of http://www.oxonraces.com

Milton Keynes Marathon – The Idiot

The day after London Marathon I felt good, really good. The day after that I ran a couple of easy miles.

The Saturday after LM I did a parkrun in 21 minutes and the following day I ran 6 miles and signed up for the Milton Keynes Marathon in three weeks.

My flawed logic was that I could take London as my final long run and have another three week taper for MK. Much, much later (around mile 17 I think) I realised that what I’d done was have a 6 week taper with a marathon in the middle. Not any kind of preparation for an endurance race and a decision that was going to bite me.

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Race day came and it was going to be a hot one. I’d run London in a black t-shirt and shorts ensemble and had had no chafing anywhere so decided to wear the same gear. In the blazing sun. Without the shade London offered from tall buildings.

I’m making my excuses early.

My idea was to stick with the 3.45 pacer and see how I felt after 20-odd miles (whether to push on or hold). However, while the pacers had balloons floating above them, all of them were the same colour and none of them had the time on them. You had to be right behind the pacer, able to read their t-shirt, to see you were with the right one.  The start was fairly calm and although I lost my pacer, I could see one ahead and figured as long as I stayed between the two for a bit I could slow down and let my pacer catch up. It was then, within about half a mile, that it all went horribly wrong.

I felt fantastic.

Again, I wasn’t running with a gps but I did have mapmyrun on my phone in my gel belt. After a mile I had a quick check and was running exactly 8 minute miles. My target was 8.30’s so I knew I could and should back off. But I didn’t. I was still feeling fantastic, what could go wrong? Writing this blog is the first time I’ve looked at the splits and I am astounded at my idiocy! Mile 1 was 8.05 and the NEXT 9 MILES were sub 8 minute miles. Mile 13 I got down to 8.30 but back up to 8.04 for the next mile. In and around 8.30 until 17 and then BOOM! I was destroyed.

There was no way I could sustain that pace, with my level of fitness, having started so quickly – four early miles averaged 7.40. Something had to give and most upsettingly, it was my brain. I think we all like to think that, ultimately, we won’t crack under stress; that we will dig into as yet unknown and untested reserves of grit and toughness.

I cracked like all those Easter eggs I’d eaten between London and Milton Keynes.

At 17 I promised myself I could walk a bit if we got to 18. Then again at 20. AND again at 22.

I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have walked had there had been spectators about. In the same way I speed up, just a little bit, when I see another runner coming towards me , or don’t even contemplate walking up a steep hill if a car is coming on a training run, I think I allowed myself to walk because there was no-one around to judge me. True, there were other runners, but a lot of the ones ahead were walking anyway so it seemed to make it OK.

Finally I got to mile 23 and knew I just had one parkrun left to run and was determined not to walk during the race again. I made it into the stadium and saw the clock for the first time. 3.50:50. My VMLM time was 3.51.42 and I was in danger of being slower as you had to run round the sides of the football pitch. I hobble/sprinted the last hundred metres staring at the clock as I finished. I came in at 3.51.22 and later found my chip time was 3.50.40 so I pb’d by just over a minute.

The rest of the day was spent making excuses for having walked (too hot, too soon after London, really busy week at work etc, etc) and feeling really negative about the day.

After a few days though, I now feel pretty positive about it. True, I did a stupid thing, something I’ve read about in every marathon article, heard about on every podcast but now I have experienced it myself I know I’ll never do something like it again.

I still got a pb. And I know that, even with the heat, not ideal lead-up and vast quantities of chocolate consumed, I could have got a much faster time.

On to the next…

 

Trail Team Trials – and a bit of parkrun tourism

I thought I’d better get this down now while its fresh in the memory and before Mondays Milton Keynes Marathon (which I’ll probably bang on about at length at a later date).

So today, Saturday 5th May was the second half of the Trail Team 2014 trails. Basically there are 100 people who have been shortlisted and of those 4 will win a place on the Trail Team. It’s a chance to run in the Alps on a training camp and get loads of Berghaus, Torq Running and LED Lenser gear to muck about with. What is more interesting to me, especially as a relative newbie to the whole running lark, is that the lucky four will be guided for the year in their nutrition, running, fitness etc. It would be amazing to see the progress made with professional help for that length of time. And running the Alps would be pretty cool too!

The aperitif

parkrun has become a fixture in my life so when I knew the Trail Team event would start in north London at 10ish it was obvious I could slip a cheeky parkrun in beforehand. I’d already done Hampstead Heath a few months previously so went to the next nearest to the venue, Gladstone parkrun. A two lapper described as “undulating”, this was a really nice course, especially on a beautiful morning. Hills were not too onerous and I deliberately kept my pace slow as I knew we’d be running later in the day. Came in at 22.34 which was bit quicker than it felt.

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On to the main event of the day. 50 of us congregated in an education centre at the bottom of Parliament Hill and the day kicked off. mattphoto_35_tt-4

After a brief introduction it was the Berghaus chaps turn to tell us all about the ethos of Berghaus as well as a bit of product. In the late 80’s there were two companies important to my fledgling career as a photographer. Firstly there was Courtney, the pinnacle of studio lighting, then there was Berghaus. In the same year I saved up £1000 to buy a pair of Courtney studio lights and around £300 for my first Mera Peak Berghaus jacket. 25 years on I’ve no idea what happened to those lights or, in fact, Courtney themselves. I still have that jacket and even though it has lost its waterproofing I can’t bear to get rid of it. I now have the updated Mera Peak (which was £100 less than the one I bought 25 years ago) and live in their fleeces of various types. A Volvo Estate was also a must for a photographer but I could never stretch to that.

Next up was the Torq running guy. It’s a difficult job to present one companies product as its always going to sound like a bit of a sales pitch but the nutrition advice was really interesting. I’ve used SIS products in all my races as I never have stomach problems with them and they certainly do the job so I’m loathed to change. However, I’ll definitely give Torq a go on long training runs as some of the flavours are gorgeous! I’ve been dabbling with the idea of using a more paleo diet (spookily and a little unflatteringly the Torq guy took one look at me and announced “you’re obviously on a high fat burn diet”). I’m not particularly comfortable with the artificial stuff I’m putting in my body, but if this is all natural ingredients then possibly this is a shortcut worth taking.

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After lunch it was the turn of Katharine and David Lowrie, who ran the length of South America totally unsupported, to tell us about their incredible trip. This talk alone could probably have taken up the whole day and it was fantastic to hear from them. 25 years ago I made an abortive attempt to cycle from Britain to South Africa. Organisation at that time (and in fact, now) was not my strong point and although I did end up in South Africa and hitch hiked around a country and surrounding countries still relatively unknown to tourists (there were only 30 pages in the Africa Lonely Planet Guide  on South Africa) I did end up flying there.  An inspiring talk, just the right side of of awesome and self deprecating Katharine and David certainly rekindled those long dormant thoughts of a challenge still to be conquered. Time to pin that Africa map back on the bedroom wall. Now just to break it to the wife and kids…

Last up on the talk front was the utterly unbelievable ultra runner Stuart “tits” Mills.

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His talk focussed on the mental side of long distance running, the idea of focussing on goals and the journey. There was so much in that one hours talk that I have been able to take away but I’m still distilling it so I may have to come back to it when I’ve got a clearer idea of what I want to say. The other great thing about Stu being there was that I was now the SECOND oldest person in the room!

The dessert (with a cherry on top)

And so onto the run.

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I have been running naked for a while now so I have no idea how far we went, what our elevation was or, in fact, where we went but we finished where we started, took in a lot of path, trail, hill and woodland and were out for about an hour and 10 minutes.

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Having worked in and around London for a good while I have never seen this side of the capital. The views from the top of Parliament Hill were truly awe inspiring in a “see what humans can do when they set their mind and money to a project” kind of way.

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It was a great run, much further than I wanted to do two days before Milton Keynes but I was having too much fun chatting to a variety of fellow runners as I bumbled along.

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It was great to be able to vary my pace so I could meet up with different people and just be able to strike up a conversation. Essentially this to me seemed to be the point of the whole day; not a competition to be whittled down to four lucky people, more a coming together of like minded individuals in order to spread the word of trail running.

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I’ve no idea what the team are looking for in the finalists. If they want amazing athletes, well versed in ultra running then there were certainly plenty there to choose from. If they are looking for people who have run marathons but no further and are looking to extend their knowledge and skills over longer distances then there definitely are many great candidates. If, however, they are looking for a bald mid-Forties pretty new runner floundering around in a sea of new-found knowledge then I think I might know just the chap.

Good luck to all the participants from both the London and Helvellyn groups. Whatever happens we have shared an amazing day and great company. My fingers are crossed for all of us (but just a bit tighter for me)

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Taper Tantrums , Trail Team Trial & 22 Mile Thoughts

Nearly 3 weeks into taper (and 3 days from the big day) and my brain is finally fried. This taper thing is doing funny things to me. While the first week was OK with a last minute decision to do the Brooklands Half as part of my taper, I have now succumbed to all manner of ailments. Ailments I’m pretty sure are psychological but annoying all the same. Added to this is the crabbiness that comes with lower mileage and I am just not a fun person to live with at the moment. As I write I have one more run, a 2 miler on Saturday, so I have the prospect of not running for two consecutive days. Sunday can’t come soon enough.

Something that has raised the spirits massively this week is getting an email saying that I’ve been shortlisted for the Berghaus Trail Team (trailrunningteam.com) and have a selection day in London on May 3rd! I’m not sure what they are looking for (they will be whittling it down from 100 people to 4) but if they want a slightly fit, slightly older new runner who loves the outdoors and has a food addiction I guess I could have a chance! Just hope all the tube stations have escalators as I think I’ll still need them 3 weeks on. The news came just at the right time as I now have a focus for after London and it took my mind off the marathon, for a few minutes at least.

This is my first marathon and I’ve made sure over the months of training that I “banked” a few memories for when I stared to tire or struggle at the 22-24 mile mark. I deliberately went out in the filthiest weather (not difficult this winter), ran on Christmas Day (not just because my Hal Higdon/Asics combination told me to), missed friends birthdays because I had a race the day after and even retired early – completely sober – from my own dinner party. All these little memories will hopefully help me push through the pain when I need them most. There is no doubt that the training has changed my life and I am so grateful that my family have given me the time and space to do this. However, I’m looking forward to a couple of weekends pottering around the house before it all starts again.

Now to carb load (too late to convert to paleo this time) and sleep. A lot.

Brooklands Half Marathon – The race I didn’t want to run

I entered this HM on a last minute whim as it coincided with needing to do a 13 mile taper run. Unfortunately I had overlooked a few major points. Firstly, it was an 8am start, secondly it was about an hour away from me. The third factor I had forgotten was that I was working on the Saturday night in London and wouldn’t get home until about 1am. The final nail in the coffin was that the clocks went forward that morning so I was going to get a maximum of 5 hours sleep: and I love my sleep.

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I decided to see how I felt driving back for work on Saturday night and judge whether I could be bothered to haul myself out of bed.

On the plus side an 8am start did mean that I could race and be back home before any of the family noticed and we could crack on with Mother’s Day without losing Brownie points. Another huge consideration was the ridiculous expensive cost of the race. £40 for a half marathon did seem, on the face of it, pretty pricey (more on that later) so, having spent it, I felt I should give it a go. .

Anyway race day came and I was up and away by 6.30. Got there in good time though just got through the roads before they were  closed. The whole race (other than start and finish) were run on roads completely closed to traffic – first clue to where the money was going)

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The race was held at the remarkable Mercedes Benz world at Brooklands (probably another reason for high cost). Many years ago I did some site photography when they were doing the ground works and I have taken both children there to learn to drive so I know the area well. (I even spent a few weeks as a volunteer at the wonderful Brooklands Motor Museum next door one winter).

Facilities were good though it never fail to amaze me that people are queuing 100 odd deep for the toilets 10 minutes before the start of a race. I don’t know if organisers constantly under-estimate the need or runners always get to races too late but I couldn’t see how the majority of them would get the the start of the race in a comfortable state. Testimony to this was the amount of people dashing into bushes 2 miles in to the race.

I was surprised how many people were as stupid as me to turn up and run. I don’t know the official figures but there must have been over 1000. Despite this once we got going (the first 2 miles were on the winding Merc test track) I didn’t feel there was too much bunching and you could set your own pace pretty easily.

Marshalling throughout the race was of a professional standard, i.e. they were obviously hired in to enforce the road closures rather than volunteers. As a result you didn’t get the cheering you would expect from marshals, after all they had a job to do, at a ridiculously early hour. Making up for this, however, were the residents of Weybridge. I honestly wasn’t expecting any spectators but they seemed out in force and were a great source of encouragement.

The course was varied. The first and last two miles were, as I said, on the Mercedes test track and then headed out into Weybridge. A couple of undulations to start (and to end as the course came back on itself) and then a pretty nice run through streets with VERY nice houses. The only stretch I wasn’t keen on was a dead straight track from I think 8-9 miles but that could have been me feeling a bit fatigued.

The first five miles were spent running at the same pace as a Scottish chap who, at every mile marker would ask the nearest runner what the time was, would curse that he was running too quickly and should slow down immediately, and continue running at the same pace to the next mile marker and so on. He eventually surged ahead of me and I didn’t see him again – until mile 11 when I passed him walking on the verge.

The final 2 miles are pretty tough though as, due to the switch-back nature of the Merc track you can see the finishing arch even though you are 2 miles out. However, its a good surface and flat so not a major stress.

I had decided, as it was basically taper run, not to take a watch or gps and just run it on feel. I was more than happy to get my timing  (print out immediately after the race) of 1.41:43 my second best HM time.

All in all a great race, fantastic weather, well organised and a nice tech t-shirt and medal. Still a bit steep but you can definitely see where the money goes. Will be back.

Nearly there.

As I’ve finally finished my series of long runs and tapering is starting I thought it was a good time to reflect over the last three months. An amazing amount of running related things have happened. January was for me, like I imagine everyone, a damp slog, just a time to get the head down and the miles in. I was going to attempt the Stonehenge Stomp, a 20, 30 or 40k off roader that I have walked in past years but was going to run this time. Torrential rain in the days leading up to it made me rethink. There are a lot of ploughed fields to run round and I didn’t fancy a fracture just yet; or at all.

Watford Half Marathon

My first half marathon of the year was in Watford on 2nd February, made more appealing by knowing that the Runners World pacers would be there. I’d not run with a pacer before and found it a fantastic experience. Having the ability to switch off and just keep the man with a flag in my eyeline allowed me to concentrate on just doing the miles and not worrying about pace. I overtook him with about 3 miles to go and came in with a PB at 1.42:53.

Marathon Talk Spring Run Camp

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The following weekend was the inaugural Marathon Talk Spring Run Camp (this one time, at Run Camp…) at the exquisitely named Sandy Balls Holiday Park. I was pretty nervous going into the camp as a pretty inexperienced runner and expected to be left behind pretty quickly. However, Martin and Tom had thought it all through and everyone, of any level, was well catered for. The weekend started off with a parkrun and interval session (6 x 3min) in the afternoon. The next day was the long run, either 11,16 or 19 miles of trail running on soaking ground and in parts, massive headwinds. My jantastic goal was 15 miles so I did the 11 mile circuit then a 2 mile out and back. Luckily I didn’t attempt the 16 miler as the extra 5 mile loop apparently was nearer 7 miles! I was a great weekend with some good talks by Liz Yelling, Steve Way and Louise Damen and great to talk running with people whose eyes don’t glaze over or snigger at the mention of a fartlek.

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Liz Yelling and Louise Damen

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Martin Yelling and Steve Way

Hampton Court Half Marathon

This was notable only for two things. Firstly it was an 18 mile run day for me so I planned a route 2.5 miles from the start of the race so I could run there, do the race and run back giving me a total of 18.1 miles.

Secondly, the organisers either mucked up the distance or a marshal directed us the wrong way but the HM actually came in at 12.8 miles. I was taking it fairly steady around the course as I was treating it as a long run, sorting gels and drinks etc but still nearly PB’d! I knew something wasn’t quite right.

Luckily for me my in and out distance to the car was 2.6 miles so the total was a perfect 18 miles.

Silverstone Half Marathon

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A great race. Freezing and windy (Silverstone is and old airfield after all)  weren’t the ideal conditions especially as I’d done my usual trick of getting there ridiculously early. Also the start time was a real pain. 12pm for me is a tricky time having been used to fuelling for a 9-10am race. By 11 I was pretty hungry and hadn’t prepared for that. Took a gel and hoped it would be OK. I positioned myself between the 1.30 and 1.45 pacers and hoped I’d stay there for the race. My only aim was to PB so needed to keep well ahead of the 1.45. The race went well though with the constant turns on the track you were facing a headwind at some point. Why does a headwind slow you down more than a tail wind speed you up!. At 9 miles I did a bit of fatigued mental maths and thought I was on for a sub 1.30 HM. For some reason I figured at 9 miles there were only 3 to go. It wasn’t until the 10 mile marker I realised I STILL had 3 left.

Finished the last mile strong and ended up with a PB of 1.38.59

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Could have had a shave.

And now

Since them it has really just been a matter of getting the long runs in, checking fluid and carb intake during the runs and trying to stay in one piece. Weather has turned better, finally, and we’ve had some great dawns and dusks.

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Adidas26rs

I did my final long run with the newly created adidas26rs running club in London last Sunday (23rd March). I really nice 22 mile run from their base (in the basement of Sweatshop, Bishopsgate) over London Bridge along the Southbank to Putney Bridge then back to Tower Bridge on the North side and up to the shop again. There were about 15 of us though pretty quickly we spread out over various paces. I was lucky to run with a fantastic chap, Ollie, and we chatted the whole way round keeping easily to our 9 min mile marathon pace. It’s given me massive confidence that I will sub-4 my first marathon.

Bring it on.