Race to the King 2017

Race to the King and Race to the Stones are two events I’ve heard a lot about and from what I’d seen they appeared to be quite scenic. It was fairly early on I started considering doing at least one of these events, though I’d been in awe of those I’d seen complete Race to the Stones in 2015. Both of these events have a number of options:

  • the full distance in one go,
  • the full distance split into two days,
  • or half the distance on either Saturday or Sunday.

For me, I thought the only option was to do half the distance – I couldn’t possibly do any more than that. When I started to consider one day running the Marathon des Sables my view on these races changed. I thought instead that if I was to do either of these that the better option would be to do the full distance split into two days – the perfect introduction into multi-stage events. I still wasn’t sure though if I had an ultra marathon in me – they’re crazy long distances, and I’d not been a runner long.

In the case of Race to the King, a race introduced in 2016, it is a run to Winchester – the former capital of Britain since the time of the Roman conquest. After the Romans left, it became the seat of power for the Kingdom of Wessex – one of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. Alfred, King of Wessex, envisioned a unified England and after fighting back against the Vikings it became the first capital of his new England. This race is so-called because it is a run to a statue of Alfred in Winchester.

After I completed Canalathon in 2016 I decided that one or both of these events would be a good ultra marathon for 2017. By the time the 2016 events had come and gone, I saw enough from people’s race report blog posts to know that I wanted to do both, and I wanted to do the full distance for both. Perhaps running Race to the King would be good training for Race to the Stones – and that’s how it began. When it came to book the events I was completely certain I’d try to do the full distance in one go, but was that unsure whether I was capable of it that I booked Race to the King first with the intention of booking Race to the Stones within a week or two (that would give me enough time to contemplate if I was doing the right thing).

With both of these races I found that if I wanted to drive that my best option would be to stay overnight on both the Friday and Saturday near to the finish. For Race to the King, a race going along the South Downs Way from Arundel, I booked a hotel just off the M3. I then prepaid £25 to get a shuttle bus from the park and ride to the start. After re-reading the paperwork, and an email to the organisers (which took 4 working days to respond to) I found that the parking at the park and ride was an additional £10 on top of that. This race was getting expensive very fast, and it didn’t help that everything was doubled due to having to pay the same for RTTS.

  • Event entry – £119
  • Parking – £10
  • Shuttle to the start – £25

On top of this it was £130 for a hotel for two nights, and about £50 in petrol for travelling. This would be on top of any other costs such as eating out before and after the race. It certainly isn’t a cheap race to do if you’re not local, though it does include free event photography and there’s plenty you can eat on the route.

I later contacted them again by email and by Twitter and found that generally they don’t respond to queries via Twitter – they use it for marketing purposes only. I did however receive a reply to my email the same day which was a relief as the week before the race they issued the parking permits and I found they had car registrations printed on them. I’d just changed my car so now had a different car registration, but was told I could just cross it out and write in the new one. Lucky!

At least once this was sorted I’d only have the training to worry about – right?

Training

This year I don’t think any training has gone according to plan as I’ve seemingly stumbled from race to race since I got back from Nepal in November 2016. To start the year off I built up to a marathon in Manchester and somehow, despite reduced training, managed to get a slight PB. Perhaps that wasn’t too bad a start, even if it hadn’t gone according to plan. Though I then had two weeks off running whilst I was travelling around a number of National Parks in the US. By the time I got back I had just two weeks until the Milton Keynes Marathon which I’d intended would be the start of ultra marathon training.

To start with I felt this went well – I did a 5K race on the Sunday and then ran back to my car afterwards (which was another 5K). On the Monday I then completed the aforementioned marathon. Every day that week up to and including the following Sunday I managed to complete at least a four mile run, and in a number of cases more than that. My legs were hopefully getting used to being tired at the end of this eight day run streak.

The following week I broke the run streak and switched to double run days – they weren’t all double run days though, but I felt that this switch in training would also help with training for Endure 24. On the Saturday that week I decided to do parkrun again for the first time since October 2015 – even though this was a parkrun PB I decided to follow it up with more running. By the end of the day I’d done four runs, though I had hoped to do a fifth. Sunday was a similar scenario – I’d intended to go out and run 26 miles, but after a tiring week I’d dropped this down to 20. This never actually happened though as I only managed 10.5 miles. I was getting in the runs, but I wasn’t getting in the mileage – it wasn’t going according to plan at all.

With just a few weeks left until Endure 24 I really wanted to start getting around 40 miles in over weekends, and to manage as close to 70 mile weeks as I could. Eventually I managed this at the end of May, though only because I did an extra long run during the week in addition to my usual two weekend long runs – I just couldn’t find the time to fit in 40 miles in one weekend.

Tweeting when I finally managed a 70 mile week did however bring about the wrath of some runners who believe that a 70 mile week for an ultra is too much. The implication there was that a 62 mile race (which is my next one) doesn’t warrant that number of miles. However, when you consider a lot of the faster marathon runners would run in excess of that number for a marathon – is it wrong? I don’t think it is, I think it’s important to do the training that you feel best prepares you for whatever your goal or event is, and that’s what I was doing. Just because someone has a different opinion, it doesn’t change the fact that everyone is different. They then went on to judge the quality of sessions, without actually knowing what sort of sessions I was doing and at that point I decided they were either just a troll, or someone who has nothing better to do than to complain. Best ignored.

When Endure 24 happened I found it far tougher than I expected which resulted in me walking the majority of the last ten miles I did. Once this was over I was no longer feeling ready for Race to the King, despite having done thirty miles in one block. In the weeks after this event I didn’t really feel like doing any long runs, in part due to the hotter weather, so kept them short up until the day.

Kit List

When I did Canalathon, my only previous “official” ultra marathon, there was a mandatory kit list that I had to comply with. I didn’t use everything I took with me, but I understood why it was necessary. With an ultra marathon you don’t know how long you’ll be out in the elements for, or what you’ll encounter, and it’s very likely you’ll be out longer than you expect. You have to be prepared for survival. For Race to the King I figured I’d be out for at least ten hours – that’s a lot of time to encounter issues, or for the weather to change drastically. So after some deliberation, I came up with my own kit list:

  • Salomon Agile² 7 Backpack with whistle and 2l reservoir,
  • Saucony Omni 15 trainers,
  • 2 x Garmin ForeRunner 235,
  • #UKRunChat #oneteam technical t-shirt,
  • Nike running shorts,
  • More Miles running socks,
  • Running cap,
  • Flipbelt,
  • buff,
  • Waterproof poncho,
  • Unilite PS-H8 headtorch with new batteries,
  • 3 x Compeed plasters,
  • 2 x large plasters (in case my backpack rubs),
  • SPF 50 sunscreen,
  • a small mixed bag of cashew nuts and pretzels,
  • cereal bars,
  • and a small bag of jelly babies.

Most of this had been tested previously at Endure 24, and even on some of my longer training runs so I felt this would work.

Pre-race Day

For this event I decided that I’d work on the basis that at the end of the race I’d be tired and would want as little travel as possible. So I booked two nights in a hotel not far from the finish in Winchester and drove down there after work on the Friday before the race. What I hadn’t realised though was that it was on the southbound side of the M3 with no access from the northbound side, so any trips to Winchester would be followed by a twenty mile round trip to turn around at the next junction. Such as the return journey after the race.

I’d started work an hour earlier than normal so I could be on the road to Winchester as soon as possible. This allowed me to get to the hotel for 17:30, and into the city centre shortly after. I found a short stay parking that I think may have been free after 18:00, but it also said you had to display a valid ticket. Unsure what to do I paid for an hour to get a ticket, and found it’d give me until 09:00 the following morning.

I’d decided to eat at Prezzo as it was easy to find, and I knew they did spaghetti bolognese. Being on my own also meant service was incredibly quick as I’d ordered and finished within fifteen minutes of entering. It took another ten minutes to pay, but I still think that was pretty good going! Unfortunately Winchester Cathedral was closed for the day so I couldn’t see Jayne Austen’s grave, but I did wander over to the statue of King Alfred to take a photograph – hopeful that despite an upset stomach that I’d still get to see it the following evening.

I was back at the hotel by 20:00, and ready to finally rest ahead of what would certainly be a long day.

Race Day

I didn’t sleep much, but this was it – today I’d be running over 50 miles if all went well. Crazy. I got up at 04:45 and quickly had breakfast – wanting to make sure I’d digested it as well as possible before setting off. I’d gone for my normal breakfast of crunchy nut cornflakes and a cup of tea, but added a third of a banana to the mix to recover some potassium from the last 24 hours. I also decided to add immodium to my race kit just in case. I was at the nearby park and ride by 06:10 in time for the 06:30 shuttle to Gaston Farm in Arundel. Fortunately I’d asked others about the location of this park and ride before the event as Google listed two, and neither the event website or the booking website indicated which of these it would be (though the parking permit I later received did). I noticed that the parking that had cost £10 would normally be £3 for the day if the car park hadn’t been commandeered for this event.

As I’d got to the park and ride early they let me on the 06:15 shuttle to the start. If I hadn’t been in such a rush I’d have remembered to pack my sunscreen – I’d taken it out of my bag to apply some before boarding the coach, but then never did, and left it behind in my car. I suspect though that it’d have been faster to have gotten on the 06:30 coach when our driver went the wrong way and came face to face with another coach. She then had to reverse along a winding country lane no wider than the bus – that was some impressive reversing skills! Eventually I made it to the race village, and collected by number. I was asked my name a few times, just in case I didn’t know my own name, as it took them a while to find my race pack.

Once I’d attached my race number to my shorts I spotted @SamABaxter so went over to talk to him as we watched the first two waves start off on their Race to the King through clouds of purple smoke from some flares. I’d hoped to say “hi” to @Mazzie1111 though once again we managed to miss each other as she set off in the first wave. Just before the third wave, the one I was in, was due to set off we bumped into @JenningsNicola and had a quick pre-race photograph. Apparently my race pack should have contained a map, but hadn’t – fortunately I was told that the signage is really good on this course. During the course of the day I found this to be completely true.

At last this was it – I was off on the start of a 53.5 mile run back to Winchester. I’m sure there must be an easier way to get back there. Instead we were all setting off across the field which soon takes a sharp right onto a trail outside of the field and from there it was a steady run along the South Downs Way.

After about a mile I’d warmed up enough to take off my jumper and tie it around my waist, though in doing so I managed to stop my watch and didn’t notice for almost a full minute – by which time I was on an uphill section, struggling to pass walkers swinging their walking poles around in the air. I’m not sure if it was that they didn’t want people passing them through the narrow path through the grasses, or whether they were just not thinking about what they were doing. In any case, it became a bit of an obstacle course to avoid them – but I realised I’d already caught up with the back of the second wave. Perhaps if I was lucky I could catch up with some of them from the first wave so I could say “hi” to @Mazzie1111 after all.

Once passed the narrow trail I was able to pass the walkers and start running again, and did so for the next three miles – occasionally talking to some of the others around. It was a very different experience to road races I’ve done as normally people around me don’t talk – they’re concentrating too much on running. In fact, another difference here was seeing people call out which side they’re passing on to make sure they don’t run into anyone – much better sportsmanship I think. Everyone is working together to get through the race.

At around 7 miles into the race, after the first of the really big hills, I saw a sign for Winchester that said it was 45 miles away – great. Thanks for the reminder. I’d been tempted to take a photo of the sign, but my phone was tucked safely away and would have taken too much effort to get out. Maybe for the best, at least at this point I was still mostly running.

The first pit stop was at only 8 miles into the race. Normally, if it had been a marathon and I’d not had an upset stomach the day before, I’d have started eating jelly babies from this point. However, I slowed down to see what was at the pit stop but carried on through. I’d not even sipped at the 1.5 litres of water I was carrying in my backpack at this point. In fact, by the end of the race I’d only used half a litre of what I was carrying. Why drink water when there’s tea on offer?

Even though I wanted to carry on running, I had to stop when we reached another narrow trail through stinging nettles and thorns which people were walking through. I was eager to run, but had no choice but to walk for the next mile. Another thing that kept breaking up my running was the need to open and close gates as the route passed from field to field. Though, for the next few miles I decided to walk for the up-hill sections, and to only run where it was flat or going down hill. My thought was that this would conserve much needed energy for when I’d really need it.

Even though there had been spots of rain throughout the morning it hadn’t been that bad. Eventually there was a downpour strong enough to warrant me getting my waterproof poncho out of my backpack. It turned out it’s really difficult to put on when it’s windy. After a few miles though I was able to take it off, and then tied it to my backpack. The running was becoming incredibly hard work, though just when I needed it a song on my iPhone kept me going that little bit longer.

May this lift you up,
When you feel you’ll fall again,
You cannot win, no,
Hope these words are enough,
For you to be strong, my friend,
Sometimes you fall before you rise,
Sometimes you lose it all to find,
You’ve gotta keep fighting,
And get back up again.
— My Champion, by Alter Bridge

 

I then turned my music off to save battery power for my phone – thinking I’d want that later. Though after mile 14 I didn’t listen to music again for the rest of the course. It’s odd though as I looked at my watch at mile 14.9 – the second pit stop, and the next time I looked at it, after some big hill climbs, I was at mile 22. I couldn’t believe that eight miles had just disappeared like that. At the second pit stop I didn’t stop for fuel or drink, but I did quickly nip into the portaloo for the only time during this race. After that I decided to try eating some cashew nuts, almonds, and pretzels during the long climb after stop. To get to this climb we had to cross a public road for the first time on this course. This next mile was one of the biggest overall climbs for a mile split in the entire race – it was 357 feet of climbing over one mile. Around this time we summited another peak and found a photographer waiting for us next to a cairn there – possibly the last photographer until the end.

At mile 23.4 I reached pit stop 3 after a slight diversion off the course to cross timing mats. This was where 1-day and 2-day runners would stop for the day. I envied them – it felt a shame I couldn’t stop there and carry on tomorrow, but instead I grabbed what I thought was some flat coke (as advertised) but turned out to be fizzy pepsi (noooo!) and half a banana. I felt the fizzy drink was a bad idea and then walked for most of the next mile along the quiet country road – a trend that continued to the eventual finish.

The hills continued to crop up on us, but with every climb it gave us views of the countryside around and of villages in the distance. It was starting to feel like every pit stop was down hill after one of the big hill climbs. This trend continued with pit stop four where I stopped for a cup of tea and a packet of crisps – and for the first time I actually sat down. This turned out to be a bad idea though as I found it difficult to get going again and it felt like 31.4 miles was going to be my limit. I’d run this distance before at Canalathon, and wasn’t far off this at Endure 24. I needed to keep going so I pushed on through it and eventually got my legs moving properly again.

Finally I got running and started to enjoy some more running through a wooded area. I found it fun whenever I got the chance to dodge tree routes, but along this section I also had to jump over a high tree root, and climb over a fallen tree. I was feeling incredibly tired, so much so that when a wasp landed on my glasses I did nothing. I just accepted I had a wasp now and that it’d be with me until it got bored.

I kept on running as I reached another field of wheat though eventually I found that once more I needed to walk. Sometimes in tough races you wonder why you’re running, and question running ever again. This was one of those moments where I even thought doing Race to the Stones would be a stupid idea.

I desired to live worthily as long as I lived, …

— King Ælfrēd the Great

The course was getting tough again, and this time I got my phone out and tweeted about how hard the course was. This resulted in a few tweets of encouragement that did help me to get running again, though I didn’t run that many of the miles through Queen Elizabeth Country Park. I’d also tweeted @Mazzie1111 who’d set off in the first wave and I found at some point I’d overtaken her without having realised it. I guess we’d meet at some other race, unless she caught me up whilst I was walking.

The hill climb up to pit stop 5 was unlike any before it – I found myself wanting to stop, but I pushed on and eventually started pushing my hands onto my legs to try and help with the climb. It seemed to go on forever and one of the others I was walking passed was on a mobile phone and commented that it felt like she’d been walking up this hill for ten minutes. It was a big hill, but not quite that bad – at least I didn’t think it was but time has a funny way of passing during an ultra marathon. At this pit stop they had camping chairs – far more comfortable for sitting on so I sat and had another cup of tea which I’d been wanting for the past couple of miles, a cup of orange squash, and a fudge chocolate bar. Maybe it wasn’t the best fuelling but I was hungry and felt I should eat something.

For a while I spoke to another runner who had set off in the first wave and was nursing an injury. I can’t imagine what it must be like to run with an injury over this sort of distance – hopefully he was able to finish. I eventually left him behind, but over the next few miles we did switch places occasionally until I’d run for long enough to stay ahead. It wasn’t intentional, I was just running whenever I could.

At around 42 miles I got to the top of Beacon Hill and this was the last of the big climbs, though it wasn’t the last climb on the course. Not long after this was pit stop 6 where I sat down once more, had another cup of tea, some orange juice, and another fudge chocolate bar. This time I also picked up a second with the intention of eating it on the course if I needed to.

Whenever the downhill sections appeared I ran for the majority of them. The ones that were riddled with tree routes and felt like very technical areas were the ones I found to be the most fun – and powering down them also got comments from runners who then passed me later about how brave it was to go at those speeds down the hills. I didn’t feel it was, I just felt it was fun – I don’t mind the concentration it takes! After the race I did find that some of these sections I’d taken  that quickly that I’d hit 2:53min/mile pace on the descent. I know on one of them though I had to jump out of the way for two mountain bikers that sailed passed me from behind.

I wasn’t sure when as I’d stopped looking at my watch for sometime, but I found that eventually I got to a railway line, and with it were steps to go up onto the bridge and over the tracks. It feels a little sadistic to throw steps at someone after they run over 40 miles. Not long after this though I stopped at mile 44.5 to help a runner who had cramp in his calves. He couldn’t ease them off however, and even offering to help him to the next pit stop he decided to pull out of the race. It’s a shame to get so close, but then have that happen.

The last few pit stops had been fairly close together, and this next one was only 2.8 miles after the one before. This was the last pitstop and I made a conscious effort to run as much of the mile before it as I could. My calves and my feet were aching so much at this point and I didn’t think I could do anything other than walk for the just over 10K that remained. I quickly drank some orange squash, some blackcurrant squash, and then stretched out. As I was getting ready to leave the pit stop I was offered some warm minestrone soup so accepted graciously and took it with me. The support at every pitstop had been amazing and they were eager to help and to motivate.

I hadn’t thought it through though as although it meant I could take on some much needed salt I’d need to carry the cup with me to the finish (though I found a bin in Winchester I could drop it into before the actual finish). It seemed that after crossing an A road that most of what was left would be down hill so I ran as frequently as I could.

After crossing the M3 bridge I was then in Winchester, I just had 3km left to go but didn’t have any running left in me. I tried to run for short bursts, but felt that if I ran too much of what was left I may end up walking over the finish line. This was mostly down hill though so I ran when I could. Eventually I got to the road that runs passed the Bishop’s college and under the arches of St. Swithun-upon-Kingsgate Church. It’d started to rain, but by this point it didn’t bother me. I saw a crowd ahead and they started to cheer – I thanked them as I rounded the corner and realised the finish was in sight! At last! Wanting it to be over I sprinted to the finish and then realised that there were a few steps I’d not seen – some people also shouted this out as a warning; but I’d already got this covered by a leap that took me clear of the steps. When I landed I turned on the spot and sat down on the stonework at the base of the cross in front of Winchester cathedral. I’d finished, completing an overall climb of 5,456 feet, and had earned myself another 4 UTMB points. Not that I’d ever use them.

The photographer at the side of me commented that if I’d had that left in me at the end that I’d not run hard enough. I had though, it’d taken a lot to get to the finish. The finishing medal was put over my head, and I got up to see where I could get food. I’d thought there might have been something to eat at the finish, but there was nothing. At least I didn’t think there was, but when I went passed the following day I found a sign to the foot hidden behind the information tent – not easy to see!

I finished 160th out of the non-stop 53.5 mile runners with an official chip time of 11:25:06. Of those that started there were 581 finishers (which meant I’d somehow managed to walk into the first 27.5%) but there were many that had been unable to finish. It was a tough course though and I could totally understand it – I was surprised I’d been able to finish. I was even more surprised I’d finished with 20% of power left on my running watch – I hadn’t needed to use the back-up one I’d borrowed from my sister!

I saw some coaches parked up to take people back to the park and ride, and found that they’d leave every hour on the hour. I decided this would give me enough time to eat, so I hobbled up the hill to Ask Italian for pizza. It was uncomfortable sitting there, but after stretching a little I found I could sit long enough to eat my pizza. I couldn’t quite finish it though as it took 15 minutes to take my order, and I’d got limited time if I wanted to be on the 21:00 shuttle.

After the 20 mile drive from the park and ride to the hotel, and the climb up the stairs I was done. I could relax in a steaming hot bath, and start thinking about my next race.

Post-race Day

I woke up early and tried to stay in bed for as long as possible, but by 06:30 I’d decided I’d get breakfast. My plans for today had been for a bit of Winchester tourism, and to look around the cathedral I’d missed the opportunity to see when I’d last been in Winchester. With it not being open until 12:30 I had quite some wait ahead of me, but at least my legs had recovered from yesterday’s efforts – I didn’t even have any blisters. I guess walking most of it had it’s advantages – I’d even come out of this blister-free.

Before heading back to the city I sat around the hotel for a few hours and found that a photo of me jumping to the finish had made it onto Race to the Kings favourite photos of the day list. When I got into town I parked up in the same place before and spent some time cheering in the first of the day 2 runners whilst eating a Subway sub, and waiting for the cathedral to open.

For those finishing on the second day they now had someone dressed as a knight you could have your photo taken with. I finally got my chance to go in the cathedral as well – and surprising it was free!

Having had time to reflect on the race it didn’t seem so bad. Sure it was the hardest race I’d ever done, and some of those hills were immense. I’d walked a lot, but I’d seen a lot of places I’d not seen before. I wished I’d taken more time to photograph some of the route – any of it in fact, but I’d finished. All that remained now was my final challenge of the year – Race to the Stones. At least now I’d completed a run that would give me an idea of what it would be like.

Mizuno Endure 24 2017

Endure24-Wasing-logoI’d heard of the “Endure 24” race before, though I knew absolutely nothing about it other than the obvious – that it was a 24 hour race. In my mind it was like Le Mans – the famous endurance car racing event which is coming up to it’s 100th year.

After I’d already signed up for both Race to the King and Race to the Stones I was asked by Charly to join her team – “Team Half Pints”, as they needed some more runners. I thought it was a bit close to RTTK, but I figured that it could be good training. I then agreed to join the team under the condition that I’d get to at least do a 25 or 30 mile block in addition to whatever other running they needed me to do. This brought the team up to:

  • Charly (@_charly_b)
  • Steve (@1stevemac)
  • Kim (@kimberlyjmil)
  • Stephanie (@wentrunning)
  • David (@DavidNFLF1)
  • Myself

This would be the first race of 2017 that #TheDavids, which @DavidNFLF1 and myself are collectively known as by #UKRunChat on Twitter, would be doing the same event. After a few months had passed we sadly lost Kim and Stephanie from the team as they suffered with injuries. We were then unable to replace them before the April deadline. This would mean the four of us remaining in the team would need to increase the number of miles in order to make up the difference – an average of an extra two hours running each. This could potentially work okay for me though as if I wasn’t doing this event my goal would have been to do thirteen slow miles on the Saturday, and then thirty miles on the Sunday. There were a still things to sort though – for instance I had no idea where the race was, and hadn’t known there were multiple locations for it. Before the race I did at least learn that it was near Reading in a place called Wasing Park.

Training

I’m not sure if training for Endure 24 is specifically required as realistically when you’re part of a team you’re doing five mile laps and have time to recover in between them. I think the closest training you could probably do for that is to run five miles (or however many laps you’re doing per block) and to then repeat this a little later in the day. My training hadn’t been ideal though, but this is something I’ll go into in more detail when I post about Race to the King and Race to the Stones. I would be going into this race having not completed more than 26.2 miles in a day, but having done 40-70 mile weeks during the build-up.

Training for Endure 24 isn’t something I’d even thought about – my only thoughts had been towards the “bigger” events, though as I got closer to Endure 24 I started to think about easing off on the training a little for the week before the event. I was also starting to really look forward to the day but the weather wasn’t looking good – we were forecast strong winds and lots of rain. Just what you want at the end of spring when you’re camping in a tent.

Kit and Equipment Lists

This was unlike any other race I’ve done – I needed camping gear for the weekend. Now camping is not something I’ve really done much of – I did it once at Silverstone with some friends when we watched the Renault World Series. They brought all the gear however as they already had it – I just needed a sleeping bag, airbed, and a pillow. My first week in Nepal could also be considered camping as well, but again a very different experience and was using equipment that had been ready set up by the Impact Marathons team. For Endure 24 I’d need to at least buy a tent, and would need to expand upon what sleeping gear I had.

My car isn’t particularly big, it’s only an MX-5 which is a fairly small car. Whatever would go with me to the event would need to fit in my boot (if you’re North American – that’s a trunk) along with my bag for work. What I eventually came up with is:

  • Kelty Salida 2-person tent with footprint,
  • Down 500 Sleeping bag,
  • Sea to Summit Silk Liner for sleeping bag,
  • Exped Air Pillow (with pillow case),
  • BCB self-inflating sleeping mat,
  • camping clothes line (for airing used running clothes),
  • solar powered lantern,
  • earplugs,
  • camping chair,
  • picnic blanket,
  • Swiss army knife,
  • sunscreen,
  • tissue paper,
  • plenty of water.

In addition to camping gear, I obviously needed to take some running kit with me as well. It’s recommended by the organisers to take everything you own with you, though I decided I wouldn’t. What I instead decided was to take enough to last a few blocks under the assumption that I’d be able to do blocks of multiple laps instead of breaking them up too much. It would of course depend upon what the others wanted to do.

  • 2 x Saucony Omni 15 trainers,
  • Garmin ForeRunner 235,
  • 1 x Salomon Agile² 7 Backpack with whistle and 2l reservoir,
  • 1 x Technicals waterproof jacket,
  • 1 x Peter Storm waterproof trousers,
  • 1 x Unilite PS-H8 headtorch with new batteries,
  • 3 x technical t-shirts,
  • 2 x running shorts,
  • 3 x running socks,
  • 2 x Flipbelt,
  • 1 x buff,
  • 1 x running hoodie,
  • and a small bag of jelly babies.

I’d of course have my mobile phone on me as well to provide some music whilst running, and so to supplement this I’d also have my USB power pack. The backpack is something I probably wouldn’t need, though I packed it just in case during the 25-30 mile block there was some hot weather – I may find I’d need some water. I also didn’t pack much food for when I wasn’t running either – my assumption was that I could get some reasonable cooked food from the catering services there. I was careful to pack my usual crunchy nut cornflakes for breakfast though – I felt some consistency was important.

The Event

Most people travelled to the event on the Friday morning – but I didn’t want the day off work so travelled in the evening. I started the day earlier than usual so I could leave the office at 15:00. The drive from the office to Reading could be anywhere between two to three hours, or maybe even longer if I stopped for food. I didn’t want to arrive too late though as upon arrival I’d still need to get my tent set-up. I’d tried it out the weekend before so I could do it quickly, however I figured it might take longer in the wind or rain.

After 2.5 hours and 100 miles later I arrived at Wasing Park. The entrances were well sign posted and I found the area the rest that half the team had already set-up in pretty quickly. It took ten minutes to get my tent set-up but then a further twenty minutes to figure out how to attach the guy ropes. Once everything was set-up inside my tent as well I then went for a wander around the race village to see what it was like, and to get some food.

The food options in the race village were very basic, more so than even some of the races I’ve done. After having wandered around the area for a while taking photographs I returned to our camp site to relax. An hour later I wandered around once more to see the start of the 1 mile race, and to say “hi” to @FiaCarter who was also running as part of another team.

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Eventually the last of our team members arrived, and after @DavidNFLF1 had cooked his dinner everyone was ready for the day ahead.By 22:00 most of the light was gone from the sky, but the music of pre-race partying continued for some time after this. The temperature had also dropped so eventually I decided to call it a night and to see how warm my tent would be. I also took this time to figure out a way to suspend the lantern in my tent.

I awoke at 05:00 around the time that the sun rose. It was peaceful around, so I didn’t get up for a couple more hours. As I could be running I decided to go for my normal breakfast of crunchy nut cornflakes, a cup of tea, and a couple of biscuits. My flask by this time had cooled off which meant I had to buy some tea from the refreshments tent for £1.20. Around this time the others on the team started to awake and have breakfast.

It was a warm and sunny morning, but out of the sun it was windy and cold. This morning was a chance to make sure all our kit was ready for the running ahead of us. We also got a printed copy of our team’s schedule so we’d know roughly when we’d be running. My first planned run wasn’t until tomorrow, but there were gaps where I could potentially get in a run or two.

At 11:50 we all headed over to the start for the briefing and then cheered Charly as she started our team off. An hour later David took over and got around in under forty minutes, before being followed up by Steve who was going to do five back to back laps. As everyone came close to completing their fast lap I was ready with my camera to take photographs of them.

By the time Steve finished his fifth lap we were forty minutes ahead of schedule. David then set off on his second lap – unlike me and Steve he was splitting his thirty miles up across the twenty-four hours to get more of the Endure 24 experience. I decided I’d do the lap after him so headed over to the transition area and waited. Whilst there one of the ones that had just set off collapsed in the transition area, and needed to be helped out. Her teammates seemed more interested in getting another runner back to the pen to take over though. Sometimes competitiveness is too much – especially in an event like this which is about camaraderie – at best the competition should be amongst your teammates.

David finished his lap in around 36 minutes so I took over and started my watch for the first time this weekend. To start with the course goes along a tarmac path before it passed through an inflatable archway over some boarded up cattle-grids. This was the proper start to the race as the tarmac changed to gravel and started with a gentle climb up (referred to as the “Hill of No Return”) to a flat bit passed an old church. This was the first 1K complete.

Passed this it turns into a proper trail race through the trees, though for the next 1K a buggy carrying marshals was trying to overtake me, but even with me running on the grass verge it wouldn’t overtake for sometime. Eventually it did, but then found that running behind it was actually slowing me down. The marshals were looking out the back of it and smiling – perhaps in amusement that the buggy wasn’t going any faster than I was running.

A little after the first mile is complete it goes into a downhill stretch – a fast one they call “Pace Gully”. Apt name. Though this then has a sharp turn up “Little Steep” hill to 3K and into the “Far Away Forest”. At times this was making me think of Centre Parcs in Sherwood Forest, and at other times it reminded me of hikes I’ve done in the US. I even wished someone a happy birthday as they had a sign on their back to say it was – what a way to celebrate!

Between miles 3 and 4 there is a VDUB Cocktail Bar – which I think was serving energy drinks, and the Cliff Bar Cafe which was serving water. Around this area there are a number of lakes you can look down on from the trail, and it became a bit of a welcome distraction. I’d chosen to run without music and I found other than the odd comparison of my surroundings to places I’d been before, I was for the most-part concentrating on getting passed slower moving traffic, a lot of which was walking. I was surprised how many people were walking, but then when it’s a 24 hour race I shouldn’t really be that surprised. It was difficult to pass in some places though when people walked side by side with no space for people to overtake unless they ran through the bushes.

After the 5K mark I was just approaching 22 minutes – it appeared that although I wasn’t pushing I was making relatively good time. The one thing I didn’t want to do was walk on this first lap, and I knew what was coming up next was the one part I might need to for – Heartbreak Hill. This was a long inclination that seemed to last for some time, but what made it harder was needing to weave through the masses of people walking up it. I tried my best not to slow, though eventually I decided it didn’t matter if I slowed down, as long as I didn’t walk.

Eventually I reached the top, out of breath, but I kept on going. By the time I was in the area labelled “Deep Dark Swamp” I’d caught my breath and was back to a steady pace that was easy to sustain. What followed required some concentration to avoid roots sticking out of the ground. In some ways it reminded me of Nepal, especially when the pace picked up for the downhill sections. There was then a bit that was windy and included some very sharp, short drops that I decided to jump down to avoid slowing.

I could then see the farm building and realised that I wasn’t far from the end now, and started to hear the music and crowds as I left the trees and started on the switchback behind one of the camping areas and then around towards the finish. After rounding the corner I decided I might as well use some speed, and built up to a sprint finish through the Mizuno arch. It wasn’t my fastest finish, but I just wanted to give my legs a bit of a stretch before tomorrow. The announcer commented on an incredibly strong finish this far into the race – little did he know it was actually my first lap and I was still quite fresh.

I handed the wristband over to David so he could set off on the last lap before sunset. Although we’d got some time left, we’d decided we’d all have a break before going out again. I went to the refreshments tent and bought pasta bolognese (it wasn’t spaghetti), a cake, and a bottle of Fanta. After this I had some more time to relax whilst I considered whether or not I wanted to go out on a night lap – it’d be a new experience for me. Even though I’ve ran at night with a head-torch a few times I’ve never raced at night. Common sense prevailed though and instead I decided to get some rest.

With some earplugs I was eventually able to sleep though the noise, though was woken up just after midnight by the rain. This carried on until around 04:00 and I heard that the course was now incredibly slippery. An hour later I gave up on trying to sleep and decided to have breakfast and tidy my tent. The advantage to this was that it would give me time to digest my breakfast long before I needed to run.

Just before I headed over to the refreshments tent for a cup of tea Charly had gone to meet Steve who was just finishing his extra three laps, and was with David who was going to take over for another. David had done another two laps over night spread out over several hours so had experienced the dark and the rain.

After emptying most of my tent into my car I found that although the rain had been stopped a few hours the long grass was drenching my running shoes. I hadn’t thought that through, but fortunately I’d still got a spare pair of running shoes and socks I could change into before taking over.

I then set off on the first of what I hoped would be six laps – a total of 30 miles. Or it would have been if the course wasn’t short by about 0.2 miles. I set off at a slower pace than my lap the day before as I knew it was going to be difficult. In fact, I decided to walk each of the three main hills on every lap thinking that would improve my chances of doing the laps I wanted to.

This first lap felt relatively easy, though I could still feel the previous day’s efforts in my legs. The track was far muddier than it had been, and this made “Little Steep” and “Heartbreak Hill” take more effort. In fact, on this first lap I was going around fast enough to slide in the mud as I rounded the corner of that hill. The run through the section with the tree roots was just as fun, and by the time I finished the first lap I was having fun. For the first time I ran straight through the finish and carried on into my second lap.

This lap was slower than the last, and there were a couple more moments when I walked. Fortunately it was still early  so hadn’t yet warmed up too much. This second lap of the day was also quieter than the lap I did the day before, even the VDUB bar hadn’t started up yet. During this lap I started to eat one jelly baby per mile – my usual race plan when racing marathons. I was starting to feel some fatigue though, and as I finished my second lap I started to calculate in my head what sort of pace I’d need to manage in order to get another 4 laps done.

The third lap went pretty similar to the second lap, but by now it was starting to get warm. It seemed that the overnight rain hadn’t eliminated the humidity either. The bits of the trail that had been muddy before were now even more churned up as more runners were returning to the course. I found I needed to walk a little more than before on this lap and I started to wonder if I could complete another three. I was almost halfway though and couldn’t give up – this was training for Race to the King; something one of the signs on the course reminded me of. I figured if I couldn’t run this then I couldn’t run that.

My fourth lap was incredibly hard work, but I was still running for reasonable sections of it. When I started my fifth lap I was seriously considering making it my last as I started to walk for about 75% of the course. This would take me up to 25 miles for the day, and 30 for the event. It didn’t seem too bad really. Maybe I didn’t need to finish another. When I finished this fifth lap it was only 11:20 – there was time for another so reluctantly I carried on going though this time I got my phone out of my backpack and decided to walk the entire lap to take photographs along the way.

I tried to run a couple of times but my legs weren’t really that keen on the idea. I was struggling to finish 30 miles; it wasn’t like I was trying to do 53 or even 62. Eventually though the end was in sight and I decided to run, and then decided I’d try to go for a sprint finish.

Finally, I finished another lap. The race was over and I could at least be happy I’d done more laps than originally planned. I think I may have done the fastest lap in our team, and possibly the longest single block of laps as well. Steve managed to clock up the most miles having done around 40 miles over the 24 hours.

When I finished I handed over the chip timer and they placed the medal around my neck. Though all I was really thinking about now was Race to the King. Though this was replaced with thoughts of getting my tent down (thanks Steve and Charly for the hand!) and driving the two hours home.

The other David seemed to be filled with endless energy and seemed to love every minute of the weekend. He was also the only one of us who went for the more traditional approach of doing one lap at a time, yet still managed to get six laps in over the period. I think we all have a big thank you to Charly for putting the team together and making sure we were all organised.

MK Marathon Weekend 2017 Part 2 – The Marathon

Two races. Two days. On the Sunday for this bank holiday weekend I did the Rocket 5K in Milton Keynes as part of their Marathon Weekend event. It didn’t quite go according to plan as I’d hoped to achieve one of my running goals through it, but missed completely. Then, the day after this was the Milton Keynes marathon – my second marathon for 2017, and my ninth in the past three years (okay so it’s only two and half years since I did my first – but this is a rounder number).

For this marathon I didn’t go down the same route as Manchester – I didn’t have gold, silver, and bronze goals. In fact, I had no goals, and didn’t even have a plan. From a certain point of view I’d not really trained to do another marathon so soon as I’d not been running much this month due to my time in what was essentially a desert in the US.

My hope was that I’d take my time on tired legs, have a bit of fun, and hopefully complete the marathon in order to kick off the training for my biggest runs of the year during the summer. The Achilles tendon on my right foot was feeling a little tight after the efforts of the previous day, so there were no certainties here. I’d predicted beforehand though, and mentioned to @treb91, that I’d complete the race in between 3:30 and 3:45 – it was about right for what I’d do in training so made sense.

Although the race start was an hour later than the previous day I had to set off at the same time in the hope of finding somewhere to park. For this event there was no parking at the venue other than a small number of spaces that sold out before I had chance to book. They also hadn’t suggested where it would be possible to park – they only indicated where we shouldn’t. This alone was putting me off repeating this event in future, even though it’s likely I’d do the Rocket 5K again.

On the morning of the event I drove through what started off as heavy rain, but by the time I parked up in Bletchley the rain had stopped. There was some home that I might get to stay dry. From where I parked it was about twenty minutes to the stadium, and once there I hung around until the race start. I also met up with @runningozzy who was doing the half and stood around talking until it was time to drop of my backpack and make my way to the starting pens.

In the time I’d been inside it’d warmed up outside considerably, with the sun breaking through the clouds. As the start time got closer they moved the red pen into position, and then the one I was in – this would be the first wave of the staggered start. I decided as I had no interest in pushing hard for this race that I’d start at the very back of the wave.

Within 50 metres of the race starting I found I’d already got a stitch, despite running far slower than I normally would. I decided if I kept running through it, at an even slower pace, that it’d eventually go. Sure enough, by the time I reached the end of the first mile it did the same as the local support – it vanished. I then ran as I normally would and somehow overtook the 3:30 and the 3:15 pacers before the second mile marker, and it was some time before I saw either of them again.

For the first three miles it was mostly the same route as the Rocket 5K, but in reverse. This mean that although bits of this was down hill, there was a considerable amount of up hill to run and also a few “there and back again” bits. I found these made me feel slower, though whether I was actually going slower I didn’t check.

After mile 4 the route then headed back in the direction of the MK Dons stadium. So far the route hadn’t been that scenic and was a little boring, but at least the sun was still shining. It was actually warm enough already that I tried to keep to the shadows whenever possible, thinking it might keep me a little cooler. Before reaching the stadium it then veered off to the left and from there it was new territory, and the scattered support from the locals returned.

Somewhere around mile 7, we also left behind the half marathon runners as they went off on their own course for the remainder. Over the next few miles we went through small villages and parks and at last it was a scenic route, even though it had clouded over and occasionally rained. I even found myself thinking that it wasn’t that bad and perhaps I’d consider this marathon in future. These miles were also the first of a few times we had to move aside for passing cars on sections of road that weren’t closed – unless the drivers didn’t realise they were supposed to be. This reminded me of my cool down jog from the day before when I saw a blue Audi mount the curb to get passed the cones blocking the road the runners were still on. It had then shot passed them, and I’d hoped nobody was injured.

My mind wandered back to the present day, and I was soon passing the half way mark. I’d covered the first half in around 95 minutes – possibly slightly too fast for a training run, even if this actually was a race. I cut back on the pace a little, and as I got close to mile 15 I heard people talking behind me. One commented that they were 90 seconds ahead of 3:15 pace and that was pleasing – I didn’t really expect to get. I knew eventually I’d walk – I never had any doubt of that, and that would eventually put me somewhere behind that time. Probably by 10 – 20 minutes depending on how soon I started.

Shortly after I found it was the 3:15 pace group that I’d heard, and they soon came storming through as I crossed mile 15. For most of the next half mile I hung with them, but then I started to walk through Great Linford Park. Part of me was disappointed that I hadn’t stayed running for longer. In Manchester I’d kept going for longer; though I’d more or less trained for that, I hadn’t had a two week break, and hadn’t run a 5K race the day before. I should have expected it really, but it didn’t matter – as long as I could complete the distance it would be ample training for Race to the King. In the ultra I would of course be walking – there’s no chance I’ll be able to run 53 miles without walking.

It’s crazy to think, but I took twenty-one walking breaks over the remaining distance. There were points I didn’t really feel like running, but I tried to keep running as much as possible knowing it’d be better to get the miles in the legs.  When I got to mile 16 I was just ahead of the 2 hour mark, and could still see the pace group but as time went on they disappeared further and further into the distance.

For mile 17 there was a tree lined path which reminded me a little of Leicester’s half and full marathon routes as they pass the space centre. No space centre here of course, but shortly after this I did spot @joannasbarlow sitting on the wall and said “hi” as I passed. Amazingly this was at one of the points when I was actually running. The route was getting closer and closer to the stadium but there were still miles left to cover. For the first few miles after taking walking breaks I’d tried to make sure that I stayed running for most of the mile, but when I got bored of jelly babies and stopped eating them I started to find this more difficult.

From about mile 19 we were too close to the city for there to be scenic parts, and the proximity to the major roads meant the underpasses were becoming frequent. I found these made it difficult to keep a constant pace and soon found myself walking up the hills more and more. Though during mile 25 it’s back onto the path alongside the dual carriageway with the stadium in sight.

I started to get back into a rhythm and a runner alongside me started talking to me. Usually this doesn’t happen to me during a run! Though the first comment was that I looked like I’d only just started the race and was still fresh. Sadly this was far from the truth. I walked some more during this mile, but once I reached the entrance to the stadiums carpark I didn’t walk again.

The sight of the stadium and the crowds kept me going and it felt like I was increasing my pace. The path the rounded the corner and headed towards the stadium entrance where it goes down a ramp. I was pretty sure that there was a sign there indicating just 200 metres left, however I think it was more like 0.2 miles that was left.

At the bottom of the ramp it met the concrete and astroturf surrounding the pitch of the MK Dons stadium. For this the route went along one side, then across the top of the field behind the goal, and then half way down the other side. Once I reached the corner I decided I may as well sprint to the finish and got up to 5:26min/mile pace. It seemed like a good idea, but then the entire width of the path was taken up by 5 or 6 of the local club runners holding hands so nobody could pass.

I decided to run into the rope so that went it stretched I could sprint passed them – it worked and I was able to weave at a sprint around those in front to cross the finish line. Once around the other corner they hand you a water bottle, and then the medal appropriate to the distance you’ve just run.

From there it’s a walk up the ramp and into the hall inside the stadium. They then hand you a banana and a goodie bag with a t-shirt of your specified size. In this bag there was also a brioche, a packet of crisps, a milkshake, and an energy gel.

As I’d completed the MK Marathon Weekend Challenge, after collecting my backpack I also had to collect the medal for having completed this. For the next hour I sat and ate what had been in the goodie bag and waited for a friend to finish his first marathon so I could congratulate him at the end. I then had the fun of walking back to Bletchley to collect my car, though for some of this I was talking to another runner who had randomly started talking to me.

So for this “training” run I finished with a time of 3:31:54 in position 296 of 2020 finishers (first 14.6%). Not my best result, but then it was never going to be – I’m happy that I’ve managed to start my RTTK training.

MK Marathon Weekend 2017 Part 1 – Rocket 5K

Marathons and 5Ks are very different events with very different strategies. With a marathon you hold back for most of the race in the knowledge that later in the race it will benefit you. I find when I run this distance that I plan different paces throughout the race as I know I’ll tire too much towards the end – it’s all about discipline. With a 5K it’s very different – you put everything you’ve got into it from the start, and keep pushing for as long as you can, hopefully for the full 3.11 miles.

Last year I decided to try out the Rocket 5K event that Milton Keynes added as part of their marathon weekend. I could tell that it was a fast race, though I felt I didn’t push as hard as I could have (especially when I walked some of it). I came short of a sub-19 time and that was something I’d wanted to achieve. For 2017 I set my running goals as:

  • sub-19 5K,
  • sub-39 10K,
  • sub-89 HM,
  • 3:15 mara,
  • completing 100K race.

Up until this point I’d had three races booked to have a go at three of those goals, though for each of them I fell short. For one of them I did actually move my PB a little closer to my goal, but not close enough. The MK Rocket 5K seemed like the perfect opportunity to have a go at beating that sub-19 time again, though admittedly with how close I already was to it I should probably have been aiming for sub-18:30.

In reality my chances of getting a PB, or attaining my goal was slim due to having had two weeks with almost no running whilst in the US in the preceding weeks. I still wanted to have a go at it though so on the Sunday morning I drove to Milton Keynes to see what I could do. When I got there I spent the next twenty minutes trying to find my way to somewhere I could park. Fortunately I found somewhere about a mile away that only charged 50p per hour, and I used the distance to throw in a light warm-up run.

For the majority of the next hour I stood around in the relative cold waiting for the race to start whilst the DJ played classic hits such as Elton John’s “Rocket Man”, and David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”. This being a “rocket” 5K meant they were keeping with the space theme for both the music and the race number background. As the time approached it started to warm up and I wandered close to the start line. I stood around watching as the pen filled in around me. One of them just in front of me was talking about how she’d like to go sub-30 on this run. I’m no expert, but I think if the pen was organised it’d mean that wanting that sort of time wouldn’t put you two strides from the start line.

Once the race started quite a few people shot off like a rocket, weaving passed those near the front that had set off slower. The first section of this race was up a 3.5% hill to a crossroads where the route then begins it’s (mostly) downhill descent along Saxon Gate to the MK Dons stadium.

I didn’t look at my running watch often, but at the top of this hill before the descent I saw that my time was 06:43min/mile – far from good enough, and slower than my training during the week had been. During the first mile my pace was all over the place – it peaked at 5:41 but didn’t stay there long before my speed started to drop once more. There was some wind, but not that much, and I was finding I was wearing out quicker than I normally do. My thoughts at this point turned to wondering how I was ever going to manage a marathon in the morning. At the end of this first mile I glanced at my watch for the penultimate time, seeing that I’d done it in 06:06 – six seconds slower than what I’d seen as the worst-case scenario. It wasn’t looking promising.

I used this to try and push on after my pace had dropped to 6:43min/mile and for most of the second mile I managed to average close to the 06:00min/mile pace I’d wanted. It was tough going, but I couldn’t make up for the slow start to the second mile and finished this second one even slower. I didn’t look at my watch but after being overtaken by a couple of people I realised that my pace must have dropped. In actual fact I’d managed to slow by another six seconds, and I was now starting to struggle.

Over the next mile my thoughts were focused on having walked last year and missing my goal by a couple of seconds. This year I didn’t want to do that, I wanted to keep running no matter what as I knew I wouldn’t be happy with my time if I’d walked any of it. It was a constant battle, but something of a relief when I saw the “4K” sign, and the first glimpse of the MK Dons stadium in the distance.

I saw the point where I’d started walking last year and ran straight passed it – I wasn’t going to walk this time. Eventually the route turned right into the entrance of the stadium, and another runner passed me. I looked at my watch and saw that it was 18:43. It was just over ten seconds slower than what I’d wanted to finish in, but I thought maybe if I could get up to speed quickly I might just sneak in at under 19:00 and complete the first of my goals for the year.

I got up to 4:00 min/mile pace as quickly as I could and soon overtook the runner that had passed me moments before. I wasn’t  sure how long I could hold the pace for, but the finish was not only in sight, it was fast approaching so I just had to hold on that little bit longer.

When I crossed the line I looked straight at my watch and saw that I’d just missed sub-19:00 again. For the second year running. This year though I was two seconds slower at 19:03. A few seconds later I received an SMS confirming my official time as the same. This put me in position 44 of 1,569 overall finishers (first 2.8%). This also equated to being the 42nd male, and 25th in my age category.

It was a shame as I thought this was the one goal I could beat this year, but I couldn’t. I’ll need to work harder and try to get that sub-19 time at a parkrun later in the year. Someone I know on Twitter raised a good point – perhaps I’ve reached a plateau. It’s entirely possible, but as Bruce Lee apparently once said:

There are no limits. There are plateaus, but you must not stay there, you must go beyond them. If it kills you, it kills you. A man must constantly exceed his level.

What this means is that I’ll need to figure out how to push passed this – I really want to get that sub-19 time. To start with I’ll try just working harder and trying to get a few faster mid-week training runs in every two weeks. At the minute they’re slower than I could manage so perhaps picking the pace up on those may help. I’m also considering beginning a run streak on the lead-up to Race to the King and Race to the Stones, but I may try one parkrun before that. Just in case.

After the race I did a slow cool down run back to my car ready for the one hour drive home to try and relax before another day of running.

Greater Manchester Marathon 2017

Last year the Greater Manchester Marathon was a PB race for me, despite having had a 50K ultra marathon thirteen days before. I’d hoped with a solid winter of training I’d be able to improve upon this further and I’d once again set myself three different goals using the same naming technique as before:

  • Gold: 3h10
  • Silver: 3h15
  • Bronze: 3h20

When I got back from the Nepal International Marathon I found that it took a bit more work to get back into longer runs, probably because I’d had a week off running whilst I was in Nepal. This then offset my training plans by about a month, and then in January, to fit running around work, I shuffled some runs around and this resulted in an inflamed achilles. This meant I wasn’t running at all for a couple of weeks, and it was a few more weeks before I could get back into long runs. I adjusted my training plans accordingly but it meant I’d be about two months behind where I wanted to be, and catching back up wouldn’t be easy.

With about a month to go before the race day I was back to getting in long runs at the pace I wanted to be doing Manchester at; but by the time of my longest run, which was only 22 miles, I could only sustain the required pace for 17 miles. It was looking like I could finish a marathon with some walking, but I wasn’t going to be getting a PB. This then left me changing my goals to some that were more realistic.

  • Gold: 3h19
  • Silver: 3h25
  • Bronze: 3h35

Towards the end of training I also squeezed in a 10K and half marathon race, just to try and work on getting some of that speed back. Neither of these went to plan though, and were far slower than I’d have liked.

 

Pre-race Day

Once again I’d decided to take the train up to Manchester, and with an early start it meant I’d have the afternoon spare to look around the city. I decided that it’d make sense to get one of the £5.80 weekend travel cards again to make it easier to get around. The main difference this time was that I didn’t have any friends to meet-up with so would have about eight hours to waste before a group meal in the evening.

I wandered around the city for a time, trying to avoid the rain showers. Eventually though I was able to check into the hotel and lay my kit out for the morning.

The hotel was well situated, not far from the start and finish lines, and also not far the Tollgate Inn where the post-race meet-up would be.

After a wasted afternoon I headed back into the city to meet the others at Frankie & Bennys. It was busy on the trams due to a football match having just finished. It was sunny though, and showing signs of it warming up.

A common pre-race meal for a marathon is spaghetti bolognese so I didn’t disappoint and ordered it without looking at the menu. It was good to meet up with some familiar faces for food, and the restaurant staff were entertaining.

After a short tram ride back to the hotel it was an early night ready for the big day ahead.

 

Race Day

The hotel was noisy as from my room I could hear a 50th birthday party, and also the drone of an air conditioning unit. Eventually I got some sleep but still awoke at 04:00. I took advantage of this extra time to check in for my flight in 24 hours time. After taking my time to have breakfast and get ready, I relaxed for a bit and headed over to Hotel Football for a group meet-up.

There were quite a few of us there for the pre-race photo – a mixture of new and familiar faces.


The start line was in the same place as last year so it felt very familiar. Though this time the pens went along a different road. I could see the 3:15 pacer a long way in front of me and I knew I wanted to catch up.

By the time I crossed the start line the 3:15 pacer was about a minute in front of me. Almost immediately I spotted Chalky and had a chat with him – he was going for about 3:00.

Last year the course looped through Media City and I remembered that bit well as I’d taken that bit too quickly. This year the course had changed and instead went through a housing estate – which I think was better for crowd support.

Running felt good and to start with I was putting in the miles at an average of 07:00min/mile. Around mile 3 the route passed the hotel I stayed in this year and then shortly after it passed the hotel from last year.

After that I’m not sure how much, if any, of the route differs to last year. Done hits definitely felt familiar though some of it also seemed alien.

By 5.5 miles I’d not only caught up with the 3:15 pacer, I’d over taken him. It felt good and it felt like I could continue at this pace for some time. It’s what I’d trained for, even if I hadn’t had the amount of practice I’d hoped for.

After crossing the splits mat at 10K I tried to get a bottle of water but fumbled it. A mistake that could have cost me greatly as I knew I’d need to take on water very soon but there wasn’t another official water stop until around mile 9. I got lucky though and over a mile down the road I was given a bottle of water I took a few quick sips from before discarding it.

Around this time I noticed a few messages of support from Twitter appear on my Garmin. It’s amazing what an advantage that is as by mile 8 it had started to become mentally challenging.

The section through Altrincham was probably one of the harder sections for me this year, but I really wanted to complete the marathon without walking. I thought maybe I could get to mile 21 like that – 4 miles further than I had in training.

As we got there the elite runners had just started to pass in the opposite direction – slighter further into the run than when I’d seen them last year, but that could have been down to route changes.

Once the loop through there was complete it was a relief as although there were a few hill climbs I could take it easy on the descents.

Seeing runners in the opposite direction also made it easier as it becomes a welcome distraction to spot other runners I know. I saw a few in #ukrunchat tees but hadn’t spotted most of them early enough to say anything, and a few I didn’t recognise. I then saw Sherie and got to high-five her on passing, and a little way down the road I saw Rachel after she shouted me!

I remembered last year that it had been around this point I had to remove a layer. This year there were no layers to remove, but it was plenty warm. I decided to stick to shaded areas when I could.

At mile 17 I was only two minutes over two hours and I realised at this pace I was on target for a good PB. I also felt like I could continue for the remaining 9.2 miles so all seemed good.

As I got closer to Carrington I started to slow down. It was okay though as I figured even if I slowed to 8min/mile I’d still get 3:15 – my best-case-scenario target. I’d even stopped taking on fuel at this point as jelly babies were not tasting nice.

However after mile 19 the 3:15 pace group stormed through. I kept with them for as long as I could, even whilst the pacer nipped into the bushes to relieve himself. I kept with the group until after he’d rejoined the group.

I was feeling tired but at mile 21 I thought perhaps I could keep on running until the end – a first for me. If I could cover those 5.2 miles in 50 minutes then all would be good. What I hadn’t anticipated was that my legs would decide they didn’t want to continue at that pace. Instead of slowing down, but continuing to run, I slowed to a walk after mile 22. Then I realised how thirsty I was after the long stretch in the sun.

Over the next 4.2 miles it got harder, and each mile seemed to last forever. I took on water in this time, but slowly and in small, infrequent amounts in case I was dehydrated. Eventually the end was in sight and it felt like the longest half a mile ever – it never seemed to get any closer.

I walked a couple of times in this stretch but eventually started to run properly again and picked up the pace. As soon as the guy next to me started to sprint I decided I would too – I didn’t know him, but I wanted to beat him to crossing the finish line. I did.

I’d missed the 3:15 target, but Strava indicated my time was 3:17:12 – a new personal best! I’ve still got a long way to go before I can run Boston, but this was a small step closer.

The support on this race was amazing, and I couldn’t name a single part of the race where there wasn’t someone cheering us all on. I think it’s this that makes Manchester a nice place to visit and race in.

At the finish it was far more organised than last year as the athletes village is inside Old Trafford and the spectators aren’t allowed in. This made the entire process easy and quick.

In the finishers bag there was:

  • Finishers medal,
  • Finishers tee,
  • A bottle of water,
  • An Asics foil blanket,
  • And a mint chocolate protein bar.

From there I collected my bag from the hotel and met up with the others at the Tollgate Inn. By the time the next finisher arrived I’d already eaten, but it was good to see a familiar face. It was great to meet up with @EmaJoyC as well who is a local fitness blogger that I know via Twitter. It was nice to talk to her.


I had decided not to do Manchester next year, but now I’m undecided. I think there’s a chance I’ll be back for the third year running though it will depend on how it fits in with visiting New Zealand.

My official time was 3:17:51 in position 1087 out of 18127 finishes (first 5.9%).

Coventry Half Marathon 2017

I’ve not had a brilliant track record with attempting this race. In 2015 I wanted to do this, but it clashed with another race I was doing. In 2016 I actually entered the race, but couldn’t train at the time the race happened due to flu which was at it’s worse around the day of the race. It then looked like this race wasn’t going to be going ahead in 2017 after there was talk of the race organisers not having renewed their contract – but fortunately it did.

The weekend before this race I did a 22 mile run – the longest run before my second attempt at the Great Manchester Marathon. This meant that this race would become part of a taper towards the marathon, without easing off the effort too much. In recent weeks there had been a lot of rain, and the temperatures were inconsistent making it difficult to decide what kit to use.

I didn’t even know what pace to try and aim for. A year ago I was running 10 miles in 64 minutes and I’d hoped to PB at this distance in the near future. Now, I’m not quite back there, yet I felt even if I couldn’t hit the time I wanted last year that I might just be able to improve upon my 91 minute PB. On the drive to Coventry I thought some more about this and decided that as I’d been told it was a flat course, and the race briefing suggested it was all down hill except for one hill, I might just try sub-90. If there was only one hill, then to account for all the down hill sections it talked about it must be a pretty sharp hill.

When I arrived in Coventry the parking was quick and easy, and was also free due to the parking meter not working. I decided to warm up by jogging slowly over to the race village, which is where I wandered around until I was spotted by William and Colin. We then stood talking inside the nearby coffee shop until 35 minutes before the race when we parted ways to get ready. I joined the toilet queue, but by the time it was my turn they’d run out of paper – so instead headed over to the race start.

I made it to the race start with about 5 minutes to spare, but the starting area was that crowded I had to start about 10 metres behind the 90 minute pacer. There was promise this was going to be a fast race with how many people were looking at sub-90. This made my mind up – I’d attempt to stick with the pacer for the entire race.

When the race started though the pacer was off like a rocket and covered the first mile in about 06:30. I hadn’t anticipated sub-90 meaning quite that much pace as I’d been expecting to be a little slower. As I was losing ground on the pacer I decided to speed up in the second mile, and somehow overtook him. Whilst he was behind me I heard a noise from about 10-15 metres behind and noticed that a runner was getting back after having fallen over. I couldn’t be sure, but I think the flag on the pacer’s backpack had caught the wind and blown him over.

For the remainder of the second mile, I stayed in front of the pacer thinking that I was now going at around the same pace as he was. Part way into the third mile though I felt a runner run straight into the back of me – kicking my feet, and then barging through. I had no idea why he’d done that – although there were runners either side of me, he could have got passed by going around them. There was space!

During the third mile I started to get warm and was regretting wearing a compression layer under my t-shirt. Eventually the pacer caught up with me whilst I was still doing 6:40min/mile pace and over took me. I knew I couldn’t maintain the pace he was going at and so I realised I wouldn’t be getting the sub-90 time I’d hoped for. I started to calculate paces in my head and thought to myself that for a sub-90 time I only needed to maintain 6:50min/mile, but maybe I’d miscalculated. Or maybe the pacer knew something I didn’t and was going quicker now to make up for time that would be lost later.

Before reaching the 4 mile marker I suddenly found myself going up hill. It came as a bit of a surprise as on Twitter I’d been told it was a “flat PB course”, and the only hill of mention in the notes was one around mile 8-9. I knew strong winds were a possibility, but hadn’t expected more than one hill so I quickly slowed to a walk briefly before running up the hill. At the top of the hill I found I was starting to overheat so slowed to a walk once more so I could take off my compression layer. Just before I was ready the course then started to go back down hill, before repeatedly going up hill over the next four miles. These miles were hard work and between them and the wind I didn’t think I could run them – I was soon walking more and more.

By this point I couldn’t imagine how far in front the sub-90 pacer must be, but I’d assumed he’d slowed the pace considerably by now. I was certain the quicker miles at the start were to account for a steady 4 mile up-hill section. It may have been a relatively flat course compared to one such as the Nepal Marathon which is on a mountain, but I was certainly not prepared to call this one flat.

More or less immediately after the mile 8 marker it was then a steady down hill, with the exception of a loop down one road where you run down it, then up it. Half way down this road I did see the sub-90 pacer coming the opposite way and I calculated that I was a few minutes behind. I’d hoped that as it looked like it would be down hill for a while that I’d now run all the way to the finish – this was not the case though as I found running back up that loop was more of a walk.

But from the time I reached the top I ran most of the way from there to the finish. There was one or two slight hills I walked up on the way, but not for long. In places I noticed that the wind had been that strong that it had blown over some of the road closure barriers, and a little down the road they sent a bike along the course to move us over as the cones were being blown over as well. When I saw the 13 mile marker it was a relief, but I couldn’t be bothered to sprint to the finish.

I crossed the finish line in position 240 out of 2876 finishers (first 8%), with a chip time of 1:34:45. It was quite a way off from my personal best, but I guess it could have been worse under the circumstances. Upon crossing the finish line I had to jump to the side to avoid a runner who had decided to come to a complete standstill less than half a metre from the finish line, but fortunately I wasn’t moving quickly.

At the exit to the finishers area they hand you a water bottle, and a carrier bag containing a finishers medal, leaflets, and a bar of something. I was that annoyed with myself I walked straight back to my car (having taken a wrong turn once whilst trying to find it) and didn’t look at the medal until hours after I’d gotten home.

It’s safe to say I won’t hit my target at the Greater Manchester Marathon in 13 days, but I’ll try my best to get as close to it as I can. Maybe later in the year I can find another half marathon to enter and improve on this, and maybe even get the sub-90 time I want.

Ashbourne 10 2017

I hadn’t raced since the Nepal Marathon during the previous year, and my hope was that I could have a winter of training that would help me get to the point where I could set new personal bests for each of the distances I run. The first of the races I hoped to PB at was the Ashbourne 10, though sadly I missed a lot of runs in January and February as training didn’t go to plan for one reason or another.

By the time the race day arrived I’d just about turned training back around but was nowhere near where I wanted to be. In fact, I had no idea what sort of pace I’d be able to sustain on the day. This was compounded even more when I saw the forecast was for wind and rain, and that it was going to be almost freezing out. I don’t mind running in the cold, and I don’t mind running when it’s raining – the two together though I’m not so keen on. It helps though if the rain doesn’t start until I’m already running as at least then I’ve had time to generate some body heat. I’d decided I couldn’t PB at this race and would instead take it as an easy training run.

On the way to Ashbourne it started to rain, and didn’t stop until I got home a few hours later. I arrived at the Ashbourne Leisure Centre a couple of hours before the race so stood around waiting for the race start, trying not to get too cold – I’d at least found a spot that sheltered me from the rain. The positioning of the leisure centre was good for race HQ as we’d be all be running along the Tissington Trail – a former railway line which cuts through the Derbyshire Dales. The route has a crushed limestone surface so my hope was that it wouldn’t be too bad.

Today there were multiple distances being raced concurrently so to start with they sent the 10 mile runners off. After another 5 minutes it was then the turn of the canicross runners along with 10K runners, and the finally the 5K runners behind us. During the race briefing everyone was told to keep to the left due as everyone would be doing an out and back route, no matter what the distance.

As the canicross runners had to start at the front of the 10K pack it meant I was on their heels immediately, but couldn’t easily pass them. Whilst standing outside, my prescription glasses which have reaction lenses went dark so that when we went through the tunnel at the start I couldn’t see a thing. A couple of runners had Saint John’s ambulance medics assisting them after falling off the path and twisting their ankles.

The trail then dips down and goes back up sharply – the only real hill during the entire route. A little after the initial dip I ran out onto the muddy embankment to pass the last of the canicross runners. I’d already found myself passing runners doing the 10 mile race as well and for the next 3 miles I found myself having to frequently run out onto the embankment, slipping and sliding across it, in order to pass runners that were in some cases running three or four abreast. Some would also run around onto the right-hand side, despite the notice during the race briefing, to avoid the puddles in the path.

I’d started off the race leaping over puddles to avoid getting my feet too wet as well, thinking they might blister, but after how muddy and wet they got whilst passing I eventually stopped leaping over puddles and just ran straight through them. Before I got to the turnaround point I’d started to think that instead of setting runners off by distance they’d have been better off sending the fastest 10 mile runners off first, and then after a few minutes send off the rest of the runners organised by expected pace. That way those doing the shorter distances, which usually allow for a faster pace, wouldn’t be hitting the back of those doing the longer runs.

I eventually lost count of the number of times I slipped on the embankment, but somehow I never got to the point of falling over completely. After the turnaround point the oncoming runners, for the most part, were more considerate and would move over to their left-hand side to let people pass. It started to become more fun, though it seemed strange to not be pushing myself in a race. As my Achilles tendon had been sore recently I didn’t want to risk it getting worse when I’d still got a 22 mile training run to do the following weekend.

Not long after the turnaround point I started to pass 5K runners travelling in the same direction as me though at this point there were very few of them. Eventually the oncoming runners stopped as well, so all that was left was the occasional 5K runner in front. Occasionally I could see another 10K runner in front of me, but I had no intention of trying to catch them up. I wanted an easy run, so much so I was actually wearing a hoodie and a disposable poncho to keep my top half dry. Of course though, me legs and particularly my feet were drenched. My toes had also gone numb, but I figured I’d only be out running for less than an hour so could cope with that. It was impressive how many people had turned up to brave the heavy rain in fact.

By the time I got back to the dip in the trail the rain had seemed to have slowed down. I decided not to risk going to fast on the downhill though – thinking that with it being wet I might slip. The up-hill bit was pretty muddy as I had to run across the mud again to overtake. I’d been waiting to see the tunnel again for ages on the return journey – but it was finally in front of me. Knowing I’d barely seen anything going through it the first time I looked ahead for silhouettes before entering it.

As I ran through the tunnel I came across some runners that were running the full width of the path and wouldn’t let anyone overtake. My only choice was to take a measured stride off the path and onto the gravel, speed passed them, and jump back onto the path. The timing was lucky though as a few seconds later I was around the mid-point of the tunnel where once again I couldn’t see a thing so kept running forwards and hoped for the best.

Eventually I was close enough to the exit for the path to be lit again, and around that point I started to wonder how far it was until the finish. I couldn’t remember how quickly we’d entered the tunnel on the way out, but I soon found that it wasn’t that far to the finish. As I reached the funnel to the finish I decided as my legs still felt fresh I might as well sprint to the finish to give them something to do. It didn’t last long, but it was faster than I’d run in months.

Crossing the finished I noticed that there were probably about a dozen people at most around, though a lot of them seemed to be 5K runners. I noticed one of them had a print-out of their time, so hoping that I’d made it into the first 10 I went over and got mine printed too.

I finished in chip position 4 with a time of 43:03. I was pretty shocked! I knew it had felt like an easy run, but my time suggested it was barely a steady run, and a minute slower than what I’d normally get through the first 10K of a 10 mile tempo training run in. There was a time not that long ago when this would have been a time that seemed unimaginable to me during a race, but things change.

What surprised me more was the position – even more so when I noticed I was the 2nd in my age category. In a proper race I’ve never come this close to a podium finish, and it gave me some hope that maybe one day it’ll be possible. Although not physically demanding, the race was tough mentally due to the rain and cold weather (it took a lot of effort to convince myself to run in this rain). I’m glad I did it, though now I’m thinking that it might be worth doing this again next year to race it properly.

Sadly the printed result was incorrect as when the official results were released I’d finished in position 6. I thought I was still quite a way from managing a podium finish, but then it was revealed that some runners had started with the wrong race. Once the results were updated to correct this my final position was determined – 2nd male, and 3rd overall. My first podium finish!

My next race should hopefully be the Coventry Half Marathon – I doubt I’ll be ready to run a PB there, but I’ll see what the legs feel like doing!

Leeds Abbey Dash 2016

I’ve not had much luck with the couple of 10K races I’ve had this year. One of my goals for 2016 had been to go sub-40 at 10K distance – but so far I’d not achieved this. For the first of these attempts I just couldn’t keep going in the heat and for the last 5K I completely lost the pace and walked frequently. On the second of these 10K attempts I was injured and found hobbling around the course just couldn’t be done at speed.

A friend mentioned she was doing the Leeds Abbey Dash in November and has on occasion suggested we should pace each other to a sub-40 10K, but thus far our calendars hadn’t really made it a possibility and we’d never actually met in person! I wasn’t sure at first because of the travel time, but eventually decided it was a great idea and it could be a fun race.

We’d both planned on meeting up the day before the race in Leeds so we wouldn’t need to travel up on the day. Again I was unsure about this as it was “only” a 10K, but eventually I decided that driving for 2 hours before a race isn’t the best, so I drove up to Leeds the day before. Once I got there I met up with Gen at the train station, though her train had been delayed by about 20 minutes. It was an easy afternoon, and I got to take some photographs of Kirkstall Abbey (a place we’d be running past during the race) whilst we talked about running. After all, what else would runners talk about the day before a race?!

In the evening I had a beef lasagna and was all ready to tackle the race, though fully expected my time to be about 42 minutes. I then relaxed for a few hours, wondering what the race would be like.

 

Race Day

I hadn’t thought about it being Guy Fawkes night on the Saturday and found fireworks kept me awake until about 23:00. I then woke up at 02:20 and didn’t really sleep much after that until I got up at 06:00 for breakfast. Just as I would with a half or a full marathon, I’d packed breakfast with me so I could have something I know before the race. This usually helps to minimise the risk of a stomach ache or worse during the race.

After breakfast I met up with Gen and we headed towards the start of the race. There’s quite a few expensive car parks around, but found one on Wellington Place that was £3 for Sunday. We then headed to the start and found where our starting pens would be, but it turned out the baggage drop for Gen was near the finish which was in a completely different location so we walked over to that in the freezing cold. I guess it was good though as it kept us moving before the race start so we were probably warmer than we could have been.

Gen did her warm up around a nearby park, and I decided (unusually!) to do a lap of it as well at a slow pace, just to try and not feel the cold as much. From there Gen went to the sub-40 pen, and I went to the front of the sub-45 pen, fully intending on catching the sub-40 racers. Just before the race starts they move the pens into position one by one so that everyone is starting in order, and at the same time – it’s probably a good way to use pens actually.

As the race began I could see the sub-40 pacer ahead of me and I was determined that I would get closer and would try and stick not too far behind by half way. As it happened, I covered my first mile at 6:13min/mile pace and had caught up with the pacer already, but I stuck behind him as I figured it wasn’t that likely I’d be able to stay that close for the entire race, let alone in front of.

Not long after this I caught up with Gen and said “hi” to her as I passed, just as the route turned into the car park of a retail park. On the way out of this though there was a pedestrian in the middle of the runners who seems to have not seen the runners coming and got trapped amongst us. Fortunately nobody was to my immediate right so was able to quickly dodge out of the way, but it was pretty crowded.

After the second mile had passed it was then a continual up-hill climb to Kirkstall Abbey and I found myself really wanting to walk. I knew that if I did though then I would be disappointed with my time no matter what I got so forced myself to carry on and fortunately it did level off again briefly. At 5K the route then had a hairpin bend to go back in the opposite direction, so I glanced at my watch and saw 20:12. If I’d been running a 5K I’d have been incredibly disappointed, and I thought to myself that if I could somehow manage to do the second half in the same time then it won’t be sub-40 but perhaps I could narrowly get a PB.

I kept running, and for some of the fourth mile it was down hill, which was something of a relief after the long gentle incline. When I saw the 7K sign I found myself really wanting to walk again, and I’d lost ground behind the sub-40 pacer so figured that a PB was probably unlikely now. By the time I reached 9K and the climb back up to the city centre and town hall I decided that I’d probably set off too quickly and now I may as well walk up the hill as I wasn’t going to get a PB or meet my goal.

After walking for about 20 seconds I decided to make one last push and started to pick up speed again for the remainder of the hill and started to get up to sprinting speed as I crossed the line. As I did so I stopped my watch and saw 40:04 – I couldn’t believe how close I’d come to beating my goal! My legs at this point felt fine and I realised immediately how stupid it was of me to have started walking without having at least looked at my watch first. Strava however indicated my 10K PB was now 39:47, but that was only because I’d run slightly over 10K from weaving around people.

My official time was also 40:04 and I finished in position 637 out of 8664 finishers putting me into the first 7%. After finishing they handed over a white chocolate Lion bar (which was incredibly tough due to the cold weather!), a bottle of water, and then a finishers tee. It was great to meet Gen and she was really good company; hopefully we’ll get to race together again in future (thanks for putting up with me Gen! Was appreciated!). I’ll almost definitely be back in Leeds for next year’s Abbey Dash as well!

I’d surprised myself – I didn’t think I could PB, but I did and by a whole minute more than the PB I’d set in training at the start of the year. This being my first PB since I was injured is something of a relief and hopefully means I’m now back to where I was before. Now I can continue working hard and hopefully set some new PBs in the spring, with new (or similar) goals. I’ll be aiming for a sub-19 5K, sub-39 10K, sub-89 Half, and a 3:10 marathon. I’m quite a way off for some of these goals, but I’m sure they’ll help to push me harder.

Leicester Half Marathon 2016

At the start of the year training had been going that well that I’d got a shinny new 10K PB during a training run and had been doing 10 mile runs on consecutive weeks in a little over an hour. It felt good, and I was confident of finally getting a sub-90 half marathon time so entered the Coventry Half. However, this is where my attempts at half marathons took a wrong turn. I never got to try the Coventry Half as I caught the flu a few days before, and lost a couple of weeks of training too. I did turn this around and by the time of the Spring marathon season things were back on track.

With things looking good I entered the Leicester Half Marathon for the second year running, deciding as my current PB was on that hilly course then I could probably get my sub-90 there also. Again, things didn’t go according to plan and I lost some more training time due to an ankle injury I got whilst being a tourist in Moscow and found when I got back to training (which I wasn’t allowed to do any running on hills or trails for) that I hadn’t quite been prepared for running in the heat of the summer.

It felt like I was going from excuse to excuse – I’d lost quite a bit of speed during the summer and the Robin Hood marathon proved that I wasn’t ready. I knew my hope for a PB at the Leicester Half was nigh impossible. It left me nervous about the race as whatever time I finished in would be an indication of how much speed I’d lost.

On the race day it was spitting with rain and was cold, so I decided as I wasn’t sure how fast I’d be able to go I’d wear a hoodie and the usual shorts. Despite my reservations that I’d be capable of it, I stood around in the sub-90 pen and listened to people discuss their planned paces such as 7:30 and 10:30 minutes per mile. I did wonder why they were in a faster pen than their planned times, but to be honest I wasn’t expecting to get sub-90 either, not now anyway.

For the first 5K I was 7 seconds slower than last year, but was on target for a sub-90 time however. The first mile of this was down hill with a slow start due to the usual crowds, but I managed to get up to pace by the half way point in this mile. I didn’t know I was slightly behind where I was at this point last year but it felt like a good confidence boost.

After leaving Belgrave and the Golden Mile behind there were literally no spectators at all and time seemed to slow considerably. Once I reached Thurmaston the crowds were out in force and they were giving their usual great support. This time last year I remember that I was tired when leaving the village but this time I felt fine and was incredibly pleased (though I imagine some were unhappy as there was a car driving amongst the runners!). At this point I realised that I was ahead of time for getting a sub-90 time and thought that I might just actually do it.

As usual, after the dual carriageway the route then splits away from the marathon runners and heads into Watermead Country Park. It was at this point that I reached the 10K mark and although I didn’t know it at the time I was ahead time-wise compared to last year. Things were looking good, though I was starting to lose concentration as I knew this was coming up to the point where in the marathon I rolled my ankle dodging a cyclist. This year I dodged a cyclist again, but with ease, though I did splash through a puddle.

When leaving the country park I found the hill out to be draining and walked for a few steps. This was the beginning for the end for me as for the first time this race my pace dropped to be slower than 07:00 min/mile for mile 8. The next mile was then down hill so it wasn’t quite as bad and there was a sign I might still be able to keep going, but I couldn’t. As I got closer to the National Space Centre I was starting to walk again and must have walked at least three times during this mile. I did a quick calculation in my head and decided that if I could maintain an average pace of no slower than 07:30min/mile for the remainder that I could do it – I could get that time I wanted.

For the remainder of the race I knew it was going to be a case of convincing myself I could keep going even though my head was telling me I should walk for a bit. Over the remaining miles I walked frequently – but this point having developed a blister on my right toe and each mile was slower than the one that came before it. With only 2 miles left I knew I was no longer going to get the time I had originally planned for all those months ago, but there was still a chance of a PB – I hoped that would be enough to make me work harder. However I slowed further and soon found that even if by some miracle I was able to get back to at least 7 min/mile pace and maintain it, I wasn’t even going to match last years time. Feeling deflated I walked up most of New Walk and then only started running with 0.2 miles to go so that I could at least finish running.

I finished in position 132 of 1932 finishers (first 6.8%), and 74th in my category, with a chip time of 1:33:23. That was 2:27 slower that last year’s race. It felt like a complete failure, but what I really should consider this to be is a benchmark to improve upon.

This year the goodie bag consisted of:

  • Finishers medal,
  • Finishers tee,
  • Banana,
  • A bottle of mineral water,
  • Packet of Walkers crisps (it IS Leicester after all!),
  • Haribo Super Mix,
  • and a Granola bar.

Overall the race is pretty well supported, and I actually quite like the route despite the hills. I’m used to running hills so don’t mind the ones in this race too much – just I know this year I was under prepared for them. I now know how much I’ve slowed down by now, and what areas I need to work more on so hopefully in the next few months I can do another half marathon and even though it won’t be in 2016 as planned, I should hopefully still manage to achieve this goal.

Now that I can, over the next few months I’ll start to reintroduce hills into my runs and will also try to keep up with the speedwork as well as I prepare to train for my next (well, next next) marathon.

Ikano Robin Hood Marathon 2016

My attempt at this marathon last year did not go well, mostly due to lack of training over the summer, too many races, and my inability to train well in the warmer weather. This year I wanted it to be different, I wanted to beat last year’s time at the very least and if possible run much more of it. Things didn’t go to plan though, and as I’ve mentioned in a few previous blog posts (okay, maybe several) I got an ankle injury whilst in Moscow that resulted in a couple of weeks off running, and a slow recovery with fewer and shorter runs to start with. Just over a month before race day I’d only built back up to 8.5 miles at a slower pace than before and even with walking breaks I’d yet to run for more than 15 miles – even that was with so much walking it was over a minute slower than my marathon PB pace.

Things weren’t looking good. I know it takes time coming back from an injury and I’m always too impatient anyway, but it can take a toll on you mentally. Sometimes all you need is a good run to start clawing your way back and I was lucky to have a “good” 8.5 mile run and would then have 4 weekends to build up miles from that to something reasonable before the Great North Run meant that I needed to drop the mileage again which then led straight into this. Hopefully this marathon would be the last race to be affected by the ankle.

I was fortunate enough that by the time I did my 22 mile run the weekend before the Great North Run, I was able to run for 17 miles of it at a push, a massive improvement over the previous weeks. It felt like I was miles (excuse the pun) behind where I was this time last year. In truth though, when I looked at where my PBs stood as of September 2015 I was back to being capable of matching the 5K and 10K times and had in fact beat that 5K time by over a minute in the first 5K of the Great North Run. I wasn’t quite capable of my Half Marathon time as it stood back in September 2015. It didn’t seem quite as bad, but for all these times I was still quite some way off my current PBs.

 

Race Day

It was now three years, almost to the day, since I started couch to 5K. I knew a few people doing this one so I hoped for a good #ukrunchat meet-up before the race start. However, due to unforeseen circumstances a few of them had dropped out of the race so when I got to the race start at 07:10 I’d got quite a wait until there was anyone to talk to. Fortunately I knew @Roddis22, a good friend I’ve seen at races before was going to turn up around 08:30 and that soon passed the time. So much time in fact that by the time I was in my starting pen the warm-up was over, not that I’d have bothered with it anyway!

On my drive to Nottingham it had been raining, but had been fortunate that by 08:00 it had stopped so that when the race started just after 09:30 it was dry out. This year’s course was different to both the previous times I’ve done it – three different courses in three consecutive years makes you wonder the reason for the changes, but this seemed okay as I knew it’d be missing out an epic hill that had previously been there at mile 22(ish).

It was a slow start as the pen was over crowded with not just others that were supposed to be in there, but also a few blues, greens, and oranges had somehow moved forward into the pen as well which made it difficult to find any space in the first mile. Instead there was a lot of hill climbing in the first three miles as it passed Nottingham Castle. It was tiring and I really, really wanted to walk, but I wasn’t willing to walk so soon into the race. My training has excluded hills for the past 4 months due to the injury meaning I wasn’t supposed to run on uneven surfaces or inclines, and the only time I’ve run up hills recently was in Newcastle, so I was quite happy to overcome them – even if my pace was slower than I’d normally like to tackle a hill in!

At the end of the first three miles my watch seemed a little under what was expected, though it could be down to a bad GPS signal as it had taken quite some time to get one at the start (which is odd as usually the 235 gets one within seconds) and kept losing it. This was also the point for the first water station but I ran straight through deciding it was too early to bother. For the fourth mile there was a good portion down hill, a section that has been in the course for the past 2 years at least so this was at least familiar. It was sometime around here that I first saw the race leader heading in the opposite direction – there was then quite a gap until the next runner, though even then the next was a half marathon runner and not a marathoner. This means he’d taken quite an early lead in this race!

I’d say I found the first 4-5 miles challenging, but by 6 I’d briefly settled into a rhythm that kept me going for a little longer as the course entered Wollaton Park – another familiar part of Nottingham. The bit through the park didn’t feel too bad, maybe because it was in the shade, but I did feel like I needed a loo break, but I really didn’t want to have to stop until mile 19 at least! This kept me going, and to be honest I didn’t spot them at mile 6 anyway.

As we left the park, instead of going through the University grounds as it has done in previous years the course then headed back to a junction we’d passed in mile 5 and turned back towards the direction of the embankment. As I approached mile 8 I then passed Nic Roddis heading in the opposite direction so waved as I passed, and was at least glad I’d made it that far without walking. Every thought I had now was about keeping going – I really didn’t want to walk in the first half if I could help it. Over the next few miles there were two hairpin bends where I had to slow to go around them, though I took them wide enough to not need to slow too much. I figured this might at least make up for my watch being off slightly. Shortly after I even saw an athlete dressed as a Stormtrooper, and wearing a dress heading towards mile 4 as I was on my way towards mile 9.

For the remainder of the first half I think it was fairly similar to what it had been in previous years, though I think the marathon course splits away from the half marathoners slightly earlier than it had done previously, but once again mile 13 was just before an alleyway through a housing estate. This entire mile I was on my own for, with only marshals being around to indicate that I was at least going the right way. There was nobody about watching the race – just like last year, but at least this year there were a few supporters in the miles that followed (something which didn’t happen last year).

By mile 13.5 I’d caught up with more runners, but I was starting to struggle to keep running and needed water. Fortunately after walking for what was probably only 10-20 seconds a marshal let me know that there was water in the direction of the drumming. That had suddenly reminded me that unlike previous years there wasn’t really much music on the course!

This time I grabbed some water and tried to drink from it, though no matter how hard I squeezed water just wasn’t coming out! It felt like this was going to be a repeat of last year, but then I spotted another runner drinking from one and they’d held it like a cup and not tipped up. It seemed these water pouches were designed not to leak when upside down which explained why I wasn’t getting any out of, so I turned it around and squeezed – getting a face full of water. Around this time I saw the race leader pass in the opposite direction again – he was just approaching mile 18 as I was coming up to mile 14.

I wanted to keep running until mile 15 after having walked briefly at mile 13.5, but I did succumb to the need to walk just before I reached the mile marker. I then started running again and was fairly determined to run until mile 16, and once I could see the mile marker in the distance, across Colwick Lake I was even more determined. It was a constant struggle to try and get to mile 16, and with probably 0.3 miles to go some cheerleaders started cheering me on and then started shouting “Give me a D, give me an A, give me a V…” though I’d passed them completely before they finished and I knew the mile marker was just coming up. Their cheers and this knowledge made me push harder and I managed to reach it… though I started walking more or less as soon as I crossed it! Though even then the last mile had not been particularly fast at 08:19 minutes.

Miles 17 and 18 passed by with frequent walking breaks but also the hope that I could keep my mile splits to sub-10 if not better. Literally seconds after passing the mile 18 marker though I slipped over on a lucozade bottle I hadn’t spotted until I’d already trodden on it. After the initial discomfort I carried on running up over the bridge that crosses the River Trent. Just as I reached Lady Bay I started to walk yet again, but this point I’d lost track of how much walking I’d done as there’d been so much of it. Another runner insisted I kept on running though I didn’t really want to, I kept going at a slower pace from there, passed the mile 19 marker and into the grounds of Holme Pierrepont water sports centre.

After running alongside the Regatta Lake for a while the route then veered off up a winding hill and onto a gravel path that ran alongside the River Trent. I’m not a fan on gravel paths as I seem to always get some in at least one shoe. Sure enough I did, and I found myself stopping completely at the mile 21 marker to take my shoes off, empty them, and put them back on before continuing off again. The complete stop hadn’t done me any favours though, even if it did mean my feet weren’t in pain anymore I was struggling to get running again. At this point the 3:30 pacer finally overtook me, but I could still see him not too far ahead – enough to catch up with if I could keep going. I’d wanted water at mile 21, but even though I could see they had some water in boxes they were only handing out gels.

By mile 22 I’d lost the pacer completely after having to walk a couple more times, but I saw the Nottingham Forest football ground and with it was a stream of people who had finished the half marathon and were cheering on the marathon runners as they passed. I was really lucky at this point though as walking briefly I was passed by one of the officials on a motorbike who passed me some more water. I didn’t bother trying to get into this and just sunk my teeth into it and guzzled the water like some sort of vampire with a blood bag.

This kept me going for a while, but I started to wonder if I’d taken a wrong turn as there was a split in the path, and I couldn’t see a marshal to know which way to go so took the longer of the two paths – I did then pass what I think was a marshal (though wasn’t in the bright yellow jackets the others had – this was a blue one). When it started to go down an alleyway behind some houses I was sure I’d gone wrong, it just didn’t feel right – I kept slowing down and looking behind me to see if I could see anyone else come this way, but I couldn’t see anyone!

Fortunately after rounding another corner I could then see mile 23 ahead of me – a relief! This was then followed by a few more runners overtaking me as I started to walk again, and I walked quite a bit of this mile alongside the tramline as by this point I was just too tired. I’d not had any jelly babies for the past few miles as I’d started to feel sick after having drunk too much water in one go. A bad mistake and one which caused me to walk the majority of the last two miles – one of which I’m not entirely sure I ran any of.

I think by this point it’d be useful to paraphrase REM’s “Everybody Hurts”:

When you’re sure you’ve had enough
Of this race, well hang on
Don’t let yourself go
‘Cause everybody cries
And everybody hurts sometimes

It had been a tough race, and seeing the bridge to cross the River Trent for the last time was a relief – and around the time I crossed it I finally started to run once more.

The final part of the route took me along the Victoria Embankment one last time, and this bit was an incredible struggle, but I didn’t want to walk when the finish line was so close. I did walk a couple of steps, but pushed on with running, unwilling to succumb to it. I then crossed over onto the grass and felt my pace start to pick up as people were cheering us on. I then heard my name called out on the speakers as I got near to the commentary box and I switched to a faster paced run to finish. Not the usual sprint finish, but it was enough.

At last this difficult race was over. My sixth marathon, and the 9th time I’ve reached or passed 26.2 miles when running.

Looking at my watch I saw 3:43 – 4 minutes slower than last year. I’d completely failed not only in my original goal (which was to be expected), but even with the adjusted goal I’d set post-injury. I was slower than this time last year, so at this point it wasn’t looking good that I’d be able to meet my Half Marathon and 10K target times in October and November.

No matter how hard I work between now and then I know the next two weeks will be almost throwaway between marathon recovery and being in Arizona (35-45C temperatures). I’m not going to give in though – I’ve got a lot of work to do, and I’ll put in as much work as I can to at least try and meet my times from last year for these upcoming races.

Once the official results were out I found I’d finished with a time of 03:43:42 in position 242 out of 1192 marathon finishers (first 20% approximately). To be honest I’m quite surprised I wasn’t further behind than that, but at least I did it. I guess now I’ll be back next year to have one last attempt at doing a better job of this.