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.

Great North Run 2016

I’ve seen the Great North Run a few times on the television, and a friend has raved about the atmosphere but others have also been cautionary about how crowded it can be and how unlikely I’d be to get a PB there. For me this race wasn’t about trying to PB, it was one I just wanted to enjoy. I’ve known about the Great North Run for a very long time, seeing it for the first time when at school (at the end of the 80s) we were made to watch a TV series called Geordie Racer where one of the story threads through the series was about people running it.

Last year I tried to get in on the ballot and was unsuccessful – this year however I was fortunate enough to get a place.

Since the Brighton Marathon back in April I hadn’t run beyond 10 miles without walking for quite some time, and this was compounded by an injury I sustained whilst walking around in Russia. Just a few weeks before the Great North Run my ankle had finally recovered enough to no longer need the ankle support but I was behind on training for both this and my upcoming marathon. All I could do was hope that in my efforts to recover I’d done enough to get me around the course on the day.

 

Pre-race Day

It’s a long way from Leicester to Newcastle so I didn’t really want to be travelling up on the day, and I thought with a mass participation event like this I might find parking awkward. So, I begrudgingly paid the £103 (return) train ticket fee to get me to Newcastle the day before. It was a sleepness night, but I caught the train at 10:30 and was on my way to the start line of the Great North Run.

I arrived in Newcastle at 13:45 and started the 5k walk to where I’d be staying. It was mostly up hill but as my legs felt a little tight I hoped it’d ease them off. By the time I got there though my feet and calves were aching and I was ready to sit down!

Eventually I found the place – an old, nice looking building to the west of Newcastle. As if happened though it wasn’t as nice inside. The door to my room had a stiff lock and I cut my finger open on the key getting it open. Not too badly though so I got my race kit ready for the next day, and sat down for 20 minutes.

The room had dirty walls, anorexic pillows, a power socket that was hanging off the wall and not easy to safely plug the kettle into. As I later found, the kettle was also falling apart and wouldn’t switch off, which is why it wasn’t plugged in. The cups were dirty too and I had to wash one out before I could use it, but also had to get some milk and teabags from the shops first too. I also later found out that the bathroom didn’t have any towels, and the light didn’t work. Not really worth the £68 for the room.

I took the bus back into Newcastle and spent the next few hours wandering around the quayside and surrounding area, taking the odd photo, and not really doing much. There were a few places, such as the Old Castle which I’d wished I’d got my DSLR on me for, but as I hadn’t I didn’t go inside – it’s be something to do in future if I’m ever in the area again with a camera. I’d covered quite a few miles walking around so I also sat down for a while outside Saint Nicholas’ Cathedral where there was a statue of Queen Victoria. I also saw Gemma Steel presenting trophies to the Junior Great Run winners at the end of the Great City Games, and Laura Muir walked passed me as well.

The afternoon passed quickly and it finished with some spaghetti bolognese at a place near the Tyne Bridge. On the way back to the hotel it got dark, started to spit with rain and I couldn’t find the right bus stop. By the time I found where I should be I’d walked 9 miles and only had 1.5 miles left to get back to the hotel. My feet were dead.

Back at the hotel I tried to find a course elevation map for the race to see what it was like, a bit late I know, and all I could find was a post where the person described the course as “mostly down hill from Newcastle with a bit of a hill at mile 10”. Didn’t sound too bad to me!

I quickly had a cup of tea and after watching some TV I attempted to sleep, though that was interrupted when a neighbour was banging around just after midnight and I never did settle back into sleep.

 

Race Day

The day had at last come, and I was awake long before I needed to be. For a while I spoke to a friend on Twitter, and I predicted my pace for this race would be 07:20 min/mile – almost 25 seconds a mile slower than my PB pace from Leicester. It was nice to be able to chat before the big race, and I think it helped me to forget about how bad the hotel was a little.

It got to 06:45 and I decided to have breakfast – crunchy nut cornflakes and a cup of tea as usual. I was fed up of this hotel, yet I sat around until 08:00 before checking out and coming across a few more runners who had stayed there. The bus to Haymarket Station was only £1.95, so better than walking to the start and it didn’t take too long either. The crowds of runners all heading in the same direction reminded me a lot of Brighton earlier in the year.

After dropping off my bag I made my way to the orange starting zone – just behind zone A and the elites. I’d hoped to see Mo Farrah, but sadly I didn’t. I sat for the next hour in this starting zone, gradually being cooked by the morning sun and listening to the presenters talk to different people taking part – including the impressionist Jon Culshaw. Eventually the warm-up started, which again I didn’t bother with, but I saw it as the right time to turn my running watch on ready for it to get a signal. I was amazed that as with training, it got it’s signal pretty much instantly! The Garmin Forerunner 235 never ceases to amaze me, especially when the 220 frequently took an age to get a signal. Then we were off – running the Great North Run.

To start with the route was down hill with a few slight inclines, and then crosses the Tyne Bridge. The first 5K I covered in 19:37 – one of my faster 5K times and I was instantly concerned I’d started off too fast. It was hot though and by this point I was already wiping sweat from my eyes and forehead. Thankfully though this point also had the first water station!

After a few swigs of water I carried on running but found I was getting too warm and by 4 miles I’d decided not only was I too warm, I’d set off too quickly and I started to walk briefly. I quickly recovered though and after another mile I then managed to miles 6 and 7 without too much walking – it was still there though and was a frequent thing over the coming miles. I’d reached the 10K mark in 42:50 – slightly slower than I would reach that point on a 10 mile training run.

The support on the route was great and I often heard my name being shouted – though it’s possible (and indeed likely) there’d be another David running near me… I had actually noticed one standing immediately behind me in the pens back at the start! It was around this time that I could hear the Red Arrows, but I didn’t see them – they were behind be somewhere, but shortly after I saw them in front – flying in formation, but quite a way in the distance!

Flying free, flying high,

Flashing wings across the sky,

Geordie racer, Geordie racer.

The heat was really getting to me, and a the second water station I actually poured some of the water over my head after drinking some. Around this time was also the first(?) of the run-through showers as well though I decided against these as I figured if my feet got wet then I’d get blisters and that’d be even worse. I walked quite a few times in mile 9 getting my slowest split of 8:47, and another runner slowed down to make sure I was okay and was running backwards until I insisted that he carry on. I was only walking to cool off anyway! I did also wish I’d put my ankle support on, but that was short lived.

After I passed the mile 10 marker I noticed that the long hill I’d read about had started, and it was here that I was passed by the 1:35 pacer, and then shortly after by @1SteveMac who I quickly chatted to. I really tried to run up this hill, but I couldn’t keep it going and ended up walking most of this mile. It was however an incredibly supported part of the route and as we reached mile 12 the sea in South Shields was finally in sight. It was also the start of a very sudden fast descent, one which I found myself accelerating down very quickly and struggled to slow at the bottom – I could understand why the hay bales were there!

This part of the race was familiar to me as it’s always the bit I remember on TV, and I so clearly remembered Mo running this bit last year. I was determined not to walk again, and sure enough from just before starting that descent I didn’t walk again until I’d finished.

Don’t wait, don’t stop,

You’re heading home.

Don’t rest, don’t drop,

You’re heading home.

The last straight was brilliant, lined with screaming crowds and enough space around me to start building up some speed for the finish. I did my 13th mile in 06:50, but 200 metres from the finish, as I’d started to sprint, I had to quickly stop as another runner cut across in front of me. For the second race in a row there was also a runner stopping completely on the finish line as they crossed as well which meant as I sprinted to the finish line I crashed through them. Not very polite of me, but I couldn’t move out of the way or stop quick enough to avoid it.

I finished in position 1,608 out of approximately 57,000 runners (first 3%), with a chip time of 1:36:39 – not my best half marathon, but I was also a little surprised by the time considering how much I’d walked. It was also an average pace that was precisely the same as what I’d said to @miss_gen in the morning as a prediction.

I was however disappointed that I’d walked so often – although I’d been told this wasn’t a PB course and it’d be crowded I think with more training (particularly in the heat) I could have done it. For almost the entire race I had plenty of space to move as well – everyone had spread out before we’d even reached the first tunnel and the inevitable shouts of “oggy oggy oggy” (I still have no idea what that’s all about). All I can do is learn from this and hopefully my next half marathon will be one that will work out much better!

The finish area in South Shields is quite a nice one as it has a constant view of the sea. There’s a large village of stands there selling food, etc. and a decent selection, but it’s quite a walk from there to the baggage busses so by the time I’d got my bag I didn’t really feel like walking back. Instead I headed to the Metro and stopped by a Subway on the way – by the time I got to the metro it was still quiet and for £3.30 I got straight on and headed back to Newcastle for the start of a very long journey home.

At the finish they give you a bottle of water, a finishers medal, and a goodie bag dependent on your t-shirt size containing:

  • A bottle of lucozade,
  • 2 packets of Haribo starmix sweets,
  • Super seeds Rasberry 9 bar,
  • Jointace gel,
  • Sanex for men soap,
  • Nikwax wash-in waterproofing sample,
  • and the usual slew of leaflets.

It’s a race I’m likely to do again, given the chance, and hopefully next time it can be in weather that is a little cooler. It’s a shame though that from the moment I boarded the metro it then took me 6 hours to get home due to delays with the trains, and long waits in between them. It didn’t help either that the one from Newcastle to Derby stopped for 20 minutes to check out a signal which made me miss the train I was supposed to get.

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Bassingham Bash 2016

From the start I wasn’t sure whether or not to enter this one – not only would it be my second ever 5 mile race it would also be the afternoon before a 20 mile training run ready for my next marathon. Racing in the afternoon isn’t something I’ve done often either as I don’t really run that well in the afternoons.

By this time two months had passed since my ankle injury in Moscow and it had improved considerably. Not only had I been trying to let my ankle recover, I’d also been trying to build back up to where I was before the injury and trying to get some longer miles in before September. Though I found it hard work to get any decent miles in, especially without walking – that is until the weekend before this race when I managed to do 11 miles without walking. The days in between however I struggled to run more than just a couple of miles without needing to walk – hopefully due to the heat.

If I wanted to run 20 miles the day after this race then I’d need to seriously question what sort of pace I would go for. When running I tend to not be particularly sensible, but I needed to think about the long game here – this wasn’t to be my target race. Thinking about why I was doing this race – when I entered it I’d thought that this one might be a bit of fun. So with that in mind, by the time race day came around I was convinced that instead of going for a flat out sub 7:00 min/mile race, I’d take it leisurely and go for somewhere between 07:30 and 08:00 min/mile.

For the first time ever I was going to a race with family – my Dad drove me to Bassingham and then whilst I picked up my race number he went off to have lunch and find landscapes to photograph. It was nice to catch up with a few people I’ve seen at races before and have talked to on Twitter, and then we all headed over to the start. As I wasn’t going to go all out for this one I decided to start at the back and just see where I’d end up.

Bassingham Bash 2016 route

After about 10 minutes the race started on time and the crowd of runners started to head off. As this wasn’t a chip timed race I hoped I’d be able to start my watch at the right time but wasn’t entirely sure where the start line was until I saw some flour marking the spot.

For the first mile the course loops around the village and crosses the start line for a second time. I took this easy, but because I’d started at the back I overtook quite a few people. I decided this was okay and I should just carry on running at whatever pace felt easy. By the time the first mile marker appeared the village had now been left behind us and the course was heading out into the countryside for a bigger loop.

Over the next couple of miles I felt it get warmer and warmer, and I think because of this it actually made the strong force of the wind (seriously, we’re talking about 40mph here) a little more welcome than it would normally be. In some places the wind really did make a difference to pace, but I wasn’t bothered by it – I was here to have fun and enjoy the scenery of rural Lincolnshire. I was having fun and glad to have entered the race.

At mile 3 there was a water station so I decided I may as well have a bit of water. I grabbed the cup and squeezed it closed, successfully avoiding spilling any – took a quick sip and discarded it. By this point every step was heading back towards the village and eventually I started to recognise some of the road from having been down it in the car earlier. It also occurred to me at this point that whilst I’d overtaken a number of people on my journey from the back of the pack, I hadn’t yet been overtaken by anyone. It made me wonder if I was going too fast, but rather than look at my watch I decided to just stay at a pace that felt easy – let my legs decide what’s right.

I think it was around 4.5 miles into the run we were back into the village and this is when I saw my Dad standing on the side of the pavement and taking photographs! This was the first time in three years of running that a family member has watched me run – and getting a few photos at the same time was brilliant.

About a minute later I crossed the start line for the third time and was soon directed through a gate onto the playing field for the finish. I couldn’t see the finish though so was unsure when to allow myself a bit of speed. Eventually though as I got around a corner I saw a sign about 20 metres away that said “FINISH” so quickly tried to get up to sprinting speed, but failed to get up to speed before I finished. As I finished though the person who finished before me stopped moving completely the second he crossed the finish and I ran into the side of him – unable to stop quick enough.

I stopped my watch and looked at the time – 34:03. Oops! Taking into account this was my watch time, and not the gun time – that was a little faster than I’d intended as my aim had been to run around 40 minutes, but the odd thing is that it never felt like I’d pushed myself that hard during the run – it felt easy. Easy enough in fact that I hadn’t felt the need to walk which when pushing hard I’d often feel like I want to. It was a nice enough race for me to instantly have decided that I’ll be back next year to race it properly, and with an actual goal time in mind.

At the finish for this race you’re handed a bottle of water, and then if you head into the hall you’re given a mug saying “Bassingham Bash 2016” and a slice of some really nice cake!

When the official results were released my official time was 34:14 (so took around 11 seconds to cross the start line) in position 46 out of 192 finishers (first 24%).

Leicester’s Big 10K 2016

After failing to get the PB I wanted in Nottingham I decided to enter Leicester’s Big 10K again thinking that would be another good chance. I was wrong though – following my ankle injury whilst in Moscow I failed to do the Two Castles Run I’d entered for when I returned, and even by the time I did the #ukrunchat Shrewsbury Half Marathon my ankle had not healed. So just like last time I’d ran it, I would be running this one whilst recovering from an injury and off the back of a lot of missed training. Just over a week before the race I had it checked out and was told it’d take a couple more months of healing before it was right, and I should be careful when running on it.

By race day I had lost any confidence of being capable of attempting a PB – instead I decided I should just run and see what happens. Which in all honesty is all you can ever do, even if you set a target. I was no longer going to set a target but figured that a sub-45 would be nice.

On the day of the race I’d still got blisters from where my ankle support had been running during training runs over the past week, but I had at least managed a sub-7min/mile paced 5.5 mile run a few days before in the summer heat. When I first got there they hadn’t set up the start line so I wandered around for a while and eventually came across a couple of friends who I stood talking to until it was time for the race start. Unlike other races where the start is prompt, they waited for those in the queue for the 6 portaloos to make their way over to the line before starting.

As the race started I ran at a pace that didn’t feel too bad, but was slower than I’d have been doing had I been planning on a PB. It was a relatively traffic-free run, and as I knew about the congestion at an archway the last time I did it I tried to time myself to reach it without having to stop. After the first mile I was 10 seconds down on what I’d have wanted for sub-40, but felt that it wasn’t too bad – I knew I wasn’t going to PB and I just needed to see what my ankle would allow. Moments later I passed a friend who was there to support her sister, and was there cheering us all on.

Half a mile later the route then left the park for the first time, and the full force of the sun was beating down on the runners. It was hot, and it felt like it was getting hotter. It didn’t take long before I felt that I needed to walk to cool down, and to wipe the sweat from my eyes (I’d forgotten my #ukrunchat buff I’d normally use for this). I kept going though and almost made it to 2.5 miles before walking – the first of many times. At 2.5 miles the route went down hill back into the park, passed the water station (which I walked through and poured water over my head), across the car park and down some steps to the canal.

I’d forgotten about the canal path. When I went to have my ankle looked at I was told I could carry on running on it as long as I was careful and kept to flat surfaces. The canal path was anything but flat and it felt like it wasn’t doing my ankle any good. Apparently the race this year was in July as the council was supposed to be working on the canal path in April when it otherwise would have been. It seemed they hadn’t actually done anything though and I found this time I needed to ease off to take some of the stress away from my ankle.

The route passed the start-line and also where we’d all be finishing later, but kept on running straight passed it and this time took a different route through the park until once again we left it and went around the outside as before. By this time I’d had enough – the heat, my ankle, and lack of training was really showing and I’d walked far too much of the course. I figured though if I could run as much of the last two miles as I could then perhaps I could get a sub-45 time which would at least be better than last time, when I ran with a bad knee.

It was hard work and I pushed on as often as I could, but the walking breaks still felt like a necessity. I do at least manage to run down the hill and through to the canal and along some of it this time however, though I couldn’t run the full section of the course along the canal without needing to walk. Back in the park one last time I saw the “400 metres” to go sign and started to pick up speed, but then slowed again to a walk. I could see the finish – it wasn’t that far away really, so I started running again and once hitting the grassy surface I picked up speed for the final 200 metres. I decided to push a little harder for this and was up to 4:16min/mile by the time I crossed the line. Moments after they made an announcement that they needed paramedics at the finish line for a runner that had come in just after me.

I finished with an official time of 44:02 in position 44 out of 457 (putting me in the first 10% of finishers). Considering how bad it had felt I guess that wasn’t too bad, though had I not injured myself in Russia I think it could have gone better. As unfortunate as it was, I guess we all have races like this and I just had to do the best I felt I could do on the day. Just that best happened to be slower than my run a few days before.

This being my first race (and second run) with my new Garmin Forerunner 235 it also happened to be a useful chance to see what sort of extra stats it could produce. Although on Friday’s run I got a VO2 max score of 54, today’s race had been 53 – so not too big a difference. Also, although it didn’t feel like I’d worked that hard, the heart rate monitor indicated I’d averaged 171bpm (about 130 higher than my average resting heart rate) – so again was interesting to see how much it increased, and an indication that I was actually working fairly hard.

I know from this race I’ve got a lot of work to do to get back up to the speed I was before my ankle injury, and I’ve still got more time before it will have fully healed. My next race is now Bassingham Bash in August so I’m hopeful I’ll have recovered and improved enough by then to get a time I can be a little happier with.