The King of the Hill series is a nine race series in which participants run up the same hill – Binn Road in Marsden, up into the Wessenden Valley – on the first Wednesday of each month from February to October. The top finishers accrue points based on their finishing position, with the winner crowned King of the Hill champion. As of 2017, it spawned a sister race, the King of the Hill Marathon, centering around this ascent, and incorporating a half marathon, 10km and 5km option, with competitors running along the Huddersfield Narrow Canal from Huddersfield to Marsden, and then ascending through the Wessenden Valley, before heading back the exact way they had come before.
I’d wanted to do this race last year, with its low entry fee (£10 + booking fee) and a canal based route (because I love running near water) being big appealing factors, along with the fact that half marathon is perhaps my favourite and best distance. However, all plans had to go on hold as I was about to become an uncle for the first time, and so the race wasn’t a priority. This time, the only potential obstacle was my kids’ friends’ birthday parties, which thankfully were later on this particular day, meaning no clash, just a need to get home and showered after the race.
Storm Callum had done its bit in the day or two before to wreak a little havoc. Truth be told, West Yorkshire didn’t get it too bad but there were still storm conditions and high winds. The day of the race seemed calm, the air was slightly warm. Knowing what I knew of the canal, it was probably going to be muddy and wet in places. At least, in the case of distances below marathon, the race title was just that, a slight misnomer perhaps, given canals tend to feature only short hills, not the whopper the marathon of this race includes. Today would be an out and back from Huddersfield to Marsden on the canal only, and back again.
The race began just after 9am, and I immediately surged into the lead. There was no looking back. At least, not initially.
The first two miles went really quickly – a 5:40, then a 6:15. It was following a section where I had to take to the road, due to a towpath closure, that I realised there definitely wasn’t any PB potential in this course, as my pace began to slow a little, possibly as punishment for setting off so quickly, but also because canals have locks. Which rise, or decline, in opposite directions. The first half of the race featured several short, sharp inclines that proceeded to test my stamina, and the stormy weather that had preceded this day had left several puddles across the towpath, seemingly increasing in frequency, disrupting my rhythm. There was the choice of whether to avoid them or run straight through them. I tried to skirt around the larger puddles – the ones covering the entire towpath – but most of the time they could be easily skipped over, or unavoidable. Alas, I splooshed in a good few and my feet became wetter and wetter. There was also a headwind that was trying to push me back on occasion.
I was also so quick off the start that the first water station was still being set up. I had time to stop and get some water before heading on my way. I continued to push the pace but such was the frequency of the hilly locks that one even stopped me in my tracks. Not my greatest admission – but we’ve all been there, haven’t we? – but I kept moving forward, and quickly got going again.
I got to Marsden and stopped again for a drink and to gather my bearings. I wasn’t too sure if I wanted any food but the wonderful marshal offered me a few crisps which I took up immediately. The salty flavour perked me up a bit, and I took another gel at this point to go with the water. I got right into my stride. Just seeing no one immediately coming in the opposite direction was massive impetus to create as big a gap as possible. I estimate it was about five locks back to the person in second. I just had to keep it together. I was potentially holding a reasonably sized lead here.
The puddles were still massively disrupting my rhythm, but eventually I settled into a pace around 6:30-6:35 per mile, pushed on my a slight tailwind, and that seemed to be enough. I couldn’t seem to get back below this pace for anything longer than a few seconds, but my lead was comfortable, and sure enough, I arrived back at the ex Charlie Browns Autocentre finish to be crowned (literally and figuratively) King of the Hill Half Marathon champion!
This was a fairly low key race, and it was a fairly low turnout too, but it was devised to that way in order to keep the price low – only up to 150 entrants are allowed, though I overheard only 50 registered cumulatively for the events. The crown is the only prize given out, worth no more than a couple of quid at most, however the food put out for the runners including bananas, oranges, sausage rolls, cake, yes, cake, amongst others, and I’m perfectly fine with that over a medal or some other trinket. Recovery food and cola, that’s the stuff! And no race photography either. Which again, I can live with, given that the race had to call for marshals days before the event to ensure it could go ahead.
I had a slightly farcical post race when I thought I could visit my firm’s. nearby office to get a shower. Wane, the race director, even lent me a towel. However the gates were locked when I got there and I didn’t have the access code for the car park. Alas, I returned to get changed. It didn’t end there, however. The wind was beginning to pick up again, and as I tried to clean the mud off my legs, it caught the crown and carried it all the way into the canal! Incredibly Wane, and a fellow finisher, fished it out and went as far as to give it a wash!
My time came in at 1:28:43. Not my fastest half marathon time, but not too shabby, and well inside 2017’s winning time, meaning I actually hold a course record, I guess? All things considered, the time wasn’t important on this day. I just wanted a good race and the win is always a nice bonus.
I will move on now to consider whether my year is pretty much done, or if I can stretch to another paid entry race and see if I’m lucky enough to win again. Without question, I’m already moving on with one eye on the Blackpool Marathon next year, but if my budget allows I might enter one more race this year (not including my club’s Christmas Handicap, which is free entry). But with two wins since Germany, a parkrun PB and some cracking times set on the track, I seem to be having a blast this second half of the year. And I decree that it continues!
Thank you so much again to Wane for everything on the day, and everyone involved with Team OA, particularly the marshals who stepped up on the day to ensure the race could go ahead.
This weekend, I return to racing when I take on the King of the Hill Half Marathon, part of the King of the Hill Marathon event, in Huddersfield. It’s my third half marathon this year, a trail out and back on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal from Kirklees College near the town centre, down into Marsden, and back again. Although this may seem like business as usual for an avid runner myself, the last couple of months weren’t exactly such a straightforward path to getting back to racing.
After my sojourn to Germany and then my quick turnaround to run the Meltham Murder Maniac, I took a moment, or rather a few weeks, to consider my options for the following few months. I had been dead set on wanting to run a trail marathon in Kirkstall, however my German experience and then a series of family events that I can best describe as ‘life’, (without diving into it), meant that running took a little bit of a back seat. I wasn’t injured, I wasn’t disenchanted and I hadn’t suddenly decided to change careers and move into, I don’t know, water polo. But it did seem secondary all of a sudden and before I knew it, I was in a state of flux.
It could well be to do with the fact as well that, following Meltham, my next race booked wasn’t until June 30 next year. While undoubtedly I had targeted races before the year end I would like to do, I hadn’t got around to entering them yet. When your savings effectively amount to the wage I am paid each month, you see where I often prioritise my purchases and generally this means I put back race entries as late as possible unless I’m certain I’m able to afford, certain it doesn’t clash with anything important, and occasionally this will go on impulse.
Effectively, when I stepped off the plane back in the UK, when I finally found myself alone on the train back to Huddersfield, I pretty much sacked the idea of running Kirkstall, and in fact any autumn marathon. I’d spent the best part of January to April running fast. And then the best part of May until early August running fast. I had no motivation left to want to put myself straight into another marathon cycle. I needed to mix things up a little bit, something to get my head back in the game, some form of motivation to get me back in routine. Essentially, I needed to figure out exactly what I wanted from running. Not in four months, six months, next June, but right nowadays.
The first thing I did, ironically, was to enter another race – albeit not one happening immediately, my next marathon will be the Blackpool Marathon on April 28, 2019. Blackpool is a part of my life I’ve grown up with, from day trips and family holidays, the Pleasure Beach and Coral Island, the Promenade and the beach where I achieved my first ever 3rd place in the Blackpool Beach 10K (in 2014). I’ve really wanted to do that race again, but the spring marathon season often gets in the way. Ironically, so do this race – but it does mean I will have a flat marathon course on which to attempt the sub-3 hour marathon once again. All I will need on the day is decent weather conditions – Blackpool can be notorious for its gusty coastal winds and lashing rain at this time of year, as much as its reputation for attracting boozy stag and hen parties – and a working rail network (given the havoc caused with Northern at the helm in those parts). Of course, this didn’t solve what I wanted immediately from running, but it at least gave me the jump to want to get properly back into the swing of it.
Without question getting back into routine was the most important thing, heading back to club training being a first step where I realised that track pace I became used to had soon disappeared over the course of a few weeks off. I knew it wouldn’t take long to get it back, just some consistency once again. Run commuting wentbback on the agenda, though my regular bus home travels via the motorway, cutting out half the distance before the first stop, six miles from home. It takes me from as far as Birkenshaw, a village between Bradford and Leeds, back to Brighouse, as is hilly by nature. It can be mixed up with a trail to make it slightly longer, or I can get off the bus closer to Cleckheaton, which gives me 4 miles. You’ve got to work with what you’ve got, and presently the trail is my favourite out of these – a little bit challenging but not massively so, and is worth it for a wonderful view over the M62 looking far into the distance on a clear day.
I’ve used the decision to avoid autumn marathon training to basically enjoy a bit of variety around shorter distances. I turned 34 on 9th September, meaning the countdown is on before I become a ‘veteran’ or ‘M35’ under age categorisation. Not that it changes much. This has nicely aligned with a refocus on running fast, but at shorter distances. Before 2015 I couldn’t stop breaking my PBs, but after injury I focused on greater challenges, new terrain. But given how my running has resurged in the last 16 months, in particular since the start of this year, I feel like I should also be making the most of what I’ve got. I felt inspired watching the 5km track races in Munich, particularly among the age group athletes, who I was in awe of for their ability and for making age look absolutely irrelevant. About two years ago, as I found my way into more challenging races, I was motivated by basically doing really hard races, and somehow succeeding. Now, I have a renewed focus on my often neglected distance anything from 5km to track distances, e.g. 400 metres.
I’m more interested in 5km as I’ve ever been, seeing what the track, hill reps, etc. has given me in terms of my speed endurance of late. The 16:39 I ran at a relay event earlier this year (4.8km according to the event, 4.98km according to watch) has given me the belief that I can make sub-17 5K running a personal reality, and not just have this anomaly I ran one day. That really depends on how much work I put in, though, whether the 5K remains an occasional fling, or a dedicated pursuit.
I returned to parkrun, finishing first in my local event at Brighouse (a slightly undulating trail run) just over a month ago, in a now official PB of 17:51. That was off the back of a punishing hill reps session a few days prior as well. It’s a good step forward towards my goal of becoming a regular sub-17 5km, as getting under 18 minutes at parkrun had, until now, proven elusive. The following week, I tried track racing for the first time, at my club’s annual championships, whereby competitors take part in the 100 meters, 400m, 800m, 3,000m, the long jump and the shot put, over two evenings. The less said about my field efforts, the better, but I did finish second in the 100m and 400m, which I didn’t have all my own way. But I did earn a 1:07.6 in the latter, a PB for one lap of the track. I also won the 800m in 2:25.3, also a PB, which I ran from the front from about 150 meters onwards. But the one race I really wanted to target was the 3,000m, in which I had no doubt would be my strongest event.
One of my coaches invited a number of fast runners from the club to take part, and our race was mixed in with the under 17s and under 20’s as well. This included two very, very good under 17 athletes, including one who has been breaking records in his age category in Britain and at the European U-18 Championships. I had nothing for these two lads, who immediately established in first and second, but I hung onto them as long as I could. The leader showed his already evident talent, gradually increasing his lead through each of the 7.5 laps. I maintained a gap of around 60-70 metres to second, but couldn’t catch him. No matter though, I was storming ahead in my age category and this was about seeing what time I could run for this distance. Propelling onwards with my rarely used track spikes, I ran mostly 76 and 77 second laps, bookended with a 72 second lap on the first full lap, and finally a 75 second lap to finish. With about 100 metres to go, the clock ticked on my watch to 9:43. I gave it one last push, sensing I had a sub-10 time in my grasp. Willed on by volunteers at the side of the course, I crossed the line to take 3rd overall, in 9:57.2. And with that, unquestionably (if not officially) my fastest ever race.
It felt brilliant. I thought back to those track races I watched in Germany, seeing those M35 runners go round in somewhere below 16:30. That’s about the pace I was operating at over 3km, and that’s frequently lapping athletes using lane 2 and even lane 3 on one occasion. Of course, there’s the question of whether I could actually run 16:30 on a track, or at least sub-17, and that’s the most exciting part. If I could have got back on the track and run 12.5 laps there and then, I would. I’d have taken my position to see what I could do. I want to see where my spikes can take me next! And not just for the sake of seeing how fast I can go, but indeed, finding my limits and seeing how far I can raise the bar.
In the weeks that followed, routine was back, and my motivation was back and fully firing again. I don’t think I’ll ever be truly settled or satisfied on one particular distance, but I can certainly supplement my long distance training with the variety of training I get with my club, and likewise, I can call on my belief and desire to push myself beyond my current limits and enjoy it as much as the long, lonely morning runs.
With the long, hot summer finally behind us, it’s time for autumnal challenges, and indeed the cooler running weather I prefer. Although tomorrow appears forecast to be a rather humid and damp morning for racing, and potentially quite muddy in parts too. I don’t think I’m in shape for another half marathon PB, but when has that ever stopped me from trying?
Of all the types of training a runner can do, without question, hill sprints are the worst. Don’t get me wrong. I recognise the massive benefits they bring. Speed endurance. Core strengthening. That high of reaching the very top, before coasting back down. Yeah, I realise the good things about them far outweigh the bad. That they test my willpower like nothing else. A hard marathon leaves me wanting more, but a hill sprint, well, I’d rather unblock a toilet than bust my lungs running to the top of a hill. OK, maybe that’s not entirely true, but I can honestly say it’s something I do through gritted teeth. Well, unless I’m gasping for air by the top.
So what drew me to enter the Meltham Murder Maniac? Was it the fairly low entry price (£7.50 in advance)? Nope. Was it the charitable aspect (£5 of each entry went to Holme Valley Mountain Rescue)? Not really, although it was good to see a local race giving back to its community. It was moreso the challenge, and the history of this race. The race was inaugurated in 1984 by a Meltham local who had tested the course himself (Wessenden Head Road) and run a sub 4 minute mile downhill. The event, then just known as the Meltham Maniac Mile, quickly became a magnet for runners seeking to join the sub 4 minute mile club and in 1993, a 16 year old wrote themselves into the record books, and more recently, an episode of QI) when he ran the downhill mile in 3:24, way inside the official mark set by Hicham El Guerrouj of 3:43.13 in 1999. The race was abandoned after 1997 but returned in 2014 with a ‘Murder Mile’ now added as part of a local nostalgic event, Meltham Memories, and has since been run every year, with Team OA now continuing what has become a fixture in the local calendar.
I was one of the first to arrive on race day, and with a whole hour to kill before the race, I walked up part of the hill to get a scope for the challenge ahead. It reminded me so much of why I love this part of the world. The hillside scenery is simply magnificent, a peaceful village, green hills all around and nothing but politeness from the locals. After a warm up around the local roads, it was time for the race. I opted to ditch the visor and sunglasses though, as the cloud rolled in to blunt the sharp rays trying to shine down on this early evening occasion.
The majority of runners today were here to do both the Murder (uphill) and the Maniac (downhill), with a few simply running the downhill prior to the main up-then-down race. We also had one runner just doing the uphill. Everyone was assembled hastily for the start, and about 10 seconds later, the event was underway. Immediately, I was in a group of about four at the front, tucking in behind two Holmfirth Harriers, with a young lad, at a guess no older than 12, running well on the right hand side of the road. I was doing around 7:35 mile pace to begin with, having got out quickly and into my rhythm, and wasn’t losing much speed on the climb, as I moved past one of the Holmfirth runners. The kid on the right marginally led at one point, but a little further up I was firmly established in second. I then seemed to be moving up on the leader, and soon overtook him, about 0.6 miles in. From this point, I didn’t look back. I kept to my rhythm and surprised that my pace had still remained just inside 8 minute miling, until I briefly took my foot off the gas to recompose myself at a tiny sting in the hill’s gradient. Turning around the corner, I began to see cones on the side of the road and eventually, a few volunteers recording the splits at the top. I surged at this point, buoyed by the sight of halfway, and made the 180 degree turn getting straight into my stride.
Amazingly, I had a gap. And a fairly significant gap at that, with the next runner just coming around the corner, maybe a tenth of a mile back. I’d already started charging at this point, and I swear I was absolutely gritting my teeth. Now admittedly, I’ve run down much steeper hills – Trooper Lane, Halifax (19%), and Birkby Lane, Hartshead (14%) to name two – and a few steeper ones too, but they end a lot sooner. It’s about a mile up to the cattle grid on Wessenden Head Road and still ascends beyond that point. This had a nice consistent gradient, and with a gentle breeze to run into on the way back down. A man running in a flamingo costume (really!) offered a high five, perhaps the fastest one I’d ever delivered, though not as hard as the one I nearly took my team mate’s hand off with in Germany.
I felt absolutely in control, and gradually got quicker and quicker. I didn’t dare to look back, there simply wasn’t time! My average pace dipped under 5:00 per mile, and my watch beeped the second mile at 4:52. The footsteps I kept thinking were pounding behind me just seemed to be either a figment of my imagination, or perhaps the sound of my feet thudding at an increasingly faster cadence.
The finish line arrived and on this day, I was the victor. My official time, 13:38. The next runner came in around 20 or 30 seconds behind me, and soon a steady stream of runners, including the man in the flamingo costume finishing respectably. My uphill mile was clocked in 8:40, downhill in 4:58. The course was slightly longer than a mile, but I don’t really mind! It’s my best result of the year, having set personal bests on occasion but not achieving so many ‘podiums’. I didn’t even expect to win this race, a great bonus to an event I was pleased to have taken on, and actually enjoyed.
The fun didn’t end there as the presentation took place. There was no grand prize – especially as the race gives away £5 of each race entry to Holme Valley Mountain Rescue, a worthier recipient than any medal or trophy manufacturer. Instead, the top three of the up and down, plus the top three downhill and, in a nice touch, the very last person to finish, all got a selection from the lucky dip box. A series of white envelopes, all looking fairly much the same. The man in second won a spork. I won a glowstick. Although not one of those cheap ones for a rave. One you can use on camping and outdoor trips. Which is actually handy, as my wife I are taking the kids camping shortly!
A big thanks to Team OA once again for their organisation on the day (and for the photos). As it was, organisation wasn’t too much – no start/finish awning (the road had to remain open), just timers at the top and bottom of the course to check numbers coming over the line, but as only a two mile race, it was kept nice and simple, in keeping with the premise of this race. It’s nice to be added to the list of winners of this illustrious race, but that record time, wow, I can’t imagine what it would be like to run downhill at that pace!
(DISCLAIMER! All text, views and opinions in this blog post are entirely my own and not representative of Allianz or its employees)
Saturday July 21st, 2018. 5:15am
I managed it. Up at 5:15am, I got dressed, went downstairs, and asked the receptionist at the hotel for a mug of boiling water, and a spoon, as I wanted to make a cup of tea but I didn’t want to wake up my roommate with the expresso machine. Sure enough, the receptionist went to the kitchen, and brought back a tall, wide glass, two thirds full with boiling water, no handle, and a long spoon. Not ideal, but I’ll take it. Up I went, back to my room, draining some of the water carefully down the sink, and mixing my porridge sachet into the remaining water. Yes. My half marathon breakfast ritual was preserved. One banana later, I got kitted up, got my stuff that I needed together and went downstairs to the hotel dining area, being sure as much as possible to not be akin to a baby elephant in a potting shed as my roommate remained asleep from whatever jollies they had got up to while still at the Hofbräuhaus the previous night.
Ladies and gentlemen, today was the day. Allianz Sports 2018 had opened on Thursday, over four months since I learned I had been selected by Team GB’s captain as one of the athletes to run in the half marathon category. I’d done the training, got my kit, brushed up on German for the first time since year 9 of high school, and had watched amazing athletes over the weekend push themselves to glory, superb displays of fair play, and support their team mates in numerous disciplines, including track and field, swimming, golf, table tennis, beach volleyball, chess, and many more sports besides. There was barely any negativity to see. The mood in the Team GB camp was positive, and we were all supporting one another as we prepared for our second full day of action, with big races, finals and more medals to potentially win after an exciting first full day of action on the Friday.
I joined one of my teammates running the half, and soon there were about six or seven of us commandeering two tables. I only had a green tea, others were taking on their breakfast just now. At 7:15am, with almost the whole team assembled, aside from one who had to drop out, something I only realised after the race.
The weather predictions had come slightly true, as we walked through somewhat rainy weather back into the Olympiapark, where the runners were beginning to assemble at the Coubertinplatz. The start/finish gantry had been erected, a clock in place, while parts of the course were now lined with a mix of blue and white tape, flags in the ground or red and white cones. Registration was easy. Some runners were already registered to reuse their number if they had taken part in track and field events the previous day, and for those, like myself, who hadn’t, it was a case of showing your pass and receiving your race number according to your alloted athlete number. They already had punched holes in too! Although the paper clips were the flimsiest I’d ever seen. I managed to bend two of them trying to thread the race number to my vest!
I left my belongings in the bowels of the Olympiastadion, in the men’s changing rooms. It was then back up to Coubertinplatz to get ready for the start, going through my warm up routine, a few circles jogged around a small radius (having already jogged a bit to leave my belongings and return), and taking part in Team GB group photos.
The runners were assembled at the start. Mentally, I was calm. I had shut out any presumptions of winning a medal, knowing full well having seen yesterday’s action that the level amongst the athletes was as competitive, at least, as any organised race I’ve been a part of in the UK. I’d even fielded one jokey question from a teammate if I knew if I was going to win, because if so, he wouldn’t have to get out of bed! If only it were that easy…
The starting gun went, and we were promptly away. I went with the early pace and was quickly established in the lead pack of four runners, along with a Swiss, a Pole and a German. The course moved up from the start and turned right to go downhill, at one point passing the memorial for victims of the bombing at the 1972 Olympics. It then took another right down towards where the Dino World exhibition was on. Its not every day you can say you ran past a giant fake dinosaur egg, but here, you could. We moved on to run by the Olympic Lake (Olympiasee), running down one side of it and then over a bridge to come back the other way. It was then when the course became hilly, passing a cultural festival called Tollwood in the south section of the park, featuring a steep hill which I took steadily. Down a big straight section, Rudolf-Hartig Weg, taking a right and steadily rising uphill towards the start/finish at Coubertinplatz.
I actually briefly led at about the 4 km point, before being overtaken by the Swiss runner again as we went up the hill towards the start/finish. As we crossed for the 2nd lap, almost side by side, the clock showed that we had gone through the 5.2km course in about 19 minutes flat. The pack behind was close. I decided tactically to just ease a tiny bit, so to slot in to the pack and just hanging on to them. I’d probably dropped from about 2nd to 9th or 10th overall at this point. Then, as we got to the bottom of the course for the second time, they started to pull away. I wasn’t struggling per se, but the pace at the front was red hot and I knew it. Any medal chances appeared to be fading fast, so I just relaxed and focused on maintaining my own effort. I was then passed a little later by a Spaniard and a Colombian runner. I took a gel and kept the gap to them for a bit, but then they headed off into the distance just a little more. The long straight section meant I could see the lead pack right up ahead. But they were a good minute or so ahead. The two men behind myself and the lead pack were now also starting to get away. Nonetheless, I kept plugging away, and the gel I took had injected a bit of life back into my hard effort.
I was quickly beginning to actually enjoy the race, to an extent. The marshals around the course were very supportive. Despite the rain there were pockets of support of various nationalities around the course. One German marshal even tried to prank me by shouting ‘link hander!‘, I believe, which I twigged from my knowledge of Rammstein songs that ‘links’ is left. And I was negotiating a right hand bend, as the marshal chucked to himself. Further up the final hill, I was giving thumbs up and the ‘Dio’ horns to a photographer, which got me a few cheers from a group of French fans, and the Germans and Italians were out in force as well. I was seriously impressed with how well this event was put together, and buoyed on by the fans defying the rain as it began to come down again.
I had gone through the second lap in around 39 minutes. I knew I’d slowed a little but I was still on personal best pace. Fuelled on by my gel, it seemed, I pushed on, trying to close the gap to the Colombian up ahead. I knew now I would need to start closing the gap to those guys immediately ahead and hope to start picking off athletes that might have gone out too hard ahead. But that was never going to happen in such a significant way, and it soon emerged I wasn’t really closing the gap. I was then overtaken by an Austrian runner, losing a further place. I took another another gel at the 13km mark. Unusual for myself, given I don’t necessarily feel the need to take on board extra carbs for a half, but given what was at stake I’d determined I wasn’t going to leave anything to chance if I started to flag. Although I had anticipated prior to travel that I might be at the top end based on previous results. It was never a given.
One of my teammates then passed me for my place, becoming the lead Team GB runner in the process and running even stronger than I was, judging his effort perfectly. He encouraged me to keep going and I kept up to him for a bit, but he was a little stronger, gaining on and eventually overtaking the Austrian runner in front of me, to whom I was maintaining a not too distant gap to. We started to lap a few runners at this point.
The end of the third lap arrived and the clock at the start line had appeared to fail. At least, from our side. I shouted out to ask if anyone had a split, as I had no idea now if I was still on PB pace. I don’t think it would have changed my mind in anyway. I began the final lap with a charge downhill and began to close in on the man in front of me. However, by midway I wasn’t making any more gains and the gap began to increase again. I got some encouragement though when I overtook a Polish athlete who had appeared, perhaps, to have misjudged their effort. One more time up Tollwood hill, the finish was arriving. My pace was steady but I knew I needed a strong finish.
I have a propensity in these situations to fire myself up, either by shouting something to myself, or even, yes, hitting myself in the chest or slapping myself across the face. I find it gives me an adrenaline surge. I knew I needed something for sure. As I began to run up the final hilly section, at a point where the hill levelled out, I remembered a simple phrase I’d learned on Memrise, and roared ‘lass uns gehen! Come on!‘, (meaning ‘let’s go!’).
And with that, I found that extra, suddenly finding a bit of extra spring in my step. I maintained it, and as the finish line came into view, I sprinted, knees up, driving for the line, and crossed to cheers from both sides of the crowd, the second GB athlete home, saving my fastest effort for last.
Immediately, I shook hands with the Austrian, who finished 21 seconds ahead. He had sensed I was catching him briefly, early in the fourth lap, but he was definitely the better of us on this day.
I turned around to see the clock running on the opposite side, and it was showing ‘1:21…’ as it ticked over. I began to speculate if I had a PB, but I had to wait for information to come through on the Allianz Sports app. More GB runners began to cross the line. An American I’d walked up to the hotel with on Thursday night, after the opening ceremony and dinner, crossed a few minutes behind me and we got talking again at the finish. We’d got on well that night and it was great to see him at the finish, happy with his time.
About 15-20 minutes later, the time came through on the app, and I had run a PB after all. 1:20:43, taking 7 seconds off my previous best . Placing myself 8th in the M18 category, and 15th in the overall standings (medals were given out for each age category, M/F18, 35, 45 and 55+). I was absolutely delighted with my time, completely satisfied.
For I knew that as long as I gave my best, whatever the outcome, then I could have no regrets. Had I chased after the lead pack on lap 2, I’d have surely been a broken man. The winning time was 1:15:50, and to get into the medals I would have had to go sub-1:17. In the last two games, my time would have achieved a silver medal. That’s how much the standard at these games had increased this year. There’s no way I can influence anyone’s race, other than my own. I said to myself beforehand, as long as I race my best effort, that’s all I can do. Having realised I wasn’t going to win a medal, I allowed myself to actually enjoy the race and indeed, this had been a fine race to run.
After taking time for celebrations with others and various photos, yet to emerge, I took myself to grab my belongings and head back to the hotel for a shower in my hotel room. I, like many others, was absolutely soaked with rain, and needed to get out of my wet clothes into something drier.
I mean, it’s the Olympiapark. The home of the 1972 Olympics, a place given back to the German public after the Games had finished. The course was wonderful – not too challenging, but with enough sting in those hills to test everyone, taking in a number of sights, including the poignant (aforementioned) memorial, the Olympic Lake, the Olympiaberg (aka Olympic Hill), and occasionally the quirky – the race went past the Dino World exhibition – its not every day you get to run past a large fake dinosaur egg! – and the Tollwood festival, which looked like some sort of outlaw fairground at first glance (it’s actually a cultural and environmental festival). It’s unbelievable that Munich doesn’t yet have its own parkrun, given the vast facilities, a potential one lap course, and the large number of runners who frequented the park during the entirety of my stay, whether it be raining or under the gaze of the hot, burning sun. I could run in this place again and again and again, and never tire of its charm, its people, and its history.
Despite a few concerns about the race, given that course information didn’t arrive until the afternoon before the race, these proved to be unfounded. A biker lead the front runners around the course, there were marshals and volunteers positioned at every turn, and the two food/water stations were ideally placed, one near the start/finish and one around 3km into the lap. Plus points as well for using recycled paper (or card? I don’t remember) cups, a suitable alternative to plastic. The only slight downside was where to leave my bag – any valuables had to go in a locker, apparently in either the athletics hall or the stadium. I found lockers in either, choosing to leave my baggage unattended in the changing rooms along with that of several other European runners. I got all my stuff back – to that end security and volunteer staff were very diligent, and in any event, you had to have accreditation – which all athletes were given – to gain access. Some athletes had also used a nearby restaurant, but I can’t vouch for that was in there so far as changing rooms or locker service.
This was just one event in two full days of action, and it quantifies as one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had as a runner. I never imagined it would take me to a place like this – I’m lucky enough to work for an affiliated firm that was granted this opportunity – but I still had to be selected, and to that end I’m so grateful for an unbelievable opportunity. This event won’t happen again for another four years, just like the real Olympics, but it will be in Barcelona. Assuming my employment status remains the same by then, I’d find it hard pressed to turn down another potential opportunity to take in this event again, and visit a marvellous city.
To this end, I need to thank several people and organisations for making this event possible, for myself and for the 900+ athletes who took part:
– My wife, whose birthday I missed for this event, but who was so understanding and supportive of my initial (& successful) application.
– Allianz for extending an invite to my firm and its employees to apply for Allianz Sports 2018; their team captain for selecting me as one of the three out of all those who applied; and again, Allianz, for putting on such an incredible event that was competitive, entertaining and enjoyable. This is as close to the Olympics as anything I’ll ever find. It was such a privilege to run in such a historic venue as the Munich Olympiapark, home of the 1972 Olympics.
– Everyone I came across in the Team GB squad. You made me feel welcome and as one of your own employees, indeed, part of the team, not just someone you’d just met at the airport. I had such a blast representing Team GB, from wearing the colours to running the race, cheering everybody on and getting in the team spirit, the conversations and good times had with so many of you, as you excelled yourselves to personal bests, fair play and medals you truly deserved for your performances.
– All the nations who took part, in particular runners from the Netherlands, Austria, USA, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and many more. It was awesome to meet some of you, watch your astounding performances regardless of age and for the support I got from your compatriots around the half marathon course. I made a few friends out there and it’s truly great how sport brought us all together.
– to the volunteers, the event staff, marshals, the medical teams, and kitchen staff in the various venues. You ensure this event could happen just by giving up your time. Without you, such an event could never happen safely and efficiently.
And finally, thank you Munich, and Germany, for your hospitality, friendliness and for persevering with my attempts to order and pay for things in German. I hope I didn’t offend you if I got any of my grammar wrong, but I kept it simple and you were patient to allow me to converse, albeit mostly interspersed with English! Danke für ihre gastfreundschaft.
I leave Munich not with a medal, but a new half marathon personal best, and a huge bunch of amazing memories to take away. And indeed, lots to consider going forward…
(This diary covers training between Monday July 9th-Thursday July 19th, 2018)
With not long left before my trip to Allianz Sports 2018 in Munich, there was no let up in my sub 1:20 half marathon training plan, which seemed to be back on course following a rough middle blighted by my errant right foot (namely the heel) and the heatwave, which was making run commuting and interval running a bit of a slog. There were plenty reasons to be cheerful, however, with signs I was starting to become more and more accustomed to running under the watchful gaze of the burning solar mass in the sky. So I’m just as pleased to say that final preparations have gone pretty good.
I’d go as far as to say the penultimate week of my training went amazingly well. My kit finally turning up after going walkies for a week was a start. Track training the next day with the Harriers gave me the opportunity to run a mile time trial, this time after a few warm up laps and then a steady 800 metres. As we all set off together, I shot off at the front and largely had a clear path on the inside. I clocked around 73, 74, then 76 seconds for the first 3 laps/ 1200 metres. I put in my max effort on the final lap, absolutely straining for every last second, and ran the next 400 in 73 seconds. I was inside 5 minute mile pace overall! Although the one or two overtakes I had to do increased my distance, meaning my lap came in at 5:09. A whole 17 seconds quicker than my mile time trial a few weeks earlier. But there was one slightly depressing vision of years to come, as I’d effectively paced a teenager from the club the whole way around. He overtook me on the final bend and ran an even better mile! I made sure to congratulate him, that was a superb run he put in. He then went back to rejoin sprint training, bombing down the track as we completed our last few 800s to finish. Kids these days, eh?
There was more fast running to come on Thursday with some interval training on the run commute, something I haven’t done much of to be honest (intervals, not run commuting!). Having realised I’d not programmed my Garmin to plot my workout, I downloaded a smartphone app and programmed this to work in 4 x 60 seconds fast/slow, 1 min recovery, 4 x 45 seconds, 1 min recovery, then 4 x 30 seconds. I ran from Birstall to Roberttown and after 3.5 miles – roughly at the top of Roberttown Road – I began running intervals. Only, the app wouldn’t run properly with the screen off. I did wonder why I was running near 2 minute intervals and I was left to rue my failure to plan ahead. I ran the remaining intervals with the phone in one hand, having to reach over to manually ‘lap’ each segment. What a farce and a kerfuffle. However, once into my stride, I was absolutely flying. 5:30 mile pace in the early part dropped to 5:15 pace, then to just over 5:00, and then even lower. By the end, on the 30 second intervals, I was clocking sub-5 minute pace consistently. This was boding well for what lay ahead.
I had planned one more fast session, a 10K in my local park in which the training guide was calling for 5:45 mile pace (3:35/km). This would give a time of 35:45, but the guide stated as long as I took it easy thereafter, the effort would stand me in good stead and have me race ready. I found out I would be racing on Friday July 20th, so I decided to align my 10K on on the preceding Saturday morning. Except there was one problem. I slept in. Whoops.
Now there is obviously something to be said for the taper, given I ought to be winding down to reduce any injury related risks, however, so one lie in probably wasn’t the worst thing. However, I’m also a believer in arriving at your peak for a race. My shorter training runs have certainly suggested this, and historically I’ve lowered my half marathon PB on two occasions when I’ve been preparing for a spring marathon – both times at the rather undulating Liversedge Half Marathon (2015 and 2018). So I preferred to carry out this run. Because I doubted that I could actually achieve the pace demanded by the training guide, given my PB is still 37:08, although I’ve likely run quicker splits, again likely at the Liversedge Half Marathon – I ran watchless in 2018 so I have no data.
I hit a slight snag when I slept in on the Saturday, but I resolved to run instead on the Sunday morning, although that meant max effort slightly closer to race day. Undeterred, I set off down to my local park, having around 1km warm up, entering, and running. I did 10 laps more or less of the back section of Wellholme Park, which contains a gradual hill on one side which increases gradient briefly before dropping down the other side. And its on a trail which is partly dusty, partly rocky and occasionally requires moving to the grass it encircles.
I ran to perfection. Gratefully, any dog walkers in the park had perfectly well behaved dogs, so I had effectively a clear path 100% of the time. I was only interrupted once, after 8km, by a phone call from my wife informing me one of my kids was up and wanting to do junior parkrun. I promised to be back soon and ran my quickest splits to finish. The best 10km I’ve ever run as a standalone distance, 6 days before the highest stakes opportunity. 36:31, a whopping 37 seconds inside the PB I set on tarmac down in Regent’s Park last summer, where I set off too hard and suffered for it. I got this one absolutely right! My splits were 3:43, 3:39, 3:39, 3:40, 3:38, 3:40, 3:39, 3:39, 3:37 and 3:33. But for a brief slowdown as I reached for my watch, waiting for the 10km bleep, I would have been a second or two quicker as well.
It does make me think – what could I achieve on a flatter course, on a road route? The location of my 10K isn’t known for PB potential, but by just holding back on the hill and pushing it at other parts of the course, I was able to push my effort there to another level. And I once again ran fairly even splits – the first half in 18:19, the second half in 18:08 (that makes 36:27, but I have rounded up and down for some of my splits). The point being that I seem to be doing here what all good athletes aspire to.
Junior parkrun would be my cool down an hour later.
Easy (about 6:20-6:30 mile pace) mile reps on Tuesday were my last action before heading to Germany. A chance to try out the race kit, before taking flight. And so it is almost here.
I’m weighing up now how I execute my race on Saturday. My confidence in my ability is sky high, but not knowing the level of opposition means its a complete unknown how the race will play out. Undoubtedly there will be a quick start, it’s just whether I sit in and play the long, tactical game, or absolutely believe I’m a sub-80 and throw the hammer down. In the last two Allianz Sports events, around 1:22 has been good enough to medal. I know I’ve got the pace and the experience. But I won’t be the only one and while I will be there to absolutely enjoy this experience, I can’t deny that this will be the closest I will ever get to potentially standing on a podium with a medal. This event follows the rules of actual sporting federations. It is basically the corporate Olympics!
Whatever happens, this has been a gruelling but largely positive 11 or 12 weeks, and the Bavarian adventure begins now. Check back next week to find out how I got on. Cheers for reading!
(This diary covers Monday June 25th – Sunday July 8th, 2018)
The Halifax Harriers Summer Handicap 10K
Perhaps I was looking forward slightly too keenly to my annual race of self-flagellation, but alas, the Halifax Harriers Summer Handicap 10K, which took place on Tuesday June 26th, was a brilliant opportunity to test my pace and get another feel for racing in the heat. Its a race I’ve come to really enjoy, even if my fast pace means I’m at a severe disadvantage before I start, due to the race format.
Runners are set off minute by minute, starting from the slowest working all the way up to the fastest. I started with a 23 minute deficit, even bigger than the gap I had to make up the year before, but that didn’t make it a dead loss. I committed to making this a hard effort. And that I did. My first 5K went for 17:47. I couldn’t keep up that level, however and I wound up finishing in 38:17, still not a bad time, but although I still ran well, I clearly paid for my early pace in those conditions. I won’t run the half marathon like that, but it was a good reminder to myself not to go too crazy at the start!
The next couple of days would become a struggle – a 10K at slower pace lapping around my local park became a 5K, as I just couldn’t really get going on my race legs. I felt it better then to save myself for the run commute the day after. This was to be an 8 mile run from getting the bus to Farnley, and running down Tong Lane and up to Odsal Top for my bus home. I planned to run the first 4 miles steady (7:30 mile pace) and then faster, if not necessarily threshold, for the remainder. It went well to begin with, but upon reaching the latter part of the run I just couldn’t get up to any sort of level I wanted, and I ended up running closer to 8 minute mile pace. To compound things, I took a wrong turn at one of the subways for the Bradford Ring Road, and this wound up adding a mile to my run. By the time I reached Odsal Top, I was run walking. I was exhausted. I finished the run, but I knew there and then it was time to rest. I actually felt like I’d been beaten up and mugged, except the assailant was the sun and its accomplice,
Recharged, Sunday was to be a 15 mile trail run reaching up into Halifax and beyond, taking in Beacon Hill, a magnificent viewpoint from which you can overlook the town, and parts of rural Boothtown, a suburb of Halifax. First though, was to navigate the woodlands and country roads connecting Brighouse with Southowram. The shades I was wearing didn’t help as I sought to run downhill through some woodland – the sun wasn’t fully up yet, and under the leafy covering it was difficult to see. I struggled a little up the steep hills and then had problems with my GPS, which seemed to be taking me a different way to the route I intended. When I thought I had got on course, I came out onto the main road to be greeted by these bollards wrapped in police colours, and some sort of a grid up ahead. Unsure, I took a half step forward and suddenly, sirens seemed to blare from everywhere. A muffled voice came out from this apparent secure area (not very secure as the gate I bypassed to get onto the road was easily passable), and unsure whether in live conversation or receiving an automated warning, I got out of there, and quite annoyingly, ended up back where I should have been expecting to end up all along. That wasted so much of my time, I wound up cutting a couple of miles off my route so I could get home in time to ensure my wife got a lie in from the kids. I started to get some jip from my right foot again as well, after coming down from Beacon Hill. I did at least learn a few new trails and wound up clocking 12.5 miles in the end.
The next week had the small matter of England playing a last 16 match in the World Cup against Colombia, roughly about when I’d be training with my club. I suspect I wasn’t the only one who rejigged their plans. I did a 5 mile dash from Leeds, to Armley, and back into Leeds again instead, hastily going back into the city for my bus home. It was all worth it in the end, wasn’t it? And Thursday featured another run commute which went slightly awry when I got off a few stops too early. I ran an extra 1.5 miles that day, the last four attempting threshold pace. I struggled a bit around the hills of Roberttown and Hartshead, but in the end still had a fairly solid run, better than some of my more recent slow/fast run commute attempts. A steady 15 miles on the canal out and back rounded off my second week, nailing consistent pace all the way along the route.
I’ll have one more training diary entry coming up, hopefully before I depart for Munich, where I should be able to present my kit to you all (more about that rigmarole soon), and detail my final preparations. Tschüss!
(This covers training between Monday 28th May-Sunday June 10th, 2018).
I was left behind by my wife and kids as they went away on a last minute holiday to the seaside, while I would remain in work after the bank holiday. As far as running was concerned, this would leave a lot of spare time outside of work. With relative freedom, I planned two runs out of Leeds – one to try the Kirkstall Trail Marathon route, and one to try a new run commute home, with no pressure to get home for a particular time in the latter case. First though, came Tuesday night training with my club.
I still had a bit of the Ilkley Trail Race in my legs as we started out on the track, doing 6 x 800 metres. I started out around 90 second pace (per lap) and didn’t get much beyond 80 seconds, maintaining a reasonable but sensible effort. The finale of this session was a mile on the track, something I hadn’t ever run as a measurable distance. I absolutely relished it and I delivered. I caught up each of my team-mates and by the start of the third lap, I had room to run freely at the front. I had to run wide of a few runners which meant my four laps of the track were completed in 5:26.5. But the devil in the detail was how fast I ran an actual mile in – 5:11.01. Basically my second fastest recorded mile ever! I judged it perfectly. The first two laps were run in around 5:20 mile pace and by the very end I had hit 4:44/mi – strewth!
My week took a different turn during the trail run the following day, when I came across a meadow, on the very route, populated by a number of cows, either side of the trail. I opted to slow down and carry on straight through. Calmly I went through when I heard a grumble, a snort behind me. I saw the next gate in front of me and I absolutely bolted. I turned around and a black cow, possibly even a young bull, was staring a hole through me. I got a move on after that, but it did shake me a little. I searched afterwards for advice on navigating a field – the general guidance being to walk around them, not through or between them – but here, there was no option but to either proceed or turn back, it was that narrow. And there were no signs up whatsoever to warn of these livestock – it’s only on a public trail! The rest of the run went fairly well, although I had to end it early to get transport back into Leeds so I could travel home for a reasonable hour.
I normally get transport out so far and then run the remainder. Here I literally became the embodiment of what I normally despise – literally and figuratively running for the bus. Oh well. Its good to see different places and all that.
The following day, I ran a threshold pace run on the Leeds Liverpool Canal, heading out as far as Rodley before leaving. The first three miles, up to Kirkstall, were fairly easy miles, but the next three were near all out efforts. This included two short but fairly steep inclines, the second of which meant I needed a breather, but I finished strongly upon reaching Rodley Bridge. I now needed to make the uphill journey through Farsley and Pudsey before getting the bus home. I was absolutely spent, trying to make that climb. It was such a weary climb, and afterwards it made me realise I needed to back off a little.
I next ran 13.1 miles on the Sunday, having taken two days off to rest. I opted to run the Liversedge Half Marathon course starting from Thornhills, the steep climb around halfway into the actual race. In all I ran this route a good 17 minutes slower than when I ran my PB back in February. And yet, this turned out to be absolutely punishing in comparison. Perhaps it was the previous intensity of the training I’d undertaken, but I had rested and slept quite well. All in all though, things seemed OK.
I had another two days rest, one accounting for my wedding anniversary – 8 years happily married! – and then ran the same commute I did the previous Thursday, along the canal to Rodley Bridge and into Pudsey, but at a steadier pace. I aimed for 7 minute mile pace and consequently, I coped much better on the hills. Which isn’t exactly rocket science, but I was super happy with how I ran through Farsley and into Pudsey. I managed to maintain good momentum through the climb and didn’t fall too far off my target pace. Here though, things were about to go slightly south again.
The discomfort in my heel returned just a day later, and I immediately canned my next run commute – another threshold session – to allow appropriate rest and recovery. I did manage four miles around Wellholme Park on the Saturday but I remained unsure about whether I would be up to my target session for the week, a 10 mile time trial, with aims of running 6:12 mile pace for the duration. I set my alarm early that Sunday, but despite all the stretching and ibuprofen gel put on my heel, it just wasn’t worth the risk. I opted to cancel the run, and went back off to bed for a couple of hours more.
The most I could extend to after that was to take my kids to junior parkrun. They both recorded course PBs, which is excellent, but their effort more importantly was impressive. Both are working towards their ‘half marathon’ wristbands, which they receive after running eleven junior parkruns (at 2km, the equivalent of the half marathon distance). Not far to go now!
I couldn’t shake my disappointment at not being able to run my time trial. I mean, I could have done, but it wasn’t worth the risk at the time. It was just a great chance to test my speed endurance out. The priority though, is to stay fit. Around six weeks from now, I’ll be in Germany. I will be on the plane. But I must be absolutely feeling confident in my condition when I reach the start line. I’ve no idea what the level of competition might be, but I want to be in the best shape possible to be able to have a serious crack at going under 1:20 for the half, and maybe even medalling. Hopefully, I can get this bother in my foot to ease off, and then I may consider the best way forward for my remaining few weeks of training. Which may well include going back to my methodology I used for London Marathon in 2016 – one day at a time. Its not desperate, it won’t stop me getting on a plane, but I would be well served to use such an approach that not only got me to the start line that day, but got me to it in the best possible condition. And on that day, I ran a PB.