Munich Training Diary: Race, rest and rebound

(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!

Race photo from the Halifax Harriers Summer Handicap 10K (taken by Michael King)

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.

Panoramic photo taken from Beacon Hill, Halifax, 01/07/2018

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!


Munich Training Diary: Time for trials

(This covers Monday June 11th-Sunday June 24th, 2018)

I had been taking every possible opportunity to do something to alleviate the discomfort brooding in the heel of my right foot. Eccentric stretches on the stairs at home, at work, and by an office near my bus stop home. Cross friction massage of my right calf muscle on the bus. I really didn’t want my training to go off track, but I had to be realistic at this point that, even if I was still getting on that plane, I would now potentially have to consider exactly how I would get through to July 19 without comprising myself.

Luckily, fate would provide a guiding hand of sort, as my bus home, which normally allows a 10 minute changeover before I depart for Halifax, got stuck in traffic which meant I missed my connection and couldn’t go. Therefore, it was back home to help the kids into bed first and then off to the gym. I hadn’t been in a little while, but I rowed, cycled and then ran for 20 minutes on the treadmill, running just over 4km. I didn’t run again until Friday morning, this time solely on the treadmill, running for 45 minutes this time. I ramped up the speed towards the end of the session and in the end ran a solid 10km. I don’t often run on a weekday morning now but it was good to remember what it was like to be on that runner’s high right before an afternoon of work.

The end of that week I decided to take on my long run, and for the first time in a week, run outdoors. All seemed to go well – 14 miles, to Sowerby Bridge and back again, mostly on the canal, no bother in my foot whatsoever. The weather conditions were perfect, the fresh air from the first decent rainfall in weeks coming the day before, a great relief from the recent humidity. And it became a run with plenty distractions. Being Father’s Day, I ended up trying to get as many pictures of birds as reasonably possible, just to show to my kids later on. I saw three herons rise up from one area of moorland like dragons, such is their wingspan. They rarely sit still for a photo though! There were also swans and their cygnets, geese and their goslings, ducks and ducklings were all present amongst the smattering of wildlife. It made for a great few minutes later that morning. The run itself though went well. I nailed my average target pace for the session again – 7:15 per mile.

Looking down Hollas Road, Copley, with Wainwright Tower standing tall in the morning skyline.
Swans and their cygnets

My foot was giving me a slightly rougher time on Monday morning, til I applied a bit of ibuprofen gel to it, but as the day wore on the foot felt better and surprisingly, I awoke on Tuesday feeling in pretty good shape. Despite some major issues with public transport, I made it to club training for the first time in a few weeks – just – to complete some mile reps on the canal. It was much more widely attended compared to last month and made for a higher quality session as a result, and had a decent 8 mile run commute home later that week as well.

I had long targeted the Halifax Half Marathon as my warm up race for Munich, but circumstances have led to myself effectively cancelling my participation in that race. To be brutally honest, the next month is going to be a bit squeaky financially with extra commitments coming up, without going into detail, and so I can’t justify spending £25+ and travel to race when there’s more important matters to use my money. Plus, I came to realise that, having not been 100% lately, I didn’t see chucking myself full pelt around a fairly hilly course as ideal preparation for a likely flat, lap course half just three weeks on. Instead, I opted to run a 13 mile time trial this past weekend, all on my lonesome, and there below is how I fared.

I was aiming for 6:10 mile pace, so on the face of it I wasn’t quite there. However, there are a few elements here which mean the trial became about more than just the time.

For a start, my carb/energy-loading for this effort consisted of chicken chow mein with noodles the night before, and a slice of marmalade toast (on wholemeal) 30 minutes before the run. I would say that’s not ideal prep, but then it wasn’t race day. I also plotted my course through Greetland and then back through a hilly part of West Vale village in Elland. Greetland is essentially a big uphill climb throughout, and the intensity of my effort meant I actually slowed to a walk once or twice. While this makes it seem like I purposefully engineered my own downfall here, I actually turned it into something else during the run when I realised that maybe that hadn’t been such a good idea. Namely, making it about running the latter miles tired. And to an extent it was effective, with miles 10, 11 and 12 clocking 6:07, 6:09 and 6:12 respectively. I tanked a bit on the last mile, which was as much due to a few twisty turns killing any momentum I had as it was exhaustion, but I finished on a 6:35. Mile 8 was also a tidy 6:08 until the second major hill appeared near the end of that mile. Otherwise, I hovered around the 6:15 mark for the most part, which isn’t too far off. I have a 10km time trial, again on my lonesome, which I aim to run a week before I fly out to Germany.

I will still have one race to take part in pre flight – the annual Halifax Harriers Summer Handicap 10K, which took place on Tuesday June 26th (more about that soon). A free race for club members, this will be the third year in succession that I’ve run and perhaps a real chance to try and clock at sub-37 minute 10K. Whether that will be enough to propel me to the overall race win is another question altogether, as the format dictates the slowest set off first, and the fastest, setting off towards the back end, have all the catching up to do. It’s a great leveller and a fantastic race to be a part of. Plus, free pie and peas afterwards at the club house!

Really not long to go now. As of right now it’s less than a month until I fly out to Germany, and it seems to be approaching very rapidly. I should be getting information about the team kit for the trip and the actual race information as well. For now, there’s still a good few weeks of training ahead, I seem to have the irritant in my right foot back under control, and looking outside, it’s a good chance to reacclimatise to running in hot weather. It’s all coming together. Hopefully!


Munich Training Diary: Tracks, trails and trepidation

(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.

(Top) The trail from Reins Road, Horsforth towards (middle) Calverley Bridge, overlooking the River Aire, and (bottom) facing eastbound back down the Leeds – Liverpool Canal

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.

I will not be stopped!

Race Report: Ilkley Trail Race 2018

Monday May 28th, 2018

Shortly before the stubbed toe debacle, I found myself free to do something on my own on Bank Holiday Monday (May 28th) with my wife and kids having booked a short notice holiday to Blackpool during the kids half term. This isn’t the first time I’ve been left home alone, but usually my attentions turn to either doing a long bike ride (which never comes to fruition), or the likelier, go on a long walk somewhere. Like I did once on a very rainy and windy day up Ilkley Moor. But then I thought to myself, during my lunch hour, why don’t I search ‘running races in Yorkshire’. Sure enough, I got a few race listings up and came across the Ilkley Harriers Trail Race. It had an 11:30am start time, just over two hours after I would be due to see my wife and kids off at Halifax Rail Station, and I could reach it from Halifax by train in plenty of time for the start. Perfect! Though the stubbed toe meant I put off my entry, my recovery was immediate enough to consider myself race ready. And so I booked it in, hours before the deadline for online entries.

The Ilkley Harriers Trail Race is one of the aforementioned club’s annual races. It was first run in 2008 and has been staged every year since. As opposed to races such as the Ilkley Moor Fell Race and the Dick Hudson Fell Race, this race avoids Ilkley Moor save for a view of it at the top of the course, instead taking in Middleton Woods and heading north in the direction of, and around, Middleton Moor, before heading back down to the start/finish area, Ilkley Pool & Lido. It also raises money for charity, this year raising funds for the Revival Centre and Orphanage in Matugga, Uganda. The race was categorised under FRA rules, a Cat C medium difficulty race, measured at 6.9 miles with 700 ft of climb, and as such, runners would need to provide full minimum mandatory kit. You know, waterproofs, hat, gloves, map, compass, whistle, food (have I missed anything). Even though we’ve had almost nothing but 20C plus for the last week or two, and given how I’d seen photos of runners from the previous year in vest and shorts combinations, I was puzzled as to whether it was absolutely necessary to enforce the FRA rules when the forecast was to be sunny with almost zero chance of precipitation. Nonetheless, rules are rules and safety is paramount. So I took the lot in my race vest, which I stuffed into my larger backpack.

Upon arriving at the Ilkley Lido, and having travelled the whole way in overcast conditions wearing a visor, I felt it necessary to change to a buff/neck gaiter instead. So that’s what I did. 5 minutes later, the buff was around my wrist. It was far too warm and muggy for any headwear, it seemed. The sunglasses stayed in my bag, as did the FRA-required kit. At which point I noticed a van with a label on the dashboard saying ‘No Kit Required’. Typical, bloody typical!

It would end up being too warm for the headwear!

I was heartened to see one of my club mates, Will, also at the race, in Halifax colours. It had a feeling I was the only Halifax Harrier there, but how wrong I was indeed. My club mate Will happened to be larking about. I’d first met him when I surged past him on the track one night. He’s a fantastic runner, and it was great to see someone I recognised at the event. Not that it bothers me if I don’t know anyone at an event – it’s something I’m used to from my unattached days, and in any case most runners tend to be able to strike up conversation fairly easily, given we all have a common interest as a starting point! I digress.

The two Halifax Harriers, discussing race tactics!

The race started on Curly Hill, at the drop of the starter’s hand. There was no countdown, just a brief announcement and off we went. The start at the front was fast but audibly settled down as soon as the first climb took effect. Turning left into Middleton Woods, the real racing soon took hold as the race cut a course through the woodland. Now, if memory serves me correctly, there was a saxophonist performing in the middle of the woods for the runners! It was unusual to have musical support on course in a trail race, but certainly welcoming, and impressive.

Emerging from the woods into a field populated with lambs and possibly goats, I was engaged in a mini race for lesser positions, but still entirely focused on my own effort. It was nice to be faring reasonably well but I remember how strong the more local, experienced runners are around these parts.

The view at the top of the moor was well worth the climb, looking one way towards Wharfedale Valley and the other back towards Ilkley Moor. For a brief second or two I could marvel at how spectacular it looked. I could now see a few more runners beginning to disappear as the race meandered off the moorland, onto the roads and then back onto the trails of the moor within a minute or two. It would eventually become a personal target for myself to catch the one runner I could see ahead of me, dressed in the red vest of the Ilkley Harriers, who was some distance in front, but I didn’t believe he was impossible to catch.

Flying through Middleton Woods towards the end of the race

Though he was some distance ahead, I knew there would be a point where I could put in some mean pace and it was during the sixth mile. It was a gradual downhill, meeting back up with the first part of the race route. I put in maximum effort here, but it felt almost effortless gliding down the hill, of course being careful to check my step at every opportunity. Gradually I reeled in the Ilkley runner and like any good runner, surged past him without a glance as I went through mile six in 5:29.8. I kept on the pace through Middleton Woods, turning up right at the exit back onto Curly Hill, with only the stairs back to the Pool and Lido grounds, and the finishing straight to come.

Arriving in to finish

I turned left, took the stairs relatively well, and kept my stride as I arrived in. I then heard a shout along the lines of ‘keep going, he’s catching you!‘, which put a spring in my step and I ensured I crossed the finish about a second in front of whoever it was behind. I came to finish 14th in 47:47, having covered 7 miles according to watch. It turned out the man who shouted was Will, and he had actually won the race!

It was a turn up of sorts. Halifax are traditionally a road running club, and here was one of my team mates winning on the stomping grounds of trail and fell runners. Not that unusual perhaps, given that Halifax has its fair share of hills, but we could both be rightly pleased with how we ran.

It only felt right to purchase a bottle of Ilkley brewed beer afterwards, one that went down very nicely on such a warm day! You can also just see the t-shirt given to all runners after the event. It’s a nice leisurely Fastrax t-shirt, which I imagine I’ll get more practical use out of than a medal.

For something I found last minute, it turned out to be so much more than just a race I would just do to fill the time. Some of my team were at the Vitality 10K in London, a race which came too soon after the London Marathon this year to put upon my family. Well, now I have found a challenging trail race that I really enjoyed. Superbly organised and marshalled by volunteers at every relevant point of the course, even out in the sticks, this turned out to be a brilliant race, one that I will regard as a stepping stone in terms of my ongoing progression, and one I’d give fair consideration to not just filling my time come May Spring Bank Holiday next year, but to take on a tough yet surmountable trail race and attempt to better my result. And of course, take in all that lovely, almost endless, Yorkshire scenery. I’ll leave it there by saying thank you to the Ilkley Harriers for their superb hospitality, bringing the warm weather to the race, and for a friendly competitive event.

Featured image, pre-race and Middleton Woods photos by Philip Bland

Finish line photo by Dave Woodhead/

Official race website

Munich Training Diary: Arches, stubbed toes and trails

(This post covers the period from May 13-May 27, 2018)

Following my last post celebrating my invitation to Allianz Sports 2018 in Munich, Germany, things took a bit of a downward turn. Earlier that week I’d been forced to put running on the shelf as a source of curiousness in my right foot became a source of discomfort. Yes, the dreaded (likely) plantar fasciitis. The classic runner overuse injury. By my own admission, its been ruminating for about a year now, but through TLC and careful management, I’ve kept it well at bay. But the tables were truly turned after going out on a brisk lunchtime walk, a little over 24 hours after a 10 mile trail run the previous weekend. I was sat at my desk working, as usual, and got up to go to the men’s room when I felt an unusual and indeed, uncomfortable sensation suddenly emerged from the arch of my right foot, and I knew exactly what it was.

With running a no go in the immediacy, I decided to head to the pool to go swimming. The relevancy of this as a fallback option couldn’t have been better timed given that, since mid December, I hadn’t even been to the local pool once, through a combination of several factors. These being family and work commitments, marathon training, bad experiences with public transport (all of which contributed to missing swimming lessons). But all these events sapped my motivation to swim. I ended up using many of these events as excuses not to swim. Though I felt bad at letting my hard work of 2.5 years of lessons slip away, I really couldn’t find the drive to do anything about it. Until of course, a running related injury struck. So off to the pool I went. By and large, it went well. Although my stamina was way down, my technique was still OK, albeit a bit rusty, and I successfully managed about 400 metres, if that. Not that I was keeping track. But I left the pool that night feeling like I’d got a bit of motivation for swimming back. Though I’m not ready to resume lessons until I can get back to swimming at least 100 metres non stop.

Any notion I might have had about either doing more swimming or even running that week was firmly sidelined when I acquired a rather nasty cold. It didn’t stop me stretching or doing any other form of rehabilitative exercise, but I really didn’t feel up to any form of sporty exercise, whether on two feet or face down in the pool.

The week after, feeling reasonably better and having gone through foam rolling my calf along with other stretches and massages, my foot seemed in better shape and so I set about returning to training. Tuesday was club night and this time it was mile reps on the canal. There were just four of us doing it, but we absolutely flew. The first two miles I recorded went for about 5:31 and then 5:29.8 – one of my fastest miles of the year, although my Yorkshire Road Relays performance averaged 5:23 per mile (I recorded in metrics). My latter two miles were 5:53 and 5:41, a bit sluggish in comparison but still pretty good going. I certainly could feel the effects of having a week off, but crucially my foot felt fine. All in all, a fantastic session from the four of us

My employers were having their data recovery test days at a site closer to my home address than my regular place of work – I’m not permitted to disclose precisely where – but nonetheless, I used the opportunity to get some more running into my week. I did five miles on the Wednesday, running part of my route along the Calder Hebble Navigation, but utilising the woodland nature reserve paths for most of the stretch. I then carried out a longer run on the Thursday, opting to head out through Greetland, and along the trails to Copley, joining the canal there.

After a punishing uphill through Greetland, I arrived to the next trail and followed it to its end, with the option to go right down a rocky path, or through a grassy trail which would actually take me further out than I wanted. I decided to stick to plan and turn right, but seemingly without warning I kicked a massive raised paving slab and was sent flying forward, stumbling forward, initially unable to stop until I managed to firmly plant my foot. Pain was shooting through the big toe on my right foot. I sat down on the path, took my sock and shoe off and inspected the damage. It was quite tender around the nail and I sensed there might have been some damage around the knuckle of the toe as well. I was nowhere near a bus route, so I opted to carry on in discomfort, gritting my teeth until I arrived in Copley village. I stopped by the entrance to the canal and looked to see if I had any buses I could catch home – however with none present, I decided to carry on. Gradually the pain went away, masked by adrenaline, and I ended up running the entire remainder back into Brighouse.

Once the adrenaline wore off, I was in a fair bit of discomfort at home. Although I could walk fine, it was carefully so and the toe still felt tender. I iced it for 20 minutes with a gel pack and took ibuprofen, and about an hour later I iced it again. I ended up sleeping quite early which prevented me from trying to treat it any further, however I woke up the following morning and seemed to walk fine on it, and with hardly any discomfort at all. It seemed I had dodged a bullet there – the nail felt a bit sensitive but nothing more and within a few days I can say its probably about 90% healed.

With faith in my body, or indeed my toe, restored, I booked into the Ilkley Trail Race (which actually happens today), a 6.9 mile run around the trails, woodland and moorland of Ilkley (but not Ilkley Moor itself). I needed something to do on the Bank Holiday, with my wife and kids going away, so this fit the bill tremendously. I decided to rest up on the Friday and Saturday and cancelled my race pace 10K yesterday, instead opting to run the distance steady along the Calder Hebble Navigation and Cromwell Bottom Nature Reserve once again, largely ignoring the watch and simply reconnecting with what nature gave us. And I loved it! It’s nice to run without paying attention to a watch or worrying about times. I’ve been round the Cromwell trails many times before, but rarely do I stop to run closer to the Calder. It was such a beautiful day for it, I felt absolutely relaxed running down one trail, heading up another, and rediscovering routes in and out of the reserve.

In the heart of the Cromwell Bottom Nature Reserve

Although the run on Sunday was enjoyable, it did begin with a jolt through my arch at the beginning, which did prompt me to stretch before continuing. It was a timely reminder that I’m not out of the woods and that this is likely going to be something I’ll need to give plenty of attention to prevent another flare up. So long as I am as diligent as I’ve been towards any injuries or discomfort in the past, I’m reasonably confident that I can manage and contain the problem, if not eradicate it completely.

The week off definitely felt necessary and I’m not at any sort of loss about it – and that I got a horrible cold at the same time ensured I could maximise my rest and recovery time. Given I was still in the four week post-marathon cycle, it seems right that my body reacted this way and basically told me to back off a bit. I can now look forward to Ilkley and the remainder of my training for Munich refreshed, recovered and fighting fit.

Weiter nach Ilkley! (Onwards!)

Ich gehe nach Deutschland!

If you remember during my report on London Marathon 2018, I briefly mentioned how two German runners approached me as I tried to sort through my bags, asking me to take a photo of them with their medal. I wasn’t so delirious at this point and for myself, this happening actually represented a nice link between the challenge I had just finished and the experience I’m about to undertake.

For many of my family, friends, colleagues, followers and fellow runners what I’m about to mention isn’t exactly news any more, because I’ve splurged it to quite a few people. Alas, it’s coming around real fast and so I can’t contain it from the rest of you any longer.

I’m going to Germany!

I’m at limits as to how much I can divulge about how I qualified so here it is. I’ve been selected to represent Team GB at an event called Allianz Sports 2018. This is a corporate, Olympic style event, which gathers up Allianz (or Allianz-affiliated) employees to partake in events such as swimming, golf, chess, track and field, and half marathon, with nations represented by employees from the nations who send their employees or affiliates out to these events. They take place once every four years, and this year it takes place in Munich, Germany. The action takes place over the weekend of July 20-21.

I was one of the lucky applicants to the process, which required myself to have run a qualifying time inside 1:55:00. I ran Liversedge the weekend before entries opened, where I managed to obliterate my PB to below 81 minutes. A few weeks later, I received an email confirming I had been selected! Furthermore, it’s an all-expenses paid trip. Accommodation, flights, subsistence, kit, insurance, etc. are all covered, and the only parts I bear responsibility for, as far as the arrangements go are getting to the airport on the way out, getting home after flying back, and of course, training for the event itself. I’ve been featured on my employer’s intranet page a couple of times and may yet get the chance to blog for them too. I was the only applicant picked from my office as well – it’s been wonderful to receive this recognition and support from my employers and my work colleagues, and I really hope to be able to repay this opportunity with an excellent performance during the race.

Initially I felt I couldn’t apply, as my wife Laura’s birthday falls on the 20th. However, Laura was absolutely understanding that this is, most likely, a once in a lifetime opportunity for myself. Never did I think I’d have such an opportunity, never mind be selected for it. All Laura asks is I get to the duty free at Munich Airport and get some gin! So I’m very grateful to Laura to have been free to apply for this, though I’ll still have to ensure the kids have specific instructions and presents for her when her birthday arrives!

I don’t have precise information yet on where the event takes place yet, but I would be hedging my bets on the Olympiapark given it looks absolutely purpose built for such an event. Nor do I know what the half marathon course will be – I suspect it will be a lap course – but I do believe (although I don’t have local knowledge of the city) it’ll be fairly flat rather than undulating. Incredibly, I haven’t yet had the privilege of running a pancake flat half marathon – of those that I’ve run, Sir Titus Trot, a canal race, had the Three Rise and Five Rise Locks; the Great North Run has a couple of inclines and that big drop at the end; Great Birmingham Run also had a hill or two and the rest range from undulating to Huddersfield (ie. brutally hilly). I’d be interested to see what I can do on a flat, or nearly flat course.

There’s not much else for me to say. This is an opportunity beyond my expectations. I never anticipated I would have been granted such a privilege to stand out for my employers in the UK, but more importantly for myself (personally), it’s been an ambition of mine to run in mainland Europe, and to be able to do it basically all-expenses paid, I still have trouble comprehending. I’m truly lucky and grateful for this opportunity, and I’m absolutely determined to perform well but more importantly, have a wonderful time, with my team mates and work colleagues, and hopefully explore a little of what Munich has to often. My trip won’t be complete without a stein and a bratwurst!

For now though, the hard work takes place at home. And that means plenty of running as I now have the incentive of trying to do what I previously might have thought as untouchable for myself – a sub 1:20 half marathon. If the last year has taught me anything, it confirms I’m not just capable once again of breaking my own records, but that right now, it is possible. The half marathon is probably my favourite and best distance out of all the traditional disciplines from 5K up to marathon – I love the challenge of running quite a reasonable distance but still being able to throw everything into it. The summer weather is likely to be a factor, but at least, unlike London, I’ll only be doing 13.1 miles, and I still ran a very good controlled first half in London (about 1:28). Of course, to get sub-1:20 I’m going to have to do some serious pace work, so the next eight or nine weeks from now are going to be very important.

I’ll keep you all up to date with how my training progresses, along with my thoughts as the trip approaches. Prost!

Race Report: London Marathon 2018 – The Return!

Sunday April 22nd, 2018

So this was it. The day was finally here. 18 weeks of miles and smiles, personal bests, terrific ‘Beasts’ and torrid weather, countless laps of my local park, sometimes in total darkness. Somehow, I’d evaded any potential injury issues despite a near constant 18 months of running since December 2016. It wasn’t all smooth sailing, but by and large, I could say I’d had my best ever preparation for a marathon.

I woke up just prior to my 6am alarm in a Peckham AirBnB. The kit was already arranged, the luggage 95% packed and ready to go, the clear bag stickered and loaded with everything for the luggage lorries. The sun was up, and it was beaming. The distinctive London morning air was gently breezing in through the windows of the flat. I looked myself in the mirror. Was today the day I would call myself a sub-3 marathoner?

For the last couple of days I’d been stationed in London with my wife, Laura, taking her through a bit of the marathon experience with me, and enjoying some of its rich sights and culture. First it was the Expo, of course, to collect my race number, which we whizzed around in about an hour, the best part being the treadmill challenge where you can run at course record pace for 400 metres. I succeeded at this and won a nice Abbott snood for my troubles. We had a night at the theatre that evening, bagging front row seats for The Woman in Black, and spent time in Greenwich Park the following afternoon, taking in the Royal Observatory and Planetarium. I couldn’t have asked for a more relaxing approach to the big day, and certainly from this aspect my mind was perfectly calmed, even positioned in the heart of the marathon’s red start area

Suddenly it’s real again!

The sun was shining over London from very early on and it didn’t take long for the temperature to warm up. I needed to get from Peckham to Greenwich via Lewisham DLR, and then onto Maze Hill for the green start zone. I didn’t exactly help myself that morning when, after seeing a fellow entrant get off at a stop I wasn’t expecting, I panicked and got off the bus at the next stop, thinking I’d somehow got on the wrong bus. It turned out I was on the right bus all along, and not making it any easier for Laura, who had set off with me in order to reach Embankment early. The next bus arrived two minutes later and took us to Lewisham. From thereon it was smooth sailing, saying my byes to Laura at Greenwich Station, before heading to the platform for Maze Hill.

All smiles at Greenwich DLR
The long walk to Green Start

It all seemed familiar again now. It hadn’t changed one bit from when I last saw it two years ago. The long, winding walk from Maze Hill Station, its streets signposted with large arrows to the assembly point at Maze Hill Park. The one change from London 2016 was a queue to get into the assembly area for baggage checks. There were a few grumbles in the queue but you can’t blame them for putting on an extra layer of security at a major event. It didn’t take very long to get through anyway, and before long I was organised, changed into my running shades (actually a cheap pair of Primark sunglasses), away for a quick pre-race pitstop at the urinals, and then I could relax and soak up the atmosphere. My eyes scanned for another Halifax Harriers vest, but alas mine is not the only club featuring sky blue as its main colour. I did finally meet Alan, a fellow Running the World member, himself an experienced marathoner, my bright orange visor clearly doing its job of standing me out to people I’d asked to look out for me! Having talked a few things about running and the upcoming race, Alan went to his pen while I carried out my warm up, going for a quick jog in and around the masses before finally assembling for the start.

The scene at Green Start, Maze Hill

I ended up ensconced in the front pen, using what narrow space I had to prepare breathing exercises, a few back twists and a series of squats. On the big screen to our left, the Queen, starting the race from Windsor Castle. The horns sounded, and twenty seconds later, the Garmin was activated, timing mats crossed, and into my stride. London Marathon 2018 was underway!

The first half of my race went pretty much to plan. I was running mostly inside my planned 6:40 mile pace, taking advantage of downhills for extra pace. Mile 3 was a 6:19, which opened up a nice gap on my target. I wasn’t too concerned about going too hard here – I’d pushed it along gently – and I saved a little bit on the hill climbs. A collision between two runners happened behind me, which I wasn’t caught up in. I don’t think it was anything I did – I was moving forwards in a straight line, I felt genuinely relieved to have just escaped getting clipped in the fall. That incident stood out for me as a euphemism for what was to come.

Cutty Sark was predictably mental, a wall of noise encircling the runners as they ran past the great galleon. All in all, the near miss aside, it was a reasonably uneventful I kept at or inside my pace until mile 11, where I posted two slightly slower miles (6:55 and 7:00) to manage my pace. I got a great cheer out of shouting ‘let’s hear it Rotherhithe!’, and it was great picking out the Yorkshire flags in the crowd. The showers were a great relief, none more so than the great one delivered by London Fire Brigade shortly after the first shower section. Picking up the pace again heading on to Tower Bridge, an iconic landmark that I wish every runner could experience once, I crossed halfway in 1:28:19, quicker than my 2016 first half and well on course for the sub-3 I wanted.

Over the course of that first half I’d done no end of enforcing the organisers’ ‘Drink, Douse, Drain, Drop’ policy – drink what you need to, douse yourself with it, drain the rest onto the road, and drop the empty contents at the side of the road. I was already feeling a little warm at 3 miles but the water cooled me down. but it was getting more and more uncomfortable, seemingly taking a shower every mile just to keep cool, at times removing my visor just to catch a slight breeze against my forehead.

With the heat bearing down with ever more intensity, I realised quickly I was struggling to maintain my effort. Deciding that I wasn’t coping very well any more, feeling a little more unsure on my feet, I decided to not chase after the sub-3 hour time. I was still on course at this time, but I was struggling to keep sufficiently cool and at mile 15, that was to be it. It wasn’t an easy decision to make, but I knew the priority now had to be simply to get to the finish. The big goal was slipping away. I cantered at around 8 minute mile pace up to mile 18 but then it got torrid. I suddenly I didn’t have the power to generate any real pace, similar to how I’ve occasionally felt on a long hilly run when I’ve had one hill too many. The quads just weren’t having it. I can’t explain that in any other way than my effort versus the intensity of the day.

I kept to my race nutrition plan of taking the gels at 1:35, 1:55 and 2:15, but they weren’t re-energising me at all. The sun and my previous effort had sapped my capability to run at a sufficiently fast pace and from then on it was a battle against the weather conditions. I switched to run/walking, by walking the start of every mile for about 30 seconds before continuing, counting using my fingers, and not my watch, which have going under one of the underpasses, I realised wasn’t of much use anymore. And with my time goal out of the window, and with it my best hope of ever getting into London again, I didn’t pay too much attention to the watch, other than to notice how much my pace declined, and now tried to focus instead on simply finishing the race.

By mile 20, I strongly considered pulling out. I’ve never DNF’d and I’m not one for quitting. Caffeine abstinence not included. But I was glancing more at medical staff at points on the course, I’d seen one or two stretchers being wheeled about (thankfully not with anybody on them, but still), and I didn’t feel too steady between water/shower points. I’d also nearly vomited once or twice. There’s only so much sweet stuff one can take. Malt loaf is stodgy, Chia Charge crumbly, and gels, sweets energy drinks, even oranges – what I would have given now for a sausage roll! But I knew Laura, my wife, would be further up the course at Embankment. I opted to continue, continuing with the run/walk strategy.

The crowd support was simply incredible. People willing me on to keep going, not to give up, cheering me by my club name, and it kept me going. A marshal even gave me their water at one point, which was a brilliant gesture I’m very thankful for. I kept hold of that water for a good half a mile or so.

Papped at mile 23! (credit: Philip Bland/Yorkshire Runner Photos)

I finally found Laura up at Embankment, having spent the last two or three miles staying to and scanning the right hand side of the course. Laura was going to get a good photo of me but I ambushed her. I was so happy to see her. With no time to chase, the laser focus had gone, and I gave her a massive hug, nearly tripping over the roadside barrier in the process. Mile 24 was a 13:47, according to my watch. That could have been due to the second underpass playing havoc with my watch, but I definitely walked a few times that mile. Onwards I went, and beyond mile 25, one of my club mates, Andy, caught up with me. We’d been talking about the marathon on Tuesday night. At this point I hadn’t recognised him, not even by his voice. To be fair, he was wearing bright shades and I wasn’t in the best state. He kept me going for another half a mile with a bit more pace, until we approached 600 metres from the finish, where I couldn’t keep up and had to let him go ahead while I took one last walk.

Onwards I went, and finally the finishing straight down the Mall. I raised my arms with a shrug as if to say ‘well, that didn’t exactly go to plan’, and crossed the line, finishing London for a second time. It was over. 3:22:59

I was asked by a female volunteer if I was OK. I said ‘I can’t have any more sugar’. I was told there was water in the goody bags. I received my medal, walked straight past the Marathon Foto picture stands – I was in no mood, or state, for an expensive medal photo – staggered a bit further, got in line for my finisher t-shirt and goody bag, and went immediately for the water, gradually sipping it as I walked with Andy for a bit to find my bag from the assorted baggage lorries. I wasn’t angry, nor disappointed I finished precisely 23 minutes down on my target. Nor disenfranchised. I just didn’t feel right. Not really OK. I felt physically and mentally broken.

I contemplated seeing a physio. Or specifically, a doctor.

I contacted Laura to see where she was and it seemed she was on her way. After getting off the phone, two German runners approached me asking me to take a photo for them. I gladly obliged – there’s a nice synchronicity to this I’ll further elaborate on soon – but then decided to contact Laura again as I unsteadily proceeded towards Horseguards Parade. Unfortunately, Laura seemed unsure of her exact whereabouts, although nearby, and network traffic meant she wasn’t able to get any pictures to show me her position. She wasn’t too familiar with the landmarks either. I tried to guide her to the arches making up Admiralty Arch near Charing Cross, but in the meantime I felt more and more delirious, and leaning towards seeing a doctor. In the end, Laura confirmed she was near the Household Cavalry, so I exited onto Whitehall to find her. Eventually we reunited, but I was getting more delirious, deciding I wanted a cold can of Coca Cola. I got one, along with a chicken and bacon sandwich from Pret-A-Manger I couldn’t stomach.

We then headed for the underground to King’s Cross via Piccadilly. From Piccadilly it was a nightmare. Two other runners previously had remarked how hot I was and one said I looked pale, but none of this registered. I rode the Piccadilly to King’s Cross journey in extreme discomfort. It was like riding in an oven. I was sweating buckets, feeling less in control. Laura by this point was finding me insufferable, and I knew I was – I was finding myself insufferable. The tube doors finally opened at King’s Cross, where I headed for the nearest bench to finally drink the cola. My appetite for food went as far as one tiny bite of the sandwich. As we went upstairs, things alleviated slightly, and having arrived for our train quite early, a Calippo lolly, of all things, finally brought me back round and restored my appetite, and we had a safe journey home.

Yep. I should have seen a doctor.

The back of this year’s finisher medal

Now, where were we. Oh yes. The marathon. Well, my official race photos don’t show it, but as I crossed the line I’m fairly sure I lifted my hands and shrugged my shoulders as if to say ‘well, that didn’t quite go to plan’. The weather had dealt everyone a bad hand – chances are if you were from the UK and you ran London 2018, you would have done at least a week of your training in the snow. Of course it was unlikely we would get such bad conditions in April. No, we got a slightly extreme opposite. Very little time to acclimatise to running in hot weather, all you can do is prepare, and as the organisers said, reduce your expectations of your finishing time. Basically, all that training for a sub – 3 marathon, only to be told that it probably isn’t going to happen today. It didn’t stop me trying. Had I sustained my effort from the first 5K, my predicted time was a 2:53. That would have been incredible, but everyone knows a marathon isn’t decided in the first 5K of a race. The sensible thing to do would have been to judge my pace a little better and save a bit more of my effort, but the weather played a big part in that – when I ran marathon pace up to mile 20 in training, I ought to feel confident in my ability to last the distance, and without question I did on race day. That training peak was done in much colder weather, however. The 10K race I ran in London last summer wasn’t even this warm. As a result, my race paid the price. I’ve never had to suffer for so long during a marathon. If disaster hits, it’s usually much closer to the end.

The front of the finisher’s medal

I’m not disappointed in my result because I took it into my own hands not to pursue the sub-3 beyond mile 15. I simply wanted to get to the end and accepted it wasn’t going to happen. I did accept I was going to try despite the organisers’ advice, and I did keep a little something in reserve near Tower Bridge, but ultimately it was either my brain or my body that would influence the outcome, and I let my brain choose first. I did have one ‘head-in-hands’ moment some time after crossing the finish, but this was probably the delirium and confusion at trying to locate Laura, and not genuine disappointment.

Post- race, I should have sought assistance sooner, or indeed just actually sought assistance. My goody bag contained stuff that would have brought me round, like salty protein bars, and energy drink with electrolytes. I paid a bit of a price for not bringing or purchasing hydration tablets – they’ve got me out of a haze many a time. Next time, I need to take better care of myself post race, and maybe someone to stop me if they can see I’m not right or myself at all. Yet I know I’m not the only one who suffered out there – so many struggled with the conditions, and tragically one person, Matt Campbell, a talented chef, raising money for The Brathay Trust, a charity that works with vulnerable young people, died out on the course. It really does put things into context. Safety and wellbeing is paramount in an event as gruelling and indeed brutal as it was today. I had a horrible feeling it would claim somebody, but to hear it actually confirmed is dreadful news. That the running community and general public have responded with such generosity and togetherness, boosting Matt’s JustGiving page to well over £300,000 (and rising further), and running 3.7 miles to ‘complete’ Matt’s marathon, embodies the ‘Spirit of London’ way beyond the M25.

A great number of family, friends and colleagues have congratulated me on a great time and for completing the race. While I will differ personally on what I will regard as ‘a great time’, I still got around the course respectfully, even if I did take nearly two hours to complete the second half of the race. Its wonderful to receive such support, particularly from those who don’t run – it’s positive to have such an effect just from my efforts alone, and on this occasion the time doesn’t really mean much at all. The actual completion of the marathon does. And it makes it all the more worthwhile for not giving up and finishing the race.

London is behind me now. With no Good For Age time, I’m left with the general ballot, my running club’s mini ballot, or the charity route. I’m not likely to apply at all. I’ve run London twice and I feel incredibly privileged to have been in a position to guarantee my entry twice in a three year period. Its time somebody who hasn’t run before – and by that I mean the runners who apply time and time again just to get a ‘sorry’ magazine, or sometimes a rejection email. They should have the chance to run London at least once. It remains pretty much one of the best marathons in this country for organisation and atmosphere. Its why 350,000 people per year apply. I will chase my targets at other marathons, and will consider carefully where I will next attempt a sub-3 time. Because that part of me hasn’t gone away, and it would be churlish to give up on that goal through one rough day in the office, so to speak.

For now it’s a period of recovery, easing back into running and then preparing for my next big challenge. Which will be a half marathon. In Munich, Germany. In the height of the European summer. Crikey…

The ballot for the 2019 London Marathon is now open (until Friday May 4th, 5:00pm)

Find me on the Finish Line camera at 3:23:19 over on BBC iPlayer (if you can access it)

Read my review of my performance at London Marathon 2016 here