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

#Breaking3 – The Journey

They say marathon training is often about the journey, not the destination. Rarely did it feel truer than this particular morning.

Tuesday March 27, 2018. I ran my weekly track session with the Halifax Harriers, running two lots of 1000m, then 800, then 600, and finally 400m, with rest intervals in between. I never used to consider myself good at 400m – I once ran 85 seconds for 400m, yet I could smash out quick 10K and half marathon times. That changed once I got regular use of an athletics track and discovered what it was like to run an accurately measured loop, on a surface which gives you that extra zip. In the months since I’ve joined the Harriers, I’ve got my lap times on the track down to just over 70 seconds, with the ability to absolutely sprint from a standing start and hold my pace generally well to the end. Often, the bit lacking is the home straight, where my early effort has me hanging on for dear life. I usually save such a lap for the end of the session, when I’m most tired but when I’m likely to have kept something in reserve.

This particular night, I felt determined. Having just been picked to run for the Harriers in a team relay event later this week, I sensed a chance to work on my speed and prove I could go under 70 seconds. For months, that marker has been elusive. But this night, I was absolutely on it. I kept to the tightest inside line for the most part, hugging the bends if I could and only briefly stepping out to overtake. As I got down the home straight, I felt like I was going to hit for strides again, when I heard fast steps behind me to my right. My competitive urge kicked in. But this wasn’t one of my fellow runners this session – this was a junior member practicing 100 metres. I went into overdrive and found another gear. I gathered another sprint, held it and stopped the watch as I crossed the line. I’d clocked 422 metres overall, and quickly went back into my watch history, checked the last two lap times – and it confirmed it. I’d finally done it! 68.96 seconds. Imagine if I just ran a flat 400 metres with no weaving!

My personal record track lap

Yet in the days that passed, my knee just wasn’t improving. I’d gone back to exercises from my earlier days as a runner. I was on paracetamol and ibuprofen to alleviate the discomfort, and I was using hot and cold therapy. But this dull ache wasn’t shifting.

I woke at 4:10am that Sunday morning, the day of my final 20 mile long run for London Marathon training, and as I busily prepared myself, I realised I wasn’t feeling anything from my knee. As in, no discomfort, no pain, nothing. As in, everything OK. I couldn’t understand it. I still applied ibuprofen gel as a precaution, but otherwise I felt good to go and well, what a timely boost.

My route this day took me into Huddersfield town centre, which at just after 5am on a Sunday morning is still rife with revellers from one of its most popular nightclubs, The Camel Club, from whatever night they’ve hosted beforehand. This clash of two cultures – the early morning runner to the early hours drinker – came to a head when one lass shouted across the road ‘run Forrest run’! I merely gave a wry smile, as banter is probably the best thing for that situation depending on how you look back upon those enjoying the lifestyle you once enjoyed (now and again). Seeing an ambulance outside the nightclub and quite the crowd up ahead, I detoured past the railway station instead and rejoined my route by the somewhat dilapidated New Street, before heading down into Lockwood and onwards.

Huddersfield is a place I was long overdue a run through, in the sense that I spend much of my training days in Calderdale and occasionally Leeds at lunchtimes. Huddersfield holds many great memories for me. I studied at the university (I hold a dust ridden 2:1 BSc in psychology), I found my favourite watering hole (The Parish pub, a historic pub and now a cracking pub/live music venue), met loads of great people, formed a doom metal band which lasted up until parenthood, had a somewhat hedonistic eight months getting smashed every Saturday (all by mid-2011) in the town’s bars. I also enjoyed four brilliant years of employment in the town and in more recent years, have discovered the Wessenden, Holme and Colne Valleys for myself,, run some brilliant, occasionally challenging , but brilliant, races in more recent years too, and some of my favourite routes take in the area. Particularly the occasional jaunt up Castle Hill.

A good few miles from home here!

This particular day, I ran towards Honley village, eventually reaching the smaller and rural Oldfield, running through the main road from end to end before turning back downhill towards Honley. This part of the run was probably the most enjoyable aspect, the quiet surrounding countryside and eventually, the run down Bradshaw Road with Victoria Tower, Castle Hill, standing atop in the distance. I would wind up going past Honley Woods on my left, where I ran the Trail 10K last year, down the road to Netherton, which I once ran in reverse and is absolutely beautiful to run through. I ended up with a jaunt through Beaumont Park before heading home through town for the last five miles. I didn’t half cherry pick my route that day!

Lea Lane in Netherton, Huddersfield, 1/3/2018

Places like this make me want to run. They also make me want to stop and breathe it in. The clean countryside air. The last throes of the night as it turns into day. Barely anybody around, hardly any traffic on the roads, the only sound being my footsteps and my lungs, and the sounds of nature. The discovery and rediscovery of what your local area offers, scenically, and how your two feet took you that far from home. They say marathon training is often about the journey, not the destination. Rarely did it feel truer than this particular morning.

The days have passed by. And now it is almost here. From the day I first ran a marathon, to now, the sub-3 hour marathon remains the one true time target that bears particular significance for myself. Its not strictly about another Good for Age time for London, even if my PB is now no longer GFA standard. The training for this race has run for 18 weeks, but the mental side of training has been there for about 3 years. I fell just short at London in 2016, but having gone in slightly ill prepared I couldn’t possibly complain, only learn. Even as I hoiked myself around Snowdonia and ran two ultra marathons at relatively sedate pace, I knew one day, I would be banking my GFA time from 2016 to head back for London to try and finish the job. I realise if I fail, it’s not the end and there will be other marathons out there to attempt a PB on.

Wellholme Park, Brighouse – once during the Beast from the East in March, and then about five weeks later.

I honestly feel ready for this. My training has gone well about 95% of the time, I cracked my marathon pace runs, my marathon pace intervals during long runs, even as the weather turned really cold and nasty, and my personal best pace over shorter distances became even better. I’ve taken in inspiration wherever I can find it, from my fellow runners and fellow chasers of the sub-3 hour marathon. Of course, there are doubts. The weather forecast has given for record highs on race day – allegedly up to 23C. I don’t feel I cope too well in the heat the longer a race goes on, but what can we all do about the weather? Not much but adapt – slap on the P20, light clothing (Harriers vest and shorts for myself), take advantage of the shower points on course, hydrate well (but not too well, or you might not feel too well), fuel well, and judge my effort carefully. I absolutely believe I’m ready for this, and it will all come down to how I execute my race strategy on the day.

To any of you reading this, and indeed running the marathon, enjoy it. However you made it to London, you earned it, whether through ballot, club, Good for Age, charity or however. Take as much free stuff from the Expo as you can (gratefully). Don’t forget your registration email though. Sleep well. Wake up and get ready to go. Wear your club or charity colours with pride. Take in the feverish atmosphere at the start, the fervent crowds at Cutty Sark, Tower Bridge, lining Embankment and Westminster. Behold the finish line as it awaits you. Pass the Tube queues as you proudly show off your race number/medal to access the underground. If there’s ever a time to feel like royalty, it’s here!

Oh, and try to enjoy the run itself. It’s bloody hard, not least without the potential of the burning hot mass in the sky, but it’s within all of us. Be awesome at what you do. Basically…

Race Report: Yorkshire Road Relay Championships 2018 @ The Brownlee Centre, Leeds

Saturday April 7th, 2018

A few weeks ago, after my performance at the Liversedge Half Marathon, I was approached by one of the coaches at the Halifax Harriers (my club) who invited me to take part in a race known as the Yorkshire Road Relays Championships. My progress since joining the club has now seen me considered for the club’s relay squads as one of their faster runners. Although I was invited to run a relay the previous year, it clashed with the Ilkley Aquathlon, which I’d already booked, and hence I had to decline. Receiving the call in this way made it feel more like an opportunity earned, and indeed an opportunity to show what I could do for the club, not just myself.

This particular day, I was scheduled, as per my training diary, to run a 4 mile marathon pace session. Although running at 5K race pace wasn’t exactly in the plan for tapering, I felt capable and ready of swapping this race in for my planned run round the local park without affecting the taper too much. I confidently assured myself and the club I was up for this.

This was the third annual Yorkshire Road Relays Championships, and the first to be held at the Brownlee Centre, five miles north of Leeds city centre. Opened in 2016, in honour of the famous Brownlee brothers, Alistair and Jonny, it is a state of the art triathlon performance centre, with a one mile cycle track, on which the relays were taking place, a purpose built transition area, completely traffic free, with excellent facilities to boot.

The Harriers had five teams entered into the men’s race, which would consist of three laps of 1600m (4800m in total). I was selected for the ‘C’ team and running the ‘A’ leg as denoted by my race number, meaning I would be running the opening leg. The aim remained the same – finish in the fastest time possible – only this time, I was running for my teammates, and indeed, my club. This was a fresh ethos to run under, personally, and one I can say, looking back, inspires you to try that little bit harder.

Simon, one of the coaches organising our participation, wished me good luck and said if I ran like I had in training I’d do well. I acknowledged him, but as I walked off I felt decidedly unsure. My preconception of this race was that I’d be hanging onto the coattails of some very good 5K runners. I needn’t have worried too much. I was already of the mindset of treating the race like any other and putting in the best run I could. We actually got a starters gun within seconds of assembling on the line and off we went. One of my club mates was way up ahead. Another was just in front of me and overall I reckon I was about running around the midpack, as the left hand bend took a slight ascent, before looping right to begin the long downhill backwards the smaller circuit, around which runners would proceed clockwise around to complete the lap. My first km went for 3:12, not too dissimilar to how I normally start 5K runs, before fading. I’d overtaken the club mate immediately in front of me up at the top bend on the first lap and although I lost a place later in the lap to another runner, I was able to use them as a pacer for a while. The next km, slightly uphill, went for 3:18. Then I recorded a 3:17 on the downhill during the second lap, gaining a couple of places in the process. I knew I was on personal record pace, but there was still one final ascent to come. I gritted through the fourth km and recorded 3:35. Not too bad at this point, and still the downhill to come.

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My watch gave out a time of 16:39 for 4.98km, a time that would later be confirmed in the results. I quickly assembled for a photo with all the faster finishers of the ‘A’ leg and then, cheekily, set my watch going again as I ran to the opposite side of the track to round my time up to 5km – which gave a time of 16:45.

My team would eventually finish 19th out of the 38 teams involved. Our ‘A’ team finished 5th out of all the teams, a great result. All five of our men’s teams finished. Our senior ladies also ran brilliantly in the 4x3200m, finishing 9th overall, and our juniors put in some strong performances as well. As a club, a lot of us agree we’re on the up!

I didn’t half suffer for my efforts in the coming days. I ran 11 miles on the Sunday immediately after the race and every single step was a sore one. My Tuesday track session was also run with a bit more caution than usual, particularly with London just around the corner. I just about shook whatever was left from the relay out of my system but wow, the effort put into that race must have been something. Because I smashed everything I’ve ever run for the distance previously.

To put into context, my previous fastest 5K split was at the 2014 Great Birmingham Run, a 17:28 which up until now constituted the fastest 5K I’d ever run. That included a 4:53 mile, my only (to knowledge) sub-5 minute mile ever. I don’t have a true 5K race time, my victory in the Canal Christmas Cracker 5K last year was a long course, run in 19:40, for which I ran 5km in 18:25. I’ve run a short course 17:43 in the Harriers 5K time trial (which measures 4.85km consistently on my watch). My parkrun PB is 18:06. I once ran 17:56 training on my own. Supposing the relay course was a proper 5K (not quite), my run would have probably been 16:45. At most, I was 20 metres short, according to the watch. And other watches also recorded the same distance. So I am effectively counting this as my new 5K PB. Because that was easily a sub-17 minute run, on a not so flat course (though never drastically steep), and all bar one km split was run in under 3:30km. To know I can run that quickly is a massive step for me. The work I put in on Tuesday nights, running laps of the track at Spring Hall, is undeniably improving my top end speed and most importantly, my speed endurance. I’ve never held a 5K together like that before, and I’ll be running 5K as a distance more and more in future. I certainly want to make sub-17 a consistent mark for myself, not just so I can say I actually ran a sub-17 minute 5K, but so I can prove to myself that I’ve found a new level.

All in all, this was a fantastic day organised by the Yorkshire Counties Athletics Association, who picked an excellent venue to play host this year and many, it would seem, hope it returns to the Brownlee Centre in years to come. A big thank you once again to my club for giving me the opportunity to put in a shift for the team, and well done everyone for showing how well club level athletics is represented here in Yorkshire.

All photos taken by WoodentopsFR – check out their excellent work at https://www.woodentops.org.uk

#Breaking3 – Taming The Beast

The Beast From The East. A band of weather so severe it was going to bring the entire country to its knees. Visions of being knee deep in snow were projected by the mass media conglomerates. Social media getting into a tizz. People panic buying.

Spare a thought for those of us who have to actually train in this. I know, I know. First world problems. But coming from a country that doesn’t always (these days) get such (relatively) harsh winters, the last time I remember it getting this cold was back many years ago. We had a Siberian weather pattern come over, oooh, I don’t know… around 20 years ago. The wind chill made the weather feel like roughly – 14C. In the UK. There wasn’t much in the way of snow, as I remember, but it was bitingly cold. Not that this didn’t stop our P.E. teacher sending us out for a game of football on a bone dry pitch in our shorts and long sleeve jumpers, which weren’t thermal in the slightest. Unsurprisingly, the game ended 0-0. I played right back and the rest of my defence stood there, rooted to the spot, arms clasped around themselves, absolutely shivering. It was a bracing experience. One I fondly (is that the right word?) remember. I didn’t have the commute or our rubbish public transport system to worry about back then!

Now true, there’s been the odd moment the last few years when I’ve got up to go out for a run in icy weather, found nothing but ice until I’ve got into the hills of Halifax or the Upper Valley of Calderdale, which for myself I have a good few miles to run before I reach them, some too far away to be worth considering. But by and large all I had to contend with was cold air and black ice. The latter not conducive to running safely outside, but there’s always the local park at least to get off road, or the treadmill at the nearby gym & pool. Quite possibly, thanks to global warming (perhaps?), the temperatures more often than not sit comfortably in the low single figures, but just enough that within half a mile that you realise a jacket wasn’t necessary and you end up wearing it around your waste for the vast majority of 19 miles – as I did the weekend before the Beast landed. Acclimatisation can be a millstone, sometimes.

Nonetheless, after having its merry time with the rest of the UK, my part of Yorkshire finally got a decent snowfall on the Wednesday (February 28), which meant I could go out for a run in it. I didn’t manage more than about 4 miles, but that was all my training called for, and in the end I did a decent job going up towards Lower Wyke and back down again. It was a frosty – 6C that morning too. I quite enjoyed it! However, we got the absolute motherload arrive the day after, as all my routes to work got leathered by the white stuff that day, meaning I had to work off site and hope for some abatement in the weather to actually be able to stick to some sort of program that same night. Thankfully, by mid afternoon the monster had gone for a snooze, and I squeezed in another 4 miles that night.

Looking back down Whitehall Road, Lower Wyke, 01/03/2018
Wellholme Park, Brighouse, 03/03/2018

The litmus test to come was in the form my Saturday and Sunday runs. I decided against going out too far from home, as much as I enjoy adventure, and decided to keep to either my local park, or the main road above it. Ten miles of marathon pace training in the snow seemed extra challenging, but it was firm enough without being too icy in the park that morning, and I completed the run successfully. Despite placing what seemed a greater load on my joints than the norm, I ran every mile inside 6:45 mile pace and set myself up for a potential banana skin. A workout I’d picked up from the LetsRun.com forums suggested a 20 mile workout consisting of 10 miles easy (7:40 mile pace), the latter 10 miles at (6:40 mile pace), the aim being to average 7:10 pace, as well as hit your mile targets. That’s one thing in theory, but to potentially run it on disappearing snow, and possibly ice?

My footsteps on Bradford Road, Brighouse, 04/03/2018

Thankfully, Sunday morning is a quiet time on the main road linking Bailiff Bridge with Brighouse Town centre, and the snow was fairly fresh from new snowfall overnight. Back and forth I went, initially at the slower pace, as my Salomon Speedcross, my trail shoes for quite a while now, squeaked awkwardly as they made tracks. I’d sometimes chuck in the local park for good measure, and as an added bonus, got to practice picking up water – such an oft-forgotten art of race day preparation – by leaving it on a wall near a turnaround point while I took a gel, or those awesome Sports Beans. My trail shoes later gave up at mile 13, the lace snapping on one side, meaning I had to nip home and change into my road shoes for the remainder. It was safe enough to run on the road at this hour, and I ran marathon pace for as long as I could thereon. I finished up with an average 7:10 mile pace. Somehow, I’d hit my target, despite what the weather could throw at me. Every damn target I set, it keeps falling, even throughout this weather.

But there’s only so much out and back running I can take. The weather had pinned me into training pretty much in my hometown only, aside from club training on Tuesdays, by which time the Beast had subsided at last. A mere two weeks later (March 17/18), as I planned a great big 20 mile loop of Huddersfield and the surrounding area, we got more heavy snowfall, so much so that when I woke up for my run, the snow on my street was ankle deep. Having only just obtained my new trail shoes at this point, a 20 mile run wasn’t the time to break them in. And so I had to slip and slide down to the main road again, which thankfully the local authorities had done a great job of gritting and clearing overnight, meaning I only got my feet wet in slush after 2 miles and ran with all the joy of a bulldog chewing a wasp. It was attritional alright. Shorn of my free roaming plans, I cut my run down to 16 miles to ensure I got back in time for the kids getting up, this allowing my wife a bit of a lie in, and entirely without nutrition too, save for water. The snow had almost gone the next day too. The bloody cheek of it!

The point I’m making, I guess, is that this winter, more so than recent years, has been quite a testing one for those of us training for our spring marathons. Sometimes, running in the snow can be a thrilling experience, a phenomenal workout, a rarity to behold. In the UK at least. Weeks of bitter cold and disruptive cold weather is enough to drive a runner crazy, the mere thought of potentially falling over on ice or getting stuck in some great big snow drift to force us into the gym or onto main roads only. In my case, the death of my Speedcross came at an absolutely terrible time!

So here’s to all of us. The early risers, the lunchtime runners, the club mates and those who run at all hours. Marathon training isn’t easy at the best of times without having such conundrums as how many layers to wear, are my gloves sufficient, wearing the right shoes depending on the type of snow, and so on and so on. And that’s before worrying about staying on your feet or how long you can last before the terrific wind chill factor absolutely bites down on any supposed enjoyment you’re to obtain from these rare experiences of subzero running.

It’s less than four weeks to London from here. My last 20 mile run is Easter Sunday. Surely the cold weather is behind us now. Surely…

Race Report: The 23rd Liversedge Half Marathon (2018)

Sunday February 18th, 2018

Three years ago, I pulled out what I personally regard as the finest run I’ve ever put together at the Liversedge Half Marathon, a tough, hilly road race situated in West Yorkshire, when I ran to a tenth place finish and a personal best time of 1:22:41, the latest in a line of personal best times from September 2013 that had dropped by minutes, not just seconds. I couldn’t get enough of half marathon then, but I had eyes on stepping up to marathons, which I achieved, and then went one step further, moving onto ultra distance racing. Coupled with an injury in later 2015 and a reduced racing schedule in 2016, I’ve only run 13.1 miles in a race once since that February morning. I didn’t get near my PB in that race, and I was starting to believe that perhaps I had already surpassed the peak of my fast running abilities when I left the half marathon behind in my late twenties. Which, as it turns out, was a completely absurd notion.

I raced Liversedge in both 2014 and 2015 as an unattached runner. Almost every training session undertaken was on my own. I was my own coach, and I rarely ran in a group or undertook regular speed specific workouts. Now, I run for the Halifax Harriers, and have improved my times at 5K and 10K. Having resolved to try and run a sub-3 marathon in London this year, a lot of my training has been dedicated to running quick. And having had a largely positive experience in training so far, I woke up on this particular morning actually feeling I had a good chance of having a crack at my three year PB and succeeding. Any doubts I’d begun to have after months of plodding and picnicking on canal towpaths and rural surrounds had shifted. I truly felt like I had the groove to get back to what I previously loved doing. Plus, I remember the drag I got from chasing the leading pack in 2015 on that wonderful day. Smashing the half marathon was indeed something I was looking forward to see if I was still capable.

Yet, as I stood waiting for my club mate to pick me up en route to the race, I realised my wrist was feeling rather bare. That’s right…


I couldn’t leave my spot, so I quickly resigned myself to doing something I hadn’t done at all, well, not since my earliest races – race without a watch. I’ve run without a watch before, but with a phone app like MapMyRun to announce my mile splits to the whole street from the back pocket of my shorts. I agreed to myself to record the race on MapMyRun but to turn off the voice feedback – how embarrassing would that be at the front end of a race?! So I just forgot about mile splits, and decided to treat the race as an experiment of sorts. My training has been going great, so I felt confident in my pace and pacing strategy. Getting a PB wasn’t the be all and end all, it was now just about finding my level and having a great time regardless.

Reaching the race HQ, it was no different to how I remembered it. The registration room was full of runners, all gathering their race numbers, pinning them to their vests, shirts, shorts and tights, and chatting away with one another. I got my pre-race ‘pit stop’ quickly out of the way and eventually, after bag drop and talking with my fellow attending club mates, it was time to head outside into the cold morning air. By all accounts the last couple of years had brought terrible weather to the race, so today was comparatively exotic by comparison. Just right, in fact, for running.

Before the race

The masses (about five or six hundred) were called to the start line, a quick briefing delivered and then the countdown. Setting off on the most familiar race to myself, I managed to get through the crowds and into a position around the top ten heading out of Roberttown, taking the descent down towards Headlands Road at speed and briefly established myself in third, before being overtaken again. The leader, a very, very good Spenborough AC athlete, was establishing a healthy lead already by this point and knowing of his quality, I didn’t expect him to be caught. Nonetheless, I continued to focus on the race around me. Heading up towards Hightown, I was rushing along in about sixth, and then seventh, as the race progressed onwards along the aptly named Windy Bank Lane (surprisingly calm on this day), and out into Hartshead Moorside. At this point, I was finding myself beginning to lose another place, but the downhill section of Birkby Lane, leading into Bailiff Bridge, was soon upon me and I was able to do what I usually do at this section of the race – throw myself down it with reckless abandon. Knowing full well I could get the momentum if I wanted it, I made sure I got to the bottom of the 14% drop ahead of the runner behind for maximum purchase out of the corner onto Bradford Road.

Bradford Road appears about 5.5 miles into the race, roughly, and just down the road is a tool shop with a big clock/temperature display that announced the time (at this point) to be 11:30am. This must have meant I was going at some great lick, but it was a bit too soon to be getting carried away with wondering if I was on for a personal best. Beyond six miles, and knowing the hilly section was coming up, I reached for my isogel and tried to rip the top of it off with my teeth while maintaining somewhere around six minute mile pace. The manoeuvre malfunctioned, as some of the gel splurged out onto my arm and slightly onto my glasses (though I never realised the latter during the race). Eventually consuming the gel, I reached the corner of Thornhill Bank Road, where I knew my family would be waiting. And sure enough, there they were, my wife poised with her camera phone and my kids raucously cheering me on. I veered off to the right, completely disregarding the runner behind me was right on my heels, and gave my kids a huge high five apiece as I went passed, which they found hilarious!

Heading over to give my kids a high five, and forgetting about the race momentarily!

I managed to get to the ford bridge at the bottom still ahead, but I would begin to suffer at this point for my early pace, and finally I ceded to eighth, then ninth and soon after tenth. The seventh mile was a comparative trudge minutes, and probably a good thing I didn’t have my watch to look at my mile split. Still, with the worst hill in the race out of the way, I could find my way back into my stride as the race plundered towards Clifton.

Heading up Highmoor Lane, aka the Mad Mile, as its known locally, I found myself overtaken by a Sowerby Bridge Snail who was actually quite speedy, belaying his club’s tongue-in-cheek name. But I found a bit of energy in reserve at this point as the hill began to level out and I retook my place. The next mile and a half became a bit of a tussle as both myself and the Snail exchanged back and forth. I opted for this tactically – I felt I’d thrive off having someone to keep me on my toes and at the same time use them to increase my own pace. I’d got a second wind by now and the places continued to swap until turning right off Windy Bank Lane onto Church Road. At this point I got back in front and didn’t give the place up. But it was shortly after clocking the 11 mile mark that I spotted the church clock, roughly two miles from the end of the race. The time on the clock was about 12:07pm. Suddenly, I knew the PB was on. But it felt like it was going to be tight.

It’s hard graft trying to get a PB!

As Church Road started to descend I upped the pace a little more, before reaching the Gray Ox junction, and put everything into flying down that hill. I cleared the next small uphill with ease off that and the race wound over to Fall Lane. Passing the 12 mile marker, I knew this was it. I had to keep going and I put the surge in whenever I could. The man in tenth was up ahead, and I could make inroads on what was about a twenty second gap to him, but I at least maintained the gap. I felt my lower back twinge a little bit but I knew I had to keep going. I truly believed by now I was going to make this happen, although it still remained a mystery to me as to whether I’d actually beat my time from three years ago.

I turned left into Commonside and ran up towards the finish. As the clock came into view, I could’ve sworn I read 1:26…but on closer inspection, it actually reads 1:20! I couldn’t believe it. For the third time at this race, I was going to absolutely blow my personal best to smithereens! Overjoyed I was punching the air and trying to whip the crowd into a few cheers. I crossed the line, finishing 11th, and, completely on feel, managed to finish in under 1:21.

My finishing time would be confirmed by the chip at 1:20:50. A brand new half marathon PB by 1 minute, 51 seconds, almost three years to the day I set my previous mark, also at this race.

I honestly couldn’t believe I pulled out a run like that, but I always knew if there was one course where I could potentially break my half marathon PB, it was Liversedge. I always do well when I have someone to try and keep up with. The winner this year ran 1:14 and the top 9 all ran inside 1:20. I was 20 seconds further back from the guy in tenth. I had roughly a twenty second gap to that man from about mile 8 onwards, and it more or less stayed the same to the finish. Put simply, if you want to get a fast time, Liversedge is a fantastic place to do it despite its undulating nature. I got a good drag to my previous PB in 2015, on this very course, and the same thing has happened here again. It’s fantastic trying to battle at the sharp end, though I realistically would need to be running inside 1:20 to be able to get nearer the front on a given day. Not that I’m disappointed with my 11th place! The place really didn’t matter to me on this occasion.

The only annoyance for myself personally was that I attempted to record my run after all, using MapMyRun, turning it on without voice feedback and with the auto-pause function, so I could start it and record my run quietly after setting off. Only, it didn’t unpause at all, so I actually have no record of what my mile splits were whatsoever. I know I averaged 6:10 mile pace, but I really would have loved to have known what some of those miles. I’ve only gone sub 5 minutes once in my life (4:53) and my next fastest mile after that was a 5:15. I must have got close! Alas, the race doesn’t bear too much use towards analysing my marathon prospects, well, except for right now…the sub-3 marathon is looking very good indeed.

Aside, I’d like to thank the runner and his family who paid for my post race sandwich and cup of tea when I realised I’d left my cash at home. It wasn’t much but it was a cracking gesture. I shall be more careful where I stash my cash next time!

That this race continues to sell out year upon year absolutely affirms its status, in my eyes, as one of the calendar highlights in road racing in the north of England if not beyond. A magnificent, testing race, it continues to attract runners from all the local clubs as well as drawing in the unattached, generates the support of members of the Roberttown Road Runners, the hosts of this race, and community volunteers who ensure the event goes year on year without a hitch.

Liversedge Half Marathon home page

#Breaking3 – The 2018 London Marathon Training Diary

Marathon pace. Two words that will mean different things to different people. But in the main, it defines itself as the pace at which you train, equivalent to the pace you intend to run a marathon. And those two words are pretty much dominating any conversation I’m likely to have about running for the first few months of this year.

I’m now in almost halfway through training for the 2018 London Marathon. Potentially it will be my defining race of the year, a race in which two years ago I got close to going under 3 hours for the marathon. Since then, the sub-3 hour marathon has come to be the one time based goal left for me to really want to conquer. Sure, I’d love to run a true sub 18 5K (I’m close), and a sub-35 10K (still 2 minutes out), but truthfully, the one time I would be proudest of would be to say I ran a sub-3 hour marathon. I know not everyone obsesses over times and personal bests, but as a runner capable of running reasonably quick, the sub-3 hour is a realistic and tangible goal. I won’t hang my hat on London being the place I do it, for I refuse to set myself up for crushing disappointment. But having earned a Good For Age place there again, I feel that this is the moment in my running career to be going for my ultimate target.

And so, in a slight nod to Nike’s application of science and furthering the human possibilities at marathon, any and all entries (aside from race reports) are going to be tagged #Breaking3! Only this is going to involve a lot less science, more hills, a work/family/life balance and shoes in various states of distress!

There is going to be a lot of marathon pace training in my training cycle this time. I haven’t actually tried it very much during previous training cycles, save for throwing it in during the middle of a long run, and even then I struggled to actually reach the pace I would later come to employ on my flat marathon race days. But nearly nine weeks into training, I’m running around 6:40-6:45 mile pace at least twice a week, and it’s now established into my Sunday long run training too. So far, I’m hitting the right pace about 85-90% of the time, save for a few slightly quicker miles or a borderline 6:52, which is pretty much on 3 hour pace. Saturdays are currently seeing an increase more or less of a mile per two weeks, and I often utilise my part of local parkrun course to run these. It’s off road, it’s got a slight hill, it’s rocky when it’s dry but nice and muddy when it’s been wet, as it has quite a bit lately. It’s giving me a good solid base to carry out my marathon pace training – the section I use is a 1.25km loop, or roughly 3/4 of a mile. All in all I’m hitting, on average, 4 out of the 6 runs per week in my training plan, which is a greater level than where I was at for London 2016, although I wish my circumstances would allow just a little more free time to run on Mondays and Wednesdays!

I honestly believe the stars are aligning, so to speak, to make London 2018 my most realistic shot of cracking the sub-3. I’m part of a club set up now, I’ve got much more experience of long distance racing and I’m coming off the back of a fairly injury free year. I’m running consistently quick in training, feeling more comfortable at running inside my target marathon pace of 6:40 per mile, and I’ve tailored a Hal Higdon plan to suit my daily lifestyle and also to target specific workouts aimed at improving my speed endurance deep into a run.

My long runs have generally gone pretty well, and it’s been great after laying off anything long distance towards the end of last year just to get out and run mile after mile for a rough couple of hours or so. At present, my marathon pace target has only been thrown in towards the back end of these runs, the idea being once I’m a little tired, I should be attempting to run that pace. But I’m starting to reach what I like to call ‘the business end’ of training – the longest, hardest runs of your program. The canal will be the best replicant for what I can expect in London, given its not entirely flat from Brighouse towards Mytholmroyd and back. I tried one such run last weekend, picked up from the LetsRun.com forums – 2 miles warm up, then 10 miles starting at 10 seconds below target marathon pace, and increasing the pace by five seconds every mile until by the end you’re running 35 seconds faster than your target MP. Then a further five miles at around 30 seconds below. I came in at 6:55 per mile, and was doing pretty well until the weather played havoc and forced me to change my route from the canal towpath to the roads. I still managed to crack on almost as scheduled, running miles 10 to 12 at 6:32, 6:18 and 6:14 – not too far off where I intended to end up. I sure as heck felt that run for roughly the next 48 hours from when it finished, but it was absolutely worth it to try and prepare myself for my ultimate goal.

I’m also making use of my local park, now the host of a parkrun, to use the back session of the course as a trail circuit for my marathon pace and tempo workouts. When I’m not getting harassed by dogs running off the leash, I’m able to use the 1.25km loop to great effect, getting a small hill to climb and descend, ground going from firm to muddy depending on how much rainfall it receives, and each Saturday I’ve been down there long before the parkrun starts to run loop after loop. I’m usually maxing an average 6:10 pace at the sharp end of my tempo workouts, hugely reaffirming given on the roads I can hit below 6 minutes. The rugged terrain will certainly set me up well for my tilt on the concrete roads of the capital.

The midpoint of my training arrives this Sunday and takes in a familiar race – the Liversedge Half Marathon. A course described as prohibitive to personal bests, but with enough steep descents as it does tough climbs to whip up some serious pace. In 2014 I took my time down from 1:31 to 1:26, and the year after, having lowered it inbetween to just above 1:25, I ran 1:22:41 in what I regard today as one of the finest races I ever ran. Injury and a preoccupation with the challenges of marathons and ultra marathons have meant that since that race, I’ve only run one half marathon, the Sir Titus Trot in 2017, where I recorded 1:30:03 – albeit the course was long by about six tenths of a mile – I was closer to maybe a high 1:25 that day. I’m fairly certain I’m going to end up just running as hard as I can and seeing if I have the spark to still run a stonking half marathon PB. I’d love to break 1:22:41, just to see if I can get closer to 1:21, roughly where I was told by a shop assistant I could take 10 minutes off my debut 1:31 at this distance. I never believed him, but I got tangibly close before my injury in 2015, and I’ve no reason to believe I’ve peaked yet. Not to mention that come the day of Liversedge, I’ll probably set off like a freight train on the first downhill and hang on for the big 14% drop about 5 or 6 miles in. The way things are right now, I’d probably regret it if I didn’t run to improve my PB.

Whatever happens, The Liversedge Half Marathon will be a measure of where I’m currently at for the marathon, although given its completely different profile to London, it will be important not to read too much into my finishing time. I haven’t got near that PB since 2015, owing chiefly to injury, and progression to marathon and ultra distance races. So Sunday will be a day to push myself, but at the same time to try and take some sort of strategy out of that race into the marathon. Most likely, getting my pacing strategy right. But that’s hard when London as nothing the likes of a 14% downhill to contend with!

There’s not much left to say at this point, but I intend to provide an update sooner than the six or seven weeks it’s taken me to laboriously put this post together. The weather looks to be taking a back seat this weekend from the horrid wintry conditions thrust upon my area in recent weeks, which should make for ideal racing conditions and hopefully a positive experience to write home about.

So to my readers, thank you for continuing to check out my posts, and I wish you all the best for whatever your goals are this year.

More on The Hal Higdon Marathon Advanced 2 Training program can be found here