#Breaking3 – The Journey

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

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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…

Reflections on 2017

Looking back on a year of results, records and further self-discovery

Three weeks into 2017, I woke up from whatever catatonic stupor I was in from the crazy night out in Leeds. I had fallen over in some giddy chase after my brother and my sister’s fiancé piggybacked one another across a zebra crossing, some five pints down. I had bruised my knee, my ribs, my elbow, my hand and the top of my left foot. I despaired at my situation, the inbetween of which I had completely forgotten, thinking I’d ruined the running high I’d carried over from Snowdonia and the Great Yorkshire Pieathlon. Six days from my first half marathon in nearly two years, I’d have laughed in your face and uncontrollably floundered if what happened over the next 49 weeks, had been foretold.

At the end of 2017, I can look back on a year in which I’ve managed to surpass myself in a number of ways. OK, so fell running was an experience that left me in a heap in Roberts Park in Hebden Bridge, having felt sluggish, tired and truly beaten up by the beast of Stoodley Pike, and opting to leave it as an experience to return to in future. But it refocused my energy drawn from the brilliant start to the year, where I recovered from that incident in Leeds to record 3rd in the Sir Titus Trot Half Marathon, and 2nd in my first ever ultra marathon, the 32 mile Leeds Liverpool Canal Canter, a race I could scarcely believe how well I executed my race plan from start to finish off, to achieve the then-best result of my running career.

In May I finally joined a running club, the Halifax Harriers, off the back of two parkrun first places as well. Now a fully fledged member of a club, with club colours to wear proudly, I set about my chief task of the summer – a shot at my 10K time from 3 years before – a 37:15 from the Epilepsy Action Bradford 10K in 2014. Inspired by the track sessions, time trials and handicap races put on by my club, I injected speedwork back into my training and ran fastest in a 11th place finish in the club’s Summer Handicap 10K, making up a 21 minute deficit on the first runners to run 37:21, narrowly outside my time. Without question, getting myself in PB shape again, over two years since my last PB proper, was a difficult endeavour, with a couple of extra years of wear, as well as experience, to draw upon. My chosen race, the Race Organiser’s Regent’s Park 10K Summer Series, seemed an ideal place, and an opportune one at that, to go for the time, as well as squeeze in a race on my summer holiday. The race itself punished me for my early eager pace, and it was a bumpy ride midway through as I contemplated giving up on the attempt – but instead, I did the maths, figured I still had a chance and absolutely gritted my teeth on the final lap of the race. I recorded 37:08, finishing 5th overall and recording a 7 second PB which felt immensely harder than when I coasted home during the end of my Bradford race those years ago. Still, absolutely worth it.

Away from recording PB’s, there were more good results to be had too. I ran a competitive Honley Trail 10K to finish 5th overall, and I topped off my year with a first ever 5K race proper – and won! Leeds Liverpool Canal Christmas Cracker 5K Male Champion. Yep, that’s quite a mouthful, but to finally win a race was a tremendous feeling.

Without question though, my biggest successes came when I absolutely challenged myself. There was the Ilkley Aquathlon, a first ever competitive multisport event, in which my body pretty much gave me a big ‘nope’ mid swim and nearly ruined my race – due to a low turnout, however, I ended up making up time on the run and finishing 3rd male, 4th overall. The achievement there wasn’t where I finished, but more that I overcame my brain’s urge to quit during the swim and to see my first competitive swim – and aquathlon – to a conclusion. I didn’t spend 2.5 years relearning to swim just to give up when it mattered.

The step to ultra marathon, however, was perhaps my biggest all around achievement and maybe a steeper learning curve than anything the aquathlon (at the time) and fell running had thrown at me. There was the step of taking time to walk during my long distance runs to take on food, thus suppressing my competitive want to carry on running non stop. Getting this nailed was one thing I quickly got the hang of. Running slower than usual was another. Actually running marathon distance in training seemed plain ridiculous. Though I didn’t enter any traditional marathons in 2017, I ran the 26.2 twice – once entirely on the Calder-Hebble Navigation and Rochdale Canal, heading out and back in around 3:48 in early February; and a much hillier 3:54 around Upper Calder Valley. I truly enjoyed both experiences, running at a saner pace than any race attempt, a truly immersive experience and a highly rewarding one at that.

The results I gathered in my two ultras were something too. Second place in the Leeds Liverpool Canal Canter (32 miles), running for the most part about a mile per minute quicker than in training, and only finishing around 4.5 minutes behind the eventual winner. At the time, that was my best ever race result, but more impressive, my race plan went pretty much to perfection. The same can’t quite be said for the much hillier White Rose Ultra, which punished me for attempting to implement that same race plan and running inside course record pace in the first half of the event. I ran the last nine or ten miles with a good few walk breaks and pretty much all alone. But I found enough in reserve to eventually find a last injection of pace to finish strong and come home in 10th place, feeling proud to have finished well but knowing I’d truly been found out by a hideously difficult course, one that I’d actually reccied as well. 

Finishing fast at the 2017 White Rose Ultra
Post-WRU, about to receive post-race chilli and taking stock of what I’d endured

All this extra distance meant I finally achieved the one arbitrary goal that had eluded me for the best part of four years – a year end total of 1,000 miles –  albeit one I’d only seriously chased since 2015, ironically the year I spent most of my days on the sidelines. My best effort of any year saw me scrape just inside 900 miles for the year, still a very good total for any year, but in reality a sign of being hampered by injury at some point or another. This year, having overcome that early fall, and boosted the extra mileage I’ve run for the ultra marathons, I’ve managed a total of 1,160 miles for 2017, aided by an 8.5 mile run this morning. I surpassed my target in Mid-October and have ended up smashing my old record by a good 250+ miles. It’s never been a mark I’ve obsessed over, but to finally say I ran a thousand miles plus in a year, says a lot about my dedication and also how lucky I am to have got through the year pretty much injury free. A full year of consistent running, pretty much, from start to finish, the first time really since 2014.

I’m now getting into the swing of 2018 already, with entries to the Liversedge Half Marathon and the London Marathon now confirmed, I’m going to be almost singularly focused for the time being on getting the one time goal that truly matters to me more than any other – the sub-3 hour marathon. But I’m embellish more on that in future posts. Tonight will be a good time to reflect on everything I’ve done this year, a year I can be absolutely satisfied with everything I threw myself into. 

With that, I’d like to thank all my readers for all your support, interest, your kind words and encouragement. For the active among you, I hope you also found success this year and wish you all the very best heading into 2018.

My year in numbers:

1,160 miles run in 2017

Longest run: 32.48 miles (Leeds Liverpool Canal Canter) 

10 races

7 top 10 finishes

1 race victory 

1 2nd place finish

1 3rd place finish (and a 3rd male finish in the Ilkley Aquathlon) 

2 parkrun 1st place finishes

37:08 – New 10K PB time (at the Royal Parks Summer Series Regent’s Park 10K)

White Rose Ultra pictures taken from Team OA. 

Finding a bigger pond: Diving into the next phase of swim training

In life, outgrowth is a common theme. For every stage in life, there is something we end up outgrowing and shedding. Kids clothing. That one bedroom flat that won’t do once you’ve got a little one on the way. The job you’re overskilled for. WWE wrestling. Ok, maybe not WWE. But indeed, becoming good…hmm…better…at something you were previously hopeless at can be a common theme to which upscaling your ambition can be applied to.

On Tuesday 25th April, 2017, I stepped away from the Adult Improvers swim class I’d attended for almost two years. It wasn’t an emotional decision, although attached to it were many highlights. When I first nailed breathing underwater. Getting that perfect push and glide. Learning to scull. All the drills to improve technique. Trying to swim two days after the Greater Manchester Marathon with marathon legs. Trying (and failing) to dive without slamming my chest in the water rather than my hands and head. Learning dolphin, a slightly better backstroke, and finally breaststroke. Even a slightly awkward butterfly technique. None of which I have a photo of to show you, because selfies in the water aren’t generally recommended.

I owe much of my re-education to my previous coach Judy, who is absolutely excellent at her role and always gave firm but fair, positive advice and demonstrations as to how to swim and dive properly. None of the other coaches who stood in, or eventually replaced her after she left, were as applied as Judy, but they all helped bring my technique on. Over the last few months, my predominant technique, front crawl, has improved and with it my stamina in the water. I can run 32 miles, but I could barely swim even 25 metres. I got as far as 75 metres around the autumn of 2016, and eventually finally cracked the 100 metre mark. 

To hit triple digits meant a lot to me, and I’ve really kicked on from there. Steadily I went through 120, 125, 150, 160, and then one night, absolutely stressed out and ready to explode, I took myself down to the local pool, focused my stress and channelled it into the swim. That night, I finally cracked 200 metres non stop. To hit 200 metres meant I could actually focus on building up my stamina, and perhaps focusing more on my actual form and pacing. It also meant that I was really on borrowed time and starting to limit myself. Indeed, a lot of my fellow learners had left at the end of 2016 and I remained the only constant. New faces came in, but in many ways it felt like the lessons were more geared towards them, as you’d expect, and so the only logical step was to take my coach’s advice and move into the next class, Stroke Skills, permanently.

This potentially now frees my time to join a running/athletics club, with Halifax being the most likely, but its critical to me that I don’t ever lose out on time at the pool. I’ve got a good base to work on, a platform on which to move my lessons onto the next level and continue towards my very much long term aim of one day, competing and completing a triathlon. In the meantime, I’ve started my Stroke Skills training. Its hard work, but its pushing my stamina levels more and giving me a full hour in the water on Friday nights to really push my abilities to the next level.

Put simply, the future as far as swimming goes is looking good. I’ve got a lot of hard work ahead to further improve and I’m confident with the right application I can get myself into even better pool shape and reap the benefits that can bring to my all-round fitness and wellbeing.

And to anyone out there who, like me, found swimming undesirable, or felt hopeless at it – take the plunge. Give yourself a reason to swim. I want to be a triathlete. I also want to be a good example for my children as they learn to swim. The first trip to the pool is the hardest – but getting yourself out of your front door is even harder. Overcome this, take to the water, try to relax and swim whatever you’re comfortable with. And if you haven’t still got it, I can’t recommend lessons (and indeed, a good coach) enough. Over time, the water won’t become less chilly when you first step in, but it will become a less daunting place. The improvements will gradually come, your technique will find poise and posture, and eventually you too will be able to call yourself a competent swimmer.

Now, just to learn how to back crawl in a straight line…

Fells, trails, speed and (air) miles: Mapping my future course

Hello everybody!

Thank you all firstly for reading my write up of my race at the Leeds Liverpool Canal Canter. It got a great response out on social media and I got some great compliments not just about my run, but my writing style too. I write this blog almost as a personal diary which I’m happy to share and however it affects you, the reader, is genuinely a wonderful thing to receive in return. I don’t seek to force my blog onto anyone – of course I’ll publish, share and retweet – and I don’t seek, or expect, thousands of hits. I’m really happy to continue sharing my running adventures with all of you and what a bonus it is that right now, I’m in the most successful results phase of my career. So thank you everybody, its much appreciated.

So after something like that, how do I possibly go forth from here. Well luckily for you, I seem to have it all mapped out in my head as to the next 18 months or so. Without further ado, I introduce you to…

Short term (spring/summer 2017)

This spring will mark my first dip in the proverbial rough waters of fell running. Although I’m still undecided on whether to go for my ultimate goal of running the Kilnsey Crag Fell Race, I’m looking at entering races with a reasonable entry level so should I opt for the step up, I’ll feel ready.

Ilkley Moor. On a wet and windy February morning.

The first of these will hopefully be the Dick Hudsons Fell Race, taking place on Thursday April 27th. This event takes place starting from White Wells, situated on Ilkley Moor, and the race itself is a rough 7 miles ascending the moor, ideally past the Twelve Apostles Stone Circle (where I walked to earlier in the year), and down towards the Dick Hudson pub in Bingley, from which the race gets its name. Its a tag of the gate and then a run back the opposite way back to White Wells in Ilkley. I seem to remember one steep stone stair case that will need climbing and descending, but otherwise, what I know of the path is mostly flagstoned. Either way, having gained knowledge of the area, it seems an ideal one to take on.

The next event I’ve lined up is the Hebden Bridge 10km Fell Race, organised by Todmorden Harriers, which is a jaunt up to Stoodley Pike, the defining war memorial that overlooks the Calder Valley, and down into some of the woodland trails in the surrounding areas below. Its billed as a fell race with trail elements and an ideal entry race. This is followed up on Tuesday 4th July by the Stoodley Pike Fell Race, also organised by Todmorden Harriers, a shorter but arguably more thrilling race up to the monument and down its steep descents back to the bottom.

Stoodley Pike, 14/08/2016

Something I’ll be trying to balance with all this is a return to a long held goal of mine that got interrupted big time two years ago, when I developed sesamoiditis. I haven’t entered yet, but I’m on a family holiday to London for the final night of the World Paraathletics Championships on Sunday 23rd July. The Royal Parks Regent’s Park 10K, organised by The Race Organiser, is held the same morning. I feel confident now with the London Tube network to be able to get over from my digs for the week to the race, and it represents a chance for myself to attack a PB of mine that has now stood for over three years. In 2014, I ran 37:15 at the Epilepsy Action Bradford 10K. The following year, I began training for a crack at going sub-35 minutes. I was clocking some excellent intervals – even at sub-3 minute per km pace – but then my problems began to develop and halfway into the plan I bailed and decided to try and get to the bottom of why my left foot couldn’t take more than 20 minutes of running.

I still believe I can go sub-35 minutes for 10K. Its a very big leap, however, so there isn’t any guarantee I will achieve it in one go. I did, over the course of 2016, lower my parkrun 5K PB to 18:06 – still some way off the 17:30 I would possibly need to feel fully capable, but I did manage a 17:28 split during the Great Birmingham Run. I believe now I’m more experienced to make a more considered approach to tackling this goal than I did two years ago. For a start, avoiding doing all my training on the road will be a start, and keeping my body strong and injury free will be another. I’ve also invested in a second hand copy of ‘Daniels’ Running Formula’, written by the acclaimed running coach Jack Daniels, to seek to understand putting together a training plan from scratch and to introduce myself seriously back into threshold and interval running, both of which I pushed mostly to one side for the slower pace required in the ultra marathon I trained for. I’m already some way through the book – more on that another time.

To round off the summer, will be one, possibly two races, depending on my willingness to sign up for the Kilnsey Crag Fell Race on Tuesday 29th August. Two days prior, I’m taking part in the Honley 10K Trail Run, which will see myself and numerous others tackling a scenic and challenging trail course around a section of the Holme Valley. It’ll be nice to get back to running in the area – I don’t often visit the Holme Valley unless its for big, long, very hilly climbs over Holme Moss. This will be something a little different, and no less enterprising. And then remains the shortest, and no doubt most challenging of the four fell races I have planned, as this video below may attest to.

Medium term (September-December 2017)

Ever since I took part, hastily, in a Go Tri event (The Great Yorkshire Aquathlon in Leeds), four weeks after having to be dragged out of a pool because I suddenly lost my kick in the deep end, I’ve had a keen interest in getting up to a level where I can take part in a multisport event again. I had an absolute blast that day, and I’ve been on a mission since to improve my swimming abilities to be able to take on the Ilkley Aquathlon, an event held every September at Ilkley Swimming Pool and Lido. Its taken a while, but I’ve significantly improved as a swimmer. As of last night, I’m currently up to 200 metres (in a 20 metre pool) swimming front crawl without stopping. I’ve had such a positive start in the water in 2017, reaching the 200 ahead of schedule, but the race itself is the impetus to kick on – I’m really invested in running right now and so its important not to lose focus if I’m ever to progress to triathlon.

The Ilkley Aquathlon comprises a 400 metre swim and a 3000 metre run, mostly on grass. This takes place one week after my 33rd birthday, on Saturday 16th September. Entries open in May, so I’ll need to be fast to book my place, but this is my ultimate challenge as a swimmer for 2017. I really believe I can do it. Therefore, I really want to be a part of it. The key part of my training balance will be to ensure I get enough swim training done, because with all these other races it would be all too easy to lose focus on the swim leg, which is obviously critical to keep working on. I can swim 400 metres if I stop for a breather now and again. I’d love to be good enough to attempt it in one go.

There’s still an itch to run a marathon this year, and the one I’ve identified is the Kirkstall Trail Marathon, part of the Kirkstall Abbey Trail Running Festival, organised by Its Grim Up North Running. Taking place on Saturday 18th November, the course is three laps comprising ‘road, track, and field’. Basically its a trail race, and it’ll probably be muddy, and there’s apparently a bit of a steep climb somewhere. Sounds grand! Other distances are also available at this race. Head here for more information.

That also means I’m likely to run one of two events in October as prep – the Northern Jumble (another Its Grim Up North Running race) is another multi-distance event which costs just £10 to enter regardless of distance (5K up to ultra). The medals at the end are surplus, so won’t be individual to the race but will have been handed out at one of the other IGUNR events. Each will have a Northern Jumble ribbon. If I enter, I’ll plump for the half. The alternative is the Holmfirth 15 mile race, which is a two lap event. It’ll also be a little hillier than the Jumble, which is on another canal, this time to Huddersfield Broad Canal. I’m not leaning towards either, but the latter would likely be better practice for the hilly Kirkstall Trail.

My year might wind down after that. Then again, maybe it won’t. Because…

Longer term (early 2018)

As long as the dates line up with a certain major marathon later in the year, I plan to enter the Canalathon 50K in 2018 – and this time it shouldn’t clash with Mother’s Day in the UK! I’m determined to make up for the fact I couldn’t make this event in 2017 (and wasted £50 in the process) and having enjoyed my first ultra marathon so much, there’s no reason why I shouldn’t feel capable of ultra #2. This is a popular regional event that takes place on the Rochdale Canal, from Manchester all the way to Sowerby Bridge. There are longer options too – the 75km and the 100km, the latter of which garners points for UTMB qualification – but I’m fine for now cutting my chops at roughly 31, 32 miles before signing up for an even bigger challenge.

The certain major marathon I refer to is London Marathon 2018. I have a Good For Age time valid from 2016 and its time to try and top it up. Not only that, but I want this to be my serious tilt at a sub-3 hour marathon. I was narrowly close in 2016, clocking 3:02:39 – the watch suggested I ran 26.47 miles. While I’ll take my finish time as gospel, it does make me wonder – IF it was long course, then I must have been within a minute of the magic marker. But no excuses – if I’m going to do it, I’m going to be serious about it. By now if I haven’t seriously worked hard on my core fitness, and indeed my speedwork, and indeed judging marathon pace, I can probably forget it. But if I’m on top of those things, recover well from the Canalathon, and if I can bring it all together on the day, then what’s to say I can’t achieve it? The sub-3 is my ultimate time goal. Yes, sub-35 for the 10K would be grand, but for myself, personally, to actually run such a time for the marathon would be something.

Long term (beyond summer 2018)

The last time I went abroad was 1997. It was a family holiday to Tenerife, my long abiding memory being waking up in tears after a planned trip up Mount Teide was cancelled after my father consumed a dodgy British curry the night before. Fast forward nearly 20 years, and the only time I’ve left this fair isle since was on a boat from Plymouth to the tiny Cornish villages of Kingsand and Cawsand in 2010. Which doesn’t really count, does it? Plus, with Brexit about to drop, I’ve a horrid feeling the sterling is going to be worth jack in years to come. Furthermore, my passport expires in 2020. Its been good for nothing except identification for beer and parcels from the local Post Office depot. Well, its time to do something about it!

Yep, I want to run a marathon…abroad! To some of you, this is nothing new. To me, this is actually a big deal. If I commit to this, it’ll be the first time I’ll go through an airport on my own. I’ll possibly have to learn a few phrases (not just ‘Gratulerer med dagen!’ – happy birthday in Norse). I might even get cheaper rail travel!

My destination of choice will be Europe. Its the easiest option and there’s an absolute plethora of marathons and races to choose from. Everything from the race itself, race entry fees, travel and accommodation, the location, the lingo etc. is likely to shape where I decide to plop for. One thing for sure is the calendar – ideally I don’t want it to fall during my kids school term time, which basically means an August or late October marathon, ruling out a good few, though having said that, it would be churlish to overlook a race a week or two either side with good connections. 

Already a few people have given me recommendations on where to go. Some places I seem to have my heart set on more than others, some I would love to do but already find my budget being stretched. I’m likely to be more certain towards the end of 2017 if I’m actually going to leave this country behind for a few days. And fingers crossed, I’ll have the cash to afford. That tax free allowance rise has got to come in good somewhere!

So, the blueprint is (sort of) set, its now a question of drawing up training plans, booking my race entries, and, most crucially, getting out there and putting the hard miles in. This is going to be a nice return to 5K and 10K racing, whether on hills, roads, trails and fells, before cranking up for a long distance autumn/winter season and a chance to escape the madness of this island, if just for a few days. But first, the fells of Ilkley Moor. Only this time, faster. And maybe a bit of sunshine too.

Yep. Absolutely sodden with rain
Yep. Absolutely sodden with rain.

The Wonderful World of Run Commuting

by Peter, 32 and rising

I don’t drive. I’ve never taken a single lesson. I once had a provisional licence, and I was once offered lessons by my parents when I was 17. Life may have been a little different had I accepted. Alas, it confined me to the wonders of public transport. An experience I first encountered at university, and then when my first proper job got relocated to Morley. This sapped away some of my then previous enjoyment of the train. Then I started working in Huddersfield and got the bus. In the last year or so, I’ve been working further from home close to Leeds city centre. This has meant revisiting the trains, and sometimes using the bus, which truly opened my eyes to how horrifically turd the experience of long distance bus commuting is.

A couple of weeks into my recovery from the Snowdonia Marathon Eryri, and feeling certain I was going to take on a race of at least 50km, I started looking for a generic training plan to start me off, not truly knowing what I should expect from such preparation for the distance. I quickly found one which I felt agreeable with. The first thing that caught my eyes was the schedule. Always important to know which runs on which days and how that works into my busy work-life balance. The next was the long run, just to see what distances I will potentially reach in training. Then I realised the inclusion of hill sprints in this program, something I rarely did, prior to training for the planned ultra. But then I spotted something slightly more concerning. 75-90 minutes easy on a Thursday. Now that wasn’t a problem prior to Snowdonia, but then I wasn’t doing hill sprints on Wednesdays, so no 4am run on a Thursday for me. I also didn’t fancy the prospect of coming home, putting the girls to bed and doing a third run in three days at a late hour on a school night. So there was one, seemingly logical conclusion. I would have to run commute again.

Except, its not as logical as it once was. I used to work five miles from home. Now its twelve miles, at a minimum. I worked out the pacing that would require at 90 minutes max. 7:30 miling. Not easy. Moderate, if anything. To do it too slow would involve running for longer than 90 minutes. So I have to reach a compromise. I had previously gone back as far as Ravensthorpe or Dewsbury, and run along the main road, but at around 6 or 7 miles and with much less cornering, if any, it isn’t hard to get wrong. But that would be too short.

So I settled on roughly 9 miles, which at its fastest is 8 minute miling but ideally 8:30 is much more target zone. My Thursday nights now currently involve a a short public transport commute, which means getting either a bus to Gildersome, or a bus/train to Morley, or a bus to Thornbury Barracks. The former two involve running via Birstall, and the undulating A643, via Spen Lane, Cleckheaton and Hartshead, the only difference being I either start from Morley and run through Howden Clough, which is nothing but a dark A road, or the bright lights of Birstall Retail Park, and a number of major junctions and roundabouts. The latter is a run via the major roads linking Sticker Lane, Rooley Lane, and Odsal Top, shortening my run to around 8 miles, but not a bad option is truly pressed for time.

I don’t always feel cracking on these runs. Particularly the Bradford route. Running alongside heavy traffic isn’t the most gratifying, and more to the point, it has me wondering if I’m susceptible to smog. How I can feel like I’m overheating in temperatures of 1C really doesn’t stack up. I should be able to wear headgear, a base layer, t-shirt and gloves without feeling like I’m going to burn up. I feel noticeably better in the second half of all these routes, when I’m leaving the busy city behind and arriving nearer my hometown. Likewise, it seems to take me a while to warm up if running out of Gildersome – the major roundabouts come thick and fast and do much to break up early rhythm. Morley, on the other hand, involves a dangerous short climb up from the somewhat cut off rail station, weaving in and out of rush hour commuters eager to get home, and cars coming down the pathless section amidst the throng, before climbing up to the junction at the nearby Toby Carvery. Here its a drop through Howden Clough, a village where little but countryside and and an industrial estate exist, before climbing up and then down into Birstall, where the Gildersome route would converge. 

Its through the heart of the town before heading on the long climb up Spen Lane, eventually reaching the top where I once stopped, walking into the nearby Sainsburys for a Snickers bar once, so lethargic I felt. Then through the suburb of Spen and onward along the A643, leaving the city behind and taking on the undulations back into Hartshead and then home. The final section is like the calm after the storm. The run gets quieter as it reaches home, and eventually plunges into the darkness of the ‘Mad Mile’ Highmoor Lane, turning off towards Thornhills for a run down a country lane and, if I should be granted a clear night, a magnificent dark sky experience. Though one always taken with the appropriate caution (and a headtorch).

I won’t deny that I pine sometimes for my old commute, which was five miles (said to be the perfect run commuting distance) from Brighouse to Huddersfield, which is basically one big up and over whichever way you do it, and viceversa. It was a main road, and a bit bland, but on a given day always left options to extend the route out even as far as Scapegoat Hill, or even Castle Hill, and drop back in, or to run via the Broad Canal towpath. It was stacked with options. I even once ran to work via Dalton, making the route eight miles, in absolute pouring rain. Thank goodness indeed for work showers, if indeed your employer has them. Now, a minimum 12 miles from A to B means compromise (yes, that word again) at this point, and a great deal of limitation to my route – swinging out too far can add a mile or two extra very easily, not ideal when you’re aiming to only run for x amount of minutes. In other words, I’m stuck with the linear option, though I could always, if I felt like it, allow for a 10 miler if I could find the right path and judge my pace correctly. 

There’s a great deal of articles out on the internet about run commuting. While presently, I chiefly only have to plan for running home, but many people run to work, for similar reasons to myself, and for many others also. One such website, Jographies, is currently conducting The Big Run Commuting Survey, aimed at gathering the thoughts of run commuters and would-be’s. Run commuting is certainly becoming more popular – there’s even a Run To Work day now – and while its not for everyone, its ultimately a great way of fitting in training for a race, getting away from the stresses of public transport, even just filling your mind with positivity (before work) and clearing it of the previous 7-8 hours of the daily working overdose, almost a cleansing of the mind. And a boost for your health. It’ll also give you a bit of a lesson in being organised. If I run to work, I try and leave my work clothes a towel and toiletries (hair and body wash, deodorant, etc.)  in my work drawer the day before, so I don’t have to lug them to the office. And something to eat, stored in the fridge, because nobody wants, say, an exploded yogurt pot in their backpack. Planning is key. The run home itself requires much less planning, but you’ll still need to have a good idea of how long you want your run to be, which roads or paths to travel on, and in either casecase, how long you plan to run, whether you’re going to pace it, or whether you want it to follow your marathon training program to the letter.

Do give the survey a go anyway. I’m looking forward to seeing the data on that one.

In summary, run commuting isn’t perfect, not personally, anyway. Its what you make of it to yourself. I do wonder if I’ll ever find the ideal route for my commute again. Ideally one with a decent off road section. Yet for the faults I find with it, it does serve an important, somewhat understated purpose in my life, in giving my training a platform to build up the miles, my hill strength, my own sense of pacing, patience and fortitude. And who knows, maybe one day it’ll all come together. It beats running after a bus anyway.

The Big Run Commuting Survey

Scenes from a recent commute

Gelderd Road, Gildersome, Leeds. A truly busy section, often so stop start to a pedestrian due to the sheer number of roundabouts and crossings.

Another industrial estate
An all too familiar sight for run commuters. This beauty is in Cleckheaton, West Yorkshire
Always a welcome sight. Not too far to go now…
Hello darkness, my old friend

2016 – A Step Beyond

So, another year of running comes to an end, and I can safely say, after a disruptive 2015, 2016 has gone largely much better, though not without its hiccups. It started with a slightly tipsy, but intentional and excitable entry to the Snowdonia Marathon, and looks set to finish with a minor foot injury sustained through removing a shoe. Such are the ups and downs of a runner. More on that another time.

Yet it took a trip to Woodhouse Moor parkrun in Leeds, running 18:34 but in considerable discomfort with my knees afterwards, to take affirmative action to salvage my London Marathon training and to make sure I could make the race. Gait analysis revealed I was an overpronator, and about £80, I was in Brooks Adrenaline GTS 15s, half a size up, and for the first time possibly ever, my feet didn’t rock. I had to miss my favoured half marathon, the Liversedge Half, due to those knees, but I got back into training step by step, one run at a time, and London suddenly was back on. And sure enough, I made it to the start line, simply happy to be there, taking advantage of my hard earned Good For Age time, and falling just short of a sub-three hour marathon time that, truthfully, I had no right chasing. It was a brilliant weekend in London, and it brought me full circle with my other chief inspiration for taking up running again – visiting the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Stadium, where those great memories of Super Saturday still linger.

Spotted during the London Marathon – in decent nick here!

Put simply, that trip to the running shop broke the cycle, snapped me out of a rut, and got me feeling good about running again. Who would’ve known a routine shopping trip could make or break a year like that?

The way the second half of my year unfolded turned out to be even better, evolving from a long distance road runner to tackling the adventure of the trail, as I prepared for Snowdonia. Getting off course during the (Wo)Man vs Barge race, almost getting lost off the Pennine Way, climbing Dovestone Edge during a run, getting covered knee deep in mud and other horrid substances in a field near Hebden Bridge, running up and over Holme Moss Summit twice in the same run, nearly passing out on the Calder Hebble Navigation, and best of all, getting to run 17 miles with the one and only Ben Smith, of the 401 Challenge, made for the best block of training I’ve ever done for a race. Barely ever disrupted by injury, even my delicate work-life balance, I believe it all helped me to get into the best possible shape for Snowdonia – even if I did only end up racing like a fool because I was so immersed in the scenery.

With Ben Smith at Marathon 348 (Horsforth, Leeds) of the 401 Challenge
Crossing the finish line at Snowdonia

And as for Snowdonia itself? Its a race I’m sure I won’t forget. The ultimate road marathon test of endurance, in the shadow of the mountains, through the mist and fog of Pen-Y-Pass, the swathes of slate, high peaks, clear blue lakes; the crowds and support along the route; the killer turn at Waunfawr prior to Bwlch-y-Groes, a truly punishing climb that tried to extrapolate my muscles in ways I’d never experienced, and the final descent back into Llanberis. Its a race I’ll never ever forget, not just for what it nearly did to me – the preparation and the sheer intensity is enough to make a man insane, like Captain Ahab chasing Moby Dick. The sheer relief and jubilation at the end, and for my family to see it as well, made all that preparation and sacrifice absolutely worth it.
Outside of running, my swimming ability seems to be making great strides, if not great waves. I’ve been at my swimming lessons a year and a half now, and the last three months were incredible. Not only have I kicked on from the departure of my now ex-swimming coach, and improved at back crawl, breaststroke, dolphin and butterfly, I’ve cracked 100 metres consecutive front crawl for the first time in December. It pushes me that little bit closer to multisport, with the initial aim being a sprint aquathlon where I can really try and test my newfound abilities. The below picture sums up perfectly how stoked I was after that first 100 meter swim.

Going forward, I have great plans afoot for 2017, and indeed some decisions to make. I’ll be putting together a separate post detailing my plans for next year, though you can check my Itinerary for the latest races I’m booked into, along with my race history.

With that, I leave you with stats, and a huge thank you to all my readers for keeping up with my most incredible year of running so far, and to everyone and indeed anyone who’s been there to support me with a lift, a shower, local knowledge, and words of encouragement. Reading back over waves of positivity reminds me of just how amazing putting one foot in front of the other really is!

My year in numbers

2 marathons (London & Snowdonia)

One 10K (the Halifax Harriers Summer Handicap 10K)

2 trail races ((Wo)Man vs Barge, The Great Yorkshire Pieathlon)

A new marathon PB (3:02:39, London)

One Butlins gold medal and wristband for archery!

5 parkruns (including one first place finish, one second, four 5K PBs (currently 18:06)

928 miles run (+ 19 miles of long walks (I only did two) = 947 miles (as of December 30, 2016)

6 pairs of shoes used (three road pairs, two trail pairs and one fell pair – two road pairs and one trail pair retired)

After Snowdonia

The first four days after returning home from Llandudno were nothing short of stressful. I was straight back into work on a  Tuesday, underslept and at one point fell asleep on the bus. I woke up in unfamiliar territory and thought I’d missed my stop. In actual fact, it had taken a diversion, and subsequently, I was slightly late for work. This set the tone for a whole week struggling against tiredness, traffic congestion and worrying about getting to work on time. Even on marathon legs, I was pushed to actually walk a mile and a half to get to another stop because it was quicker than slowly making my way through treacle traffic. One night, I spent fourty minutes on a bus out of Leeds city centre and didn’t even leave the centre. I got off and dashed for a train. By Friday night, having done more running around to find a quicker way of getting home, I was at my wit’s end.

This wasn’t how marathon recovery was supposed to be. Aside from swimming, three days after Snowdonia, which felt absolutely amazing on my quads, it just felt like all I could do was rush and harry. I felt restless, and disappointed. The weekend couldn’t come soon enough.

If there was one thing keeping me sane, aside from my wonderful family, it was reminiscing about the events of Saturday 29th October. Looking back over a brilliant family holiday in Llandudno. I had the distraction of writing up my race report for this blog, and checking back to read comments on my Facebook posts, Instagram and Twitter feeds. Getting the odd congratulations in a busy work office.

To all of you who cheered me on, congratulated me and relived my arduous race with me, thank you all so much. I value everyone who comes to check out my page and reads what I have to say. Sometimes I read back over my posts and they’re practically a book in themselves. They seem so hard for myself to read at times, but its the only way I really know how! But you all seem to enjoy them and its brilliant to continue receiving the comments I got. And at least I also had my slate coaster to look at. I’m still mega proud of it now, and forever will be. To think back to the coaster, to the race, the incredible Pen-y-Pass, the magnificent descent into Llanberis, even that brutal final hill, brought a wry smile to my face for several days afterwards. 

Thankfully, things have settled down a little now – the commute remains busy, but has calmed down. My lowered immune system meant the cough I carried all holiday eventually bloomed into a full-blown cold, which laid me low for a few days. But I’m back in the pool, easing back into running, and I’m pleased to say I’ve come off well after the marathon, with no injuries, strains or quarrels to report.

And thank you to those same people who followed my training diary building to Snowdonia. Without question, it was my most daring, adventurous, and yet successful block of training yet. The comments left on my blog were greatly appreciated, and for every share, every retweet, just reaching one more person is another person to have had a small taste of the adventure. Looking back, it felt like a perfect story arc, building up to that day on Invalid’s Walk when I could see across the whole of Llandudno as the sun rose. A sight I initially hadn’t anticipated, but yet so lucky to see. But another chapter is now at an end, and so we move on in search of the next thrill. 

Full of cold but still standing

So what’s next?

Well, the next race is just around the corner, and its a return to one of my favourite races on the calendar. T’Great Yorkshire Pieathlon. This year, I aim to see if I can run the 6km course a bit quicker but of course, I want to just enjoy those rich, tasty pies!

Beyond that, I’ve nothing booked but I do have races I’d like to do in the pipeline. The big one is the 2017 Canalathon, on 26 March, taking part in the 50km option, which navigates the Rochdale Canal all the way from Great Ancotes in Manchester back to Sowerby Bridge. The only sticking point at present is the cost – I’m on a budget and close to Christmas its hard to prioritize a race over loved ones and day to day necessities. Entry is £50 until January 1st, 2017, but the optional extras for a medal (£6), post-race meal (£6) and transport to race start (£10) bump it up to £72. Now, it might not seem much in the grand scheme of things – I won’t need accommodation, for example, or spend too much on travel, but its the race the first half of my year hangs on at present, and affording it immediately is proving a little tricky. There’s still time and space to enter though.

I did want to do the Brass Monkey Half Marathon in York. The Brass Monkey is a hugely popular race that kicks off the calendar around mid-January on a fast, flat course, and it sells out within minutes. I got my times muddled up and woke up way too late to enter, by which time my hopes had gone kaput for another year. Right now the likely alternative is a little known race called the Sir Titus Trot, taking place on the Leeds-Liverpool Canal from Saltaire on January 28th, 2017. There’s a 32 mile, a standard marathon, a half marathon option and a 10K. I aim to enter the half, and its around £18 to enter. It seems a cracking little race and a good chance to actually have my first attempt at beating my half marathon PB, the 1:22:41 at Liversedge in February 2015. I find it hard to believe I’ve not raced half distance since!

Beyond those, I might take myself out on a jaunt somewhere across the country, but that depends on my money and where I feel my priorities lie. I certainly want to experience a few different locations and I can imagine wanting to try out a couple of fell races too.

2016 is nearing its end, but be assured I’ll be out on the roads and trails again soon, whatever the winter may bring.