The Summer of Speed – Progress

I thought it would be a good time to drop back in and discuss how my ongoing preparations are for my big 10km PB attempt this summer. I’m heading down to London for the Royal Parks Series Regent’s Park 10km on Sunday 23rd July, and have my sights set on my long-standing PB of 37:15 from the Epilepsy Action Bradford 10K from March 2014, and have dedicated my spring and summer to chasing down the pursuit of blistering pace.

The key change in my life is that I’ve started training with the Halifax Harriers, an athletic club based just on the outskirts of the town centre, having now freed up my Tuesday nights to be able to train with them. After three trial sessions, I finally handed over my membership fee and now, just over four and a half years after taking up running again, am now proudly wearing the Halifax Harriers race vest.

I’m currently turning up on Tuesdays for training sessions with them, and already I’m seeing improvements to my running. Here are a couple of pace charts – one from a repetition session carried out on a Monday night (01 May 2017) and my first repetition session on the track with the Harriers, less than 24 hours later.

On my own – consistent intervals, but the slight drops are proof of the strain
With the Halifax Harriers, similar session, smoother intervals

As you can see, my pace is much more consistent running with a group, maintaining a steady pace even at my top end speed, where on my own the jagged nature of that pace line shows how hard I was working to keep my level up. I also tended to jog during the recovery phases of my interval training prior to club training, but the recovery here tends to be to stop, rest, stretch, loosen up and lower the heart rate, before setting off again. I’ve managed to get my 400 metre speed down to 70 seconds, which is as quick as I’ve ever managed lapping the track.

My 5K pace seems to have improved as well since joining the Harriers. I ran an 18:22 to take first place at Brighouse parkrun again, albeit I suffered for front running the whole thing – I set off too quickly and the hill at the back of the Brighouse parkrun course basically sapped my top end pace out of me. I had an immediate chance to pursue the sub-18 again the Tuesday after, at a 5K time trial on Harriers night, taking on a two lap, undulating course in Skircoat Green, Halifax. My first three k’s went for 3:50, 3:35, 3:37…and then my watch gave up. Saving myself onto the remaining uphills, I thundered down the flats and the descents, turning right at the end for one more hill towards the finish – absolutely on my toes, I pushed for the line and recorded 18:01 – narrowly close to sub-18, but a brand new PB over the distance by five seconds. It took everything I had, but it was worth it for the result, and gets me tantalizingly close to going under 18 minutes as we head into June.

Just this past Sunday, I ran on my own to test my 10km pace eight weeks out from the Regent’s Park 10km in London, running from Brighouse to Elland Bridge and back along the Calder-Hebble Navigation. I clocked 39:12.5, a couple of minutes down but on a slightly hilly route, and with a pronounced slow down at 9km so as not to needlessly chase the 3 minute km I would have needed to go under 37:15. I needed a marker to lay down and while I was shorn of top end pace later in the run, I know where improvements can be made and there’s plenty time to turn that around.

I’m not finding this without difficulty though. Odd cranks have started to appear, and at the behest of self-diagnosing, what’s going on in my right foot is the ruminations of plantar fasciitis. I haven’t half worked on my eccentric step exercises and calf massages since, and thankfully so far its remained manageable. I’m trying more than ever to get onto trails and away from roads when the opportunity arises, and listening more than ever to when my foot decides its not happy with the stick its getting. Furthermore, I had more than a  hiccup with my Garmin Forerunner 10, which seems to be on its last legs for a little while – its stopped recording runs despite all manner of reset attempts to right it. Not the most important thing but when you’re trying to measure your pace, its a bugbear if you haven’t got the kit.

And I definitely need time to acclimate to potentially hot racing conditions. I recently ran home from Ravensthorpe along the banks of the River Calder, and found it hugely stifling in 24-25C temperatures, with the sun endlessly beating down. Right now the weather is consistently around 17-18C in the UK, occasionally breaking into the 20’s in my area. The warmest I’ve ever raced in is 18C, so I’ve got to prepare for the potential of racing at least in the low 20’s. That shouldn’t prove too big a step, so long as I take the opportunities to run hard in the heat, and key things like staying hydrated. At the end of the day it probably won’t make too much difference, but its best to be prepared for all eventualities weather wise on the day of the race.

Selfie break in the pre-summer sun, on the River Calder, 25/05/2017
The River Calder near Mirfield, 25/05/2017

As you read this, I’ll have taken part in the Hebden Bridge Fell Race – more on that very soon – to kick off a surely busy couple of months packed with races and opportunities. Without question I’m going to have to work hard to keep bringing my time down, but who said chasing times was ever going to be easy? Especially with a watch that may or may not be on its way out. In any event, it’ll be great to keep on this road into the heart of summer, culminiating on July 23rd, when I can hopefully race the 10km of my life in the morning and be inspired by the athletes taking part at the World Parathletics Championships in the evening. The focus here remains resolute, and with the Halifax Harriers I’m feeling great about the remainder of the year going forward.

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.

New Year, New Dreams

Hello everyone, and Happy New Year to you all. Hope Christmas was excellent for you all and you’ve not overloaded on booze and chocolate! 

2016 didn’t end particularly well for myself, sleeping in on Christmas Eve and missing a 14 mile run that was very much needed to ideally stay on track. This was compounded by a foot injury I picked up shortly afterwards while, of all things, removing a shoe. I just pulled it out, and it immediately felt like something was up. I was therefore unable to run on New Year’s Eve too, and that would have been 16 miles. Thankfully, due to rest and recovery, the foot has been healing well and I’ve completed a near full week of running, so I’m almost back to full fitness. The picture at the top there was from a recent trail run up to Beacon Hill which overlooks the town of Halifax, and you can see the whole of the town centre from up there. That’s motivation enough!

The first 24 hours of 2017 were interesting, to say the least. At the turn of the year, I’d signed up to do the Canalathon, a race I’d long promised myself, and at 50km would have been my first ultra. Then came the realisation that the date of the race – Sunday March 26th – clashed with Mother’s Day in the UK. Usually, my mother’s day consists of helping get the kids organised – they’re five years old, so it still falls on me to get gifts/flowers and the like sorted, while also accommodating my wife’s plans with her mother, and then there’s my annual rememberance of my mother, to whom I arrange a nice bunch of flowers with my siblings to mark the occasion. This would have proven quite the headache, and so for all the hassle it would have caused, it wasn’t achievable to enter at all. Except, I already had.

And so 24 hours later, I had withdrawn from the Canalathon, losing my £50 entry fee and receiving a discount code valid for up to two years as a form of withdrawal refund. Not a complete kick to my own teeth, but a slightly painful lesson nonetheless. In its place, I shelled out another £36 to enter another canal based ultra – the 32 mile Leeds Liverpool Canal Canter. Organised by It’s Grim Up North Running, a Leeds based events company, and it’ll be a flat out and back along the Leeds Liverpool Canal. The race takes place on Saturday March 11. This is 15 days prior to the Canalathon, so that’s two weeks less training to fit in. Its not a decision I made on a whim, but I felt having trained considerably for the Snowdonia Marathon, and now having over four years of experience as a runner,  its a small sacrifice I’m willing to take. The Canter is a smaller event than the Canalathon, but its great value for £36, and as the Canalathon is only 31 miles at its shortest, I can actually say I’ve gone the extra mile to be accommodating!.

First up though is the Sir Titus Trot, also from It’s Grim Up North Running, which, like the Canal Canter, is a race over a multitude of distances on the Leeds-Liverpool Canal from Saltaire, but in my case its a half marathon. It’ll be a smallish field I’m up against (40, I believe), so I do stand a good chance of placing well based on previous history. It might well be the first race – discounting parkruns – where I will run flat out, or at least aim to – since the last half marathon I entered in February 2015. On that day, I absolutely tore up my half marathon PB on a reasonably undulating course and ran 1:22:41. This will be the flat course I’ve been wanting to test my time against – but whether I’m in shape for that remains to be seen.

The oddball entry so far is The Drop Summer Sizzler. This starts/finishes in Huddersfield, and I was lucky as one of the first five entrants to get in for free. The premise is that you are placed in a van with blackout goggles, or a blindfold, and driven 5, 10 or 15 miles away – as the crow flies. You’re not allowed any GPS, compass, in fact any navigational aids, and no help whatsoever, with the exception of an optional partner. You are given a very basic map, an emergency bag, which if used disqualifies you from the race. You’re then dropped off at your start point, and you’ve got to find your way back to Huddersfield. The very nature of this race means a wrong turn could leave you running considerably more than the 5, 10 or 15 miles you signed up for. As someone who’s managed to go off course in three previous Team OA events (yes, really), this should be right up my street, as even if I get lost, it’ll be acceptable (within reason) and no one will judge me for it! Result!

What else?

The other race I’m chiefly working towards isn’t a running race per se, but an aquathlon. The Ilkley Aquathlon is a pool based swim-run event with a 400 metre swim, and a 3,000 metre run out of transition. Entries aren’t open for this race yet, but it is my chief inspiration to continue building on the progress I made in the pool in 2016, and effectively serves as a hitherto unspoken resolution. At the back end of the year, I swam 100 metres nonstop for the first time in a 25 metre pool. It was a huge personal milestone for myself, and now the big test going forward lies in where my re-education continues. I’m still swimming Tuesdays in Halifax, getting a swim in the main pool and the improvers lesson afterwards. It also serves as an ideal starting point for my Tuesday night runs. However, my progress has reached a point where, after 18 months, I may be beyond the lessons, barring my breaststroke technique, which isn’t quite there, and my backstroke, which is sometimes a little wayward and maybe a bit too frenzied at times. I honestly feel with a little more improvement, I’ll be ready to step up and leave that lesson behind, with the option of attending a Friday ‘Stroke Skills’ class, which I’ve attended before and definitely laid the foundation for my late year progress.

The only problem here is that based on the current timetables in place, Tuesdays in Halifax remain the best night for swimming. If I drop the lesson, do I necessarily need to travel to Halifax any more when I have a local pool I can use? I do have a desire to join the local running club, the Halifax Harriers, and that would fit with Tuesdays, but not until I can actually work out if I can guarantee myself quality pool time without upsetting either my progress, or the delicate work-life balance currently in place. So there’s bound to be a crossroads that I’ll need to address later in the year. For now though, things shall remain as they are.

And I do have an itching desire to book another marathon later in the year as well, though I anticipate it’ll be a local one and not quite the epic adventure that Snowdonia brought, but all the same I’m prepared to try and push myself that little bit more this year and to test my limits once again.

And maybe 2017 will be the year I finally crack ,

Right now though, I’m in the thick of training for the Canal Canter, and the half marathon is coming up very fast indeed. All in all, I’m hoping for an incredible start to the year.

I’d love to hear your own plans for the year, whether you’re running, racing, swimming, cycling, adventuring, feel free to comment.

And to all my readers, belatedly, all the best for 2017. Let’s make it a great one.

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.

Skegness – Butlins, beach running and Brexit

Separation. It works in many ways. This was my first holiday to Butlins in two years. It doesn’t seem a long time, but consider that in 2015 my family could afford to go twice in one year, but on both occasions I had to miss out. I was going through a career progression. Twice. A secondment, in which the week they went, the role I would end up landing was advertised. Good thing I stayed behind. The second time, it was mid December, and I was in my final week of training. That one sticks with me. I was absolutely full of cold, should’ve been in bed, but instead I helped my family get their bags over to Leeds for the train to Skegness before starting work. It was the first time I watched the kids leaving for another destination. I waved them bye for a few days. I began walking up the steps from the platform, and felt a huge sadness tearing at my heart, my body, already weighed down by illness, suddenly felt heavier. Absence, indeed, makes the heart grow fonder, as many of you may relate to this experience.

Needless to say, it was awesome to be able to take six days of paid holiday in order to be with my family for a full week at Butlins, the last one before inevitable term time blockades and school holiday price hikes kick in. The kids were mega excited, and amidst the backdrop of having a new kitchen installed, we all set off, my wife, kids, brother-in-law and mother-in-law, to the land of sand, sea and sun…

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Oh well, a bit of rain wasn’t going to ruin our holiday, and nor was the insipid 0-0 between England and Slovakia or even the fact we were all coming down with a cold.

An important personal aspect of this holiday was to go running on the beach, but not only that – to try and get back into some sort of routine. Groin injury aside, any attempt even to muster lower mileage runs has been thwarted by preparing for the holiday, the new kitchen, and I daresay, a lack of motivation. I feel almost ashamed of those last few words, knowing full well the Snowdonia Marathon was only a little over 4 months away. Even with my busier concerns over the last few weeks, I never found the time to put on my kit, let alone go out the door. At least now I was in an environment where, free of the daily grind, I could hope to reset.

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View from Ingoldmells beach, 22/06/2016

Still suffering a little from the cold I had picked up, I managed to rouse myself to go for a run and headed straight for the familiar dunes of Ingoldmells beach. Heavy, sloped, the feeling of my footsteps slipping to the side, the proverbial game of chicken with the North Sea tide. It all came back. The early morning sun was shining bright, beating down on the side of my face. Just like a lot of beautiful aspects of nature, it had a brutal side, and even this out and back halfway to the Fantasy Island theme park, it was fairly hard work. I got back to base, satisfied with the morning’s effort, though I ended up applying a heat pack to my groin as there were still murmurs of the injury persisting. But unlike the previous run, when I commuted on foot for a train to Leeds World Triathlon event, I felt fine throughout the run and it seemed as though I might be putting this injury behind me.

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Ingoldmells beach, 22/06/2016

The date of Thursday 23rd June was looming. It was EU Referendum day. And even somewhat distant from it being over 150 miles from home, you were still never too far from a conversation about it, even in the family friendly atmosphere of the Skyline Pavilion, and even when you’re having to sit through the infernal dance routines of the Skyline Gang. I still can’t get the Twist song out of my head. Curse you!

Friday 24 June. 6:00am. My alarm went off. I went straight onto my phone to check the result. Its one thing to try and prepare for such an eventuality, but then its the one you least expect, or the one you didn’t hope for. The nation had voted. Leave. I actually couldn’t believe it. A referendum fuelled by what appeared to be little more than lies, propaganda, fear, hysteria, and very little underneath, the country had voted to leave the EU. I was shaken. Almost paralysed. I asked myself how could we vote for this? People fears preyed upon, little in the way of hard fact, seismic implications that could not be predicted. I anticipated the result, but equally went to bed the previous night not expecting it.

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I got out of the door of the apartment, still in a spin, realising the need to just get out and try and forget about it. Life, they say, goes on. As I stood atop the stairs, waiting for my watch to load, I looked to my right. There, gathered around a puddle, three ducks, without an apparent care in the world. They slowly ambled towards my position, encountering another puddle, and seemed absolutely nonchalant, blissfully unaware of the momentous decision the country had just taken. My watch beeped. I realised now, somewhat amused by what I’d just seen, that I had to get away and try and put the negativity to one side.

For this run, I stuck, at first, to the promenade, staying a good distance away from the sea, and off the sand, aiming to get as far as Fantasy Island, Ingoldmells’ premier theme park. I was still grumbling away. I couldn’t help it. It led me to take what I guarantee is the most badass selfie I’ve ever taken of myself!

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Just over 4 miles and 30 minutes later, I was on my way back to the apartment, to prepare for the day ahead, and to discuss Brexit over another ludicrously large breakfast. There was one good thing to come out of the run, I wasn’t feeling the groin strain any more. And this time, it stuck. No recurrence.

I had one final run, a seemingly ambitious six miles. Ambitious, because I haven’t reached that distance since running past the Cutty Sark two months prior. I ran down the beach towards Skegness, and this time I seemed keen to surpass Skegness Pier. Well, I left the beach at this point and tried to run back from the town back towards Roman Bank. However, I forgot that the road was a bit windy. And so I ended up back on the beach, for that was the straightest course. It was a toil, I’ll say that, and I was glad to get back on firm concrete by the end. The six miles took me 49 minutes flat – it was really tough running on mostly sand over such a distance, particularly with my race fitness down. But most importantly again, I came through it, and with no issues.

There was other positive news sport wise the rest of my holiday. I went swimming multiple times with my family and found time to put my swim skills to the test in the Splash Waterworld. Sculling around the Rapids, dolphin, front and back crawl drills, and I daresay, mildly efficient breaststroke! And my kids are quickly becoming like little fish in the water too. And, what’s more, my wife and I had a grand time down in Bullseye Bay where we tried out archery. It was my second time trying it, my wife’s first. We won a team competition, and I shared joint honours in an individual category. For our efforts, we both got a wristband, and I got a Butlins’ archery medal!

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It was back home the following Monday, after a full week enjoying some quality family time, now returning home to the grind (and a new kitchen). It had certainly made up for the two trips I missed before and it was incredible to see my kids having so much fun, and become ever more confident in the water. Its a cliché to talk about how these experiences create great memories, but it does indeed reflect in how positively I can talk and look back on that week.

Its been two weeks since the holiday now, and I’ve managed to establish my routine again, something that will come to fruition as I’m effectively now on my training plan for Snowdonia. I did another 8 miles this morning, and while its tough as ever running uphill, its anendeavour I have to and will pursue. I just hope I can get through the block without any injuries, without shedding sleep, and generally coming out the other end fitter.

I’ve also entered another race, the fantastically titled (Wo)Man vs Barge, a trail race in which you have to run from Marsden, West Yorkshire, to Diggle in Lancashire, while trying to beat a barge travelling through the Standedge Tunnel. I’ve really wanted to do this race for a couple of years, and finally its fit in around my other races. Saturday 13th August is the date, and I’m certainly looking forward to it!

All in all, a brilliant holiday had, despite the cold, Brexit, and getting disoriented in Skegness, it was a hugely fun week and made up for missing out on the other family holidays. The focus is now towards October, and a date with hills, scenery, and hills. And if nothing else, things are all coming together now.

Six weeks and five days – Plotting a new course

Hello all!

Six weeks and five days – that’s how long its been since London. Six weeks of barely anything. Well I’ve not had too much to say lately, because I’ve been in a bit of a chill since the London Marathon. Aside from recovering from the marathon itself, I had my recovery interrupted by a minor groin strain, made worse by missing a step as I tried to prevent an accident that never happened. It was always in my plan to take a few weeks off running following London, but I didn’t expect to have my strengthening plan interrupted by a strain that flared up every time I attempted a leg raise, a stair climb, or even just walking.

After London, I managed just one run in the first four weeks, a May Day run around the local park, my groin wrapped up with a bandage. I did 3.25 easy going miles, which confirmed to me that my groin maybe wasn’t quite ready to be put through its paces yet, but nothing to hold up the plan. Alas, a setback is a setback, and to count my blessings, it happened between races. My training for the Snowdonia Marathon wasn’t effectively scheduled to start until late June, and so I felt a bit more relaxed about the situation and could turn my hand towards planning ahead for the rest of the year.

That doesn’t mean change hasn’t been afoot. I’ve still had my swimming to contend with, and the Snowdonia conundrum has got me seeking new climbs and challenges. And there’s even going to be a chance to give something back. So here’s what I’ve been plotting and here’s what I’ve been doing.

1. World Triathlon Leeds

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No, I haven’t suddenly found I’m good on the bike or found I’m an exceptional open water swimmer. You’d have heard about it from me if that was the case! As you may have heard, Leeds is hosting a leg of the World Triathlon Series over the weekend of June 11-12, featuring many of the world’s top triathletes – the Brownlees, Javier Gomez, Non Stanford, Vicky Holland, Gwen Jorgensen et al – swimming in the lake at Roundhay Park and biking and running a city centre course culminating in Millennium Square. There’s also a raft of events targeted at sub-elites, club triathletes, and people of all abilities over the weekend. It looks amazing. I really wanted to be a part of it. However, I knew I wouldn’t be ready as early as when the event was confirmed, to be able to confidently take part. Knowing this event was happening on my doorstep wasn’t going to stop me though, and I’m excited to say I’m going to be volunteering instead! It’s almost here. We’ve all been briefed, and I’m on double duty, operating the finish line for the open races and then moving to another section when the elites take the stage. I’m hugely looking forward to it, and I believe there’s even a couple of people I know taking part in the public events.

I volunteered on the finish line of the Leeds Xpress Triathlon in 2014, so I know what a rewarding and valuable experience it is. To be able to give something back, to play a key part of delivering an event. It helped me gain a perspective on the value and importance of marshals and volunteers. This will be something else though. To be part of a huge operation. It should be a cracker.

2. Swimming lessons – one year on

Little did I realise until last week that I’d actually gone one year since taking up swimming lessons. It allowed me to take in how far I’d progressed. To think when I started, I could say I’d completed an aquathlon but couldn’t bear to stick my head underwater. Well now, I do breathe underwater, have a decent, if not perfect front crawl, can do a little back crawl, attempted breaststroke (which I’m still not very good at), dolphin (not bad), butterfly (needs work) and sculling (a bit like rowing a boat in one sense), and I’ve much to be pleased about. It’s not getting easier, mind – the last session I attended, we were learning how to dive. I tried it from a sitting position and every time, I got slapped across the face by the water. Each new thing I try starts the same – with nerves. Until I get comfortable with it, my nerves get shot to pieces and its much trying, failing, trying again, over and over, until I get it right. That largely applies to everything, even my front crawl. But overall, I’m more confident than I was and even when I’ve felt like not going to my lessons, I’ve not given up. I’ve gone and got in the pool and got on with it.

What’s clear is that I’m still a long, long way off open water triathlon, and even pool based triathlon – though I’d argue the bike is my weakest discipline. There’s not a lot in the way of aquathlons in this country, and even where there is an aquathlon, I’ve to bear in mind that I still can’t do more than 25 metres without stopping. I only recently went lane swimming for the first time since November 2015 – my new 9-5 job and family commitments have largely severed any time I have to get to the local pool. I’ve still much work to do, but I’ve still a sound base going forward. I just need more time in the pool.

3. Planning my Snowdonia Marathon training

As you may well know, coming up late October is possibly my toughest assignment to date – the Snowdonia Marathon Eryri. One of those marathons you fall in love with on the telly, sign up for eagerly before it sells out, before you can look at the elevation profile again and go ‘oh…bugger’. That doesn’t mean I regret signing up. Not for one second. But that means planning a block of training that will see myself going out further afield to manage the training I require. Namely, hilly long runs.

I had planned to enter the Derwentwater Trail Race 15K on September 3, but money aside for a new kitchen, and the racecation Snowdonia involves, I’ve had to put that plan aside. Instead, through my insatiable quest to plot different routes and see different sights, I’ve put myself forward onto a new course that won’t just see my training involve hills, but fells too. As such, I’ve been on a drive to obtain the kit necessary to tackle such challenges. Luckily for my bank balance, I did manage to win a pair of slightly used Inov-8 Mudclaw 330s in my size (11.5) insanely cheap and still with, apparently, loads of mileage. With those now in the bank, I’m now ready to take myself into areas such as the fells of Norland, near Sowerby Bridge, sections of the Pennine Way, and maybe even a trip up the Yorkshire Dales. Its going to involve a lot of planning, discipline and conviction, but I’ll ensure that not all my long runs involve hitting fells and indeed there’s a few nice rolling road routes I have lined up. A lot of the routes I’ve already planned follow a similar profile to Snowdonia, with steep climbs and scary descents. Basically, I want to ensure I get the best runs under my belt I can.

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Having missed much of last summer’s running due to my sesamoiditis, I will have to get used to another thing again. The sun. This last week, it has been crack-a-lackin’, reducing the daily shower to insignificance and at times being unbearably hot. We’ve even had thunderstorms. I’ve primed myself with some of the P20 suncream, and it’s going to be needed in some of those exposed routes. I may well ensure if I’m going to run, then run very early, but I can’t guarantee getting up in the middle of the night or the crack of dawn as a possibility every time. And all this for a race that will more than likely be damp and wet!

4. The 401 Challenge

He’s been running now for well over 250 days, completing a marathon each day to raise £250,000 for Stonewall and Kidscape, trying to raise awareness of the effects of bullying and the fight against it, and inspiring people, indeed runners of all abilities, to inspire themselves and join him in trying to run part of, even a whole marathon with him. Yes, Ben Smith, of the 401 Challenge – that’s 401 marathons in 401 days – is right in the midst of his challenge as you read this and he’s coming back round to Bradford and Leeds in early August. I intend to join him on one of these runs and may even run the whole marathon with him. You can follow him over on Facebook by searching for the 401 Challenge. Right now he’s going through a tough patch, so give him all your support!

If ever there was an inspiring story within the world of running, Ben’s is right up there. You can head to his page, which I’ll leave a link for below – alternatively, check out his interview with Marathon Talk, episode 311. I’ve rarely ever been as hooked on an interview as I was with Ben’s. His story of how he came to be is a rough ride but ultimately, with running and this challenge, the light has appeared at the other side. Its a fantastic cause and one I, like many others, are putting our support behind.

I’ll be writing up about the World Triathlon very soon, but aside from that, here’s to getting back into the swing of things. That itch is going to get scratched.

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