Ich gehe nach Deutschland!

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

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

I’m going to Germany!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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. 

Taking The Long Path – reflecting on a year of endurance

Taking my mind and body into further, harder, longer territory as 2017 begins to wind down.

I realise that I haven’t reported much on how my training has been going this year, and I have a reasonably big race coming up this weekend. So I thought now would be a good time to reflect on the progress I’ve made as a runner in 2017. Not just in terms of results, but in relation to my overall fitness. I know – ‘its just turned November, aren’t you being premature?’, I hear you ask. But in the scope of major personal challenges, now feels like the right time to take stock.

Its been just over five years since I laced up a pair of trainers and set off running. I’ve considered myself a serious runner for about the last 3.5 years. As of now, I’ve had an absolutely fantastic year of running. Most importantly, I’ve not had such a truly uninterrupted run of injury-free running since 2013-early 2015, at a time when I seemingly couldn’t stop improving on my pace. Sesamoidits and knee pain caused by overpronation meant I lost much of 2015 to the former and the latter really affected my London Marathon preparation. Snowdonia Marathon training went much more smoothly but largely on three runs per week. It was only once I made the step up to ultra marathon, with training beginning in earnest from late 2016, after I’d put Bwlch-y-Groes behind me that I truly felt I was finding my four times a week groove again. I had a couple of hiccups at the start of this year – a self-inflicted drunken fall left me bruised and battered but I got up from that and a bit of ankle bother to do something I never thought I’d so – run a marathon distance training run.

And to my surprise, not only did I complete that run, I did so at such a controlled, measured pace that my recovery time was literally a few days and not weeks. No DOMS (or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness if you’re feeling wordy), no stairs that could leave me with fear and dread. I felt good and ready, and what followed a few weeks later was an unexpected best finish of my amateur running career. A second place, in my first ultra, of all places. And since then, I seem to have gone about racking up the miles, while collecting the odd good result here and there, and for a short time, flogging myself in the name of fell racing. But perhaps the most critical choice in my race calendar came when a race I was supposed to do, The Drop, got cancelled due to a lack of numbers. The race organiser (Team OA) allowed entrants to transfer to a race from their repertoire at no extra cost. I wasn’t drawn any of their races involving pie, ale, wine or chocolate, oh no. Just go for the big one, my heart said. My poor brain had no resistance. A few emails later, I was in.

The Butterley Spillway, one of the many sights of the White Rose Ultra. 26/08/2017

And so in just under 48 hours, I’ll be taking part in my second ultra marathon, the White Rose Ultra. It’s a popular ultra which takes place in the Wessenden and Colne Valley areas a few miles outside of Huddersfield, and having heard good things from fellow runners over the years, it wasn’t too hard to be convinced. There’s also a 60 mile and a 100 mile option for this race, but one lap of 30 is about enough for me, thank you. What is has meant is a training regime packed with hills, miles and all kinds of personal challenges (see my beach run from around 6 weeks back). And thankfully, I seem to have remained fit for all of it – barring this bout of the sniffles, of course.

Ogden Water, 23/09/2017

Running huge long training distances these last few weeks has been a joy to behold. As much experiments in nutrition execution as simply clocking up mileage, I’ve taken myself out to the far corners of Calderdale, be it Warley Moor, by way of the stunning Ogden Water Nature Reserve, or reaching out as far as Soyland on a recent marathon distance jaunt, it gives such a positive charge to have such freedom to roam and understand my body, and how it holds up against such demanding distances, and indeed demanding gradients. I even threw in a 20% uphill on a relatively ‘flat and easy’ 16 miler inbetween. I pretty much ran the entire hill. My quads felt like they’d suffered an earthquake, they felt like jelly, and yet somehow, a few miles later I had slowly worked the rumble out, and went on to finish the last 3 miles of the run with a 19 minute blast to finish the entire 16 mile run in under 2 hours. Its like I continue to ask my body ‘how high?’ and it just seems to clear every bar I set in its way. Sure, I’ve worked hard on swimming and made an improvement in terms of strengthening exercises, but I honestly feel very lucky, and appreciative, that my body has withstood this increase in effort and mileage.

The last few weeks have all been about my taper routine. Illness forced me to miss a couple of potential half marathons I wanted to run, plus a first meeting with my newborn niece, and had the usual ‘maranoia’ in the form of my right foot and left knee giving the odd grumble, but otherwise the mileage has continued to rise, and its been great this time to share my build up through group runs with the Halifax Harriers. A further motivation is in the form of a yearly challenge I’ve never once managed previously – to exceed 1000 miles in a calendar year. I thought I was on course to break my target this Saturday, but in actual fact, I achieved it during a routine run around my local park around 10 days ago! There seemed to be some synchronization issue with my Garmin watch which kind of pooped my parade, but nonetheless, to finally surpass that mark is a monkey off my back, and a testament to the ‘further, longer’ adage to sum up my year of running in 2017.

So in four days time, I’ll be lining up with hundreds of others in one of northern Britain’s most recognised ultra marathons, running 30 miles, across hills, roads, trails, past spillways, geological wonders and historical places (and possibly a bull!). I’ve got a couple of shorter races coming up in December, but this right here is the main event of my calendar year. And I’m going to enjoy it. Zero expectations of a result, regardless of how well my first ultra went. I still just want to get round this most difficult, challenging, Yorkshire of courses, just the once, and to get a hot meal at the end of it. To be able to celebrate this magnificent year of running, while I sit somewhat cathartically, enjoying whatever is left of my weekend before I have to face the rigidity of the office.

I’ll write up about my experiences at the WRU shortly, in the meantime enjoy running wherever you are, take in your surroundings and think about what lies beyond them. And then consider if your willpower and drive will take you there. For limits are always there to be pushed. And in running, there’s no shame in breaking through what you thought wasn’t possible.

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.