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.

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Training Update – trails, track and parkrun success

Just as I put out my post about my future plans, I decided to get back into the here and now and begin preparing in earnest for the busy spring/summer of racing I have lined up. Indeed, the races are coming thick and fast as I’m eschewing spring marathon season this time in favour of fell racing and chasing a shiny new 10km personal best.

In conjunction with this, I’ve been busily reading Jack Daniels’ training guide ‘Daniels’ Running Formula‘. While the book itself is in the region of 10-20 years old, its still perfectly relevant and has really opened my mind back up to understanding training terms. Easy pace, marathon pace, threshold pace, interval pace. Repetitions, cruise intervals, repeats, and so on. It didn’t take me long to get through the book and I’m a bit clearer now on what exactly I need to do if I’m ever to reach the lofty goal of sub-35 minutes for 10K. Or, at the very least, sub-37:15.

I’ve had a good few weeks since returning to running post-ultra, recently finishing first at my hometown parkrun in Brighouse, and in front of my wife and kids too. That one was for them. My time was 18:41 – pretty good, but I felt a noticeable lack of top end speed endurance. I tried to kick on during the last lap and just didn’t have it in me to sustain anything above my 3:50/km pace for more than 15 seconds a time. Not that I’m complaining – I had a brilliant day and there’s loads of people who would kill for a time like that. I also gave a little back the following day and helped my kids to the best ever junior parkrun experience too. A great weekend for running for my young family!

In full flight at Brighouse parkrun, 01/04/2017

Things picked up last week, when my wife and kids were whisked away by my mother-in-law to a midweek break somewhere outside of York. I got on with mixing up my training. I ran four laps of my local park’s parkrun course on Monday, and threw myself into my swimming on the Tuesday. Wednesday brought on a rare track session, in fact my first for possibly 18 months or so. I did a 1500 metre ‘warm up’, running in 5:28.4 – I definitely held back there – and then a ten minute warm up, followed by 6×400 metre repetitions (400m fast, 400m recovery), and a ten minute cool down. I rarely measure my pace over 400 metres – the last time I did was on grass, hardly flat, and I never got beyond 1:26. I therefore surprised myself when I ran my first two repetitions for 1:14. Sub-5 minute mile pace! I struggled to maintain that level – the remainder clocked 1:16, 1:17, 1:21, and 1:17. I had plenty reasons to be pleased with that – particularly the rarely relenting headwind that seemed to attack on the back straight. I’ve yet to upload and review the charts, but I’ve given myself a good target to aim for. I haven’t run that fast, legitimately, since around the time of the Liversedge Half Marathon in 2015, when I ran a 5:23 in the first mile – and that was partly downhill. So to do that on a track is satisfying.

These haven’t seen much action!

However battered I felt from that track session, I still had one order of business, which was to tackle the Dick Hudson Fell Race course, exactly two weeks from race day. Partly for knowledge, but also to get a good experience of running across this particular stretch of moorland. The initial climb up Ilkley Moor is horrendous – past the White Wells spa house, the footpath snakes all the way up to a steep stone staircase that can’t truly be run (surely). Part of the stairs is basically a large boulder that you’re best hauling yourself up. The path has a few more ups and downs before leveling out into pure racing territory, past Ilkley Crags and the Twelve Apostles Stone Circle. Its onwards at this point Bingley Moor, which has a slight decline before reaching the drop to the gate by the Dick Hudson pub – after which the race is named, if you hadn’t guessed. And then its back again, including that stone staircase, which is just as steep and tricky to descend before the final rush down the snaky path to White Wells. I then had the additional rush to thunder down Wells Road to get to Ilkley Rail Station, 90 seconds before my train to Bradford departed, meaning I had to find a quiet corner of the train to stretch and clean the mud off my legs!

Ilkley Moor, 13/04/2017

After that run, I was absolutely shattered. I wound up falling asleep on the sofa and woke up the next morning convinced that Good Friday would be a rest day. And indeed it was.

Quite irritatingly, I have managed to undo my great start a little by yet again bruising my chest or ribs. This time, I sustained it leaning over a bedframe to give one of my daughters a goodnight kiss. Of all the things! So hard intervals aren’t exactly on the cards at the minute, but I’ll still be ready for the Dick Hudson next week.

This has all served as a reminder that finding these gains in my performance are going to be hard to come by. I’ll need to remain dedicated to my approach and be absolutely committed to the pursuit. My place in the race – the Royal Parks Series Regent’s Park 10km – is now confirmed, so there’s no turning back. The date is set and I’ve got to get together a training plan to chronicle my weekly sessions, and how I’m going to fit those in around the various fell races, the unpredictable race known as The Drop, and of course, the work/life balance. I doubt my diet is going to be perfect, but I’ve got to eat better, sleep well, and look after myself. Its all well and good saying these things – how many of us do? Yet its these little details that must be put into practice if indeed I’m going to shatter a target I seemed to set a long time ago now. I’m in the best shape of my life, but can it be better? I’ll always ask myself that, and the challenge there is to stop being non-committal, or to renege on any wishful promises to myself, like four months without chocolate, for example. It isn’t happening!

I’ll be back on my feet soon enough to get a few miles in prior to the Dick Hudson, and you’ll hear more about how I get on very soon.

Of course, this weekend sees the return of the London Marathon. Loads of people I know through running groups online are taking part, and maybe that includes you, yes, you? I’m going to be there next year but I’m going to enjoy watching the race on telly, tracking a few runners online and taking in the amazing and inspirational stories behind the journey towards running this iconic race. Good luck to all taking part, and I really hope you enjoy the experience.

Snowdonia Marathon Training

7. The day parkrun came to town

Having not carried out any sort of recovery run on Sunday due to the hangover induced by the engagement party, I resolved to make something of the August Bank Holiday Monday. Two years prior, and the year before that, I took part in a Marathon Talk challenge entitled the Magic Mile. The aim? Simply run a mile as fast as you can. Marathon Talk ran the challenge in 2013 and 2014, but didn’t run it during 2015 (which I didn’t do anyway due to sesamoiditis), and this year they don’t seem to have mentioned it at all. Which is a shame, because the mile is still a fantastic distance to run, and the mile races they hold in the Diamond League events are always engaging – many of the elite runners over that distance are evenly matched, so its difficult to truly predict who will win. Now I’m not a sub-4 minute miler, otherwise I’d expect to be of a sub-elite standard, and the one sub-5 minute mile I ran (4:53.1, at the 2014 Great Birmingham Run) turned out to ruin my race plan. Ironically, that 4:53 felt much more comfortable than the previous two ‘Magic Mile’ challenges, and it always seems I really push myself to the limit when running a shorter distance. I knew it would be the same here, and if anything I hoped to at least pace it well. 

Not at all in keeping with bank holiday tradition, August 29 was a bit of a scorcher – at least 20C, which isn’t quite mercury rising, but still enough to work up a sweat in very little time. I set off down towards the end of Armytage Road Industrial Estate in Brighouse. It’s not pancake flat, but apart from a couple of kinks here and there, its near perfect. Except for the bit where it rises to head to British Car Auctions. I can’t cheat on the downhill! And the road isn’t quite a mile long – I’m required to corner a few times to avoid heading into the town centre, and I also need to ensure the corners are wide enough not to lose any momentum. I recorded a 6:09 in 2013, and a 5:43 in 2014. I’d be happy enough to at least clock a similar time to that.

All warmed up, I set myself in position and ran. The first quarter mile seemed to be on sub-5 minute pace according to my watch, but the pace clock began to slip towards 5:30 pace. I arrived at the first  corner, about three quarters round. Now I was around 5:50 pace. I tried to keep my cadence and felt as though I was just holding back for the finish. Off the final bend, now barely 0.1 miles to go. I put in a kick and sprinted hard. Disappearing behind the side of the lorry, the watch beeped and was immediately stopped. I looked at the result, and immediately pumped my fist in celebration:

The Magic Mile 2016 attempt, 29/08/2016

Now that isn’t my fastest mile ever, but having not done a mile since running the distance on a track at the back end of last year, its not my speciality and to crack a 5:35.9 off the bat, wow!

My good start to the week continued with nearly an hour worth of swimming. Most of this constituted my swimming lesson, but as I was there early, rather than staring into smartphone abyss, I got myself ready, warmed up, showered and got in the fast lane of the main pool, cracking out six full 25 metre lengths of front crawl. I preserved myself after that for the lesson, which was run by the usual stand-in – her name escapes me. Anyway, I’ve not always agreed with her style. We worked on backstroke again after a very short warm up, and after working on kick technique, it was onto arms. Now I thought she was asking us to raise our hands up, turn the wrist and push down into the water – as in, from the air. She kept pointing out I was doing this wrong, but I explained I knew how to do the action, and had misread this as an exercise. Once we cleared that up, the lesson was smooth sailing – as in, knowing exactly what to do. Right at the end came a bit of a surprise. The coach in question thinks that I, and one of my fellow learnees, ought to try out Stroke Skills, which is the next class up, in which the lesson takes place in a 25 metre pool. I’d be interested to know what Judy, my actual coach, thinks about that, but a valid point was made here. I’ve been doing the lessons over a year. I’m welcome to continue, but it might well be what’s needed now to take my swimming to another level. Whichever way to look at this, it’s a sign of how far I’ve come on this journey, and now I’ve got a genuine decision to make. Although, the hindrance at present are that none of the Stroke Skills lessons fit in with my working hours or with what my family already has planned. I don’t want my progress to plateau – so it seems I will have to try and find a way to get on board with this.

Saturday arrived, and it was time for the inaugural Brighouse parkrun. I mixed preparing for my run with getting my kids ready to go, making my wife a coffee to help her up, and finally we set off on the conveniently short walk to Wellholme Park. My local trail running training spot was now going to become the newest parkrun venue in the UK. My family made their way to the wall of the floral gardens, and I got in place as the mayor made a speech about plans for the park to assist the parkrun in future, and the race director announced details of the course. Apparently, people as far as Coventry and Gatwick had come up for this! The sight was amazing. I estimated there must easily have been over 300, maybe over 400 people here for this.

Brighouse parkrun is under way!

The mayor cut the tape, and we were off, for three laps around pretty much the whole of the park. I set off pretty brisk and clocked 3:30 for the first kilometre. I wasn’t sure if I was too quick here – my breathing was already audible – but I did find myself before long in fourth place at the end of the first lap. My kids were still vociferously cheering me on! The four of us continued to run round the park together. The lead changed, and I was up into third. We all weaved in and out of the slower runners and over the wide bridge for the second time. As you come off this bridge there was a little dip. Well, here is where I put in a surge and I was ahead as we moved into lap three. I’m winning my hometown parkrun! Nice as that thought was though, I did sense I was already on the limit. I gritted my teeth and didn’t look back. Over the wide bridge, turning right. As the next corner approached, I was suddenly overtaken on the inside by someone who evidently had their tactics, and their finish, spot on. I didn’t have a kick left in me, so just gamely clung onto to the man’s coattails, and came over the line in second place. Not bad! We were soon handed our chips and getting papped as being in the top three or four. Barcodes scanned, it was back off to the family, where I tried to discuss my race, hampered only by the kids’ eagerness to get to the play area or to run into the floral gardens.

There should be no disappointment in a parkrun – its not a race after all – and it was just as good as my Shroggs Park performance prior to London, in which I came first. If anything, it was good to finish second in front of my kids – they need to understand first isn’t everything! The size of this field made it much more competitive, and I surprised myself with my off-road pace. My official time was 18:08, though I started my watch only upon crossing the start line, and stopped immediately upon crossing the finish line. The watch said I’d run 5km exactly in 18:06, which I’ll take as a new PB by one second! That’s the third improvement in three parkruns.

Honestly though, it makes me proud as a lifelong citizen of Brighouse (and a runner from Brighouse) to finally have the running initiative the town deserves. The organisation was spot on, the volunteers were brilliant, and everyone who turned up finished the run. Well done !

At the finish as part of the top 4 (03/09/2016)

I finished up the week running a half marathon route roughly based on the Liversedge Half Marathon, only starting from Thornhill Bank Lane, which is a rough 6.5 miles into the actual race. I had no intention of going quick as I did during parkrun, but after an easy going, uphill first mile, I picked up the pace and before I knew it, I’d clocked a fifth mile in 6:59. I did stop a few times for photos mind, so I was perhaps keeping myself fresh. In any event, there was a tussle going on, and not necessarily between body and mind. Sunshine and rain, dry and wet, constantly engaging one another. I got soaked at one point and dried out about five minutes later. The horrendous photo of me below sums up my situation!

“Weather, make up your mind!”

Having run down through Roberttown in quick time, I arrived at Liversedge in 58:40 for 8 miles. I stopped at this point just to get a quick breather – the parkrun had caught up with me now, and so the next 5.1 were going to be about hard graft. Mile 9 went for 8:19, but I snuck through mile 10 and 11 in 7:55 and 7:53 respectively. The gaiter came off my head like Eliud Kipchoge’s hat. This was business. Hitting the 14% downhill drop on Birkby Lane, I headed down into Bailiff Bridge on a 7:19. I couldn’t keep the pace up initially, but found a second wind. I was breathing heavily now, but constantly reminding myself I had this. The end of my run approached, and mile 13 went equally for 7:19. The distance was exact, and I finished in 1:38:07. What had been intended as an easy long run actually featured some running at my usual marathon pace, the odd daft dash and eventually some valuable miles on tired legs. All in all, a highly useful training session indeed, one I hope will be of benefit come October 29th. But for now, all I wanted was to rest.

The next week will see my twin daughters begin at school. I will begin life as a 32 year old, and next Sunday, I will have to decide where I will run 18 or 19 miles. The birthday isn’t so momentous. The next chapter of my kids’ lives, much more so. The long run is very much the start of the business end of this training program. Life can prepare you for milestones. It can prepare you for aging. But only you can prepare yourself for the challenge ahead. In this case, the miles, the hills, the toil, doesn’t just occur or fall into one’s lap. It’s going to be perhaps the toughest four to five weeks overall that I’ve ever put into training for a marathon. The devil inside me says I’ll actually enjoy this. Yet the effort put in to achieve my fast shorter distance pace, and the effort put in to carry out a long run on tired legs, tells me its a hard road ahead. Things are going well, but its not going to be any easier to stay there, as each passing year will dictate. Maybe I’m not quite done with chasing times yet.

But after the horrorshow of last week, I injected some spontaneity and almost grabbed myself a parkrun first place in the process. And now that parkrun has finally arrived in my home town, so long as the park doesn’t fall foul of foul weather (the park is a flood plain), there’s huge motivation now simply to get out of the door and run a few laps of my local park, with a few hundred people. In Brighouse!

Cheers to Thomas Harrison Lord for the parkrun photos. More images over at: https://www.flickr.com/groups/brighouse-parkrun/


Brighouse parkrun page

London Marathon Training – Weeks 11-14

Hello again all

I’m back with another update, counting down the subsequent four weeks following the last entry charting my training for the 2016 London Marathon. That I’ve made it to here and still on a mission to reach the capital feels like a minor miracle given the problems I’ve had before and during training. Persistence indeed pays off. But as you’ll read below, I’ve had plenty of ups and downs since my last entry.

This picks up where the last one left off, from around Sunday March 20th up to today. Enjoy!

I was tired after that 18+ mile run the previous Sunday, and if ever I knew it, the swimming lesson and run home reminded me. The swim session was the last for three weeks due to a refurb on Halifax Pool. I did five miles on the way home and just didn’t feel myself. I’d been a bit full of cold, recovering enough to carry out my lesson and my training, but my knees particularly felt as though they needed a breather. As did my airways. So I opted to avoid running on Wednesday and Thursday and instead focused on getting my stamina back and planning a trail route for the Sunday that would perhaps give my long suffering limbs something to look forward to.

That Sunday before was the furthest I’d run in quite some time. During the run, which in a roundabout way I paced pretty well, I felt fresh and could have perhaps gone up to 20 miles. But the injury lay off last year clearly had whittled away at my overall endurance and rebound. And so a rest was due, albeit not one I wanted for very long. Instead, the next few days would be spent trying to stop the cold developing a cough. It seemed that this was to be the beginning of the taper.

Saturday came and I had business to attend to in Halifax, so I doubled up by searching for a nearby parkrun. Over I went to Shroggs Park for Halifax parkrun, my first at this location and my fourth parkrun overall. Despite previously recording a PB of 18:17 over 5K, I wasn’t feeling too great about going all out as I usually do, still feeling the effects of my cold slightly and generally just a bit cautious about over-exerting my knees after the rigours of the previous week. Plus, it felt horrid running at such extreme pace for 2.5 laps of Greenhead Park that I almost felt no desire to run flat out as I sometimes enjoy doing. Still, I had to get out and run, and I was pleased to see the usually very hospitable welcome that you get from any parkrun. This one was the smallest I’d been to yet – it turned out 99 ran on the day – but for that it made it a quite warming experience.

The course consisted of a half lap, followed by three full laps, each finishing with a climb known as Harrison’s Hill. We set off and I was established in a pack of around the first six or seven runners. I found myself moving through comfortably and by the end of the trail section, I’d hit second place. At the end of the first half lap, I was gaining on the man at the front. By the end of the second lap, having stayed on his shoulder, I noticed I was catching him and so I went to move past, and subsequently upped my pace. It wasn’t part of the plan, but I saw an opportunity. I applied hard on the downhills. I maintained steady, short, rhythmic steps up Harrisons Hill, and entering the final lap, I went flat out. I was feeling the burn now, but I didn’t look back. I kept going, continuing to keep my pace and I was the first one over the line. Finally. In any competitive event or communal parkrun, first place! It turned out to be a bit of a surprise, but a welcome one at that, and more so a shock when I found I’d recorded a new 5K PB of 18:07, on a course I hadn’t felt to be PB material!

The Sunday continued the good vibe as I ditched my road shoes for my trail shoes and ran 13 miles of mostly glorious Calderdale and Kirklees trails. Along the River Calder from Brighouse town centre, through a trail leading to the railway crossing. Over Cooper Bridge and back on the Calder towards Mirfield. Onto the cycle path, into Mirfield itself. Then, the roads. Up a 10% and then a 13% gradient, both of which I kept myself going on. A turn onto Jackroyd Lane, along a public footpath. Then the coup de grace.

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Panorama view from North Lane, near Kirkheaton, West Yorkshire, 27/03/2016

Down North Lane, across a wide footpath leading through a farm, yet a public right of way (if you respect it), coming out with a glorious view of Huddersfield’s Castle Hill in the distance. Back down away from Kirkheaton, now down a 13% gradient, and back on the cycle path, heading across a wide bridge and back onto Leeds Road.

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Woodland area of Upper Quarry Road, Cooper Bridge, 27/03/2016

I rejoined the Calder here via a nice section of woodland accessible from Upper Quarry Road, taking you back through Lower Quarry Road onto the towpath at the same place I left it, and then back towards town. A brilliant trail course that was arguably at least 60% off road if not more, challenging but a lot of fun.

The taper period of course means shorter training sessions, and one lunchtime I cracked out a 5:51 mile run out and back a section of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal. Yet there was still a midweek 60 minute run that I wanted to test myself on. I ran on Thursday, getting the bus out about as far as Drighlington and tried from to at least run at hard pace. This, in itself, was quite hard – Whitehall Road, taking up the first three miles of the route, was very undulating, and it was hard trying to get into my natural stride, particularly with a backpack on. Eventually though I was up to speed, eventually departing through Cleckheaton and Scholes towards Hartshead. That’s when things took a bit of a tumble. Literally and figuratively.

Heading down Walton Lane in Hartshead, aka ‘The Mad Mile’ (due to hordes of speeding motorists over the years), I was finishing the run, the sun in my eyes, focusing on the road ahead, and running between 6:30-6:40 mile pace downhill. Then, a stumble, a fall, and BAM. Straight onto the grass verge, chest and ribs first. I was in a heap at the roadside, grimacing for 10 seconds or so on the floor. Nobody stopped, so I had to pause my MapMyRide on my phone myself. Its not quite the same as stopping your Garmin, is it?! I picked myself up and managed to reach my target distance (over 8 miles) with room to spare. But the damage, though not visible, had been done. Not since doing karate as a teenager had I truly known what it was like to take such a hit.

In a way, I’m glad that its happened then, rather than the middle of training. The hardest work is in the bank, and despite the wild discomfort I’ve been since at times, its not going to affect my plans massively going forward. Of course, for now I’m on ibuprofen, taking long hot baths and icing occasionally. My kids were fully aware there’s a no lifting, no carrying policy for Daddy right about now, although I’ve relinquished that a little more as the ribs improved. And I still managed my swimming lesson recently, which included butterfly technique for the first time!

I can still run, at below my marathon target pace too. Runs of 3.25 miles and 11.4 miles the Saturday and Sunday after the accident confirmed that and one other thing. Push it too hard (for now) and you risk a blowout. I found out the hard way for getting carried away and running around 5:30 mile pace down a fast straight section and followed up with a not too shabby, but comparatively tired 8:06 mile. That was because my ribs had warned me and now they were receiving full force of my tired lungs.

No doubt of all though, before the end of March, a little something dropped through the door which all of a sudden reminded me that, if it didn’t feel real before…

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Oh yes. Now it’s real!

So the taper phase is drawing to a close. Two more runs this weekend, and then the home straight. Its getting tangibly close now. For all the struggles I’ve had up to now, I’m still standing, and eager to take my place on the start line in Maze Hill on Sunday April 24th. Let’s hope I don’t set myself up for any more falls!

London Marathon Training – the next 8 weeks

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First of all, I want to apologise to everyone who follows this blog for the way my training diary has fallen apart. Aside from what I’m about to discuss, there’s been less time to focus on it now I’m bedded in my new job and the continuing lack of a home computer or laptop. A mobile keyboard isn’t that great to a real one, and often I’ve felt like that’s bled into my writing of this blog – I felt as though I couldn’t convey what I was saying, without feeling some sort of repetition was going on. Much like many issues and cycles that runners go through, it seems keeping your blogging fresh and interesting is yet another thing as undulating as the hills of Yorkshire to consider.

So here goes my latest post, which covers weeks 3-10, up to Sunday March 20th, 2016. It’s going to seem a bit rambling because its trying to condense eight weeks of high points and low points into one solitary entry. Well, you can’t put a ‘DNS’ against my name, nor yet a ‘DNF’.

Its been very up and down over the last eight weeks. Merely three weeks into marathon training, I was experiencing problems with my knees to the extent I opted out of entering the Liversedge Half Marathon in February. Given that race is the scene of one of my finest runs – an explosive PB of 1:22:41 in the 2015 race – it wasn’t an easy decision, but it was a wise one. It came off the back of a parkrun, run in 18:34; the purchase of new, supportive shoes, and the onset of soreness. The issue is that my knees knock, well, collapse inward, but that’s beside the point. Its a clear connection between my knee issues and my poor hip and core strength.

I was walking back through Leeds and every step after the parkrun felt uncomfortable. Whether I was going to do Liversedge anyway was a question mark as it potentially clashed with some family plans. My wife rang me while in Leeds to confirm I was free to go ahead and enter. I told her I didn’t think I could. I walked through Leeds and I felt absolutely dejected. Almost close to tears in the city centre. It sounds like an overreaction but it wasn’t. I felt resigned. I felt as though I hadn’t looked after myself, and at the same time I still felt what had I done to deserve this. I’d carefully come back from six months plus of sesamoiditis. Now it was a more common problem in my knees and most likely poor hip and core strength. Walking back to the train, I’d given up on the 11 mile Sunday run and replaced it with a monster exercise bike session at the gym. And I’d given up on one of my favourite races.

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I barely did any running the following week, until I returned to the gym the following Sunday and ran 30 minutes on the treadmill at steady pace following some work on my abductors, adductors and knees. My knees felt really good for the workout. Or so it seemed. For the following day I was getting pain in the top of my left knee. I could feel this ascending and descending stairs and there was barely any running that week as well. Training had reached a critical point. Only the bike ride – 36km at high rotation – had stopped me falling completely behind. I had a 10km run in the schedule that was coming up the follow weekend as I decided if I couldn’t even do that, how was I going to reach optimum mileage for London?

I got back to running shortly after that. I’d begun by incorporating more hip and core exercises into my routine – although not daily, it was better than not at all. I initially managed a 5 mile run home as part of my commute home from swimming lessons, and then a parkrun at the weekend where I finished 7th in a 5K PB of 18:17. From there, I got back into my running mojo. But due to circumstances at home, I never fit in the 10K on the Sunday. Desperate to do this run and get my training on track, I sacrificed my rest day and ran home from Dewsbury the following Monday, for the first time incorporating running into my new commute home…by the end of the week, I’d run 5 times, plus a junior parkrun with my twin girls for the first time, and clocked 32 miles for the week. I was back! At the end of that week, I’d run a parkrun in 18:17, finishing 7th. I really attacked that run – logic and common sense suggested I should take it easy – but I felt good on the day to run that fast. I tired badly on that run from going too hard early on, but pleased to have a new 5K PB. I even took my twin daughters to the Huddersfield junior parkrun for the first time, in wind and rain, proud as punch for completing their first 2km run/walk, and later a 9 miler of my own on the Sunday.

I decided in the following weeks I’d need to work up to 11 miles, then 13.1, then 15, maybe 16, and a minimum of 18 miles for the pre taper long run. Then I would know if I was ready for London. Despite this, training for the marathon would continue to be interrupted from there. Often I’ve managed only three runs a week, almost always Tuesday, Thursday, and long run Sunday (and a Saturday to avoid a clash on Mother’s Day in the UK), occasionally because of a mild injury concern, and sometimes because my wife is, well, more free to go out now the kids are older. I actually have no qualms with that, though it doesn’t half impact on your training when you’re on sole parenting duty and particularly when you fall asleep early and can’t get back up. So much for getting used to running in the early hours. That hasn’t happened at all.

That said, where I have carried out my training, its always seemingly gone to plan. The Tuesday run always follows a swimming lesson and would be five miles fast, one mile jog or thereabouts. With each week, I got quicker and quicker at it, and a couple of weeks back, I actually managed a sub-6 minute mile, after which I punctuated the air with a Ric Flair-style ‘WOOOOOOO!’ at around 10pm. The Thursdays would often be a longer stretch, usually 7-9 miles. But I always, always saved myself for long run Sundays. With each passing week came renewed hope. 9 miles. Done. 11 miles. Into double figures. Then a hilly, tough but enjoyable 13.18 miles traversing the Greetland countryside and back again. I felt a twinge in my right foot after this run, but managed to stretch it back out again and thankfully nothing came of it. I was, however, suffering from what appeared to be ITBS – the illotobial band on my right leg was playing up and no surprise, given my knock knees and the aforementioned hip/core base. So I dedicated a bit more time to trying to counter that. I’m pleased to say I got it back under control, for now, and its hopefully benefiting my knees.

The week after that, I recorded 16 miles running up to Queensbury and the village of Mountain and back through Halifax. It was March 13, 2016, blue sky and sunshine. It was a hilly first seven or eight miles, but ever so rewarding. For it is said you can see the Hambleton Hills on the North York Moors to the east, the Yorkshire Dales to the north west and the Holme Valley to the south – well I can’t be too sure I absolutely did, but it was a breathtaking view nonetheless. The run did take it out of me – after 15 miles I opted to use the last mile to cool down. I noticed then my energy crashed. It wasn’t the fabled wall, more maybe a lack of endurance, and the jog felt a bit huff and puff. Thankfully though, no new niggles or concerns. I seemingly recovered well.

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I approached the next run with great positivity, and hinged much on it. An 18.2 mile route heading up to Barkisland, passing the Ringstone Edge Reservoir, returning via Krumlin, Stainland and Elland. It promised to be brutal, thanks to the hills, but as ever with this great county, amazing scenery. So much did I invest in this run, I actually got up at 4:30am to prepare for it. It was like my last couple of years of running all over again. I was in my element. Walking out to the sound of birdsong, on the first day of spring, the dawning sky was a welcome sight, but there was work to be done. Upon leaving Elland I made my way through Greetland and uphill towards Barkisland. I navigated my way down a steep road descent before sharply turning back uphill and changing course towards Ringstone Edge Reservoir.

It was fair to say my pace began to suffer here, not just because of hills, but because I was predictably in awe of the scenery. I was the only person possibly to be seen at this time in a morning. I wasn’t a hundred miles from home, but I love the feeling of wilderness, the feeling of being out there, without another soul around the disturb the calm, and wondered indeed what it would be like to live in more rural surrounds.

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From here, though, I opted to focus on a stronger second half and that meant running at marathon pace, which for myself, is around 6:50 per mile. I ran through the village of Krumlin and clocked the next two miles for 6:41 and 6:40 respectively. Heading through Stainland, I hit a 10% gradient uphill (Beestonley Lane) and clocked that mile in 8:58. I made sure I maintained a steady rhythm up that hill and before long I was heading downhill and inside marathon pace again. 6:45, then 6:44 as I approached Elland. The next mile went for 7:04. I was about four miles at home and that last mile seemed to tell me I was tiring. I didn’t want that to happen at all. That meant pushing hard up some gentler, but no less challenging hills, but the next mile went for 6:45. Buoyed, I took the next, slightly flatter section with as much effort and clocked a 6:30 at mile 17. By this point I felt it was time to wind it down, but in those last two miles, I felt I’d proved a point to myself.

Ok, so the way I paced it wasn’t ideal. As much as London will be a whistlestop run round the sights of the city, I’m not going to suddenly stop and go ‘look at the view!’, leave my Garmin running while I take photos of said view and selfies of myself with the backdrop behind me.

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But hook or crook, I’d put together an 18 mile run where, for the most part, I ran a moderate and steady climb into Barkisland, before my dance with distraction, and this meant a second half of the run with plenty of reserves to take on not just the 10% hill, but the later miles as well. That I withstood that and that between miles 9 and 17 I had regular, consistent pace was a sign I was beginning to get pacing this long distance lark at last. Nutritionally, I plumped for a High 5 2:1 energy drink and banana chips, which I stuffed in an old running glove in my jacket. I started on the drink at six miles, and then again around ten miles, with the banana chips just after coming off Beestonley Lane. Whether I’ll go with this in the marathon remains to be seen. Indeed, I’m not sure I’d need or want to run round with a plastic bottle for as many as ten miles. But the banana chips seemed to do the trick, though its whether they could keep me going up the full marathon distance. Much as I want to stop relying on gels, my relative inexperience suggests I’ll take up that option for the race. Its not as though I haven’t tried them before, so at least its not an untested strategy.

All in all, however, for all my problems throughout this phase of training, I had come through having achieved what I felt was the capable mileage to go ahead with my plans for London. None of this has been ideal, and I don’t ever want to train for a marathon on three runs per week ever again if I can help it. A lot of reason is behind this are down to my own flaws. Yet I wouldn’t go ahead if I didn’t feel I was good to go. And I feel good. All the investment in training, travel plans, preparation, my own wellbeing – its been a tightrope, but somehow I’ve stayed on it. The next few weeks are now something to forward to.

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Panorama of the view from Roper Lane, Queensbury, 13/03/2016

I’ll have a further update on the following two weeks coming soon. And let’s just hope that, much like my training in recent weeks, I can get the wheels back on this site!

London Marathon training begins!

Hi all, and a belated Happy New Year for 2016 to you all.

So what were you doing when the bells rang in the New Year? I was hurriedly filling out the form for my entry into the Snowdonia Marathon Eryri 2016! Sure enough, around 20 minutes into the year, my place was booked, and within 13 hours, race entry had sold out! And so I’m in for the possibly the most brutal yet beautiful (at the same time) race in the country! But more about Snowdonia and the planned racecation another time. Its less than 16 weeks until the 2016 London Marathon and that means another training diary to map my progress.

Given that I’ve spent much of the last six months doing little running, and only the last month to gradually build up my mileage, its fair to say that I’m quite wary about my approach to quite possibly the biggest race of my life yet. A World Marathon Major. A reasonably flat course, and if I can break free of the crowds and bottlenecks, maybe another crack at the magic sub-3 hours. But sesamoiditis may well have shorn some of my speed endurance, if indeed not my speed overall, and right now the precautions I’m taking are criticial to ensuring I stay on track.

It seems with a new year comes renewed focus, and that’s not just looking after my sesamoids, but my whole body too. Maybe its the most excessive Christmas ever experienced, one I felt quite ashamed at myself with. So much snacking on biscuits and shortbread and yule log ad nauseam, its a miracle my high metabolism is still working. But far from making more resolutions – because they’re so hard to keep – I’ve got myself together with a training plan taken from a running club’s website and tweaked it to fit in with the demands of a more active family life and a more distant job (in terms of the commute).

This week I managed four of the five planned runs, with a solid tempo run home after my swimming lesson on Tuesday and some gloriously muddy miles the following night. I then didn’t run until Saturday (more on why in a moment, when I finally took part in my first ever parkrun! It was my local parkrun in Greenhead Park, Huddersfield, and despite the rain hordes and hordes of people of all abilities turned up to run, direct and volunteer. I opted to start in the pack after receiving my briefing, but before long I’d overtaken numerous people and was already past the 20 minute pacer early in the first long lap. I struggled to sustain my pace around halfway through but finished strong to come 9th in my first parkrun, 2nd in the Senior Male 30-34 category and in a time of 18:30. I count this as my official PB over 5K having never run the distance standalone before. After months away from high tempo running, it was good to know I can still drop the hammer, and with a split of 17:28 over 5K to aim for, I want to attend parkrun regularly to whittle away at it. However I completely understand the buzz with parkrun now – its wonderful to see how it inspires people to join in, make friends and turn up for a free 5K challenge each week with no judgments made against them, to inspire people to get active. I really want to make this a regular part of my training now, and in time I’d love to give something back and volunteer my services one day. Huddersfield parkrun, you are brilliant!

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In complete contrast, my Sunday long run, planned through Judy Woods in Wyke, towards Coley and back home via Hipperholme, saw me lose all sense of direction and comprehension of navigational tools – I wound up very muddy, with only 7 miles clocked instead of the intended 8.2, a bit of a setback as regards building my mileage goes. I never even made it to Coley. Still, Judy Woods is a wonderfully beautiful place, and one I’ll fully appreciate when I get to know it better.

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The beautiful Judy Woods, 10/01/16

Overall, 23 miles run this week, 34.26 for the year so far. I’m progressing in the right direction for someone who only started running regularly again a month or so ago. A decent if often muddy and wet start.

Priorities now are to kick on with week two of training, and to decide whether to tweak my planned 10 miler next Sunday down to an 8 or 9 mile run instead. I need to go get some new shoes – orthotics plus thick Thorlo socks are pushing my toes together in my already cushioned Sauconys and even in my Salomons, which was giving me cramp below my toes. That’s disappeared now but it affirms the urgency to get my new shoes sorted as these will likely be the ones I run the marathon in. And probably half a size or more up to accomodate the thicker socks at least.

On top of that, I’ve been super good to myself this week, more often than incorporating numerous aspects of strengthening exercises – metatarsal doming, eccentric stair exercises, a kettlebell workout, hip exercises, a great routine from Active.com (10 Running Specific Strength Training Exercises) and of course, regular stretching and icing of the limbs, hips and in the latter case, the feet. I must keep on top of that to keep sesamoiditis at bay, and to improve my overall stamina, posture, form and much more. And at some point I really must see to my bicycle, which sustained a front tyre puncture, or possibly bust inner tube. Either way I want it fixing and to get it back on the road. A great alternative if I should pick up any unwanted irritants or otherwise.

Until next time people, happy running!

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Wyke Beck, 10/01/16
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Bottom Hall Viaduct, Lightcliffe, 10/01/16. Note the old Schweppes advert!
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Judy Woods, 10/01/16