#Breaking3 – The Journey

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

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

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

My personal record track lap

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

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

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

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

A good few miles from home here!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.