Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Great North Run 2013 - Race Report

The weekend started with a long, tough, wet drive up to Middlesbrough. To put it mildly Lauren was unimpressed with my driving skills in the wet, but we made it up there safely and were welcomed by an excited leaping Henley, Lauren's favourite pup in the world.

I took myself up to bed fairly promptly ready for the early morning start for parkrun, but on waking Lauren said she was tired, and I was happy to miss the parkrun as it wasn't ideal prep for the Great North Run the next day and I had intended to run at my estimated race pace rather than racing it. So I stayed in bed and watched some Triathlon while Lauren went and played with Henley.

I did manage to get myself out for a run in the sun, just a gentle 6km or so around a small circuit behind Jan's house. Then it was a pretty relaxed Saturday with a couple of walk/run/sniffs/sit downs with Henley. The pre-race dinner was not the usual pasta based dish and instead was a lamb roast. The cooking instructions were just plain wrong and so I carved us up some pretty raw looking meat, but after a zap in the microwave we had us a tasty roast dinner. This was followed up with some apple crumble and custard, and then it was early to bed to rest up.

My pre-race breakfasts are pretty legendary. The yet to be beaten Solero pre Edinburgh Marathon will go down in history. For the GNR this year I opted for a slice of Jamaican Ginger Cake and that was it. I did manage to get a bottle of water at the start, but that was going to fuel me all the way to South Shields.

I thought me and Lauren had left plenty of time to get to the start, but the logistics of the race meant I was more rushed than I would have liked. Nearly an hour drive to the end, park the car, say goodbye to Lauren, jump on a bus to Haymarket, and then walk to the start and my pen. We left Laurens at 7:45 and I made it into my start pen at 10:15, effort! I tried to settle myself down as the mass warm-up went on around me, I've never been much of a dancer and that wasn't going to change now.

So after some athlete introductions and in particular one Mo Farah we were set off at 10:40. I made it over the line after 2.5 minutes and soon got into a rhythm. As always there were people who had either snuck into the wrong pen or who had lied/over estimated on their entry forms about their predicted times. This meant there were human statues and walkers within the first half mile. I dodged them without too much bother and before you knew it we were heading over the Tyne Bridge. We were too early for the Red Arrows, but I probably wouldn't have noticed them anyway as I was focused on picking my way through the slower runners. I was making steady progress, as the course ebbed and flowed. I was probably pushing a little too hard on the up slopes but wanted to maintain the momentum. My earlier stress and bad mood was starting to ease as I concentrated on the task at hand.

The promised winds and rain were not apparent for the first part of the race, and the temperature was pretty ideal for running, the Km's were getting ticked off and my average pace was 4:36-4:38 a little slower than my most optimistic goal of 1:36 but nicely ahead of the 4:45's needed for 1:40. The official splits have me going through the 5km point in 22:46 around 1:33's. Looking at the course profile this is net downhill and it felt it as well.

The race does then climb a little more through the next two miles to reach the highpoint after about 5 miles. The road surface is almost exclusively on the motorways which is fast, but the terrain is definitely undulating and with the crowds of runners throughout the course you couldn't always attack the up and downhill’s as you would choose to. I went through 10Km in 46:26 so a (23:40 5km split) and 4:44's a steadying of my pace and this section was also net uphill.

I must have gone through halfway in around 48:30 so on for around 1:37 but I could feel my energy levels dropping and my pace was going to slow rather than quicken over the 2nd half of the race. I did get a surprise visitor around this point when the guy from parkrun eased past me and said hello. I had seen him at Silverstone HM with Luke and Southend so it was funny to see him once again. He is in much better shape than me and so I think he would have really upped the pace in the 2nd half, and I didn't seem him again.

With a 3rd of the race still to run, I really did go into a holding strategy, my legs were tired and a big part of me wanted to slow it right down. My focus was now very much on sub 1:40 and I reckoned I needed 5min or so km's all the way to the end to make it. I went though 15km in 1:09:51 (23:25 5km split) 4:41’s and so I had steadied the ship.

I knew the course from having run it twice previously that there was one long drag up to South Shields before you drop down to the seafront for the final mile. The waiting for it was agony, and the climb itself was every bit as bad as I had expected. I knew it was about 2km to the sea and I was continuously checking the Garmin, so keen was I to be put out of my misery! But right on cue there it was, the steep drop where you try to not fall head over heels before the super flat run to the finish.

This was one of the few parts of the course where I felt the wind against us, but I was getting stronger and trying to pick my way through the field as the road was narrow and so it was crowded. Others were also weakening on the run in, so you had to keep your wits all the way to the end. 800m to go, 400m to go, 200m, each marker was a relief and then finally the turn onto the grass and over the line. Garmin stopped at 1:39:36 and that is the official time too.

On the stretch to the line I looked down at my Garmin to see 1:39, but after an hour I lose the seconds, so it was a tense sprint for the line knowing that any second it might tick over and I would just miss my target. Thankfully that wasn't the case and I was chuffed to have made it. After the line I kept on moving, through the long finish funnel, excited to see Lauren. I grabbed my goody bag with medal and t-shirt then headed for the car.

It was all a bit mad and I managed to get myself on the wrong side of the road. I didn't fancy the walk back around and there wasn't the crossing point I was anticipating so I chose to improvise. The crowd of runners was so thick that there wasn't a sufficient gap to cross. I elected to get back on course run towards the finish a little and drift off to the right hand side gradually then asking the crowd to part a little to let me through. I got a few odd looks, but I had run my race and collected my medal and I wanted out of there! The official photos are now out and if you have a keen eye you will spot a picture of me with my white finisher’s bag on my shoulder attempting to exit stage right.

Lauren and I were finally reunited back at the car, and we made our way out of the carpark slowly due to the crowds of cars still trying to get into the carpark as we made our exit. But then we on the roads home to Rayleigh via Great Ayton.

It has now been over a week since the Great North Run, I have watched the highlights and unfortunately they cut to the kids races highlights just as I was coming up to the finish and so didn't get my two seconds of fame this year. My body is fully recovered and my motivation has gone quiet for the week post race. I often struggle to get out the door that first week, but I am now refocused and ready to get back on it in a big way. The 5k in October and the 10k in November should both be interesting gauges of my fitness over the shorter distance. October is also when I find out if I have been successful in the ballot for the London Marathon. If that is confirmed then I have the Barcelona Half Marathon on my 30th Bday and the Marathon as my A goals for early 2014. Plenty of reasons for me to get out the door!

Sunday, 18 August 2013

New Goals and Renewed Motivation

After the disappointment of the Thunder Run I was keen to focus my efforts on my next race the Great North Run 7 weeks later. 3 weeks have passed since and I've been really pleased with how I have managed to remotivate myself, and have used the Thunder Run as a push out the door when I have contemplated sacking off a run.

The weeks post Thunder have looked as follows:

1 - 15.80 miles ( 4 runs - longest of 5.1 miles) - 1st week post TR24, nice and steady recovery stuff. Just to keep myself moving.
2 - 31.60 miles ( 6 runs - longest of 6.2 miles) - A good week, not often I run 30 + miles. Nothing too long, just consistent, did have some quality in there with an interval session as well as a parkrun at Southend. Managed to run my fastest time there since they extended the course to the true 5km distance.
3 - 38.8 miles ( 6 runs - longest of 10.1 miles) - I was off work this week and so managed to string together some really good runs. Including 2 runs of 10 miles plus another parkrun, a touch slower than the previous week but a very satisfying 6 runs.

Looking back pre TR24 I managed 6 weeks of training between 20-30 miles averaging nearly 26 miles per week, before I overdid the taper heading into the race and so only did 3 short runs in the fortnight leading up to the Thunder Run. So that is 3 months of pretty sustained training by my standards. I have also achieved the following mileages in the months of:

June - 106 miles (previous June best 95 miles)
July - 112 miles (previous July best 78 miles)
August - 82 miles (As of the 18th so 13 days left to get myself well over 120 miles)(previous August best 72 miles)

100 mile months are rare for me and particularly in those 3 calendar months. With the days long, and the weather fair, you would expect me to run regularly over this period. But for whatever reason I have always struggled to get out the door, perhaps finding more enjoyable ways to spend the long summer evenings. In addition most of the big races, particularly marathons are in the spring and so my bigger mileage months tend to be December - March.

So as you can see on a lot of measures this block of training is something to be pleased with. However I am not going to set myself a crazy Great North Run goal, I am still not super sharp and with my recent parkrun best of 20:51 this is way short of my 19:21 PB and also well short of sub 20 which I see as key indicator of how I will race, particularly up to Half Marathon distance. I ran Southend HM in 1:43 in June and so I will be pleased with anything under 1:40. I also have parkruns planned for the rest of the year as well as a 10km race at the start of November in Billercaey. I hope to run well at these, but I still don't feel I will be in PB shape by the time the races roll around.

The remainder of 2013 is there for me to build a really good base, and to get myself sharp to really attack my PB's across all distances in the early part of 2014. I haven't booked any races yet but my calendar looks like this:

- Benfleet 15 - Cross-country PB - 2:06:41
- Great Bentley HM - PB - 1:30:05
- Essex 20 - PB - 2:50:28
- London Marathon - PB 3:34:28
- Great Baddow 10 - PB - 1:12:05
- BUPA 10K - PB - 42:09

There are definitely some soft PB's the 15 miler is cross country, but definitely beatable. Whilst the Essex 20 miler is definitely one I should comfortably beat. I am desperate to get PB's again, and ones without the assistance of 1000 miles of cycling in 2 weeks to boost my cardio. These new PB's are going to come from slogging it out and running biggish miles.

So there you have it, the current state of affairs with my running. I'm feeling good, and just need to keep on trucking even with my return to work tomorrow as well as listening to my body so as not to injury myself and undo the good work thus far. Will report back in 4 weeks time to let you know how the Great North Run went.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Rain Stops Play

I'm not sure where to start with this blog. The overriding feeling from the Thunder Run is one of disappointment and wondering what might have been. The Thunder Run definitely didn't end as I would have wished, but I had a lot of fun before it ended prematurely. So lets start from the beginning.
I jumped on the train and met Lauren at Rayleigh station at half 5 on the Friday night and we headed up with the intention of going straight to Catton Park to register and pitch the tent before darkness. We made surprisingly good progress, with the traffic alert warning of delays but thankfully they always seemed to be behind us or further along the road than we were going. We were keen to avoid the M6 toll as we approached it and so tried to divert around it, we managed to do this after a little bit of a panic. The timings were always tight and I didn't want to stress the night before the big event and so we pulled the plug on tent pitching and headed straight for the hotel.

We arrived at the Premier Inn just a few miles away from Catton Park at around half 8, quickly checked in and then headed for dinner. A platter to share to start followed by a Lasagne, not ideal pre-race food but far from my worse selection ever, I even managed to stick to Diet Coke. Then it was back to the room in time to watch Bolt win in a leisurely 9:85, amazing! Sleep soon followed, keen to get as much as possible with the challenge that lay ahead in the morning.

Lauren and I went down to the restaurant for our 'Premier' Breakfast around 9am, unfortunately the blue rinse brigade all had the same idea, and so breakfast was a little slow in coming and a little low on quality when it arrived. But I had some Sausage, Bacon, Egg and Beans inside me and I was ready to go. We then headed straight to Catton Park.

We found Pete's tent easily enough but couldn't quite decide on a pitch but eventually settled on a spot. Then Lauren and I got to work attempting to get the tent up. As anticipated this was slow going and thankfully we were saved by the arrival of Mike, Pete's brother as well as a negotiated mallet. With much huffing and puffing we got the tent somewhere approaching done in half an hour, at least it wasn't going to blow away and I knew once out on course Lauren could get some expert help to get it sturdy.

Pete soon arrived and the support team began to gather. I got my race number and timing chip as well as picking up my flash Adidas Thunder Run T-shirt and was told that writing 'Solo' on the back of both legs was the way to go. Lauren then enthusiastically went about marking me. I was now in my kit ready for the first stint, a little lube in sensitive areas and it was just a case of listening to the safety briefing before the 12 noon start.

I had read the race instructions and the briefing didn't add a great deal, but we were advised that IPod’s could be used but if we just had one earphone in. I had charged a couple of IPod shuffles in anticipation of using them, but in the end I ran music free the entire time. Martin, Pete and I all gathered near the back after a last minute photocall and then we were off!

The start was slow going as anticipated and we were in no rush, we had 24 hours to get through! Pete and Martin had walked the early part of the course and so knew there was a steep hill very early on and that it would all grind to a stand still there. It duly did as people walked up the steep, tree root lined incline. My intention was to run when I felt like it on that first lap and get the lie of the land, and definitely walking any proper hills. There must have been at least 5 of those on the 10km loop. But there was no frustration I was happy to be slowed up and it helped rein me in a little. We saw the whole support team at around 2.5km and it was great to see everyone, this spot would become a regular pick me up as the day wore on. Pete and I were still together at this point, but as the crowds thinned out, I let Pete gently drift away from me, but he stayed in sight for much of the first half of the loop which was a nice marker.
The loop was definitely front loaded with the hills and the second half of the lap was net downhill even though it did still have some very decent climbs in it as well. The markers I had through the course were:

- Stretch to the first climb
- Walk up the steep first climb
- A little running before the 1km marker
- The guys at 2.5km
- The climb up to the 5km point after a nice downhill stretch.
- The Conti climb just after the water station.
- The maze at 7km
- The flat stretch around 8km before the big downhill.
- The super steep downhill just before 9km.
- The campsite lined km before the run into the finish.

As the laps went on these markers really helped to keep me focused. Particularly when I was walking up the hill, it was nice to know when the next downhill bit was coming. On the first lap it was easy to tell who the solos were and who the relays were. On a particularly steep hill there were 3 or 4 of us Solos who began to walk at the base of the hill and did all the way to the top, whilst the enthusiastic relay runners who knew they had a break to look forward to rushed up there at full speed. There were a few old Ultra heads around me and overhearing their conversation, this was probably their 2nd or 3rd Ultra of the month! Those guys are made of oak!

The first lap was done and dusted in just under 65 minutes, even with all the stop, start stuff at the beginning of the lap. I saw the team again and grabbed a bottle of water and was off on lap two. I took it steady and continued to walk the hills and run when I felt the urge, particularly on the long downhill sections. I wasn't seeing many Soloists now, distinctive with their leg markings, white number on their backs and yellow numbers on their fronts but there was always a constant stream of relay runners about. I walked a little more on this lap but still made it round in 73 minutes. I decided after 2 laps and nearly a half marathon that I should come off course and get some food and drink in me and relax with the support team. They were all brilliant, swarming around me, nothing was too much trouble. Lucozade, water, crackers, crisps, sweets, even trying to force feed me a bagel or some tiger bread. My appetite was never particularly high, your mouth is dry and so wet food is definitely the preference but I was grabbing what I could. Pineapple was the find of the day, but some salty mini cheddars also hit the spot. I think I stopped for a little under 10 minutes and I was then out on to course again for lap number 3.

I had my first stop at the portaloo at 2km, and Ben Rockett the World Record Holder and Ultra Endurance guru said this was great, if you stop peeing you are holding onto waste products and that's no good for anyone! Thankfully I stayed regular throughout the race. Too much information? Sorry, this is a blog for you guys, but it's also for my future reference and so I can't go missing details. What I won't tell you is what Ben gets up to on his long bike challenges, thank God for black bike shorts!

I came through my third lap in a total time of 3:44:05 and a lap time of around 87 minutes (including that 10minute pitstop after lap 2) So a little running pace fade but nothing too dramatic or unexpected. I had another leisurely stop here and remember coming out again for lap 4 at 4:03 so around a 20 minute stop. I enjoyed the stops, and took them for me, but it was nice to see the friendly, smiling faces who had all given up so much to come and support me over this crazy weekend. In addition to the friends and family who were there to support me, I also had the support of pretty much everyone in Catton Park! The yellow number was a one way ticket to cheers and clapping. I have always been envious of runners who have their names on their shirts and are cheered all-round the course and at the Thunder Run I got that kind of treatment. Throughout the daylight hours there were shouts of 'Solo,Solo!' 'You're incredible' 'Go 12!' Every shout and cheer really picked me up. I ran with a guy from a relay team on one of the later laps, and as I was getting cheered for the 2nd or 3rd time since he had been with me he asked 'Do you get that a lot?' I was like 'Yeah pretty much the whole way round' he loved it and said it was like having your own cheer squad. I couldn't agree with him more.

The whole atmosphere at the Thunder Run was incredible, and something I haven't experienced before. I am usually very focused at races and so don't chat to other runners or high five spectators, but at Thunder Run my goals and mentality were different and so I high fived the kids in the crowd and chatted away to other runners when I could. I spoke to an older lady, maybe 60 plus and she couldn't believe she was pacing herself off me, when I was going for 24hours and she was doing one lap as part of a relay. It was a great leveller :-) There were also some super-fast club runners flying past us, and they were all keen to get moving and shouts of passing on your left or right happened, particularly as I slowed, but they were all very polite. I also chatted to a guy in a parkrun 50 t-shirt who had run this a few years ago with his wife and they were back for a 2nd go hoping to better their previous best of 2 laps each before injury got the better of him. He had set himself the target of 5 laps each this time.

Luke ran with me on my 4th lap which was fantastic, although not against the rules as far as I can tell, it felt a little cheeky. I justified it to myself as I didn't think I got any performance advantage out of his company but it did make the 7km or so we ran together much more pleasant. Luke got a good idea of the course that I would be drudging through over the next day. I was still feeling fresh and gave Luke a few little bursts of speed in amongst the walking and jogging. My favourite speed section was around the 7km point, where the course is very tight and technical and I hated to hold up the relay runners and so when the mood and my energy levels allowed I dashed through this leaping from foot to foot and jumping tree roots along the way. Luke thought I was nuts, but in a race of 24 hours I needed a little something to put a smile on my face, and to make me feel like it was a running race, rather than a shuffleathon. Luke peeled away before the final climb of the lap and the finish, and that hour or so we ran together was definitely my favourite of the whole event.

My memory is already starting to fade and so I might miss important bits or fluff the timeline abit but to be fair a looped course doesn't help with the old memory retention. I finished my 4th lap so nearly a marathon in 5:23:42 for a lap time of around 99 minutes including that 20minute break after the last lap. So still running pretty well in amongst the walk breaks.

Lap 5 included the Conti climb time trial section. 100m or so up a steep incline. The timing mat would take your time there between 6-7pm and the fastest person up there would get some flash trainers for every member of the team. I was solo and had been travelling for 6.5 hours by the time I reached the climb and this challenge wasn't particularly aimed at the Solo's but I thought I'd give it a bash and so went full gas and managed to take over 5 or 6 runners on the climb to the top. Much to the delight of the few spectators and Marshalls who were there. I then walked it off, and probably paid for my exertions for much of the rest of the lap, but it was good to have a little sprint again. I got a second wind later in the lap, but every time I tried to push the speed a little I felt the calves tightening and so I knew then that my interval training bursts were pretty much over for the rest of the Thunder Run. I came through 5 laps and 50km in 7:08:49. I took another 10minute break and then headed off with a kit change, a new shirt and my trail shoes ready to meet the team for head torch pickup at 2.5km.

After getting through the first serious climb of the lap and then down again to the 2km point I met up with the team for the drink and light pick up and was off for the dreaded night section. Shortly after leaving the team the Thunder and Lightning that had been forecast came. Starting with a little light rain before the serious stuff came. It was scary, with the lightening getting closest as I walked up the conti-climb and I was pleased after an hour when it stopped but the rain began to get heavier and it really settled in. I thought of the poor support team, and was going to tell my parents to go back to the hotel for dinner and bed when I got round to the end of the 6th lap but thankfully when I arrived there at 9:20 pm I was told they had left at half 8 when the rain really started so that was a relief. It was at the end of the 6th lap when we tried to check my position that we encountered problems. Luke typed in number 12 into the competitor search and it came back as 0 laps and 0 time. After the farce of getting the wrong chip at the Outlaw Triathlon I was gutted for it to happen again. Luke was great though and dealt with it, the techno guy thought chips might have been swapped but I had been given a duff one, apparently they had all been checked Thursday. Luke pieced together my splits as best as he could from memory and the 9:20 through 6 laps was definitely right. Looking back at my Mum's great photography I think I have pretty much all the splits now. It was a stress I could have done without though.

The hard-core support team gave me a cup of tea which was incredible and I was then towelled down and given a fresh t-shirt and my lightweight running jacket a good sit down for 10minutes and I was out for some more punishment. The rain was consistently heavy on that 7th lap and I was soaked through, my jacket sticking to my arms and the course was a mud bath in lots of areas. I was now walking pretty much the entire lap, and on the narrow and well-worn sections I was sliding all over the shop. In the course of two laps I must have seen 10 or so people hit the deck and just pick themselves up and carry on. I was getting down as I trudged through the woods, standing in another ankle deep puddle and soaking my feet completely. The fast runners were still running regardless of conditions underfoot and I got out of the way as best I could. The head torch wasn't powerful enough so I would pick up a hazard just as I stood in it, but the head torch did pick up the white painted roots and stumps which helped keep me on my feet and not on my butt. My mind was in a dark place at this point and had been for much of the last four hours. Heavy rain will do that to a guy! I got through the zigzag maze at 7km, and had to walk it due to the dark and underfoot conditions and managed to move aside for the faster runners as I exited it. The large puddle from the beginning of the day which you could skirt around was now a lake and so I picked my spot and dove in. My trail shoes now full of water. Just 3 km or so to the end and a warm food tent.

My mind however had wandered to thoughts of the warm hotel room and shower that we had booked for Lauren to go and recover in that was sitting there waiting for me. I just thought of my minimum target of 10 laps and 100km and that meant another 6 hours of slogging around in the rain and the mud. I just couldn't face it, I couldn't find a good enough reason to walk and slip around a boggy 10km for another 30km and so at that point I had given in. I knew Luke, Amber and Lauren would be gutted and try to talk me out of it, and I spent the next 45mins slip sliding through the rest of the course coming up with good reasons for my lack of mental fortitude. I made it back to the finish of that 7th lap at just after half 11 to be greeted by the 3 of them. All enthusiastic and with a game plan to get me through the night. I just told them I couldn't face it, and their poor faces just dropped. They tried to talk me out of it, to come up with another solution. Get warm, get in the tent, and hit it again in the morning. I was just mentally gone and knew that even if the weather improved the course was going to be a bog the next day. After 10 minutes of negotiating they let it lie and operation get Simon back to the hotel began. Pete Scull however was on another planet and still going strong and came through the finish as we headed for the car. Luke then switched to Operation quick change on the move. It was so impressive 5 or 6 people with Umbrellas as Pete changed his shirt and jacket after he had been dried off. All done in 400 metres and with military precision. Luke then returned to help me into the car and set me and Lauren on our way. I left there with no regrets, I was soaked through, cold and miserable, I couldn't find a reason to be out there through the night trudging through the mud. But with time to contemplate it, the small niggling doubts and regrets start to come in, they always do the further away you get from an event. You downplay the state you were in and wish you had stayed out. The weather beat me, the 24 hour challenge by itself was enough without the added rain and mud bath, but ultimately what let me down was a lack of mental toughness to suck it up and get back out there. I could have done with this Saturday night!

Lauren and I came back the next morning at 9 or 10 and watched the runners still trucking on, many of them covered in mud, some of it in unusual places. Obviously from falling during the night. It was that final couple of hours watching the reception that the Solo runners got as they completed their final laps that were really gutting. I hadn't just sacrificed my 100km target by bailing out, I had sacrificed that amazing finishing reception. I don't like Marathons much and I really don't like Ultras. I said to Luke, Amber and Lauren I would never do an Ultra again and I probably shouldn't , but me and the Thunder Run have unfinished business. If I find out in October that I haven't got an entry into the London Marathon, there is a very real possibility that I will sign up for the Thunder Run when entries open in November 2013 for the July 2014 addition. I get in, come hell or high water I am getting round 13 laps.

Special mention to Pete Scull who made it round 19 laps in 25 hours, just an incredible physical and mental performance. Out of this world! 2nd Solo Male and the most well earnt rain jacket ever! Such an inspiration, will definitely use that performance as fuel for my fire in the build-up to Thunder Run 2014. Also huge congratulations to Martin, sorry I didn't see you much. You were just behind me most of the way before I took the soft option, and you just kept on moving for 13 laps. A beer to celebrate and then driving yourself home, all off minimal training. You make it look so easy!

Thanks firstly to my wife Lauren. I can't thank you enough for your unwavering support through all of this. The prep, the tent making, the sun cream in the eye, force feeding me dry bagels, I'm sorry I let you down in flaking out after 12 hours. I'll get it right next time. Thanks to all the other support crew Mum, Dad, Luke, Amber, Mike, Niki, Ben, Rosa. You all worked tirelessly for Me, Pete and Martin and we really appreciated everything you did. Hats off to the lady that rocked up on her own in the car and crewed for herself. Hardcore! Thanks Thunder Run what a challenge! See you again, Saturday July 26th 2014 at Midday. This time you're mine!

Unofficial Splits
10Km – 1:04:41
20Km – 2:17:52
30Km – 3:44:05 (10min stop)
40Km – 5:23:42 (20min stop)
50Km – 7:08:49 (15min stop)
60Km – 9:20:00 (10 min stop)
70Km – 11:30:00 (15min stop)

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Southend Half Marathon 2013 - Report

The Southend Half Marathon was the first race that I did, 4 long years ago. A lot has changed in those four years. Lauren is now my wife, we own a house, I can drive, I've changed jobs, Lauren's been promoted but one constant throughout it all has been my running. In that time I have had some great highs, as well as a sprinkling of lows when results have not gone the way I would have wished. Today's Southend Half Marathon marked my 65th event (including 26 parkruns) and it was also my fifth consecutive running of the race. My results have been as follows:

2009 - 2:17:48 - First event, 5 weeks training, 5 mile longest run.
2010 - 1:45:40 - Arm in plaster cast after breaking my arm ice skating.
2011 - 1:32:09 - PB at the time and still a Course record. ITB gave up on crossing the finish line.
2012 - 1:58:02 - Exhausted from Ultra Marathon and a shocker at Edinburgh Marathon Two Weeks before.
2013 - 1:43:15 - Injured after Brighton Marathon so very light on training.

So a mixed bag of results at Southend, but the focus of this blog is the 2013 instalment of the Southend HM. Since I last blogged about the Brighton Marathon, I managed to injury myself, my first proper injury. Straining the tendon connecting my knee to my Quad in my right leg. This hampered me greatly in the two weeks post Brighton meaning a few short runs each week totalling just 10km each week. I grudgingly visited my physio and was told at least two weeks of no running which I did reluctantly but knowing it was for the best. The next week was a couple of gentle runs to ease my body back into it before the final 3 weeks into Southend where I have started to do something approaching reasonable training. The majority of which was back to back runs with Luke of 12 miles and 10 miles over the Bank Holiday weekend. The remaining training was 5K or 5 Mile steady runs and a parkrun or two.

This lack of quality training in the build up lead to me struggling to come up with a realistic target time, initially post injury just happy to get round in 2hours. As the training picked up in the lead up, 1:50 seemed to something I could shoot at, but anything faster than that was just dreaming. Thus my time today of low 1:43 has really got me happy. It has far exceeded my expectations and even though it is a minute a mile off my HM PB it really does rank right up there in terms of my Half Marathon performances and I have had 16 goes at the distance!

So now you know the result, you may decide to cease reading the blog, but if you do wish to carry on reading the blog to it's conclusion I will fill you in on some of the days details. My prep before the race included a 30th Bday party in Cambridge, so I was on Diet Coke for the evening and drove Lauren and I home and had us in bed around half past midnight. I opted for Steak and Chips for dinner rather than my usual pasta dish, I nearly regretted it as well, with the steak definitely more on the rare side of medium rare!

Waking up tired, but with no other ill effects I drove us to pick up Giuseppe and then headed to the start around 9am, an hour before race start. But as is so often the case at Southend, traffic was heavy and slow moving on the way into the Garrison and Lauren took over the driving as Giuseppe and I headed for the start on foot. Lauren drove to the Kursaal ready to see us at miles 4 and 9. The congestion worsened and so as was the case a few years ago the race start time was put back to 10:15. This was frustrating, particularly given the cooler than expected weather. But Giuseppe and I met up with our boss and had a chat before we let him get off to find a good viewing spot.

The race did eventually get going just after 10:15 and as is the norm the tight, narrow, first mile made the going tough and the first Km was my slowest of the race. Once the first few miles are navigated and you find your way to the seafront, the roads widen and things settle down a little. I was taking it very easy, comfortable with people moving past me as they went off fast. I got into a nice ryhtym and felt good early on, the pace hovering around 5:00km after the initial congestion. This soon moved downwards, and by the time I saw my cheer squad of Ian, Graeme, Mum, Dad and Lauren at mile 4 the average pace was more like 4:50 per km. This is where it remained for much of the remainder of the race. With it being on the seafront, gradients weren't a factor, but there was a decent breeze which particularly effected miles 4-6 and 9-11 but I managed to maintain fairly consistent splits regardless.

I turned around at mile 7 ready for the 2nd loop and saw Giuseppe running really well and gave him a wave. It was at this point that my race got harder though. The legs were that bit heavier and the light, effortless rhythm of earlier was starting to fade, but the pace stayed around 4:50 as my effort level increased. The cheer squad was depleted on the second lap with Lauren, Mum and Dad still cheering me on and taking some great photos. I turned for home at mile 9 and headed into the wind. The fatigue was starting to set in, and my mind was constantly working through calculations of how badly I could fade and still achieve a 1:50. I had been on for a 1:42 for much of the race, but with 5K to go I wasn't particularly targeting that as I could feel my body straining. Giuseppe and I high fived as we crossed over a final time. I then turned left off the seafront and up the only incline of note on the course and on towards the finish. This final two miles or so is always tough for me, mentally and physically and it really was a case of just turning my legs over and getting myself to the finish. Do that and the time took care of itself.

It was then off the seawall and onto the road again as we headed into the final 400m, and the finish couldn't come fast enough! I ran through the line strong and received my medal and some much needed water. Water was the only thing I took all race, no gels or lucozade but I didn't miss them. I did also manage to get a cereal bar in me prior to the race. I rang Lauren and we managed to find each other and headed back to the finish to wait for Giuseppe. He had a tough last few miles but made it home in around 2:11 just outside his target time of 2:10 but 50 minutes ahead of last years time. We all headed home, very pleased with our mornings work.

Lauren and I enjoyed a BBQ at my parents, and I am about to go and take a nap after this weekends exploits. Thanks again to all my on the day supporters as well as those that tracked me on Runkeeper. What a fantastic invention that is! Until next time, keep running....!

Monday, 15 April 2013

Brighton Race Report

At times this race felt like it would never arrive and there were times in January and February where I hoped it never did. Thankfully March came and so did some training and with each week I have felt I was getting stronger. The long training runs never really came, with a longest of 15.5 miles. I ran well at Silverstone 6 weeks out from Brighton and ran even better at the 10km in Canterbury 3 weeks later and so felt momentum building as race day approached.

The week leading up to Brighton was unusual with a lovely 3 days in Benidorm for a friend's 30th. I spent it getting burnt, eating junk food, drinking beer and doing drinking games but did also manage a 5km along the seafront one morning which was fantastic. The next few days were spent relaxing with Lauren at her mum's before I drove us home to Essex, a quick night in our own bed and I was then saying bye to Lauren and heading on the train to Brighton. Lauren has been my Chief supporter for most of my races but she had been asked to be God Mother to her friend's kid and so the lead supporter duties were handed on to my brother Luke who handled them brilliantly. More on that later.

Having got the 8:06 train from Rayleigh to Brighton, via Stratford and London Bridge I arrived in Brighton about half 10. In just two hours I had succeeded in losing my credit card and the return part of my ticket. Thankfully I had managed to retain the Out part of my ticket and so made it safely to Brighton having succeeded in cancelling said Credit Card. It was then a short walk down the hill to the Brighton Centre to collect my race number. This was much less painful than Berlin where you had to walk a mile for the pleasure of collecting your race number. I poked my head in got the number and then ducked out of the nearest Exit, back up the hill to the train station ready for leg 2 another couple of hours to Canterbury. I managed to get a good feed halfway as I was seriously flagging and arrived in Canterbury about 2pm to be collected by Luke and driven back to his and Amber's place. Amber was the perfect host, and the place was spotless for their new house guest. We decided to head to the pub before Amber's enormous Spag Bol and I had a couple of pints of Coors whilst we watched the footy. The planned early night went out the window as we stayed up late to watch Tiger finish his round at the Masters and I crashed on the very comfortable sofa at 11pm.

Luke and I were up at 5am a quick wash, change and breakfast and we were on the road not long after half 5. Luke did the driving as I did my best to stay awake. The progress was slow going even on the main roads as roadworks meant we were going 40-50mph and average speed cameras for much of it. We did make it to our Park and Ride early though and were straight on a bus headed for Preston Park and the race start. We arrived just after half 7 and so had plenty of time to go to the loo etc and get ready for the off. Luke said goodbye about half 8 as he headed for his first viewing point at 3 miles, whilst I stayed to watch Batman and Robin doing aerobics and saw Elvis have his picture taken. I then headed down to my Red start pen and was stood next to a guy in a nappy, I'm not even making this stuff up!

At 9am we were set on our way and the long wait was finally over, now I had 4 hours or so to find out just what I was made of. The first km was slow going as the path narrowed and we briefly came to almost a complete stand still but the roads soon widened enough that you could get into some kind of rhythm. The 5:30 first km was soon followed up with a couple of km's just shy of 5mins. By the time I saw Luke for the first time I had gone through 5km in 25:30 and was bouncing along and feeling fresh. I had even found time to use a portaloo just before 4km. It was good to know I would be seeing Luke again in just over a mile. I was trying to rein myself in but I couldn't slow my initial pace and so settled into pace just slightly slower than 5min km's and saw Luke again at 4.5 miles and he cheered and waved and told me he'd see me in 10 miles. Something that should have been uplifting, but after seeing him twice in the first 5 miles, 10 miles and nearly 80-90 minutes of running seemed a long wait.

We were headed West, yeah West sounds right and away from the pier and the crowds. This is by far the hilliest part of the course as you bounce up and down some fairly decent climbs. It was also a good opportunity for me to see some of the really rapid guys and girls at the front who were being paced by pacers or lead bikes as they flew past me headed back to the town centre. I went through 10km in just over 50:30 as my early pace remained. The roads felt narrower, particularly as people had different ideas of how to tackle the hills, with people you had been running stride for stride with for the best part of an hour now desperate to take you over just to come in front of you and put the brakes on. The race was far too long for me to worry about it though and I just rolled with peoples odd habits.

I went through 15km in 76:15 a slight slowing of the pace but nothing very dramatic, but something inside me knew all was not well. The pace I was going 3:30 and a PB was on but 3:45-3:50 was my most ambitious pre-race prediction, there was no LEJOG bike fitness to save me this time! I got to 20km in 1:42 and change and then crossed the half way point in something like 1:48. For much of the 5km leading up to half way I was holding on to see Luke but I knew walking was going to come into my race real soon! I made it to Luke at 14 miles without walking but after seeing him and heading on the road away from the seafront I broke into my first walk break. I tried to keep it structured walk 100m then run for maybe a mile before another short walk break in an effort to manage my poor underprepared legs. I was helped with plentiful water, Gatorade and Shot Block stations. By the end of the race I was popping those Shot Blocks like smarties. I'm not sure if it was mental or whether they really helped but they did give me a boost.

I had told Luke I was clinging on at 14 miles, but when he saw me at 18 miles he later told me I looked a lot better than he had expected. I told him the wheels were coming off and I was hoping for 3:52-3:53. I then headed along the seafront towards the Power Station and the final turn around point. The walk breaks were now becoming more frequent and unstructured but I was still trying to keep them short. The first hour and a half was quite pleasant but I was now acutely aware that this was going to be a grind all the way to the finish. I got a nice pick up as I headed for the Power Station seeing a guy I know from Southend Parkrun who was headed for home, I had him down for 3:30 and it turns out he got home in 3:28, I saw him after the race and he was well chuffed with that. I eventually got myself to the turn around point and grabbed some water and a last stash of shot blocks before the 5 mile run back along the seafront. In all the fun of writing the blog I have forgotten to write my 25km, 30km and 35km splits. Suffice to say the speed was going backwards at a rate of knots but I was still happy I would finish comfortably inside 4 hours.

The crowds along the seafront were incredible and the organisers had got it working much better than the first time I ran the Brighton Marathon where the crowds got a bit too close for comfort, Tour De France style. I was desperate to run the last 5km without stopping, but my body was shutting down and I was lucky to manage a km of continuous running. The saving grace was that my run/power walking was near as spit the speed of those around me who continuously ran. I saw Luke a 5th and final time with about a km to go and after giving him a run and a wave I caved and walked again. Apparently he chased after me and urged me on, but at that late stage I was oblivious to the world. I think I did manage to slow jog the final 800m and ran over the line with the clock showing 3:55 nicely inside 4 hours. The official chip time was 3:55:42.

I met up with Luke who was really pleased with my mornings work, and I have to admit I was too. I don't want to harp on again too much about my completely self-inflicted lack of preparation but I will just say briefly that my next marathon will more than likely be my last for a while. Pete is maddened by what he sees as my lack of application when I have some running ability, and I totally agree with him. I am looking for an Autumn Marathon this year, perhaps the Robin Hood Marathon in September where I will look to average 30 miles a week in the 13 weeks leading up to the race in a bid to find out what I really am capable of over the Marathon distance. That maybe 3:15 it maybe 3:25 and a large part of me doesn't really mind which it is I'd just like to prepare adequately and the result will just flow out of that. I read something recently and the jist of it was "The will to win is useless without the will to prepare." I have one and not the other, I hope to show this autumn that I have both. Well done for reading. Will write again soon. Thanks again to Luke for supporting, Amber for hosting so beautifully and to Lauren for allowing me to continue my stupid hobby, love you lots.

Monday, 1 April 2013

On The March!

So after a very slow running start to 2013 it was great to have a decent March. It was set up for a good month, with 5 weekends as well as a Bank Holiday. The only way to make it more perfectly suited for a big mileage month would be to have had it also including Bank Holiday Monday. I had hopes of a record mileage month at some points but in the end had to settle for just short of 102 miles. The average pace was also well inside 8 minute miles, helped by 5 races as I did 3 parkruns, a 10K and a Half Marathon. I ran 16 days out of 31 so 3.5 runs a week which is approaching a good level of consistency. Would like to see 4 runs a week in April, but may depend on how quickly I recover from the Marathon.

Speaking of Marathon! I have beaten the mileage I did in the lead up to my PB Marathon a mighty 148 miles in the 3 months leading up to the race as well as beating the long run of a Half Marathon by running 25km on Easter Sunday. With two weeks still to go I expect to do another 25 miles or so before race day. All of that would appear to stand me in good stead. My PB however was run off the back of the LEJOG fitness built up on the bike in the summer followed by PB's at Bristol and The Great North Run in the Half Marathon. Thus my expectations for Brighton are far away from a PB, I am looking to run somewhere between 3:50 and 4:00 which I think is very attainable.

Once Brighton has been safely negotiated I will then use the good training and racing from March and the Marathon to push me forward into my heavy race programme with 10K's and parkruns aplenty and the Southend Half Marathon before the scary 24hour Ultra at the end of July. Lucky for you loyal readers this should leave you with plenty of Blogs to plough through. I will write again after the Marathon, till then readers, happy running.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

42 races to go to my Century

So I have been in the running game for nearly four years now and in that time I have managed to amass 58 races (including parkruns)

22 - 5K's - Parkrun's at Middlesbrough, Southend, Cambridge, Brighton and Bromley. The highlight being my PB of 19:21 at Middlesbrough back in March 2011.

9 - 10K's - Races at Southend, Leigh, Billericay, London. The highlight being a run in London with Amy for Cancer Research.

1 - 10 Miler. Great Run at a great race finished in the top 5% at the BUPA Great South Run and saw Ben Fogle. Made Lauren very happy.

15 - Half Marathon's. Southend (4 out of 4), Bristol, Great Bentley, Silverstone, Great North, Norwich, Bath and Cardiff. My favourite distance and lots of good races. Including 4 of sub 1:35. Highlight being the PB of 1:30:05 at the Great North Run and my 2 seconds on BBC TV.

2 - 15 Milers. 2 times Benfleet 15. Miserable cross-country. Not really my bag.

1 - 20Miler. My one and only 20miler near Colchester. Ran fairly well given my condition at the time but a weak PB and a distance I would like to revisit.

6 - Marathon's - Runs at Brighton, Rutland, Stratford-upon-Avon, Chester, Berlin and Edinburgh. A distance I have consistently failed to get to grips with, particularly with the need to run long and slow in training. Keen to improve but still not keen on training.

1 - Ironman - Incredible experience at the Outlaw in Nottingham off very little training. Having only swum half the distance in training, never swam in open water, only cycled half the race distance in training. I did manage to run well though and came home in just over 16 hours.

1 - Ultra Marathon - At the Two Ocean's in Cape Town. Rained for most of the 6 hours I was out there. Ran well early but the hills and fatigue at the back end cost me dear so final two hours was huge effort.

All that in 47 months. Not a bad little body of work. My PB's at 5K, 10K, 10 Mile and HM are all pleasing although I would like to improve on them all. The three of concern are my 15 mile, 20 mile and Marathon PB's. The 15 miler was cross country and so I need to find a road 15 miler to get that where I need it. The 20 miler is soft and should be bettered fairly easily, whereas the Marathon needs a concerted effort on my part to follow a structured programme to get my PB in line with the other distances.

As discussed in previous blogs, a method to compare times across different distances is WAVA which is expressed as a percentage. I would like to get all of the main distances to a minimum of 60% and so for the distances we are talking about I need the following:

15M - 1:53:00 (Current 2:06:41)
20M - 2:34:20 (Current 2:50:28)
Mara - 3:28:10 (Current 3:34:28)

I hope to achieve all of these in the spring of 2014.

By the time of the 5 year anniversary of my first race at Southend Half Marathon which will happen in June 2014 in addition to the 60% WAVA target I would also like to have run in 100 events. So in addition to my 58 races I need to find another 42. These look to be as follows:

- 28 parkruns to get me up to my 50 run parkrun t-shirt.
- 1 Ultra (The Thunder run 24hr race already booked)
- 2 Marathon (Brighton 2013 already booked and probably Shakespeare Marathon in 2014)
- 1 20 Miler (Probably Essex 20 in spring 2014)
- 1 15 miler (Road 15 miler in spring 2014)
- 4 HM (Southend 2013 & Great North 2013 booked and then Great Bentley 2014 and Southend HM 2014)
- 4 10Km (BUPA 10K 2013 & Canterbury 2013 booked and Billericay 2013 and BUPA 10k 2014)

All of which leaves one race still to be decided. I think I will probably engineer it so that Southend HM 2014 is the 100th race. The one big unknown is if I can run 28 parkruns which is about 1 in 2. I think after that it will be a case of reassessing what I want to achieve and the challenges and goals that I set myself. So all in all I have a busy 15 months to get me through to summer 2014 but the fitness and motivation are slowly returning.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Silverstone Half Marathon Report

Sorry for the lack of blogging. It has gone the way of my training of late. Jan and Feb have been record low mileage months compared to the previous 3 years a combined mileage of just 64 miles. With this inadequate prep my expectations headed into the Silverstone Half Marathon were low. I wasn't quite sure where to set my targets off that training but after a gentle 10 miler with Luke and Pete the week previously at around 9 minute miles I felt sub 2hours was the slowest I should go with a target of 1:50 being my ideal.

Lauren and I set off at around half 7 only for Lauren to realise she had forgotten her phone and so we did a quick about turn to retrieve it. This was a first for me and Lauren, I was driving myself to a race! With the added bonus that Lauren would drive back post-race when my legs were shredded. The trip up there was easy with it being so early there wasn't a huge amount of traffic and we arrived at half 9 ready for our 12 O'clock race, another very unwanted record, 2 and a half hours early takes some beating!

We met up with Luke and Amber who had set off even earlier than us for their longer journey. It was good to have some company and the girls got coffees as Luke and I tried to stay warm. There was plenty going on as we prepared for the start but not a lot that Luke and I could enjoy with just a few hours to the race. The beers and hot dogs would have to wait.

The time went pretty quickly as we chatted away, and with race time approaching we headed over to the spectator area to drop the girls off. There was a rather odd Marshall there who seemed to panic when we told him we were racing, and that we had to get over to the red balloons and the start immediately. There was still over half an hour till the race start and there were loads of runners all around us. We said our goodbyes though and then dutifully headed for the start. Luke and I got into the start area with plenty of time to spare and so had a walk around and found our way to the 1:30 and 1:45 pacers. Luke had his eyes on the 1:30 pacer and me on the 1:45. We talked running and were then spotted by an organiser of the Southend Parkrun and so had a good chat with him.

The sun threatened to come out as we began the race, and conditions were pretty much perfect for a good time. The race started and I was over the line quickly and into my stride. The race track was nice and wide and so there was no fear of congestion. Some runners were keen to hunt the inside line but I was happy to take it easy and so found open space when I could. My early pace was around 4:30 minute km way in excess of my 5:10ish km splits for 1:50. I felt comfortable and tried to slow the pace gradually.

In my wisdom I decided to wear a base layer under my running shirt as there was a bit of a chill in the air when we set off at half 7 but I soon realised I was going to get far too hot. So for a few lucky runners they got a strip show from me half way round the lap as I took both shirt and base layer off, put the shirt back on and tied the base layer round my waist all whilst running at my race pace.

I went through 5km on my Garmin in 23minutes dead, and it was only a few weeks ago that I run that in a stand alone 5km. It was still going well at 10km as I went through in 47 minutes exactly, again only 30 seconds slower than the last 10km race that I ran in November. It was at this point that it really began to get difficult. My pace was slowing, and I was settling into around 5min km and so my chances of the 1:40/1:42 that I thought might have been on early in the race now changed to holding it together and finishing in under 1:45. I had seen Lauren and Amber a few times already and they had given me a real boost. The race was good but there were definitely quiet spots out on the course. As I went through 10 miles I saw the girls a final time and gave them a smile, a wave and a sweaty base layer and got myself ready for the final stretch.

The last 5Km of the race were a real drag, quite literally. My feet that had been so light and bouncy in the first half of the race were now heavy and I was in a shuffle to the finish. I had done the 3rd 5km in just over 25 minutes so at least my fade was consistent, a minute every 5km to that point. The next 5km I managed in 25:45 and that just left the 1.1km to go. I was overtaken coming down the finishing straight by the 1:45 bus and it was then that I saw Luke, Amber and Lauren cheering me on and I tried to give them a final push. I managed to get past the pacer who was easing down to hit his target time and I went over the line in time to hit my revised 1:45 target. Official time 1:44:31. Really pleased!

It was great to be doing a proper race, and Lauren really enjoyed herself after our break from serious racing. Silverstone had its faults but it is definitely a race I will return to. I was pleased with how I gutsed it out, as I really was hanging on for much of the second half of the race and had ample opportunity to walk but didn't. My lack of training in January and February may have robbed me of a lot of my fitness but the more often I am racing the more I see improvements in my mental toughness which was definitely a weakness of mine. My biggest weakness at present is my inability to motivate myself for training particularly the long runs necessary for races over 10km. I'm not sure exactly what the answer is to remedy it.

One trend that I have blogged about previously, but I noticed again on Fetch for this race is how I perform well relative to my level of training. In the 10 weeks leading up to the race I ran a touch under 90miles a pathetic 9 miles a week. Fetch has some great data, and based on 539 race results the average 10 week mileage to achieve a 1:44:31 Half Marathon time is 225 miles and the bottom 10%, most work shy runners manage 126 miles on average. So I’m on the low side even for the slackers. In one sense I think it’s quite an impressive stat, and in another it’s a waste. Distance running is something that I have some natural ability, and so I am keen to do myself justice. Those are sentiments that I am sure you will find in previous blogs I have written and so I just need to apply myself to training in the hopes of doing myself justice in 2013.

A big thanks to Lauren and Amber for being such great supporters and a big well done to Luke on a great time managing sub 1:33, well deserved. Thanks for reading my lengthily race report, and if you come back soon there should be a blog on my plans to reach the magical 100 race mark by the summer of 2014.