2017 Review & New Adventures in 2018.

2017 may have been my most successful year so far, especially at this stage of my career now that I’m on the wrong side of 35! The low points of 2016 were banished and I continued the upward trajectory from the end of that year where my running finally started to show signs of life at Chester Marathon.

Like any year, it hasn’t been without the odd set-back; missing out on the first half of the track season due to a knee injury perhaps cost be a potential pb or two on the track. Untimely illnesses in October cost me any ambitions of running a sub 65 half marathon. Still, the fact I was able to have these as realistic aims only proves how much progress I have made. Deciding against doing a marathon and focusing on speed certainly paid off. Despite this my mileage was still pretty good and had it not been for the May and October months being a write off, I would have run well over 4,000 miles for the year. I ended up on 3,895.5 from 448 runs to be exact.

I’ve recently become an ambassador for On Running as part of a team of athletes targeting London Marathon this spring. It’s a perfect fit in many ways, I love the light-weight and responsive feel of the shoes, which I’ve been testing out since the summer when we started stocking them at Up & Running. The company also have a focus on competitive running at a national and regional level, with other sponsored runners including the likes of Chris Thompson and Andy Vernon, then a group of marathon runners on a lower-tier national level, such as myself and Kojo Kyereme on the men’s team. The focus on the marathon also ties in with what I want to achieve this year, as I feel I’m ready to make a return to the distance after a year hiatus. I will also be doing blog updates for Fast Running each month, again, quite a contrast to the has-been athlete I felt like over a year ago. 2018 should be a very interesting year indeed and I’m sure I can build on the recent upturn I’ve had in my running.

I didn’t quite finish off 2017 in the way I wanted. After a promising result at Wilmslow 10k in late November, where I finished a solid 2nd in 30:37 behind a dominant run by Matt Clowes, I expected to be close to 30 minutes at Ribble Valley 10k on New Year’s Eve. Training had continued to go well leading into it, so I was determined to be as competitive at the front as I could… perhaps too determined as it turned out. Matt Crehan (though I wasn’t sure who he was at the time) set off at a blistering pace and I attempted to go with him, leaving behind the group of runners including the most likely winners, such as Marc Scott and Jonathan Brownlee. Yes, it was a big mistake! After a fast 3k, I settled in with the group and we caught the leader just after 4km. The race really took shape around this point and as the lead group of six runners kicked on I was unable to respond; probably paying for my fast start. Halfway was reached in 15:22, which was disappointing, as was watching the gap to the top six runners increase. Rob Danson soon passed me, but I was able to respond and forge ahead. I was making solid progress between 6-9km, with Danson on my tail and managed to make up a place. As we came into that final kilometre, Danson made his move and I was struggling to match his pace, by the final 300m he pulled clear by a few seconds, knocking a huge chunk off his pb with a great run. I came in with 30:31 in 7th, which was well below my expectations. Perhaps sub 30 was never on the cards for me in those breezy conditions, but it felt like an underwhelming end to a mostly successful year.

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Struggling in the final kilometre at Ribble Valley 10k

So, in a similar fashion to Match of the Day, here’s my personal 2017 highlights;

Three good:

Bath Half Marathon, 1st, 65:16 (March)After a terrible performance in 2016, I was determined to come back the following year in my best form. I certainly managed that, running three minutes faster than my previous attempt whilst bagging a pb in the process, my first in four years. To win the race though, was well beyond my expectations.

Stretford 3,000m, 1st, 8:27 (August)Not quite a pb, but it was my fastest time in nearly ten years. It was also only the second time I had won this race (in a very close sprint finish), the previous occasion being 16 years ago back in August 2001!

Darwen Half Marathon, 1st, 69:17 (April)I was thrilled to win this race in it’s inaugural year, but felt that I could run faster on it. I wasn’t sure sub 70 would be possible, so to achieve this so comfortably was a terrific feeling, especially on home soil.

Three bad (thankfully this list was hard to make for once!):

Cardiff Half Marathon, 22nd, 68:38 (October)One of those occasions when you race when you really shouldn’t! I certainly realised my error three miles in, on the plus side, it might be my fastest half marathon run when ill!

BMC 10,000m, 10th, 30:14 (August)Not a disaster as such and in other years it could have qualified as a positive highlight. Having missed the Highgate one in May, this was my last chance at a pb, but unfortunately I hadn’t quite reached my best form, which came a few weeks later, right at the end of the track season.

Ribble Valley 10k, 30:31 (December)I was hoping this might have sneaked into the top three prior completing this write up. Although it was my fastest time of the year for 10k road, I wouldn’t rate it as high as my result at Accrington 10k in March, nor Wilmslow 10k in November. A decent 10k is something that eluded me in 2017.

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October: What Might Have Been

The past two months haven’t been as fruitful as I had hoped, hence the lack of a recent update. September ended well with perhaps my best ever run at the Northern 6-stage Road Relays; running the third fastest leg of the day and helping the club finish in 11th place… or 10th, or 7th, dependent on disqualification of other teams. That’s worth a whole article in itself, but in a nutshell it was to do with the eligibility of athletes  for their clubs  and the whole 2nd claim administrative mix ups! All makes perfect sense, so lets move on!!!

Off the back of two very good results (Lake Vyrnwy half & relays) and some encouraging signs in training, I was confident of bettering my time for the half marathon in October. I had given myself two opportunities, Cardiff on the 1st and Manchester on the 15th; both fast courses boasting a high quality list of entrants. It’s often the case that when you seem to have nailed one of your best sessions or training weeks, something tends to throw a spanner in the works and on the Wednesday prior to Cardiff I came a cropper and picked up a cold. I nearly made the decision (and perhaps should have done) to withdraw, but as I’d already paid for my travel and had my accommodation put up by the organiser, I decided to still go ahead with it. “If it’s just a head cold I could still run well”, so I kept telling myself anyway.

By Saturday I felt reasonably well and was more bothered by the fact that any coffee I drank had a nasty aftertaste from all the horrible menthol lozenges I was taking. On the morning of the race my legs felt fine and my head seemed to have cleared, so I stuck to my plan of going out aiming for a pb. The first mile was very quick; the Kenyan runners and Dewi Griffiths were already far ahead, but the group I was with went through in well under five minutes, so all was well. As far as my race was concerned, that wouldn’t last long and I was suffering by the third mile (14:55), by which I dropped off the back of the group and watched them steadily ease off into the distance. This is were racing gets ugly; there’s nothing to salvage other than a bit of pride and you just want it to end, the problem was I still had 10 miles to go! I was being passed by quite a few runners when Matt Clowes came past on pacing duties, though strangely he was on his own as none of the elite women seemed to have followed him despite his pace being correct. With a bit of encouragement he helped me along for a mile or so before going off ahead, which was enough to bring me back to a respectable pace. I remember around halfway, a kid shouted out “Fish, swim!”, I was inclined to reply that this fish was sinking, but decided my self deprecating humour might be lost on the 10 year old.  Between 6 and 9 miles I was mainly on my own, I still felt terrible and the pace wasn’t amazing (somewhere around 5:20ish per mile), but at least I wasn’t slowing down. In the last few miles I actually made up three places, passing a couple of runners after 10 miles and then just pipping Tom Merson in the last kilometre, where I finished in 68:38 for 22nd place. It was bitterly disappointing, I am convinced I could have run a pb if I was 100%. It’s the bad races that take more out of you and I was very stiff and sore afterwards. By Tuesday I got going again and managed a solid track session with the club, so with any luck I’d be recovered by the time of the Manchester race.

I don’t know whether I shifted the illness or not, but it certainly came back with a vengeance a week later, there was no chance of putting up any kind of performance at the Manchester half and I had no choice but to withdraw. I took a full week off from running after that, I’d had enough in more ways than one. I’m now back in full swing of training and have spent the past three weeks racing whenever possible in a bid to getting my sharpness back for Ribble Valley 10k at the end of the year. I did Accrington 10k on 29th of October and surprised myself to win with 32:46 on a tough course, I turned out for the national cross country relays at Mansfield, where the team managed 30th place which is really good for a club of our standing. Rob Warner ran a blinder for us that day, with Jack Hindle doing a brilliant job on his senior debut and veteran Chris Davies putting in a stellar effort as always. I was happy with my own run and two weeks later on the 18th November I managed my first win in a cross country race in five years at the Red Rose League match at Bolton, winning by a mere second against Jonny Kay; it was a close battle all the way and must have been a good one for the spectators to watch. Again, the club is very much on the up, we won the men’s senior and veteran categories that day and Ben Costello ran superbly to finish 3rd. Elsewhere, Tim Raynes got his much deserved sub 15 minute clocking at the Podium 5k with 14:51, whilst Chris Arthur and Joe Monk had top runs at the Brampton to Carisle 10 miler (51:00 & 53:28, both achieving pb’s).

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Winning team at Bolton Red Rose. Left to Right: Paolo Sousa, Ben Costello, Allan Hartley, Mark Almond, Matt Nuttall, Ben Fish, Craig Greenough, Paul Brindle, Tom Anderson, Karl Billington, Chris Davies. Joseph Brady not in the photo.

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Track Racing & Lake Vyrnwy Half Marathon (10/09/2017)

August was a pretty decent month of racing, I ran well at the Horwich Jubilee 5, winning in a slightly slower time than the previous month in 25:40. I was still happy with that, especially given the hold up when the course was blocked by a couple of horse riders only a minute or so into the start of the race. Quite how this occurred is anyone’s guess, the horse riders were made well aware of the race and start time, not to mention the fact this race has been going for over 30 years. But, why let such trivial things like a road race get in the way of a leisurely trot eh??? Thankfully nobody got stamped or kicked and the race carried on without any other mishap. Fellow club-mates Chris Davies, Ben Costello and Mark Lord put in great runs to clinch the team title as well. Numbers were sadly quite low again and the series will no longer have an August race in the future, as it will reduce to three races in May, June & July.

After the mid-week blow out my next race was the BMC/English 10,000m race at Stretford on the Saturday. I felt good leading up to the race and knew I’d have to be on my mettle as I was up against some of the best runners in the country, including the great Chris Thompson. Being lapped by Thompson was an almost certainty, the biggest question would be, will I get lapped by others, or heaven forbid, would he even manage to lap me twice?! If I ran what I was hoping; about 30 minute or less, then I should finish in the top half of the field and get lapped just once. It was a late balmy evening and the we got underway at around 9pm. The race soon established it’s pattern, with 5-6 runners going with Thompson and the pacemaker at around 68 seconds-per-lap pace. I soon settled into a large group running 71’s. By 3km the group was drifting off pace and I pushed on slightly ahead to keep on at a sub 30 minute schedule. I could hear the commentator on the PA calling out the pace Chris Thompson was running; he was now out on his own and reached 5km in 14:07, so I knew I would be getting lapped within the next few laps. I hit halfway in around 14:58, which was fine had it not been for the fact that it was beginning to feel hard work and there was still some way to go. Sure enough, Chris Thompson came past me as expected and I tried to use his momentum to try and keep my fading hopes of a sub 30 minute result alive. I kept near him for 600m or so and ran a couple of decent laps, but I was still a tad off the pace and hit 8km in 24:09. I was also caught by the group I tried to move away from earlier in the race and my main focus was to hang in. I got through those last few laps okay and finished in a respectable 30:14 for 10th place; it wasn’t quite what I wanted, but I feel like I’m getting close to my best.

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Unfortunately the track season was coming to an end and I was running out of races just as I felt I could run something decent. The last track outing for 2017 was the 3,000m at Trafford on the 29th August, which turned out to be my best track race for a good few years. I went off at a steadier pace and refrained from taking the lead early on, I spent the first kilometre at the back of the lead pack with Tom Cornthwaite. I started moving up through the group in the middle stages and I could hear the lap times being called out at 68’s, which was good enough for me. 2km was reached in 5:41 and it was now a two horse race between myself and Euan Gilchrist. I went to the front in a bid to steal a few yards but he stuck right with me and swept past with 300m to go. I had to dig deep to keep at his heels; on the home straight it was eyeballs out and we were neck and neck right to the line and I wasn’t sure whether I’d won. It was only afterwards when the results sheet went up that I knew; we both ran 8:27.41, but I had got the nod, winning by the length of my brylcreemed quiff!!! It was my fastest time since 2008 and it was only the second time I’d won this race, the previous one dating way back to August 2001; a time when the word “blogging” was barely known, yahoo messenger was the only form of social media and GPS watches were something you’d have read about in a sci-fi novel. I suppose there’s quite a few things that haven’t changed much since then; notably Liverpool FC’s failure to win the title, much to my constant disappointment!

Now the track season is over, it’s time to hit the road again and my first race of the Autumn/Winter campaign was the Lake Vyrnwy Half Marathon, one of the fastest and most scenic courses in the UK. My running seems to have completely turned around from this stage last year where I continued a poor 2016 with a dreadful 69:56 in this race. I was quite sure I’d be a lot quicker this time around and I’d certainly need to be, as Jonny Mellor was entered in the race and I’d be in for quite a battering if I wasn’t at my best. Conditions weren’t looking great on the forecast, but thankfully the three-hour trip on my Royal Enfield motorbike wasn’t as bad as I expected, it only started to rain a bit once I got close to Lake Vyrnwy. I actually quite enjoy this weather for racing and the course is quite well sheltered from the wind. We were off promptly at 1pm, immediately Jonny Mellor took the initiative with a brisk pace and I wondered whether he was just going to leave us all well behind by the first mile! I was lagging behind by 10-20 yards, but gradually got back level with Mellor after a couple miles. The race carried on in this fashion for the next six miles and we were both running just inside 5 minutes-per-mile pace. Mellor started turning the screw slightly after the 8th mile and I was having to battle hard to hang on. I was still going at a good pace and hit 10 miles in 49:52, but he was starting to get away and after another mile he was well clear. My pace dropped slightly and it was a tough final couple of miles, but I was very satisfied with my time of 65:52, another sub 66 minute half marathon and a whopping four minutes quicker than last year. Jonny Mellor looked in terrific form, running smoothly right to the end, crossing the line in 64:57. Tipton’s Stuart Hawkes was 3rd with a much improved pb from last year with 68:39. I think those results do some justice to the course, as it’s much faster than people might think and I would certainly recommend this to anyone who wants to run a good half marathon in September. It’s a very good alternative to the Great North Run, a race I’ve done quite a few times, and if it could have a bit more depth at the top end I think the elite runners would run faster times here.

Results:

Horwich 5

English 10,000m

Trafford Open 3,000m

Lake Vyrnwy Half

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July Update

July has been a month of trying to catch up to where I was at the beginning of the track season. I had a good run at the Horwich Jubilee 5 mile road race on the 19th July. There was quite a low turnout of runners, just 69, which is possibly the lowest I’ve witnessed at this race in the past 18 years. I wanted to see how fast I could go on the two-lap course just off hard effort and chose to run without a watch. I think I may have gone off a bit too quick, as I felt as though I was running a bit ragged on the second lap, so it was a pleasant surprise to learn I had beaten my best time by six seconds. Team-mates Chris Davies and Ben Costello also put in some great runs to finish in 2nd and 4th place. It’s a cracking little road race that’s been going since the mid-1980’s and has been a key fixture over the years in the summer along with the Chorley 4 and Haigh Hall 5. It’s a shame that these races aren’t as high profile as they used to be (Chorley 4 is now a low-key trail race), as I certainly benefitted from cutting my teeth as a youngster in these events, which give good strength endurance for track and a taste of competition at senior level on the roads.

Next up was a belated attempt to resume my target of getting near my pb, or at least a sub 8:30 for 3,000m at the Trafford Open, Stretford. Prior to getting injured I managed 8:31 and I was hoping to build on that performance. Unfortunately it wasn’t quite there on the day; I made the same mistake of being too eager to take the lead and I need to stop worrying about getting boxed in. Although I hit 2k in 5:40, I knew I was really struggling to maintain that pace. I was hanging on to third place, but I lost another four places and my time drifted out to 8:37; solid enough, but I felt that my training had pointed towards a better result.

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A couple of weeks later it was the final Northern League Division 2 match of the season, which Blackburn Harriers were hosting at Witton Park. We needed big performances across the board to stand a chance of avoiding relegation. We had a strong team, which gave me the luxury of competing in just one event, the 5,000m. My aim was to take the race on and run well under 15 minutes, which would be a good indicator for the BMC/English 10,000m championship later in the month. I got off to a fast start with a first lap of 67 seconds, then eased off to 70-71 second laps, but it felt comfortable. I started opening up a gap after about five laps and finished about 40 seconds clear in 14:47. It’s a pity that it’s my last 5,000m race of the season, I reckon I can run under 14:30 in a more competitive race, but that’s going to have to wait until next year. The club also managed to finish the match in second place, enough to keep us in the division, which was a big relief for all concerned and I’m sure we’ll do much better next year, given the young talent that we have.

Training throughout this period has been going well; for last week’s Tuesday session we did  6x 1200m (2 min recovery) and I was hitting 3:34/35’s on a breezy evening, this week our session was 20x 400m (1 min rec) in 65/66’s and I had Joe Monk pushing me all the way, with Tim Raynes doing less reps but at a faster pace of 63/64’s in preparation for his 1500m next week. This is as fast as I’ve been on the track for many years and I’ve been combining this with a higher volume session on my own each week, such as 20-30x 400m (30 sec jog 100m rec) in 72’s and 12x 1,000m (1 min jog 200m rec) in 3:05’s. I try keeping to a rough pattern of two or three sessions-per-week and a hard run or race; this means that I’m covering 25-30% of my training at race pace. Mileage has also got back up to the usual 85-100 miles per week and the aim will be to increase this when I switch my attention back to road racing in September. For now though, I’m 100% focused on the 10,000m on 19th August and the last Stretford 3,000m on the 29th.

Results;

Horwich 5 & Trafford Open.

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A Return To Racing

So, let the racing recommence! Thankfully the injury has cleared up and I’ve spent most of June working on getting my form back and… I think I’m nearly there!!!

I toyed with the idea of doing Freckleton Half Marathon as my first race back; I had two weeks of training behind me, but I was undecided right up until the penultimate day. I went out for a run at around the same time of the race and I could only think how horrible it would have been to race in that heat! I think I made the right decision not to compete; the aim prior to the injury was to have a right good go at this one and run a fast time, which was never going to happen after a non-existent May.

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With talented youngster Jamie Teare, who was 20th overall!

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A win for the Walsh PB Racer!

I decided to make a low-key return to racing by doing an event few would have expected me to do; a fell race of all things. It was Aggie’s Staircase in Darwen, a local race that I’ve never won. The course is similar to the one I knew back when I first did it in 1998, though some of the paths over the moors have certainly deteriorated over the years, especially the section we locals refer to as “Jacob’s Ladder”, where it’s almost impossible to ascertain where the actual path is! It was a hot evening and the race got underway at 7:15pm, I noticed Nick Leigh of Horwich Harriers at the start and knew he would be a formidable opponent, as we’ve had many good battles over the years. It wasn’t Nick that took the initial lead however, it was a young Rossendale runner whom I didn’t know (a very promising runner Ben Forrest, who’s less than half my age!). I got in front after about half-a-mile and was able to gradually increase my advantage, despite seeming to struggle to get any rhythm going up Jacob’s Ladder, I guess everyone else had the same problem. The last climb is Aggie’s Staircase and again, this path is rather worse for wear and I seemed to climb this like a typical road runner; badly! I may have lost some time here, but I still had a safe gap and just focused on tackling the descent back to the finish, which I reached in 28:20, about 30 seconds ahead of a strong finishing Nick Leigh, with Ben Forrest putting up a brave effort only a further 15 seconds adrift. I wouldn’t call this a return to fell racing by any stretch, but I did enjoy it and will do the odd one every now and then. Having said that, my legs were really stiff for three days, even walking downstairs was hard work; I recover from marathons quicker!

I spent the next couple of weeks focusing on training and track sessions, as I am determined to get that speed back that I had earlier in the year. Having Tim Raynes, Joe Monk and Jack Hindle pushing me has certainly been really good for my running these past 12 months. The next race, or races, were at the Northern League Division 2 match at Bebington, our team was quite depleted so I volunteered to do an 800m and 3,000m steeplechase along with the 5,000m. The 800m has always been a tough one to pace, as I’m not fast enough to blast off at the start, nor able to pull out a blistering sprint finish at the end. I was in the B race and we got off to a steady start, covering the first lap in 63 seconds (it felt faster), I was lying just behind in third and I made my move on the back straight; clearly the speed sessions have been paying off and I opened up a lead of two seconds in the last 250 metres and crossed the line in 2:03. Out of all the distance events, the steeplechase is the one I least like, my hurdling skills leave a lot to be desired! I was able to run very well between the barriers and was ambling my way through the race in second, but I was losing a couple of yards on each lap behind the leader, James Wignall, who gracefully hurdled each barrier, in notable contrast to my efforts! Still, I was happy to finish second in 9:53, nine seconds adrift, which is my fastest time in about 7-8 years. I was back in familiar territory with the 5,000m and I was happy to take the lead from the start gradually increasing the gap to over 30 seconds by the end of the race. My time was 15:12, nothing spectacular, but given the previous racing and hot conditions I was very happy with that. Perhaps less satisfactory though is the club’s current standing in the league; we’re in danger of being relegated to Northern Division 3, which would be our lowest standing in all the time I’ve been with the club. Our last match is at home at Witton Park, so hopefully we can do the business there.

My next focus as far as my own racing is concerned will be the BMC & English 10,000m Championships at Stretford on the 19th August. Aside from that I’ll still try to nail a pb in the 3,000m before the season’s out.

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Track Season On Hold

I suppose you can have too much of a good thing; after a busy and successful period of racing I’ve been thwarted with an injury. I managed to aggravate my left knee during a speed session at the end of April, which got progressively worse and after a few days it got to the point where I could barely flex my knee during a run. It was perhaps a bit daft initially trying to run through it, but I was determined to be at my very best for the Highgate 10,000m on the 20th May; one of the main races I was focusing on this year.

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Current form of transport now that running is out of the equation for the time being…

This also coincided with finally getting myself a motorbike for the first time since 2009; it’s a Royal Enfield Bullet 500, which probably doesn’t mean much to most readers, but it’s basically a classic motorbike circa 1950’s and is still made today (mine is from 2010). This was perfect timing to relieve the mileage I was racking up running to and from work. It meant I could rest my knee, as anything over 30 minutes was getting difficult. I spent that week doing three mile runs around the car park at the Wild Boar Park, which was slightly over 200m per lap. Despite seeming incredibly dull and repetitive, I actually quite like this run, which is just as well because it’s all I can manage! Later that week I had issues with the motorbike and was faced with having to run nine miles to work, this would be perfect to test the knee, which failed miserably and the last few miles were an awkward limp into Clitheroe. I had no choice but to withdraw from the Lancashire Championships and Highgate 10,000m. If there’s no progress in the next week I’ll probably rule out racing in June as well; I have no interest in turning up to races well below par these days. The motorbike is fine so I’m saved from long runs to work, but I guess my knee isn’t as strong and stable as I thought, a bit like a certain political leader I can think of…

Prior to all that, the track season got off to a good, albeit brief start; I ran in a 3,000m race on the 25th April at the Trafford Open, coming 3rd with 8:31, my fastest time in eight years. I’m hoping to have a few more races at this distance later in the season with any luck. For now it’s a case of regular trips to my physio, Garry Wilkinson, who’s been great at dealing with any niggles or injuries I’ve suffered with in recent years. As we all know, it can be frustrating when you can’t run as much as you usually do, so it was really great to spend a couple of days ‘glamping’ near Appleby with Hannah for our wedding anniversary. We did plenty of hiking and spent the evening playing scrabble, where I pretty much lost every game! I’m sure Hannah is as keen to have me back running as I am, on my day off last Saturday I spent the afternoon watching Sky Sports News with my knee iced up sat with the cats on the couch, quite a change from my usual behaviour and not something I want to get used to either!

I’m quite sure I’ll be back soon and I’m hoping that by the end of the month my runs will be venturing further than the car park outside our cottage!

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Hastings Half (19/03/2017) & Darwen Half (02/04/2017)

There was little time for reflection after my result at the Bath Half Marathon and the races were coming thick and fast, hence this bulk report on three races. Hastings Half Marathon immediately followed and with my current form, I was hoping I could roll back the years and win this for the first time since 2010. In fact, until my win at Bath, I ranked that performance as my best victory. Again, as with last week, the elite field was weaker than usual and I wasn’t familiar with the domestic runners. The conditions were pretty bad, with gale force winds up to 45 mph and the organiser, Eric Hardwick later told me he had a battle to put up the start and finishing banners, I suppose he’s that good at his job I hadn’t noticed anything amiss! I decided to go out with a fast first mile and gauge the competition; I covered that mile in just under 5 minutes, establishing a gap of about 100 yards. I knew the wind would be mainly behind us in the first half of the race, though I didn’t feel any extra benefit going up the long hill on Queensway from the 3rd to 5th mile and I hit 5 miles no faster than in my previous runs here (26:52). Still, it was enough to increase my lead and I was rattling off a pace close to 5 minutes per mile once the hill was out of the way. 10 miles was reached in 52:12, but the wind was starting to make an impression and I knew those last miles along the promenade were going to be tough! That last 5 km proved to be very difficult indeed and I was pegged back to running each of those final miles close to six minutes! The wind made it difficult for me to hear if anyone was behind me and I had convinced myself that I must be getting caught if I’m struggling this much, but each time I looked back there was no-one there. I ground on towards the finish and put in a last surge to dip under 70 minutes in 69:52 (I don’t like running half marathons outside this time!). The other competitors had the same difficulty as I did; local Hastings AC runner Rhys Boorman ran 74:49 and like myself, was a couple of minutes down on what he’d normally run this race.

hastings_finish

I spent the next couple of days in Hastings with my wife Hannah and it’s a place we’ve enjoyed visiting since we first did this race in 2009. Sadly the weather wasn’t great, but it was good to see the pier has been re-opened after being derelict for so many years. I’d like to thank race organiser, Eric Hardwick for his hospitality and also the White Rock Hotel for our accommodation; we had a great weekend and I can’t speak highly enough of the race, the atmosphere from spectators and of Hastings itself. It’s the fifth time I’ve done this race and I’d recommend it to anyone who fancies going away somewhere different to do an event.

My legs felt very stiff after the back-to-back half marathons, so I decided to drop the miles to 60 for the week going into the Northern 12 stage road relays, which was held at Blackpool . Instead of feeling refreshed, I felt no different than what I would off a 120-mile week! I didn’t want to let the club down by having a poor run after so many good races. I was on the 7th leg (9.2km) and I worked at the shop in the morning and was kindly given a lift by Michelle and Bryan Searby, who was running in our men’s B team on the last leg. We went into this with one of our best turnouts in a long time, which is a testament to the ethos and commitment of the runners we have. We got off to a great start and by the time it was my turn to run on my stage, we were sitting comfortably in 10th place. I ran the two lap course as hard as I could, trying to take some places and hopefully increase the gap over our local rivals, Barlick. I didn’t feel great during my run, so I was surprised when I later learned that I ran the 13th fastest long leg of the day. It was also enough to put us in 7th place, whilst adding some precious time over our rivals. It was a sterling effort by the rest of the lads for the final legs and we only lost one place, to a resurgent Morpeth, holding off Barlick by 15 seconds, thanks to a superb run by our rookie, Ben Costello, anchored by a very strong run from Chris Davies. It’s a real pleasure competing in this team and the spirit we have as a club is as good as I can remember; I’m sure we’ll keep getting better in the coming years. Also, congratulations to the B team, finishing in the top 50 and our ladies team, who came 13th.

Initially I wasn’t going to do the Darwen Half Marathon, as it clashed with the Manchester Marathon where I was going to be part of the Up & Running team in the corporate relay challenge. A key member in our team of four was Daniel Cheeseman, who needed an urgent operation on his Achilles. Dan is a very rapid track runner and finding a replacement runner proved difficult, which led to us having to pull the plug. Thankfully Dan’s operation was a success and I’m sure he’ll be back racing later in the year and competing for Great Britain again in the future.

So, Darwen Half Marathon was back on my radar, this year the race was dedicated to the legendary local runner, Don Ashton, who sadly passed away last winter. I remember seeing him out running on the moors when I started as a teenager, all the runners knew him and he was a GB international as a veteran. The race also had the novelty of being video by local runner and videographer, Danny Grear, who did a great short film on myself earlier in the year. These can be found on Retinair’s Facebook page.

I was determined to improve on my previous time of 72:40. If truth be told, I wasn’t particularly happy with that time when I won last year. With the form I’ve been in I reckoned I could knock over a minute off and hopefully that would be enough to achieve a second successive victory. Last year I reached the 6 mile and 10 mile points in 32:38 & 56:28. I got off to a good start and established an early lead in the first mile, I seemed to be running quite smoothly and when I reached the 6th mile, I checked my watch at 30:20, which I found hard to believe and it made me re-check it a couple of times! I was clearly running very well and was already over two minutes ahead of my previous schedule. I was still feeling comfortable when I came up to the hilliest section of the course between 8 ½ and 10 ½ miles, the 10 mile mark was reached in 53:30, I was blowing my old time out of the water at this rate! I tackled the last two miles downhill at a good lick and crossed the line in 69:17. I never envisioned I could run this course that fast, I had hoped one day that I might scrape under 70 minutes, but never expected to achieve it so easily. I was about 3 and a half minutes faster than last year, which may well rank as a better performance than my run at Bath Half last month. Richard Howarth from Horwich finished strongly in second place (75:44), just ahead of club-mate Jack Hindle, who also had a great run with 76:25, which certainly points towards a pb on a flat course. Whilst it’s been a prolific few weeks for myself, it’s also been a great month for the club and we won another team prize in this race, getting five runners in the top 10 (myself, Jack Hindle, Chris Davies 4th, Shaun Livesey 7th & Paul Guinan 10th, 1st V45, just ahead of Matt Nuttall in 11th). Colleague and club-mate John Sutton was disappointed with 28th place, but he’s been training well and i’m sure he’ll get the results he’s aiming for soon. Ben Costello had to overcome being sick around 7th mile and battled on gamely to finish in his debut half marathon.

Darwen_team

Left to right: Jack Hindle, Chris Davies, Shaun Livesey, me, Paul Guina, Matt Nuttall

It’s always a great honour to win a race, especially in my hometown and it’s something I’ll never take for granted, you never know how long these periods last and 12 months ago I wasn’t sure if I’d ever get back to my best form again. It’s been an incredible year so far, winning prestigious races, achieving a pb, being a feature in Retinair’s video and having such a lot of support and goodwill from family, friends, the local and not-so-local running community. My attention now focuses on the track season, which kicks off at the end of the month and it’s very much a case of keeping the foot right down on the accelerator:- onwards and upwards!

Results: Hastings, Road Relays & Darwen.

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