London Marathon (22/04/2018)

In the few weeks leading into London Marathon, my training has gone as well as I hoped and I was also satisfied with my run at the National 12-stage Road Relays on the 14th April. It was three years since Blackburn Harriers last fielded a team there and we put up a decent effort to finish 29th, some eight places better than 2015. I ran the fifth leg and ran 26:53, which again compared favourably against my effort on the previous occasion (27:44). It rounded off a good Winter and Spring for our club and without trying to sound biased, I don’t think any other Lancashire club has been as prolific or successful in that period.

A week later would come the big test; my first marathon in 18 months and a return to London Marathon for the first time since my dismal outings in 2010 & 2011 (2hr 33 & a DNF!). Since that wobble in March I have done everything I could to go into the race at my best, rattling off some good hard runs, sessions and mileage where I covered the last four weeks in around 380 miles. Some sessions I’ve done have been a bit different, such as 6x 2 miles (with 1/2 mile float), thanks to some input from Andrew Hobdell, who’s been a great support to On ambassador athletes.

I arrived in London on the Friday and got a lift down with my club-mate Allan Hartley and after picking up our numbers we parted ways, as I had a hotel booked in Lewisham, not far from the start, instead of being closer to the Expo. I met up with the On Team the following day and took part in the “run to the Swiss Embassy” near Camden. It was a pleasant 5km run, where I got to meet fellow On athletes and staff, there was also a talk from Tim Don about his 2hr 49 marathon at Boston, only a few months after breaking his neck! If ever there was a message for not having excuses, that would be it!

As was expected, the weather was very hot on the day of the race; I suppose it stands to reason that after running throughout sub-zero conditions in March and early April, we’d be treated to the hottest ever London Marathon! Still, it’s the same for everyone and we all prepared for it as best we could. I decided I’d wear a visor, something I’d never done before, I also toyed with the idea of wearing a neckerchief, but apparently they’re coming back in fashion, so I wasn’t prepared to splash out a load of dosh on a designer one!

In my view London has quite a late start with 10am and as I made the short mile and a half walk to the start at 8:30am, it already started to feel a tad uncomfortable. I met a couple of other runners along the way where we mulled over the conditions and our chances of running a decent time.

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In less recognisable attire, running alongside fellow On Ambassador, Russell Bentley.

I still believed I could run a personal best, so I had roughly planned to run 5km splits of around 16:30. I set off tentatively, but was bang on, reaching the first 5km in 16:28, I then hit 10km in around 33:15-ish, but I knew by this point I was going to be in for a tough race. Shortly afterwards I passed fellow On team-mate Russell Bentley, who like myself, was running on his own, as the race was already strung out at this stage. I checked the clock at 10 miles, 53:42, I was already starting to slow, which coincidentally was the same stage of the race I struggled in 2010 & 2011. I reached halfway in just under 71 minutes and I was getting passed by a couple of runners, this was where the race got a bit depressing. I decided to focus on effort rather than time and I wouldn’t look at the clock until I hit 20 miles, so I took a gel, ditched the belt and just put my head down, “let’s get it over with!” Fellow On runner, Kojo Kyreme cruised past me early in the second half, I noticed he perforated his club vest with a hole puncher and I was thinking what a great idea that was, I was also thinking that there was no way I could match his pace. After I uttered a brief word of encouragement I watched him disappear further up the road.

15 to 18 miles was thoroughly miserable, but I stuck to the task and though I was running on my own, it at least meant that no-one was passing me, which was giving me some semblance of hope. I was taking the race at one water station at a time, miles and splits now didn’t mean anything, just keeping cool and ploughing on was all that mattered. I was also noticing other runners suffering, Matt Clowes was in a bad way when I passed him before the 20 mile mark, a runner who I have no doubt will soon post a sub 2hr 16. I came up to the 20 mile mark hoping to be around 1hr 50-51, so it was satisfying to at least have held it together enough to manage it in 1hr 50:10. It wasn’t long before I passed another runner, Ethiopia’s Guye Adola. I was actually feeling better in the last few miles, I ditched the visor at 23 miles and focused on catching another runner further ahead. It turned out to be Kojo, who still seemed to be moving well, but had slowed a little. There was just a couple of miles left and I knew that at least I was going to achieve a respectable time, which was more than I could have hoped for ten miles earlier. The atmosphere was incredible all the way through the race, especially in the last mile which always helps to galvanise runners, especially one chap who flew past me in the last 600 metres! I crossed the line in 2hr 26:55, a good eight minutes slower than I’d have liked. My finishing position was 27th (including elite) and 8th British man, which in fairness would usually require a sub 2hr 20 to manage in good conditions, so on reflection my performance was better than I initially thought.

National 12-stage results.

London Marathon results.

Although I haven’t posted a marathon best since 2012 at Rotterdam, I have been happy with how well I’ve finished in my recent ones (with the exception of Nottingham in 2015). I’ve settled on only doing a minor taper in the final week (25% reduction) and a carbohydrate depletion on Wednesday & Thursday, followed by resuming normal eating habits in the final two days. Andrew Hobdell has also been really helpful at suggesting some different sessions to have a go at. Here’s how the last few weeks went:

Sun 25th March – 8am: 7.5 miles easy to Longridge. 2pm: Northern 12-stage Road Relays. 5th leg, 8.5km (short) 23:37. Team 8th. 7.5 miles.

Mon – 8:15am: 9.5 miles to work around 6:40 pace. 5:45pm: 9.5 miles home at 7:02 pace.

Tue – 8:20am: 9 miles to work at 6:58 pace. 6pm: 3 miles easy.

Wed – 8:15am: 9.5 miles to work at 6:45 pace. Stiffness in legs gone.

Thur – 8:15am: 9 miles to work, 4 miles easy, 5 miles hard in 25:56. 6:45pm: 3 miles with run group.

Fri – 11am: SESSION: 10x 1 mile (2 min rec) on undulating route. 4:45, 5:12, 4:53, 5:11, 5:20, 5:04, 5:04, 5:07, 5:01, 5:10. 15.5 miles.

Sat – 8:15am: 9.5 miles to work at 6:59 pace. 5:45pm: 9.5 miles home at 6:45 pace.

TOTAL: 102

Sun 1st April – 10am: Long progression run; 1 mile easy, 20 miles in 1hr 52:11, 2 miles easy. 23 miles. Pace started at roughly 5:45-6 working up to sub marathon pace.

Mon – 8:15am: 9 miles to work at 7:25 pace, very stiff! 5:45pm: 9.5 miles home at 7:12 pace.

Tue – 9am: 3 miles easy in Clitheroe. 6pm: TRACK: 8x 3 min reps (2 min rec). 1km’s in: 2:57, 2:59, 2:58, 3:00, 2:58, 2:59, 2:58, 2:56. Hard work, but went ok. 8 miles.

Wed – 8pm: 3.5 miles easy in 23:01. Easy day.

Thur – 8:15am: 9 miles to work at 6:49 pace. 5:45pm: 10.5 miles home at 6:52 pace.

Fri – 3pm: SESSION: 6x 2 mile reps (1/2 mile rec at 6:30 pace). 1019, 10:21, 10:30, 10:22, 10:42, 10:41. 15.5 miles total in 1hr 26.

Sat – 8:15am: 9.5 miles to work at 7:01 pace. Felt a bit slow.

TOTAL: 100.5

Sun 8th April – 9:15am: 9 miles to work at 6:42 pace. 6:15pm: 14 miles at marathon effort in 75:14.

Mon – 8:15am: 9.5 miles to work at around 6:58 pace, forgot to start watch until two miles into the run. 6pm: 3 miles easy around Clitheroe.

Tue – 8:15am: 9.5 miles to work at 7:01 pace. 6pm: TRACK: 16x 400m (1 min rec). Started off on 68’s then got down to 66/67’s. 8.5 miles.

Wed – 5:45pm: 9.5 miles home at 6:47 pace.

Thur – 6:45pm: 5 miles with run group. 8pm: 9 miles home at 6:55 pace.

Fri – 8:15am: 9.5 miles to work at 6:56 pace. 4:30pm: 5.5 miles around Waddington at 7:01 pace.

Sat – 12pm: National 12-stage Road Relays. Leg 5 (5.5 miles) 26:53. Team came 29th. 10 miles total.

TOTAL: 102

Sun 15th April9:15am: 9.5 miles to work at 6:46 pace. 5:30pm: 4 miles with Hannah.

Mon – 8:15am: 9 miles to work at 7:06 pace. 5:45pm: 9 miles home at 7:20 pace.

Tue – 8:15am: 9 miles to work at 6:56 pace. 6pm: 3 miles easy around Clitheroe.

Wed – 9:15am: SESSION: 4x 6 min reps (2 min rec). Paces; 5:21, 5:00, 5:09, 5:13. Done on way to work. 9.5 miles. 7pm: 3 miles home from Chipping in 21:24.

Thur – 8:15am: 9 miles to work at 6:40 pace. Felt good, tried cap on in hot weather.

Fri7:45pm: 3 miles around Lewisham at 7:15 pace.

Sat9:20am: 3.5 miles “On Running to Swiss Embassy Event”.

TOTAL: 71.5

Sun 22nd April10am: London Marathon, 27 in 2hr 26:55.

 

 

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There’s Always A Snag In The Build Up To A Marathon

To say that March has been a let down would be a bit of an understatement. After the National Cross Country Championships, training continued to go very well, nailing key sessions such as 30x 400m in 73’s (30 sec rec) and 6×6 min reps (2 min rec) at half marathon race pace, all combined with good hard runs and 100+ mile weeks. My first snag was just plain bad luck, which most of us have had to deal with, as the weather conditions forced Bath Half Marathon to be cancelled. This put to bed the pipe dream of qualifying for the World Half Marathon Championships. Still, I was determined to run a pb at Wilmslow on the 18th, only to go down with a fever and diarrhoea the week before it. Thankfully, luck went in my favour this time, when it was cancelled and rescheduled for late June.

The illness had me floored for a good ten days and it was hard to manage anything more than a steady plod of a few miles here and there. It’s always difficult when you’re pushing yourself in training; you’re pushing your body to the limit and there’s always an illness or an injury lurking. In the 20+ marathons I’ve done over the years, I’d have to say I’ve come a cropper in the build up in almost half of them. The key is not to panic, as a rule, if I get ill or injured within two weeks of a marathon, I pull out and have had to do this on a couple of occasions; Berlin 2013 & Manchester 2014. I once went ahead and raced when not 100%, which was at Eindhoven nearly ten years ago; I failed to finish at 35k and it took me months to recover. I vowed never to make that mistake again. With this hiccup coming six weeks out and now leaving me with just four weeks of decent training after recovering, I was concerned about losing my fitness and the best way to find out would be competing in the Northern Road Relays.

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The ivory split shorts given a debut at the Northern Road Relays

Blackburn Harriers have been going from strength to strength in the past few years and we went into the competition with our strongest team yet and was also able to field a solid B team. Though we’ve still got some way to go to be medal contenders, I was hopeful we might challenge the top 5. We didn’t quite manage that, but we equalled our position of 8th from last year and was a mere 10 seconds away from 7th, so we’re certainly creeping up. I decided not to time my run and just aimed to go as hard as I could and see where I ended up. I didn’t feel good and felt as though I laboured my way round, but I managed to make up a few places. I later discovered that I ran quite a good time, so that’s certainly very encouraging after the two weeks I’ve had. I was only slightly slower than Tim Raynes, who’s been in fine form for our club and clinched the 10th fastest long leg of the day. The commitment from the lads has been brilliant, with guys missing road races to turn out, or travelling 100’s of miles to be there, even after a big race, as was the case with Rob Warner. The relays are always a great day out and I’m looking forward to the Nationals in three weeks time, where hopefully I can do a bit more for the team by then.

Even though my road to London Marathon has resembled the M6 at rush hour, I still think I can achieve a decent time. The key will be how training goes in the first half of April. I’ve had some advice from Andrew Hobdell, who’s coaching/mentoring the On Running team and he’s been really helpful during this period, especially when the self doubt can creep in when things aren’t going to plan. So it’s very much a case of “Keep Calm and Carry On!”

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2018: New Adventures

It’s been a busy year, I’ve signed kit sponsorship with On Running UK, where I’ll be racing as an ambassador for the company, as well as representing them in certain events. It’s an exciting new venture and to be honest, I thought the opportunity of working with a brand I really liked had long since passed. The second big development will explain why it’s been a bit quieter in the web-world of racingfish; I’m part of a group of athletes blogging on a monthly basis, as the Class of 2018, which can be found here.

January went very well, a solid 2nd place in the Lancashire Cross Country Championships was followed by a win at the Helsby “Four Villages” Half Marathon two weeks late, where I notched a rare victory over Mo Abu-Rezeq. The time was a modest 69:09, which would have to do in the atrocious conditions; hailstone, sleet, snow, wind; yep, all very pleasant! The only benefit for me was that those conditions would be far more detrimental to Mo, which was what helped me pull off a narrow victory, as we were level pegging from 8-12 miles after he established an early lead. Hopefully conditions would be better for my attempt at the World Half Marathon qualifying time of sub 65 minutes for Bath Half in March… more on that later.

Things have gone smoothly these past few weeks, training has gone quite well, though the icy conditions at times have curtailed the odd speed session here and there. Earlier in the month I did the Blackburn Winter Warmer 10k, a hilly course which starts and finishes on the track at Witton Park. Myself, club-mate Tim Raynes and Danny Collinge occupied the top three places last year and a similar battle unfolded on this occasion. Tim has been in fine form and pushed the pace with myself and Danny hanging on/ By around 3k after a still climb up Buncer Lane, I managed to draw level and we passed 5k in 16:35-ish. I carved out a small lead at around the 6-7 kilometre and went on to finish the race in 31:58, four seconds faster than my time last year and about 30 seconds ahead of Tim, who also improved on his previous time. Collinge came in third, completing a repeat of the 2017 race.

The next three weeks was all about getting the down to the nitty gritty as far as the training was concerned. I can’t wait for the evenings to get lighter though, as I’ve found it a right pain in the ass running back home after work with the headtorch; I just never seem to be able to run quite as fast in the dark and it’s made tempo runs and interval sessions a bit trickier than when I lived in Darwen.

It’s also been an import month with the On Ambassador team; we had our inaugural meeting on the 18th February down in Loughborough. It was great to catch up with the rest of the team; whether it was catching up with those I already knew, or putting names to faces of those I knew of. We got to learn a bit more about the On Running brand and had a talk through what type of gear would suit us for training, marathon racing and shorter distance racing. We all shared ideas about what we are doing in our training and what race plans we have for the year. Andrew Hobdell, one UK’s top distance coaches, also provided a question and answers session about the marathon, which was very informative and I’m sure all of us came away from the day having learned quite a lot. It was quite pleasant day and pretty good for a nice ride down on my Royal Enfield motorbike, though it soon turned nasty on the way back; I suppose it’s typical for it to start raining heavier the further North you get, as I was heading up the M6 towards Preston. I was chilled to the bone after my three hour journey!

The next weekend has been one I’ve been looking forward for quite some time. At Blackburn Harriers, we’ve had the National XC race at Parliament Hill pencilled in for a number of months. We wanted to make it a memorable weekend, spending a couple of days in the capital with good camaraderie and hard racing, just what being in a running club should be about, as far as I’m concerned. It would be a tad busier for myself, as I also agreed to compete for the On Team the following day at Thorpe Park Half Marathon. It would be a good test, racing on tired legs and good preparation for the marathon in April. I had a slight snag earlier in the week, when I fell on a bit of icy road and bashed my right hip, which bruised quite a bit. Thankfully I already nailed a couple of decent speed sessions on Monday and Tuesday, so it was just a case of plodding about for a few days to loosen it off, which just about did the trick.

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Conditions were good for the National, it was cold, but nice and sunny, it was also pretty good under foot, which was certainly a plus for a “roadie” like myself! There’s something magical about about this race, even more so when it’s at the iconic Parliament Hill course, were so many greats of yesteryear have graced those muddy fields. We were off at 3pm charging up Parliament Hill, except I didn’t really “charge” and set off like I was in a half marathon and found myself well down the pack in the early stages. Having ran here a few times over the years I ought to have known better, but as there was still the best part of 12k to run, I just focused on being patient and worked my way through. Gradually I kept clawing my way through field and I was surprised at how good I felt, I kept hearing spectators shouting out rough positions to the runners and I was getting closer to that coveted top 50. In the last mile or so I managed to pass Salford’s Carl Hardman, who I knew must be around the positions I was aiming for. The finish is always rapid at Parliament Hill and with it being good under-foot it was even more so, I managed to pass Gary Priestley and as with the Lancashire Championships, I was a mere second or so ahead on the line. My final position was 48th, which I was thrilled with, having seemingly veered into obscurity over recent years at cross country. Most pleasing however, was Blackburn Harriers being 22nd team, which is a huge step forward for us. We were spearheaded by a superb run from Rob Warner in 27th, with Tim Raynes and Jack Hindle also well up in 101st & 153rd places. Matt Nuttall, team manager “Captain” Guinan and coach John Chaplin backed up what was a great effort from the club. I did find it quite odd that we were the only Lancashire club with a complete mens’ team though.

Next morning was the Thorpe Park Half Marathon, where I would be competing with fellow On Ambassadors, Kojo Kyereme and Russell Bentley (who also race the National). Despite the early start at 9am, I felt quite good, which was just as well, as Kojo set off at quite a lick, covering the first mile just outside of five minutes. I managed to keep with him for the first few miles and was able to open up a small lead of about ten seconds by five miles, which I reached in 25:38. The course slows a bit at around halfway as there’s a bit of a hill, but despite slowing a bit, I still felt like I was making good progress. I reached 10 miles just outside 52 minutes, but a bit of stiffness from the previous day was starting to creep in and despite the course being flat in those last few miles, I wasn’t able to increase the pace. I crossed the line in 69:06, just over a minute ahead of Kojo, who’s come back from a long layoff, so that’s certainly a promising result, especially given the windy conditions. Russell Bentley made it an On-Running podium, with a solid effort for third despite having to contend with hamstring issues after the National.

All in all, it’s been a good weekend of racing and it was looking good for Bath Half on the 4th March, but alas, the weather has had the final word and the race understandably has been cancelled. It will mean I miss my chance to get the qualifying time and I’ll have to settle for a pb attempt at Wilmslow on the 18th. Here’s the training from the past three weeks:

SUN 4th FEB

11am: Blackburn 10k: 1st 31:58. 12.5 miles total.

MON 5th

8am: 9.5 miles to work in 63 mins

6pm: 10 miles home in 69:30

TUE 6th

8:15am: 9.5 miles to work in 63:40.

6pm: Track – 8x 1km (2 min rec) 3:01, 3:02, 2:59, 2:58, 2:58, 2:58, 2:58. Hard going. 9.5 miles total.

WED 7th

4:30pm: 6 miles in 42:50

THUR 8th

REST

FRI 9th

12:45pm: 20 miles in 1hr 54:14. Decent pace, around 5:45 average.

SAT 10th

8:30am: 9.5 miles to work in 63:55

5:45pm: 14 miles to Darwen with 5x 6 min reps (2 min rec) thrown in. 1hr 31:20

TOTAL: 100.5

SUN 11th

9:15am: 9.5 mile in 67 mins, a bit slow.

4:45pm: 10.5 miles home via Bashall Eaves in 70:25.

MON 12th

8:15am: 9.5 miles to work in 65:08

5:45pm: 10.5 miles home via Bashall Eaves in 74:45.

TUE 13th

8:15am: 9.5 miles to work in 63:45.

6pm: Track – 12x 600m (90 sec rec) 1:45, 1:44, 1:44, 1:44, 1:44, 1:43, 1:45, 1:44, 1:44, 1:44, 1:45, 1:42. 9.5 miles total.

WED 14th

5pm: 8.5 miles easy

THUR 15th

8:15am: 9.5 miles to work with last 5 miles run hard. 57:41.

7pm: 3.5 miles with the Run Group from the shop.

FRI 16th

8:15am: 9.5 miles to work in 61:49

5:45pm: Session: 12x 2 min reps (1 min rec) on way home, hilly terrain. 10.5 miles. Paces as follows: 4:49, 5:06, 5:19, 5:09, 5:09, 4:53, 4:56, 4:39, 4:56, 4:56, 4:52, 5:21.

SAT 17th

8:15am: 9.5 miles to work in 63:55.

TOTAL: 110

SUN 18th

MISSED – Long day travelling.

MON 19th

8:15am: 9.5 miles to work in 59:50.

4pm: Session: 6x 6 min reps (2 min rec). Paces: 4:58, 4:55, 4:57, 5:00, 5:01, 4:57. 11 miles total.

TUE 20th

9am: 4 miles in 25:30.

6pm: Track: 6x 1200m (2 min rec): 3:32, 3:32, 3:31, 3:31, 3:33, 3:32. 8.5 miles total.

WED 21st

7am: 11 miles to work, very slow. Around 85 minutes, right hip very stiff after fall.

THUR 22nd

8:45am: 3 miles to Chipping in 24:15, struggling.

5:30pm: 10 miles home in 79:22, slightly better. Still haven’t got full range of movement.

FRI 23rd

Easy day, travelled to London with Blackburn Harriers for the National. 3 pm: 6.5 miles with the lads at 7:40-ish pace. Hip feels ok.

SAT 24th

8am: 3 miles easy around Green Park in around 23 minutes.

3pm: National XC at Parliament Hill, 48th, team 22nd. 11 miles total.

TOTAL: 77.5

Following morning on Sunday 25th, I did Thorpe Park Half in 69:06 for 1st place.

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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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