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.

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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.

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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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Bath Half Marathon (12/03/2017)

I was in two minds about racing the week before Bath Half Marathon and I made a late decision to do the Ron Hill Accrington 10k. As my main focus was on the half marathon I didn’t taper for this race and was surprised to turn up to Accrington feeling quite fresh after doing 16 miles of running the previous day. Danny Collinge set the initial pace and we covered the first kilometre in 3:02, which was quicker than I expected. I managed to forge ahead and focused on opening up a lead during the long gradual climb up to about 7km, which I reached in 23:04. The course then becomes quite easy over those last couple of miles and I came into the finish crossing the line in 31:42, over a minute quicker than last year, whilst also being well under 9 minutes in that last 3k. It gave me the belief that I really was coming into my very best form. Whilst a 31-minute plus 10k may not draw much attention, I knew that a time like that on this course ranks as my best result over this distance for a couple of years at least. Danny was edged out into third by a relative unknown, Matthew Williams, who ran very strongly indeed to finish ahead of a runner with such high calibre. Blackburn Harriers also won the team, backed by superb runs from Ben Costello and Sean Procter.

Next up was the journey south to Bath; the place where 30 years ago, The Smiths were recording what was to be their ill-fated final album in Bath, I was hoping my own experience wouldn’t suffer the same demise as Manchester’s finest (sorry Simply Red fans)! Bath Half Marathon would be the first big test of the year for me; is my back to basics approach going to work? I went into this race having done more runs, miles and sessions than I have ever done up to this stage of the year. I dropped the miles to 73 from the Sunday to Saturday prior to the race and I felt as though I struck the correct balance of maintaining my routine without overdoing it.

I spent the Saturday evening in Swindon, a nearby town that’s much cheaper to stay at than Bath. I had planned an early night at 9pm, but my ears were drawn to the faint sound of the karaoke bar nearby. Someone was belting out U2’s “Where The Streets Have No Name” and it didn’t sound very good at all, next was a rendition of some Snow Patrol song… this was too much! I stuck on a Tindersticks album for a bit of relief and afterwards there was no more sound from the bar, either he’d had enough, or the others in the bar had! Still, I had a reasonable night’s sleep compared to my usual pre-race standards. I was up at 6am for a light 15 minute jog and it was drizzling quite a bit; even the weather seemed to be on my side.

I had heard rumours that the field may not be as strong as last year, but I didn’t want to dwell on external things; regardless of position, I was here to run my best race. However, I was surprised at the small number of elite runners that were knocking around during the warm up and I didn’t spot any African runners either, which was a rarity. We were all lined up ready to start and my presence was announced on the PA system… so much for sneaking in under the radar! The race got off smoothly and I immediately found myself in the lead, with only Peter Huck coming with me, I have to admit, of all the scenarios I thought of before the race, this was not one of them. I know of Peter Huck all too well and he has beaten me in all our previous encounters at the 10k distance, so I ran the first three miles very cautiously in 15:11, slower than last year. By five miles I could sense it was just a two-horse race between myself and Huck, so I decided to risk ramping up the pace, reaching six miles in 29:53. It was around this point where I opened up a gap and I could hear the crowd loudly cheering me on as I began the second lap. I was feeling really strong at this stage of the race and the support from the spectators seemed to be giving me a much needed adrenaline kick. 10 miles was reached in around 49:42, around the same time as I managed during the 2012 race. 12 miles was well under the hour in around 59:34 before the final mile to the finish, which is the only challenging part of the course as it’s mainly uphill. At this stage I knew I had the race won and the pb looked to be on, but it would be desperately close in chasing the club record. I gave it one last final surge down the finishing straight to win in 65:16, a new pb! I was elated, even despite missing out on Michael Green’s club record by just one second. Peter Huck made a fine debut at the distance with 66:35 in second.

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It ranks by far as my biggest career win and it was a busy hour after the race with photos and interviews, along with the prize giving ceremony. It’s really something special to have so many people cheer me on and appreciate my efforts, it was a real honour. It was a world away from how it felt for me last year when I was well down on what I hoped for and dashed off for the first train out of Bath! This time I decided to have a good look around the city and appreciate what a wonderful place it is. I suppose there’s some similarities with York, with all the classic buildings, the Abbey and Roman Baths are very impressive. Another thing that impressed me was the culture of the place, it’s very creative and even the buskers sound amazing, which is much more pleasant than listening to Ed Sheeran and Robbie Williams in shopping centres! So, that’s the first challenge of the year tackled, now it’s back to more training and racing with Hastings Half Marathon next week.

Accrington 10k results. Bath Half results.

Training has gone well, better than ever over these past few months. February was very testing at times and there were some days I was struggling a bit, but I managed to get through it without any snags.

Sun 12th Feb: 9am – 9 miles in 59:10

Mon 13th: 9am – 3.5 miles easy to Clitheroe from Whalley. 6 pm – 17 miles home in 1hr 55.

Tue 14th: 6 pm – TRACK: 2 sets of 10x 300m (1 min rec / jog lap between set) 49, 48, 48, 48, 47, 47, 47, 47, 47, 46. 47, 47, 48, 47, 47, 47, 47, 47, 47, 46. 11 miles total.

Wed 15th: 8:15am – 4.5 miles to Blackburn in 29 mins. 5:30pm – 15 miles home in 1hr 40:10.

Thur 16th: 8:15am – 4.5 miles to Blackburn in 27 mins. 5:30pm – SESSION: 5x 6 min reps (2 min rec) at Threshold. 9 miles. 6:45pm – 3.5 miles with store SRG group.

Fri 17th: 8:15am – 4.5 miles to Blackburn in 28:55. 5:30pm – 15 miles home in 1hr 41:05.

Sat 18th: 9am – SESSION: 12x 1,000m (1 min rec) 3:02, 3:04, 3:06, 3:04, 3:04, 3:03, 3:05, 3:04, 3:03, 3:04, 3:05, 3:04. 14.5 miles total. 7:15pm – SESSION: 20x 30 sec Hills. 7 miles total.

TOTAL: 118

Sun 19th Feb: 10am – 12 miles in 78:30.

Mon 20th: 1:30pm – 6 miles in 39 mins. 5:45pm – 10.5 miles to Blackburn in 69:09.

Tue 21st: 8:15am – 4 miles to Blackburn in 25:15. 6 pm – TRACK: 10x 800m (2 min rec) 2:20, 2:19, 2:20, 2:22, 2:22, 2:21, 2:22, 2:20, 2:22, 2:21. Very windy, went ok. 10 miles total.

Wed 22nd: 10am: 12 miles hard in 68:14, 1 mile jog. On a hilly route and terrible weather! Happy to manage 5:40 pace! 5:45pm – 4.5 miles easy in 31:50.

Thur 23rd: 8:15am – 4 miles to Blackburn in 26:50. 6:30pm – 11 miles in 74:35 around Ewood.

Fri 24th: 3:30pm – 17.5 miles off-road and back along canal in 2hr 01.

Sat 25th: 8:15am – 4.5 miles easy to Blackburn. 6:30pm – 11 miles hard around Ewood in 59:36. Good, well under 5:30 pace.

TOTAL: 108.5

Sun 26th Feb: 10:30am – 11 miles easy in 76 mins

Mon 27th: 7pm – 4 miles easy in 27:15. Easy recovery day.

Tue 28th: 8:15am – 4.5 miles to Blackburn in 28:45. 6 pm – TRACK: 14x 500m (1 min rec) Averaged 83/84’s. Best session so far this year. 11 miles total.

Wed 1st: 8:15am – 4 miles to Blackburn in 27:15. 5:30pm – 15 miles home in 1hr 44:40. Sluggish.

Thur 2nd: 3:30pm – 10 miles around Alkmonton in 69 mins.

Fri 3rd: 11:30am – TRACK: 20x 400m (30 sec rec) Averaged 73’s, 12.5 miles total.

Sat 4th: 11am – 5 miles in 33:15. 6:30pm – 11 miles around Ewood in 74:12.

TOTAL: 88

Sun 5th Mar: 6:30am – 4 miles to Blackburn in 27:40. 9:30am – Ron Hill Accrington 10k, 1st 31:42. 8 miles total.

Mon 6th: 11:15am – 4 miles in 26:15. Easy day.

Tue 7th: 8:15am – 4 miles to Blackburn in 26:45. 6 pm – 12.5 miles home from Langho in 1hr 26:20.

Wed 8th: 8:15am – SESSION: 4x 5 min reps (2 min rec) at threshold from Blackburn to Clitheroe, 10.5 miles.

Thur 9th: 8:15am – 4 miles to Blackburn in 24:50. 5:30pm – 10.5 miles to Blackburn in 69 mins.

Fri 10th: 11:30am – 4 miles easy in 27:15. 6:30pm – 7 miles in 47:50.

Sat 11th: 9am – 4.5 miles in 29:40 around Darwen.

TOTAL: 73

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20 Years & 58,447 Miles of Running

This month I shall pass a small landmark; 20 years of running. I’ve been sifting through my old training logs, dated back to May 1998. It’s been interesting looking back, even helping me feel reinvigorated about my running; as if I’ve rediscovered that spark I had in my younger self. I’ve always had two aims with my running; firstly, to reach the highest level I could and secondly, to stay at that level for as long as I could. I think I lost sight of that over the past few years, though I’m not sure whether I’m achieving the first or second aim at the moment!!! As the title suggests, the 58,447 miles is roughly what I’ve run; there’s probably a few hundred miles more, as I only recorded time trials and races in the first year of training.

My running started off with a weekly run over the moors every Wednesday evening after school. It was a weekly time trial up to Darwen Tower and back, which I used to think was 6.5 miles (discovered it was closer to 5.5 miles when I used a GPS watch many years later!). After a few months my mum and dad encouraged me to join Blackburn Harriers, where my uncle was a member. The coach at the club was Arthur Almond, who would have a huge influence on my running for the next 15 years and he encouraged me to stick at it despite being the slowest in the group at the time. I had my first race that November; the Blackburn & Darwen Schools’ cross country championships at Witton Park. I was sick with nerves and was really worried about coming last! I surprised myself and finished 6th, only losing a couple of places when I slipped and fell as a dog ran at me on the course; my Brooks Vanguard trail shoes weren’t really up to the task! It was hardly an Earth shattering debut, but it was enough to encourage me to carry on with it. After those early races the nerves settled down and ever since I have always enjoyed racing, perhaps too much at times. I think it’s important for runners to remember where they came from; it keeps your feet on the ground with a perspective on your goals and achievements. I suppose that debt I owe to Arthur and the club, especially for all the help in those early years, is the reason why I will never compete for any other club. Hopefully I can give something back in the years to come.

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Lancashire Cross-Country Championship U/20’s 1999 – left to right: Mark Emmett, Martyn Cryer, me, Lee McCash, Liam Barton & Rob Barton.

I often get asked what my best race or greatest achievement is and it’s impossible to answer with just one; it’s so difficult to rank one performance above another. My big breakthrough came in 2001, I represented England for the first time in 2009 and I probably ran some of my best races in 2012-2013. Here’s some key races over the years:

BMC 5,000m, Wythenshawe, Manchester (23rd May 2001)

I have very fond memories of that summer; one of those purple patches one goes through in life when everything seemed to come together, both on a personal level and with my running. My training was a solid 50 miles per week over the 2000/2001 cross country season and under Arthur’s guidance I was starting to have some moderate success, even scraping in to the Lancashire Schools cross-country team. Typical sessions back then were, 5-6x 1km in 2:55’s (3 min rec), 6x 800m in 2:18’s (2 min rec) or a shorter style session such as, 2 sets of 3x 500m in sub 80 secs (2 min rec, 4 min between set). The 5,000m would be the main event for me to focus on in the track season. Arthur somehow managed to get me entered into a national standard Grand Prix meeting in Manchester, which was held at the Wythenshawe track on a Wednesday evening. I was seeded in the B race, against athletes with times between 14:30 and 15:00 for 5,000m; I boasted a very modest 15:20 and was naturally quite worried! My mum drove me up after work, but the traffic was terrible,  I think I arrived with less than half-an-hour to spare, just enough time for a quick warm up. Arthur collected my race number, then had a chat with me and really helped calm my nerves; he always had a knack of knowing what to say to you before a race. The pep talk did the trick and I was running comfortably, holding my own amongst runners whom I regarded as much finer athletes than myself. The talented Lee McCash from Pendle AC won in 14:28 and I managed 5th, only 10 seconds further back in 14:38; a massive improvement. I still remember that race vividly all these years later and the euphoric feeling of achieving such a great result; you don’t get those days very often, but it’s really special when you do.

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3rd in 5,000m & 6th in 3,000m – a long way behind a certain Mr Farah!

More success followed that summer; I ran 8:26 in the 3,000m, won my first road race, the Rivington 4 miler and even managed 71:55 in the Great North Run, which would have ranked well for an under-20 (no ranking lists for junior road performances back then). I finished 2001 ranked 3rd UK under-20 in the 5,000m and 6th in the 3,000m, which still stand as the best national rankings I’ve achieved. Off the back of that success, I had the opportunity to take up an athletics scholarship in the US and I followed fellow Blackburn Harriers’ Michael Green, Rob Barton and Liam Barton, who were already at Troy State University in Alabama.

A-Sun Conference Championships, Florida (April, 2004)

I spent two years at Troy State and it’s quite surreal looking back on it now. It took time getting used to the climate and culture, but after a slow start, things soon improved. I got on really well with the coach, Doc; who was very straight talking and no-nonsense, but if you put your head down and worked hard he would always have time for you. I enjoyed training by his methods; the sessions were tough, one in particular was, 1x 3200m, 1x 2800m, 1x 2400m, 1x 2000m, 1x 1600m (3 min, 2:30, 2 min, 1:30 recoveries) and I was running up to 80 miles per week.

In my last track season I was determined to go out on a high; I was entered for the 10,000m & 5,000m in the A-Sun Championships, Florida. The 10,000m was on Friday evening, which also featured team-mate Jason Crosson. We planned on sharing the lead every couple of laps if the race got tactical, which it did. The plan worked well until about six laps to go; one of the runners surged ahead with only myself able to give chase. With 600m to go I put in a big effort and went on to win by about 10 seconds in 31:57. There was no time to rest on my laurels, the 5,000m followed the next morning, but I wasn’t as sharp this time; I got

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A-Sun Conference Champs: 5,000m

out-sprinted in the last lap and came 3rd in 15:05. Team-mates Adam Bess and Keith Megesi managed to persuade me to have a go at the 1500m later that afternoon.I felt sluggish early on and was labouring in 6th – 7th place for most of the race, but with 300m to go I dug out a big sprint finish (a rarity indeed!) to clinch second place in 4:00, just behind team-mate Brandon Hughes. That brought an end to my brief chapter of living and competing in the States. Whilst I didn’t achieve a big improvement in the 5,000m, I learned a lot from Doc and from the experience I had out there, which helped me further develop in the years that followed.

Toronto Marathon, Canada (27th September 2009)

I initially took well to the marathon and ran 2hr 22:22 in Paris in April. This was good enough to earn my first England call-up at the Toronto marathon. With that extra incentive, the training increased to 100-115 miles per week. Leading up to the race I ran 29:57 in the 10,000m and 66:55 in the Lake Vyrnwy half marathon, so I was confident I could put up a decent performance. Holmfirths’ Matt Pierson was also selected and we had run almost identical times that season, Matt being slightly quicker. It was a great experience travelling with a team and being looked after with all the “elite” treatment, which meant having your own drinks put out on the course as well as having a pacemaker, who was aiming to take us (myself, Pierson & two Canadians) through halfway in 69 minutes; the top Kenyan runners were paced for 65 minutes. Out of all the races I’ve done, I think this was the best preparation and training build up I had; no illness or injury at all, which gave me the confidence of running the race quite aggressively. I got to halfway in 69:07, which by then was just me and the pacemaker, the two Canadians had dropped off and Matt was struggling with an injury. The pacemaker dropped out at 30k (1hr 38:53); I had slowed a little bit, but sub 2hr 20 was still on. It started getting very tough in the last few miles and even though 40k was reached in 2hr 12:22, I couldn’t quite break 2hr 20. I finished 12th in 2hr 20:42, another pb made extra special by representing England. It was also around this time I finally picked up the nerve to ask Hannah out on a date, who I worked with at Up & Running in Manchester. Compared to running, dating was never my strong-point, but thankfully I wasn’t my usual boring old self; we’ve been together for over seven years and got married last year.

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Toronto Waterfront Marathon 2009

The 2010 Commonwealth Games at Delhi seemed a very realistic prospect, I was only a couple of minutes outside the qualifying time and I achieved pb’s at 10k (29:38), 10 miles (49:01) and half marathon (66:37), as well as winning Hastings half marathon in March. Unfortunately the bubble burst just when I needed one more big performance; the London Marathon. At the time it was a big disappointment, Hannah and my family had travelled down especially to watch me race and I had a shocker, fading badly after going out too fast, eventually crossing the line in 2hr 33. That was probably the best chance I had of making it to a major games, but there’s no regrets, sometimes it’s not meant to be and if it wasn’t for having such a great year, I wouldn’t even have had those expectations.

There’s been plenty more highlights I’ve had over the years, but those mentioned are the initial ones that stand out, my results from 2012 & 2013 have already been covered when I started blogging, so there’s little point in me harping on about those again. One thing I’ve learned from my own running over the years is that I consistently perform better on higher mileage; this is a constant debate in the running fraternity. It all boils down to the individual; some may work better off lower mileage, but others may need a higher volume of training, I certainly know I fall into the latter category. The annual mileage I’ve done over the years would back up the theory regarding my own performances:

1997: 131 (not all training recorded). 1998: 938 (recorded from May). 1999: 1,710.5. 2000: 1,875. 2001: 2,166. 2002: 1,897. 2003: 2,248. 2004: 2,736. 2005: 2,814.5. 2006: 3,009. 2007: 3,174. 2008: 3,608. 2009: 3,933. 2010: 3,818.5. 2011: 4,017. 2012: 4,472. 2013: 4,396. 2014: 3,644.5. 2015: 3,426.5. 2016: 3,623. 2017: 809.5 (up to 28th Feb)

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