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 personally and with my running; it was a time when I really had my first taste of success. I benefitted from increasing my training to 50 miles per week over the 2000/2001 cross country season and under Arthur’s guidance I was starting to have some moderate success. 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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Blackburn Winter Warmer 10k (05/02/2017)

Training has continued to progress nicely and I banked over 400 miles in January, with lots of quality sessions and decent paced runs. Our group at Blackburn Harriers is the strongest it’s been for a number of years and I’ve been reaping the benefits of being pushed each week by Tim Raynes and Jack Hindle. Going off all this training, I fancied my chances at surpassing my best time set in the Blackburn Winter Warmer from 2010, which stands at 31:23. With Tim also entered in the race, a performance of that level could well be required to win.

This years race was held in memory of local runner and Blackburn Road Runner, Andrew Boardman, who sadly passed away last year. It’s a very demanding 10k course, with some hefty climbing in the first 3k, so my aim was to attack this section and try to establish an early lead. I managed to get a small gap on Tim and Danny Collinge after the first couple of kilometres, reaching 3km in 10:29; which seemed slow given the effort I put in. I made halfway in 16:24, which is where the course gets quite a bit easier, still, my time of 31:23 looked to be out of reach. I pushed on but I knew my record had got away by 7k (22:49). I then just focused on keeping up the pace as best I could, knowing that Tim could still close the gap with a strong finish. I came on to the track for a final lap of 400m and I was satisfied with my time of 32:02. Tim Raynes finished well and was also under 33 minutes, which certainly points towards achieving a sub 31-minute 10k on a flat course. Danny Collinge flew the flag for TeamFish/Up & Running with a fine performance for third and was closely followed by two more Blackburn Harriers runners; the fast finishing Tom Blaney and Jack Hindle, both of whom are progressing really well. It was also good to see old friend and rival, Antony Ford on his way back with another race under his belt and hopefully Michael Hammer will continue his recent progress, training with us on Tuesday nights.

bww10kpic

The next race was on Tuesday evening, which would be a first for me; an indoor track race! It’s strange that I’ve competed for all these years and never done one before, as I used to run quite a lot of outdoor 1500m and 3,000m races when I was a junior. I entered the BMC 1500m at Sheffield and it was quite a daunting prospect, even more so when I noticed Anthony Whiteman knocking around; I was definitely out of my comfort zone here! The event was divided into A and B races and I wasn’t quite quick enough for the A race (3:56), which was a shame, but I suppose I was saved from the fear of coming last! The target pace for the B race was about 4:05, with the pacemaker hitting 200m laps of 32-33 seconds, which would get us to 800m in 2:08-2:09. I stayed on his shoulder and initially it seemed rather easy, but I think this was to do with the psychological effect of doing 200m laps and that early comfort soon started to disappear. 800m was reached in 2:09, but the pace was already starting to burn and over the next few laps I gradually slowed, though I did at least have a decent lead in front. 1,000m was reached in 2:43 and I finished with 4:09; not quite the time I was hoping for, but it was a good experience to learn from and I’m looking forward to doing more in the future. For now though, my attentions will switch back to the road; Bath and Hastings half marathons in March.

Later that week I had the privilege of being interviewed on a local radio station, RibbleFM, where various running topics got covered during an hour slot. Kath is a keen runner, so it was quite easy to talk all things running for that period of time. They also offered to play some songs I liked, so The Smiths and Echo & The Bunnymen got a bit of airtime! Here’s the interview, minus The Smiths and Echo & The Bunnymen, which you’ll have sadly missed out on!

Results for 10k & 1500m.

The past three weeks training…

Sun 22nd Jan

9am – 15 miles to Clitheroe in 1hr 28.

Mon 23rd

6pm – 11.5 miles easy, including run with Running4CF.

Tue 24th

6pm – Session: 12x 600m (90 sec rec). 1:42, 1:40, 1:40, 1:40, 1:40, 1:41, 1:41, 1:41, 1:41, 1:41, 1:42, 1:41

12.5 miles total.

Wed 25th

11:45am – 4 miles hard in 20:47.

5:15pm – Session: 30x 400m (100m jog rec). Averaged 73 seconds.15.5 miles total.

Thur 26th

8:15am – 4.5 miles to Blackburn in 28:50.

5pm – 7 miles in 47:20.

6:45pm – 4 miles with Run Group.

Fri 27th

9am – 5 miles on the track in 25:58. A bit icy on the surface. 6 miles total.

7pm – 11 miles with Allan Hartley in 78:30.

Sat 28th

4pm – 5 miles in 35 mins. Groin stiff, only a short run today.

TOTAL: 95

Sun 29th Jan

12:30pm – 13 miles around Entwistle Reservior. Ran there and back with Hannah.

Mon 30th

6pm 7.5 miles easy in 49:35.

Tue 31st

8:15am – 4 miles to Blackburn in 25:37.

6pm – Session: 1x 400m, 2x 800m, 3x 1k, 2x 800m, 1x 400m (1 min/2 min/ 2:30 recoveries) 65, 2:18, 2:18, 2:53, 2:53, 2:54. 2:17, 2:17, 63 . 12 miles total

Wed 1st

8am – 7.5 miles to Ramsgreave in 49:30.

6pm – 8.5 miles home from Clayton in 60 mins.

Thur 2nd

8:15am – 4 miles to Blackburn in 25:55.

6:45pm – 3 miles with SRG run group.

8:15pm – Session: 16x 200m (jog 200m rec) All around 32’s. 10.5 miles.

Fri 3rd

1:30pm – 12 miles around Edgworth in 1hr 21.

Sat 4th

6:45pm – 5 miles in 34 mins.

TOTAL: 87

Sun 5th Feb

6:30am – 1 mile easy loosen up. 11 am: Blackburn Winter Warmer 10k: 1st 32:02. 10.5 miles.

Mon 6th

11:30am – 7 miles in 47:45.

6pm – 8 miles including run with Running4CF.

Tue 7th

10am – 5 miles in 34:30.

9:15pm – BMC indoor 1500m (B race) 1st, 4:09. 6 miles total.

Wed 8th

6:15pm – 11 miles in 75 mins.

Thur 9th

7:15pm – 15 miles steady progression run. 1 hr 35.

Fri 10th

6:15pm – 15 miles home from Burnley in 1hr 39. Had managers meeting at Harrogate, squeezed in a run on way back from train station.

Sat 11th

8:15am – 10.5 miles hard to Clitheroe from Blackburn. 10 miles was in 54:55, just under 5:30 pace with an easy half-mile.

4:30pm – Session: 5x 6 min reps (2 min jog rec) at threshold effort. 11 miles total.

TOTAL: 100

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Four Villages Half Marathon (15/01/2017) & Video (This Is Ben Fish)

The year has got off to a great start and my training has been going well since late November, so I was really looking forward to getting in a race, which was the Four Villages Half Marathon in Helsby, near Chester. I was hoping to run around 67 minutes or less, which going off recent sessions and mileage (80.5 and 91 mile weeks), certainly seemed plausible; I ran a 10k effort on the track the week before in 31:36 and on the Tuesday I did 8x 800m (2 min rec) in windy conditions all under 2:20. Perhaps this caused me to be more ambitious than I should have been.

Conditions on the day were far from perfect, as it was quite windy. Mo Abu-Rezeq was the clear favourite and I was determined to go off hard and try to stay close to him, which in turn would mean I’d be running close to a 5-5:05 minute per mile schedule. Once the race was underway, Abu-Rezeq shot off in the lead as expected and I ended up being the only runner going after him; I was able to stay fairly close to him up until three miles (15:09), but by then I knew the tactic was already failing, as the gap ahead was starting to increase and I was conceding about eight seconds. By five miles (25:32) the race was turning into a bit of a struggle, both mentally and physically; Abu-Rezeq was well out of reach, as was my target of sub 67 minutes and I was already being closed down by the others, who I assumed were Ben Gamble and Tom Charles. I decided to stop worrying about time and about being caught, as it was going to happen regardless. I eased off a tad and just focused on running as smoothly and efficiently as possible, with the hope of being ready to respond when they were upon me. The plan seemed to work and by the 8th mile I was starting to feel “slightly” better; I was also still holding my position. As I was reaching the 10th mile (covered in 52:14) I could hear a runner coming up on my shoulder and then he made an effort to pass me, I expected him to be Gamble or Charles, so it was a surprise to see someone I didn’t know (later discovered it was Mark Jenkin from Bideford, Cornwall). The course is mainly downhill from that point, so I made an effort to move back ahead and over the next couple of miles it was a tough battle between us for second spot. My resolve was being tested to the limit, but I was able to keep forcing myself onwards and in the last mile I could sense I got a slight gap, though I didn’t dare look behind to be sure! It was a gruelling finish and with a quarter-mile to go I had a quick glance on a right turn and was relieved to see I had about five seconds on him. It wasn’t pretty and my time of 68:04 was a bit average, but one must always try to take positives and I was certainly happy with how I battled out those last three miles. I’m hoping for a big improvement at Bath in March, where I fully expect those last three miles to feel just as unpleasant, but hopefully I’ll be two minutes or so quicker!

helsby_half17

The Ugliness Of The Long Distance Runner! Photo courtesy of Mick Hall

I think Mark Jenkin ran a personal best and he’s certainly looking well on for achieving 2hr 23 or faster at Seville Marathon in February. It was good to see Ben Gamble back in fine form, who was just 20 seconds behind me in fourth place and it was another solid performance by Tom Charles in fifth. Mo Abu-Rezeq was the clear victor in 67:24, maintaining what has been an incredibly consistent high level of performances over the past few years. Full results can be found here.

By March I’ll have been running for 20 years and it was pure coincidence that I was contacted by Danny Grear of Retinair; a local filming company he runs that use drones and all sorts of other technical things I know very little about. He approached me a few months ago about the idea of doing a short film on myself whilst capturing iconic shots of Darwen landmarks. I was more than happy to oblige; it’s quite an honour to have people show an interest in what I’ve done, especially whilst linking it in with my town, which is very much part of the fabric of who I am as a person and runner. I had to give him a bit of a background about my running and I dug through my old archives of training and races to give him the information he needed. It was quite therapeutic looking back on all those years of running and I’ll talk more about that in a couple of months. It was filmed in early December and we were lucky to have a cold clear day, but it was very windy up on the moors and filming took up most part of the morning. It was a joy to do and Danny certainly knows his stuff, I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been to operate the drone in gale force winds! I think you’ll agree when I say he captured some amazing shots and did justice to the scenery of Darwen, which I think is often underrated. Most will have seen this video on social media, but here’s the youtube link for those who haven’t. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kVxmFT8JD9o

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Ribble Valley 10k (27/12/2016)

I decided against doing the Wilmslow 10k and focused on nailing the training. The past six weeks have gone well, only catching a bit of a cold that had no lasting effect, so I was optimistic of getting in a decent run at the Ribble Valley 10k on the 27th December. I’ve been putting in some good sessions, especially the Tuesday evening ones where I’ve been battling it out against Tim Raynes and Jack Hindle; Joe Monk also joined us over the Christmas period. The group has gone from strength to strength, with Tim, Joe and Jack knocking off pb’s in every race and it’s also responsible for my recent upturn in form. I suppose my only concern was whether I’d be a bit race rusty going into this one. It was terrible weather on Boxing Day with gale force winds and if things didn’t improve, I was thinking a sub 31 might be beyond me. Luckily it died down on the day of the race and it was certainly pb conditions.

rv10k

We were off at 10am and I got a good start among the leading pack; I was feeling far better than I did at Cheshire 10k last month. 3km was reached in 9:04 and I was just at the back of the leading group. The race really started to take shape after 4km, when a group of four runners forged ahead including eventual winner, Mark Scott (winning time a rapid 29:33!). I was able to stick in with the chasing pack which whittled down to myself, Russ Best, Doug Roberts, Scott Stirling and Rob Samuel. We reached 7km in around 21:20 and by then I could see that Scott had broke away from Chris Farrell, Richard Allen and Peter Huck, but it was unlikely that they’d drop far enough back for us to catch. In the last kilometre the battle for 5th place was down to myself, Best and Roberts; Best managed to clinch it whilst I was just about able to hold off Roberts on the final sprint to the line. I was very happy with my time of 30:18, which incidentally was the exact time I ran to gain 2nd place ten years ago, so I’ve managed a decent level of consistency if nothing else! It has given me the belief, despite approaching 35, that I can put up my best performances going into my twentieth year of running.

Results can be found here.

So that brought an end to my 2016 of running, which certainly had a mixture of ups and downs; I covered 3,623 miles from 388 outings and will certainly be looking at getting back over 4,000 next year. Overall it was far from a vintage year, but in the last few months I have managed to get back to my best level of running in about three years and I’m really looking forward to getting stuck into 2017. I got in plenty of racing and here’s some of the key ones:

Three of the best:

Chester Marathon: A turning point in my running this year, a tough battle that I managed to win with a decent time.

Ribble Valley 10k: It’s been a very long time since I’ve ran a decent 10k and I’m hoping this is a springboard for greater things in 2017.

Darwen Half Marathon: I never thought this race would get brought back and it was an honour to win in my home town.

Three of the worst:

Freckleton Half Marathon: The winning streak was bound to end someday, but to lose with such an awful performance was depressing.

Lake Vyrnwy Half Marathon: A race I’ve consistently performed well in, that was until this year!

Bath Half Marathon: Not an awful time, but well down on what I expected.


I got in some solid training in December, which I’ve included below for those that may be curious…

Sunday 4th – 11:30am: 10.5 miles in 68:55.

Monday 5th – 11:30am: 4 miles in 21:09. 6pm: 8.5 miles in 62 mins.

Tuesday 6th – 8am: 4 miles in 23:48. 6pm: 7 miles in 44:45

Wednesday 7th – 2:30pm: 5 miles on the track in 26:24. 4.5 miles there and back. 14 miles total.

Thursday 8th – 2:45pm: 11.5 miles in 78 mins.

Friday 9th – 11am: Track – 26x 400m (jog 100m/ 30 sec rec) Averaged 74’s. 16 miles total.

Saturday 10th – 8pm: 14.5 miles in 1hr 32.

TOTAL: 90

Sunday 11th – 11am: 11.5 miles in 74:10.

Monday 12th – OFF

Tuesday 13th – 11:15am: 6 miles in 38:35. 6pm: Track – 12x 500m (1 min rec) 89, 85, 84, 85, 89, 88, 89, 89, 88, 87, 88, 87. Struggled, felt rough. 9 miles total.

Wednesday 14th – 1:30pm: 12.5 miles in 1hr 28.

Thursday 15th – 8am: 4.5 miles in 29:35. 5:30pm: 6.5 miles in 44:25, followed by 3.5 miles with Run Group.

Friday 16th – 6pm: 17 miles in 2hr 01.

Saturday 17th – 8am: 7 miles in 46:50.

TOTAL: 77.5

Sunday 18th – 9am: Session – 3x 2.5 miles around Entwistle Res (2:30 rec) 13:15, 13:24, 13:26. 17 miles total.

Monday 19th – 12pm: 6.5 miles in 41:50. 6:30pm: 11 miles in 70:25.

Tuesday 20th – 8:15am: 4 miles in 27 mins. 6 pm: Track – 8x 1km (2 min rec) 2:59, 3:01, 2:58, 2:57, 2:58, 2:59, 2:58, 2:59. Okay. 9.5 miles total.

Wednesday 21st – 11am: 12 miles in 1hr 21.

Thursday 22nd – 9:30pm: 9 miles in 57:30.

Friday 23rd – 11am: Session – 10x 2 min reps (1 min rec). 5.5 miles total. 6 pm: 10.5 miles in 70:15.

Saturday 24th – 9am: 4 miles in 25 mins.

TOTAL: 89

Sunday 25th – 10:30am: 11.5 miles in 73 mins.

Monday 26th – 11am: 11 miles in 75:50.

Tuesday 27th – 10am: Ribble Valley 10k, 6th 30:18. 7.5 miles total.

Wednesday 28th – 9:30am: 11 miles in 75:14.

Thursday 29th – 8am: 9 miles in 59:20. 5:30pm: 8 miles in 55 mins.

Friday 30th – 9am: 3.5 miles in 21:05. 6 pm: Session – 6x 6 min reps at threshold (2 min rec). 10.5 miles total.

Saturday 31st – 11am: 21 miles in 2hr 30.

TOTAL: 93

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