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.
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.
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
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.
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)