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Friday, 17 June 2016

Dangerous Complacency

This is a blog that is generally about running exploits. 

This post though is not about running ........ or then again, maybe it is. Either way it is a message that is very relevant to runners as a generic grouping.

The Surprise

On 25th May I got the news that I had a pretty rare form of lethal skin cancer on my scalp, or at least the test came back with 'a 99% probability of a sebaceous carcinoma'. The date is easy to remember because it was two days after my 50th and the visit to clinic for the results was on the way to see the very impressive performance by 66 year old Bruce Springsteen at Manchester.

Apparently the prognosis is much improved if diagnosed within 6 months. Erm, that didn't sound too good considering that it was probably twice that time, and possibly a lot longer, since it first appeared.

Regardless of how long it had been it now needed to be removed with as little delay as possible. 

That surgery to remove it has just happened this morning, during which they removed a significant chunky piece of scalp. It is now a case of fingers crossed that that is the end of the story and that there is no recurrence or spreading. Ironically the surgery was carried out to 30 minutes worth of Brucie tracks :)

After the surgery:

How was it found?

This is the main reason for this blog post. Left to my own devices it still wouldn't have been looked at to this day.

It is on the scalp, it doesn't hurt and is very small..... to the extent that I had to point it out to the consultant on the first visit because he couldn't find it. At it's maximum size it was 9mm in diameter, that's all, not some humongous unsightly carbuncle.

Hannah mentioned that it looked a bit odd several months ago, possibly even a year ago, but it took several mentions and nudges before I finally had it looked at by the GP in October last year. So if it wasn't for her persistence who knows how embedded it would have become before any action was taken?

There was no concern from the GP, probably a harmless mole but might as well have it checked out properly by a consultant.

Fast forward to late April this year before finally getting a first consultant appointment, it doesn't normally take this long but multiple appointment mix ups dragged out the waiting time. Again, no particular concern from the consultant, probably harmless but might as well have a biopsy to make sure.

Of course that biopsy came back with unwanted results.


I know a lot of people are very diligent about reducing the risk of skin cancer by wearing caps and using high SPF sun creams, after all it is very common knowledge that we should do this stuff, right?

Maybe it is but I suspect plenty people are also as complacent about this as I have been. After all we live in the UK and although we get plenty warnings that damaging UV rays are still hitting us on cloudy days do we mentally quantify the risk as significant on a personal basis? I didn't that's for sure. I don't recall getting sunburnt to the point of significant soreness very often and that is what I thought was damaging to the skin and therefore the big risk factor.

However, as runners we spend a lot of time outdoors and often during the riskiest hours of 10am to 3pm, so cumulatively we probably get a disproportionate exposure to the damaging UV rays as compared to the general population.

Pre Diagnosis :

So, a big wake up call has been delivered as can be seen from recent race photos pre- and post- diagnosis:

Leeds Half Marathon - 8th May (No cap)

Riga Marathon - 15th May (one sensible runner, one not so sensible):

Post Diagnosis :

Derry Marathon - 5th June (That's more like it!) :

Catforth 10K - 12th June (2 sensible (ish) runners for once) :

Apparently I look like a naughty schoolboy in a baseball cap..... I think I can live with that ;)

What Next?

Regular checks are now required but the size of the piece of scalp removed was designed to get it all out once and for all. We will see........

Shifting The Wake Up Call

I wouldn't normally post about stuff like this but the incidences of skin cancer are growing pretty rapidly apparently so if posting about this makes the risk 'more real' and helps shift one or two peoples' wake up calls to before anything develops then that will be a good result all round.

Monday, 28 March 2016

British Championship 50k, Perth

Sunday 26th March 2016 - Self Trancendence 50k, North Inch Park, Perth

50k? Why???

Well it wasn't my idea. 

But having tried to do one very unsuccessfully in this same event 2 years ago at Gravesend Cyclopark there was still the intriguing thought of whether the distance could actually be conquered. 

So when Hannah suggested that it might be a reasonable idea 3 weeks out from the race a reluctant 'go on then' was the response. 

In that race 2 years ago a DNF at about 17 miles was the result while Hannah struggled on and completed it, albeit with a couple of sit downs en route, in 3:56. So our 50k pedigree was nothing to write home about to say the least.

The Taper

The taper wasn't the most traditional in that we ran everyday midweek and then raced the Salford 10K on Friday.

Considering the 50k was only 48 hours away the idea was to not push too hard. I'm not sure how long that idea lasted but Hannah proceeded to come 1st in 36:40, just 10 secs shy of her PB and I just about kept her in sight to record a 37:10.

The rest of the 'taper' involved a lengthy evening at Saltaire Brewery Beer Festival on Friday, a volunteering stint at Horton parkrun on Saturday followed by the trip up to Perth.

The Course

The course consisted of 21 laps of a 2.389km course around North Inch Park in Perth on the banks of the River Tay.

The following series of photos show the entire course:


This was the huge hill we had to encounter on each lap:

A little souvenir that was still lying around the day after the race:

The Pacing

So what was the plan?

None really, the only aim was to settle into what seemed like a natural pace, whatever that may turn out to be. From the previous effort it was clear that you don't run it like a marathon with a bit on the end, 50k is a different animal.

After the race settled down on the 2nd lap I joined Christina Singleton, whose husband Chris had already been out there for 3 hours in the 100k. As we started chatting away we were shortly joined by Hannah.

Our paces just seemed to synch quite nicely so the three of us just chatted away for a while and before you knew it 15 miles had passed by without drama. The fact that Christina and Hannah were lying 1-2 in the British Championship was irrelevant, staying together was the best strategy especially with a strong headwind on the back straight.

Halfway (15.5 miles) was reached in 1:49:20.

The home straight on each lap was very pleasant whereas the back straight alongside the river was a real struggle into the wind. Nonetheless the overall lap times were staying remarkably consistent.

(Pic courtesy of Barry Davie)

(Pic courtesy of Barry Davie)

Before the start I had a vague idea that something around 3:45 might be possible if the finish line was actually reached but there was loads of potential for variability on that, mainly on the downside.

It was therefore a pleasant feeling after 15 laps (22.5 miles) to be still going well and realising that sub 3:40 was now entirely reasonable. 

As we approached the end of lap 16 (24 miles) it felt that mine and Hannah's paces were not quite in synch anymore. I was quite happy maintaining current pace whereas Hannah was subconsciously lifting the pace. With just over 5 laps to go we had got rid of the majority of the mileage so decided to get our heads down and do our own thing in the closing stages.

The Finish

After the first half of 1:49:20 I was delighted to see the second half come in at 1:49:49 for an overall 3:39:09. That felt like the distance had actually been conquered.

However, one thing you don't really want at the end of 31 miles is to be challenged to a sprint finish .... but that is exactly what I ended up with. Thankfully the fast twitchy things responded pretty well and the resulting 4 secs covering three places shows just how tight it was:

Meanwhile, Hannah had really cracked on to record a second half of 1:47:13 for an overall 3:36:33 and a negative split of 2:07. That was a world away from the first attempt at 50k at Gravesend which involved a lot of pain and a time of 3:56.

It became apparent shortly after the finish that the time of 3:36:33 was actually quite good. In fact it represented a new Scottish All Comers Record and was also inside the 3:40 qualifying time for the World Championships in Doha. It was also faster than any British female in the whole of 2015 and 2016 so far. On top of that the title of British 50K Champion was part of the package, which I think Hannah found quite surreal.

Christina had also held together very well indeed, especially with it being her first attempt at anything longer than a marathon. A time of 3:43:44 is around 7:12/mile for 31 miles and 2nd place in the British Championship. Quite a debut.

These are the lap by lap splits for the entire race:


Although the course was about as good as you could hope for, the conditions were far from ideal.

In the first half we had the strange situation of it raining on one side of the course whilst being sunny on the other side, the two sides being no more than 200 metres apart!

Also, as previously mentioned, the wind on the back straight was very significant and got stronger as the race progressed.

The Race Doctor

This was Hannah chatting with the race doctor, Joasia Zakrzewski, post race. Were they talking about injuries? Post race recovery? Post race nutrition?

Nope, I can reveal that this serious looking discussion was actually about easter eggs!

Of course, it isn't the first appearance in the blog for this particular race doctor. This was last October, relaxing prior to the Yorkshire Marathon, a race that the doc went on to win. Jo is also 5th on the 50K UK All Time rankings with a PB of 3:26 run in the World Championships in 2011 :


So, as mentioned above, Jo sits 5th in the All Time rankings but look who has now appeared at 11th after Sunday's run:

I was quite pleased with the consistency of my lap times until I saw Hannah's:

Just finished and ready for the finish line celebratory Guinness. It was then off for a chat with 1st vet Ian J Berry who had just recorded a superb 3:31, going through the marathon point in 2:55. It just shows that his 17 sub 3 marathon performances in 2015 didn't do much harm.

Ian J Berry on his way to a clocking of 3:31 and 1st vet in the 50K:

(pic courtesy of Barry Davie)

Christina Singleton dealing with the closing stages well to land an impressive debut time of 3:43 and 2nd place:

(pic courtesy of Barry Davie)

Meanwhile, this was the other half of the gutsy Singleton couple, Chris.

Chris had never raced beyond 35 miles previously but found deep reserves to wear the England vest with pride for 100K in 7:28:47 to take 6th overall and be part of the victorious England team:

The Prize Giving

Hannah delighted with her easter egg acquisition:

Gavin Harvie collecting his Scottish Vets medal:

The 50K British Championship 1-2, Hannah and Christina:

The Recovery

So what is the advisable recovery strategy after racing 10K followed by 50K two days later?

Well it probably isn't to run three Scottish parkrun courses, Camperdown, St Andrews and Dunfermline, followed by lining up to race again all within the next two days. Ah well....

So off to Ravenscraig Park in Kirkcaldy it was for their hilly 2 mile race on Tuesday evening. A cracking event hosted by Fife AC and ably organised by Daniel Newman.

(Pic courtesy of Gordon Donnachie)

(Pic courtesy of Gordon Donnachie)

The legs seemed fine given the circumstances but I was once again watching from a distance as Hannah carried the Udder Madness vest around in a time of 11:12 to record a new course record and 1st female.

(Pic courtesy of Gordon Donnachie)

But at least I did put some effort into my 11:30 by the looks of it :)

(Pic courtesy of Dave Morton)

It was lovely to chat to Melanie Sinclair post race who had also been bonkers enough to enter both the 50K and 2 miles within 2 days!

(Pic courtesy of Gordon Donnachie)

Monday, 28 December 2015

2015 Review

2015 will go down as a year of surprising destinations, unexpectedly good results from marathon experimentation and a brief glimpse into the usually unseen world of post race drugs testing....

Although the year ended up with both myself and Hannah running a sequence of 10 successive sub 3 hour marathons (both of us averaging 2:54) there was no intention at the start of the year to attempt anything like that sort of number.

So what happened?

Well, it kind of just became fun experimenting - 

1. Experimenting with the time interval between successive marathons.
2. Experimenting with the build ups, ie race a lot, race sparsely, race short, race long?
3. Experimenting with diet and fuelling.

What was a two person experiment for the first half of the year became more of a three person experiment as we became aware that a certain Ian J Berry was on a very similar mission of experimentation.

In the picture below at the Kent Roadrunner Marathon (Ian in the middle as race director that day) on 30th May a total of 17 sub 3 hour marathons had been completed (Hannah 5, Ian 7, Steve 5).

By the end of the year a further 20 had been added to give a final tally of 37 sub 3:00 marathons (Hannah 10, Ian 17, Steve 10).

The following summaries for each individual were artistically produced by Ian:

Steve Darby - Average 2:54:19

Hannah Oldroyd - Average 2:54:55 (New British Record for female sub 3s in a calendar year *)

And just in case 10 seems lazy:

Ian J Berry - Average 2:50:05 (New British Record for male sub 3s in a calendar year *)

(* as advised by Tim Grose based on the Power of 10 database of performances)

The year in pictures and stats:

March - Wrexham Marathon 

Time since previous marathon - 18 weeks
Mileage since previous marathon - 1066 (weekly avg. 59)
Longest training run - 13 miles
Races since last marathon - 5k, 10k, 5k, 5k, 10 miles, 5k, HM, 5k, 10 miles, 5k, 10 miles, 5k, 1 mile, 5k, 7.5 mileXC, 10 miles, 5k, 5k, 6 miles, 5k, 5k, 10k, 5k, 5k, 5k, 5k, HM, 5k, 10k, 5k, 5k, 10k, 5k, 10k, 5k, 5k, 30k, 5k, 10 miles, 5k, HM, 5k

The year of marathons started in Wrexham in March.

This was the first marathon for over 4 months. In terms of the build up the main thing of note was that were no training runs longer than 10 miles but there was plentiful racing at a wide range of distances from 1 mile to 30k.

In the blog at the time I rated this as the best marathon performance to date at 2:48:12, so coupled with Hannah's 2:52:41 there were plenty positives from this one.

April - Canberra Marathon

Time since previous marathon - 5 weeks
Mileage since previous marathon - 298 (weekly avg. 60)
Longest training run - 10 miles
Races since last marathon - 5k, 5k, 20 miles, 5k, 15.5k, 5k, HM, 5k, 5k

One week after Wrexham we disappeared to have a superb 5 week jaunt to Australia.

Besides taking in Melbourne, Adelaide, Sydney and Perth on the trip we also went to Canberra and had the opportunity to compete in the marathon during our brief stay.

Canberra was 5 weeks after Wrexham. In the intervening period there had been no training runs in double figures and just two races longer than 10 miles, Locke Park 20 miles at Redcar and an 11.2 miles abbreviated half marathon at Murray Bridge near Adelaide.

It is also worth noting that there had been lots of walking in the lead up to this one as we explored some amazing places and some of the terrain had been quite challenging.

The outcome, again, was pretty positive with a 2:52:10 for myself and a gradual climb through the field for Hannah to go from 7th at 10k to earn a podium position by the finish.

April - London Marathon

Time since previous marathon - 2 weeks
Mileage since previous marathon - 112 (weekly avg. 56)
Longest training run - 12 miles
Races since last marathon - 5k, 10k, 5k

Just two weeks after Canberra it was time for the 2015 London Marathon. The main memory of this race was how incredibly cold it was. Nonetheless, for the most part it went pretty smoothly to record 2:50:55. Hannah had to go one better though and is seen in the picture below just about to overtake me with a mile to go and then go on to record a sparkling new PB of 2:50:07 just two weeks after the previous marathon.

This wasn't the first time that she had run an unexpected PB within a week or two of a previous marathon - an interesting point of note!

May - Belfast City Marathon

Time since previous marathon - 1 week
Mileage since previous marathon - 30 (weekly avg. 30)
Longest training run - 6 miles
Races since last marathon - 5k

One week later, and therefore the 3rd marathon in a 3 week period, it was time for Belfast. 

This was a tough event with a continual eight mile climb from miles 6-14. If any course could be expected to find out tired legs it would be this one but it felt strong throughout, especially during the climbing. The final times of 2:54:54 and 2:57:08 were more than pleasing.

May - Kent Roadrunner Marathon

Time since previous marathon - 4 weeks
Mileage since previous marathon - 255 (weekly avg. 64)
Longest training run - 10 miles
Races since last marathon - 5k, 5k, HM, 5k, 5k, HM, 5k, 5k, 1 mile

On 30th May it was time for Ian J Berry's own creation, the 17 lap Kent Roadrunner marathon at Gravesend Cyclopark.

It isn't a flat course by any means but as it is exactly the same course that gave rise to Steve Way's 100k British Record it isn't as slow as it first appears.

Despite Hannah running in full cow regalia and stopping mid race to perform a cartwheel in the showboating competition it couldn't have been closer as we crossed the line in 2:53:34 and 2:53:44.

Hannah and our good friend Simon Newton displaying their very shiny winners' trophies:

July - Potteries Marathon

Time since previous marathon - 5 weeks
Mileage since previous marathon - 305 (weekly avg. 61)
Longest training run - 6 miles
Races since last marathon - 5k, HM, 10 miles, 5k, HM, 5k, 5k, 10k, 10 miles, HM, 5k, 10k, 10k, 1 mile

Into July and the born again Potteries Marathon proved an irresistable draw as I had taken part in the previous incarnation of this event 22 years earlier.

Despite the previous version being tough it was nothing compared to the relentless hills of the 2015 course.

The build up to this one was about as anti-text book as it is possible to get. In the last 10 days leading up to the Potteries Marathon we raced hard no less than 6 times - 10 miles, HM, 5k, 10k, 10k, 1 mile

No coach would ever advise a runner to do that kind of thing in the immediate lead up to a marathon if they wanted to perform half decently but, to confound all notions of logic and common sense, it became the best marathon performance I've ever experienced.

The time of 2:52:40 doesn't look overly fast but when the severity of the course is taken into account this easily surpassed the 2:47:34 at Yorkshire in 2014.

To prove this was no fluke, Hannah also did reasonably well off the same silly build up :)

September - Carrickmore Marathon

Time since previous marathon - 10 weeks
Mileage since previous marathon - 643 (weekly avg. 64)
Longest training run - 8 miles
Races since last marathon - 5k, 5k, 5k, 5k, 10k, HM, 2.75 mile trail, 100k, 5k, 5k, 10k, HM, 5k, 5k, 5 miles, 5k, 10 miles, 5k, 10 miles, HM, 1 mile, 10k, 48 miles

A sizeable break of 10 weeks then passed before the next marathon, the inaugural Carrickmore Marathon in County Tyrone.

There were 23 races of various kinds in that 10 weeks including, for the first time, two events venturing beyond marathon distance:

Thunder Run - A 24 hour event completing 62.1 miles each.
St Albans Stampede - A 12 hour event completing 48 miles each.

I suffered towards the end of this one due to expectations of the course profile being a little kinder than it turned out to be. The final few miles were all about managing remaining resources against the time left to squeeze under 3 hours.

Meanwhile Hannah was using the stunning scenery to motivate herself to a perfectly paced victory over the challenging course:

October - Yorkshire Marathon

Time since previous marathon - 4 weeks
Mileage since previous marathon - 230 (weekly avg. 58)
Longest training run - 6 miles
Races since last marathon - 5k, HM, 5k, 5k, 10k, 5k, 10 miles, 5k

Four weeks later it was time to return to the PB course at York. 

There was nothing unusual in the build up except a couple of races where calf issues had been experienced, probably due to dehydration. There was probably some residual damage from those experiences as this marathon fell apart when strange cramping started around 19 miles. I actually dropped out to all intents and purposes after walking for the best part of 2 miles but gradually got going again and managed to just dip under 3 hours.

This was a bemusing pre-race incident as, somehow, I was mistaken for a minor celebrity :p

A 2:53:37 for 4th place was a good result for Hannah before the day took an unexpected turn as the glass in the pic below exploded just as the picture was being taken resulting in a slashed wrist and lots of blood.

October - Leicester Marathon

Time since previous marathon - 2 weeks
Mileage since previous marathon - 106 (weekly avg. 53)
Longest training run - 4 miles
Races since last marathon - 5k, 5 miles, 5k

Two weeks on and, from my point of view, it was good to get another chance at a marathon so quickly to try to establish that the calf cramping at Yorkshire was a one-off.

Sure enough by the end it was great to have finished with no recurrence and to have actually felt strong enough to push over the final few miles for a 2:55:11 clocking.

A very well paced effort resulted in a victory for Hannah in Victoria Park:

November - San Sebastian Marathon

Time since previous marathon - 5 weeks
Mileage since previous marathon - 243 (weekly avg. 48)
Longest training run - 8 miles
Races since last marathon - 5k, 10 miles, 5k, 10k, 5k, HM

With 9 out of 9 sub 3 marathons each so far in 2015 we now quite fancied extending that to a nice round 10.

Unlike the rest of the year, where courses of all sorts of severities had been tackled, San Sebastian in the Basque Country was specifically chosen because it looked like a decent event to load the dice a bit in our favour for an attempt to notch up the 10th.

Despite being a very hilly region the 2 lap course around San Sebastian was as good as you could hope for. 

Again I had the pleasure of being overtaken by the young Oldroyd, this time at the 34k point, as she went on to clinch 2nd place by a mere 5 seconds after a final 400m head to head battle on the track within the stadium of Real Sociedad.

The times of 2:54:20 and 2:57:03 nicely rounded off the 10/10 sequence that had become a bit of a target part way through the year.

What followed after the finish at San Sebastian was certainly a first though as Hannah was allocated a chaperone and escorted off to be drugs tested. I'm sure this procedure is very straightforward if you're used to being involved in this sort of thing but for Hannah this became over an hour of confusion with the language barrier making the whole thing a bit unfathomable. Her utternces of "I'm just a pleb not an elite" didn't seem to have much effect!

So what was learned from all the experimentation?

This is not an easy question to answer.

If one overall lesson can be taken from this year it would be that there really is many different ways to prepare for a marathon and, as is usually the case at shorter distances, the best results often come at the most unexpected times off the most unusual preparations.

a) Optimal time between marathons? - No idea! With the fastest times of the year being 18 weeks and 2 weeks after the previous marathons and the best feeling performance being 5 weeks after the previous marathon it is difficult to draw any conclusions on that one.

b) Optimal racing build up? Again, more confused than ever. After starting the year thinking that anything faster than marathon pace in the final 10 days leads to a struggle in the closing stages of a marathon that thinking went up in smoke at Potteries after having a great run off 6 hard races in 10 days.

c) Diet and fuelling - At least this was one area where definitive answers were found for marathon performance. Without question, eating lots more protein and much less in the way of carbs is a major step forward, as is limiting carb intake pre-race to ordinarly levels.

With his larger sample size of 17 sub 3 marathons in the last 50 weeks or so you would expect that Ian Berry would have some more profound and useful conclusions from all the experimentation......but I think he is just as confused as we are!

Recent Marathon Record

2009 April - Blackpool Marathon 3:24:17 (Age 42)
2009 September - Fleetwood Marathon DNF (Age 43)
2010 October - Amsterdam Marathon 3:04:27 (Age 44)
2010 November - Milton Keynes Track Marathon DNF (Age 44)
2011 April - London Marathon 3:18:30 (Age 44)
2012 April - London Marathon 2:57:04 (Age 45)
2012 October - Chester 2:55:36 (Age 46)
2013 April - London Marathon 3:11:29 (Age 46)
2013 June - Cork Marathon 3:06:19 (Age 47)
2013 October - Budapest Marathon 2:58:53 (Age 47)
2013 December - Lancaster Marathon 2:54:17 (Age 47) (1st)
2013 December - Pisa Marathon 2:54:09 (Age 47)
2014 April - Manchester Marathon 2:51:52 (Age 47)
2014 April - London Marathon 2:57:52 (Age 47)
2014 June - Rhyl Marathon 2:58:24 (Age 48)
2014 October - Yorkshire Marathon 2:47:34 (Age 48)
2014 October - Dublin Marathon 2:58:53 (Age 48)
2014 November - Town Moor Marathon 2:54:56 (Age 48) (1st)
2015 March - Wrexham Marathon 2:48:12 (Age 48) (5th)
2015 April - Canberra ACT Marathon 2:52:10 (Age 48) (15th)
2015 April - London Marathon 2:50:55 (Age 48)
2015 May - Belfast City Marathon 2:54:54 (Age 48) 
2015 May - Kent Roadrunner Marathon 2:53:34 (Age 49) (4th)
2015 July - Potteries Marathon 2:52:40 (Age 49) (6th)
2015 September - Mary Anderson Colour Marathon 2:59:17 (Age 49) (7th)
2015 October - Yorkshire Marathon 2:59:30 (Age 49)
2015 October - Leicester Marathon 2:55:11 (Age 49) (11th)
2015 November - Donostia San Sebastian Marathon 2:57:03 (Age 49)
2015 December - Spiejkenisse Marathon 3:01:10 (Age 49)


No specific plans for 2016 except to get to new locations and try out as many different and interesting events as possible.